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Are the Terrorists Winning?

No, this is not about the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq as they resign to the fact that they've achieved all they could hope to accomplish there. The defeat of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, the eradication of sectarian violence and the establishment of a secure democracy remain distant goals.

Team America World Police: looking for the terrorists.

Nor is it about the maelstrom in which the countries most affected by terrorism find themselves. Countries like India, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia, despite the peace-loving nature of their citizens, are routinely terrorized by Muslim extremist and separatist groups. Should sectarian peace ever be achieved in these regions, it won't be because the insurgents gave up, and it won't arrive without compromises and more casualties. And if peace isn't achieved, it just means that the terrorists are still killing civilians in vain. So it's a lose-lose situation, and only one party wins either way: the terrorists. Muslim extremists have much more money, ideological support, dedication and hence staying power than, for example, the separatist Front de libération du Québec. (Only in Canada can terrorism be defeated, eh?)

And no, this post is not about the enduring effects of 9/11, which has stirred a pot of conflicting sensibilities as a result of the recent proposal to build a $100-million Islamic community centre near Ground Zero in New York City (a.k.a. the Park51 Project). Feel free to read up on the "religious rights" argument vs. the "rights gone wrong" argument vs. the "sensitivity" argument (I like the second one best). This controversy has led to a situation where, whatever the resolution, there will be some winners but more losers. If the "Ground Zero Mosque" is built, those who oppose it on the grounds of being insensitive and "not right" will lose. If it is not built, Muslims and supporters of unconditional religious freedom will be the losers. And either way, public figures like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have been skewered on the basis of their opinions.

Public debate is always a good thing. It gives meaning to our human existence, forces us to question ourselves, makes life more interesting and gives the media something to talk about. But when it is the result of terrorist activity and lost lives, it is simply distracting us from more important debates – like how best to restore our recessed world economy, polluted environment and lost family values.

So although these three examples are not the point of this post, they may as well be. They illustrate how terrorism has continued to cause turmoil, disrupt our sensibilities, distract us from more productive pursuits and resist defeat.

Are these tattered flags symbolic of moderation or weakened resolve

on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? And is terrorism the cause?

As I rode into Tel Aviv on a monit sherut (shared taxi) yesterday morning, the driver, nine other passengers and I sat together and listened to the morning news. The Israeli diplomat on the radio reacted to the previous night's murder of four Jewish civilians near Hebron. I couldn't understand everything he said, but one thing he said is that this is a time for Israelis to reflect. What kind of reflection he meant, I'm not sure. But I did reflect... particularly on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement that he would proceed, regardless of the attack, in direct talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

One might say that Israel's determination to pursue negotiations despite continued attacks is proof of terrorism's ineffectiveness. One might say that Hamas, Hezbollah and others have failed because they have not deterred Israel from seeking peace, and they have managed to provoke Israel into only short-lived escalations, the greatest of which were the Lebanon War in 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. Aside from that, Israel remains committed to peace through diplomacy and is determined not to let itself become a villain in the world community.

One such person may be right. But an alternative viewpoint is that Israel would not be negotiating at all, or having to negotiate, had terrorism not made the status quo unacceptable for Israel's citizens. This person may argue that terrorism in the grand scheme of things has brought Israel to the table, and were it not for terrorism, Israel would not be forced/willing to give up more land and make further concessions in pursuit of peace.

So, other issues aside – such as infighting between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) – one may see terrorism as encouraging Israel and the PA to compromise and negotiate, for better or worse. Meanwhile, others may argue – with difficulty – that terrorism has not contributed to their desire to "just settle already" and try to make peace.

What do you think...

Has terrorism forced Israel to lower its hand in its quest for peace, or is Israel pursuing peace in spite of it?

Is terrorism a motivating factor behind peace talks, or is it just a stumbling block towards them?

And if terrorism really is a causal factor of negotiations and concessions, does that mean the terrorists, even if not succeeding in pushing Israel into the sea, are in some way winning?

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