September 11th and Terrorism FAQ

The following is part of a series of articles from Chris Tolworthy reposted here with kind permission. The articles together ask many questions about the September 11 atrocity and its aftermath, as well as looking into it from numerous angles. The articles are split into a number of pages on this site (which you can follow using the links at the bottom).

September 11 Frequently Asked Questions
Chris Tolworthy
March 2002

On this page:

  1. Introduction
  2. How can we prevent terrorism except by bombing? - Desmond Tutu's answer.
  3. Answer 2: Know the enemy.
  4. Answer 3: Be rational.
  5. Answer 4: Work with others.
  6. Do western people love killing?
  7. "Your methods will not work - e.g. 'appeasement' - 'Chit chat' - 'Making friends with them' - 'Helping them discover their inner child' - etc."
  8. "The government cannot release the evidence because that would aid the terrorists."
  9. "You say this, but how can you know for sure?"
  10. "You are saying that we caused this terrorist attack?"
  11. "History shows that war is inevitable."
  12. "Your methods are too slow."
  13. "We must kill them before they kill us."
  14. "We must always remember the 2800 dead in New York."
  15. "It all comes down to Israel, and whether they have a right to exist as a Jewish state."
  16. "They now have biological weapons!""
  17. "We have tried diplomacy and it did not work."
  18. "The UN (and international law) is ineffective."
  19. "Sudan provides us with an example of what happens to Christians in a Muslim fundamentalist nation."
  20. "The action in Afghanistan has led to the capture of terrorists in Singapore."
  21. "Anti-terrorist measures scare and discourage terrorists."
  22. "The Afghans rejoiced when we liberated their country."
  23. "I have Arab friends who hate [insert name of Middle Eastern leader]"
  24. "Terrorists will always hate anyone who is big and powerful"
  25. "These terrorists will take over their whole country or destabilize the whole world!"
  26. "Ending injustice will not end terrorism"
  27. "Why is Libya's Qaddhafi now quiet? This proves that bombing works."
  28. "In the Bible, God sometimes commands people to kill."
  29. "Do you think Britain should have gone to war with Germany when Germany invaded Poland?"
  30. "The west donates vast amounts of humanitarian aid to the Third World"
  31. "Moslems always blame the west"
  32. Footnotes


This FAQ began as a discussion on a certain message board. All the questions are based on actual comments from people who support the war in Afghanistan. The discussion took place in early January, hence it does not refer to more recent events such as the increased likelihood of nuclear war (1).

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How can we prevent terrorism except by bombing? - Desmond Tutu's answer.

Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel peace prize, knows what he is talking about. He has spent his life in a country dominated by terrorism. He lives in a continent ravaged by war. He sees hatred and misery that most of us will never see. Yet his "truth and reconciliation commission" managed to navigate a country from hatred to peace, avoiding the war that many observers thought was inevitable.

"What happened in New York was not an act of war, but a crime directed against the entire international community. As such, I believe fervently that the response should not be driven by one country, but by the United Nations. It should seek to apprehend the suspects and bring them to trial before the world community -- this would be the perfect case in point for the International Criminal Court (though the United States, of course, has not yet agreed to the establishment of such a court).

"The awfulness of the innocent civilian casualties in New York and Washington should not be matched by the outrage in response of killing innocents in Afghanistan or elsewhere. One, too, hopes very, very much that one of the elements that makes America so great and admired -- respect for the rule of law -- will not be disregarded in fear, that innocents will remain that until proven guilty.

"As for the source of terrorism, there can be no doubt that it comes from the enormous gap between the haves and the have nots. Unless prosperity is shared and ignorance and poverty eradicated, in the long run we will not win this war against terrorism. In all this, once again, it is the strong who must be magnanimous."(2)

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Answer 2: Know the enemy.

  • Decide what we mean. Do we really mean "prevent terrorism"? Or do we really mean "defeat our enemies"? This is the key question, as we shall see.
  • Is a terrorist someone who kills innocent civilians? We have killed more1 of them than they have killed of us.
  • Is a terrorist someone who kills for a political cause? We are killing people in Afghanistan for a political cause.
  • Is a terrorist someone who kills without reason? Everyone has reasons. Have their reasons been tested in open court? Have ours?
  • Must we attack everyone who funds and support terrorism? Then we must attack ourselves2.
  • Must we attack those who support and aid terrorists? Then we must attack some of our closest allies3.

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Answer 3: Be rational.

