Publication: Prism Volume: 7 Issue: 10

By Tat’yana Matsuk

The monstrous terrorist attacks that hit the United States on September 11, 2001 could not but have a profound effect on all decent people everywhere. The ashes of those who perished are tugging at our heartstrings, clamoring for retribution. The realization that there are no safe places left in the world any more pushes people to take decisive and harsh action. But Russia, which seems fated to be an example of how not to do things, went through something similar two years ago. Pain, fear and confusion translated into mass popular support for large-scale military intervention in Chechnya. And now we are left with thousands of dead, wounded and disabled–both physically and psychologically–and hundreds of thousands of refugees stripped of the right to a normal human existence. Yet, whatever officials might say, there is no sign of an end to the war and the terrorist attacks.

The United States has been attacked, and it is prepared to declare war on the aggressor, a war that it predicts may last longer than World War II. This is a natural and understandable reaction. But do we really know where international terrorism–an enemy against which the whole of the civilized world is called upon to unite in the fight–comes from? And where is the guarantee that the phenomenon will disappear if individual terrorist groups and their leaders and sponsors are destroyed?

It is common knowledge that the military might of the United States allows it to rip apart not just guerrilla bases, but also whole countries and probably even the entire planet. But is it possible to win such a war, especially if it is truly a world war? Even if weapons of mass destruction are not used, a tactical victory for the so-called civilized world will probably entail a strategic defeat. New suicide bombers may rise up to take the place of every dead terrorist, let alone that of innocent victims. Meanwhile, news agencies report that it is quite possible that a million people will die of hunger as a result solely of the economic blockade of Afghanistan. Given the sort of life these people lead, they have nothing to lose, and they are deeply convinced that if they die fighting the “infidels” they will go straight to paradise.

Imagine what would happen to the American way of life and the economy of the United States and other developed countries if they have to shut themselves off from the rest of the world, not with an iron curtain but an armor-plated wall. Such a prospect is entirely realistic; one only has to try and reach a deeper understanding of the causes of the recent terrible events.

Why has international terrorism become so large-scale, and why has it happened now? Newspapers write of a new war between North and South, between the poverty in which most of the world’s population live and the wealth of the “golden billion,” between the new religion of Islam (which is still in the Middle Ages) and the established and developed Judaeo-Christian civilizations, between barbarians and culture, between pure evil and democratic values, or even between jealous failures and those who have made a success of their lives. All of these definitions point to the seriousness and global nature of the conflict, but not of them answers the question posed above, and thus they are of no help in predicting the outcome of the confrontation.

By placing mankind in the center of its world-view as the highest form of life, created in God’s image and dependent only on His will and its own will, European Christian culture has for centuries tried to forget that we are a part of nature, and we are subordinate to all its laws. Traditional Western science is still skeptical about most theories that link social processes and the course of history to natural factors. Yet I am convinced that at least two such factors form the basis of the events now unfolding: The cyclical nature of human development and the influence of solar activity on human behavior.

Our world is set up in a very complex way. In order for it to exist as a sufficiently stable system, the laws by which it functions must be comprehensive and very simple. We ourselves and everything we can see around us are also systems which themselves are incorporated into all sorts of cyclical process, be it the constant division of cells or the rotation of the earth around the sun. It is natural to assume that humankind will not stray from this order in its development. In order to understand what is happening, we need to look for similar events from history and identify not parallels but cycles.

If we believe that all systems, regardless of their size and physical, chemical, biological or social make-up, are born, develop and die in accordance with certain common laws, then mankind as a whole may be compared to an individual person and to a family. Just like an individual, mankind develops and passes through the stages of babyhood, childhood, adolescence and so on. And like a family, it secures its survival by virtue of generational change, which also entails change in the groups of the leading nations, those who are stronger. Until people learn to defend themselves from global disasters, the inequality in the development of ethnic groups which are adapted to different conditions of existence will remain one of the conditions for the survival of one single rational view on the planet.

Thus, changes in civilizations seems to me to be an entirely natural phenomenon of the periodic process, where one cycle probably lasts about 2,000 years.

