On The Bombings
by Noam Chomsky
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 US blocked an inquiry at the UN and no one cares to pursue it). Not to speak of much worse cases, which easily come to mind. 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.
Questions from various phone and periodical interviews...and answers.
1) The fall of the Berlin Wall didn't claim any victims, but it did
profoundly change the geo-political scene. Do you think that last week's
attacks could have a similar effect?
The fall of the Berlin Wall was an event of great importance, and did change the geopolitical scene, but not in the ways usually assumed, in my opinion. I've tried to explain my reasons elsewhere, and won't go into it now.
The events of September 11 are something quite new in world affairs, not in their scale and character, but in
the target. For the US, this is the first time since the War of 1812 that the national territory has been under attack, even threat. Many commentators have brought up a Pearl Harbor analogy, but that is quite misleading. On Dec. 7 1941, military bases in two COLONIES were attacked. Not the national territory, which was never threatened. During these years the US annihilated the indigenous population (millions of people), conquered half of Mexico, intervened violently in the surrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half century particularly, extended its resort to force throughout much of the world. The number of victims is colossal. For the first time, the guns have been directed the other way. That is a dramatic change.
The same is true, even more dramatically, of Europe. Europe has suffered murderous destruction, but from internal wars. Meanwhile European powers conquered much of the world with extreme brutality. With the rarest of exceptions, they were not under attack by their victims outside. England was not attacked by India, or Belgium by the Congo, or Italy by Ethiopia . It is not surprising, therefore, that Europe should be utterly shocked by the terrorist crimes of Sept. 11. Again, not because of the scale, regrettably.
Exactly what this portends, no one can guess. But that it is something strikingly new is quite clear.
2) My impression is that these attacks won't offer us new political scenery, but that they rather confirm the existence of a problem inside the "Empire". The problem concerns political authority and power. What do you think?
The likely perpetrators are a category of their own, but uncontroversially, they draw support from a reservoir of bitterness and anger over US policies in the region, extending those of earlier European masters. There certainly is an issue of "political authority and power." In the wake of the attacks, the _Wall Street Journal_ surveyed opinions of "moneyed Muslims" in the region: bankers, professionals, businessmen with ties to the US. They expressed dismay and anger about US support for harsh authoritarian states and the barriers that Washington places against independent development and political democracy by its policies of "propping up oppressive regimes." Their primary concern, however, was different: Washington's policies towards Iraq and towards Israel's military occupation. Among the great mass of poor and suffering people, similar sentiments are much more bitter, and they are also hardly pleased to see the wealth of the region flow to the West and to small Western-oriented elites and corrupt and brutal rulers backed by Western power. So there definitely are problems of authority and power. The immediate US reaction is to deal with these problems by intensifying them. That is, of course, not inevitable. A good deal depends on the outcome of such considerations.
3) Is America having trouble governing the process of globalization - and I don't mean just in terms of national security or intelligence systems?
The US doesn't govern the corporate globalization project, though it of course has a primary role. These programs have been arousing enormous opposition, primarily in the South, where mass protests could be suppressed or ignored. In the past few years, the protests reached the rich countries as well, and hence became the focus of great concern to the powerful, who now feel themselves on the defensive, not without reason. There are very substantial reasons for the worldwide opposition to the particular form of investor-rights "globalization" that is being imposed, but this is not the place to go into that.
4) "Intelligent Bombs" in Iraq, "humanitarian intervention" in Kosovo. The USA never used the word "war" to describe that. Now they talking about war against a nameless enemy. Why?
At first the US used the word "crusade," but it was quickly pointed out that if they hope to enlist their allies in the Islamic world, that is a serious mistake, for obvious reasons. The rhetoric therefore shifted to "war." The Gulf war of 1991 was called a war. The bombing of Serbia was called a "humanitarian intervention," by no means a novel usage. That was a standard description of European imperialist ventures in the 19th century. To cite some more recent examples, the major recent scholarly work on "humanitarian intervention" cites three examples of "humanitarian intervention" in the immediate pre-World War II period: Japan's invasion of Manchuria, Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, and Hitler's takeover of the Sudetenland. The author of course is not suggesting that the term is apt; rather, that the crimes were masked as "humanitarian." But the pretext of "humanitarian intervention" cannot be used in the normal way in the present case. So we are left with "war."
To call it a "war against terrorism," however, is simply more propaganda, unless the "war" really does target terrorism. But that is plainly not contemplated. Perhaps I may quote political scientist Michael Stohl: "We must recognize that by convention -- and it must be emphasized _only_ by convention -- great power use and the threat of the use of force is normally described as coercive diplomacy and not as a form of terrorism," though it commonly involves "the threat and often the use of violence for what would be described as terroristic purposes were it not great powers who were pursuing the very same tactic," in accord with the literal meaning of the term. Under the (admittedly, unimaginable) circumstances that Western intellectual culture were willing to adopt the literal meaning, the war against terrorism would take quite a different form, along lines spelled out in extensive detail in literature that does not enter the respectable canon.
5) Nato is keeping quiet until they find out whether the attack was internal or external. How do you interpret this?
I do not think that that is the reason for Nato's hesitation. There is no serious doubt that the attack was "external." I think the reasons are those that European leaders are giving. They recognize, as does everyone with close knowledge of the region, that a massive assault on a Muslim population would be the answer to the prayers of Bin Laden and his associates, and would lead the US and its allies into a "diabolical trap," as the French foreign minister put it.
6) Could you say something about connivance and the role of American secret service?
I don't quite understand the question. This attack was surely an enormous shock and surprise to the intelligence services of the West, including those of the US. The CIA did have a role, a major one in fact, but that was in the 1980s, when it joined Pakistani intelligence and others (Saudi Arabia, Britain, etc.) in recruiting, training, and arming the most extreme Islamic fundamentalists it could find to fight a "holy war" against the Russian invaders of Afghanistan. After that war was over, the "Afghanis" (many not Afghans, like Bin Laden) turned their attention elsewhere: to Chechnya and Bosnia for example, where they may have received at least tacit US support. And to their prime enemy, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, which Bin Laden regards as having invaded Saudi Arabia much as Russia invaded Afghanistan. A long story.
7) What consequences do you foresee for the Seattle movement? Do you think it will be brought up short, or is it possible that it will gain momentum?
It is certainly a setback for the worldwide protests against corporate globalization, which -- again -- did not begin in Seattle. Such terrorist atrocities are a gift to the harshest and most repressive elements on all sides, and are sure to be exploited -- already have been in fact -- to accelerate the agenda of militarization, regimentation, reversal of social democratic programs, transfer of wealth to narrow sectors, and undermining democracy in any meaningful form. But that will not happen without resistance, and I doubt that it will succeed, except in the short term.
8) What are the consequences for the Middle East? in particular for the Israeli-palestinian conflict?
The atrocities of September 11 were a devastating blow for the Palestinians, as they instantly recognized. Israel is openly exulting in the "window of opportunity" it now has to crush Palestinians with impunity. In the first few days after the Tuesday attack, Israeli tanks entered Palestinian cities (Jenin, Jericho for the first time), several dozen Palestinians were killed, and Israel's iron grip on the population tightened, exactly as would be expected. Again, these are the common dynamics of a cycle of escalating violence, familiar throughout the world: Northern Ireland, Israel-Palestine, the Balkans, and elsewhere.
9) How do you judge the reaction of Americans? From over here they seemed pretty cool-headed, but Saskia Sassen said in an interviw "We already feel as though we are at war".
