After 9/11

The transformation of air travel, particularly into the United States, into a tedious, time-consuming, and often humiliating activity is only the most obvious effect of 9/11. It is perhaps the least important. The paranoia that 9/11 spawned has produced a new international security doctrine that is undermining democracy everywhere. It has given a new warrant to imperialist wars by reviving the archaic notion of pre-emptive defense.  It has extended the life of militarist and dictatorial regimes that had been battered by the global tide of democratization in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It has given tyrants who justify oppression as a state necessity a good conscience.

The US has fought many wars before, but never on its homeland. The daring 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, the heartland of American power, were unprecedented not only in their brazenness but in their effect on the American psyche.  They gave imperial arrogance a moral reason to unleash the capacity for naked violence that the US wields as the world’s lone superpower.

Its first targets were the aliens perceived to pose a threat at home.  In the days following 9/11, 768 foreigners were rounded up and jailed as “special interest” detainees.  Their identities were kept secret, and the public was barred from the immigration hearings in which their cases were taken up. Within a week after 9/11, the first draft of the Patriot Act took shape.  Much of the assault on the civil liberties of persons living in the US today happens under the auspices of this law.

The Bush government immediately went into a self-defense mode and vowed to punish not only the perpetrators of 9/11 but also the countries that harbor them.  In the list were Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, and Iran. Intelligence operatives named Osama bin Laden as the mastermind of the hijackers, who were mostly Saudi nationals. But the hunt for Bin Laden led to Afghanistan, where the anti-Western Talibans held sway.  Operating under a UN mandate, US-led coalition forces overthrew the Taliban, but failed to find Bin Laden, the war’s prime object. A new Afghan government has been installed, but four years later, it is still incapable of enforcing its authority and defending itself.  In the past few weeks, resurgent Taliban forces have seized control of towns west of Kandahar, engaging Canadian troops in fierce battles on difficult Afghan terrain.  George W. Bush rationalized the war on Afghanistan as a fight to bring democracy to that country. That goal remains a dream. The US-led coalition forces now find themselves more and more playing the role of an occupying rather than a liberating army.

The next target was Iraq, an oil-producing country under a secular dictator.  Unable to obtain a UN mandate to invade Iraq, Bush sold the idea to the American people by linking Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers and by accusing his government of storing weapons of mass destruction.  Subsequent investigations found no basis for either charge.  The US raised the flag of democratization over Iraq, expecting to be welcomed by the Iraqis as a liberating force.  But Iraq today is in shambles, a society torn by civil war.  After wasting billions of dollars and losing American lives, the US faces the familiar problem of how to disengage without admitting it has failed.  Bush continues to paint Iraq as a breeding ground of terrorists who must be stopped where they are so they would not pose a threat to America. This line is being rejected by a growing majority of the American people.

There is a wealth of information to be found in the Report of the 9/11 Commission.  But the motives that led the hijackers to do what they did continued to puzzle the investigators.  The Commission ended its hearings in June 2004, and in one of these final hearings, the question of motives was raised again by its vice chair, Lee Hamilton. An interesting response to the question was given by FBI Special Agent James Fitzgerald.  This was caught on video but did not find its way into the Commission report.

“I believe,” Fitzgerald declared, “that they feel a sense of outrage against the United States.  They identify with the Palestinian problem. They identify with people who oppose oppressive regimes.  I believe they tend to focus their anger on the United States.”  This is perhaps the most honest account of what agitates Islamic peoples all over the world today.  US policy has refused to see American support for

Israel against the Palestinian cause, and the cozy relations it has maintained with oppressive but pro-American Arab regimes, as the driving force behind the anger of Muslims against America.  Bush continues to peddle the lie that what fuels Islamic militancy is hatred for American freedoms.  It is absurd.

All eyes have been focused on Israel’s recent incursions into Lebanon.  Not many see what it is doing today to Palestinian communities in Gaza and the West Bank.  After the abduction of an Israeli soldier and the killing of two others by Palestinian militants on June 25, Israel has laid a siege on Gaza.  “Gaza is a jail,” the mayor of Gaza city told the journalist Patrick Cockburn. “Neither people nor goods are allowed to leave it. People are already starving.”

Nothing can ever justify the loss of innocent lives, including those of many Filipinos who perished five years ago in the 9/11 attacks.  But the Bush government has trivialized their deaths by unleashing its own campaign of terror, and by endorsing Israel’s punitive actions, against communities and peoples they freely label as terrorists.

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