Exactly how this change occurs is another issue. Up to now, mankind seems to have been in its infancy, behaving very irrationally within the family of nations. Instead of understanding that the “younger” nations are not defective versions of the “older” nations, but have simply not yet grown up, and have their own requirements and world view, the “older” ones exploited and used them in every way possible, from a position of strength. But the “younger” ones in turn became biologically stronger, and responded to the offenders in full measure. But having destroyed their ancient culture, the barbarians nevertheless eventually followed the same path themselves. And now they are in a position similar to that of Rome before its fall. When we are astonished by the fanaticism of the Islamic extremists who do not value their own or any one else’s lives, it is worth remembering the behavior of the first Christians and the subsequent Crusades. Incidentally, my namesake, the great martyr Tatiana, destroyed the statues of ancient gods which we now consider to be great works of art: How does this differ from the Taliban’s treatment of the statues of Buddha? Times change, but human behavior does not.

Of course, the situation today is not identical to that of 2,000 years ago. Mankind has been developing and growing, has filled the space and perfected weapons to destroy other people. Not one nation in the world is now able to act independently of others. Globalization demands more adult relations within the universal family. Otherwise we will simply destroy ourselves, which is sometimes what happens to unthinking children. And if anybody survives this universal war or catastrophic climate change, it will not of course be the highly developed countries with their extremely low birthrates and the comfort levels they are used to, where soldiers are unable to fight without access to toilet paper.

All of this points to the following. Mankind has now reached a turning point in its history, where it has to choose between three options: (1) destroying itself completely; (2) destroying the more developed parts and regressing several centuries; or (3) growing up and entering a qualitatively new stage in its development, which will ensure the continuity of generations in the family of nations.

International terrorism is a manifestation of the desire of “the new barbarians”–or rather the most radical among them–to choose the second option.

I think there is but one sensible solution to the current crisis for people who consider themselves to be civilized: Not to set themselves against the rest of the world, even if the rest of the world harbors a hatred of them, but to try to unite with everyone who wants to live not die. But in order to do this, the existing order has to change. It is not a question of capitulation, but on the contrary of a genuine attack instead of defense.

We should recognize what is obvious: The situation in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Palestine and in many countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, is a result of the policies conducted over the centuries by more developed countries. Russia is one of the more active participants in this shameful scenario, and it continues to sell arms to anyone who will buy them. Yes, the terrorists should be punished. But before starting to “rub them out in the john,” in Putin’s memorable phrase, we should announce that we are prepared to set up not just another meeting behind closed doors, but a world conference on the struggle, not against anyone or anything in particular, but for a change in the state of international relations. It is essential to do what was not done in the early 1990s, when the Iron Curtain fell. It is essential to begin solving all the existing problems facing mankind–not from a position of strength, but based on the balance of interests of all peoples and of each individual decent representative of them. It is essential to create a global system of collective security; to bring order to the arms market, to open the markets of developed countries to goods from third world countries, to find a solution to the problems of people who have been robbed of their territories, to begin seriously tackling hunger, poverty and overpopulation, to take all possible measures against global warming, to give women–the less aggressive section of humankind–genuinely equal rights and opportunities to play a serious role in public life, not just in the leading countries.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of problems that, if successfully resolved, would be the central element in the fight against terrorism. Of course, this will require huge amounts of effort, time and resources. But it is essential at least to declare that we are prepared to go down this road. And to declare this in such a way as to make people believe it, rather than once again resort to the force of arms instead of reason.

Civilized humankind, like the knight in the Russian fairy tale, is standing at a crossroads. There are three roads and a stone that bears the inscription: “If you turn right you will be killed; if you turn left you will lose your horse; if you go straight ahead, you will find glory.” The most attractive option, of course, is to go for glory. But it may well turn out to be posthumous glory. The loss of a horse, however, while unpleasant, is not fatal. Where there’s life, there’s hope.

Tat’yana Matsuk is an independent analyst, and member of the research group of the Carnegie Social Cohesion Project, who has worked for sixteen years in institutions of the Russian Academy of Sciences.