- Q. Why do you think these
- A. To answer the question
we must first identify the perpetrators of the crimes. It is generally
assumed, plausibly, that their origin is the Middle East region, and that
the attacks probably trace back to the Osama Bin Laden network, a
and complex organization, doubtless inspired by Bin Laden but not
acting under his control. Let us assume that this is true. Then to answer
your question a sensible person would try to ascertain Bin Laden's views,
and the sentiments of the large reservoir of supporters he has throughout
the region. About all of this, we have a great deal of information.
- Bin Laden has been interviewed extensively over the years
by highly reliable Middle East specialists, notably the most eminent
correspondent in the region, Robert Fisk (London Independent), who has
intimate knowledge of the entire region and direct experience over decades.
A Saudi Arabian millionaire, Bin Laden became a militant Islamic leader
in the war to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan. He was one of the
many religious fundamentalist extremists recruited, armed, and financed
by the CIA and their allies in Pakistani intelligence to cause maximal
harm to the Russians -- quite possibly delaying their withdrawal, many
analysts suspect -- though whether he personally happened to have direct
contact with the CIA is unclear, and not particularly important.
- Not surprisingly, the CIA preferred the most fanatic
and cruel fighters they could mobilize. The end result was to "destroy
a moderate regime and create a fanatical one, from groups recklessly
by the Americans" (London Times correspondent Simon Jenkins, also
a specialist on the region). These "Afghanis" as they are called
(many, like Bin Laden, not from Afghanistan) carried out terror operations
across the border in Russia, but they terminated these after Russia
Their war was not against Russia, which they despise, but against the
Russian occupation and Russia's crimes against Muslims.
- The "Afghanis" did not terminate their
however. They joined Bosnian Muslim forces in the Balkan Wars; the US
did not object, just as it tolerated Iranian support for them, for complex
reasons that we need not pursue here, apart from noting that concern for
the grim fate of the Bosnians was not prominent among them. The
are also fighting the Russians in Chechnya, and, quite possibly, are
in carrying out terrorist attacks in Moscow and elsewhere in Russian
Bin Laden and his "Afghanis" turned against the US in 1990 when
they established permanent bases in Saudi Arabia -- from his point of
view, a counterpart to the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, but far
more significant because of Saudi Arabia's special status as the guardian
of the holiest shrines.
- Bin Laden is also bitterly opposed to the corrupt and
repressive regimes of the region, which he regards as
including the Saudi Arabian regime, the most extreme Islamic
regime in the world, apart from the Taliban, and a close US ally since
its origins. Bin Laden despises the US for its support of these regimes.
Like others in the region, he is also outraged by long-standing US
for Israel's brutal military occupation, now in its 35th year:Washington's
decisive diplomatic, military, and economic intervention in support of
the killings, the harsh and destructive siege over many years, the daily
humiliation to which Palestinians are subjected, the expanding settlements
designed to break the occupied territories into Bantustan-like cantons
and take control of the resources, the gross violation of the Geneva
and other actions that are recognized as crimes throughout most of the
world, apart from the US, which has prime responsibility for them.
- And like others, he contrasts Washington's dedicated
support for these crimes with the decade-long US-British assault against
the civilian population of Iraq, which has devastated the society and
caused hundreds of thousands of deaths while strengthening Saddam Hussein
-- who was a favored friend and ally of the US and Britain right through
his worst atrocities, including the gassing of the Kurds, as people of
the region also remember well, even if Westerners prefer to forget the
- These sentiments are very widely shared. The Wall Street
Journal (Sept. 14) published a survey of opinions of wealthy and
Muslims in the Gulf region (bankers, professionals, businessmen with close
links to the U.S.). They expressed much the same views: resentment of
the U.S. policies of supporting Israeli crimes and blocking the
consensus on a diplomatic settlement for many years while devastating
Iraqi civilian society, supporting harsh and repressive anti-democratic
regimes throughout the region, and imposing barriers against economic
development by "propping up oppressive regimes." Among the great
majority of people suffering deep poverty and oppression, similar
are far more bitter, and are the source of the fury and despair that has
led to suicide bombings, as commonly understood by those who are
in the facts.
- The U.S., and much of the West, prefers a more comforting
story. To quote the lead analysis in the New York Times (Sept. 16), the
perpetrators acted out of "hatred for the values cherished in the
West as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and universal
suffrage." U.S. actions are irrelevant, and therefore need not even
be mentioned (Serge Schmemann). This is a convenient picture, and the
general stance is not unfamiliar in intellectual history; in fact, it
is close to the norm. It happens to be completely at variance with
we know, but has all the merits of self-adulation and uncritical support
- It is also widely recognized that Bin Laden and others
like him are praying for "a great assault on Muslim states,"
which will cause "fanatics to flock to his cause" (Jenkins,
and many others.). That too is familiar. The escalating cycle of
is typically welcomed by the harshest and most brutal elements on both
sides, a fact evident enough from the recent history of the Balkans, to
cite only one of many cases.
