No War, Racism and Scapegoating!
Statement of Socialist Alternative on the September 11 terrorist attacks
18 September 2001
The terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC on Tuesday September 11 were a horrific tragedy. Socialist Alternative sends all those who lost loved ones and friends and all of those injured its deepest sympathies and condolences. Socialists completely and absolutely oppose and condemn this brutal, horrendous crime, its wanton slaughter of thousands of innocent people. The main victims were workers: secretaries, firefighters, waiters, and janitors, etc. of all races, ethnicities, nationalities, and religions.
Hundreds of millions remain in a state of shock after repeatedly watching people jump to their deaths and the appalling loss of thousands of lives in the collapse of the World Trade Center. An estimated 300 firefighters and 85 police officers were killed as they rushed to the scene to help with rescue efforts. Whole families in the hijacked planes were kidnapped and flown to their deaths. Body parts rained down on passers-by. Some of the most haunting aspects of the tragic events have been the last minute phone calls from passengers or those trapped in the rubble to loved ones, saying last good-byes.
The outpouring of support, solidarity, self sacrifice and heroism has attained gigantic proportions throughout the world. Thousands of volunteers surged into New York City from across the country offering to help in any way. All across the country people have flooded into blood banks to give blood.
Americans, and people around the world, are justly shocked, saddened, angered, and outraged. Unfortunately, politicians and the media are exploiting this genuine grief in order to further the ruling class’ right-wing agenda. As millions mourn and trying to put their lives back in some kind of order, the US government bangs war drums.
These dramatic events constitute a political and economic turning point for the US and the world, and will have devastating repercussions. These events will likely plunge the US economy, already in a recession, or teetering on the edge of one, in to a deeper economic crisis. A more in-depth analysis on the international repercussions of these events and their economic consequences is dealt with in the statement from the Committee for Workers International (CWI).
The immediate political impact of the terrorist attacks has been a reactionary wave of jingoism and nationalism. The ruling class, their media, and their politicians are consciously whipping this up into war hysteria.
This campaign has lead to a terrible wave of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hysteria accompanied by racist attacks. Polls in the New YorkTimes/CBS News claim that 85% of Americans supported military retaliation. This mood will likely grow when the US begins its military “response.”
While most of the media maintains a thin veneer of respectability, the gutter press is more direct. The New York Post bayed for blood in its editorial on September 13 saying “They [terrorists] need to bleed. Not next month. Not next week. Now. Who are they? Who cares? Cast a wide enough net, and you’ll catch the fish that need catching… So locate them. Pinpoint them. Bomb them. And then bomb the smoldering rubble – one more time! … The weight of America’s military might – just short of nuclear oblivion – needs to be visited on those who planned and executed Tuesday’s attacks.” The editorial ended with the call “Bombs away.”
The US government is planning massive military retaliation against the terrorist organizations they deem responsible. It is strongly considering declaring war on any country that “harbors or supports” terrorists. The immediate targets appear to be Islamic fundamentalists, in particular Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The military retaliation will most likely include ground troops.
If the goal of the attacks was to undermine US domination over the world, it has accomplished the opposite. The terrorist attacks have acted to temporarily pull together and solidify a large international coalition of governments led by the US, stretching from Europe to Russia to China. NATO invoked its famous Article 5 for the first time in its history, declaring that the terrorist attack amounted to an act of war against the US and the entire alliance.
This campaign will not help the working and oppressed people of this or any other country.
Americans are rightfully and understandably angry and are demanding some sort of justice. But what will military retaliation and an invasion of another country actually accomplish? It will not help solve the problem of terrorism or protect Americans from future attacks. Contrarily, it will greatly aggravate the underlying problems that give rise to terrorism, sowing the seeds for even greater calamities. The vast majority of those killed or hurt by any US military attack will not be the terrorists, but the ordinary people of the Middle East and other countries.
At least 35,000, and possibly up to 50,000 National Guard and army reserves have been called up for active duty to prepare the country for war. Bush has already received $20 billion to beef up military and intelligence for his “war on terrorism,” as well as a virtual blank check from Congress allowing him to take almost any military action he pleases.