  • Listen to the terrorists' complaints. We cannot rely on the fallacy (called "the genetic fallacy") that everything a bad person says must be wrong. For example, Bin Laden cited the massacre at Sabra and Shatila4 as reasons for his hatred of the west. Those are very real grievances. . They were just as bad as the events of September 11th - perhaps worse. Yet the west openly supports the man who was found responsible.
  • Let the public see both sides, and then decide. For example, whenever we see footage of "Ground Zero" why not also show footage of dead and dying civilians at Tripoli and Sabra and Shatilla5 and Baghdad and so on. Contrary to what Mr Orwell wrote, ignorance is NOT strength (and war is NOT peace).
  • Find out who the terrorists are. This is not as easy as it sounds. After any major incident we quickly form opinions and form a lynch mob to round up who is "obviously" guilty. But secret courts and military courts have a very bad record for getting the wrong person. Quick-fix justice has a habit of becoming uncertain6 as the years go by. So until we see ALL the evidence, examined by both sides, in an open court, we cannot jump to conclusions.
  • Do not be naive. Remember that "hitting them hard" seldom works (see Israel versus Palestine for example). Also, picking up a few Taliban gunmen will not prevent someone in America from joining a flying school. Destroying a so-called "training camp" won't make much difference either. Terrorists can get all the motivation they need by living in families that have lost loved ones. They can get all the training they need in any army in the world (see the example of Timothy McVeigh).
  • Start measuring the success of our current methods. Despite all the efforts to hunt down OBL, we still do not have him. Despite all the money on "intelligence," the consensus is that the west is embarrassingly, woefully bad at infiltrating Arab gangs. Despite all the stories about evidence being gathered, most of it remains secret and almost nothing is available for close scrutiny. Past experience (e.g. in Lockerbie7 and elsewhere) suggests that close scrutiny will make most of the "evidence" seem much less impressive.
  • Learn from history. The fact is that most terrorists are never caught, but then neither do they bring down whole nations (see below). They can only become a major threat - and susceptible to capture - when they become more visible. We may get terribly excited about terrorists killing ten or a hundred, but like most of the people (politicians mainly?) who contribute to 24 thousand deaths from hunger each day8 , most of them will not be brought to justice whether we bomb their countries or not.
  • Stop scare-mongering - we cannot think clearly when we panic. For example, it is theoretically possible for a few terrorists to do colossal damage, but Murphy's law means they generally fail (see the discussion of biological threats9 for example).
  • Learn to balance risks. While we may all focus on evil Arabs, there is greater danger from more conventional dangers, such as the over-reaction to terrorism that caused World War I (3), or breeding the next generation of disenfranchised Palestinians.
  • Install basic airline security measures to ensure that September 11th is less likely to happen again. Simple measures could have prevented the tragedy, so we do not need to over-react.

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Answer 4: Work with others.

  • Stop being so condescending. "We" are not the world's policeman - the United Nations is. "They" are not naughty children to be punished - they are sovereign states (or subject to sovereign states) just like us.
  • Bombing Afghanistan breaks international law10. If we had kept to international law in the past we could have prevented millions of innocent deaths.
  • Take steps to strengthen international trust. There are plenty of little areas where big countries traditionally use their diplomatic weight against small countries. There are plenty of little diplomatic moves that can send the signal "we trust you and you can trust us." When the majority of people in a country trust us, terrorists find it extremely difficult to hide in that country.
  • Take steps to strengthen international law. For example, stop opposing the International Criminal Court. Most crimes are solved by boring nuts-and-bolts things like cooperation and effective systems. These methods are not as dramatic as sending off bombers, but they are more effective.

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Do western people love killing?

When discussing these things with supporters of the war, I observed that we (most Americans, British, etc.) "love killing." This phrase brought me more trouble than any other. How dare I say something so awful! Naturally, supporters of war like to see themselves as gentle, peace-loving people.

I did not defend the "we love killing" claim at length, because the topic just offends people. But for the record, here is the evidence that we love killing.

  • "Love," according to Webster's dictionary, refers to either love of a person or a thing. When referring to a person, it generally means romantic love. When referring to a thing, it generally means enthusiasm.
  • "War" is a state of armed conflict. In the "war on terrorism," as in most wars, this armed conflict inevitably involves killing. Indeed, killing is what sets war apart from other forms of diplomacy.
  • War is more popular than other options. Since September 11th, George Bush has had extremely high approval ratings for his decision to go to war. The figures are typically over 80%, or even over 90%. This approval did not exist before the war was "declared." It must therefore be approval of the decision to go to war, and not approval of the man.
  • Therefore, we have an enthusiasm for war.
  • Enthusiasm for war or love of killing? They mean the same thing.

If we were peace loving, if we wanted an alternative to war, wouldn't we be urgently looking for alternatives? Instead, when someone suggests an alternative to war, they are called unpatriotic, or their ideas are immediately dismissed as impossible. What is an outside observer supposed to conclude?

