An Appropriate Response
Hunger for revenge can easily swamp any form of reason
in thinking about the awful tragedy that unfolded on September 11. If we
see things as a crusade of good against evil -- as our President recommends
-- then we learn nothing from the murder of thousands and, in all likelihood,
even worse disasters lie in store.
The bombing of the World Trade Center emerges from more than five decades
of history, a history which most Americans do not know about or would prefer
to forget. During the last twenty years alone, the United States bombed Libya,
Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, and Yugoslavia.
These direct applications of American military force are only the tip of
the interventionist iceberg. Consider seven points:
The basic causes of the September 11 bombing are clear enough. A huge number
of people in a band of countries from Morocco to Afghanistan are furious at
the United States and have been for a long time. Although only a small fragment
of this population advocates terrorism, and only a tiny share of this fragment
will ever engage in terrorist acts, the fury of the great mass sustains the
violence of the tiny sect.
Although envy of the rich and powerful is normal in human affairs, the policies
of the United States towards the Middle East since World War Two have provoked
more than the ususal anger among many Middle Eastern people. These policies
include ruthless preoccupation with oil, almost carte blanche support of Israel,
indifference to the welfare of Arab people, hostility towards and overthrow
of truly nationalist governments, backing of reactionary rulers (e.g. shah
of Iran, emir of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban) whenever it serves American
purposes, and liberal use of military force to obtain these objectives. The
underlying source of the attack upon the World Trade Center is not Islamic
fundamentalism but imperialist domination.
We are rightly horrified by the death of innocents in Washington and New York.
But how many Americans shed a tear over the estimated 500,000 children that
have perished as a consequence of U.S. policies towards Iraq, or 17,000 civilians
killed in the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon bankrolled by our government,
or Clinton’s bombing of Sudan that destroyed half
of its pharmaceutical supplies with massive and deadly consequences, or
the devastation of Afghanistan facilitated by CIA intervention?
Technocratic anti-terrorism will not succeed. It may be possible to eliminate
some existing groups bent upon committing violent acts against American civilians.
However, if the underlying sense of injustice and violation persists, others
will take their place and new violent sects will emerge. To millions of people
in the region from Morocco to Afghanistan, the perpetrators of Tuesday’s massacre
were not conscienceless fanatics, but brave soldiers trying to avenge the
humiliation of Middle Eastern societies.
Although the bombings of New York and Washington were immensely destructive,
they are small by comparison with the terrorist carnage feasible in the years
ahead. Car delivered nuclear bombs can wipe out entire cities. Easily spread
biological pathogens (e.g. anthrax or small pox) can devastate counties or
even states. There is no effective defense against such horrors. The only
feasible approach is reducing the motivation to commit terrorist deeds.
Violence alone will not prevent any large collectivity from committing violence.
If violence prevented violence, the history of the last century would have
been entirely different. On the contrary, the use of violence without addressing
grievances typically deepens the resolve to commit yet further violence. And
the violence of a military superpower against a far weaker opponent instills
the motivation to commit violence as an act of terrorim.
Any effort to exact a broad retribution that aims at punishing persons, organizations,
or countries associating with identified terrorists will probably degenerate
into indiscriminate massacre cum racism.
|An appropriate response
to the September 11 massacre, and an appropriate memorial to its victims,
||apprehending the living persons directly responsible
for the World Trade Center atrocity (likely a small group),
||reevaluating – and hopefully
changing – the policies that systematically antagonize people of the Middle
||retreating from the arrogant
unilateralism characteristic of America’s international role in the recent
||sharply curtailing the weapons trade, and
||strengthening the United Nations as the most hopeful
and legitimate venue for resolving world conflicts.
September 17, 2001