Some Thoughts on Terrorism

(Version 1.3)

Copyright © 2002, 2005 c.e., Isaac Bonewits

Here are some thoughts that have occurred to me since September 11, 2001 c.e.. Parts of this originally appeared in A Call to Arms elsewhere on my website. This essay contains very little religious discussion and a great deal of politically incorrect opinion about matters that most Americans would prefer not to think about.

The drumbeat for a “war” of some sort has been loud and unstoppable ever since the day America lost her innocence. Despite the fact that no one seems to know exactly how to track down and kill the surviving terrorists responsible, the overwhelming majority of Americans (including myself) and many citizens of other nations certainly want to do so. Previously I said that if this “war against terrorism” were to follow the usual pattern of the last few American wars, everyone in the general vicinity except the guilty parties would be killed and victory would be proclaimed far too early. Well, it looks like the generals and the spin doctors have learned that lesson, just as they learned from Vietnam never to let American citizens see corpses (especially American ones) on television. Phase One of the never-to-be-ended new war was actually concluded fairly successfully in terms of overthrowing the Taliban government and keeping casualities among Afghan women and children down to a few hundred and American soldiers down to far less than that (half of whom have been killed in accidents apparently). Of course, they still haven’t caught Osama bin Laden... He may (like Saddam Hussein was for quite some time) be of more value alive and uncaptured than dead, as a useful supervillain to distract American attention towards. This war, however, is being carefully promoted as one that will be long and costly, with fronts around the globe, giving the Administration and the Pentagon (and police states around the world) permission to do anything they wish as long as it is done in the name of “security.”

I did correctly predict in 2001 that “among the many casualties will be basic constitutional rights and simple human decency, all in the name of stopping terrorism, exactly as happened in the ‘war’ against Communism” — and the “war” against drugs, for that matter. Bush and Ashcroft have been gleefully promoting one unconstitutional scheme after another and Congress has been rolling over and giving them whatever they ask for, for fear of looking “unpatriotic.” And somehow, “winning the war against terrorism” always seems to involve giving billion dollar tax gifts to the rich and drilling for oil in the Alaska wilderness.

Over the summer of 2002, as it became clear that Osama bin Laden was not going to be found and that his head was not going to wind up on a pike on the White House lawn, our unelected President tried to distract attention away from the failed search and onto a new war with Saddam Hussein. In his efforts to overcome his and his father’s “wimp factor,” he painted Hussein as another Hitler being appeased by those who don’t want to recognize America’s “right” to overthrow any government we want to. There are already nations in the Middle East who don’t like us very much and who already have weapons of mass destruction — some of whom are supposedly our allies. What made Hussein so special, other than Mr. Bush’s psychological needs? Could it be all that oil he was sitting on and which he didn’t want to sell us as cheaply as we wanted? We now know that only days after he was sworn into office, Mr. Bush was planning the conquest of Iraq.

So Phase Two of The Endless War was begun early in 2003, when knowingly distorted intelligence and several outright lies were sold to the American people through a multibillion dollar public relations campaign (see Weapons of Mass Deception, by Sheldon Rampton and John C. Stauber for details). The United Nations was told to get with the program or get out of the way, a handful of small nations desperate for U.S. approval joined a “coalition of the willing,” and the Pentagon organized a successful invasion and conquest. Now they, and we, are stuck with the results. But who really cares if American kids are being blown up every day by people who hate us as much as they hated Saddam? Halliburton, Texaco, and other friends of the Bush administration are raking in multibillion dollar contracts! All those dead soldiers and civilians are just the cost of doing business...

Why Do They Hate Us So Much?

Were the attacks of 9/11 nothing else than “acts of war” against America, as the American mass media repeatedly tells us, or were they also (or primarily) acts of revenge? I would say both, though we Americans don’t like to consider the second possibility, as it implies that the horrific acts of that day were, at least in the minds of the perpetrators and those who cheered them around the world, “deserved” in some fashion. That implication clashes dramatically with our self-image of America as the world’s superpower superhero, always defending freedom and goodness.

Most Americans simply ignore the hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children killed by American weapons wielded by official and unofficial representatives of our country over the last fifty years. We see video of screaming victims running from the falling buildings of the World Trade Center in New York, but we do not see images of terrified civilians running from American bombs in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or the other 200+ military “interventions” around the world since World War II. On the contrary, those images are carefully kept away from the American people.

We have seen thousands of pictures of the rubble in New York City and at the Pentagon, but we have seen only a tiny percentage of the rubble of the hospitals, water treatment plants, office buildings, factories, schools, and homes destroyed by America (and it’s mostly the people who watch foreign TV networks who saw the little that was shown). That destruction directly and indirectly caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women, children, and old people who had no hostility towards America and no control over their governments’ actions — governments we usually did not even manage to overthrow as we said we were going to. We do not see pictures of the people killed by American- and European-trained death squads — excuse me, “security forces” — in South and Central America, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Africa, and Asia.

