Lessons of History:
How to Easily Reduce Terrorism by More Than 90 Percent
Edited by Ardeshir Mehta
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If the lessons of history are learned, the world-wide incidence of terrorism can be reduced dramatically.
Hereunder is a (fairly long) history, and we can all draw some lessons from it, especially the lesson of how terrorism can be easily reduced by over 90 percent (yes, you read that right).
The history is long, but it can't be helped: history as a subject is like that. But if you read the whole thing, the solution given below is a guaranteed logical outcome. But you do have to read it all, because it lays the ground work for the solution.
Most of the stuff below has been gleaned from widely- and freely-available sources, including the Internet. Anyone could have found it out for themselves. But much of your homework has been done hereunder for you. Not all of it, but a lot. In many instances the source of the information will be named, so you can judge for yourself if it's reputable or not. In other cases, you can check for yourself by making a search whether what is said is true or not.
I'm going to assume that we are agreed as to three conditions for this discussion.
(1) The first one is just the recognition of mere fact. That is, we are agreed that the events of September 11th were an insane atrocity, probably the most devastating instant human toll of any crime in history outside of war.
(2) The second assumption has to do with our goals. I'm assuming that our goal is, that we are interested in reducing the likelihood of such things happening in future, whether they are against us or against someone else.
And I'm also going to assume that you and I are agreed on what I call (3) "the elementary logic of universality in ethics and morality": or in other words, that if any action is right for us under certain circumstances, it's right for others as well under those same - or very similar - circumstances, and vice versa; while if any action is wrong for us under certain circumstances, it is wrong for others as well under those same or similar circumstances (and, of course, again vice versa).
If you don't accept these three assumptions - especially the last assumption - then what I say will not be addressed to you. That's absolutely crucial. No one can discuss anything, that is anything to do with ethics, with people who won't accept, or who give clear indications of not accepting, at least that last assumption, number (3). We all have better things to do with our time than bang our heads against a wall of unreason.
But if we accept these assumptions, then a number of questions must surely arise, closely related ones, which merit a good deal of thought.
So let's ask these questions.
The first question we need to ask, and I think by far the most important one, is what the recent history is - i.e., what are the facts - and implicit in that is what can we do about them. The second has to do with the very common assumption that what happened on September 11th, 2001 is a historic event, one which has changed history. I agree with that. I think it's true. It was a historic event, but the question we should be asking is, exactly why is it a historic event? The third question has to do with the origins of the crimes of September 11th - i.e., why they happened. And the fourth question is what options there are in dealing with the situations that led to it. That will lead us to the solution proposed, which you will see would be very easy for the US government to apply, and to thereby win the world-wide war on terror most decisively.
Well, let's start with the past year. Let's talk about the situation in Afghanistan. And let's just keep to uncontroversial sources like the New York Times - no Arab propaganda. According to the New York Times, in October 2001 there were 7 to 8 million people in Afghanistan on the verge of starvation. That was actually true even before September 11th, 2001. They were surviving on international aid. On September 16th, just five days after the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon, the NY Times reported that the United States demanded from Pakistan the elimination of truck convoys that provided much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan's civilian population.
There was no reaction in the United States or in Europe - at least to my knowledge - to the demand to impose massive starvation on millions of people. The threat of military strikes right around that time forced the removal of international aid workers that crippled the assistance programs. Again from the New York Times we learn that refugees from Afghanistan reaching Pakistan after arduous journeys were describing scenes of desperation and fear at home as the threat of American-led military attacks were about to turn their long-running misery into a potential catastrophe. The country was on a lifeline, and the US government ... just cut the line. And all we could do was watch the TV screens in horror.
The World Food Program - the UN program, which is the main one by far - were able to resume after three weeks in early October 2001, but they began to resume food shipments at a lower level. They didn't have international aid workers within Afghanistan, so the distribution system was hampered. Even that was suspended as soon as the bombing began. They then resumed but at a yet lower pace, while aid agencies leveled scathing condemnations of US airdrops, condemning them as propaganda tools which are probably doing more harm than good. (That happens to be quoting from the London Financial Times - again, no Arab propaganda). After the first week of bombing, the New York Times reported on a back page inside a column on something else, that by the calculations of the United Nations there would soon be 7.5 million Afghans in acute need of even a loaf of bread, and there were only a few weeks left before the harsh winter made deliveries to many areas totally impossible, but with bombs falling the delivery rate was down to half of what was needed.
This was, mind you, a casual comment. Which tells us that the US government was anticipating the slaughter of, well - do the arithmetic - 3 to 4 million people of all ages and sexes, something like that. On the same day, the leader of Western civilization, Geo. W. Bush, dismissed with contempt, once again, offers of negotiation for delivery of the alleged target, Osama bin Laden, and a request for some evidence to substantiate the demand for total capitulation. It was dismissed. On the same day the Special Rapporteur of the UN in charge of food pleaded with the United States to stop the bombing to try to save millions of victims. As far as I'm aware that went unreported in the wider media. Then major aid agencies Oxfam and Christian Aid and others joined in that plea. You can't find a report in the New York Times. There was a line in the Boston Globe, hidden in a story about another topic, Kashmir.
We could easily go on, but all of that indicates to us what was happening. Looks like what was happening was the Western nations imposing some sort of silent mass murder: the starving off of millions of people - civilians, mostly, i.e., non-combatants, those who were least able to resist.
It also gives a good deal of insight into the elite culture of the Western world, the culture that we - you and I - are part of.
We in North America didn't hear about it much. But that's not the case in the rest of the world. If you read the Irish press or the press in Scotland - that close to us, forget the Arab presses, just Western European - even across the Atlantic, reactions were very different.
Well, anyway, that's what was happening. What was happening was very much under US government control. The US government could have done a lot to affect what was happening. And Arabs the world over know that.
Now let's file that bit of information away in the back of our minds for later, and turn to a slightly more abstract question, forgetting for the moment that in October 2001 the US government was in the midst of rather clearly trying to murder 3 or 4 million civilians by starvation - not the Taliban of course, but their victims: the Taliban had stocks of food set aside for themselves, they wouldn't have starved, you can bet on it. Let's go back to the question of the historic event that took place on September 11th.
As I said, I think it's correct to say that it was indeed a historic event. Not, unfortunately, because of its scale, unpleasant as it was to think about - in terms of the scale it's not that unusual, unless as I said, we consider it as a crime outside of war. I did say it's the worst - probably the worst instant human toll of any crime outside war. And that may well be true. But there are terrorist crimes with effects a lot more drawn out that are much more extreme.
Nevertheless, it was a historic event because there was a change. The change was the direction in which the weapons were pointed. That's what was new. Radically new.
To see why, let's give some thought to US - and generally, Western - history over the centuries.
The last time that the national territory of the United States was under attack, or for that matter, even threatened, was in 1814, when the Canadians - they weren't Canadians then, but British subjects, because Canada as a separate nation did not yet exist: but whatever it was, those people lived in and came to the US from what is now Canada, and that territory was even called "Canada" then, it just wasn't a nation - when these Canadians or British, whatever you want to call them, burned down Washington: that was the last time that the national territory of the United States was under attack. It's common to bring up Pearl Harbor as the example of the last time it happened, but that's not a good example. In the Pearl Harbor case, the Japanese bombed US military bases which were located in what were then US colonies, not (at that time) in the national territory; colonies which had been taken from their inhabitants in not a very pretty way, and some of whose descendants are trying at this very moment to use all legal means to get them back. But on September 11th it was the national territory of the US that was attacked on a large scale: and this is unique in over 200 years - well, almost, if you discount the Canadians burning down Washington.
During these more than 200 years since it came into being as a nation, the United States expelled, or, mostly, exterminated, the indigenous population - that's many millions of people; conquered half of Mexico; carried out depredations all over the region, Caribbean and Central America, sometimes beyond; and conquered Hawaii and the Philippines, killing several hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in the process. Since the Second World War, the US as a nation has extended its reach around the world in ways I don't even have to describe, everyone knows it.