The immediate reaction was shock, horror, anger, fear, a desire for revenge. But public opinion is mixed, and countercurrents did not take long to develop. They are now even being recognized in mainstream commentary. Today's newspapers, for example.
10) In an interview you gave to "La Jornada", you said that we are faced with a new type of war. What exactly did you mean?
It is a new type of war for the reasons mentioned in response to question (1): the guns are directed in a different direction, something quite new in the history of Europe and its offshoots.
11) Are Arabs, now defined as necessarily fundamentalist, the west's new enemy?
Certainly not. First of all, no one with even a shred of rationality defines Arabs as "fundamentalist." Secondly, the US and the West generally have no objection to religious fundamentalism as such. The US, in fact, is one of the most extreme religious fundamentalist cultures in the world; not the state, but the popular culture. In the Islamic world, the most extreme fundamentalist state, apart from the Taliban, is Saudi Arabia, a US client state since its origins. As we know, Islamic fundamentalist extremists were US favorites in the 1980s, because they were the best killers who could be found. In those years, a prime enemy of the US was the Catholic Church, which had sinned grievously in Latin America by adopting "the preferential option for the poor," and suffered bitterly for that crime. The West is quite ecumenical in its choice of enemies. The criteria are subordination and service to power, not religion.
12) Is the nation's so-called war on terrorism winnable? If yes, how? If no, then what should the Bush administration do to prevent attacks like the ones that struck New York and Washington?
I will not elaborate here, but if we want to consider this question seriously, we should recognize that in much of the world the US is regarded as a leading terrorist state, and with good reason. We might bear in mind, for example, that the US was condemned by the World Court for "unlawful use of force" (international terrorism) and then vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states (meaning the US) to adhere to international law. Only one of countless examples.
But to keep to the narrow question -- the terrorism of others directed against us -- we know quite well how the problem should be addressed, if we want to reduce the threat rather than escalate it. When IRA bombs were set off in London, there was no call to bomb the US, the source of most of the financial support for the IRA. Rather, efforts were made to deal with what lay behind the resort to terror. When a federal building was blown up in Oklahoma City, there were calls for bombing the Middle East, and it probably would have happened if the source turned out to be there. When it was found to be a militia-based bombing, there was no call to obliterate Montana and Idaho. Rather, there was a search for the perpetrator, who was found, brought to court and sentenced, and there were efforts to understand the grievances that lie behind such crimes and to address the problems. Just about every crime -- whether a robbery in the streets or colossal atrocities -- has reasons, and commonly we find that some of them are serious and should be addressed.
That is the course one follows if the intention is to reduce the probability of further atrocities. There is another course: react with extreme violence, and expect to escalate the cycle of violence, leading to still further atrocities such as the one that is inciting the call for revenge. The dynamic is very familiar.
13. What aspect or aspects of the story have been under-reported by the mainstream press, and why is it important that they be paid more attention?
There are several fundamental questions:
First, what courses of action are open to us, and what are their likely consequences. There has been virtually no discussion of the option of adhering to the rule of law, as others do, for example Nicaragua, when it responded to the US terrorist assault by going to the World Court and the UN Security Council (failing, of course, but no one will bar such moves by the US); or as England did in the case of the IRA, or as the US did when it was found that the Oklahoma City bombing was domestic in origin. And innumerable other cases. Rather, there has been a fairly solid drumbeat of calls for violent reaction, with only scarce mention of the fact that this will not only visit a terrible cost on wholly innocent victims, many of them Afghan victims of the Taliban, but also that it will answer the most fervent prayers of bin Laden and his network, as the US falls into the "diabolical trap" they are laying, as the French Foreign Minister warned a few days ago, and as every knowledgeable observer has been trying to make clear.
The second question is: "why?" The veteran British correspondent Robert Fisk, one of the most respected experts on the region, has had innumerable interviews, and he observes that almost no one is asking him that question. To refuse to face this question is choose to increase significantly the probability of further crimes of this kind. There have been some exceptions. The Wall Street Journal, to its credit, has reviewed the opinions of "moneyed Muslims": bankers, professionals, businessmen, people who are pro-American but severely critical of US policies in the region, for reasons that are familiar to anyone who has paid any attention. The feelings in the streets are similar, though far more bitter and angry.
The bin Laden network itself falls into a different category, and in fact its actions for 20 years have caused great harm to the poor and oppressed people of the region, who are not the concern of the terrorist networks. But they do draw from a reservoir of anger, fear, and desperation, which is why they are praying for a violent US reaction, which will mobilize others to their horrendous cause.
Such topics as these should occupy the front pages -- at least, if we hope to reduce the cycle of violence rather than to escalate it.
How do you see the media coverage of this event? Is there a parallel
to the Gulf War in "manufacturing consent?"
2. Assuming that the terrorists chose the World Trade Center as a symbolic target, how does globalization and cultural hegemony help create hatred towards America.
This is an extremely convenient belief for Western intellectuals. It absolves them of responsibility for the actions that actually do lie behind the choice of the WTC. Was it bombed in 1993 because of concern over globalization and cultural hegemony? A few days ago the Wall Street Journal reported attitudes of rich and privileged Egyptians at a McDonald's restaurant wearing stylish American clothes, etc., and bitterly critical of the US for objective reasons of policy, which are well-known to those who wish to know: they had a report a few days earlier on attitudes of bankers, professionals, businessmen in the region, all pro-American, and harshly critical of US policies. Is that concern over "globalization", McDonald's, and jeans? Attitudes in the street are similar, but far more intense, and have nothing at all to do with these fashionable excuses.
As for the bin Laden network, they have as little concern for globalization and cultural hegemony as they do for the poor and oppressed people of the Middle East who they have been severely harming for years. They tell us what their concerns are loud and clear: they are fighting a Holy War against the corrupt, repressive, and "un-Islamist" regimes of the region, and their supporters, just as they fought a Holy War against the Russians in the 1980s (and are now doing in Chechnya, Western China, Egypt (in this case since 1981, when they assassinated Sadat), and elsewhere. Bin Laden himself probably never even heard of "globalization." Those who have interviewed him in depth, like Robert Fisk, report that he knows virtually nothing of the world, and doesn't care to. We can choose to ignore all the facts and indulge in self-indulgent fantasies if we like, but at considerable risk to ourselves, among others. Among other things, we can also ignore, if we choose, the roots of the "Afghanis" such as bin Laden and his associates, also not a secret.
3. Are the American people educated to see this? Is there an awareness of cause and effect?
Unfortunately not, just as the European people are not. What is crucially important for privileged elements in the Middle East region (and even more so, on the streets) is scarcely understood here, particularly the most striking example: the contrasting US policies towards Iraq and Israel's military occupation. About the latter, the most important facts are scarcely even reported, and are almost universally unknown, to elite intellectuals in particular. Very easy to give examples. Can easily refer you to material in print for many years, if you like, including right now.
