Author: Noam Chomsky.
Genre: Non-fiction, politics, history, war, 9/11.
Publication Date: November, 2001.
Summary: Noam Chomsky comments on the September 11th attacks, the new war on terrorism, Osama bin Laden, U.S. involvement with Afghanistan, media control, and the long-term implications of America's military attacks abroad. Informed by his deep understanding of the gravity of these issues and the global stakes, 9-11 demonstrates Chomsky's impeccable knowledge of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and South Asia, and sheds light on the rapidly shifting balance of world power. Speaking out against escalating violence, Chomsky critically examines the United States' own foreign policy record and considers what international institutions might be employed against underground networks and national states accused of terrorism.
My rating: 8/10
♥ The horrifying atrocities of September 11 are something quite new in world affairs, not in their scale and character, but in the target. For the United States, this is the first time since the War of 1812 that the national territory has been under attack, or even threatened. Many commentators have brought up at Pearl Harbor analogy, but that is misleading. On December 7, 1941, military bases in two U.S. colonies were attacked - not the national territory, which was never threatened. The U.S. preferred to call Hawaii a "territory", but it was in effect a colony. During the past several hundred years the U.S. annihilated the indigenous populations (millions of people), conquered half of Mexico (in fact, the territories of indigenous peoples, but that is another matter), 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. That is a dramatic change.
♥ The West is quite ecumenical in its choice of enemies. The criteria are subordination and service to power, not religion.
♥ As for a response, they are, I presume, listening to foreign leaders, specialists on the Middle East, and I suppose their own intelligence agencies, who are warning them that a massive military response will answer bin Laden's prayers. But there are hawkish elements who want to use the occasion to strike our at their enemies, with extreme violence, no matter how many innocent people suffer, including people here and in Europe who will be victims of the escalating cycle of violence. All again in a very familiar dynamic. There are plenty of bin Ladens on both sides, as usual.
♥ Though it is merely a footnote, the Sudan case is nonetheless highly instructive. One interesting aspect is the reaction when someone dares to mention it. I have in the past, and did so again in response to queries from journalists shortly after the 9-11 atrocities. I mentioned that the toll of the "horrendous crime" of 9-11, committed with "wickedness and awesome cruelty" (quoting Robert Fisk), may be comparable to the consequences of Clinton's bombing of the Al-Shifa plant in August 1998. That plausible conclusion elicited an extraordinary reaction, filling many web sites and journals with feverish and fanciful condemnations, which I'll ignore. The only important aspect is that that single sentence - which, on a closer look, appears to be an understatement - was regarded by some commentators as utterly scandalous. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that at some deep level, however they may deny it to themselves, they regard our crimes against the weak to be as normal as the air we breathe. Our crimes, for which we are responsible: as taxpayers, for failing to provide massive reparations, for granting refuge and immunity to the perpetrators, and for allowing the terrible facts to be sunk deep ion the memory hole. All of this is of great significance, as it has been in the past.
♥ You said that the main practitioners of terrorism are countries like the U.S. that use violence for political motives. When and where?
I find the question baffling. As I've said elsewhere, the U.S. is, after all, the only country condemned by the World Court for international terrorism - for "the unlawful use of force" for political ends, as the Court put it - ordering the U.S. to terminate these crimes and pay substantial reparations. The U.S. of course dismissed the Court's judgment with contempt, reacting by escalating the terrorist war against Nicaragua and vetoing a Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law (and voting alone, with Israel and in one case El Salvador, against similar General Assembly resolutions). The terrorist war expanded in accordance with the official policy of attacking "soft targets" - undefended civilian targets, like agricultural collectives and health clinics - instead of engaging the Nicaraguan army. The terrorists were able to carry out these instructions, thanks to the complete control of Nicaraguan air space by the U.S. and the advanced communications equipment provided to them by their supervisors.
...This is by no means the most extreme example; I mention it because it is uncontroversial, given the World Court decision, and because the failed efforts of Nicaragua to pursue lawful means, instead of setting off bombs in Washington, provide a model for today, not the only one. Nicaragua was only one component of Washington's terrorist wars in Central America in that terrible decade, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and four countries in ruins.
♥ The U.S. is officially committed to what is called "low-intensity warfare." That's the official doctrine. If you read the standard definitions of low-intensity conflict and compare them with official definitions of "terrorism" in army manuals, or the U.S. code, you find they're almost the same. Terrorism is the use of coercive means aimed at civilian populations in an effort to achieve political, religious, or other aims. That's what the World Trade Center attack was, a particularly horrifying terrorist crime.
Terrorism, according to the official definitions, is simply part of state action, official doctrine, and not just that of the U.S., of course.
It is not, as if often claimed, "the weapon of the weak."
♥ Among other demands Washington issued to Pakistan, it also "demanded...the elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan's civilian population" - the food that is keeping probably millions of people just this side of starvation (John Burns, Islamabad, New York Times). What does that mean? That means that unknown numbers of starving Afghans will die. Are these Taliban? No, they're victims of the Taliban. Many of them are internal refugees kept from leaving. But here's a statement saying, OK, let's proceed to kill unknown numbers, maybe millions, of starving Afghans who are victims of the Taliban. What was the reaction?
