War Cry Masks US Role in Global Terrorism

Nicanor Perlas[1]

Without warning, terrorists struck at the symbols of US economic and political power: the World Trade Center and Pentagon. US authorities estimate around 5000 dead. Together with the world, we mourn the waste of human lives and condemn the acts of terrorism. Images of people leaping from the higher floors of the World Trade Center to their death and other dramatic pictures of violent death continue to haunt us.

As we mourn, however, we are also starting to become concerned. The US, in the words of President Bush, is mobilizing for the “first war in the 21st century”.  And most heads of states are supportive. Yes, justice must be pursued. Yes, terrorists must be held accountable. But there is a growing sense that this does not mean engulfing the world in war and making it hostage to a vicious cycle of escalating violence.

History teaches us. Violence begets violence and a greater capacity for more violence. In the present case, how will the US contain the retaliatory strikes of the victims of its “first war in the 21st century”? A “star wars” defense system will be totally useless against biological warfare weapons created through genetic engineering and spread on selected US targets. How about sophisticated attacks on US nuclear power plants? Or chemical poisoning of water systems? Or the poisoning of the food chain? Terrorist bombings incarnate evil in the world. A scorched-earth policy will only hasten the incarnation of greater evil in the world.

Bush announced that he will not make a distinction between terrorists and the countries which harbor them. But one can ask. Did the children and the citizens of these countries really make the decision to harbor terrorists?  An Afghan, Tamin Ansary, captures the futility and destructiveness of this blind, angry approach to containing terrorism.

"Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done.  Eradicate their hospitals? Done.  Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care?  Too late. Someone already did all that.  . . . Would they at least get the Taliban? Not likely. In today's Afghanistan, only the Taliban eat, only they have the means to move around.  They'd slip away and hide. Maybe the bombs would get some of those disabled orphans. They don't move too fast, they don't even have wheelchairs. But flying over Kabul and dropping bombs wouldn't really be a strike against the criminals who did this horrific thing. Actually it would only be making common cause with the Taliban--by raping once again the people they've been raping all this time.”

Chris Buckley,  Program Officer of Christian Aid for Afghanistan, shares a similar sentiment.

"The real Afghanistan is one where 85 per cent of the population are subsistence farmers. Most Afghans don't have newspapers, television sets or radios. They will not have heard of the World Trade Centre or the Pentagon, and most will have no idea that a group of zealots has attacked these icons of western civilisation. There isn't even a postal service.

“Now, in these isolated villages, families are down to their last few weeks of food and already men women and children in the bulging refugee camps are dying of cholera and malnutrition. I have spoken to orphans with swollen bellies. I have spoken to men who have no money to hire trucks to escape the drought and make it to the camps. I have spoken to families who say they will wait in their villages for death.”

One-sided reporting also does not help the situation. It glorifies half-truths, thereby encouraging action on the basis of illusion. The US wants to lead the global war against terrorism. But is it morally qualified?

US policies have created terrorist groups and have resulted in de facto terrorism against hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. The CIA trained Osama Bin Laden and other terrorists groups to serve its interests in Afghan war versus the USSR. In the process, the US military resurrected jihad or “holy war”, a concept that was last used in the 10th century. If you hear jihad in the Mindanao war, you have the US military operatives to thank for proving a moral basis for terrorist kidnappings.

To hurt Bin Laden, after he turned against US interests, the US military bombed a “chemical weapons factory” in Sudan, destroying half of the country’s pharmaceutical industry. Tens of thousands of Sudan’s poor died for lack of medicines. Yet the US blocked a UN investigation of their terrorism against the Sudanese. These are terrorist acts by the US, yet we rarely get to know about them, much less to mourn the death of thousand innocent Sudanese children and parents. Are our heartaches only reserved for people of specific color and status in the world?

The US stresses the close relationship between the Taliban and Bin Laden. Yet the Taliban are the product of those US and UK-supported holy warriors once praised for stopping the USSR. There is still another bizarre connection of the Taliban with US covert military and economic policies. The military government of General  Musharaf, the self-declared president of Pakistan, protects the Taliban. But the military of Pakistan have long benefited from the financial and technical support of the Pentagon and the State Department - the same departments now reeling from enemy attack and espousing a global war on terrorism.

Half-truths also whip up emotions. Imbalanced reporting is fueling division and hatred against innocent Muslims and those that look “Arabic”. In the US, Pakistani taxi drivers are being stabbed. Deli owners of Middle East origin are being forced to close shop. Mosques are being shot at and defiled with blood. This last is ironic given that the CIA often used mosques as fronts for their recruitment of Muslim fighters during their clandestine war with the Russians in Afghanistan.

Superficial media reporting is also encouraging a narrow, materialistic response to the tragedy. Trauma, especially a national one, requires sensitive handling. There has to be an in-depth, sober, objective process of taking stock of the root causes of global terrorism and developing an appropriate response to it. Without justifying the current terrorist attack on the US, we can ask the following questions.

Is the US reaping the terrorist policies it has sowed? Why the intense hatred for the US? Will the ordinary US citizen awaken to the global impacts that US government policies are having, policies that are crafted by a few in power? Are US economic policies that one-sidedly glorify competition and profit over equitable human development, resulting in massive poverty, de facto terrorist policies?

If the present hysteria for bloody revenge continues and the media continues to fan the flames of hatred, then we can only expect more evil, violence and devastation to be sown in the world.

On the individual level, humanity has been forced to cross a threshold. The sense of security is gone. US friends write. They no longer feel secure. They now join others, all over, who know that physical safety is an illusion in today’s world.

This situation forces us all to re-evaluate where our hearts are. Do we place all our trust in physical security? Or shall we now learn to live in this lack of security and the attendant sense of homelessness in order to awaken our spirit to fill the desolate void that can no longer filled with materialistic self-assurance. And what world policies will emerge if we learn to view the present tragedy from the perspective of active non-violence?

There is a bright spot in the dismal state of affairs. Global civil society organizations, including those in the US, are starting to give a different, more-balanced picture. As the independent cultural force in their societies, they are starting to counter one-sided political and economic reporting and are providing alternative analysis and action on the US tragedy.  They are also bringing into discussion the quality of soul needed to confront the global trauma.

The terrorist attack in the US is tragic and needs a measured response. But an irrational, self-righteous pursuit of war, including the attendant intrusion of privacy and the possible rebirth of the totalitarian state, will be even more tragic. It will drag humanity, including government leaders who blindly follow the US war policy, into the abyss.

NP-19 September 2001


[1] Nicanor Perlas is President of the Center for Alternative Development Initiatives, a Philippine civil society organization and author of Shaping Globalization: Civil Society, Cultural Power and Threefolding.


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