The September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington brought horror and death and there is no moral or political justification for them. We are concerned that the cries for war arising in the U.S. will lead to more atrocities, the suppression of civil rights, legitimation of racial profiling, and militarization of everyday life. For people in the U.S. “globalization” now has a new meaning. It is time for new reflections on the connections between U.S. foreign policy and terrorism.
Here are some initial reflections sent to PN or picked up on the Internet.
The attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon brings home more clearly than ever, that we cannot hide behind the walls of our peace and prosperity. The horrors of other wars and other deaths far away in the global south simply do not register.
Globalization has not only facilitated the global flows of capital, goods, information and business people. It has also facilitated a variety of other entanglements. The growth of debt, unemployment, decline of traditional economic sectors, has fed an exploding illegal trade in people, largely directed to the rich countries. The diseases and pests present in many parts of the global south that we in the rich countries could forget about, are now increasingly here as well: tuberculosis is back in the U.S. and typhoid fever in the UK, the encephalitis producing Nile mosquito has made its first appearance in the global north and so have a growing number of other pests and diseases. As governments become poorer they depend more and more on the remittances of immigrants in the global north and hence have little interest in the management of emigration and illegal trafficking.
The pressures to be competitive make governments in poor countries cut their health, education and social budgets, thereby further delaying development and stimulating emigration and trafficking. In brief, the interdependencies are many and they are multiplying.
The growing interconnectedness of the world has given new meaning to old asymmetries as well as creating new ones. The rising debt, poverty, and disease, in the global south are beginning to reach deep into the rich countries. We can no longer turn our backs on all this misery as we so often have in the past. If we dislike humanitarian reasons for addressing these issues, we can opt for self-interest as a motivation.
In an era of privatization and market rule we are facing the fact that governments will have to govern a bit more. But it cannot be a return to old forms – countries surrounding themselves with protective walls. It will take genuine multilateralism and internationalism, some radical innovations and new forms of collaboration with civil society and supranational institutions. The violence of hunger, poverty, decimation of once fertile lands, the oppression of weaker states by highly militarized ones, persecution – all of these feed a complex, slow but relentlessly moving spiral that moves into the global north. The global north has the resources and power to produce much of the damage and it has the resources to redress some of it.
Part of the challenge is to recognize the interconnectedness of forms of violence that we do not always recognize as being connected or, for that matter, being forms of violence. We are suffering from a translation problem, it would seem. The language of poverty and misery is unclear, uncomfortable. The language of the attacks today is clear. No translation problem there.
We may think that the debt and growing poverty in the global south may have nothing to do with today’s violence in New York and Washington. They do. The attacks today are a language of last resort: the oppressed and persecuted
have used many languages to reach us. We seem unable to translate the meaning of what they say. A few then take it into their hands to speak a language that needs no translation. That was the language used today.
For me and millions of other human beings, the Tuesday September 11th of 28 years ago has been a day of mourning. On that day in 1973 Chile lost its democracy in a military coup, death irrevocably entered our daily lives and changed us forever. And now, almost three decades later, the evil gods of historic chance have tried to impose that tragic day on another country, also on a Tuesday, and also a deadly September 11th.
The differences and distances that separate the Chilean and North american dates could not, of course, be greater. The shocking terrorist attack against the most powerful nation on the earth has and will have consequences for all of humanity. Possibly it will become, as Bush has suggested, the beginning of a new world war. Probably it will go down in history books as the day when global history changed its course. Meanwhile, among the eight billion humans in the world today, I don’t think many remember exactly when the tragedy of Chile happened.
That famous North American exceptionalism has in fact ended, the attitude that has allowed citizens of this country to imagine they are beyond the evils that plague other less fortunate countries…. From now on, life in North America will share the precariousness and uncertainty that the great majority of the other people on the earth suffer.
It remains to be seen if the compassion shown for the most powerful nation on the earth will be reciprocated. It remains to be seen whether the men and women of the United States – a nation made up of, for the most part, of those who fled great catastrophes, hunger, dictatorships and persecutions, a nation of tolerance and hope – are able to feel the same compassion towards other members of our species who are abandoned. It remains to be seen if the new North Americans forged in pain and resurrection are ready to take part in the difficult process of repairing our damaged humanity, creating a world in which we’ll never again have to lament a new and frightening 11th of September.
The terrorist attacks were major atrocities. In scale they may not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton’s bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and killing unknown numbers of people (no one knows, because the U.S. blocked an inquiry at the UN and no one cares to pursue it)…. But that this was a horrendous crime is not in doubt. The primary victims, as usual, were working people: janitors, secretaries, firemen, etc. It is likely to prove to be a crushing blow to Palestinians and other poor and oppressed people. It is also likely to lead to harsh security controls, with many possible ramifications for undermining civil liberties and internal freedom. The events reveal, dramatically, the foolishness of the project of “missile defense.” As has been obvious all along, and pointed out repeatedly by strategic analysts, if anyone wants to cause immense damage in the US, including weapons of mass destruction, they are highly unlikely to launch a missile attack, thus guaranteeing their immediate destruction. There are innumerable easier ways that are basically unstoppable. But today’s events will, very likely, be exploited to increase the pressure to develop these systems and put them into place. “Defense” is a thin cover for plans for militarization of space, and with good PR, even the flimsiest arguments will carry some weight among a frightened public.