Why not ask the Japanese? They are sufficiently detached to take an educated outside view. This is how the BBC reported on a recent visit by U.S. President Bush:

"Times have changed. The arrival of President Bush arouses little excitement. Indifference, though, is laced with concern and even contempt at what is seen as Bush's 'cowboy diplomacy'. The young mother picking up her child from kindergarten was surprised to be asked for her views on international diplomacy. But pressed for a comment, she said, 'I think Bush likes war'. It is a view shared by many...(4)

We say (and believe) that we hate killing. People often hold apparently opposing views. For example, the American founding fathers held opposing views about freedom. They wrote that "all men are created equal" but saw nothing wrong in keeping slaves. Beliefs like the "need" for slavery - and the "need" for war - are hard to shake. It can take several generations to "unlearn" our enthusiasm for war.

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"Your methods will not work - e.g. 'appeasement' - 'Chit chat' - 'Making friends with them' - 'Helping them discover their inner child' - etc."

Nobody is suggesting those things. That is a "straw man" argument. I am just suggesting:

  1. that we uphold and support the law,
  2. that we do things that will lead to the guilty being caught and tried,
  3. and that we try to be consistent.

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"The government cannot release the evidence because that would aid the terrorists."

  • Then we all agree that we do not know if there is any evidence, and we do not now the quality of any evidence.
  • When the government presents its evidence in open court (as opposed to carefully controlled news briefings or media releases), the evidence turns out to be very weak. For example, Lotfi Raissi was identified as the "mastermind" behind some of the September 11th terrorists. Yet despite all the claims there was no serious evidence against him. How did we find out? Only because he was in Britain, so first needed to be extradited. "In its appearances before British Judge Timothy Workman, the U.S. government assured the court that there was a 'web of circumstantial evidence' revealing Raissi as a co-conspirator and an Al Qaeda operative. Workman held six hearings to try to induce the U.S. government to support its claims with this evidence. Finally, the U.S. admitted that it had no such evidence." (5)
  • We should be especially cautious of evidence that appears in the media, but never in court. "Disinformation" is a well-established tactic in times of war. Indeed, it is often said that "the first casualty of war is truth." Our governments have faked information in the past.(6) They appear to have had public plans to do so in the future.(7)

"The United States Government's top lawyer has said that officials have the right to lie to American citizens, telling the US Supreme Court that misleading statements are sometimes needed to protect foreign policy interests.

'It's easy to imagine an infinite number of situations where the government might legitimately give out false information,' the Solicitor-General, Theodore Olson, told the court on Monday. 'It's an unfortunate reality that the issuance of incomplete information and even misinformation by government may sometimes be perceived as necessary to protect vital interests.'"(8)

  • Governments usually do not need to invent news. In time of war, with so much at stake, there are plenty of people in the world who will plant stories, fake videos (fairly easy with a computer), or produce other mischief for political, financial or personal motives. The Gulf War, for example, was helped along by numerous faked stories.(9) If we want truth and safety, we need to test each claim in court.

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"You say this, but how can you know for sure?"

Neither of us can know for sure, but the peaceful response has fewer risks. And we can increase our chances of being right by:

  1. Referring to simple facts that can be counted. E.g. we have killed more of "them" than they have killed of "us." Go ahead and count. They temporarily surged ahead of the game in 9/11, but since then we have regained our lead.
  2. Referring to simple facts that can be observed. E.g. we almost never see the other side of the story, except as filtered by our own side. They demonize us, we demonize them. Can this lead to understanding?
  3. Relying on the courts. They are not perfect, but they are the best guarantee of truth that we have. So far, whenever we produce evidence in open court, we tend to lose. Doesn't that make you suspicious?
  4. We can insist that as much information as possible is out in the open. (Why is George W. Bush so obsessive about secrecy - for example, restricting the publication of records from his and his father's presidency. What does he have to hide?)
  5. To gain the most from information, we need an expert in communication, language and the media. Preferably someone with wide experience of politics. Somebody like Noam Chomsky perhaps.

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"You are saying that we caused this terrorist attack?"

No, I am saying that we ENCOURAGED this terrorist attack. That is not the same thing.

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"History shows that war is inevitable."

  • History can show many things - hence the many examples here. For example, Bernard Lewis is an expert on the Middle East, and is often quoted to show the superiority of the western world. However, like all people, he emphasizes those facts that fit his conclusions, and brushes past those facts that do not fit.(10) For example, he ignores parallels with the west's treatment of other cultures (such as the slaughter of the Native Americans) and downplays events such as Sabra and Shatila11.
  • There are many controversies over history, even at the highest level, particularly where cultural innocence or guilt is concerned. Consider, for example, the controversy over colonialism, or the Arminian massacre of 1915.
  • Every culture appeals to history to justify its beliefs. Often our conclusion depend on our answers. For example, when we look at the first hundred years of America, do we see a beacon of freedom from European oppression and bigotry? Or do we see the genocide of the native Americans by invaders who broke treaty after treaty?
  • Whenever people disagree over events, it is the role of a court of law to decide who is right and who is wrong. In the case of international events, it must be the role of an international court.

