ByJan Oberg, TFF director
It happened five years ago and changed the world. But for the wrong reasons. The biggest problem is not 9/11 but 7/10: October 7 when the Bush administration started the “war on terror” in a mistaken or deliberate attempt to capitalize on that fateful day: 9/11. But their deficient and opportunistic interpretation of the event has created a world much more unstable than any time since 1945.
Deficient? Opportunistic? If you think these are strong words, please look at the recent Discovery-TIME Magazine opinion poll
49 per cent of the American
people think that the Bush administration has used the threat of terrorism or the terrorism alerts for political reasons! (45 per cent do not think so). The same poll shows that only 23 per cent of the Americans think the U.S. will win the war on terrorism within the next ten years or so. And 54 per cent think that the U.S. in Iraq hurts, rather than help, that war.
This is what the Americans think. How much larger percentages do you think you would find around the world, then, on these questions? It’s time for celebration: the credibility and legitimacy of the world-dominating U.S. Empire is over!
Mainstream media will not commemorate October 7. Neither will they March 20 when the Iraq war began. Our leaders, in spite of all their talk about democracy, civilisation and human rights, would not even think of observing 3 minutes of silence for the innocent dead in Afghanistan and Iraq, proportionately hundreds of times bigger human catastrophes than 9/11.
Today’s “humanism” marches in soldiers’ boots.
Our leaders are not evil of course, probably not even cynical. They may even believe that they do good. Remember Tony Blair on Kosovo’s bombing – I had not read all the books about it, but I thought we had a good case. No, they have lost their moral and intellectual compass since the triumphalist interpretation of the fall of Communism.
We desperately need other angles today. Here follow some different perspectives as an alternative to the mainstream, unbearably self-pitying commemoration of 9/11.
Indeed, September 11 was an appalling day for those who lost their lives and those who lost their loved ones. In spite of that, it is high time to get its proportions right, recognise the intellectual and moral blunders in its wake and devise new policies.
The 9 problems
1. It was not a war and the American monopolization of the sorrow and “response” should have been opposed
No soldiers or uniformed people committed the terrible crime on September 11, 2001 that killed close to 3000 people. No weapons were used, no border transgressed. It was a criminal act, but not a war and responding with an out-of-proportion “war on terrorism” represents an opportunistic taking advantage. Among the killed were people of about 80 nationalities. If the Bush administration is so concerned about “American” lives, it would do something about the 30.000 Americans who are killed annually by guns in the hands of fellow American citizens and about the 100 times worse problem: obesity. Around 300.000 Americans die annually because they are too fat.
2. There was only “who?” did it and “how could they do it?”, never really “why did they”?
There was an obvious message sent by attacking Wall Street and Pentagon and presumably having planned the White House too. It was an attack on the economic, military (and political) centres of the United States in particular, on the Empire, on U.S. foreign policy.
Believing it was a declaration of war on all the West was, again, nothing but a convenient exaggeration serving to legitimize the “war” that was chosen as the response. The attack on 9/11 was hardly an unprovoked attack, it was a response to American post-1945 foreign policies.
In addition, no one is fighting terrorism
(the "Why?" question). They are all chasing, arresting, bombing and killing terrorists
3. Terrorism was defined inadequately
Governments, authorities and international organizations, including – sadly – the United Nations panicked and chose a definition according to which only non-state actors can conduct terrorist policies. Of course, governments can be terrorist too, and they are. So this definition is biased, serves only to define anyone “we” don’t like as terrorists.
4. Terrorism was and remains a minor threat
According to State Department’s website at the time, terrorism killed about 400 people and wounded 700 per year worldwide before 2001, with Columbia as an important scene.
A global problem that affects 1100 people a year must come very far down the list of threats and preventable deaths. The risk that you or I shall be hit by a terrorist act presumably is about the same as you or I shall be murdered by our best friend. Compared with the 100.000 who die unnecessarily every day on Earth because they lack clean water, medicine, shelter, clothes! Compare with aids, overdevelopment-caused deaths, with cancer and traffic accidents and you will see the obvious: Terrorism is an tiny global issue not worth a fraction of the money and media attention combating it receives these years! We are wasting time and resources dearly needed for much more important problems.