The government is planning military retaliation employing overwhelming military force against its targets. They are considering invading Afghanistan, occupying its capital Kabul and overthrowing the ruling party, the Taliban. But the “war on terrorism” will be an extended campaign, not a single action, “that could last a year or more. Such a campaign could involve American forces in protracted fighting against a number of Asian and African countries, like Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and even Pakistan…” (The New York Times September 14, 2001).
“Previous constraints that defined earlier U.S. strikes against Mr. Bin Laden, such as a desire to avoid all American casualties, have been lifted, defense officials say. ‘We recognize that launching a few cruise missiles and rearranging the sand isn’t enough. You can’t do this remotely,’ says a senior defense official. A broad range of military options is being weighed including air strikes to sending in special operations forces to capture Mr. bin Laden and his core leadership as well as dismantling what little core infrastructure they’ve built up there.” (Wall Street Journal September 14, 2001).
Francois Heisbourg, a French military expert and the incoming chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies proclaimed “forget about cruise missiles… the coalition that takes on the terrorists has to actually send in people with guns and that means taking high risks” (New York Times September 14, 2001).
The alternative view put forward by Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut), the Democrats’ candidate for Vice President in the 2000 elections, said that US retaliation should be directed against “not just Afghanistan, but Iraq, Iran, Syria which we know are harboring terrorists.” Lieberman also called for the creation of a department of “homeland defense” (Financial Times September 13, 2001).
Washington is clearly preparing a tremendous, multilateral, brutal military attack to send a powerful message that US interests cannot be attacked without terrible consequences. The terrorist attack of September 11 was so big and so audacious that the US ruling class thinks it needs to lash out with an even more spectacular act of “retribution.”
The most likely scenario is that “punishment” will take the form of savage bombings against Afghanistan and possibly other countries, coordinated with raids, massive arrests and persecution of everyone labeled as a terrorist in a number of other countries. There is also a strong possibility of some sort of ground invasion or military action against Afghanistan. The political will to declare war and send in ground troops certainly exists in Washington, and the media has built up immediate public support to do so (polls show over 80% support such measures). Nevertheless, the potential public opposition when US troops begin to get killed means the government probably prefers to limit any ground war to a rapid deployment of a small number of “Special Forces.” But in the present context, it is quite possible a much wider and longer deployment could take place.
At the same time, a number of factors restrain Bush from carrying out a spectacular retaliatory attack. First, he has no clear target or enemy state to declare war against. Further, any major strike in the Middle East has the possibility of further destabilizing the region. The government fears that massive military action will be perceived as an attack against the world’s 1.2 Billion Muslims. The likely “excesses,” “mistakes,” and “collateral damage” (read: indiscriminate killing of innocent people) entailed in any such response could provoke a massive backlash in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and Asia. If the US’ retaliation is seen as indiscriminate, it is also likely to produce a reaction in countries throughout Europe. This is the tightrope the government must tread to determine the nature of its response.
A Nightmare for the Middle East
Any US military action in the Middle East will create an absolute nightmare in the region. The situation in the Middle East is ready to explode. Sustained US actions could spark enormous social upheavals and turmoil.
The situation in Israel and Palestine is already in the pit. The Israeli government sees the recent events as a green light to ratchet up of its repression of the Intifada.
The terrorist attacks in the US take place while Arab citizens of Israel, numbering over 1 million, are joining the Palestinian Intifada in increasing numbers. Just before the attacks, an Israeli Palestinian citizen carried out a suicide bombing for the first time.
This, along with the events in the US, have provoked a serious discussion in the Israeli ruling class and media about driving out Israel’s Arab citizens and carrying out a forced repartition. This would entail a massive bloodbath, a war of ethnic cleansing and provoke a region-wide military conflict, which the US would inevitably be pulled in to.
The US government could bring this nightmare to the Middle East. It also underlines the irresponsible, reactionary role played by the groups who carried out the attack on New York and Washington, DC. It will be ordinary Arabs, Palestinians first; who will be chiefly hit by the US retaliation. And it will be working class American youth, disproportionately people of color, who will be sent to die.