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"Your methods are too slow."

Terrorism is a problem, but how urgent is it? Must we act outside the law, or do we have time to do it right? Topics such as bioterrorism12 and minimising casualties13 are covered elsewhere. This section looks at the risk of conventional attacks.

  • According to the CIA Assessment, "Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat Through 2015," Foreign nations do not have the ability to attack American soil, and will not have that ability for many years(11). So they cannot destroy us. Terrorists can plant lone bombs, and with great planning perhaps kill a thousand or two thousand people. The terrorists should be brought to justice. But two thousand is not the same as two hundred million. They cannot destroy us.
  • All the panic about impending destruction is based on rumor. When those rumors are examined, the evidence disappears.
  • Given that their means are limited (and we can limit them still further - e.g. with airport security) then using legal14 means is the best and most effective way to reduce the killing.

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"We must kill them before they kill us."

  • This is exactly what the terrorists say. It is based on blind fear, not reason. It is the way that extremists whip their followers into a frenzy. This attitude is part of the problem, not the solution.
  • We have already15 far more of 'them' than they have ever killed of 'us.' Isn't it time to stop and think of a more effective solution?

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"We must always remember the 2800 dead in New York."

Yes. And we must also remember the 2000-8000 innocent people16 we killed in Afghanistan. If we judge guilt by the numbers of innocent deaths, what does that say about us? Perhaps we say "we did not start it?" Well Osama Bin Laden can say the same thing17.

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"It all comes down to Israel, and whether they have a right to exist as a Jewish state."

Then we should keep the law. Here are the laws that relate to Israel since she became a sovereign state:

  • Law 1: UN Resolution 181 - which allowed for both Jews and Arabs to live in Israel. The map shows that about half of the land east of Jordan should be Arab, about half should be Jewish, and that Jerusalem should be controlled by a neutral third party. It is of course a compromise, but it is a reasonably good one. That was in 1947. Within a couple of years, the Jews had taken most of the land from the Arabs. The Arabs were as guilty as anyone (they started the battle) but as far as the law goes, the new Jewish borders were wrong.
  • Law 2: Laws are basically compromises, so an armistice agreement said that the Jews could keep much of the newly expanded territory, and the Arabs could have the West Bank.
  • Law 3: In 1967, the Jewish state (again, it was provoked - I am not defending the Arabs) occupied Sinai and the West Bank. This led to UN Resolution 242 - that the Jewish state should return to its previously agreed borders. It subsequently left Sinai but continued to occupy the West Bank. Later, in 1973 (again, provoked) the Jewish state occupied the Golan Heights. Then, in 1978 and 1982, it occupied the southern edge of Lebanon. That is pretty much where we stand today, except that recent events have led to limited (I stress "limited") self-rule in the West Bank. The law says they should get out entirely from the West Bank and Get out of Lebanon. If we believe in the rule of law, we should encourage them to do that. Instead, we assist them in breaking the law. That is wrong. We should stop supporting what is wrong, and start to choose the right instead.

The law says that Israel should be a state with certain boundaries. I say let us uphold the law. If the law then requires us to use military force, then we should do that. But we should live by law, not by hatred and fear.

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"They now have biological weapons!""

So do we18. Should they bomb us to discourage us?

Despite all the talk of risks, the only genuine chemical biological attacks on the west - in World War I and the recent anthrax scare - have come from the west.

Terrorists have had the theoretical ability to spread disease for a very long time. Heck, people have been tossing diseased carcasses over castle walls for a thousand years. Strange how we only noticed on September 11th.

Biology, while theoretically of infinite danger, is in practice very difficult to do properly19. Murphy's law (things tend to go wrong) means that terrorist attempts at clever bombs usually fail. For example, it has been theoretically possible now for fifty years for a small group of fanatics to make their own nuclear bomb. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the Internet, it has become almost absurdly easy, in theory. But it seems no nearer actually happening - too many difficult things have to be got right.

These weapons spread panic, but their killing ability is quite limited.

  • Small scale attacks (such as anthrax) kill three or four people. That is tragic, but no more tragic than the hundreds who are killed by handguns, or the thousands who are killed by bad drivers.
  • Medium scale attacks (such as the subway attack in Japan) kill relatively modest numbers (compared with bombs) and leave enough clues to identify the culprit.
  • Large scale attacks require factories and organization of such a scale that any nearby friendly government with reasonable internal infrastructure would have plenty of clues. So the real solution is for us to become friends with those other governments who have the information.

