"This is no time to be precious about locating the exact individuals directly involved in this particular terrorist attack.... We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war." --Syndicated columnist Ann Coulter (New York Daily News, 9/12/01)
ne of the most poignant drawings I've seen recently shows an Afghani family -- a man, his wife, and their two small children, huddled together in fear, the father vainly trying to draw his family into a protective embrace, each staring with dread, skyward...waiting. And yet while ordinary Afghanis may be waiting for the blinding explosions of cruise missiles, dread, in these early days of the Bush administration's open-ended, blank-cheque war on terrorism, is more likely to come from other places -- like the empty shelves of humanitarian relief centres. Washington has ordered Pakistan to end the shipment of food and other supplies to the poor and starving of Afghanistan. As US foreign policy critic Noam Chomsky puts it, "The US has demanded that Pakistan kill possibly millions of people who are themselves victims of the Taliban." The first salvo in the war against terrorism.
Those whose reason is still held hostage to seething anger, or visceral fear, may react with a explosion of indignation. "They have it coming. They've supported the Taliban, and the Taliban supports bin Laden, and bin Laden supports terrorism." A comforting rationalization. But the starving and wretched of Afghanistan don't support the Taliban, anymore than say, Aleksandar, a shop owner in Belgrade, supported Milosevic. Responding to an objection that the people in New York had nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy, Aleksandar remarked: "I had nothing to do with Milosevic's policy either, but the Americans bombed me."
US policy draws no distinctions between civilians and their governments, a point Aleksandar knows well. Neither does Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11 attacks, draw distinctions. Isn't that what terrorism is all about?
Bin Laden compares his fight against the US as another battle in the same war that saw the Mujahadeen (guerillas bin Laden fought with) drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. US citizens are legitimate targets, explains bin Laden, "because they chose (their) government and voted for it despite their knowledge of its crimes." Ann Coulter's " we killed civilians (in WWII)...that's war...it's no time to be precious" about avoiding civilian casualties, is disturbingly similar.
To bin Laden, the principle US crime against Islam is the presence of US troops on Saudi soil, no different than the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan -- both infidel powers occupying Islam's holy land.. And so US citizens will be attacked to put pressure on the US government to reverse its policy of stationing troops throughout the Middle East. Bin Laden said of the war that wore down the Soviets and sent them limping home to attend their own demise, that it "cleared from Muslim minds the myth of superpowers."
Bin Laden, and the terror he is accused of fomenting, carries a label: Made in the U.S.A. -- which was fine when it was directed against the Soviets, quite another matter now that it has rebounded on its creator. The CIA underwrote bin Laden's Afghan terrorist training camps. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to Jimmy Carter, engineered the Mujahadeen war in Afghanistan, funneling material and other aid to Ronald Reagan's "freedom fighters," among them Osama bin Laden. Said Brzezinski: "What was more important in the worldview of history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?" Brzezinski's anti-Soviet fanaticism gave us the Taliban, bin Laden...and now a gaping, rubble-filled hole where the World Trade Centre used to be (if, indeed, bin Laden is behind the attack.)
Later, bin Laden's Mujahadeen made their way to Bosnia and Kosovo to fight the Serbs, and to Macedonia. The US didn't object. Far from it. Washington by now had a working relationship with its favorite terrorists. And then to Chechnya to menace the Russians. The US didn't object there, either, going so far as to deplore Russia's own war against terrorism.
But apart from supporting the KLA (Kosovo), the NLA (Macedonia), the followers of Elijah Itzebegovic, who wanted to Islamize Bosnia, and elsewhere, the contras and death squads of Central and South America -- all terror organizations -- Washington itself uses terror. In Yugoslavia, NATO terrorized Serb civilians to pressure Slobodan Milosevic. Office buildings, hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, factories, petrochemical plants, PVC storage tanks, bridges, destroyed by bombs dropped from 15,000 feet by our own terrorists -- American, British and Canadian pilots. The only difference was that these pilots weren't kamikazes. More like mercenaries. Terrorizing is part of their job.
U.S. Air Force General Michael Short explained that NATO bombed Yugoslavia to create terror and misery. "If you wake up in the morning," said Short, "and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, 'Hey, Slobo, what's this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?'"
Hey, George. What's this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?
Thomas Nagy, a business professor at George Washington University, knows something about terrorism. Nagy uncovered recently declassified documents that showed the United States destroyed Iraq's drinking water installations and sewage treatment facilities in the Gulf War, was aware of the civilian health consequences, and knew that sanctions would prevent the Iraqi government from repairing the degraded facilities. Article 54 of the Geneva Convention prohibits any country from undermining "objects indispensable to the survival of (another country's) civilian population," including drinking water installations and supplies. Still, the US acted, waging a kind of biological warfare, targeting civilians, just as brazenly, criminally, and immorally as bin Laden is accused of targeting civilians.
Some 200,000 Iraqi civilians died during and in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, many in terror bombings perpetrated by a country that had used terror bombings against civilians before -- in Dresden and Tokyo, in Pyongyang and Hanoi, and terrifyingly, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Comedian George Carlin once remarked that what Americans did better than anyone else was bomb civilians.
Today, for us, terrorism looms large -- the disturbing, almost surreal scenes of jetliners smashing into the twin towers, of the fireball, of the massive plume of smoke hanging over New York, of the victims leaping dozens of stories to their deaths. Of widows and orphans and heroes. Some of us have been touched personally by the tragedy, or know others who have, or can easily put ourselves in the place of the victims. That could have been me, or a loved one, or a friend.
We're less likely to have been touched by the decade-long sanctions regime against Iraq, insisted upon by Washington, which has contributed to far more civilian deaths than all acts of terrorism combined since the Second World War, including the September 11 attacks. Over a million have died as a result of the economic blockade, according to the UN. But we don't see the kids perishing in under-equipped hospitals from readily preventable diseases. We don't see the horrific birth defects, caused by the environmental catastrophe that followed the Gulf War bombing. We don't see the mangled limbs, the bloody pulp of scattered entrails, the severed heads of the victims of the almost daily US and British air strikes on Iraq. And we don't see the distraught and angry families of those who die terrible deaths. But people like bin Laden do.
Some 200,000 civilians were killed in the Gulf War. Thousands died in Yugoslavia, and thousands more will die from the delayed effects of exposure to depleted uranium and the carcinogens that spilled from blasted chemical factories into the air, soil and water. A staggering three million were killed by US forces in Indochina. A million were hunted down and slaughtered in Indonesia, while the US supplied the lists and checked off the names. And each of these tragedies touched millions of people personally or indirectly, as profoundly as the September 11th attacks affected us. But while thousands flocked to parliament hill for a memorial service to mark the deaths of thousands in New York, far fewer Canadians have ever mourned the deaths of millions who have died from bullets and bombs and sanctions marked Made in the U.S.A. They're the victims we don't see, or know.
Violence begets violence, terror begets terror, an eye for an eye leaves us all blind -- trite, uttered a hundred times since September 11th, but not uttered enough, or loudly enough. If George W. Bush thinks he can stop terror attacks with more terror attacks, he hasn't been paying attention to Israel and the occupied territories. But I don't think Bush really cares. Every bit as much a terrorist as bin Laden, Bush is doing what terrorists do -- look for excuses to use more terror, to create more victims, to make more tragedies.