9/11 three years on: 'War on terror' has not stopped terrorism


Rohan Pearce & Alison Dellit

The appalling end to the hostage crisis in Beslan, Russia on September 4, which left more than 300 dead, had people all over the world horrified. The killing of so many children helped neither the Chechens fighting the Russian occupation of their country, nor those of us fighting war and state-sponsored terrorism all over the world. The only people who were really aided by the slaughter were those pursuing the misnamed "war on terror", in particular US President George Bush.

We should make no mistake: the terror inflicted by the Beslan crisis did not come from nowhere. At least 80,000 Chechens have been killed since then-President Boris Yeltsin launched a war on their country in 1994. Chechnya is occupied by 80,000 poorly paid Russian soldiers, and the fighting has been, according to Amnesty International in 2001, marked by atrocities — torture and rape in particular. In recent years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has increasingly used indiscriminate aerial bombing and artillery shelling of towns and villages, escalating the death toll.

But all the taking of hostages has done is to alienate working people — maybe millions of them — from the Chechens' cause. And it has played straight into the hands of those who justify their wars and terror by claiming that they are fighting terrorism.

In the three years since two aeroplanes ploughed into the World Trade Center in New York, Bush's gang has finely honed the art of whipping up fear among the US population. As he heads into a tightly fought election campaign, it is certain that Bush will try to use the Russian school tragedy to convince more voters to support his endless "war on terror", a key part of his election strategy.

Until now, he has mainly relied on reminding people of the toll of September 11 — and painting his administration as the only thing standing between the US and the terrorist hordes at the gates.

In reality, of course, the opposite is true. You cannot militarily fight terrorism. Such attacks, even on the scale of 9/11 or Beslan, are not only cheap and require only a relatively small group of people to carry out; they are born out of the anger at the blatant injustices inflicted on Third World peoples, by the US and imperialist allies.

Bush's argument that, in visiting mass horror on Iraqis and Afghans, he will actually reduce the amount of terrorism in the world is absurd. Just as Putin's argument, that a renewed effort to subdue Chechnya is needed, is.

The only real way to reduce terrorism is to reduce the conditions that breed it — the misery, poverty and military attacks inflicted on so much of the world's population, overwhelmingly by imperialist countries — or build real, people-powered, grassroots movements that provide effective avenues for mass social change.

The "war on terror" is just a campaign to further the US rulers' war agenda, while pretending to be protecting workers. It justifies a war against workers and the poor in the US, and abroad a war against any Third World nation that defies the US empire.

The horrific attack on the World Trade Center killed around 2700 people, and shattered the lives of tens of thousands of others. But in the three years of the "war on terror", it has achieved nothing but more suffering. Muslims and people with an Arabic background have been viciously repressed in a state-promoted lynch-mob mentality. Illegal immigrants have been swept up and "disappeared" by immigration authorities. Worst of all, Iraqis and Afghans are dying for a crime that they had nothing to do with the commission or execution of.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations received 1717 reports of discrimination, harassment and violence in the six months after 9/11. A CAIR report released on September 5, 2002, "American Muslims: One Year After 9-11", reported that while attacks had dropped sharply since then, it still logged 326 incidents — a 30% increase over pre-9/11 levels.

These attacks have not been limited to mere verbal abuse. CAIR's report noted that "on August 30, 2002, an anti-Muslim hate-rape took place in California, perhaps the first such attack on record in US history. An 18 year-old man raped a 15-year-old girl inside Palo Alto Longs Drugs store while making anti-Muslim comments, according to the Palo Alto Police Department."

In addition, "A dozen murders have been reported, including a handful of incidents in which the victims were simply mistaken for Muslims and Arabs because of their appearance."

Despite the claimed opposition of the Bush administration to the torrent of hate unleashed on the Islamic community in 9/11's aftermath, the atmosphere of hysteria was fuelled by the White House. For example, a February 27, 2002, Progressive Media Project op-ed by Riad Abdelkarim recounted how it had been "revealed that Attorney General John Ashcroft told syndicated columnist Cal Thomas during an interview last November that 'Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you.' After initially refusing to clarify or deny these comments, Ashcroft's office issued a statement confirming that our nation's top law enforcer made the remarks, but contending that they were taken out of context."

In a similar, albeit even blunter vein, Republican member of Congress Saxby Chambliss, a member of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, was quoted in the November 20, 2001, Valdosta Daily Times as commenting: "We should just turn the sheriff loose and have him arrest every Muslim that crosses the state line."