4. How do you see the reaction of the American Government? Who's will are they representing?
The US government, like others, primarily responds to centers of concentrated domestic power. That should be a truism. Of course, there are other influences, including popular currents -- that is true of all societies, even brutal totalitarian systems, surely more democratic ones. Insofar as we have information, the US government is now trying to exploit the opportunity to ram through its own agenda: militarization, including "missile defense," a code word for militarization of space; undermining social democratic programs and concerns over the harsh effects of corporate "globalization," or environmental issues, or health insurance, and so on; instituting measures that will intensify the transfer of wealth to very narrow sectors (e.g., eliminating the capital gains tax); regimenting the society so as to eliminate discussion and protest. All normal, and entirely natural. As for a response, they are, I presume, listening to the foreign leaders, specialists on the Middle East, and I suppose their own intelligence agencies, who are warning them that a massive military response will answer bin Laden's prayers. But there are hawkish elements who want to use the occasion to strike out at their enemies, with extreme violence, no matter how many innocent people suffer, including people here and in Europe who will be victims of the escalating cycle of violence. All again in a very familiar dynamic. There are plenty of bin Ladens on both sides, as usual.
5. Economic globalization has spread the western model all over, and the USA in primis have supported it, sometimes with questionable means, often humiliating local cultures. Are we facing the consequences of the last decades of american strategic policy? Is America an innocent victim?
This thesis is commonly in advanced. I don't agree. One reason is that the western model -- notably, the US model -- is based on vast state intervention into the economy. The "neoliberal rules" are like those of earlier eras. They are double-edged: market discipline is good for you, but not for me, except for temporary advantage, when I am in a good position to win the competition.
Secondly, what happened on Sept. 11 has virtually nothing to do with economic globalization, in my opinion. The reasons lie elsewhere. Nothing can justify crimes such as those of Sept. 11, but we can think of the US as an "innocent victim" only if we adopt the convenient path of ignoring the actions of the US and its allies, which are, after all, hardly a secret.
6. Everybody agrees that nothing will be the same after 11th september, form daily life with a restriction of rights up to global strategy with new alliances and enemies. What is your opinion about this?
The horrendous terrorist attacks on Tuesday are something quite new in world affairs, not in their scale and character, but in the target. For the US, this is the first time since the War of 1812 that its national territory has been under attack, even threat. Its colonies have been attacked, but not the national territory itself. During these years the US virtually exterminated the indigenous population, conquered half of Mexico, intervened violently in the surrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half century particularly, extended its resort to force throughout much of the world. The number of victims is colossal. For the first time, the guns have been directed the other way. The same is true, even more dramatically, of Europe. Europe has suffered murderous destruction, but from internal wars, meanwhile conquering much of the world with extreme brutality. But India did not attack England, or the Congo Belgium, or the East Indies the Netherlands. One can think of marginal exceptions, but this is truly novel in several centuries of history -- not in scale, regrettably, but in the choice of target.
I do not think it will lead to a long-term restriction of rights internally in any serious sense. The cultural and institutional barriers to that are too firmly rooted, I believe. If the US chooses to respond by escalating the cycle of violence, answering the prayers of bin Laden and his associates, then the consequences could be awesome. There are, of course, other ways, lawful and constructive ones. And there are ample precedents for them. An aroused public within the more free and democratic societies can direct policies towards a much more humane and honorable course.
7. World-wide intelligence services and the international systems of control (Echelon, for example) could not forsee what was going to happen, even if the international islamic terrorism network was not unknown. How is it possible that the Big Brother s eyes were shut? Do we have to fear, now a Bigger Big Brother?
I frankly have never been overly impressed with concerns widely voiced in Europe over Echelon as a system of control. As for world-wide intelligence systems, their failures over the years have been colossal, a matter I and others have written about, and that I cannot pursue here. That is true even when the targets of concern are far easier to deal with than the bin Laden network, presumed to be responsible for the Sept. 11 crimes. Surely one would expect the network to be reasonably well understood by the CIA, French intelligence, and others who participated in establishing it and nurtured it as long as it was useful to them for a Holy War against the Russian enemy, but even then they did not understand it well enough to prevent such events as the assassination of President Sadat in 1981, the suicide bombing that effectively drove the US military out of Lebanon in 1983, and many other examples of what is called "blowback" in the literature on these topics.
By now the network is no doubt so decentralized, so lacking in hierarchical structure, and so dispersed throughout much of the world as to have become largely impenetrable. The intelligence services will no doubt be given resources to try harder. But a serious effort to reduce the threat of this kind of terrorism, as in innumerable other cases, requires an effort to understand and to address the causes.
When a Federal Building was blown up in Oklahoma City, there were immediate cries to bomb the Middle East. These terminated when it was discovered that the perpetrator was from the US ultra-right militia movement. The reaction was not to destroy Montana and Idaho, where the movements are based, but to seek and capture the perpetrator, bring him to trial, and -- crucially -- explore the grievances that lie behind such crimes and to address the problems. Just about every crime -- whether a robbery in the streets or colossal atrocities -- has reasons, and commonly we find that some of them are serious and should be addressed. Matters are no different in this case -- at least, for those who are concerned to reduce the threat of terrorist violence rather than to escalate it.
8. Bin Laden, the devil: is this an enemy or rather a brand, a sort of logo which identifies and personalizes the evil?
Bin Laden may or may not be directly implicated in these acts, but it is likely that the network in which he was a prime figure is -- that is, the network established by the US and its allies for their own purposes and supported as long as it served those purposes. It is much easier to personalize the enemy, identified as the symbol of ultimate evil, than to seek to understand what lies behind major atrocities. And there are, naturally, very strong temptations to ignore one's own role -- which in this case, is not difficult to unearth, and indeed is familiar to everyone who has any familiarity with the region and its recent history.
5. Doesn't this war risk to become a new Vietnam? That trauma is still alive.
That is an analogy that is often raised. It reveals, in my opinion, the profound impact of several hundred years of imperial violence on the intellectual and moral culture of the West. The war in Vietnam began as a US attack against South Vietnam, which was always the main target of the US wars, which ended by devastating much of Indochina. Unless we are willing to face that elementary fact, we cannot talk seriously about the Vietnam wars. It is true that the war proved costly to the US, though the impact on Indochina was incomparably more awful. The invasion of Afghanistan also proved costly to the USSR, but that is not the problem that comes to the fore when we consider that crime.
1. Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that bin Laden was behind the events. If so, what reason might he have had? It certainly can't help poor and disempowered people anywhere, much less Palestinians, so what is his aim, if he planned the action?
2. Again, if bin Laden planned these actions, and especially if popular fears of more such actions come are credible, what is the proper approach to reducing or eliminating the danger? What steps should be taken by the U.S. or others, domestically or internationally? What would be the results of those steps?
3. What steps, in contrast, is the U.S. government seeking to undertake? What will be the results, if they succeed in their plans?
4. Many people say that the citizens of Arab nations should have taken responsibility to remove terrorists from the planet, or governments that support terrorists. How do you react?
It makes sense to call upon citizens to eliminate terrorists instead of electing them to high office, lauding and rewarding them. But I would not suggest that we should have "removed our elected officials, their advisers, their intellectual claque, and their clients from the planet," or destroyed our own and other Western governments because of their terrorist crimes and their support for terrorists worldwide, including many who know fall into the category of "terrorists" because they disobeyed orders: Saddam Hussein, and many others before him. However, it is rather unfair to blame citizens of harsh and brutal regimes that we support for not undertaking this responsibility, when we do not do so under vastly more propitious circumstances.
5. Many people say that all through history when a nation is attacked, it attacks in kind. How do you react?
6. Many people evince horrified anger at the expressions of anger at the U.S. emanating from many parts of the world, including but not confined to the mideast. The images of people celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center leave people wanting revenge. How do you react to that?
7. Getting beyond these public reactions, in your view what are the actual motivations operating in U.S. policy at this moment? What is the purpose of the "war on terror," as proposed by Bush?