I spent almost the entire day afterwards on radio and television around the world. I kept bringing it up. Nobody in Europe or the U.S. could think of one word of reaction. Elsewhere in the world there was plenty of reaction, even around the periphery of Europe, like Greece. How should we have reacted to this? Suppose some power was strong enough to say, Let's do something that will cause a huge number of Americans to die of starvation. Would you think it's a serious problem? And again, it's not a fair analogy. In the case of Afghanistan, left to rot after it had been ruined by the Soviet invasion and exploited for Washington's war, muich of the country is in ruins and its people are desperate, already one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
♥ It makes sense to call upon citizens to eliminate terrorists instead of electing them to high office, lauding and rewarding them. But I would not suggest that we should have "removed our elected officials, their advisers, their intellectual claque, and their clients from the planet," or destroyed our own and other Western governments because of their terrorist crimes and their support for terrorists worldwide, including many who were transferred from favored friends and allies to the category of "terrorists" because they disobeyed U.S. orders: Saddam Hussein, and many others like him. However, it is rather unfair to blame citizens of harsh and brutal regimes that we support for not undertaking this responsibility, when we do not do so under vastly more propitious circumstances.
♥ But alongside the literal meaning of the term, as just quoted from U.S. official documents, there is also a propagandistic usage, which unfortunately is the standard one: the term "terrorism" is used to refer to terrorist acts committed by enemies against us or our allies. This propagandistic use is virtually universal. Everyone "condemns terrorism" in this sense of the term. Even the Nazis harshly condemned terrorism and carried out what they called "counter-terrorism" against the terrorist partisans.
♥ Just before the 1998 missile strike, Sudan detained two men suspected of bombing the American embassies in East Africa, notifying Washington, U.S. officials confirmed. But the U.S. rejected Sudan's offer of cooperation, and after the missile attack, Sudan "angrily released" the suspects (James Risen, New York Times, July 30, 1999); they have since been identified as bin Lade operatives. Recently leaked FBI memos add another reason why Sudan "angrily released" the suspects. The memos reveal the the FBI wanted them extradited, but the State Department refused. One "senior CIA source" now describes this and other rejections of Sundanese offers of cooperation as "the worst single intelligence failure in this whole terrible business" of September 11. "It is the key to the whole thing right now" because of the voluminous evidence on bin Laden that Sudan offered to produce, offers that were repeatedly rebuffed because of the administration's "irrational hatred" of Sudan, the senior CIA source reports. Included in Sudan's rejected offers was "a vast intelligence database on Osama bun Laden and more than 200 leading members of his al-Qaeda terrorist network in the years leading up to the 11 September attacks." Washington was "offered thick files, with photographs and detailed biographies of many of his principal cadres, and vital information about al-Qaeda's financial interests in many parts of the globe", but refused to accept the information, out of "irrational hatred" of the target of its missile attack. "It is reasonable to say that had we had this data we may have had a better chance of preventing the attacks" of September 11, the same senior CIA source concludes (David Rose, Observer, September 30, reporting an Observer investigation).
♥ The Bush administration at once presented the nations of the world with a choice: join us, or face destruction. (Editor's note: Here Chomsky is referring to a quote published in the New York Times, September 14, 2001.)
The "global community" strongly opposes terror, including the massive terror of the powerful states, and also terrible crimes of September 11. But the "global community" does not act. When Western states and intellectuals use the term "international community", they are referring to themselves. For example, NATO bombing of Serbia was undertaken by the "international community" according to consistent Western rhetoric, although those who did not have their heads buried in the sand knew that it was opposed by most of the world, often quite vocally. Those who do not support the actions of wealth and power are not part of the "global community", just as "terrorism conventionally means "terrorism directed against us and out friends".
♥ It depends on what these social activists are trying to achieve. If their goal is to escalate the cycle of violence and to increase the likelihood of further atrocities like that of September 11 - and, regrettably, even worse ones with which much of the world is all too familiar - then they should certainly curb their analysis and criticisms, refuse to think, and cut back their involvement in the very serious issues in which they have been engaged. The same advice is warranted if they want to help the most reactionary and regressive elements of the political-economic power system to implement plans that will be of great harm to the general population here and in much of the world, and may even threaten human survival. If, on the contrary, the goal of social activists is to reduce the likelihood of further atrocities, and to advance hopes for freedom, human rights, and democracy, then they should follow the opposite course. They should intensify their efforts to inquire into the background factors that lie behind these and other crimes and devote themselves with even more energy to the just causes to which they have already been committed. They should listen when the bishop of the southern Mexican city of San Cristobal de las Casas, who has seen his share of misery and oppression, urges Northamericans to "reflect on why they are so hated" after the U.S. "has generated so much violence to protect its economic interests" (Marion Lloyd, Mexico City, Boston Globe, September 30).
...Of course, there will be those who demand silent obedience. We expect that from the ultra-right, and anyone with a little familiarity with history will expect it from some left intellectuals as well, perhaps in an even more virulent form. But it is important not to be intimidated by hysterical ranting and lies and to keep as closely as one can to the course of truth and honesty and concern for the human consequences of what one does, or fails to do. All truisms, but worth bearing in mind.
Beyond the truisms, we turn to specific questions, for inquiry and for action.