Chomsky on Terror

MUSTAFA HUSSAIN mustafa.hussain at GET2NET.DK
Thu Sep 20 10:07:02 UTC 2001

Dear collegues,
For your reading pleasure and reflections on the current world situation, forwarding you a radio interview with Prof. Noam Chomsky.
Mustafa Hussain
Knastebakken 151.1.
DK-2750 Ballerup, Danmark
tlf. +45 44660171;
+45 51539889


Radio B92, Belgrade:

Why do you think these attacks happened?


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 widespread and complex organization, doubtless
inspired by Bin Laden but not necessarily 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 financed 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 withdrew. 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 activities, 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 "Afghanis" are also fighting the
Russians in Chechnya, and, quite possibly, are involved in carrying out
terrorist attacks in Moscow and elsewhere in Russian territory.

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 "un-Islamic,"
including the Saudi Arabian regime, the most extreme Islamic
fundamentalist 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 support
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 Conventions, 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 facts.

These sentiments are very widely shared. The _Wall Street Journal_ (Sept.
14) published a survey of opinions of wealthy and privileged 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 international
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 sentiments 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 interested 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 everything we know, but has all the merits of
self-adulation and uncritical support for power.

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 violence 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.
What consequences will they have on US inner policy and to the American
self reception? US policy has already been officially announced. The
world is being offered a "stark choice": join us, or "face the certain
prospect of death and destruction." Congress has authorized the use of
force against any individuals or countries the President determines to
be involved in the attacks, a doctrine that every supporter regards as

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 destructive 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 intellectual 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 stimulate
fanaticism, blind hatred, and submission to authority can be reversed.
We all know that very well. Do you expect U.S. to profoundly change
their policy to the rest of the world? 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 course. Ater the
first shock, came fear of what the U.S. answer is going to be. Are you
afraid, too? Every sane person should be afraid of the likely reaction --
the one that has already been announced, 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 terrorism 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 precedents. If Pakistan does
not agree to this and other U.S. demands, 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 considering 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 difference. 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 others. 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. "The world will never be
the same after 11.09.01". Do you think so? 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
national 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 particularly,
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 suffered 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 --
regrettably -- 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 dynamic, with long-term consequences that could be
awesome. Of course, that is by no means inevitable. An aroused public
within the more free and democratic societies can direct policies
towards a much more humane and honorable course.

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