8. Do you believe that most Americans will, as conditions permit more detailed evaluation of options, accept that the solution to terror attacks on civilians is more terror attacks on civilians, and that that solution to fanaticism is surveillance and curtailed civil liberties.
Chomsky Compendium Interview From Greek, Spanish and French Press
I mention this single example, easily multiplied, to illustrate the substantive meaning of the relaxation of constraints on state action. We may recall that violent and murderous states quite commonly justify their actions as "counter-terrorism": for example, the Nazis fighting partisan resistance. And such actions are commonly justified by respected intellectuals.
To be sure, there are many factors to be considered in thinking about your question. But the historical record is of overwhelming importance. At a very general level, the question cannot be answered. It depends on specific circumstances and specific proposals.
Bundestag in Germany already decided that German soldiers will join american forces, although 80% of the german people do not agree with this, according to a survey of the Forsa Institute. How do you comment this?
What do you think about the nations acting as a global community on war time? It is not the first time that every country should be allied with USA, otherwise it is considered an enemy, but now Afganistan is declaring the same thing.
The "global community" strongly opposes terror, including the massive terror of the powerful states, and also the terrible crimes of Sept. 11. But the "global community" does not act. When Western powers use the term "international community," they are referring to themselves. For example, NATO bombing of Serbia was undertaken by the "international community" according to consistent Western rhetoric, although those who did not have their heads buried in the sand knew that it was strongly opposed by most of the world, often quite vocally. Those who do not support the actions of wealth and power are not part of "the global community," just as "terrorism" conventionally means "terrorism directed against us and our friends."
It is hardly surprising that Afghanistan is attempting to mimic the US, calling on Muslims to support it. The scale, of course, is vastly smaller. Even as remote as they are from the world outside, Taliban leaders presumably know full well that the Islamic states are not their friends. These states are prime targets of the radical Islamic forces organized and trained by the CIA, Egypt, Pakistan and others to fight a Holy War against Russia. These states have, in fact, been subjected to terrorist attack by the radical Islamicist forces they helped to create ever since the assassination of President Sadat of Egypt -- one of the most enthusiastic of the creators -- 20 years ago.
- According to you, an attack against Afganistan, is "a war against terrorism"?
An attack against Afghanistan will probably kill a great many innocent civilians, not Taliban but their victims, possibly enormous numbers in a country where millions are already on the verge of death from starvation. It will also answer bin Laden's most fervent prayers, as Washington is hearing from foreign leaders, specialists on the region, and presumably its own intelligence agencies. Such an attack will be a massive crime in itself, and will very likely escalate the cycle of violence, including new acts of terror directed against the West, possibly with consequences even more horrifying than those of September 11. The dynamics are, after all, very familiar.
Could you imagine how the situation would be if the terrorist's attack in the USA had happened during the night, when very few people would be in the WTC? In other words, if there were very few victims, would the American government react in the same way? Up to what point is it influenced by the symbolism of this disaster, the fact that the Pentagon and the Twin Towers were hit?
I doubt that it would have made any difference. It would have been a terrible crime even if the toll had been much smaller. The Pentagon is more than a "symbol," for reasons that need no comment. As for the World Trade Center, we scarcely know what the terrorists had in mind when they bombed it in 1993 and destroyed it last week, but we can be quite confident that it had little to do with such matters as "globalization," or "economic imperialism," or "cultural values," matters that are utterly unfamiliar to bin Laden and his associates and of no concern to them, just as they are, evidently, not concerned by the fact that their atrocities over the years have caused great harm to poor and oppressed people in the Muslim world and elsewhere, again on September 11. Among the immediate victims are Palestinians under military occupation, as they surely must have known. Their concerns are different, and bin Laden, at least, has been eloquent enough in expressing them in many interviews: to overthrow the corrupt and repressive regimes of the Arab world and replace them with properly "Islamic" regimes, to support Muslims in their struggles against "infidels" in Saudi Arabia (which he regards as under US occupation), Chechnya, Bosnia, western China, North Africa, and Southeast Asia; maybe elsewhere.
It is convenient for Western intellectuals to speak of "deeper causes" such as hatred of Western values and progress. That is a useful way to avoid questions about the origin of the bin Laden network itself, and about the practices that lead to anger, fear and desperation throughout the region, and provide a reservoir from which radical Islamicist terrorist cells can sometimes draw. Since the answers to these questions are rather clear, and are inconsistent with preferred doctrine, it is better to dismiss the questions as "superficial" and "insignificant," and to turn to "deeper causes" that are in fact more superficial even insofar as they are relevant.
Are we assisting to a war? Should we call it a war?
There is no precise definition of "war." People speak of the "war on poverty," the "drug war," etc. What is taking shape is not a conflict among states, though it could become one: the US has warned, loud and clear, that the nations of the world face a "stark choice": join us in our crusade or "face the certain prospect of death and destruction" (RW Apple, NYTimes, Sept. 14). If the US literally follows through on that threat, or anything like it, there will be war on an extraordinary scale. I think that is highly unlikely, but not excluded.
Is it a conventional war? A new one, a crusade, as Mr. Bush said, or simply an act of terror?
It is neither "new," nor a "war against terrorism." We should not forget that the Reagan administration came into office 20 years ago announcing that a primary focus of foreign policy would be the threat of "international terrorism," and it reacted to this threat with programs of international terrorism on a remarkable scale, even leading to a World Court condemnation of the US for "unlawful use of force" (i.e., international terrorism).
What happened on Sept 11 was, unquestionably, a horrifying crime. There are proper ways to respond to crimes, great or small, in accord with US domestic and international law, and there are precedents; for example the one I just mentioned. Nicaragua presumably could have reacted to Washington's terrorist war by setting off bombs in Washington. Instead, it approached the World Court, which issued the judgment that I just cited. The US of course dismissed the Court with contempt. Its response was to escalate the terrorist attack, and to veto a Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law, then voting against a similar General Assembly resolution (alone with Israel and El Salvador; the following year Israel alone). The US could choose to adhere to its obligations under international law as well, and of course would face no barriers. That is by no means the only example. When the US attacked Sudan in 1998, destroying the facilities that produce half its pharmaceutical supplies (which it could not replenish), causing the death of unknown numbers of people, Sudan approached the Security Council, but the US refused to permit even an inquiry. When IRA bombs were set off in London, there was no call to bomb the US, the source of most of the financial support for the IRA. Rather, efforts were made to deal with what lay behind the resort to terror. When a federal building was blown up in Oklahoma City, there were calls for bombing the Middle East, and it probably would have happened if the source turned out to be there. When it was found to be a militia-based bombing, there was no call to obliterate Montana and Idaho, where most of the ultra-right militias are based. Rather, there was a search for the perpetrator, who was found, brought to court and sentenced, and there were efforts to understand the grievances that lie behind such crimes and to address the problems. Just about every crime -- whether a robbery in the streets or colossal atrocities -- has reasons, and commonly we find that some of them are serious and should be addressed.
These are the proper ways to respond to criminal acts, whether by individuals or by states.
Can we talk of the clash between two civilizations?
This is fashionable talk, but it makes little sense. Suppose we briefly review some familiar history.