But in all this time the US, as a nation, was always killing someone else; the fighting (except for the massacre of the indigenous members of the First Nations) was somewhere else, it was others who were getting slaughtered. Not Americans living in the national territory of the US. There were only minor exceptions to this.
In the case of the rest of Western civilization, namely Europe, the change is even more dramatic because its history is even more horrendous than that of the US. The US is an offshoot of Europe, of course. For hundreds of years, indeed ever since Columbus, Europeans have been casually slaughtering people all over the world, the majority of them in the Americas, North and South. That's how they conquered the world: not by handing out candy to babies. During this period, Europeans themselves also suffered murderous wars, but that was European killers slaughtering each other. The main history of Europe for millennia is described in all the history books as the slaughter of one group of Europeans by another. The only reason that it came to an end in 1945 - it had nothing to do with democracy or not being violent against each other and other "fashionable" notions - was the fact that everyone understood that the next time they play the game it was going to be the end of everyone including Europe, because the Europeans and their offshoots, including the US, had developed such massive weapons of destruction that that game was over whether it was played or not. It was a lose-lose situation for the players.
And European violence goes back hundreds, even thousands of years. In the 17th century, about probably 40% of the entire population of Germany was wiped out in just one war.
Now why are we discussing Europe, you might ask. It's because we want to see how it looks through the eyes of those who hate the West. Europe is part of the West. They hate America, it's true, but they also hate the West in general.
And history tells us exactly why. During the whole bloody murderous period outlined above, it was, of course, Europeans slaughtering each other, but more importantly, at least as far as non-Europeans are concerned, it was Europeans slaughtering people elsewhere. This wasn't the case with most of other major powers and peoples of the world: the Chinese, the Japanese, the Indians, the Africans. They fought all right, and slaughtered one another all right (though not quite on the same scale as the Europeans, except sporadically), but by and large they did not go out and slaughter others far away. They stayed more or less within their own territories. The Mongols under Genghis Khan and his descendants did, to be sure, slaughter people far away from Mongolia, almost a thousand years ago; and that's why they were so hated and feared by everyone else in Asia and even to some extent in Europe.
But in the last five hundred years, the people of the Congo didn't attack Belgium, the Indians didn't attack England, the Algerians didn't attack France, the South Americans didn't attack Spain or Portugal, the people of the West coast of Africa didn't enslave the Americans by the shipload. There are again small exceptions, but pretty small in scale, certainly invisible in the scale of what the West was doing to the rest of the world.
September 11, 2001 was virtually the very first change in this trend since the Turks laid siege to Vienna in 1683. The first time that the guns have been pointed the other way on western soil itself.
And I think that's probably why you see such different reactions on the two sides, West and East (or at least the Mid-West and the Middle-East). The world looks very different depending on whether you are holding the gun and its trigger, or whether you've been looking down its muzzle for hundreds of years: very different.
So I think the shock and surprise in Europe and its offshoots, like the US and Australia, is very understandable. It is a historic event, regrettably not in scale, but in something else: and that's one reason why most of the rest of the world looks at it quite differently than we in the West do.
The rest of the world is not lacking in sympathy for the victims of the atrocity or being horrified by them - that's almost uniform - but they are viewing it from a different perspective.
This is something we might want to understand. If we can't see things through the eyes of our adversaries, we will have already lost the ability to bring about a rapprochement between us and them.
Now let's file this info away for the moment also, and go on to another - though related - question, namely: "What exactly is this thing we call terrorism?" The "war against terrorism" has been described in high places as a struggle against a plague, against a cancer which is being spread by barbarians, by "depraved opponents of civilization itself." That's a feeling I do share. The words I'm quoting happen to be from 20 years ago. That's President Reagan and his Secretary of State. The Reagan administration came into office 20 years ago declaring that the war against international terrorism would be the core of US foreign policy - describing it in terms of the kind I just mentioned, and others.
And it was the core of US foreign policy. The Reagan administration responded to this "plague spread by depraved opponents of civilization itself" by creating an extraordinary international terrorist network, totally unprecedented in scale, which carried out massive atrocities all over the world: partly nearby, but not only nearby.
I've just called this thing the Reagan administration set up "a terrorist network", and now let's back up this claim. We'll leave aside for the time being the definition of "terrorism" and "terrorist" till later - and we'll also touch at that point upon a definition which the US has already accepted - but we'll deal with all that later in considerable detail. But for now let's just deal with one case which is totally uncontroversial, so we might as well not argue about it at all. It is by no means the most extreme, but it is uncontroversial. It's uncontroversial because of the pronouncements on record of the very highest international authorities: the International Court of Justice, the World Court, and the UN Security Council. This one is absolutely uncontroversial, at least among the category of folks who have even some minimal concern for international law, human rights, justice and other things like that.
And as an aside, I'll leave you an exercise. You can estimate the size of that category of folks by simply asking how often this uncontroversial case has been mentioned in the media commentary of the last year, since September 11th. And it's a particularly relevant one, not only because it is uncontroversial, but because it does offer a precedent as to how a law-abiding state did in fact respond to international terrorism, a fact which is uncontroversial, and which was far more extreme than the events of September 11th.
I'm talking about the Reagan-US war against Nicaragua which left tens of thousands of people dead, and the country ruined, perhaps beyond recovery.
Nicaragua did respond. They didn't respond by blowing up buildings in Washington and New York. They responded, as all civilized nations should, by taking it to the World Court, and presenting a case. They had no problem putting together evidence. The World Court accepted their case, ruled in their favor, condemned what they called the "unlawful use of force," which is the very definition of international terrorism as we shall see below, by the United States government. They ordered the United States to terminate it and to pay massive reparations.
The United States government, of course, dismissed the court's judgement with total contempt and announced that it would not accept the jurisdiction of the court henceforth.
Then Nicaragua went to the UN Security Council which considered a resolution calling on all states to observe international law. No state was specifically mentioned but it was clear that "all states" included the US. The United States vetoed the resolution. The US now stands as the only state on record which has both been condemned by the World Court for international terrorism, and has vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law.
Nicaragua then went to the UN General Assembly, where there is technically no veto, but a negative US vote amounts to a veto. It passed a similar resolution, with only the United States, Israel, and El Salvador opposed. The following year it did so again, and this time the United States could only rally Israel to the cause, so there were two votes opposed to observing international law.
At that point, Nicaragua couldn't do anything any more that was lawful. It had tried all the legal measures. They hadn't worked. It was a world ruled by naked, brutal American force.
This case is uncontroversial but it's by no means the most extreme. We gain a lot of insight into North American culture and society and what's happening now by asking, "How much we know about all this? How much do we talk about it? How much do we learn about it in school? How much is it all over the front pages?"
And this is only the beginning. The United States responded to the World Court and the Security Council by immediately escalating the war in Nicaragua very quickly. That was, incidentally, a bipartisan decision. The terms of the war were also changed. For the first time there were official orders given to the terrorist army to attack what were called "soft targets," meaning undefended civilian targets, and to keep away from the Nicaraguan army. They were able to do that because the United States had total control of the air over Nicaragua, and the mercenary army was supplied by the US government with advanced communication equipment, paid for, if you're American, with your tax dollars. It wasn't a guerrilla army in the normal sense, it could get instructions about the disposition of the Nicaraguan army forces so they could attack agricultural collectives, health clinics, and so on - "soft targets" - with impunity. Those were the official orders. The US government officially targeted these and other civilians.
What was the reaction in the US mainstream media? There was, of course, a reaction to it. But it wasn't what you would expect from civilized people. The policy was actually regarded as sensible by mainstream US left-liberal opinion. So for example Michael Kinsley, who represents the left in mainstream US discussion, wrote an article in which he said that we shouldn't be too quick to criticize this policy as Human Rights Watch had just done. He said a "sensible policy" must "meet the test of cost benefit analysis" - that is (and I'm quoting verbatim now) the 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, of course: something which is graphically illustrated in the surrounding countries. This was the reaction by the mainstream American press.
