11 Things to Remember on September 11

The following article is from Jan Oberg, from the Swedish organization, the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF) and raises some difficult but important issues at a sensitive time. You can see the original article at http://www.transnational.org/pressinf/2003/pf186_11ThingsOnSept11.html.

11 things to Remember on September 11; Or learn the number 11-07-20
by Jan Oberg, TFF director
September 11, 2003
PressInfo #186
Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF)

Dig in your heels, the September 11 memorial propaganda steamroller is back again - to quell opposition to US wars and imperial policies. The following points are meant to help you stay focussed. We raise them in deep respect for the innocent people who died on September 11 and the equally innocent who died in the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq in the war on terrorism.

Use these points - particularly if you are a teacher, journalist or an otherwise concerned citizen.

Learn and remember 11-07-20

Before listing these points, a few things should be mentioned. During hundreds of lectures, speeches and interviews, I have asked audiences in many countries whether they know what September 11 is. Of course they do, and a few may add the US-backed overthrow of the popularly elected government of Salavador Allende in Chile in 1973, 30 years ago. Incidentally, more than 3,000 people were killed during the years of military government from 1973 to 1990; the bodies of more than 1,000 have yet to be found. It's about the same as in New York and Washington in 2001.

Then I ask what they might remember if I say October 7 and March 20. In 99.9 per cent of the cases, nobody has anything to say. Well, October 7, 2001 was the date the US launched its war of "response and revenge" on Afghanistan. March 20, 2003 marked the beginning of the war on Iraq. Why are these dates not as vividly present as September 11 in the memory of concerned citizens living in countries with a supposedly free press? In terms of innocent human lives lost, these days are much more important than September 11, as you will see below.

Even if you didn't remember these dates, you can decide to do one thing: never - never - discuss September 11 without mentioning also October 7 and March 20: in short the number 11-07-20.

1. September 11 was not a war

September 11 was a terror attack. It was indeed a criminal act, apocalyptical, but it wasn't a war. No soldiers were involved, no weapons used, no borders transgressed. But the Bush regime immediately and opportunistically chose to define it as a war, as is clear from Bob Woodward's book, Bush at War.

2. September 11 was exploited as an opportunity to start a new war

The terror on September 11 came in handy. It provided the US with a golden opportunity to define the new enemy after Communism, after a difficult decade during which it lacked a clear definition of such an enemy. This helped the Bush regime combine a) stated noble motives with b) attempts at world domination, c) tightened control of the American people, d) reduced democratic governance, transparency, civil liberties and human rights, e) increased central control in the hands of a tiny group in Washington, and f) antagonised allies and friends, so that the US and the Bush regime itself could emerge as the only actors who had seen the Light, who brought Salvation, who can be seen as Exceptional and act as the Chosen People on God's mandate in God's own country. This Christian nation's religious leadership never considered turning the other cheek; it never contemplated forgiveness, reconciliation, dialogue, compassion, love-thy-enemy and all. How could these policies but brutalise American society further?

Utterly failing to understand the basics of September 11 and raise the relevant questions, the bellicose mind-set of the Bush regime chose to exploit the opportunity to turn this into a global US "war on terrorism". Its main features are military intervention, war, attempts at global monitoring of people, their opinions, consumption, and travels, through infiltration of foreign governments, pressure to conform and threats. Thus, if you are not with the Bush regime you are with the terrorists and must face the consequences.

The word terrorism in "the war on terrorism" is misleading. The US chases and kills individual terrorists; it has done nothing intellectually or morally to address the root causes of terrorism.

Likewise, it has never contemplated dealing with terrorism through non-military, political and diplomatic means - as would most other smaller and medium-sized, less militarised countries. The US could choose war because of its overwhelming military strength; even countries like, say, Italy, Japan or Russia would not have been able to do likewise had the attack hit them.

3. Was September 11 really an unprovoked attack?

September 11 can be seen as a response to decades of culturally and socially insensitive policies, interventions, attempts at murdering foreign politicians and unjust aspects of US foreign and economic policies, to bombing campaigns, occupations and CIA infiltration. In Rogue State. A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (2000) William Blum writes that "from 1945 to the end of this century, the United States attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the US caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair." Further evidence is found here and here.

But the Bush regime immediately chose to define it as unprovoked and cast the US in the role of innocent victim and thus reserved the right to respond and seek revenge. It even defended its delayed war on Afghanistan as an act of self-defence and in accordance with the UN Charter.

4. Asking only who, not what and why?

The Bush regime and mainstream media in general chose to ask: who did it? The relevant question to ask would have been why did it happen, what is the message, why did they choose New York and Washington and why the symbols of US global economic and military might par excellence? Contrary to what we were told, it was not an attack on Western civilisation, it was on the United States. We still have not addressed the essential issue: what do we know about the direct and structural reasons that make people turn to violence against innocent people? The Bush regime has stopped at the simplest, most banal theory of all: that, since they do what they do, they are evil and that evil shall be eradicated. I believe we need better thinking and more honest and self-critical dialogues in Western society.