The most populous Islamic state is Indonesia, a favorite of the US ever since Suharto took power in 1965, as army-led massacres slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people, mostly landless peasants, with the assistance of the US and with an outburst of euphoria from the West that was unconstrained, and is so embarrassing in retrospect that it has been effectively wiped out of memory. Suharto remained "our kind of guy," as the Clinton administration called him, as he compiled one of the most horrendous records of slaughter, torture, and other abuses of the late 20th century. The most extreme Islamic fundamentalist state, apart from the Taliban, is Saudi Arabia, a US client since its founding. In the 1980s, the US along with Pakistani intelligence (helped by Saudi Arabia, Britain, and others), recruited, armed, and trained the most extreme Islamic fundamentalists they could find to cause maximal harm to the Russians in Afghanistan. As Simon Jenkins observes in the _London Times_, those efforts "destroyed a moderate regime and created a fanatical one, from groups recklessly financed by the Americans." One of the beneficiaries was Osama Bin Laden. Also in the 1980s, the US and UK gave strong support to their friend and ally Saddam Hussein -- more secular, to be sure, but on the Islamic side of the "clash" -- right through the period of his worst atrocities, including the gassing of the Kurds, and beyond.
Also in the 1980s the US fought a major war in Central America, leaving some 200,000 tortured and mutilated corpses, millions of orphans and refugees, and four countries devastated. A prime target of the US attack was the Catholic Church, which had offended the self-described "civilized world" by adopting "the preferential option for the poor."
In the early 90s, primarily for cynical great power reasons, the US selected Bosnian Muslims as their Balkan clients, to their enormous harm.
Without continuing, exactly where do we find the divide between "civilizations." Are we to conclude that there is a "clash of civilizations" with the Catholic Church on one side, and the US and the most murderous and fanatic religious fundamentalists of the Islamic world on the other side? I do not of course suggest any such absurdity. But exactly what are we to conclude, on rational grounds?
Do you think we are using the word civilization properly? Would a really civilized world lead us to a global war like this?
It is said that Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western civilization, and answered that he felt it might be a good idea. No civilized society would tolerate anything I have just mentioned, which is of course only a tiny sample even of US history, and European history is even worse. And surely no "civilized world" would plunge the world into a major war instead of following the means prescribed by international law, following ample precedents.
How do you see the imminent future? What do you expect to happen now?
The US might follow the course it has proclaimed, attacking Afghanistan and probably killing a great many innocent civilians, not Taliban but their victims, possibly enormous numbers in a country where millions are already on the verge of death from starvation. By doing so, it will also answer bin Laden's most fervent prayers, as Washington is hearing from foreign leaders, specialists on the region, and presumably its own intelligence agencies. Such an attack will be a massive crime in itself, and will very likely escalate the cycle of violence, including new acts of terror directed against the West, possibly with consequences even more horrifying than those of September 11. The dynamics are, after all, very familiar.
Or, the US might heed the warnings that it is receiving, for example, from the French foreign minister, who warned that the US would be falling into a "diabolical trap" set by bin Laden if it massacred innocents in Afghanistan.
I would not venture a prediction. But there clearly are choices within the spectrum just indicated.
Which political consequences do you believe this conflict will have in a long term? What kind of world will our sons and daughters heritage from us?
That depends on which course is chosen. The consequences of one or another choice are not certain, but we can make some rather plausible estimates.
What do you think the terrorists tried to do or say with the attacks?
I presume no one knows the answer better than the CIA, who helped establish and train the terrorist networks, and has been well acquainted with them since the first time that they turned against their creators, in 1981, when they assassinated President Sadat of Egypt. Or two years later, when one suicide bomber, perhaps with links to the same networks, drove the US military out of Lebanon. And on many occasions since. They have also been quite clear in articulating their goals, particularly bin Laden himself, in many interviews over the past 10 years: to overthrow the corrupt and repressive regimes of the Arab world and replace them with properly "Islamic" regimes, to support Muslims in their struggles against "infidels" in Saudi Arabia (which he regards as under US occupation), Chechnya, Bosnia, western China, North Africa, and Southeast Asia; maybe elsewhere. Their terrorist activities have been very harmful to the poor and oppressed majority, but that is not their concern, and they know that they can draw from the reservoir of desperation, fear, and anger that in significant measure results from US policies, as people of the region, including the most pro-American of them, are well aware.
The attacks have been called an act of hate. Where do you think this hate comes from?
For the radical Islamists mobilized by the CIA and its associates, the hate is just what they express. The US was happy to support their hatred and violence when it was directed against US enemies; it is not happy when the hatred it helped nurture is directed against the US and its allies, as it has been, repeatedly, for 20 years. For the population of the region, quite a distinct category, the reasons for their feelings are not obscure. The sources of those sentiments are also quite well known. The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed the attitudes of "moneyed Muslims": bankers, professionals, businessmen, pro-American but severely critical of US policies in the region. They deplored Washington's support for harsh and repressive regime, its opposition to democratic tendencies, and the barriers it places to independent economic development by "propping up oppressive regimes." But their primary concern was Washington's decisive support for Israel's harsh and brutal military occupation, a policy that is even more shocking by contrast to the devastating US assault against the civilian society of Iraq, a huge crime against innocent people that also happens to strengthen Saddam Hussein. Similar sentiments prevail, though in much harsher terms, among the great majority outside the narrow circles of privilege. They do not, of course, share the comforting illusions prevalent in the US about the "generous" and "magnanimous" offers at Camp David, let alone other favored myths.
Do you think innocent people ad civilians are going to pay for the attacks?
Yes, exactly as in the past. Who have been the victims of the crimes I have already mentioned, a minuscule sample?
What do you think about the european attitude in the conflict?
Like virtually everyone, Europeans reacted with justified horror, shock, and dismay to the terrorist atrocities. But for Europe and its Northamerican offshoot, these came as a particular shock. The crimes have been described as something new in modern history, and that is correct -- not in scale, regrettably, but in the target.. For the US, this is the first time since the War of 1812 that its national territory has been under attack, even threat. Its colonies have been attacked, but not the national territory itself. During these years the US virtually exterminated the indigenous population, conquered a large part of Mexico, intervened violently in the surrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half century particularly, extended its resort to force throughout much of the world. The number of victims is colossal. For the first time, the guns have been directed the other way. The same is true, even more dramatically, of Europe. Europe has suffered murderous destruction, but from internal wars, meanwhile conquering much of the world with extreme brutality. It has not been under attack by its victims outside, with rare exceptions. It is therefore natural that NATO should quickly rally to the support of the US; hundreds of years of imperial violence have an enormous impact on the intellectual and moral culture.
Nevertheless, European leaders, and to some extent public commentary, have been warning the US not to react with extreme violence. They have not, I believe, gone as far as President Mubarrak of Egypt, who urged the US to provide credible evidence before launching an attack, and to operate within the framework of international law -- and recall that Egypt, one of the initial creators of the terrorist networks, has suffered bitterly from its atrocities for 20 years. However, Europe has been, so far, a restraining force, with variations of course.
What do you suggest the citizens of the Western World could do to make peace come back?
That depends what these citizens want. If they want an escalating cycle of violence, in the familiar pattern, they should certainly call on the US to fall into bin Laden's "diabolical trap" and massacre innocent civilians. If they want to reduce the level of violence they should use their influence to direct the great powers in a very different course, the one I outlined earlier, which, again, has ample precedents. That includes a willingness to examine what lies behind the atrocities. One often hears that we must not consider these matters, because that would be justification for terrorism, a position so foolish and destructive as scarcely to merit comment; but unfortunately common (this morning's New York Times, Sept. 21, for example, on the part of a respected intellectual). But if we do not wish to contribute to escalating the cycle of violence, with targets among the rich and powerful as well, that is exactly what we must do, as in all other cases, including those familiar enough in Spain.