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"We have tried diplomacy and it did not work."

Have we tried diplomacy? After September 11, we said to the Arab states, "agree with us or we will bomb your country." Is that diplomacy? Or is it terrorism - trying to get our way by threatening terror?

We like to think that all kinds of noble and good things are happening in secret. But if they are so noble and good, why must they stay secret? What exactly is happening behind closed doors? It appears that some of what we do in secret is rather nasty. Take Yvonne Ridley's experience for example. I live in Britain and I remember the outcry when the journalist Yvonne Ridley was captured by the Taliban. She had sneaked into Afghanistan in September, to find out for herself what was going on. What happened next is interesting.

For several weeks, British newspapers were full of stories about how these woman-hating fanatics might kill her, or worse. When she was released, she reported that she was well treated. However, her life was in danger - because the British authorities had tried to make her look like a spy, presumably to get her killed and make people support the war against Afghanistan. For details, see her book "In The Hands of the Taliban."(12)

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"The UN (and international law) is ineffective."

Only because we undermine it:

  • We do not pay the UN what we owe.
  • We do not support their resolutions - e.g. regarding Israel.
  • We oppose international law when it might judge our actions - e.g. the ICC.
  • We break treaties we do not like - e.g. Kyoto.

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"Sudan provides us with an example of what happens to Christians in a Muslim fundamentalist nation."

That is like saying "Chechnya currently provides us with an example of what happens to Muslims in a Christian (Eastern Orthodox) nation." Here is the religious background to the present troubles:

"In the 1960's, western Christian missionary groups began arming Stone Age southern Dinka tribesmen, encouraging them to rebel against Khartoum. Israel secretly armed and aided southern Christian rebels to destabilize Sudan, an ally of Egypt. Since then, southern Sudan has been convulsed by civil and tribal war. Black Muslim tribes raided the south for cattle and women; black animists battled black Christians; the Arab Army fought rebels of the mainly Christian SPLA rebel army, which was armed and financed by British Christian `humanitarian groups,' Ethiopia, Israel, and, later, the US, Uganda, and Egypt. Alliances shifted overnight. Christians slaughtered Christians; Dinkas massacred Shilluks; Muslims fought Muslims."(13)

There are many lessons to be learned from Sudan, but "we are good and they are bad" is not one of them.

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"The action in Afghanistan has led to the capture of terrorists in Singapore."

At time of writing (January 2002), the Singapore discovery is the only one that has been publicly linked to Afghanistan(14). The Afghanistan killings have not led to the capture of any other terrorists.

We cannot even be sure about the Singapore group. They are being held without trial. The whole set-up sound like a political act by Malaysia for its own ends(15).

If these people were genuine terrorists, Al-Qaida thought they were weak and ineffective. At the time, the western press reported that Al-Qaida showed no interest in the Singapore group's plans. We are never allowed to hear the KMM side of the story (the KMM are the alleged Singapore terrorist group). If the evidence is as clear as we are told, if we care about law, why not hear the other side of the story so we can see how evil these people are? In Britain, Sinn Fein often defend the indefensible. Why not let the KMM do the same? Or why not have a trial and hold the alleged evidence up to criticism?

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"Anti-terrorist measures scare and discourage terrorists."

That is not what the experts say. This is from Philip C. Wilcox Jr., US Ambassador at Large for Counter-terrorism between 1994 and 1997:

On the rare occasions that the US has tried to carry out military attacks on terrorist targets, the attacks have failed or backfired.

  • The US bombing of Tripoli in 1986, after a Libyan terrorist attack on Americans in Germany, killed dozens of Libyan civilians. Qaddhafi [allegedly20] struck back in 1988 by bombing Pan American Flight 103, killing 270 people.
  • Also, US cruise missile attacks on targets in Sudan and Afghanistan after the bombing of American embassies in East Africa in 1998 had no discernible effect on terrorism and provoked widespread international criticism.

The use of military force is questionable for other reasons. Islamist terrorists throughout the world seek death through martyrdom. Far from deterring these self-proclaimed holy warriors, US military attacks would likely inspire them to carry out even more dangerous acts of terrorism; the effect could well be to increase recruitment and raise the stature of the terrorists in the underworld of militant Islam. Without minimizing the threat they pose, we should regard these people as criminals and murderers, and not dignify them as warriors. We must also understand that getting rid of Bin Laden will eliminate neither the ideology of Islamist terrorism nor its often inchoate and diffuse operations.

