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New input 10/10/2001

Interview with Noam Chomsky
Regarding World Trade Center tragedy
Radio B92, Belgrade

Q: 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 inintellectual 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.

Q: 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 ultra-criminal. 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.

Q: 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.

Q: After 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.

Q: “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. Its 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.

“New World Disorder”
by Ted Grant and Alan Woods

“Overnight, the greatest superpower the world has ever seen turns out to be a colossus with feet of clay. The most powerful military state the world has ever seen has shown its powerlessness in the face of terrorism.”
Read this interesting paper

‘In short, the crime is a gift to the hard jingoist right, those who hope to use force to control their domains. That is even putting aside the likely US actions, and what they will trigger — possibly more attacks like this one, or worse. The prospects ahead are even more ominous than they appeared to be before the latest atrocities� As to how to react, we have a choice: we may try to understand, or refuse to do so, contributing to the likelihood that much worse lies ahead.’

‘On the Bombings’ by Noam Chomsky, September 12, 2001

‘It is only a few years ago that the Islamic fundamentalist groups, willing to blow themselves up in Israel and New York, were formed, and only after Israel and the US had rejected outright the hope of a Palestinian state, and justice for a people scarred by imperialism. Their distant voices of rage are now heard; the daily horrors in faraway brutalised places have at last come home.’

‘Inevitable ring to the unimaginable’, by John Pilger, ZNet Commentary, 13 Sep 2001

‘it is of great importance right now to stress the fact that imperial terrorism inevitably produces retail terrorist responses; that the urgent need is the curbing of the causal force, which is the rampaging empire.’

‘Folks out there have a “distaste of western civilization and cultural values”‘, by Edward S. Herman, ZNet Commentary, 13 Sep 2001

‘Eight years ago, I helped to make a television series that tried to explain why so many Muslims had come to hate the West. Last night, I remembered some of those Muslims in that film, their families burnt by American-made bombs and weapons. They talked about how no one would help them but God. Theology vs technology, the suicide bomber against the nuclear power. Now we have learnt what this means.’

‘The awesome cruelty of a doomed people’ by Robert Fisk, 12 September 2001

‘No one knows, so far, who is behind the murderous actions of September 11. But it is not unlikely that a Frankenstein’s monster may have turned against its creator, using that creator’s own weapons against it: blind cynicism, brutal force, sophisticated military technology and financial power’

Frankenstein, by Alain Krivine, September 12, 2001 – received by e-mail)

‘The arrogance of power has produced its inevitable reaction. America is threatened not by nuclear tipped missiles from unknown rogue nations, but by small groups of angry men who, although prisoners of their zealotry, know well enough that much of the world whilst not agreeing with them understands their frustration. To deal with this effectively requires a new way of looking at the world.’

“For the arrogance of power America now pays a terrible price” Jonathan Power, columnist and TFF associate

‘The United States has chosen to illustrate its superior force and “resolve” by bombing — or impoverishing by embargo — defenseless civilians from Iraq to Yugoslavia. Such displays of force lead to the impasse of the suicide bombers, who in terms of “showing resolve” versus “cowardly attacks” have outdone the “civilized” U.S. bombers who devastate whole countries without suffering a scratch. �What matters now is not so much to eliminate the criminal terrorists � but to create a world where humanity would be united in condemning such murderous atrocities.’

“The Morning After” by Diana Johnstone

‘Everybody (even the IMF) knows that misery in the world is the ground where terrorism can florish and get support because of the frustration of oppressed Arabic masses. Everybod knows that with half of the US military budget you could suppress hunger in the world. Everybody knows you do not fight against misery with bombardments� Washington did already bombard 23 countries and after a certain time it was discovered its media had lied to justify it. Let us say not to the war ! Against misery, you do not fight with bombardment.’

Say No to the war, Michel COLLON, received by e-mail, 13 Sep 2001

‘The attacks in the US threaten to mark a change in relations between Western hegemony and the oppressed nations and represents a further milestone in the re-arrangement of the world order under the globalization project� Today, more than ever, it is urgent that democratic forces in the world join hands in the struggle for social justice, freedom and democracy.’

Alternative Information Center on Sep 11, received e-mail, 12 Sep 2001)

“The attacks must be condemned without reservation. But we must be certain to recognize that these are probably the work of frustrated and alienated human beings hemmed in by forces that are anonymous and that could only be embodied by these structures� Random acts of terror do not change anything, indeed they increase the suffering of us ordinary people. There are those thousands who died, but then there will be the others, those suspected of being terrorists only because they are Muslims or brown (and there are already several reported instances of such attacks and verbal assaults)� Nothing good comes from terror. It never did and it never will.”

�Nothing Good Comes From Terror�by Vijay Prashad, September 12, 2001

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