Who do you think is going to be benefited from this conflict?
Such atrocities commonly benefit the harshest and most repressive elements on both sides, just as a massive retaliation against civilians is widely expected to benefit the terrorist networks. In this case, the Sept. 11 atrocities were a crushing blow against Palestinians living under military occupation, and Israel made no effort to conceal its satisfaction in exploiting a "window of opportunity" (as it was openly described) to tighten its grip on Palestinians. The Bush administration at once moved to exploit the opportunity to ram through its own agenda: militarization, including "missile defense," a code phrase for militarization of space; undermining social democratic programs and concerns over environmental issues, the harsh effects of corporate "globalization," and so on; instituting measures that will intensify the transfer of wealth to very narrow sectors (e.g., eliminating the capital gains tax); regimenting the society so as to eliminate discussion and protest. That is all natural, and to be expected. Escalation of violence is likely to have similar effects, on all sides. Again, the dynamics are familiar.
What did you think of these terrorist attacks? Where they predictible?
The attacks were an atrocious crime against humanity. No one seriously doubts that. That something of this scale and sophistication could take place, no one could have predicted. That includes the world's intelligence agencies, which monitor very closely the activities of the terrorist networks that are presumably responsible. Bear in mind as well that the leading intelligence agencies know a great deal about the terror networks, if only because they helped establish them and observed their criminal activities closely while continuing to provide them with massive aid and training . But although an assault of this nature was surely not anticipated, that some kind of terrorist attack might take place is a surprise to no one who has been paying attention to US policies in the Middle East region.
The attacks are not "consequences" of US policies in any direct sense. But indirectly, of course they are consequences; that is not even controversial. There seems little doubt that the perpetrators come from the terrorist network that has its roots in the mercenary armies that were organized, trained, and armed by the CIA, Pakistani intelligence, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others (with initiatives from French intelligence too) in order to fight a Holy War against the Russian invaders in Afghanistan. The backgrounds of all of this remain somewhat murky. President Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has boasted that he was responsible for drawing the Russians into an "Afghan trap" (his words) by initiating support for Mujahideen fighting the government in mid-1979, six months before the Russian invasion. China and Iran were also apparently active in 1978-79 in similar activities, joining later with the US-centered operation. It is possible that Brzezinski is simply bragging about his brilliance in helping unleash the monster that has been causing havoc around much of the world since, but there may be something to his story. There is no doubt that these operations were underway at an enormous scale from early 1980. And it is not surprising that the CIA and its associates preferred the most extreme radical elements that they could round up from North Africa, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, to form the core of their "Afghanis," who were forged into a mercenary army of hundreds of thousands, armed with advanced weapons. These radical Islamists (called "fundamentalists," in much Western commentary) were the most fanatic and dedicated killers. And the "blowback," to borrow the CIA's term, began at once. In 1981, radical Islamists with "Afghani" roots assassinated President Sadat of Egypt, one of the most enthusiastic creators of the "Afghanis". In 1983, a single suicide bomber, possibly with indirect links to the same growing networks, effectively drove the US military out of Lebanon. Since then, particularly in the 1990s, they have spread terror around much of the world. Their great triumph was driving the Russians out of Afghanistan, at enormous cost. The end result was to "destroy a moderate regime and create a fanatical one, from groups recklessly financed by the Americans" (_London Times_ correspondent Simon Jenkins, a specialist on the region; most of the funding was apparently Saudi). "Afghanis" then joined Muslim forces fighting in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kashmir, Western China (themselves veterans of the Chinese-inspired campaigns), the Philippines, and elsewhere. They have carried out murderous terror attacks in the countries where the regimes are their main enemies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And in the 1990s, against the United States, which, according to bin Laden and his associates, have been occupying Saudi Arabia much as the Russians occupied Afghanistan, since the US established permanent military bases there. And the US of course is the prime backer of the corrupt and brutal Saudi regime, and others like it in the region -- none of them "Islamist" by the standards of the terrorist monster that was created by the West for its own purposes.
Furthermore, as is common knowledge among anyone who pays attention to the region, the terrorists draw from a reservoir of desperation, anger, and frustration that extends from rich to poor, from secular to radical Islamist. That it is rooted in no small measure in US policies is evident, and constantly articulated to those willing to listen.
Why are the US so much hated in the Middle East? Support for Israeli occupation, support of repressive Arab regimes, sanctions against civilian populations in Irak, arrogance, US as a symbol (of what?), religious reasons?
The _Wall Street Journal_ (Sept. 14) published a survey of opinions of wealthy and privileged Muslims in the Gulf region (bankers, professionals, businessmen with close links to the US). They strongly support the general policies that the US is advancing throughout the world: corporate globalization, and all the rest. But they bitterly resent US policies in the Middle East. Their primary grievance is the massive US military, diplomatic, and economic support for Israel's brutal military occupation, now in its 35th year, a stand that contrasts sharply in their minds with Washington's attack against Iraqi civilian society, devastating it while strengthening Saddam Hussein -- who, as they know, the US strongly supporter through his worst atrocities, including the gassing of the Kurds. They also object strenuously to US support for harsh, repressive and corrupt regimes throughout the region, its opposition to democratic tendencies, and its imposition of barriers against economic development by "propping up oppressive regimes." Among the great majority of people suffering deep poverty and oppression, similar sentiments are far more bitter. Though the bin Laden network and others like them cause immense harm to the people of the region, nonetheless their denunciation of the brutal and corrupt regimes, and their condemnation of US policies, surely has ample resonance.
You said that the main practitioners of terrorism are countries like the US which use violence for political motives. When and where?
I find the question baffling. The US is, after all, the only country condemned by the World Court for international terrorism -- for "the unlawful use of force" for political ends, as the Court put it, ordering the US to terminate these crimes and pay substantial reparations. The US of course dismissed the Court's judgment with contempt, reacting by escalating the terrorist war against Nicaragua and vetoing a Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law (and voting alone, with Israel, against similar General Assembly resolutions). The terrorist war expanded in accordance with the official policy of attacking "soft targets" -- undefended civilian targets -- instead of engaging the Nicaraguan army. That was only a small component of Washington's terrorist wars in Central America in that terrible decade, leaving 200,000 corpses and four countries in ruins. In the same years the US was carrying out large-scale terrorism elsewhere, including the Middle East: to cite one example, the car-bombing in Beirut in 1985 outside a Mosque, timed to kill the maximum number of civilians, with 80 dead and 200 casualties, aimed at a Muslim Sheikh, who escaped. And it supported much worse terror: for example, Israel's invasion of Lebanon that killed some 18,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, not in self-defense, as was conceded at once; and the vicious "iron fist" atrocities of the years that followed, directed against "terrorist villagers," as Israel put it. And the subsequent invasions of 1993 and 1996, both strongly supported by the US (until the international reaction to the Qana massacre in 1996, which caused Clinton to draw back). The post-1982 toll in Lebanon alone is probably another 20,000 civlians. In the 1990s, the US provided 80% of the arms for Turkey's vicious counterinsurgency campaign against Kurds in its southeast region, killing tens of thousands, driving 2-3 million out of their homes, leaving 3500 villages destroyed (10 times Kosovo under NATO bombs), and with every imaginable atrocity. The arms flow had increased sharply in 1984 as Turkey launched its terrorist attack and began to decline to previous levels only in 1999, when the atrocities had achieved their goal. In 1999, Turkey fell from its position as the leading recipient of US arms (Israel-Egypt aside), replaced by Colombia, the worst human rights violator in the hemisphere in the 1990s and by far the leading recipient of US arms and training, following a consistent pattern. In East Timor, the US (and Britain) continued their support of the Indonesian aggressors, which had already wiped out about 1/3 of the population with their crucial help (France as well). That continued right through the atrocities of 1999, with thousands murdered even before the September assault that drove 85% of the population from their homes and destroyed 70% of the country -- while the Clinton administration kept to its position that it is the responsibility of the Indonesians, and we don't want to take that away from them. It was only after enormous pressure that the Administration informed the Indonesians that the game was over, at which point they immediately withdrew, revealing the latent power that was always there had the US not been committed to support for Indonesian mass murderers. In 1998, in one of the minor episodes of US terrorism, Clinton destroyed half the pharmaceutical supplies in Sudan and the facilities for replenishing them, with a casualty toll that must be enormous, though no one knows, because the US blocked a UN inquiry and Western intellectuals evidently are not concerned about such trivialities: similar attacks in France, or Israel, or the US would presumably lead to a different reaction, though the comparison is unfair, because these are rich countries with ample supplies that can easily be replenished. I have already mentioned the devastation of Iraqi civilian society, with about 1 million killed, over half of them young children -- "a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it," as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright explained on prime time TV a few years ago. This is only a small sample.