Notice that it is axiomatic in the US media, left or right wing, that the United States - i.e., the US power structure - has the right to conduct the analysis and to pursue the project if it passes their tests. And it did pass their tests. Of course it did: it worked! When Nicaragua finally succumbed to superpower assault, US commentators openly and cheerfully lauded the success of the methods that were adopted, and even described them accurately. I'll quote Time Magazine (just to pick one mainstream magazine). They lauded the success of the methods adopted "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 the US that is "minimal," and leaving the victims "with wrecked bridges, sabotaged power stations, and ruined farms," and thus providing the US candidate with a "winning issue", namely, "ending the impoverishment of the people of Nicaragua." The New York Times had a headline saying "Americans United in Joy" at this outcome.
That is the culture in which you live - in which we live.
And it reveals several facts.
One is the fact that international terrorism works. It doesn't fail. It works, at least in the short run.
Secondly, it's a very serious analytical error to say, as is commonly done, that terrorism is the "weapon of the weak". Like other means of violence, it's primarily a weapon of the strong - overwhelmingly, in fact. It is touted as a "weapon of the weak" by the media because the strong also control the doctrinal systems, the media, so that their terror doesn't even count in their own media as terror. That's close to universal. I can't think of a historical exception: even the worst mass murderers view the world that way. Pick the Nazis. They weren't, as far as they were concerned, carrying out terror in France, Poland and other parts of occupied Europe. They were "protecting the local population from the terrorism of the partisans". Like other resistance movements, terrorism was carried out only by the partisans and the resistance. The Nazis were carrying out "counter-terror": they were anti-terrorism.
Furthermore, the United States government essentially agreed with that assessment. After the war, the US army did extensive studies of Nazi counter-terror operations in Europe. First the US army picked them up and began carrying them out itself, often against the same targets, namely the former resistance. But more to the point, the US military also studied the Nazi methods, and published interesting studies of them, sometimes critical of them not because they were evil, but because they were inefficiently carried out, so in a critical analysis, you might find statements which said, basically, "you didn't do this right, you did that right". But those were the methods adopted by the US military, taken with the advice of ex-Wehrmacht officers who were brought over to the US. They became the manuals of counter insurgency, of counter-terror, of "Low Intensity Conflict" as it is now called, and they are the procedures that are being used even today.
So it's not just that the Nazis did it. It's that it was regarded as the right thing to do by the US military, who then proceeded to do it themselves.
So terrorism is not the weapon of the weak. It is the weapon of those who are against "us", whoever "us" happens to be.
And if you can find a historical exception to that, I'd be interested in seeing it.
Now an interesting indication of the nature of North American culture, our "high" culture, the one in all the US universities and the one spouted by virtually all the members of the intelligentsia, is the way in which all of this is regarded. One way it's regarded is just by silence, by suppressing it. So almost nobody in the US has ever heard of it. Indeed the power of the American media and the doctrine it has espoused for so long is so strong that even among the victims it's barely known. I mean, when you talk about this to people in Argentina, you have to remind them. "Oh, yeah, that happened, we forgot about it." It's been deeply suppressed.
In Nicaragua at least, one illuminating aspect of the US government's and media's own attitude toward other nations is the reaction to the idea that Nicaragua might have the right to defend itself. Please go through this yourself in some detail, with database searches on the Internet and that sort of thing. The idea that Nicaragua might have the right to defend itself was considered outrageous in US government and mainstream US media circles. There is virtually nothing in mainstream US commentary indicating that Nicaragua might have that right.
And that fact was exploited by the Reagan administration in an interesting way. You may remember that periodically there were rumors that the Nicaraguans were getting MiG jets from the Soviet Union. At that point the hawks and the doves split. The hawks said, "ok, let's bomb 'em." The doves said, "wait a minute, let's see if the rumors are true. And if the rumors are true, then let's bomb 'em. Because then they become a threat to the United States."
Why, incidentally, were the Nicaraguans acquiring MiGs? Well, they tried to get jet planes from European countries, but the United States put pressure on them so that they wouldn't send the Nicaraguans means of self-defense because they - the American government - wanted the Nicaraguans to turn to the Soviets, so that they - the Nicaraguans - could be blamed in the media. That's good for PR purposes. Then they "become" a threat to the US. Remember, the Nicaraguans were just two days march from Harlingen, Texas. The US government actually declared a national emergency in 1985 to protect the country from the threat of Nicaragua. A threat from Nicaragua to the US!
And this emergency stayed in force, at least on the books.
So the only choice for the Nicaraguans, if they wanted to defend themselves, was to get planes from the Soviets. Why would they want jet planes? Well, how about for self-defense? The United States Air Force and Army and Navy and Marines had total control over their airspace, they were over flying it and using that to provide instructions to the terrorist army to enable them to attack "soft targets" - civilians, that means - without running into the Nicaraguan army that might defend them. Everyone knew that that was the reason. But the idea that Nicaragua should be permitted to defend its airspace against a superpower attack that was directing terrorist forces to attack undefended civilian targets, that was considered in the United States government and even the US media as outrageous, and uniformly so, both by the US "doves" and US "hawks" alike. Exceptions are so few, one can practically list them.
I don't suggest that you take my word for this. Have a look at the record. That includes your own senators of the time, incidentally.
Another illustration of how the US government regards terrorism was in late 2001. The US government had just appointed an ambassador to the United Nations to lead the war against terrorism. Who was he? Well, his name was John Negroponte. He was the US ambassador in the US fiefdom - which is what it really is - of Honduras in the early 1980's. There was a little fuss made about the fact that he must have been aware, as he certainly was, of the large-scale murders and other atrocities that were being carried out by the security forces in Honduras that we were supporting. But that's a small part of it. As "proconsul" of Honduras, as he was called there, he was the local supervisor for the terrorist war based in Honduras, for which the US government was condemned by the World Court and then the Security Council in a vetoed resolution. And it is he who was appointed as the UN Ambassador to lead the "war against terror".
Another small experiment you can do is check and see what the reaction was to this. I could tell you what you are going to find, but find it for yourself, do some homework.
All this tells us a lot about the "war against terrorism" and a lot about the US government.
After the United States took over Nicaragua again, under the conditions that were so graphically described by the press, the country was pretty much destroyed in the 1980's, but it has totally collapsed since in just about every respect. Economically, democratically and in every other respect it has declined sharply since the US take over. All that misery, and no democracy resulted. Not even the "cost-benefit analysis" of the media hypocrites has been satisfied. It's now the second poorest country in the hemisphere. The US government destroyed it, with (if you're American, please note!) the help of your tax dollars; and who knows how long it will take to recover.
I mentioned that I picked Nicaragua because it is an uncontroversial case. If you look at the other states in the region, the state terror was far more extreme, and it again traces back to Washington, and that's by no means all.
It was happening at that time elsewhere in the world too: take, say, South Africa. During the Reagan years alone, South African attacks, backed by the United States and Britain, killed about a million and a half people and left 60 billion dollars in damage and countries destroyed.
And if we go around the world, we can add many more examples.
Now that was the first "war against terror" of which I've given a small example. Are we supposed to pay attention to that? Or kind of think that that might be relevant? After all it's not exactly ancient history.
Well, evidently not, as one might tell by looking at the current discussion of the new "war on terror" which has been the leading topic for quite a while now. Obviously we are not supposed to pay attention to that first one.
I mentioned that Nicaragua has now become the second-poorest country in the hemisphere. What's the poorest country? Well that's of course Haiti, which also happens to be the victim of most US intervention in the 20th century. The US government left it totally devastated. It's the poorest country in this area of the world. Nicaragua is second ranked in degree of US intervention in the 20th century. It is the second-poorest, vying with Guatemala. They interchange every year or two as to who's the second-poorest. And they also vie as to who is the leading target of US military intervention.
We're supposed to think that all of this is some sort of accident. That is, it has nothing to do with anything that the US did.
The worst human rights violator in the Western hemisphere the 1990's was Colombia, and that by a long shot. It was also by far the leading Western hemisphere recipient of US military aid in the 1990's, this aid used for maintaining the terror and human rights violations. In 1999, Colombia replaced Turkey as the leading recipient of US arms world-wide, excluding of course Israel and Egypt which are in a separate category altogether. And that tells us a lot more about the "war on terror" right now, in fact.