The most important deficiency in US counterterrorism policy has been the failure to address the root causes of terrorism. Indeed, there is a tendency to treat terrorism as pure evil in a vacuum, to say that changes in foreign policy intended to reduce it will only "reward" terrorists. ... But the US should, for its own self-protection, expand efforts to reduce the pathology of hatred before it mutates into even greater danger. Conditions that breed violence and terrorism can at least be moderated.(16)

Another example is the American terrorist, Timothy McVeigh (of the Oklahoma City bombing). McVeigh was trained in the US army. In the Gulf, he heard Colin Powell refer to civilian deaths as "collateral damage." Later, McVeigh came to believe that his country was involved in gross injustice by killing innocent civilians in the Gulf and at Waco. McVeigh decided he had to do whatever he could to stop it. He persuaded himself that bombs were the solution. He believed (wrongly, it later appeared) that there were FBI agents in the building he bombed.

McVeigh referred to the civilian deaths using the words of his former leader - as "collateral damage." He used Government training, government methods, and government rationale, as revenge for government actions. I could provide more examples from my own back yard, Northern Ireland (remember Bloody Sunday?), but this reply is long enough already. This is not to justify terrorism. It is just to show that killing innocent people is not part of the solution to terrorism. It is part of the problem.

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"The Afghans rejoiced when we liberated their country."

That depends on which way the cameras were pointing. Other Afghans were weeping over their dead children.

As for the long-term situation in Afghanistan, we will have to wait and see. At time of writing (Jan 23 2002) there are reports of increased lawlessness, numerous unexploded US cluster bombs, and the International Community has only pledged a small part of the minimum necessary to ensure that the country gets back on its feet.

  • Can anyone remember Kuwait? We "liberated" that country, and it was soon back under its old dictatorship again.

Even if the majority were to support western bombing, would that make the world a safer place? The majority were never a threat. The threat comes from the angry minority.

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"I have Arab friends who hate [insert name of Middle Eastern leader]"

No doubt. Every country contains people who hate their leaders. That does not prove that a particular leader did a particular thing. It also does not prove that "getting rid of him" is the right thing to do.

Remember Prince Sihanouk? He was in charge of Cambodia until his overthrow in 1970. But "Most middle-class and educated Khmers in Phnom Penh had grown weary of Sihanouk and apparently welcomed the change of government."(17) Washington's role in his overthrow is now well known. What happened next? As noted, the educated classes were glad to be rid of him. But the instability led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, and the infamous "killing fields," one of the most horrific examples of evil in the history of the world.

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"Terrorists will always hate anyone who is big and powerful"

Not true. The history of terrorism and assassination shows that terrorism is normally aimed at terrorizing a group's own people or leaders, or foreigners on their own soil. Even when a prominent superpower was next door, terrorists real concern is only for their own little patch. That is why they incite such passion among the young. Hence:

  • The original "assassins" defended themselves against Crusaders
  • The Spanish Inquisition was used against Jews and Moors in Spain
  • The Ku Klux Klan intimidated American supporters of Reconstruction
  • Anarchists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century wanted their own countries to be free (as they saw it) - e.g. the "Mlada Bosna" killed Franz Ferdinand because they wanted the social liberation of Bosnia and Hercegovina. (I will restrain from drawing obvious parallels with how military alliances can over-react to terrorism.)
  • State-sponsored terrorism at the Russian Revolution was aimed at Russia
  • Israeli terrorism against Britain was only related to their land, and when they got their state the terrorism ended. (And some of the worst terrorists became respected politicians. Maybe there is hope for OBL yet?)
  • French terrorism in World War II was simply against the occupying Germans
  • Then we have the Irish Rebellion and later the IRA - once again, with local objectives, and they are settling down to peace now that Irish independence seems a little closer (due to demographics and other gradual changes). Once again, we have former terrorists as senior politicians.

So we see that, when left alone, terrorists are only concerned about their own lands. Osama Bin Laden is the same - he just wants the west (rightly or wrongly) to get out of Arab lands. Of course, we have been there so long that he may believe we will never21 leave them alone unless we are all dead. But his concern is with his own lands and culture, not ours.

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"These terrorists will take over their whole country or destabilize the whole world!"

Not true. There are several studies which show that terrorism simply does not work. In those cases where terrorist groups seem to have won (e.g. China, Vietnam, Israel, Northern Ireland) there us always the background of conventional politics. Terrorism alone always fails.

Experts agree that terrorists have never managed to destabilize any significant political grouping.(18)

The biggest danger is not from the terrorists, but from our own over-reaction, as in the assassination in Sarajevo in 1914(3).