I am, frankly, surprised that the question can even be raised -- particularly in France, which has made its own contributions to massive state terror and violence, surely not unfamiliar.
You said if the Clinton doctrine on retaliation is to be taken litterally, some countries would have the right to set off bombs in Washington . Could you explain this.
I don't recall ever referring to a "Clinton doctrine on retaliation," but if you have in mind official US policy, in all administrations, the explanation seems transparent. Merely to take a single example -- uncontroversial because of the World Court ruling -- according to US doctrine, after Washington had rejected the orders of the World Court and the Security Council, and escalated its terrorist war, Nicaragua should have set off bombs in Washington. And after Washington's decisive support for Israeli atrocities in Lebanon and the occupied territories, the victims should be doing the same. And so on. This is just simple logic. If the doctrine is accepted -- not just for ourself, but for others -- the conclusions follow at once.
There are rather unanime reactions in the US? Do you share them, partly or completely?
If you mean the reaction of outrage over the horrifying criminal assault, and sympathy for the victims, then the reactions are virtually unanimous everywhere, including the Muslim countries. Of course every sane person shares them completely, not "partly." If you are referring to the calls for a murderous assault that will surely kill many innocent people -- and, incidentally, answer bin Laden's most fervent prayers -- than there is no such "unanimous reaction," despite superficial impressions that one might derive from watching TV. As for me, I join a great many others in opposing such actions. A great many. The New York Times surveyed opinion in the streets of New York, and at a memorial for the victims, discovering that the sentiments expressed in words and in signs were overwhelmingly opposed to a resort to violence. What majority sentiment is, no one can really say: it is too diffuse and complex. But "unanimous"? Surely not, except with regard to the nature of the crime.
What will be the consequences of these attacks? In the United States? Concerning the civil liberties, Defense budget, others?
Such atrocities commonly benefit the harshest and most repressive elements on both sides, just as a massive retaliation against civilians is widely expected to benefit the terrorist networks. Predictably, the Bush administration at once moved to exploit the opportunity to ram through its own agenda: militarization, including "missile defense," a code phrase for militarization of space; undermining social democratic programs and concerns over environmental issues, the harsh effects of corporate "globalization," and so on; instituting measures that will intensify the transfer of wealth to very narrow sectors (e.g., eliminating the capital gains tax); regimenting the society so as to eliminate discussion and protest. That is all natural, and to be expected. What the longer term consequences will be depends, as always, on how the population responds after the initial shock is absorbed and the efforts to inspire obedience become less effective. I suspect that the society will prove rather resilient.
In other countries?
It depends which countries you mean. Surely many countries will rejoice at the opportunity to enlist Washington's support for their own atrocities. Commentators express much satisfaction that other countries are expressing some willingness to join Washington's "crusade against evil," but they are not explaining why. They surely know the reasons. US assistance is welcomed by Russia for crushing Chechens, by China for its wars against Muslims in Western China, by Indonesia for its continuing atrocities in Aceh and elsewhere, by India for destroying resistance to its rule in largely-Muslim Kashmir, and on, and on. If you have in mind the Middle East, the regimes that are the targets of bin Laden's wrath and despised many of their own citizens will be inclined to join Washington's assault against their enemies, but they are also wary of the consequences. They doubtless agree with Foreign Minister Vedrine about the "diabolical trap" laid by bin Laden, who reiterated what has been stressed by specialists on the region and presumably US intelligence agencies. They understand the likely consequences of a ground war in Afghanistan, and understand as well that the massacre of Afghanis -- not Taliban, but their victims -- will only help bin Laden and others like him to enlist others in the horrendous cause, the familiar dynamic of an escalating cycle of violence.
We cannot be confident about consequences, just as Washington planners cannot be. But there are plausible assessments of the likely consequences of the various choices that Washington and its allies might make.
10/ What shoud the US government do now? What can they do? And the European countries?
It should follow the rule of law and its treaty obligations, a course for which there are ample precedents. For example the case of Nicaragua, just mentioned -- and recall that the US attack against Nicaragua was a serious affair, leaving tens of thousands killed and the country ruined. True, Nicaragua's efforts to follow the rule of law were blocked by a violent superpower, but no one will block the US. That is far from the only example. If half the pharmaceutical facilities and supplies in the US were destroyed by the bin Laden network, the crime would be considered horrendous, and there might be a violent response. Sudan however, went to the UN, where it was of course blocked by its attacker. When IRA bombs went off in London, the government did not send the RAF to bomb the source of their finances; where I live in Boston, for example. Even if that had been feasible, it would have been criminal idiocy. A more constructive response was to consider realistically the background concerns and grievances, and to try to deal with them seriously, while at the same time following the rule of law to punish criminals. Or take the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City. There were immediate calls for bombing the Middle East, and it probably would have taken place if there had been even a remote hint of a connection. When the perpetrator was found to be a militia sympathizer, there was no call to obliterate Montana and Idaho and Texas, and other places where the ultra-right militias are based. Rather, there was a search for the perpetrator, who was found, brought to court and sentenced, and to the extent that the reaction was sensible, there were efforts to understand the grievances that lie behind such crimes and to address the problems.
Just about every crime -- whether a robbery in the streets or colossal atrocities -- has reasons, and commonly we find that some of them are serious and should be addressed. At least, that is the course we follow if we have any concern for right and justice, and hope to reduce the likelihood of further atrocities rather than increase it. The same principles hold quite generally, with due attention to variation of circumstances. Specifically, they hold in this case.
There are lawful and proper ways to proceed in the case of crimes, including horrifying crimes of international terrorism -- of which this, regrettably, is not the first example.
As for the European countries, they do not need my advice.
the term "terrorism" exactly in the sense defined in official
us documents: "the calculated use of violence or threat of violence
to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature.
This is done through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear."
