The whole play of history and power has been disrupted by the event of September 11, as this time the guns are turned in the other direction, says SHELLEY WALIA, looking at the issue of the `terrorism of the powerful against the weak'.
Where it all happened ... the former WTC site.
THE anniversary of 9/11 has passed. Two years have passed without any sign of the success or culmination of the "war on terrorism". The two camps face each other with utmost bitterness and unheard-of violence. With the American adoption of a policy of military intervention, Russia, China and Israel have gained inspiration to take equally violent measures against their antagonists. Dictatorships in Central Asia adopt harsh means to bring popular movements under control. In this context, terrorism has become a convenient pretext or an excuse in the furtherance of an agenda that has long been in the making. In the case of the United States, the sole motive has been a complete takeover of the country and the rich oilfields of Iraq so necessary to its strategic policy. This was true in the Truman era. And it is as true in the present when the U.S. tries to gain absolute military superiority with the pretext of a fearful spectre of an inevitable catastrophe which would befall the West if Saddam and his ilk are not stopped.
The semantics of terrorism
At this juncture let us stop and address the semantics of terrorism. Are borders between terrorism and resistance clear? Is international terrorism any different from aggression? Intimidation, coercion, instilling fear, influencing a state to change its policy under the threat of violence or force is probably the closest one can get to the definition of terrorism. But how is it different from state terrorism?
The terrorist imagination, it is clear, is inherent in all of us. The whole play of history and domination shows the forces of the holy alliance on one side, gearing up to put an end to the "evil" other, or conversely, the massive jubilation by the Islamic world at the devastation of the global superpower symbolised in the collapse of the Twin Towers. For one can easily see the superpowers fomenting violence all around the world, and thereby committing, what Baudrillard writes, "suicide in a blaze of glory". It is true that power that becomes hegemonic stirs up deep-seated desires of its annihilation. The National Security Strategy of September 2002 arrogantly bestows on the U.S. the right to resort to the doctrine of preventive war. This was a reprisal to the 9/11 tragedy, an upheaval that could have been used to rouse international sympathy and support. Instead, this "Armageddon" against the U.S. has ended in provoking hatred and fear of Washington's ruthless power to interfere in the affairs of weaker countries in the name of a "war against terror". Nothing but loathing for the leadership has replaced the initial wave of sympathy. The sovereign right of the U.S. to take military action stands formidably in confrontation with all norms of international relations.
In this light, suicide bombers may be seen as the progeny of a self-destructive instinct engendered within the idea of power. The Twin Towers seemingly "committed suicide" as a response to the suicide planes. The corollary to this is that West itself has relentlessly become suicidal and invited war on itself. And the media goes on enacting its role of creating images almost pornographic in their amusement and appeal, and which we all simultaneously accept and reject. It is the impulse to reject any authoritarianism or omnipotence that the superpower embodies.
`Terror against terror'
A symbol of `internal fragility'?... the Tribute in Light Memorial.
In retrospect, the Twin Towers stood symbolically for an "internal fragility" which assisted its collapse in the face of antagonistic forces. Jean Baudrillard is of the view that when global power dominates the situation to this extent, when there is such a terrifying concentration of all functions in the technocratic machinery, and when no different forms of assessment are allowed, "what other way is there but a terroristic situational transfer? It is the system itself which creates the objective conditions for this brutal retaliation. By seizing all the cards for itself, it forces the Other to change the rules. It is nothing but `terror against terror'."
And as the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani writes in one of his poems:
We are accused of Terrorism
If we refuse to die
With Israel's bulldozers
tearing our land
tearing our history
tearing our Evangelium
tearing our Koran
tearing the graves of our prophets
If this was our sin,
Then, lo, how beautiful terrorism is?
We are accused of terrorism
If we defended our land
And the honour of dust
If we revolted against the rape of people
And our rape
If we defended the last palm trees in our desert
The last stars in our sky
The last syllabi of our names
The last milk in our Mother's bosom
If this was our sin
How beautiful is terrorism.