Strengthening Islamic Fundamentalism
Rather than the “rooting up terrorism” or Islamic fundamentalism, US military action will only strengthen the forces of Islamic fundamentalism – a totally reactionary philosophy striving for medieval theocratic dictatorships where women are denied any basic rights. An editorial in the Financial Times correctly pointed out that “strong military action by the US could increase the supply of America’s enemies who are prepared to die for their cause. If Arab civilians are hurt, they may become more defiant than cowed… Even carefully targeted strikes may be ineffective. In Israel, suicide bombings continue despite the governments military superiority, good intelligence and its policy of vigorous counteraction” (September 13, 2001).
For example, if the US secures the use of Pakistan to carry out attacks against Afghanistan as expected, it will give a boost to the already powerful forces of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan.
The desperate conditions of mass poverty, oppression and humiliation of the Arab peoples have created a boiling anger throughout the Middle East. Due to the absence of powerful movements of the masses and a mass socialist alternative, Islamic fundamentalism is seen as the main radical alternative.
Terrorism grows directly in correlation with the lack of mass struggles. The only way to fight Islamic fundamentalism is to build a mass movement of workers and poor people throughout the Middle East fighting poverty, oppression, for self determination and against capitalism with a bold socialist alternative. Unless capitalism is overthrown, reactionary ideas like Islamic Fundamentalism will continue to gain ground and we will see more terrible terrorist acts.
If these ideas seem abstract or utopian, we only need look at the example of Slobodan Milosevic’s dictatorship in Serbia. Eleven weeks of NATO bombings did not remove him. Yet, the mass movement of the working people of Serbia overthrew him in a matter of days. The same will be true in the Middle East.
This position was confirmed, from the class outlook of the ruling class, when the Financial Times wrote in its editorial of September 13 “A decentralized capitalist system is extraordinarily resilient in the face of physical damage. Sustained bombing campaigns, such as that against Germany in the Second World War, rarely bring an economy to its knees. Civil disobedience – such as last year’s European blockades against high fuel taxes – can halt a modern economy much more quickly. But that demands the overt participation of the many, not the secret attacks of a few.”
Some of leading ruling class strategists recognize that they will never completely “wipe out terrorism” on the basis of capitalism. They recognize that a bombing campaign against Afghanistan will accomplish little or nothing in the long run. The country is already in ruins with hardly any real targets to bomb, and attacks by the US will have destabilizing effects throughout the region, especially in Pakistan. The US ruling class is only carrying out these military retaliations to re-build their injured image and prestige. They must demonstrate that the US is still “strong” and powerful – regardless of the innocent people killed, injured or lives ruined in the process.
Right Wing Agenda
Politicians are seizing on the frenzy created to ram through a series of laws that they could never pass under the light of rational debate and consideration.
Politicians claim that the September 11 terrorist attacks show that neither education nor health care are number one priorities, but military spending is. Congress has just agreed to spend $20 billion to beef up the military and intelligence for a war against terrorism, and that may only be the tip of the iceberg. The previously doomed Republican “missile defense plan” now looks like it will fly through Congress, adding billions of dollars to the bill. Democratic Senator Carl Levin, formerly the Senate’s most implacable foe of missile defense, immediately indicated he would go along with Bush’s proposals on missile defense as well as anything else saying “We cannot be divided at this time on any subject.” (Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2001).
Where will all this money come from? From raiding Social Security funds, previously written off as a system in crisis. Now the already limited and meager guaranteed pension system for workers will be drained of funds, creating an urgent crisis for the future viability of the pension plan. Meanwhile, Congress is stepping up their massive handouts to big corporations “to help them get back on their feet.”
Nor will it only come from Social Security. While we are currently being told we are all Americans, with one national interest, which interests will be protected when the recession begins to bite? Bush and Congress will attempt to carry out massive cuts in social spending and services such as healthcare, education, etc. Big business will try and off-load the effects of the crisis on to the backs of workers through massive layoffs, cuts in pay and more brutal working conditions.