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"Ending injustice will not end terrorism"

This is what the experts say(19):

  • Richard Rubenstein (author of "Alchemists of Revolution") believes the staying power of serious "terrorist" movements-the PLO, the IRA, and the Shi'ites of the Hezbollah and Amal movements in Lebanon-is to be explained by genuine social or political grievances and broad-based popular support rather than by external manipulation or anything so comforting as the "international terror network" theory.
  • William O. Beeman [specialist on Middle East culture at Brown University] wholly supports the Chomsky's "blowback" theory.
  • Jerrold Post [psychological profiler at the CIA for 21 years, pioneered the government's effort to fathom the psychology of terrorism]: He noted the effort against terrorism is "not a military struggle in many ways." Post added, "I do worry about the militarization of the conflict, particularly when civilian populations become casualties ... There is a hazard in the [war] metaphor, if taken too literally ... It could widen that polarization [between the United States and large segments of the Arab world]."
  • Shibley Telhami [an academic and mainstream think-tanker specializing in the Middle East] said of the Osam bin Laden outfit, "this group captures a popular mood in the region." He also suggested that the United States must mount a "reduction of anger" initiative and that "the shortest answer is moving on the Israeli-Arab peace process."
  • Bruce Hoffman [a terrorism expert at the Rand Corporation] said military action, while appropriate, "should not be seen as the answer."
  • H. Allen Holmes [former assistant secretary at both the Defense Department and the Department of State] says that to curtail terrorism, the United States must change its foreign policies. Doing so will not sway the most fanatical and murderous thugs, such as Osama bin Laden and his crew. … But the goal -- long-term, to be sure -- is to make it harder for mass-murderers of this sort to recruit followers and win support from portions of the public (such as those Pakistanis who have demonstrated in favor of bin Laden) _and_ to render it easier for the United States and other nations to form multilateral endeavors that can root out and punish terrorists.
  • Lee Hamilton [former Democratic congressman who recently served on a national commission on terrorism] noted that members of the commission visited 28 countries and encountered "a deep resentment about what the United States stood for and were told that managing that resentment will be one of the major foreign policy challenges" for the United States. When asked what could be done to manage the resentment he mentioned, he first noted there is a "sharp distinction between resentment and hostility." The latter motivated the September 11 attackers, and that antipathy cannot be countered. "The broader foreign policy problem," he explained, "is resentment. Hostility swims in the resentment."
  • Jeff Baxter [an undiluted Star Wars fanatic and consultant to the Pentagon] said, "How do we nullify and negate that threat?" Simple, he said: "The way to keep a kamikaze pilot out of aircraft ... is to deal with it at the source" -- that is, the motivation. … "This World War III is a different war," Baxter commented. "It's an information war ... a war fought with ideas."

Mark S. Hamm, author of "In Bad Company: America's Terrorist Underground," knows a thing or two about how terrorists' minds work. He had some very interesting things to say. I encourage anyone to read the whole interview. Hamm spent considerable time with American terrorists, especially the "Aryan Republican Army" - Timothy McVeigh's little group.

"If Waco and Ruby Ridge never happened, then there never would have been a citizen militia movement in this country, and without the militia/patriot movement in this country, the ARA and these extreme anti-government groups would have never had a cause. It is unlikely that they would have ever met each other. It is unlikely that they would have engaged in crime together. McVeigh's attorney said that if there had been no Waco, there would have been no bombing of Oklahoma City. That's from his interviews with McVeigh."

Interviewer: That might have been McVeigh's way of justifying it. But don't you think he would have found something else?

All terrorism begins with a grievance. If you start with that premise, then you have to look at the period we're talking about here -- early '90s to mid-'90s. If there wasn't Waco and Ruby Ridge, what else did we have that could have provided these men with a grievance? The only answer that you come up with is the Brady Law. But that wasn't toxic enough to create this revenge against the government. I must say that I don't think these men would have robbed banks and funded bombings without something dramatic. ...

These men were products of the time. I believe that in the aftermath of Waco and Ruby Ridge, because those were such monumental events in the world of the radical right, anti-government sentiment came to replace racism and anti-Semitism as the guiding principle of the radical right. Although they do subscribe to this notion of the Zionist Occupied Government, their hatred for the government trumped their racism and anti-Semitism. Primarily, it's the hatred of the FBI. That's who their war was against.(20)

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"Why is Libya's Qaddhafi now quiet? This proves that bombing works."

The opposite is true. After the west bombed Libya, atrocities blamed on Libya did not decrease. They may even have increased22.

Of course, the fact that the west blames Libya does not mean that Libya is always guilty. Libya is often innocent23, but the west punishes her anyway. Libya often has good, rational reasons for distrusting the west.

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"In the Bible, God sometimes commands people to kill."

And that makes it OK for us? Are we God?

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"Do you think Britain should have gone to war with Germany when Germany invaded Poland?"

I think that, after WWI, Britain should have not have demanded reparations that Germany could not reasonably pay. This led to such hardship that even moderate Germans considered that desperate times called for desperate measures - e.g. the National Socialist party.

I think that, having made the law (i.e. the Versailles treaty) Britain should have stuck to it. This would have prevented Germany from re-arming in the 1930s.