The racist offensive continues today. For example, Womenwallstreet.com carried a July 13 article by Annie Jacobsen recounting the "terror" suffered by her because her Northwest Airlines carried a group of 14 Middle Eastern men.

A July 21 response by Salon.com's Patrick Smith summarised Jacobsen's "ordeal": "As a matter of fact, nothing happened. Turns out the Syrians are part of a musical ensemble hired to play at a hotel. The men talk to one another. They glance around. They pee. That's it? That's it."

(Smith doesn't particularly parody Jacobsen's piece either. Here's a sample of her breathless prose: "Five minutes later, several more of the Middle Eastern men began using the forward lavatory consecutively. In the back, several of the men stood up and used the back lavatory consecutively as well.")

Unsurprisingly, while the US State Department has classified the burning-down of an ATM in March 2003 in Greece as terrorism in order to boost the figures they need to convince US citizens they are in danger, the murders, bombings and arson attacks suffered by the Arab American and Muslim communities in the US don't make the cut. Nor does the state-sponsored terror unleashed by the US and its client states and allies. At its heart, the "war on terror" is moral hypocrisy: somehow the terror and violence inflicted by states, providing they have Washington's sanction, are beyond reproach.

By the time of that "significant international terrorist incident" the bombing of the Greek ATM, the US-led invasion of Iraq had already killed several hundred Iraqi civilians. On March 23, the day after the ATM was destroyed, it was reported that 10 civilians had been killed after the US dropped cluster bombs on the Iraqi city of Nasiriya. Washington's illegal use of the brutal bombs in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan has been repeatedly condemned by human rights groups.

According to UNICEF, between May 1, 2003, when Bush infamously declared the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq, and mid July of that year, more than 1000 Iraqi children were injured by "bomblets", the payloads of US cluster bombs, which act as anti-personnel mines if they fail to explode on impact. This is the case with some 15% of illegal and barbaric weapons according to the British-based Mine Action Group.

In Afghanistan, more than 248,000 bomblets were scattered throughout the country by US bombs between October 2001 and March 2002. Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 12,400 of them would have failed to explode on impact, although no doubt they will only maim and kill terrorists and enemies of freedom.

Crimes committed by bastions of "democracy" don't count however. If, on the hand, the impoverished and oppressed indiscriminately lash out at their oppressors, as sometimes happens, for example, in the case of Palestinians, it is an indescribably heinous crime. Woe betide anyone who questions the role of Palestinian dispossession at the hands of the Israeli state in creating suicide bombers, or the morality of the US-subsidised, and grotesquely misnamed, Israeli "Defense" Forces' slaughter of Palestinian civilians!

Of course, the atrocities of Israel and other senior US allies such as Saudi Arabia are well known and documented. Attracting less scrutiny, however, are the former Soviet republics that "liberated" Afghanistan joins in Central Asia whose appalling human rights records are overlooked by the US because of their cooperation with Washington's "war on terror".

Countries like Uzbekistan, whose police and secret service employ methods of torture including beating, suffocation, electric shock and rape and other sexual abuse; or Turkmenistan, whose President Saparmurat Niyazov's term in office was extended indefinitely in December 1999 and who has constructed a personality cult about himself, including writing his own sequel to the Bible and the Koran.

Drawing any connection between the White House's support for the repressive regimes that comprise many of its allies and Washington's imperial foreign policy and terrorism provokes outrage from commentators in the corporate media. However, the Democrat and Republican parties, both of which back the occupation of Iraq and the broader "war on terror" are free to exploit the deaths of people who suffered the blowback of US foreign policy on September 11.

Such an approach has been condemned by many of those whose families have been directly affected by terrorist attack. In March, when the Bush campaign released an advertisement that featured imagery of Ground Zero in New York, Andrew Rice, whose brother was killed in the 9/11 attacks, commented: "To use these images of a scene of destruction and murder in a political campaign is inappropriate at best, and politicians from across the spectrum should know that there is bipartisan opposition among 9/11 families to this type of offensive exploitation."

Washington has used people's fear of terrorist attacks to silence critics of government policies, at the same time as pursuing policies that promote terrorism. At the August 30-September 2 Republican National Convention, talk of god, terrorism, 9/11 and the "liberation of Iraq" was frequent and interconnected. But outside the convention, hundreds of thousands of protesters were doing far more to end terrorism — by demanding a better, more just world.

From Green Left Weekly, September 8, 2004.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.