Race & class in the US: Stop the war on Afghanistan

October 24, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — A new stage of world politics began October 7 with the US bombing of Afghanistan. President George Bush's war on terrorism will not be limited to Afghanistan but will be a permanent war to eradicate all individuals, groups and states opposed to the policies of the US capitalist rulers.

Political terrorism by religious fanatics is what opened the door to this new reality that most of the left and progressive movement has yet to fully grasp.

Significantly thousands of US citizens held vigils and protests here and around the country as the bombs began falling. The most prominent slogans were: "Stop the war" and "No to racism" (in response to the daily harassment and beatings of Arabs or people who look like they're Muslim or from the Middle East).

Nevertheless, polls indicate 92% of the public support the war drive, including using ground troops, to find and kill those called terrorists by Bush. The killing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan to pay back those behind the terrorist attack of September 11 is acceptable by a majority of Americans, so far, as necessary "collateral damage."

New World Order of US domination

Bush and the ruling elite are using the demands for blood revenge (actively promoted by the government and establishment media) to push forward their goal of a New World Order of US domination where the dictates of Washington must be obeyed by all. That's the real objective of the terror bombing of Afghanistan.

Like the fire-bombing of Dresden in Germany and nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during World War II, the bombing of Afghanistan is aimed at making it clear what is in store for all those who resist the imposition of Washington's new "American Century".

This is the imperialist rulers' new Cold War and they expect to win.

All opponents of the US ruling elite must beware as many Americans are learning with new media censorship and dictatorial powers by the police. Citizens and residents can now be picked up and held indefinitely by police. Talk of using national identification cards and the "need" to "sacrifice" some of our civil liberties are openly being promoted in the climate of fear being whipped up by the government and the mass media.

The ruling elite is implementing actions it could only hope for before the September 11 terror attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And they are doing so with little public debate because of the mass revulsion at the slaughter of more than 5000 civilians in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The shift in the world was outlined by the US rulers soon after September 11. Bush, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of state Colin Powell, national security adviser Condaleeza Rice and all other top government officials have said repeatedly that the new "war on terrorism" is not only or mainly about Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. It is against all enemies of the "civilized world" — meaning the imperialist West. Rumsfeld emphasises at every press briefing that the "war on terrorism" will take years if not decades.

The ruling elite's political and ideological gains, however, can't be sustained. Already some cracks are appearing as US bombs murder Afghan civilians. The tide is already turning against the war in the Middle East and other Muslim countries. If and when US soldiers begin dying the sentiment here will change too.

Challenge facing the left

The challenge for the left in this context is to mobilise in united efforts against the imperialist war on Afghanistan and to educate the public on imperialist terrorism/war and the social roots of resistance, including individual terrorism, to US imperialist domination.

This can't be done effectively if opponents of Bush's war are defensive. Many left critics of the war are bending over backwards to make clear to the public that they agree with the need to "defeat" terrorism and catch those who planned the September 11 attacks. They also make clear they oppose religious fanaticism, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan.

The problem with this approach is Bush refuses to provide any proof on the alleged terrorists except their spoken words in support of using terror against civilians. The public must take his word and accept his definition of terrorism, which leaves out state terrorism sponsored by Washington and Israel.

But the real issue isn't simply religious fanaticism. It is why terrorist methods are gaining ground as a form of resistance.

A defensive tone in response to the September 11 attacks is seen as a sign of weakness by the right. It is taken by Bush and those who back him to attack all opponents of US aggression as pacifists or worse — sympathisers of the religious terrorists.

An example of this mealy-mouth approach to the new reality was outlined by Michael Albert and Stephen R. Shalom in the lead article in the October issue of the left-leaning magazine, Z. After condemning the September 11 attacks and raising concerns about how the government is using the attacks to undermine civil liberties, they write: "If — and it's a big if — all these conditions are met, then we should no more object to seizing the perpetrators than we object to having the domestic policed seize a rapist or a murderer to bring the culprit to justice. And what if a state is also found to be culpable or if a state determines to use military means to protect the terrorists? The dangers of harm to civilians are much greater in the case of a war against a state. Military action would be justified only insofar as it did not cause substantial harm to civilians."

While the article was written shortly after September 11 and prior to the beginning of the US bombing campaign on Afghanistan, their point is clear: imperialist war can be justifiable against a Third World country (or any state) if it harbours a "terrorist" or supports "terrorism".

This position may be couched in left jargon, but its essence is to let the Bush warmakers off the hook, who of course will say: "We'll be careful to avoid killing civilians by using our smart bombs!"

The flip side to this weak response to the war drive is to focus on the goals of the terrorists. Since they are self-proclaimed religious fanatics who aim to form totally undemocratic Islamic states, it becomes okay to give political support to other, perhaps less distasteful, reactionaries, such as the so-called Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, and the imperialist-led alliance to fight the "fascist" Taliban Islamists.

But isn't political terrorism by those opposed to capitalism and imperialism just as wrong as that practised by those with reactionary political views? To open the door to turning a blind eye to US attacks on religious terrorists, whose goals are politically reactionary, is a dangerous mistake. Bush has already made clear that he wants to get rid of all countries on the State Department's list of "terrorist" organisations and states. This includes Iraq and Syria as well as North Korea and Cuba.

The lesson of September 11 is that the imperialist rulers will take advantage of acts of political terrorism against their interests to rally public support to impose by force their will on the world. It is a reason why terrorism as a method of resistance is wrong and must be condemned. It puts the masses on the sidelines as spectators and targets in the contest between imperialism and its opponents. The victims are the civilians who die in the terror attack and working people in countries hit by superpower bombs.

Even if the immediate demands of the terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks are defensible, the methods are counterproductive and morally criminal.

To isolate and defeat reactionary religious political views and movements in the Third World means building powerful secular anti-imperialist and democratic movements in the Third World and powerful movements of internationalist solidarity with them in the imperialist countries.

Unfortunately, the secular, democratic anti-imperialist forces in the Middle East are weak. The religious fanatics — from Palestine to Afghanistan — promoted and in some cases created by the CIA, the Saudi and Pakistani intelligence agencies, Israel's Mossad and other reactionary regimes against the democratic forces — are seen as the main opponents of US and Israeli domination today. (The Israelis initially promoted Hamas as a counterweight to the secular Palestine Liberation Organisation, for example.)

No support for Bush's war!

Critical backing of the Bush war drive, even backhanded support because of hatred of the Taliban regime and the bin Laden network, is a grave error. These forces only exist as strong as they are today because they were tools of imperialism in the past in fighting its Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union. The chickens are simply coming home to roost.

The battle against the new anti-terror world order of the US rulers is the biggest challenge facing the left and progressive movements since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The American people face permanent wars abroad and a new McCarthyism at home. September 11 can blind us to the new reality.

The key demand must be to force the US and its alliance to end its military terror against Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan are on the front lines in the anti-terror battle. To defend the Afghan people from imperialist invasion and their right to decide their own affairs free of imperialist military intervention is not the same as politically supporting the Taliban government or bin Laden's al Queda network.

The shift in world politics that has come in the wake of September 11 means, as Bush said, we must choose sides: either for the imperialist aggressors or for the oppressed working people, no matter their current government. It's a matter of principle and justice, and that's why the peace movement demands: Hands off Afghanistan! Peace and justice! No to racism!


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