We, at Tanbou, are deeply saddened by the thousands deaths caused by the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The enormity and the serial cruelty of those actions couldn’t but outrage any human conscience.
A peace activist in the Copley Square rally following the attacks of September 11, 2001
Whatever the motive of the hijackers on that day, their acts, and the immense pain that they have caused, can never be justified. True revolutionary praxis under political oppression—assuming that is the terrorists’ claim—must be, like the revolutionary goals, humanistic in nature; in the sense that they should tend toward the betterment of human society. The end cannot justify the means, especially when the means are so diabolical. How humanely you treat the enemy is part of the humanist finality of the struggle. So far there’s been no claim of responsibility for the September 11 crimes, nor a word of sorrow from the perpetrators for so many lives lost.
We find it important at this critical juncture of world history to reject both the war-mongering response from the right-wing elements of the US society, who are using the tragedy for their own ends, and the cold-blooded Messianism of the group (whichever it may be) that is responsible of the terror. Killing in self-defense or to win a struggle for self-determination is acceptable under the Geneva convention on armed conflicts. Armed struggle for national liberation or political emancipation is justified as long as the means don’t become their own end. But anti-civilian terror and mayhem should never be made appropriate and acceptable means of dissent. Armed struggle is the option of last resort, not a carnival of fear or celebration of death.
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has traditionally called the authorities few moments beforehand to alert them of the eventual explosion of a bomb on a designated target, providing at least a possibility of evacuating civilians. Historically, armed resistance movements, especially those on the left, put the emphasis on a minimum loss of life as possible. The Cuban guerillas of the 1950s protected the civilian populations, including enemy prisoners, as carefully as they could. Even the terror of the Robespierrian Convention during the French Revolution—from which the word terrorism is derived—was never directed at the civilian populations, but at individuals and political parties perceived as conspiring against the Revolution.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to the contrary, seem to advocate the notion of maximum destruction and loss of civilian lives as possible. This deviation, while not entirely eliminates legitimate complaints the group behind the attacks may have had regarding US’s foreign policy, nevertheless perverts their moral foundation, ultimately causing them more harm than good. Why? Because joyful murders of strangers and indifference to the suffering of others are not particularly proof of humane goals and objectives…
As any other country attacked in such a horrendous way, the USA has certainly the right to demand justice. It also has the right to instigate a judiciary process, with full United Nations’ support, to punish the culprits. What it doesn’t have, however, is the right to bomb any country it wants to simply because it has the means to do so.
Although we understand the natural impulse to avenge so cruel a crime, we couldn’t but condemn and deplore the US military attacks against Afghanistan, which surely are causing as much destruction as those of September 11, 2001. After nine years of Soviet military occupation and thirteen years of war lords’ rampages, the people of Afghanistan need a serious project of self-determination, political unity and political development to overcome the ground lost, not additional years of serving as great power’s pawn and clientelist protectorate, with all the episodic carnage, national degradation and human suffering they entail.
It was reported in the New York Times that during the first discussions within the Bush Administration following the terrorist attacks, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was more interested in bombing Iraq than Afghanistan. It didn’t matter that Wolfowitz’s own administration indices have pointed to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden (independently of their plausibility of course). It didn’t matter that Al Qaeda and the Taliban don’t normally answer to Saddam Hussein and that the latter has pretty much “stayed in his box,” as Vice President Dick Cheney himself admitted. It didn’t matter that the survivors and victims’ families of the September 11 attacks, which comprise people from 62 countries, would rather see the real culprits punished instead of the civilians of Iraq; but for Wolfowitz it was a political expediency, an opportunity to push his anti-Hussein and pro-Israeli agenda. Fortunately for the poor of Iraq, the Bush administration so far seems to have adopted the “Powell option”; but how long can it resist the right-wing’s continuing push to declare war on not only terrorism, but also on countries that are critical of US’s foreign policy?
President Bush’s assertion that any country that does not join his war on terrorism is a potential enemy is a dangerous doctrine that can only bring disaster. His Manichaean division of the world between Good and Evil may be a metaphoric way of talking, but coming from a superpower that has the means to destroy the world several times over, is tantamount to a declaration of intent, an intent that is already being put into action in the current so-called “war” against Afghanistan, which we call, more precisely, an unilateral killing from the sky.
Many of us felt sickened by the crude malignity of what happened on September 11, 2001. That cold-blooded willingness to induce suffering and death on so many civilians, along with the fact that the perpetrators were young men who were willing to take their own lives in the process, was very disturbing. There is likewise this same sickening, disturbing emotion in the image of the colossal, superpowerful country bombing a poor country people’s houses, blowing up even their caves in the mountainous desert. Of course, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are no saints, but the whole Afghanistan should not have to pay for the misdeeds of these extremists, granted they are indeed responsible of the terror acts, which is not yet established, at least not to the general public.
Not unlike the collective anti-Japanese hysteria that justified the internment of Japanese-Americans during the World War Two, the conservative, extreme-right wing elements in the Bush administration are exploiting the current anti-Arab hysteria to justify and implement their racist, anti-immigrant agenda. Ultimately, the terrorists and their right-wing counterparts are what the French call “objective allies.” Just like the Taliban’s policies are aberrant to many of us, the current anti-Arab and anti-immigrant impulses—as codified in the new anti-terrorist legislation that is being adopted—would prove to be as much an aberration.