Let's turn to Turkey. Why was Turkey getting such a huge flow of US arms? Well if you take a look at the flow of US arms to Turkey, Turkey always got a lot of US arms. It's strategically placed, a member of NATO, and so on. But the arms flow to Turkey went up very sharply in 1984. It didn't have anything to do with the cold war. The Soviet Union was collapsing. But the arms flow stayed high from 1984 to 1999 when it reduced and it was replaced in the lead by Colombia.
What happened from 1984 to 1999? Well, in 1984, Turkey launched a major terrorist war against the Kurds living in south-eastern Turkey. And that's when US aid went up - and by "aid" I mean US military aid. And this was not pistols and rifles. This was jet planes, tanks, military training, and so on. And it stayed high as the atrocities escalated through the 1990's. The peak year was 1997. In 1997, US military aid to Turkey was more than in the entire period 1950 to 1983 - that is the cold war period - which is an indication of how much the cold war has affected policy.
And the results were devastating. This led to 2 to 3 million refugees. We're talking millions, not thousands. Some of the worst ethnic cleansing of the late 1990's took place then. Tens of thousands of people killed, 3,500 towns and villages destroyed, way more than Kosovo, even under NATO bombs. And the United States government was providing 80% of the arms, increasing as the atrocities increased, peaking in 1997. It declined in 1999 because, once again, terror worked as it usually does when carried out by its major agents, the powerful nations. So by 1999, Turkish terror, called of course "counter-terror" - but as I said, that's universal - worked. Therefore Turkey was replaced by Colombia which had not yet "succeeded" in its "terrorist war", and which therefore had to move into first place as recipient of US arms.
What makes this all particularly striking is that all of this was taking place right in the midst of a huge flood of self-congratulation on the part of Western intellectuals, a period of hypocrisy which probably has no counterpart in history. It was just three years ago or thereabouts. Massive self-adulation about how for the first time in history "we Westerners" are so magnificent; that "we" are standing up for principles and values; dedicated to ending inhumanity everywhere in the new era of this-and-that, and so-on-and-so-forth. And "we" certainly can't tolerate atrocities right near the borders of NATO. That was repeated over and over in papers, magazines and books, and on the TV and radio. "We" can only tolerate these things within the borders of NATO, where "we" can not only tolerate much worse atrocities but actually contribute to them.
Another insight into Western civilization is how often was this brought up in the media. Try to look at the record. (Don't expect all your homework to be done for you!)
And Turkey was very grateful. Just last year, shortly after the September 11 attacks, Prime Minister Ecevit of Turkey announced that his country would join the "coalition against terror": and he did this very enthusiastically, even more so than others. In fact, he said they would contribute troops, which others have not willing to do. And he explained why. He said, Turkey owes a debt of gratitude to the United States because the United States was the only country that was willing to contribute so massively to Turkey's own - in his words - "counter-terrorist" war, that is to Turkey's own massive ethnic cleansing and atrocities and terror.
Other countries helped a little, but they stayed back. The United States as a nation, on the other hand, contributed enthusiastically and decisively, and was able to do so because of the silence - actually, servility might be the better word - of the American educated people, who could easily find out about it, not just on the Internet but in the press as well. You could read human rights reports. You could read all sorts of stuff. But the US government chose to contribute to the atrocities in Turkey and the Turkish government was very happy, they owed the US government a debt of gratitude for that, and therefore would contribute troops just as during the war in Serbia. Turkey was very much praised for using its F-16's which the US government supplied it to bomb Serbia, exactly as it had been doing with the same planes against its own population up until the time when it finally succeeded in crushing "internal terror" as they called it.
And as usual, as always, resistance does include terror. It's been true of the American Revolution. That's been true of the French Resistance. That's been true of the African National Congress, and of every other major case of resistance (except the Indian satyagraha movement under Gandhi's leadership against the British Raj, which was exceptional in that regard.)
And its just as true that those who have a monopoly of violence talk about themselves as carrying out, not terror, but "counter-terror".
Now that has to do with the coalition that was organized last year to fight the "War against Terror". And it's very interesting to see how that coalition was being described. Have a look at the Christian Science Monitor. One lead story of the time, in October last year, the front-page story was about how people used to dislike the United States but now they are beginning to respect it, and they are very happy about the way that the US is leading the war against terror. And the prime example - in fact the only serious example - is Algeria. Turns out that Algeria was very enthusiastic about the US "War against Terror". The person who wrote the article is an expert on Africa. He surely knows that Algeria is one of the most vicious terrorist states in the world and has been carrying out horrendous terror against its own population in the past three years or so, in fact. For a while, this was under wraps. But it was finally exposed in France by defectors from the Algerian army. It's all over the place in France and in England. But Americans are very proud because one of the worst terrorist states in the world is now enthusiastically welcoming the US "war on terror" and in fact cheering on the United States to lead the war. That shows how "popular" the US is getting.
And if you look at the coalition that was being formed against terror it tells you a lot more. A leading member of the coalition: Russia, which is delighted to have the United States support its murderous terrorist war in Chechnya instead of occasionally criticizing it in the background. China also joining enthusiastically. Delighted to have support for the atrocities of its own in western China against what they call "Muslim secessionists". Turkey, as I mentioned, very happy with the "war against terror". They are experts. Indonesia: delighted to have even more US support for atrocities then being carried out by it out in Ache and elsewhere.
The list of the states that have joined the coalition against terror is quite impressive. They have a characteristic in common. They are certainly among the leading terrorist states in the world. And they happen to be led and / or actively supported by the world champion.
Now let's finally come to an adequate definition of "terror". What, exactly, is it? I have been assuming we understand it. Well, what is it? Well, there happen to be some easy answers to this. There happens to exist an official American definition. You can find it in the US code or in US army manuals. A statement taken from a US army manual: is that fair enough? There the definition of "terror" is: "the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to attain political or religious ideological goals through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear." That's terrorism, by definition. That's a fair enough definition, right? After all, it's an American definition.
The problem is that it can't be accepted, because if we accept it, all the wrong consequences logically follow. For example, all the consequences I have just been reviewing!
There is a major effort right now at the UN to try to develop a comprehensive treaty on terrorism. When Kofi Annan got the Nobel Prize in 2000, you might have noticed he was reported as saying that we should stop wasting time on this and really get down to it.
But there's a serious problem in getting down to it. If we use the official definition of terrorism in this comprehensive treaty, we are going to get completely wrong results. So that can't be done. In fact, it is even worse than that. If you take a look at the definition of "Low Intensity Warfare" - which is official US policy - you find that it is a very close paraphrase of what I just quoted from the US army manual. In fact, Low Intensity Conflict is just another name for terrorism as defined above! That's why all countries, as far as I know, call whatever horrendous acts they are carrying out, counter-terrorism. The US government happens to call it "Counter Insurgency" or "Low Intensity Conflict".
Some people try to get around that problem by defining terrorism as the activity quoted by me above, but adding a proviso: "provided that it is not being carried out by a state". If a state does the same thing, it's not called terrorism, but if people who are not a state does it, they are called terrorists.
Problem with this distinction is that those people could well become a state some day! After all, terrorists are fighting very often for political ends. Like, under that definition Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin could be terrorists in 1947 but not in 1949. Or the French resistance in WW-II would be terrorists, but the Nazis in France, not.
Or Nelson Mandela: during most of his life he would have been a terrorist, but in the nineties he would be a respected elder statesman. By this definition, if Osama bin Laden were somehow to acquire for himself and his people a decent-sized parcel of land in the middle of some desert or ocean where they were to establish their own Islamic state, they would not be terrorists any more, though at present they are!
So such a distinction doesn't work either.
So that's a serious problem. You can't use the actual definition of "terrorism" or "terrorist". You've got to carefully find a definition that doesn't lead to all the wrong consequences. But none comes to mind other than the one the US army manual quoted above quite honestly gives!
