The Anniversary of a Dreadful Event Dr M. Manzoor Alam (Sept. 10, 2005)

The Anniversary of a Dreadful Event

Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam mulls over 9/11 and tries to come up with ideas about how best to prevent a recurrence

Within the next few hours the world will be observing the anniversary of September 11, 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre (WTC) and the US Defence Department headquarters, Pentagon, in Washington. Newspapers and magazines worldwide would be featuring analyses of the event and discussing what possibly could be done to ensure that it did not happen again. As usual, most of it would be wrong, either by design or because of a genuine mistake of diagnosis.

In the first couple of years after the attack a make-belief gained ground in the US discourse on the “causes” of the attack. From one end of the United States to the other “experts” were telling people that America was attacked because the al-Qaeda thugs did not like Western democracy, civil rights, human freedom. Phew!

The fact remains that today it is pretty tough to find a fool in the Muslim world who is thick-skulled enough to dislike democracy, civil rights and human freedom. The “dislike for democracy” theory, thoroughly discredited by 2004, turned out to be a massive exercise in denial, a stubborn refusal to accept truth. It was like Tony Blair manfully denying that the London attacks (media’s “7/7”) had nothing to do with Iraq’s non-existent WMDs and slaughter of at least 200,000 Iraqis in the Allied attack (including more than 100,000 civilians).

If the big powers prefer to delude themselves with their pet theories nobody can do anything about it. After all, might is right, and the world is still a massive jungle. However, there is a major problem with this line of reasoning: it presupposes that the people who attacked WTC (or killed civilians in al-Khobar and Bali) were not only evil, but imbecile as well. They could be evil, as most of the Muslim world has come to think of people attacking innocent people, but they certainly were not imbecile. They knew what they were doing.

As it later turned out, they attacked the WTC because they thought that it represented not only America’s economic might but America’s exploitation of poor and weak nations as well. Likewise, they attacked Pentagon because they resented America’s military hegemony and its excesses in Vietnam, Korea, Kampuchea, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And the Middle East, through support to Israel and directly. Had they resented American democracy they would have attacked the Statue of Liberty. It seems India’s celebrated author Arundhati Roy is more on target than American experts. Roy, a winner of the prestigious British award, the Booker, has strongly refuted the “dislike for democracy” theory.

Roy says the attackers were anything but imbecile. The very choice of the date, September 11, resonated with historical memories of Western atrocities in the Middle East. Imbecile people don’t have such a clear idea of history. However, over the last few months there are signs of realism dawning on the American establishment and a grudging acceptance of the fact that injustice breeds blind hatred and violence. Also, people condemning the 9/11 or 7/7 attackers should pause to think over the slaughter of innocent civilians in Iraq by British and American forces without much rhyme or reason. That is important for credibility.

It’s not without reason the mayor of London told BBC Channel 4 after the 7/7 attacks that what had happened was just a fraction of the injustices the British had heaped over the Muslim world over the last 100 years or so. He went on to declare that had the British or other Europeans been subjected to such injustice for so many years there would surely have risen suicide bombers from among their ranks as well.

It is time to undo at least some of the injustices. Like the Israeli occupation of Syrian land on the Golan and Palestinian territory in Gaza (still they are holding enough land in Gaza), West Bank and Jerusalem. The creation and sustaining of Israel is mainly British and American handiwork, and they have a special responsibility to undo the injustice.

This is the background in which things have to be considered. The perspective established, one has to decide whether violence is acceptable in a civilised society. The ever-growing consensus in the Muslim world is that it is not. The same holds true of the September 11 attacks, and 7/7 ones, too. Whatever little support militants had in the Muslim world has evaporated as random violence runs against the grain of Islam’s sense of justice and fair play. However, in Muslim lands occupied by preponderantly and overwhelmingly stronger foreign forces such consensus has yet to gain acceptance. That is understandable, because people under occupation are desperate for freedom and have no time for legal niceties.

Apparently, a realisation has developed in the West, including the US and Britain, that occupation of other people’s lands and exploitation of their natural sources without proper compensation are not sustainable. As recent US opinion polls show people are now less supportive of unilateral acts like the uncalled for invasion of Iraq. The arrogance of power has created a dangerous colonial overstretch in Iraq, which is increasingly being compared to Vietnam.

That the very ground for the attack was questionable is now more clear. Even the former Secretary of State Collin Powel has publicly declared that his presentation in the UN regarding Iraq’s supposed WMDs was a blot on his career that would last all his life. The situation on the ground in Iraq is reminiscent of Vietnam. It is not without reason that the great hawks of the Bush administration, Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz, have been packed off to other jobs. The State Department now has a greater say in international affairs than the Pentagon, and Donald Rumsfeld seems to have realised that he is no longer the college wrestling champion he was 60 years ago. The administration hopefully realises that there are limits to Rambo politics.

All this does not necessarily mean that the US would not attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, or would not ask Israel to do it in the coming months, or years. However, it would be seeking some international legitimacy to do any such thing. If it really wants to prevent attacks like al-Khobar, Bali and New York, America should concentrate more on fair play and “soft-power” rather than entertaining the idea of bombing the world back into the Stone Age.g

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