Yes, “we were at war,” at least some of those times (including the war on drugs-that-compete-with-alcohol-and-tobacco). The justifications and excuses make no difference to the casualties or the survivors. To millions of Muslims around the world, the First Gulf War was just Americans killing yet more Muslims in order to keep oil prices low (as the Second Gulf War was). America’s actions are seen as a continuation of 150 years of Western meddling and murder in Middle Eastern affairs, of the installation of puppet dictatorships, the sabotage of democratic movements, and the assassination of inconvenient leaders. Now add into this historical mess the existence of Israel, seen by most Muslims as yet another Western invasion and conquest of “Arab land,” as well as the nearly universal Muslim perception of America as Israel’s unquestioning ally. Is it any real wonder that a handful of Muslims who happened to have the resources to strike back at their “tormentors” choose to do so?

The same sick minds that came up with suicide bombing as a sneaky way to deliver explosives against a hated enemy that out-gunned and out-armored them figured out that civilian airliners could be used as giant suicide bombs that, like individual civilians carrying sticks of dynamite, would not be seen as threats until it was too late to stop them. As for the involuntary participants on board the airliners, they were additional American targets for revenge. Or perhaps the hijackers thought of them as “collateral damage,” to use the traditional American military term.

The terrorists of 9/11 were actually more selective than the U.S. armed forces usually are. The Pentagon was a strictly military target, as the White House or Capitol Building would have been. Apparently Osama bin Laden and his minions thought the World Trade Center was full of America’s economic rulers — which would have made it a legitimate military target as well — rather than the second and third level agents of those rulers. They hoped for a shockingly high body count from their targets and indeed, if the attacks had happened a few hours later, tens of thousands of Americans might have died instead of “only” 3,000 or so.

Make no mistake here. I have no admiration for the evil men who committed mass murder on 9/11. But I understand at least a bit of their motivations. And I can see why there is no foreseeable end to future such attacks, for the legacy of American violence throughout the Third World is horrific indeed, with hundreds of millions of people wishing and hoping for vengeance against us. So far, we have heard only from the Middle Easterners who hate us.

Just as suicide bombers are a “logical” explosives delivery system for people who can’t afford B-52s, attack helicopters, or automatic rifles like their enemies have, terrorism is a perfectly logical if horrific strategy for people who can’t afford to buy or build armies, navies, and air forces. It becomes more evil when innocent civilians are the targets. The real distinction between “terrorists” and “freedom fighters” is whether the victims are genuinely guilty evil-doers or relatively innocent folks who are themselves powerless to change the behavior of the evil ones who rule them. Terrorism itself is just another way of waging war. Fighting a war against terrorism is like fighting a war against navel manuevers or a war against poison gas or even a war against violence.

The “war against terrorism” is a war against our own past. The American Empire may conquer the world (though I suspect the Chinese Empire might give us some competition in that department) and enforce a Pax Americana, but unless we manage to turn the entire planet into a corporate police state, violating every one of our American ideals in the process, we will never be able to stop every single person who wants revenge against us for the real or perceived crimes of one or ten or a hundred years ago.

Those crimes were not committed by the average American or the average member of other Western democracies, but by the people we allowed to be elected to public office (often by simply not voting) and by their puppet-masters — the wealthy and private Power Elite  whose families have run America’s major corporations, governments, and military forces for generations. Despite the actual powerlessness of most American citizens, it is we who will pay the price for our unwillingness to take control of our own government and its military and espionage services. The USA is a huge country with literally tens of thousands of attractive targets. We can’t successfully guard them all (although hiring some of the millions of people Bush put out of work to be security guards might help some). There will be more 9/11s, some even more horrific, for the simple mathematical reason that those who hate us outnumber our security forces a thousand to one.

Current propaganda tells us that people elsewhere in the world who hate America do so “because we are free.” Well, many of the Fundamentalists among them may hate us for that reason, because Fundamentalists find it easy to hate any group of people who believe and live differently from themselves. The American lifestyles they see on television and read about in their newspapers and magazines are much freer than the oppressive cultural restrictions that they live under (see my Call to Arms essay for details on the religious motivations of Fundamentalist terrorism.)

But most of those who hate us do so because it was an American plane that bombed their local sewage treatment plant, destroying their village’s source of clean water, leading to dysentery and death for their children. They hate us because a member of the U.S. military trained the death squad that took their husband away in the middle of the night and tortured him to death (even though the American training was supposedly “only for security purposes”). They hate us because the C.I.A. murdered the leader of a pro-democracy movement that was “threatening the stability” of an American-backed dictatorship. They hate us because an American corporation turned their local environment into a toxic waste dump, or murdered their union leaders, or bribed their politicians to let them ignore worker safety in the sweatshops they opened.