5. It ruthlessly exploits fear, builds on “fearology”
The open society should be strong enough to protect itself. Powerful people tell us that their mission is to protect us. They know no limits – while keeping on conducting general policies and special wars that will have only one effect: provoking more terrorism. Fearology is the new ideology of the West and it is likely to have much more self-defeating and dictatorial – potentially fascist – long-term effects than the old Cold War ever could.
6. The war on terror stands in the way for dealing with real problems
Conservatives and neo-liberal governments clamp down on humanist values, on development aid and on solidarity. Others, such as Nordic social democratic parties abdicate their responsibility to combat such terror-promoting policies. The more unequal the world gets and the more unfair it appears, the more we help terrorism and other extremism grow (whether or not their argument about acting on behalf of the dispossessed is part of their propaganda or seriously meant). Aren’t we proving the terrorists right - that right underneath the shining surface of Western culture, racism, fascism and imperialism rears their ugly heads?
7. The war on terror creates the terrorism it is supposed to stop
It isn’t that terrorism has not been diminished. The problem is that the “war on terror” has had one crystal clear consequence, namely that of boosting the motivation and determination of ever more terrorists. For instance, there were no terrorism in Iraq before 2003 (except you may say, that of Saddam). Today it seems to be the Number One meeting place for terrorists.
8. It risks closing the open society and diminishing democracy
It’s frightening to see how fast civil liberties and humanitarian conduct has been undermined. Western society is revealed to have only a thin layer of decency. When threatened it accepts blatant human rights violations, breaches of international law, the norms of the UN Charter, etc. The right to privacy is violated on a daily basis – all in the name of fighting terrorists and protecting the citizens. Huge money is earned on cameras, security arrangements, electronic surveillance, private armies, checking of electronic profile, etc.
There is no IQ so low that it cannot invent a risk to air travellers or customers in the shopping malls and, thus, we must all be checked, treated as potential criminals. Regrettably, people seem grosso modo
to accept it even though it threatens to close us all off from free social communication, instil fear and make everybody suspicious of fellow human beings.
9. It has undermined humanism and international law
Panic politics after September 11 has had devastating consequences upon law, accountability and human rights. People can be detained, arrested and killed in actions supposedly aimed to foil terrorist plots. In the past we could feel reasonably sure that what elected leaders told us was most of the truth; now no more.
*** The 11 solutions (Part 2)
1. Discuss the basic reasons behind terrorism
It’s very simple: try to look at the world from the perspective of the disadvantaged millions. Try to listen with a Muslim/Arab ear to Western, sometimes Christian-based, politicians – how would you feel if you were in the receiving end of such arrogance, history falsification, constant threats of bombings, accusations about being less civilized and educated? Wouldn’t you be a little angry? You might not become a terrorist yourself, but you certainly could see those who the West categorizes as “terrorists” as people who stand up for your pride and against the humiliation.
2. Listen to the terrorists’ words
Bin Laden’s first message dealt with, among other things, the wars the U.S. has fought including the atomic bombs dropped ion Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While we must never accept or endorse the meanest of all violence – that of terrorism which by definition hits innocent people for political purposes – we would certainly do wise to listen to what they say, how they feel and whom they say to act on behalf of and who don’t protest.
3. Seek Christian-Muslim reconciliation in general
If it wasn’t meant to become a clash of civilisation, it is about to become one. This is another conflict to which there is no military or other violence-based solutions. We can do nothing wiser that meet, co-operate, listen, invite and produce culture together and show that we are human beings first and that there are far more similarities than differences between our cultures and faiths.
4. Apologise and seek genuine co-operation with post-occupation Iraq
There are over 300.000 clinically traumatised children and youth in Iraq alone. Ask yourself what attitude they will have to the West when they become adults, e.g. politicians.
The economic sanctions that hit the Iraqi civil society, not Saddam and his people, created what amounts to a genocide: there live today 500.000 to 1.000.000 fewer people in Iraq due to these sanctions alone. Additionally, the war on Iraq has caused death, wounding and other suffering to hundreds of thousands and destroyed its society.