It will be the working class and the poor who will to pay for this crisis. Rather than spending billions of dollars on a war that will only kill more innocent people, this money would be much better put to use rebuilding homes and lives, particularly for the tens of thousands of New Yorkers displaced and left homeless by the attacks.
Racist Hysteria against Arabs and Muslims
The jingoism and nationalism whipped up by the media has led to a wave of hysteria and racist attacks on those “looking” Arab or Muslim. All across the country, from Texas to Cleveland to New York, there have been incidents of physical assaults, arson, death threats, harassment of Arabs and Muslims and Mosques being bombed and shot at.
A crowd of 300, some waving American flags and shouting “USA! USA!” marched on a mosque in Chicago the day after the terrorist attacks, though luckily no one was injured. There have been reports of a boycott being organized in Harlem, New York against Arab and Muslim owned businesses. There have also been incidents of Arab “looking” taxi drivers being pulled out of their cars and beaten.
This wave of hysteria not only threatens Arabs and Muslims, but all immigrants. It is being used to attack the proposed amnesty for undocumented immigrants. The government is already trying to shut down or militarize the borders with Mexico and Canada.
If these racist attacks stand, it will set a precedent that will be used against all people of color, and later, against the Labor movement. We must oppose all scapegoating and attacks on Arabs or Muslims. How is the destruction of the World Trade Center the fault of a random Arab taxi driver? Or an Iranian teacher? We call for public demonstrations of Arabs, immigrants, people of color, unions, workers, young people and community activists to oppose any attacks an Arabs or Muslims or immigrants in general. If the police fail to protect immigrants, Arabs or Muslims from violent attacks, defense committees should be formed of Arabs, whites, Blacks, and Latinos to defend communities from racist attacks.
The comparisons between the recent attacks and Pearl Harbor should remind us where racist hysteria leads. Over 100,000 Japanese Americans were rounded up into concentration camps due to their national background. While obviously different, the role of the media and the government in all of this has also been disgraceful. Despite some token gestures, they have not mounted a serious campaign to oppose such racist incidents, the inevitable consequence of the nationalist war hysteria that the ruling class has stirred up.
Attacks on Democratic rights and civil liberties
Taking advantage of the frenzy they have created, politicians will try and ram a whole slew of laws through Congress that will greatly undermine key democratic, legal and civil rights that were won by decades of struggle.
A wave of repression, a clamping down on basic rights and a massive increase in police powers has been initiated. Previously controversial legislation to allow government monitoring of email and internet, and bills to expand domestic eavesdropping have been rushed through the Senate without even the pretense of debate.
Freedom of speech and assembly are likely to suffer. Constitutional guarantees like prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure and the right to due process are being systematically violated. The media is openly discussing the idea of institutionalized racial profiling where Arabs (including US citizens) would face mandatory special security checks at airports and be forced to carry special ID.
Immigrants, particularly those of Arab or South Asian origin, are especially at risk. Already immigrants have been detained for immigration violations. There have been numerous “detentions” and illegal searches and seizures of innocent people because they looked “suspicious,” i.e. they appeared to be of an Arab or South Asian origin. In many cases, Latinos were confused with Middle Eastern people and arrested or harassed as well.
One example was at Kennedy airport in NYC, where police boarded a plane just before take-off and scrutinized the identifications of the passengers. “Anyone with dark skin or who spoke with an accent was taken aside and searched,” said a passenger “and then they went to any male with too much facial hair” (New York Times September 14, 2001).
We oppose all measures that constrict and undermine democratic and civil rights.
The government already has a wide array of repressive force and laws to arrest people. Any new repressive laws will be used against movements which challenge the rule of big business, such as unions, the left or the new anti-globalization movement. Union workers on strike will find face a panoply of repressive laws and be faced with charges of “terrorism.”
Such measures will not stop future terrorist attacks. One has only to look at Israel. No matter what measures the Israeli government has taken, there has been no end to suicide bombings and violence. Attacks on democratic rights will only strengthen the power of the US government and make it harder to organize grassroots movements for social justice and change.