In short, the crime is a gift to the hard jingoist right, those who hope to use force to control their domains. That is even putting aside the likely US actions, and what they will trigger – possibly more attacks like this one, or worse. The prospects ahead are even more ominous than they appeared to be before the latest atrocities.
As to how to react, we have a choice. We can express justified horror; we can seek to understand what may have led to the crimes, which means making an effort to enter the minds of the likely perpetrators. If we choose the latter course, we can do no better, I think, than to listen to the words of Robert Fisk, whose direct knowledge and insight into affairs of the region is unmatched after many years of distinguished reporting. Describing “The wickedness and awesome cruelty of a crushed and humiliated people,” he writes that “this is not the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming days. It is also about American missiles smashing into Palestinian homes and US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and American shells crashing into a village called Qana and about a Lebanese militia – paid and uniformed by America’s Israeli ally – hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps.” And much more. Again, we have a choice: we may try to understand, or refuse to do so, contributing to the likelihood that much worse lies ahead.
Dr. Eyad el Sarraj, Executive Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program:
The world today is not the same as it was. The incredible and horrific terrorist attacks on American targets in New York and Washington DC have shocked the world and alarmed people every where. We condemn the killing of innocent people in America and elsewhere. Attacks on civilians, threats against life and murder are crimes against humanity. We, secure in our belief in the sanctity of life, are abhorred by such acts of violence.
Arabs and Palestinians who continue to suffer the complex tragedy since their uprooting, and the Israeli state sponsored violence against them, should only stand firm against terror even with the knowledge of the longstanding support for Israel by successive American governments. We absolutely reject the logic that horror and murder is the only way to change policies. The anger due to American policies in the world and in our region should not blind us to see that those who were killed and wounded in these horrific carnages are our brothers and sisters in humanity. Their murder can never be justified. For them and their families we extend our respect, and sympathy.
Amid the understandable outpouring of grief and anger over our American tragedy on September 11, there appears to be very little national introspection. A notable exception on the Sunday following the horrific acts of terrorism in New York and Washington, was the Boston Globe. The headline on the first page of its editorial section boldly asked, “WHY DO THEY HATE US?” The “they” referred to are, of course, the hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world as well as the many majority Muslim countries in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa.
Of the four editorial commentators who responded to the question, three cited, as important reasons, U.S. support for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and various other U.S. interventions in Muslim countries such as the war against Iraq. The other respondent, Stephen W. Bosworth, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Democracy at Tufts University, could, somehow not identify any U.S. policy or action that could explain Muslim hostility. According to this former U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, The Philippines, and South Korea, “They hate us because we are so big, so powerful, and always so visible”. To this simplistic explanation he adds, “…they associate America and American culture with the materialism and secularism that they see as threatening to their religious purity and traditional values”.
Dean Joseph S. Nye of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, in a remarkable display of disingenuous understatement tells us that, “American support for Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East has become a source of tension with groups in countries like Libya, Syria, and Iran which the State Department lists as harboring terrorists.”
Marion Lloyd, a Globe correspondent in southeast Asia, writes that among the sources of Muslim hostility to the U.S., “Israel is undoubtedly number one.” She cites the hypocritical role of the U.S. in ostensibly mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while simultaneously acting as the world’s principal (and often sole) apologist for Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights.
The fourth respondent was Chris Toensing, editor of Middle East Report. He points to obvious contradictions in U.S. policy. On the one hand, our government continues to provide arms and massive financial support to Israel (40% of all U.S. foreign aid) despite that country’s refusal to comply with UN resolutions calling for an end to its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. At the same time the U.S. demands continued imposition of severe sanctions on Iraq — sanctions that have failed to dislodge Saddam Hussein, but have resulted in the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children — because Iraq has refused to permit UN requests for international inspectors to monitor its arms production.
The attack of 11 September was both a horrible crime and a terrible tragedy. Nothing can conceivably excuse or condone these acts of monstrous brutality. But in devising a just and effective response, we must examine our nation’s past and present policies and make a serious attempt to identify and understand the sources of the powerful rage that have led to this incredible tragedy. To understand is not to excuse. To understand is not to forgive. To understand is to acknowledge that unrelieved repression and deprivation and humiliation are the basic ingredients of simmering resentment and explosive rage.
Since 1967, when it seized the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (The Occupied Territories), the State of Israel, with strong U.S. political support and massive U.S. financial aid, has exercised repressive military control over those territories and their Palestinian inhabitants. During these thirty-four years of occupation, the Israeli military administration has displaced, impoverished, brutalized, and humiliated tens of thousands of Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories.
Confronted with Israel’s overwhelming military force Palestinians have been forced to stand helplessly by while their homes, orchards, vineyards, and pastures have been destroyed and confiscated in order to enable the illegal establishment and expansion of Jewish settlements and access roads on their land and in their midst. These access roads, exclusively for use by Israeli Jews, have created barriers between Palestinian villages, restrictions on Palestinian movement, and imposed severe limitations on social and economic interaction.