Apologising for this, developing true partnership and co-operation that furthers reconciliation and forgiveness is now a minimum requirement. But limitlessly self-righteous Western politicians have not even begun to understand the challenge. They talk about bombing Iran or imposing sanctions. We must stop them with constructive, humanist policies, with people-to-people partnership and reconciliation.
5. Democratize the democracies, respect the equal value of all humans and stop Western racism and fundamentalism
For instance, observe 3 minutes of silence on October 7 and March 20. For instance, stop believing that democracy is about election or referenda where people can vote yes or no to issues set up by the West.
Democracy is an ethos, a matter of education, a result of society’s organic growth, it is about shaping life so that there is real choice. Voting but having no opportunity to define choice among alternatives is phoney democracy, diluted fascism as Gandhi said.
Today’s globalization is economic and military, only. We need cultural and democratic globalization, the latter meaning worldwide participation in decision-making about global issues. It means more UN General Assembly and less Security Council.
With our own corruption, the all too manifest disgust with politicians, the buying of elections and the post 9/11 disrespect for human rights and laws practised by so-called democracies, time has come to recognise that we have nothing to teach others. We need self-criticism and a bit of humility. Imposing our democracy on others, even if it were perfect, will only add to their sense of humiliation. And we would never accept others telling us in the West what we must do, or else - -
6. Solve the Israeli-Palestine conflict in a fair and sustainable manner, accept that neither the U.S. nor Britain can be a mediator
Certainly the single most important policy proposal! There will be no end to terrorism as long as de facto mediation means favouring one state, its occupation policies, its nuclear weapons and its uncompromising militant policies in ways no other state gets away with. The “exceptionalism” of the U.S. and Israel – the only two states which turn down all criticism of their policies with the propagandistic argument that it is “anti-American” and “anti-Semitic” - must be systematically pointed out and opposed.
7. Exercise self-criticism and learn the lessons from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
This is but another obvious point that only the decision-makers behind these wars cannot see. There is no genuine peace in Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo/a, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq or between Israel and Palestine where military means have been employed in a dominating mode allegedly to “create peace.”
To put it crudely, violence always creates more violence, if not today then at some point in the future.
War is obsolete. But it you do not have the minimum intellectual and diplomatic capabilities, you are likely to overuse your military capabilities.
8. Increase educational and other opportunities for every child and youth to learn about and interact with those who have another faith and live different lives, learn from them.
Begin now, begin everywhere: to train the next generation in tolerance, understanding, concrete knowledge about “the others”, peace education, dialogue, active listening. Provide opportunities for mutual studies and living with those who are different. Those we know well, those we have friends among, those we understand and respect – those are not the first we want to see killed by our own soldiers. The only thing that needs to be blown to pieces now is every self-serving black-and-white, good-evil images.
10. Denounce violence whoever commits it. There is no good violence.
9. Independent journalism instead of government megaphone reporting.
We need unbiased media, journalists and editors who understand the importance of focussing on the underlying conflicts rather than on violence and war. We need positive images from war zones, namely those that show how citizens seldom want war, how they oppose the war-mongers and refuse to accept hate propaganda. We need more focus on the thousands of civil society groups - usually ignored or made invisible by the media – that work for peace and understanding than on Nasrallah, Bush, Blair and Olmert.
Refuse to accept the black-and-white, good-evil propaganda. Refuse to be intimidated by terrorist’s threats and by George Bush and other Western leaders’ alerts and promises about “protecting” you. The Bush administration and the Danish Fogh Rasmussen administration would not be occupiers in Iraq today if they truly cared about the safety of their nations.
In addition we get nowhere if we only take sides among two violent parties; that remains a pro-violence, pro-war standpoint. We will get somewhere only when we help those we sympathize with to use the wide spectrum of non-violent action. The Iraqi resistance or Hizbollah may have very understandable motives, but they have – regrettably – never cared to investigate the obvious alternatives to bombs and killings. Thus, they promote violence as a political tool in general and provide legitimacy to their opponents’ continued violence.
11. Scrap the war on terror. Recognise that five more years with all of this is bound to lead to world disaster!
Also, travel the world, see for yourself and don’t worry the slightest about being hit by terrorists. Defy the fearology imposed on you! Stop accepting that anything can be done in the name of fighting terrorism – as long as real measures against state and non-state terrorism is left untouched.