President Bush has called the September 11 tragedy an “attack on freedom, and freedom will be defended.” But Bush is doing the opposite by launching an assault on fundamental legal, civil and democratic rights which are the real bedrock of “freedom.”
These events have also delivered a major blow to new movement against corporate globalization. The upcoming meetings of International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington, DC September 29-30, were expected to attract up to 100,000 protesters. The meetings have been canceled. Therefore the demonstrations will be drastically smaller and of a different character.
The ruling class will use the terrorist attack to paint all opposition to their system with the same “terrorist” brush. The media was already vilifying the new anti-globalization movement, and will now go much further in projecting it as murderous movement and linked up to the terrorist attacks, making it easier to employ repression against protests.
The September 11 events paralyzed and disoriented most of the activists of the new movement. The tremendous momentum and energy that had been gathering behind this movement was slashed. Some of its peripheral elements will possibly be swept up in the war hysteria. While these developments are a serious blow, the forces that came together and were radicalized by the anti-globalization movement have not been destroyed. It will take time, but we can expect this movement to regain its feet and begin to move back into action, playing a crucial role by constituting the core of the movement to oppose any US war efforts.
The Bush Administration
The September 11 tragedy and the resulting political fallout have given a temporary boost to Bush Administration, whose job approval ratings shot up from 50% to 84% (New York Times, September 17, 2001). Before September 11, Bush’s popularity was falling and he faced a rapidly worsening economic picture sure to lead to big problems for his weak and illegitimate administration. The possibility of a wave of opposition to Bush’s unpopular social policies, combined with massive anger at a deepening recession was strong. Now the country is rallying around the President. Bush has a blank check to do as he wishes for the next period from Congress and the media.
This only reinforces socialists’ total opposition and condemnation of the September 11 terrorist attacks and all acts of terrorism, which can not advance the struggles of workers or oppressed people anywhere in the world. The immediate results are to strengthen the most right wing and reactionary forces in society that can play on the public’s anger and undermine the building of mass movements to challenge big business.
What Are the Prospects?
It is still too early and there are too many factors to see how exactly events will unfold. However, we can be confident that this situation cannot last. Class and social questions can be temporarily blurred, but the underlying political and economic situation (which will only be worsened by the terrorist attacks and its repercussions) will eventually re-assert itself. The rapidly deteriorating economic outlook will also undermine the pull towards national unity. Inevitable class battles will open up as big business attempts to force workers to pay for the coming recession. As the causes of the September 11 tragedy and repercussions of US military action become clearer, the tide of opposition to the war will grow.
Already pockets of resistance are emerging. On college campuses across the country peace vigils, teach-ins and rallies are being organized. In many cities, anti-war coalitions were rapidly formed and demonstrations are planned for the day after the US starts bombing. At this stage this resistance is only a minority, mostly youth, but it is a pointer to future developments.
The new anti-corporate/anti-globalization movement, which has radicalized hundreds of thousands of youth and workers, will be an important point of support in the coming struggle. This is an important asset for the anti-war movement, and will likely form the core of the emerging opposition.
While temporarily stunned and disoriented, the anti-corporate youth will move into opposition to the attacks on democratic rights, racism, and US war efforts. Along with a more critically minded layer of workers, immigrants and youth, they will begin to ponder the underlying causes of the recent events. They will inevitably draw conclusions about the role of the US ruling class internationally, and its role in preparing the way for such tragedies by creating desperate conditions and suffering around the world.
While the first reaction of the majority of the US population will be to support a war effort, this could turn against Bush if the actions taken are perceived as a counter-massacre. Many who today softly support the government’s military plans want a “precise,” “surgical” operation directed with pinpoint accuracy against those responsible for the terrorist attacks. If US lashes out like a blindfolded monster, hitting indiscriminately without seeing the target, public opinion will begin to turn against a more generalized and indiscriminate bombing and massacre of other people.
Sending in ground forces will be very risky. Any US troops being killed will provoke growing opposition within the US. The US still suffers from the “Vietnam syndrome,” i.e. American casualties have a very heavy political price tag.