Scarce water resources have been diverted from the support of Palestinian agricultural activities to the watering of lawns in Jewish settlements. Palestinians are routinely refused permission to build or expand housing on their own land. And when, in desperate need of living space, they build without Israeli permission, their homes are summarily demolished by the Israeli authorities, often with little or no notice. It has been the policy of the State of Israel since its founding to limit the places where Palestinians may live and to restrict the space within which their communities may grow, both within Israel and in the Occupied Territories.
These blatant violations of human rights by the Israeli government have continued, unabated during the entire period of Israeli occupation, and have been methodically documented and repeatedly condemned by the United Nations, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, the Center for Economic and Social Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, and B’tselem, The Israel Information Center for Human Rights, among others.
President Bush, in his address to Congress, asked the same rhetorical question, “Why do they hate us?” and basically gave the same self-serving and evasive answer: “They’re jealous of our freedom and our way of life!”
Whatever public reasons are offered to justify a major U.S. military adventure in the Middle East or in nearby areas, such as Afghanistan or the Sudan, the real agenda is oil. This is where the bulk of the most essential natural resource for modern industrial economies, as well as the greatest source of profit for some of the world’s largest and most politically influential corporations, such Mobil-Exxon, BP, Shell, etc. is found. The U.S. can call it a war against terrorism, a war of liberation (of the Kuwaiti Royal family), a war to oppose ethnic cleansing or of humanistic assistance (Kosovo), or whatever, but it still is about international and local control over lucrative oil and gas fields in the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea areas, as well as the pipe line routes to get the oil and gas out.
The Mujahadeen, some of whom are now the Taliban and bin Ladin groups of Afghanistan, did not fall off a turnip truck. They were methodically developed by the U.S., through the CIA, with much Pakistani help, throughout the 1980s to oppose the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In fact, I read in the LA Times that the U.S. support, financial and diplomatic, for the Taliban continued through 1998 because the U.S. government wanted to secure an oil pipe line route through Afghanistan for UNOCAL, to avoid the more logical and shorter Iranian route. Bin Ladin’ s group also grew out of the same CIA operations. He was a major CIA asset for building up the Islamic opposition to the Soviet Union.
Bush keeps calling what we are in “a war.” Has anyone told him that the more he keeps using this word, the more he puts us in jeopardy? A “war” implies that two sides are participating in an action to kill as many of the other side as possible. Bush and the pundits use the word like it’s a one-sided deal, like we’re going to be the only ones doing the bombing. War means we bomb them, then they bomb us. That’s what war is, you idiots. We strafe Afghanistan, then the terrorists drop a canister of chemical weapons in the New York subway. We send in a group of commandos and wipe out a camp of Muslims, they take out the Sears Tower. All of you who are screaming for war: are you prepared to pay the price, to take thousands of more casualties?
Because, my big, macho-talking friends, that is what this kind of war would be like. America is a complex and open society with a massive and intricate infrastructure that is fragile and vulnerable and susceptible to easy attack and disruption. It can be brought down with a box cutter…. Nearly a week with no stock market, no commercial television, no professional sports, three days with no planes in the air (for the first time since 1911), no airports open, the country essentially shut down. A week later and the phone lines still don’t all work. A boxcutter, folks! Do not be misled into thinking he with the biggest missile is going to win this “war.” We will never be able to protect all of us from this kind of terrorism. Back and forth, more buildings bombed, more planes downed, more innocent American lives lost.
In the struggle between Good and Evil, the people are always the ones to die.
The terrorists killed workers from fifty countries, in New York and Washington, in the name of Good against Evil. And in the name of Good against Evil President Bush swears vengeance. He proclaims “We will eliminate Evil from this world.”
Eliminate Evil? What would Good be without Evil? It’s not only religious fanatics that need enemies to justify their insanity. The arms industry and the gigantic military apparatus of the United Sates need enemies. Good and bad, bad and good–the actors change masks. Heroes become monsters and monsters heroes, depending on who writes the script.
There is a lot in common between low tech and high tech terrorism, religious and market fundamentalists, the desperate and the powerful, the stray lunatics and those in professional uniform. They all share the same disdain for human life: those who murdered the 5,500 citizens who were mashed in the rubble of the Twin Towers, that collapsed like dry sand castles, and those who murdered the 200,000 Guatemalans, mostly indigenous people, who were exterminated without the slightest mention on the TV and in the newspapers around the world. The Guatemalans weren’t slaughtered by a Muslim fanatic but by military terrorists who received “support, financing and inspiration” from successive governments of the United States.
A tragedy of errors. It’s not clear who is who. The smoke from the explosions is part of a much larger smoke screen that keeps us from seeing. From vengeance to vengeance, terrorists make us walk to the tombs. I see a recently published picture on a wall in New York where someone wrote, “An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”
The spiral of violence engenders violence and also confusion: pain, fear, intolerance, hate and madness. In Porto Alegre at the beginning of the year, an Algerian, Ahmed Ben Bella, warned, “This system that made the cows mad is making the people mad.” And the crazy people, mad with hatred, act just like the power that gave rise to them.