5. The war on terror has been a gigantic overkill of innocent civilians

Some may find it objectionable to quantify dead bodies and compare them. I think we have to in order to decide whether there was any proportionality between the terrorist attack and the responses of the Bush regime - which doesn't mean, of course, that the war on Afghanistan would be justified if the US had just killed fewer.

It can be argued that the revenge taken out on Afghanistan and Iraq has been out of proportion with what happened on September 11. Estimates of the innocent civilians killed in Afghanistan range between 5,000 and 10,000. In Iraq, so far a much shorter war, about the same. Add to that the dead soldiers and paramilitaries. The total population in each of these countries is about one-tenth of the US population. On September 11, around 2,789 Americans were tragically killed. So the number of Afghans killed in the US response/revenge would be proportional if 50,000-100,000 had been killed in the US.

The Americans are now so filled with propaganda that a majority thinks that Saddam was behind September 11. In addition, it was a major argument in Washington that international terrorists were hosted and financed by Iraq. So, if you add the civilians killed in Iraq up till now, you may argue that, for the US war on terrorism to have been proportional, somewhere between 100,000 and 250,000 Americans should have been killed in the US on September 11. In summary, we are talking about an overkill of somewhere beetween 35:1 and 80:1.

Since none of the perpetrators of September 11 were Afghans or Iraqis, this gigantic overkill of innocent individuals means that the war on terror has only enraged people world wide (particularly Muslims, of course) and increased hatred - and thus the risk of terror - against the United States.

6. Until September 11, terrorism was tiny amongst world problems

US Department of State's "Patterns of Global Terrorism" page is the place to pick up information. Here are the facts you'll find about the casualties of terrorism world wide on that site:

  • The year 1999: 233 dead and 706 wounded;
  • The year 2000: 405 dead and 791 wounded;
  • The year 2001: 3,295 dead and 2,283 wounded (including of course those on September 11);
  • The year 2002: 725 dead and 2,013 wounded.

First of all, while we respect every innocent human life lost, these figures show that global terrorism is a small problem when you compare it to the statistics of other factors causing the death, wounding and suffering of innocent people. Here are some examples:

  • Depending on statistical methods and sources, an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 people die world wide every day from preventable diseases and because they lack the most essential such as water, food, shelter, access to schools, etc. to satisfy their basic needs.
  • Between 500,000 and 1 million innocent Iraqis died, according to UN statistics, during the 12 years of harsh economic sanctions that the US was second to none in maintaining.
  • 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water.
  • 40 million people are living with HIV; 25 million have died from AIDS according to a UN report from 2002. It is estimated that, with the current level of response in many countries, close to 70 million will die during the next 20 years because of AIDS.

What wisdom is there in using billions of dollars, fighting wars and diluting democracies in the name of fighting terrorism when there are real problems that we know contribute to terrorism which we have not yet addressed adequately?

7. Terrorism is even a comparatively tiny problem in the US itself

What are the main reasons people die in the United States? Well, according to the WorldWatch Institute 430,000 die from cigarette smoking, 300,000 die from obesity (overeating, fat), 43,000 in motor vehicle accidents. And - hold on to your hat - 34,000 by guns!

And it isn't a new problem. Andrew Shapiro in his We are Number One (1992) writes that "despite our piety, we commit more than 20,000 murders a year, or about one murder every 25 minutes" based upon 1988-90 data. This makes the US murder rate twice as high as Germany's and eight times as high as Japan's and means that the US is Number One in murders per capita.

Is it too really much to ask that the United States addresses its - much larger - domestic, self-contrived killing and violence with the same energy as it "responds" to September 11?

8. The war on terrorism produces terrorism

If we compare the numbers of dead and wounded in 2000 and 2002, there has - in spite of the multi-billion dollar war on terrorism - been an increase from 405 to 725 dead (or 79 per cent) and an increase from 791 to 2,013 wounded (or 154 per cent) world wide.

To fight the war on terrorism, the Bush regime has increased the foreign-based and domestic military defence by about US $ 100 billion. It has deployed about 150,000 troops to Iraq that cost US $ 1 billion per week. Ambassador Paul Bremer III, the appointed governor of Iraq, recently estimated that the rebuilding of Iraq could cost hundreds of billions of dollars. One may wonder whether there has been a more clear-cut example in modern times of getting your priorities wrong?

Some of the conspicuous results of all this are: a) the US is a nation of scared people, b) terrorism is on the rise and c) US policies - not Saddam - have turned Iraq and the wider Middle East into a place seething with the terrorism it was supposed to prevent. Here is an excerpt from State Department of September 7, 2003:

"President Bush, in a televised speech to the nation September 7 from the White House, said "Iraq is now the central front" in the war on terrorism, and the United States "will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary," to win "this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom and to make our own nation more secure."