- Q. What consequences will
they have on US inner policy and to the American self perception?
- A. US policy has already
been officially announced. The world is being offered a "stark
join us, or "face the certain prospect of death and
Congress has authorized the use of force against any individuals or
the President determines to be involved in the attacks, a doctrine that
every supporter regards as ultra-criminal. That is easily demonstrated.
Simply ask how the same people would have reacted if Nicaragua had adopted
this doctrine after the U.S. had rejected the orders of the World Court
to terminate its "unlawful use of force" against Nicaragua and
had vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe
international law. And that terrorist attack was far more severe and
even than this atrocity.
- As for how these matters are perceived here, that is
far more complex. One should bear in mind that the media and the
elites generally have their particular agendas. Furthermore, the answer
to this question is, in significant measure, a matter of decision: as in
many other cases, with sufficient dedication and energy, efforts to
fanaticism, blind hatred, and submission to authority can be reversed.
We all know that very well.
- Q. Do you expect U.S. to
profoundly change their policy to the rest of the world?
- A. The initial response was
to call for intensifying the policies that led to the fury and resentment
that provides the background of support for the terrorist attack, and
to pursue more intensively the agenda of the most hard line elements of
the leadership: increased militarization, domestic regimentation, attack
on social programs. That is all to be expected. Again, terror attacks,
and the escalating cycle of violence they often engender, tend to reinforce
the authority and prestige of the most harsh and repressive elements of
a society. But there is nothing inevitable about submission to this
- Q. After the first shock,
came fear of what the U.S. answer is going to be. Are you afraid,
- A. Every sane person should
be afraid of the likely reaction -- the one that has already been
the one that probably answers Bin Laden's prayers. It is highly likely
to escalate the cycle of violence, in the familiar way, but in this case
on a far greater scale.
- The U.S. has already demanded that Pakistan terminate
the food and other supplies that are keeping at least some of the starving
and suffering people of Afghanistan alive. If that demand is implemented,
unknown numbers of people who have not the remotest connection to
will die, possibly millions. Let me repeat: the U.S. has demanded that
Pakistan kill possibly millions of people who are themselves victims of
the Taliban. This has nothing to do even with revenge. It is at a far
lower moral level even than that. The significance is heightened by the
fact that this is mentioned in passing, with no comment, and probably
will hardly be noticed. We can learn a great deal about the moral level
of the reigning intellectual culture of the West by observing the reaction
to this demand. I think we can be reasonably confident that if the American population had the slightest idea of what is being done in their name,
they would be utterly appalled. It would be instructive to seek historical
- If Pakistan does not agree to this and other U.S.
it may come under direct attack as well -- with unknown consequences.
If Pakistan does submit to U.S. demands, it is not impossible that the
government will be overthrown by forces much like the Taliban -- who in
this case will have nuclear weapons. That could have an effect throughout
the region, including the oil producing states. At this point we are
the possibility of a war that may destroy much of human society.
- Even without pursuing such possibilities, the likelihood
is that an attack on Afghans will have pretty much the effect that most
analysts expect: it will enlist great numbers of others to support of
Bin Laden, as he hopes. Even if he is killed, it will make little
His voice will be heard on cassettes that are distributed throughout the
Islamic world, and he is likely to be revered as a martyr, inspiring
It is worth bearing in mind that one suicide bombing -- a truck driven
into a U.S. military base -- drove the world's major military force out
of Lebanon 20 years ago. The opportunities for such attacks are endless.
And suicide attacks are very hard to prevent.
- Q. "The world will
never be the same after 11.09.01". Do you think so?
- A. The horrendous terrorist
attacks on Tuesday are something quite new in world affairs, not in their
scale and character, but in the target. For the US, this is the first
time since the War of 1812 that its national territory has been under
attack, even threat. It's colonies have been attacked, but not the
territory itself. During these years the US virtually exterminated the
indigenous population, conquered half of Mexico, intervened violently
in the surrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killing
hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half century p
extended its resort to force throughout much of the world. The number
of victims is colossal.
- For the first time, the guns have been directed the other
way. The same is true, even more dramatically, of Europe. Europe has
murderous destruction, but from internal wars, meanwhile conquering much
of the world with extreme brutality. It has not been under attack by its
victims outside, with rare exceptions (the IRA in England, for example).
It is therefore natural that NATO should rally to the support of the US;
hundreds of years of imperial violence have an enormous impact on the
intellectual and moral culture. It is correct to say that this is a novel
event in world history, not because of the scale of the atrocity --
-- but because of the target. How the West chooses to react is a matter
of supreme importance. If the rich and powerful choose to keep to their
traditions of hundreds of years and resort to extreme violence, they will
contribute to the escalation of a cycle of violence, in a familiar
with long-term consequences that could be awesome. Of course, that is
by no means inevitable. An aroused public within the more free and
societies can direct policies towards a much more humane and honorable
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