So it's a Catch-22.
There are some other problems. Some of them came up in December 1987, at the peak of the first war on terrorism. The United Nations General Assembly passed a very strong resolution against terrorism, calling on every state to fight against it in every possible way. It passed unanimously. One country, Honduras, abstained. Two votes against: the usual two, United States and Israel.
Now it's worth asking, why should the United States and Israel actually vote against a major resolution condemning terrorism in the strongest terms, in fact pretty much the same terms that the Reagan administration was using?
Well, there is a reason. There is one paragraph in that long resolution which says, essentially, that nothing in this resolution infringes on the rights of people struggling against racist and colonialist regimes or foreign military occupation to continue with their resistance with the assistance of others, other states, states outside in their just cause.
Well, the United States and Israel can't accept that, now can they? The main reason that they couldn't at the time was because of South Africa. South Africa was then an ally, and officially called an ally. There was a "terrorist force" in South Africa. It was called the African National Congress. They were a "terrorist force" officially. South Africa was a US ally then, and the US government certainly couldn't support actions by a terrorist group struggling against a racist regime: that would be off the cards.
And of course there is another reason: namely, the Israeli occupied territories, the occupation now in its 36th year. Supported primarily by the United States in blocking a diplomatic settlement for over three decades now, and still is. At the time, Israel was also occupying Southern Lebanon and was being combated by a terrorist force, the Hezbollah - which had initially been supported by Israel itself to become some sort of counter-weight to the PLO.
But the US government can't allow anyone to struggle against a military occupation when it is one that the US government supports, now can they? So therefore the US and Israel - as entire nations, and that, if you are American or Israeli, legally means in your name - had to vote against the major UN resolution which was designed to be one against terrorism.
So essentially the US and Israel, as entire nations, no less, that is in the name of the American people - many of you included! - and that of the Israeli people, voted in the UN in favor of perpetuating terrorism!
And I mentioned before that a US vote against a resolution is essentially a veto. But this is only half the story. It also erases the resolution from mainstream history. So none of this was ever reported in the mainstream press, and none of it appeared in the "annals of terrorism". Like, it never happened. If you look at the scholarly works on terrorism and so on, virtually nothing that I just mentioned appears. Only in the records of the proceedings of the UN does it appear.
The reason, however, is simple: it has got all the wrong people holding the guns. American journalists and scholars have to carefully hone the definitions and the scholarship and so on so that they come out with the "right conclusions"; otherwise it is not "respectable scholarship" and "honorable journalism".
Well, these are some of the problems that are hampering the international effort to develop a comprehensive treaty against terrorism. Maybe we should have an academic conference or something to try to see if we can figure out a way of defining terrorism so that it comes out with just the right answers, not the wrong answers!
Now let's file that information away too for the time being in the back of our minds, and go on to the next question. Let's ask ourselves: What are the origins of the September 11th crime?
Here we have to make a distinction between two categories of people who clearly shouldn't be run together. One is the actual agents of the crime, the people who did it, and that includes those who aided and abetted in the crime directly, with money or other kinds of help. The other is kind of a reservoir of at least mental sympathy, and sometimes verbal support, that they appeal to even among people who very much oppose the criminals and their actions.
Those are two different groups of people. The first group are guilty of the crime, the others can't be held to be so.
With regard to the perpetrators, in a certain sense we are not really clear. Of course we know who were the actual people who flew the planes on September 11th into the buildings. But they are all dead, and can't be punished any more. I'm talking about those who might have helped them actively in one way or another to do what they did, and who might still be alive.
Now the United States government is either unable or unwilling to provide any evidence, any meaningful evidence, about them. There was a sort of a play last year when Tony Blair was set up to try to present it. I don't exactly know what the purpose of this was. Maybe so that the US government could look as though it's holding back on some secret evidence that it can't reveal or that Tony Blair could strike proper Churchillian poses or something like that. Whatever the PR reasons were, he gave a presentation which was considered so absurd in serious circles that it was barely even mentioned. So the Wall Street Journal, for example, one of the more serious papers, had a small story on page 12, I think, in which they pointed out that there was not much evidence, and then they quoted some high US official as saying that it didn't matter whether there was any evidence, because it was clear that they were obviously going to do what they did anyway (since they had in fact done it on September 11th). So why bother with the evidence?
And we're supposed to take this sort of reasoning seriously!
The more ideological press, like the New York Times and others, they had big front-page headlines. But the Wall Street Journal reaction was reasonable: and if you look at the so-called evidence you can see why. It is astonishing to me how weak the evidence was. Remember, this was after weeks of the most intensive investigation in history of all the intelligence services of the Western world working overtime trying to put something together. And it was a prima facie case. Indeed it was a very strong prima facie case, that is before you had anything by way of actual proof.
But it ended up just about where it started, with a prima facie case. No proof. Talk about pathetic. Heck, even Judge Judy might have thrown it out (though maybe not, since in her TV courtroom she functions both as Judge and Judy, with virtually unlimited powers of interruption.)
But anyway, let's assume that it is true. Let's assume that - and it looked obvious from the very first day, and still does - that the actual perpetrators are some members of one of the many radical Islamic, or fundamentalist, networks world-wide, of which the bin Laden network is undoubtedly a significant one. That's the background, those networks. Where did they come from?
Now wait a minute: we know all about that! They - a lot of them - were created by the US government. Nobody knows about that better than the CIA because it helped organize them and it nurtured them for a long time. They were actually brought together in the 1980's by the CIA and its associates elsewhere: Pakistan, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, Egypt. Even China was involved: they may have been involved a little bit earlier, maybe by 1978. The idea was to try to harass the Soviets, the common enemy. According to President Carter's National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US government got involved in mid-1979. Just to put the dates right, the USSR invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. According to Brzezinski, the US government support for the mujahadin fighting against the government began six months earlier. He was very proud of that. He said the US drew the Russians into - in his words - an "Afghan trap", by supporting the mujahadin, getting them to invade, getting them to set foot in the trap.
Now the US government could develop this terrific army. Not a small one: maybe 100,000 men or so, bringing together the best killers they could find in the Islamic world, who were radical Islamist fanatics from around North Africa, Saudi Arabia, and anywhere else in the Islamic world they could find them. They were called "the Afghanis", but many - indeed, most - of them, like bin Laden, were not Afghans. They were brought to Afghanistan by the CIA and its friends from elsewhere. We know that from what Brzezinski himself said. Not the Arabs. A top US cabinet member at the time.
Whether Brzezinski was telling the truth or not, I don't know. He may have been bragging: he was apparently very proud of it. But maybe it's true. We'll know some day if the documents are ever released.
Anyway, that was his declared perception: which means, the US government's declared perception. By January 1980 it was not even in doubt that the US government was organizing the local Afghans along with this massive outside military force to try to cause the Soviets maximal trouble. It was a legitimate thing for the Afghans to fight the Soviet invasion. But the US intervention was not helping the Afghan civilians. In fact, it helped destroy the country, and much more. The "Afghanis", so called, though many of them were not Afghans at all, did force the Soviets to withdraw finally: although many analysts believe that it probably delayed their withdrawal because they were trying to get out of it anyway, finding it too hard just to manage their collapsing economy back home in Russia and the other Soviet Socialist Republics. Whatever the case, they did withdraw.
Meanwhile, the terrorist "Afghani" forces that the CIA was organizing, arming, and training were pursuing their own agenda. It was never a secret. One of their first acts in this direction was in 1981 when one of them assassinated the President of Egypt: one of the most enthusiastic of their creators. But these people have their own agenda, and they don't make a secret of it. The US government was happy to mobilize them to fight its cause, but meanwhile they were doing their own thing.
After 1989, when the Soviets had withdrawn, they simply turned elsewhere. Since then they have been fighting in Chechnya, Western China, Bosnia, Kashmir, South East Asia, North Africa, all over the place.