Already this is being expressed in opinion polls. While 88% of Americans polled support a military retaliation and 80% support a U.S. ground invasion if needed, only 66% support military action if it will last several years, 65% are willing to accept 1,000 US troops being killed and that number falls to 52% when asked if they would prefer a “longer term war to end terrorism” (USA Today, September 17, 2001).
If American forces begin to die, that support will rapidly fall. Due to these factors, if the war develops into a longer, protracted conflict, opposition to the war will grow at a much faster pace than it took during the Vietnam War or previous US wars.
Socialist Alternative has played an essential role in forming coalitions to stop the war, racist scapegoating of Arab and Muslim Americans, and the assault on democratic rights. In the coming days, weeks and months broad coalitions based on these three key issues need to be built and organized around the country.
These are difficult days for committed anti-war, anti-racist activists and socialists. We face a tidal wave of reactionary nationalism and war hysteria. We will swim against the stream for the immediate period. We need to maintain a principled political position. However, the political situation, as we have witnessed in the last week, can change very rapidly. On the basis of events, combined with opening up a dialogue — patiently explaining using a very sensitive and skillful approach — with the broad mass of workers and young people who are currently supporting military retaliation, we can begin to build a powerful movement to demand an end to the war.
Medium and Long-term Repercussions
The medium and long-term effects of the September 11 events on consciousness in the US will be profound. The US has never been hit like this on its home turf. This was a totally unexpected, unprovoked attack killing many thousands of people and demolishing two of the largest symbols of America. The idea of American invulnerability, of being a separate island safe and immune from all the world’s problems has been shattered.
This tragedy exposes the failure of US imperialism and global capitalism to solve the world’s problems. The US military was completely incapable of stopping the terrorists. The fact a terrorist group was able to wreak such damage “is really going to unnerve a lot of people,” said John Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary in the Clinton Administration. “What are we doing with this huge military budget that can’t stop this kind of thing on our home soil? It’s going to touch off a serious debate over defense policy.” (Financial Times September 13, 2001). This will also provoke increased questioning of the authority and capability of the government and its leaders.
How did this Happen?
The terrorist attacks of September 11 go beyond the traditional methods of individual terrorism, which targeted representatives and leaders of the ruling class. While socialists always opposed even this individual terrorism, the events of September 11 had an entirely different character and scale. These attacks are a form of “mass terrorism,” designed to hit and terrorize the population as a whole, and amount to a barbarous atrocity against society.
Hundreds of million of people want to know what happened on September 11, why it happened, what could have been done to stop the terrorist attack, and how to prevent such tragedies. They have been fed spoonful after spoonful of lullabies and propaganda about “stamping out terrorism” by media and politicians, rather than given any real answers.
Unfortunately, any government-sponsored investigation will most likely be a closed, secret affair. To really find out answers a full, open, public commission of inquiry needs to be formed by trade unions and community organizations. Such a commission would have no interest in covering up or hiding what happened or its causes.
The role of the airline companies is an issue that must be dealt with by any inquiry. Airport security workers are typically paid $6 an hour, are understaffed, and receive hardly any training. First year pilots on American Eagle (the commuter arm of American Airlines) receive around $15,000 a year in annual pay – enough to qualify for welfare if the pilot has four dependent children. Until recently, Continental Express paid a little over $13,000 a year. If Airlines take passenger safety so seriously, why would they pay their security officers so little and understaffed them? Why would they pay some pilots such a meager wage? It is clear that profits come before safety for the big airline companies.
A genuine, independent commission would demand the government explain why it helped form, finance and arm many Islamic fundamentalist groups, including the Taliban in Afghanistan? Why was our government and the CIA closely working with, and providing arms and training for Osama bin Laden throughout the 1980s?
In its Cold War struggle against Stalinism, the US organized a civil war in Afghanistan to drive out the USSR. At the time, the US government hailed the Islamic Fundamentalist guerillas fighting the Soviets, Like the Mujaheddin and bin Laden as “freedom fighters.” It is an open secret that the US was the key force in the initial formation, organizing, financing, arming and training of these groups. When the Soviets were kicked out, the different Islamic fundamentalist groups and figures turned against the US for its war against Iraq in 1991 and its support for Israel. All relevant military, CIA, and government files and records must be immediately opened up for a public examination of this policy, which innocent Americans are now paying for.