Given these conventions, even the very same people and actions can quickly shift from "terrorists" to "freedom fighters" and back again. That's been happening right next door to Greece in recent years. The kla-uck were officially condemned by the us as "terrorists" in 1998, because of their attacks on Serb police and civilians in an effort to elicit a disproportionate and brutal Serbian response, as they openly declared. As late as January 1999, the British -- the most hawkish element in nato on this matter -- believed that the kla-uck was responsible for more deaths than Serbia, which is hard to believe, but at least tells us something about perceptions at high levels in nato. If one can trust the voluminous documentation provided by the state department, nato, the osce, and other western sources, nothing materially changed on the ground until the withdrawal of the kvm monitors and the bombing in late march 1999. But policies did change: the us and UK decided to launch an attack on Serbia, and the "terrorists" instantly became "freedom fighters." after the war, they became "terrorists," "thugs," and "murderers" as they carried out similar actions in Macedonia, a us ally.
Everyone condemns terrorism, but we have to ask what they mean. You can find the answer to your question about my views in many books and articles that i have written about terrorism in the past several decades, though i use the term in the literal sense, and hence condemn all terrorist actions, not only those that are called "terrorist" for propagandistic reasons.
It should be unnecessary to point out that massive terrorism is a standard device of powerful states, just as Stohl observes. Some cases are not even controversial. Take the us war against Nicaragua, leaving tens of thousands dead and the country in ruins. Nicaragua appealed to the world court, which condemned the us for international terrorism ("the unlawful use of force"), ordering it to desist and pay substantial reparations. The us responded to the court ruling by sharply escalating the war, and vetoing a security council resolution calling on all states to observe international law. The escalation included official orders to attack "soft targets" -- undefended civilian targets, like agricultural collectives and health clinics -- and to avoid the Nicaraguan army. The terrorists were able to carry out these instructions, thanks to the completely control of Nicaraguan air space by the us and the advanced communications equipment provided to them by their supervisors.
It should also be recognized that these terrorist actions were widely approved. One prominent commentator, Michael Kinsley, at the liberal extreme of the mainstream, argued that we should not simply dismiss state department justifications for terrorist attacks on "soft targets": a "sensible policy" must "meet the test of cost-benefit analysis," an analysis of "the amount of blood and misery that will be poured in, and the likelihood that democracy will emerge at the other end" -- "democracy" as the US understands the term, an interpretation illustrated quite clearly in the region. It is taken for granted that US elites have the right to conduct the analysis and pursue the project if it passes their tests. When the terrorist project succeeded, and Nicaragua succumbed, Americans were "united in joy," the New York Times proclaimed, knowing full well how the goal was achieved. As Time magazine put it joyfully, the methods were to "wreck the economy and prosecute a long and deadly proxy war until the exhausted natives overthrow the unwanted government themselves," with a cost to us that is "minimal," leaving the victim "with wrecked bridges, sabotaged power stations, and ruined farms," and thus providing the us candidate with "a winning issue": ending the "impoverishment of the people of Nicaragua." euphoria over the achievement was unconstrained among elites.
But the US terrorist war was not "terrorism," it was "counter-terrorism" by doctrinal standards. And us standards prevail in much of the world, as a result of us power and the cost of defying it.
This is by no means the most extreme example; i mention it because it is uncontroversial, given the world court decision, and because the failed efforts of nicaragua to pursue lawful means, instead of setting off bombs in washington, provide a model for today, not the only one.
There are (in the light of the recent terrorist attack) a lot of debate
and controversy here in Greece (and i suppose in other countries) that
in the wholeness of human history, there had not been a single superpower
with ethics. Many analysts, historians, politicians and intellectuals
claim that superpowers, nations, states and all the other human institutes
are interested only in becoming bigger, stronger. In other words, power
and authority have nothing to do with values, ethics and ideas. They
have only to do with more power, more money, much greater force, and
much greater authority. Do you believe that? Do we have an historic
example of an empire, a state, a superpower that dealt with the rest
of the world and the citizens having in mind human values?
It is obvious that American politicians and intelligence officers know
many things that we don't about this tragedy. In many cases we will
hear half-true facts and straightforward lies. I've read in many articles
and book of yours that when a politician tells a lie, in a short time
he comes to believe it! (forgive me for not quoting you exactly). A)
how can we explain this attitude? B) which do you think that are the
biggest lies and half true facts we heard until now for this tragedy?
Bin Laden has issued the same charges -- just a few days ago once again, in a long interview on the only independent Arab radio channel, rebroadcast by bbc. He and his associates, however, have other goals: in their words, driving "foreign invaders" out of Muslim lands, replacing the corrupt and repressive regimes by true "Islamic" ones, and defending Muslims fighting for their rights in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kashmir, western china, the Philippines, and elsewhere. All of this they see as a continuation of the holy war against the Russians that they fought with the support of the CIA, Saudi Arabia, and others who they regard as enemies of Islam.
We see that, nowadays, the value of human life is getting... Depreciated
rapidly. Do you think that this phenomenon will continue to scale? The
US government (and the western word in general) does consider human
life as a valuable "asset"?
Now, as far as this strike against Manhattan and the pentagon is concerned.
How do you judge the coverage of the tragedy by the US media? How do
you comment on the explanation given by many us media that "the
terrorists struck USA because they hate western values (civil liberties,
tolerance, welfare, etc).
As for the media, we have to ask how they dealt with the basic questions that arise in the case of crimes, small or horrendous: who was responsible? What should the response be? Why did it happen? There has been virtually no discussion of any of these questions. The request of the Arab league, China, even nato that the us present credible evidence is dismissed as an absurdity, and in the case of the Taliban, further evidence of their criminality. The us will produce a white paper, which perhaps will be accepted by its allies, though the evidence is hardly likely to be more persuasive than it was after earlier terrorist bombings attributed to these terrorist networks -- probably correctly, but judgments are not evidence. As for what should be done, there is virtually no discussion of the lawful course that was pursued by Nicaragua, among others: when our leaders call for violence, we must applaud their courage and integrity. As for why, apart from a few exceptions like the wall street journal, several times, there is very little in the mainstream.
What do you think is: a) best case scenario. B) worst case scenario.
C) the most probable scenario.
The worst case scenario would be to carry out a massive assault that would kill many innocent people -- in Afghanistan, not Taliban but their victims. Apart from the crime itself, that would answer bin Laden's prayers, as foreign leaders, specialists on the region, and probably us intelligence agencies are advising Washington: it would serve to rally many angry and desperate people to his horrendous cause, and to escalate the cycle of violence, with outcomes that could be catastrophic. Even if bin laden is killed, such an assault would be likely to have that effect: he would become a martyr, and his voice would resound all over the Arabic-speaking world, on the thousands of cassettes that are already circulating.
What do you believe that was the most hideous terrorist act in history?
What do you think motivated the terrorists to commit such a crime? The
"enemy" was in the twin towers in Manhattan, in the pentagon
or somewhere else? Where was the real enemy?
Who do you believe that did it? Was he Osama bin Laden?
Do you believe that this occurrence will change the policy (domestic
and foreign) of the us government?
What do you fear most that will occur because of the terrorist attack?
You agree to the estimation that "in 9/11/2001 the world changed?"
Which do you believe that will happen to countries (such as Greece)
and the Balkans in general? We read many times that bin laden has many
links with kla and ethnic Albanians guerillas. Do you think that Greece
(and by extension the Olympic games 2004) is in danger of terrorist
attacks, guerilla warfare and generally consequences that will force
the Greek government to postpone or call off the Olympic games?
Is Islam dangerous to the western civilization or the western way of
life consists a threat to mankind?
As for "western civilization," perhaps we can heed the words attributed to Gandhi when asked what he thought about "western civilzation": he said that it might be a good idea.