They are themselves telling us just what they think. It's all over the Al-Jazeera satellite TV. The United States would rather silence that one free television channel in the Arab world because it's broadcasting a whole range of things from Powell to Osama bin Laden. So the US is now joining the repressive regimes of the Arab world that try to shut it up. But if you listen to it, if you listen to what bin Laden says, it's worth it. There are plenty of interviews. And there are plenty of interviews by leading Western reporters, if you don't want to listen to bin Laden's own voice.
And what he has been saying is pretty consistent for a long time. He's not the only one, but maybe he is the most eloquent. It's not only consistent over a long time, it is consistent with their actions. So there is every reason to take it seriously. Their prime enemy is what they call the corrupt and oppressive authoritarian brutal regimes of the Arab world: and when the say that they get quite a strong resonance in the region. They want to replace them by proper Islamist governments.
That's where they lose the people of the region. That's where they lose me too: that were I begin to call them fanatics. I'm not defending them in this. But up to this point, the people of the region are with them.
We have to differentiate between their different goals. Demagogues try to lump them all together so as to try and convince you that if some people are wrong about one thing they are wrong about everything. But that's not the civilized way to think about those we don't like.
It's true that from their point of view, even Saudi Arabia, the most extreme fundamentalist state in the world, I suppose, short of the Taliban, which was an offshoot, even Saudi Arabia is not Islamist enough for them. There all decent people part company with their ideology. At that point, they get very little support from Arabs or any decent people, Arab or not; but up until that point they get plenty of support.
Also - and this is reasonable - they want to defend Muslims elsewhere. They hate the Russians like poison, but as soon as the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan, they stopped carrying out terrorist acts inside Russia as such, which they had been doing with CIA backing before that - within Russia, not just in Afghanistan. They did move over to Chechnya, but there they feel they are defending Muslims against a Russian invasion. Same with all the other places I mentioned. From their point of view, they are defending the Muslims against the infidels. And they are very clear about it: that is what they want to do and have been doing.
Now why did they turn against the United States, who as I said had actually created them, armed them, trained them? That had to do with what they call the US invasion of Saudi Arabia. In 1990, the US government established permanent military bases in Saudi Arabia, which from their point of view is comparable to a Russian invasion of Afghanistan - except that Saudi Arabia is way more important. That's the home of the holiest sites of Islam. And that is when their activities turned against the Unites States.
I'm not excusing them or supporting them in this, mind you: in this instance all I'm saying is, we have to look for their motivations.
In 1993 they tried to blow up the World Trade Center. Got part of the way, but not the whole way - and that was only part of it. The plans were to blow up the UN building, the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, the FBI building. I think there were other targets on the list. Well, as I said, they sort of got part way, but not all the way. One person who was jailed for that, finally, was an Egyptian cleric who had been brought into the United States - over the objections of the Immigration Service, I may add - thanks to the intervention of the CIA, which wanted to help out their friend. A couple of years later he was trying to blow up the World Trade Center.
I'm not going to run through the list, but if you want to understand it, it's a consistent picture. It's been described in words; it's been revealed in practice for 20 years. There is no reason not to take it seriously.
That's the first category, the group from which perpetrators of the crime came: or more accurately, the most likely perpetrators, because as I said, there just isn't any hard proof about any specific individuals.
Now let's move on to category number two: the reservoir of support. That's much, much larger. What about that? And why do they get so much support from average people in the region despite their obvious and generally-hated fanaticism?
Well, it's not hard to find out. One of the good things that has happened since September 11 is that some of the mainstream American press and some of the discussion has begun to open up to some of these things. The best one to my knowledge is, or at least was, the Wall Street Journal, which right away began to run, within a couple of days of September 11th, serious reports, searching serious reports, on the reasons why the people of the region, even though they hate bin Laden and despise everything he is doing, nevertheless support him in many ways, and even regard him as "the conscience of Islam". Now the Wall Street Journal and others, they are not surveying public opinion. They are surveying the opinion of their friends: namely Arab bankers, professionals, international lawyers, businessmen tied to the United States, rich folks, really rich, people whom they interview in McDonald's restaurant, which is an elegant restaurant out there, to which one goes wearing fancy clothes. That's the people they are interviewing because they want to find out what their attitudes are.
And their attitudes are very explicit and very clear, and in many ways consonant with the message of bin Laden and others. They are very angry at the United States. Why? Because (1) of US support of authoritarian and brutal regimes, especially in their region; (2) US intervention to block any move towards democracy, again especially in their region; (3) US intervention to stop economic development - once again, especially in their region; (4) its policies of devastating the civilian population of Iraq while actually strengthening Saddam Hussein's hold on them. They know very well, even if Americans and Israelis don't, that the United States and Britain supported Saddam Hussein in his worst atrocities, including what he did to the Kurds. Osama bin Laden brings that up constantly, and they know it. And of course there's (5) US ongoing support for the Israeli military occupation, which is harsh and brutal, and now in its 36th year. The US government has been providing the overwhelming economic, military, and diplomatic support for it, and still does. And they know that and they don't like it. Especially when that is paired with US policy towards Iraq, towards the Iraqi civilian society which is getting destroyed, where millions of innocents are affected.
Okay, those are the reasons, roughly. And when bin Laden gives those reasons, people over there recognize them and support his views. Who wouldn't? Besides, that's all common knowledge out there, with reams of documentation to back it up, even if it isn't so here in North America.
For although all this is right there in black and white on paper, and even in color on the computer screen, and for that matter, in the mainstream US press as well (how much more American mainstream can one get than the Wall Street Journal?), that's not the way people in the US like to think about it: at least educated liberal opinion. They like the following line which has been all over the North American press - mostly from left liberals, incidentally, not the right wingers. Look at, say, the New York Times, at the op-ed they ran by Ronald Steel, a serious left-liberal intellectual. He asks, "Why do they hate us?" This is the same day, I think, that the Wall Street Journal was running the survey on why they hate the Americans. So he says "They hate us because we champion a new world order of capitalism, individualism, secularism, and democracy that should be the norm everywhere." That's why they hate us, according to him. The same day the Wall Street Journal is surveying the opinions of Saudi bankers, professionals, international lawyers saying to the American reporters, "look, we hate you because you are blocking democracy, you are preventing economic development, you are supporting brutal regimes, terrorist regimes and you are doing these horrible things in our region."
A couple of days later, Anthony Lewis, way out on the left, explained that the terrorists seek only "apocalyptic nihilism," nothing more; and that nothing the US government does matters. The only consequence of US actions, he says, that could be harmful is that it makes it harder for Arabs to join in the coalition's anti-terrorism effort. But beyond that, everything the US government does is irrelevant. This is what goes for left wing journalism in the US.
Well, you know, that's got the advantage of being sort of comforting. It makes you feel good about yourself, if you're American, and how wonderful you are. Both the American right and the American left intelligentsia are on your side: and who can be better informed than them? It enables the members of the American public to evade in their own minds the consequences of their government's actions, carried out with their own tax dollars.
But this attitude has a couple of defects. One is, that it is at total variance with everything most people in the world know, stuff that's easy to find out if one has a computer and a modem, or goes to a decent library and searches the printed record.
And another - much more serious, but a direct consequence of the first - defect is that it is a perfect way to ensure that we escalate the cycle of violence. If Americans want to live with their heads buried in the sand and pretend the Arabs hate the US because the Arabs are opposed to globalization, that that's why they killed Sadat 20 years ago, and fought the Soviets, tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993, if Americans want to believe that, yeah - that may be comforting. But it is a great way to make sure that violence escalates.
That's basically nothing more or less than tribal violence. You did something to me, I'll do something worse to you. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Never mind what the reasons are. Let's just keep going that way till everyone is blind and toothless.
And that's one way to do it, to escalate the violence. But is that what we really want?
Obviously not. So, to answer that, finally let's come to the options: what the American government and the American people can do about it.
First, let's examine what the options open to the American government are, the policy options. Well, there are a number. A narrow policy option from the beginning was to follow the advice of really far out radicals ... like, say, the Pope! The Vatican immediately said after 9-11, look it's a horrible terrorist crime. In the case of crime, you try to find the perpetrators, you bring them to justice, you try them. You don't kill innocent civilians in revenge. Like, if somebody robs my house and I think the guy who did it is probably in the neighborhood across the street, I don't go out with an assault rifle or a tank and kill everyone in that neighborhood. That's not the way civilized people deal with crime, whether it's a relatively small crime like this one or really massive one like the US terrorist war against Nicaragua.