Most importantly, what are the root causes that explain why a terrorist group would target the US? What could motivate anyone to carry out such heinous acts? How can we prevent such tragedies from re-occurring?
The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC are a measure of the depth of anger in Middle East and many other parts of the semi-colonial world towards the US. It is also a reflection of the crisis conditions prepared over the past 10 years by the process of brutal neo-liberal globalization.
There is tremendous anger throughout the Arab world over the decade-long US-backed sanctions against Iraq, estimated to have taken the lives of over one million Iraqis, 500,000 of them children. In a 1995 interview, then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright defended the sanctions and the mass deaths that flowed from them by saying, “the cost, we think, is worth it.”
Further, there are President Clinton’s 1998 cruise missile air strikes against a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan in retaliation for the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya supposedly organized by bin Laden. By destroying the Al Shifa pharmaceutical factory, which produced most of the famine-plagued country’s medicines, the US did not punish “terrorists” but poor Sudanese. Thousands of Africans perished as a direct result of the bombing. Ten months later, the U.S. admitted that it had no evidence linking the factory to bin Laden. As the London-based Independent wrote at the time: “The embarrassing reversal means that the U.S. has virtually no evidence to support its claim that the missile attack was a strike against terrorism” (May 4, 1999).
There is also massive resentment about the enormous profits being made by giant US oil companies, while masses in the oil-rich region in horrible poverty and squalor. And the past year has witnessed the ferocious repression by the Israeli government against the Palestinian uprising, which the US has basically backed.
Former President Jimmy Carter explained this back in 1989 when he commented, “We have only to go to Lebanon, to Syria, to Jordan, to witness firsthand the intense hatred among many people for the United States, because we bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers, women and children and farmers and housewives, in those villages around Beirut…as a result, we have become a kind of Satan in the minds of those who are deeply resentful. That is what precipitated the taking of hostages and that is what has precipitated some terrorist attacks” (New York Times March 26, 1989).
The long-time Middle East commentator, Robert Fisk, commented in the British daily, The Independent: “Ask an Arab how he responds to 20,000 or 30,000 innocent deaths and he or she will respond as decent people should, that it is an unspeakable crime. But they will ask why we did not use such words about the sanctions that have destroyed the lives of perhaps half a million children in Iraq [a Palestinian journalist in The Guardian has put the figure as one million children who have died from the effects of depleted uranium and starvation], why we did not rage about the 17,500 civilians killed in Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. And those basic reasons why the Middle East caught fire last September – the Israeli occupation of Arab land, the dispossession of Palestinians, the bombardments and state-sponsored executions… all these must be obscured lest they provide the smallest fractional reason for yesterday’s mass savagery” (September 12, 2001).
Military attacks will only worsen these conditions, which breed mass anger, and due to the lack of powerful mass movements or a mass socialist alternative, is leading to the growth of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. Even General Amos Gilad, Israel’s military coordinator for the West Bank and Gaza accepts that Israel’s occupation and military repression in order to “stamp out terrorism” with its “closures,” house demolitions, aerial bombardment, targeted assassinations and military checkpoints only lead to more terrorism.
“The conditions in the territories,” he told the Israeli press in late August, produce “a fool’s cycle of violence, in which Hamas grows stronger, we respond, and, as a result, the hardship in the territories grows and Hamas grows even stronger. If the situation continues, we are likely to be confronted with five terror attacks a day” (Village Voice, August 29-September 4, 2001).
We need to step up our global struggle to build a mass movement of workers and oppressed people fighting for a world cleansed of poverty and oppression and for a socialist alternative – a world where horrific and terrible acts like those that occurred on Tuesday September 11 will be unimaginable. If we do not, capitalism will only lead us to a horrific nightmare of economic crisis, wars, ethnic cleansing, a blood bath in the Middle East with all its international repercussions, particularly for the US.