Bush announced that he will ask the Congress for $87 billion to pay for the costs of military and intelligence operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere over the next year, and to help pay for rebuilding those nations." [Italics, JO]

A recent comprehensive survey concludes that the Americans do not feel more safe with their government's war on terrorism. 76 per cent say that over the last two years they have not come to feel safer..

This bodes ill for the US and for the world. The Bush regime isn't reducing terrorism, it is boosting it!

9. This is the sheer production of fear

The real world seems to matter less and less in Washington. What counts is virtual, imagined fantasy-politics and (self)deceptive information. Policies are no longer rooted in a reasoned, commonly shared perception of reality. This isn't healthy. It borders on the paranoid, autistic and on sadism in that it seeks to purify - violently - the whole world from some imagined, self-defined and psychologically projected Evil. It courts megalomania or omnipotence in that it insists that it can do everything alone, even in the face of world disagreement.

Consequently, the regime must keep a lot secret from its own citizens, since the regime is fighting not a well-defined outer enemy a la the Soviet Union but a generalised evil-doer lurking around every corner at home and everywhere Americans go abroad. It creates fear, its scares, it silences. And it disciplines: beware of what you do and say and to whom! As is so vividly depicted in Michael Moore's movie Bowling for Columbine - this type of psycho-policy is intended to make people believe in and protect themselves by whatever violent means. And if you fight to kill Evil, or feel threatened by it, no means is illegitimate, no sacrifice too big.

10. It was not only an American tragedy

People of 36 nationalities died on September 11. 209 or 7 per cent of them held non-US citizenship; the largest losses were British, Japanese, Columbian, Jamaican, Mexican and Filipino citizens. See the official September 11 website for details. While it was not only an American tragedy, the US monopolised the mourning.

Europeans observed three minutes of silence for the victims of September 11. That was a beautiful gesture. But why not something similar for the 20,000 lives lost in the earthquake in India? For the 100,000 dead in the civil war in Algeria? For the 1 million victims of genocide in Rwanda and Burundi, or the 500 (at least) innocent people in Serbia-Kosovo who died under NATO's bombs? And what about the innocent victims in Afghanistan and now Iraq?

Would Americans feel that we sympathised less with them if we expressed our compassion and sympathy also with other innocent victims?

11. September 11 requires honest definitions of the concept of terrorism

"Unless we are consistent and self-critical in our use of language we invite the very violence we deplore," writes Richard Falk, professor emeritus at Princeton University and TFF associate in his excellent book on Revolutionaries and Functionaries. The Dual Face of Terrorism (1988).

State Department, for instance, defines terrorism in these three points: "The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. b) The term "international terrorism" means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country. c) The term "terrorist group" means any group practicing, or that has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism."

This states that only subnational groups can practise terrorism; in other words, state organs or governments can not (but governments can finance, offer protection etc to terrorists). We find this definition utterly deficient and misleading. A government can certainly terrorise its own noncombatant/ innocent citizens as well as citizens in another state. And there is no doubt that governmental terrorism historically has caused the death of many more people than subnational, small-group terrorism. Furthermore, the concept of "balance of terror" is an integral part of the strategic doctrine of all nuclear weapons states and signifies with precision that the use of nuclear weapons would be terror against innocent noncombatants.

There seems to be a rather broad consensus that a definition of terrorism must focus on the targeting of innocent people, people who are not party to a conflict and who are not combatants. Taking it from there, other elements must be included. Richard Falk states that "Terrorism...designates any type of political violence that lacks an adequate moral and legaljustification, regardless of whether the actor is a revolutionary group or a government." And he adds, "What is disturbing about the phenomenon of terrorism is its normality within our own culture. From this perspective, we are virtually all terrorists, at least in the passive sense of endorsing or at least acquiescing in indiscriminate violence against enemies..."

Falk elaborates further: "So long as terrorist methods are relied upon by states to avoid defeat or hasten victory in war, bolstered by the claim of saving lives, terrorists of all persuasions gain validation..." ... "in the end, our response to terrorism is a challenge to our sprit as a people and as an organised society. The roots of terrorism are deeply embedded in the soil of deprivation and depravity that are both part of our social fabric. Terrorists, as practitioners of indiscriminate and impermissible violence, are prominent among both those who are ultimate outsiders and those who are our biggest winners... [italics added].

True indeed. At the 2nd anniversary of the terrible attack on the US, we shall express our anger at the cruel deed and our solidarity with the bereaved. But tomorrow, again, we must keep on insisting that the Bush regime has not even begun to understand terrorism as such or the ways in which terrorism challenges our spirit, our societies and cultures. Instead, it seems to root its post-September 11 policies in depravity, i.e. in terrorist counter-terrorism that has killed many more innocent people and created much more hate and fear.

It invites "the violence we deplore." And thus, perhaps, we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.

© TFF 2003

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