The presumptuous, and arrogant, move to have the right to decide when and where to interfere is not something new in the American history of war. Kennedy's actions in Columbia in 1962 were not very different from those of the Nazi generals as is clear from the advice given to the American paramilitary forces to focus on "terrorist activities against known communist proponents". Nothing short of turning the regular Columbian army into "counterinsurgency brigades, accepting the new strategy of the death squads" was successfully engineered. The National Security Doctrine has been applied around the world and especially in Latin America, emphasising "the right to fight and to exterminate social workers, trade unionists, men and women who are not supportive of the establishment, and who are assumed to be communist extremists".
Socio-economic structures that support the larger section of the public have always been systematically destroyed so that no anti-conservative ideology could be allowed to flourish. History itself is evidence of the atrocities in El Salvador, Guatemala or in countries where the client regimes served the interest of U.S. foreign policy.
Is American "terrorism" not apparent when Ariel Sharon is appointed as one of the leaders in the war against terrorism? The distinction here between terrorism and the fight for liberation is dimmed by the very hypocrisy of the stance. Is Tony Blair not the terrorist when, as Harold Pinter writes, "One of the most nauseating images of the Iraqi war was of Tony Blair kissing an Iraqi boy. What he was not kissing was the dismembered corpse of an Iraqi child, or the mutilated body of another". The Palestinian experience is virtually repeated in Iraq. Thanks to the war in Iraq and the unconditional support of Ariel Sharon, the rising tide of anti-Americanism has overwhelmed any feelings of sympathy for the post-9/11 American nation. Cronyism, the bedrock of American Middle East policy, has resulted in the rising wave of Muslim resentment against the likes of Rumsfield and General William Boykin who does not mince his words when he tells the Muslim world, "My God is bigger than yours". As Paul Krugman writes, "The war on terror didn't have to be perceived as a war on Islam, but we seem to be doing our best to make it look that way".
Why 9/11 was novel
The whole play of history and power is disrupted by the event of 9/11 as this time the guns are turned in the other direction. Throughout imperial history, Chomsky argues that we have not seen the colonised ever attacking any western power: India attacking Great Britain, or Algeria retaliating against France, or Grenada bombing New York. Japanese atrocities in Manchuria did not bring about an attack on Tokyo. For over two centuries, America has interfered in other countries without the slightest fear of a counter attack. The fall of the Berlin Wall too had altered the political geography of Europe. On the other hand, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was, in fact, not on American "territory", but on a colony where the Americans had a military base and where an attack was legitimate. 9/11 was thus a novel event taking place on the fateful day when the political history of the world stood altered once and for all.
It is thus clear that the perpetrators draw sustenance from a reservoir of animosity and resentment over the U.S. policies in the region, extending those of earlier European masters. The American Government had been forewarned much before the occurrence of 9/11. The World Trade Center had been attacked in 1993, but no lessons were learnt or precautions taken. Sooner or later the industrial powers had to lose their monopoly of violence. Smaller countries began to realise the importance of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) to keep the superpowers in check. The attack occurred because of the self-promoting aggression and corruption around the world with the aim of making wealth flow to the West. Support for neo-liberalism can mean only one thing: "market discipline is good for you, but not for me. Except for temporary advantage, when I am in a good position to win the competition". This has provoked opposition from the South especially because of the "investor-rights globalisation", a policy that stands in consonance with the so-called "humanitarian intervention". This eyewash is integral to the whole imperial project of the "civilising mission", a kind of experience that lends support to the benevolence of western powers. The war on Serbia is termed "humanitarian", but a more apt nomenclature would instead be "crime against humanity".
The war against terrorism, therefore is not termed "terrorist" but diplomatically explained by a linguistic twist that hides the one-sided violence behind it. It is clear that any aggression against the West is regarded as terrorist, but if there is a U.S.-led military onslaught on Serbia, Iran or Granada, it automatically becomes "humanitarian".
At this juncture we must question not the terrorism of the weak, but that of the powerful against the weak so that the voice of reason and conscience can substantially bring pressure on world opinion to castigate Washington as well as the mainstream media.
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