And there are plenty of precedents for that. In fact, I mentioned a precedent, Nicaragua, a lawful, law abiding state - that's why presumably the US government had to destroy it - which followed the right principles. But of course it didn't get Nicaragua anywhere because it was running up against a power that wouldn't allow lawful procedures to be followed.
But if the United States government were itself to try to pursue lawful means, nobody would dream of stopping them. Why would they? In fact, everyone would applaud.
And there are plenty of other precedents. When the IRA sets off bombs in London, which is pretty serious business, one possible response Britain could have undertaken might have been - apart from the fact that it would be to some extent unfeasible, but let's put that aside - to nuke Boston, which is the source of much if not most of the financing for the IRA. And of course to wipe out West Belfast. Well, you know, quite apart from the feasibility - though Britain does have Trident submarines capable of targeting Boston from way off in the Atlantic ocean - it would be criminal and barbaric, indeed it would be utter idiocy: the US would retaliate by bombing London. The civilized way to deal with the IRA was pretty much what the Brits actually did, and indeed have kept on doing. You know, find the perpetrators, and put them on trial.
And if we don't want such things to happen again, we should look for the reasons why they happened in the first place. (This the Brits don't do, but they obviously should, because until it's done the problems in Northern Ireland aren't going to go away.) Because these things don't come out of nowhere. They come from something, some history, something that happened to make them so mad (mad as in "insane", and also as in "angry"). Whether it is a crime in the streets or a monstrous terrorist crime or anything else, there are often clear and simple reasons for it. And usually if you look at the reasons, some of them are often legitimate and ought to be addressed, independently of the crime: they ought to be addressed simply because they are legitimate. That's the civilized way to deal with it.
But as far as the US government goes, there are problems with that approach. One problem is that the United States government does not recognize the jurisdiction of international institutions. So it can't go to them. It has rejected the jurisdiction of the World Court. It has refused to ratify the International Criminal Court. It is powerful enough to set up a new court, if it wants, so that wouldn't stop them. Not that anyone would lend any credence to it, but the US could establish such a court if it wished.
But there is a problem with any kind of a court: and that is, for prosecution you need evidence, and for conviction you need proof. If you go to any kind of court, you need some kind of evidence to accuse someone, and some kind of proof to secure a conviction. That's true even in Judge Judy's so-called "courtroom", which isn't really one in law, just on TV, though her decisions are binding because the parties agree to have them binding before they enter her "courtroom". Without evidence, without proof, it's not called a court, it's called a kangaroo court - and with justification.
And George W. or Tony Blair talking about it on television isn't even evidence, let alone proof!
But getting evidence is very hard. It may even be impossible to find. You know, it could be that the people who did it, killed themselves, and told no one else beforehand - did anyone think of that? Nobody knows this sort of thing better than the CIA. These networks are decentralized, non-hierarchic networks. They follow a principle called "Leaderless Resistance". That's the principle that has been developed by the Christian Right terrorists in the United States. You have small groups that do things on their own. They don't talk to anybody else about what they are going to do. There is a kind of general background of assumptions, and then they go ahead and do it.
Even people in the anti-war movement are familiar with it. They call it "affinity groups". If you assume - correctly - that whatever group you are in is being penetrated by the FBI, when something serious is happening, you don't do it in a meeting. You do it only with some people you know and trust - an "affinity group" - and then it doesn't get penetrated. Even people who just watch Star Trek know about it. Just watch Deep Space Nine and learn from Major Kira's erstwhile Bajoran resistance against the Cardassian occupation of Bajor. It may be fiction, but it mirrors reality. That's one of the reasons why the FBI has never been able to figure out what's going on in any of the popular right wing movements like Timothy McVeigh's. And other intelligence agencies are the same. They can't find out either.
That's leaderless resistance or affinity groups, and decentralized networks like those are extremely hard to penetrate. And it's quite possible that most of them just don't know beforehand what the crime is going to be. They only learn of it when it's been carried out. When Osama bin Laden claims he wasn't involved with what happened on September 11th, it's entirely possible that he's telling the truth. In fact, it's pretty hard to imagine how a guy in a cave in Afghanistan, who doesn't even seem to have a radio or a cell phone, could have planned a highly sophisticated operation like that, which would have needed people on the spot to make decisions as circumstances arose. Chances are it's part of the background, like in other leaderless resistance terrorist groups. Which means it's going to be extremely difficult to find evidence.
But the US government doesn't want to present evidence because it wants to be able to do what it wants to do unilaterally, to act without evidence. That's a crucial part of the reaction. You notice that the US government did not ask for Security Council authorization - though they probably could have got it this time, although not for pretty reasons, but because the other permanent members of the Security Council are also terrorist states. They would have been happy to join a coalition against what they call terror, i.e., in support of their own terror. Like, Russia wasn't going to veto, they love it, they want support for their activities in Chechnya.
So the US government probably could have gotten Security Council authorization - but it didn't want it. And it didn't want it because it follows a long-standing principle which did not even start with George W. Bush: it was already explicit in the Clinton administration, even articulated there, and goes back much further - and that is that the US government feels it has the right to act unilaterally. The US government doesn't want international authorization because it acts unilaterally. They don't care about evidence. They don't care about negotiation. They don't care about treaties. The US government feels it's the government of the strongest nation around; and that, in real terms, means simply that it's the toughest thug on the block. "We do what we want." There is even a name for it in the technical literature. It's called "establishing credibility". You have to establish credibility. That's an important factor in many policies. It was the official reason given for the war in the Balkans, and indeed the most plausible reason.
If you want to know what establishing credibility means, ask your local Mafia Don, ask Tony Soprano. He'll explain to you what establishing credibility means. It's basically the same principle among nations.
And it makes sense: it usually works. The main historian who has written about this in the last couple years is Charles Tilly in a book called Coercion, Capital, and European States. He points out that violence has been the leading principle of Europe for hundreds of years - and the reason is because it works, which is why it makes sense to follow it.
Well, those are all problems in pursuing lawful paths. And if you did try to follow lawful paths, you'd really open some very dangerous doors. Like, the US government demanding that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden. And the Taliban responding in a way which is regarded here in North America as totally absurd and outlandish, namely by saying, Okay, we'll do it, but first give us some evidence that he was involved. In the West, that is considered ludicrous. It's supposed to be a sign of their criminality. How dare they ask for evidence? I mean, if somebody asked the US government to hand someone over, they'd do it tomorrow. They wouldn't ask for any evidence, would they.
We don't have to make up cases. For example, for the last several years, Haiti has been requesting the United States government to extradite Emmanuel Constant. He is a major killer. He is one of the leading figures in the slaughter of maybe 4,000 or 5,000 people in the years in the mid 1990's, under the military junta, which incidentally was being, not so tacitly, supported by the Bush Sr. and the Clinton administrations. Anyway he is a leading killer. They have plenty of evidence. No problem there about evidence. He has already been brought to trial and sentenced in Haiti and they are asking the United States to turn him over. Well, I mean, do your own research. See how much discussion there has been about that. Actually Haiti renewed the request a year ago. It wasn't even mentioned. Why should the US government turn over a convicted killer who was largely responsible for killing 4,000 or 5,000 people some years ago? In fact, if the Americans do turn him over, who knows what he would say. Maybe he'll say that he was being funded and helped by the CIA, which is probably true. The American government doesn't want to open that door.
And he isn't the only one. For the last about fifteen years, Costa Rica has been trying to get the United States to hand over a certain John Hull, a US land owner in Costa Rica, who they charge with terrorist crimes. He was using his land, they claim - with good evidence - as a base for the US war against Nicaragua, which is not a controversial conclusion, remember. There is the World Court and Security Council behind it. So they have been trying to get the United States to hand him over. Hear about that one?