Fortunately, despite the happy winds the conservative zealots are now enjoying, the struggle is raging strong between those who emphasize security, individual and national, and those who cherish their civil liberties and human rights. One should not have to sacrifice one for the other. Security without civil liberties is like being in a jail. Civil liberties without some assumption of protection from bodily harm would not be worth having. That’s the way people live in fascist, autocratic and fundamentalist countries, not in the sort of open democratic societies the US purports to be.
Of course, civil liberties for a White person are not always the same in practice for a Black, a Latino or an Arab. But since the US Constitution made civil protection one of its creeds, the Black Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was able to use it to put the federal government ‘s back against the wall, forcing it to intervene even in situations where it had been an accomplice of the Jim Crow policies.
Like the McCarthyist witch-hunts before it, the current anti-Arab and anti-Easterner phobia, if not strongly resisted, will in the end target almost everyone. What the Protestant pastor Martin Niemoller said regarding the persecution of the Jews in Germany during the Second World War remains still judicious: “In Germany, they first came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic. Then they came for me—and by that time there was nobody left to speak up.”
If, today, you don’t do anything when they come for the Arab-presumed-terrorist, there would be no one left when they come for you. After all, for the security zealot the Easterner profile could be almost anyone…
As underlined by several commentators published in this rubric, the terrorist attacks of September 11 are directly related to the US’s foreign policy, particularly in its double-standard approach in the Palestinian- Israeli conflict. The US’s unconditional support to Israel, even in the face of daily massacre of Palestinians by the Israeli military machine, has made a lot of people angry in the Arab and Islamic world, moderates and fundamentalists alike. Although those fundamentalists could be as oppressive to their own people as the Israelis are to the Palestinians, their militancy against the US-Israeli strategic alliance has great appeal among their people.
The Al Qaeda terrorists, the accused perpetrators of the September 11 terror acts, who have depicted the US as Satanic infidel prone to committing misdeeds and injustice against the people, will have won if the right-wing’s agenda is made the law of the land. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Killing the people of Afghanistan to avenge the deaths of the September 11 tragedy is an insult to the memories of the victims and their families (a victim’s mother has said just that).
Furthermore, innocent people should not have to die because of a misguided foreign policy that is more subservient to corporate interests in the oil industry than those of the American people. Innocent children should not continue to die in Iraq because of 11-year-old sanctions denounced by most of the world, still in existence due only to the US’s power.
The “war on terrorism” inaugurated by George Bush will certainly be used as both a pretext and an instrument to destroy or neutralize legitimate national liberation movements and resistance efforts of the peoples subjugated by foreign or local state powers or tyrants, such as Hamas, IRA, the East-Timor insurgency, the Chechnya rebellion, or unarmed political liberation movements in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
Of course, US’s foreign policies, however misguided, cannot and should not serve as justification for killing innocent people. But it is not difficult to imagine alienated victims of oppression reversing the dehumanization process, convincing themselves that the oppressors, or whomever perceived as such or those associated with them, deserve to be killed. Killing through despair. If it’s OK for other people’s civilians to be killed as “collateral damages” of war and sanctions, you make it OK for your own civilians to be killed, at least that was the implicit rationale of Osama bin Laden’s message the day of the US retaliation against Afghanistan. The big challenge today is to break away from the circle of violence and its self-justifying rationale on both camps.
For the war on terrorism to be successful, the US administration must also take an option for peace, in the sense of a grand strategic reexamination of the US’s foreign policy of the last fifty years, especially in relation to its support to corrupt royalties in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Golf, in relation to the inhumane sanctions against Iraq, and, most of all, to its unconditional support to Israel’s continued military occupation of Palestinian lands. This reexamination should also be accompanied by real development assistance to countries petrified by wars and despotic banditry; real deeds toward rectifying past foreign policy mistakes in those regards—in a word, an option for peace.
Ultimately we all are defined—and judged—by what we have done, as individual, for the village. If all politics is local, as Massachusetts legislator Thomas Tip O’Neil used to say, maybe we should make it also inter-related so as to respect the norms and customs of the other localities. That’s the only way. The alternatives are either a “secure hell” as evidenced by the Israeli settlements, or a world of interrelational solidarity, interrelational respect, interrelational humanization of the Other.
Killing is never the answer, nor is it the trampling of people’s civil rights and liberties, like the new anti-terrorist law seems to believe. Putting more people in jail or deporting more immigrants only make more people angrier at the system. Draconian actions serve no purpose, except to aggravate people’s lives, therefore participate in the general unhealthy atmosphere of injustice and resentment that breeds terrorism.
People shall not let themselves be intimidated or neutralized by the fearsome provisions of the anti-terrorist law, which now joins the McCarthyist era’s anti-communism dogma as one of the most repressive legislations of the nation’s history. The French editorialist Claude Julien once wrote that there is two USA, one made of the like of the slave masters, and another made of freedom fighters like the native resistants, or the rebels Tom Paine and Frederick Douglass. There is the US of Jim Crow, but also the US of John Brown, or Phyllis Wheatley based on totally radical and antinomic principles.
Neither the terrorist attacks of September 11, nor the anti-terrorist law of October 26 shall make us forget that we are also agents of change, each one of us in our singularity. Far from alienating one from another, this challenging moment shall reinforce our resolve to fight for what is right, independently of the “popular” poll, which is often the propagandist spinning of the moment. Both the terrorists’ actions and the US military actions kill innocent people under the pretext of fighting the “evil Other”. We shall demand for that to change. Killing is never the answer. We need something else.
—Tanbou November 2001
Lwa —by Blondèl