These are just two ways that WWII could have been prevented, without the loss of innocent life. If only we had (a) listened to their grievances, and (b) kept to the law! In every war I have ever studied it is the same. If only we would (a) listen and (b) keep to the law, later horrors can be avoided. That is all I am asking in the current crisis.

So much for the preamble. What about in 1939? When we had got ourselves into this mess? What then? I have not studied that part of history in any depth, so my default position is that I agree with the majority view until I have looked at it in more detail. I am not a pacifist. However, I think that Gandhi's view of the war was not as naive as others often think. I need to do more research in this area. Thus far I have concentrated my studies on times that parallel our own - when world war can still be easily avoided.

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"The west donates vast amounts of humanitarian aid to the Third World"

Studies by reputable agencies (e.g. Oxfam) have shown that for every pound (or dollar) we spend on the Third World, we receive back between two and five pounds (or dollars) in loan repayments, lower commodity prices, oil concessions, etc. We all like to think of ourselves as being generous, but it is simply not true.

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"Moslems always blame the west"

Maybe they have good reason to.24

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Please note: HTML links were created between January-March 2002. Some of these links may have expired when you read this.

1. On February 27th, the "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" moved its symbolic Doomsday Clock closer to midnight. In March, Washington leaked plans to target seven nations with nuclear weapons, and to build bombs that were smaller and easier to use against terrorist bunkers. This seems to indicate "a loosening of the traditional constraints the U.S. has placed on its nuclear arms." See "Is Bush Readier to Use Nukes?25" by Mark Thompson of CNN, March 11, 2002.

2. "Desmond Tutu's Renewed Call for Peace26" by Nathan Gardels, New Perspectives Quarterly, March 15, 2002

3. Here is a brief overview of the causes of World War I: The Austro-Hungarian empire had previously conquered part of Serbia. The Serbs wanted their freedom, so a terrorist assassinates the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Austria-Hungary hints at reprisals. Germany agrees to support them. Austria-Hungary makes demands of Serbia that it knows will be rejected. They know the Serbian government is innocent, but keep that information secret. Various countries take sides. Sounds familiar? Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. The whole thing just escalates. See WorldWar1.com27

4. "Japanese unimpressed by Bush28," subtitled "Ordinary Japanese are cynical of American intentions" by Charles Scanlon, 15th Feb 20

5. "Did Justice Move to Wonderland?29" by Jonathan Turley. Los Angeles Times, Feb 14th 2002.

6. In the gulf war, for example, the US government promoted the story that Iraqi troops were massed on the Saudi border. Satellite photos showed that this was simply not true. For this and other examples, see the presentation by John R. MacArthur30, publisher of Harper's Magazine.

7. The "Office of Strategic Information" was announced in February, and soon cancelled. Why? Because almost every major news source (not just the usual critical media) reported that it would plant false stories31 in the foreign - and perhaps also the domestic - media.

8. "Lying to the public is all right, says Washington's chief lawyer32" by Mark Helm. Sydney Morning Herald, March 20th 2002.

9. The best known example is the "Iraqis throwing babies out of incubators" story. It was one of several key "events" that turned public opinion in favor of the Gulf War. After the war was over, this and many other stories were revealed to be completely untrue. For details and referenced to major news outlets, see "Gulf War Stories the Media Loved33" at

10. See Jason Hannan's review of Bernard Lewis's book, "Semites and Anti-Semites" at

11. "'Axis' missiles fall short - Some fear Bush's harsh words may be counterproductive34." by Robert Windrem, MSNBC

12. While she was captured, somebody gave faked documents and misleading photographs to an Arab news station. The material (tax returns and stolen photographs) was obtained in such a way that indicated either the British or American secret services had to be involved. For a summary, see "The CIA Wanted Me Killed35" By Jo Dillan of The Independent.

13. From the "Religious Tolerance36" Website.

14. As noted in a recent Washington Post37 article (January 11, 2002).

15. For details, see the press release38 at

16. "The Terror39" by Philip C. Wilcox Jr. The New York Review of Books, October 18, 2001 Wilcox correctly foretold that "Bombing the Taliban to make them give up Bin Laden might kill innocents and would probably fail."

17. From the Library of Congress country study, Cambodia40.

18. See Walter Laqueur's "The Age of Terrorism" or Richard Rubenstein's "Alchemists of Revolution" - they disagree on almost everything except that major point.

19. The various positions are summarized in "Unlikely Doves: Counter-terrorism Experts41" by David Corn.

20. Interviewed by Suzy Hansen, in "America's homegrown terrorists.42"

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Sabra and Shatila massacres—why do we ignore them?

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Libya and terrorism

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Bioterrorism—and how to prevent it

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Read “An alternative view of east-west history” to learn more.

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