They did actually confiscate the land of another American landholder, John Hamilton. Offered compensation. The US government refused. Turned his land over into a national park because his land was also being used as a base for the US attack against Nicaragua. Costa Rica was punished for that one. They were punished by withholding aid. The US government doesn't accept that kind of insubordination from allies.
And we can go on and on. If you open the door to questions about extradition it leads in very unpleasant directions. So that can't be done in public.
Well, what about the reactions in Afghanistan? The initial proposal was for a massive American aerial assault which would kill many people visibly, and also an attack on other countries in the region. Well, the Bush administration initially backed off from that. They were being told by every foreign leader, NATO, everyone else, every specialist, I suppose, even their own intelligence agencies that that would be the stupidest thing they could possibly do. It would simply be like opening recruiting offices for bin Laden all over the region. That's exactly what bin Laden wants. It would be extremely harmful to America's own interests. So they backed off that one. And they turned to what I described earlier, which is a kind of silent mass murder. Starve them out - starve out millions. You can figure it out if you do the arithmetic. But then they went ahead and bombed Afghanistan anyway. They knew that many civilians would be killed, far more than in the WTC, but what does it matter, their deaths won't be reported on the anniversary of 9-11.
A sensible proposal which was kind of on the verge of being considered - of course it has been sensible all along - called for by expatriate Afghans and allegedly tribal leaders internally, was for a UN initiative, which would keep the Russians and Americans totally out of it. These are the two countries who have practically wiped out Afghanistan in the last 20 years. They should not be allowed into it. They should provide massive reparations, but that should be their only role. A UN initiative to bring together elements within Afghanistan that would try to construct something from the wreckage. It's conceivable that that would have worked, with plenty of support and no interference.
But if the US government can back off enough so that some more or less independent agency, say the UN, or maybe credible non-governmental organizations, can take the lead in trying to reconstruct something from the wreckage, with plenty of assistance - and the US government owes it to them - then maybe something decent would come out.
We certainly want to reduce the level of terror, certainly not escalate it. And this brings us to the solution. This is the bottom line, this is the reason you have to know all of the above.
There is a way US government can decisively win the world-wide "War on Terror", which term, if we take it seriously, means to dramatically reduce the level of terror world-wide - indeed reduce it by over 90 percent (I'm quite serious) - and that too, very easily.
Now what is that way?
There is one extremely easy way for the US government to do that - and that way is, the US government could stop participating in terror, and stop supporting it when others do it! That would automatically reduce the level of terror enormously - as I said, over 90 percent world-wide.
You do the math: draw up a table, putting in one column the number of people affected by US terror directly or indirectly, and in the other, the number of people affected by terror against the US and its allies. If the US stops participating in and supporting terror, the level of terror world-wide would become a tiny fraction of what it is today.
But that can't be discussed, right? If we discuss it, we open up a can of worms.
Well, we - and at this point, by "we" I mean you and I, and anyone else who cares to listen - ought to make it possible to discuss it.
Here's the point where we come in, the point at which what we personally - i.e., you and I, and other citizens of all Western nations, and especially of America - could do. We aren't the government, but that doesn't mean we can do nothing at all.
First off, we could withdraw our support, tacit or expressed, for the governments of our own countries and neighboring countries and allies when they indulge in the kinds of policies in which they organize and train terrorist armed forces. That has distinct effects, because we still live in democracies. Very imperfect democracies to be sure, but still democracies.
We can drum up grass roots support to put pressure on our governments to rethink their policies which are creating a reservoir of support for things like September 11th among the Muslims and others all over the world - what the Arab bankers, lawyers and so on are saying in places like Saudi Arabian McDonald's restaurants. On the streets in Arab countries it's much more bitter, as you can well imagine.
That's certainly possible for us - you and me - to do.
Those policies of our governments aren't graven in stone. We can spread the word, get enough citizens on the side of decency to put pressure on our own governments to bring such policies to an end.
There are opportunities to do that which we have today, and which did not exist, say, ten years ago. Today we have the Internet, we have e-mail, we have discussion forums. It's hard to find many rays of light in the last decade but one of them is that there is an increased openness. Lots of issues are beginning to open up for discussion, and are actually being discussed, even in "elite" circles, and certainly among the general public, which were not open a couple of years ago. That's dramatically a difference.
And it has an effect on the mainstream media too. I mean, if a newspaper like USA Today can run a very good article, a serious article, on life in the Gaza Strip, then there has been a change. The things I mentioned in the Wall Street Journal - that's quite some change from a decade ago.
Certainly among the general public, I think there is much more openness and willingness to think about things that were under the rug for so long. These are opportunities available to all decent people, and they should be used, at least by people who accept the goal of trying to reduce the level of violence and terror world-wide, of genuinely fighting the war on terror.
Note that in most of the instances above I have used the term "the US (or American) government" rather than "the US" or "Americans". But people elsewhere don't always make that kind of fine distinction. To them "The Americans" - and in the majority of cases, "The Canadians" too - are the same as "The American government". What we can personally do is distance ourselves from our governments when they act in the manner we have seen above, and clearly and loudly state that we repudiate the policies of our governments and their officials when they perform criminal acts, and that we are willing and even eager to hand over war criminals, even our own government's war criminals, for trial to international courts of justice, so that people elsewhere don't confuse us with our governments.
If we give people enough cause to hate us, they are going to take it out on us eventually. That's just common sense. But if we make it clear to them that we do not support our governments in the horrible things it does against them and the rest of the world, then even those that hate our government are willing to make the distinction, and not hate us personally. That's an opening for peace. Otherwise, they are likely to think, why bother to make the distinction at all? To hell with all Americans, and even Canadians, because they all think alike, they all think like Geo. W. Bush, they all support what the US government does, after all Bush's popularity in the US is at record high levels in the polls.
In democratic countries like ours, we are all to some extent personally responsible for the acts of our governments, because we are supposed to have elected them, and once they are elected we are supposed to be on the side of our government, especially against foreigners, unless we say otherwise explicitly. Silence doesn't count: silence is taken by those who live on the other side of the world, at the muzzle ends of our guns, as complicity. So they don't distinguish between a target like the Pentagon, a purely military target, and the WTC towers, a purely civilian one. It's just "collateral damage" as far as they are concerned, just like the population of Sudan was "collateral damage" to the US government, when 90 percent of the Sudan's major pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities were destroyed by the Clinton administration, allowing huge numbers of Sudanese civilians to die of illnesses that could relatively easily have been cured had they had the medicines to cure them.
That's "collateral damage" as far as the US government is concerned. And in the eyes of those living half a world away, it's also "collateral damage" as far as you and I personally are concerned too, unless we expressly make the effort to repudiate our support, whether it be tacit or otherwise, for any government that does such things.
Remember the principle of universality in ethics. If it's right for us to target civilians on Muslim countries, it ought to be right for them to target civilians in our country. If we condemn them in the very loudest and strongest terms for killing civilians in our country, then we ought to condemn our own government in no less vehement terms, and no less loudly, when our government kills their civilians.
As I said at the beginning, if you don't accept the principle of universality in ethics, there's nothing more to be said. We all have better things to do than convince those who don't want to be convinced, simply because they don't or won't accept the basic principles of morality which any kindergarten kid ought to know.
On the other hand, if you do accept the principle of universality in ethics and morality, then a lot can be done by you and me personally, leaving aside for the moment our governments. You and I can raise our voices against the atrocities being committed by the West against the rest of the world. You and I can make sure our friends and acquaintances know that we are on the side of human decency wherever it may be found, and against indecent and evil acts no matter who perpetrates them, our country or theirs - and that we are not on the side of our government if it does not abide by plain and simple morality. You and I can drum up support for the cause of human decency. You and I can find out what's really happening and what has really happened, and who has done it and is still doing it, by reading history and by searching the Internet, and learning from what we find there.
If enough of us do this, we can bring about a decent
world, a world
markedly less full of terrorism. It's not altogether up
to the governments,
because they won't listen or behave decently unless they
to do so by the people: so it's up to us, the people, to
compel them to
listen and to act decently.