9/11 taught Americans that we are no longer immune to the long-term effects of our rulers’ activities in other countries. That terrifies us, and rightly so. Will it change the behavior of our rulers any time soon? Of course not! With their typical shortsightedness, they will simply crank up the security levels another few notches, trashing any civil liberties or human rights that happen to get in the way, just as they have always done. Things will only get worse until Americans go into the voting booths and elect relatively honest men and women to office with such overwhelming numbers that the vote counts cannot be rigged and the winners will have a real mandate to change “business as usual.” Of course, that could easily lead to a military coup and civil war, as our puppet-masters struggle to stay in power.

By and large, however, Americans are simply too unaware, too (deliberately) badly educated to see what is going on in the world around us, and too shortsighted and distractible to take any sort of effective action to change things. So things are going to get a great deal worse before they get better.

As long as prosperous nations (and the corporations who rule them) continue to engage in political and economic policies that victimize millions of people in poor nations, demogogues will have little difficulty raising new generations of terrorists who will attack the innocent citizens of those rich nations. They don’t hate us just because we’re rich and free, as our politicians keep insisting; they hate us because people acting in our names have done horrible things to them, and their ancestors, and their fellow believers. Adding the dualistic fantasies of religious fanatics to the situation makes solutions even harder to find.

Save a Little Anger

Us spiritual folks aren’t supposed to get angry, or so we are told. Yet, those of us on the Religious Left should all be very, very angry at those people who committed such horrific mass murder on September 11, 2001. All those who belong to terrorist networks, the governments that hide and support them, and those who profit financially and politically from terror, deserve to be punished for the crimes they commit, no matter what their supposed justification or their social and political power.

But wait — perhaps we should save some of our anger, just a small bit, for their carefully unmentioned accomplices:

Save a little anger for America’s Central Intelligence Agency, who gave a bunch of Afghan thugs (and some Saudi Arabian friends, including a guy named Bin Laden) weapons and extensive training in how to be terrorists, back when they were fighting the Russians for us. You know, the same folks who trained South and Central American death squads, and who have now gotten any remaining ethical constraints they might have had left removed?

Save a little anger for America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, whom we now know was repeatedly tipped off (along with the C.I.A.) for years before 9/11 that terrorists were thinking about using airliners as weapons, but who couldn’t be bothered to investigate them or to set up procedures to thwart them.

Save a little anger for those corporations, mostly American, who have made hundreds of millions of dollars selling jet fighters, attack helicopters, explosives, automatic rifles, and other deadly devices to all sides in the eternal stewpot of hate that is the Middle East. Could it be that the reason Britain’s Prime Minister was the only major international leader who supported Bush’s jihad against Iraq was the fact that his country is the largest manufacturer of land mines in the world?

Save a little anger for those politicians and billionaires who have callously played the Islamic nations off against each other for over 150 years, always backing the fascists most likely to increase profits while ignoring or destroying democratic movements.

Save a little anger for our supposed allies, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and other Islamic states, whose Western-installed and protected dictators have been funding terrorist groups and individuals for decades, but whom we haven’t the gonads to challenge, lest they cut off our oil supplies.

Save a little anger for the oil companies themselves, who have not just been major players in manipulating Middle Eastern economies and politics, but who have carefully managed to sabotage every form of competing energy technology of the last fifty years, ensuring that Americans are vulnerable to economic blackmail by oil producing nations and corporations.

Save a little anger for the airlines who improved their profit margins by using overworked, underpaid, and barely trained “security” personnel, rather than hiring real professionals to screen passengers or ride on the planes.

Finally, let’s save just a little bit of anger for ourselves. Ordinary American citizens have let all these people get away with creating a world in which terrorism is not just possible but damned near inevitable — and we have paid a terrible price for our unwillingness to stop them. That price will only get higher until we stop treating the symptoms of worldwide terrorism and start attacking the root causes of the disease: irresponsible, greedy, power-hungry people who consider us all — terrorists and victims alike — as tools in their insane competition for world-domination. Make no mistake about it: while Jewish Fundamentalists may only want to rule the territory their genocidal predecessors conquered 2700 years ago, the Christian, Muslim, Marxist and Capitalist Fundamentalists do want to rule the entire planet and eliminate all competing worldviews.

What Will Stop Terrorism?

In the long term, it’s way past time to put a permanent stop to all terrorist organizations. Yet, terrorism will continue as long as there are ignorant, unhappy, and impoverished people nursing legitimate grudges against rich and powerful nations. To permanently stop terrorism, we will have to create a world in which every nation is genuinely democratic and every individual feels that his or her voice will be heard without needing a gun or bomb to get attention. So we need to use all our knowledge, skill and power to subvert, influence and eventually overthrow every Fundamentalist, secular, or tribal dictatorship on the planet and then take the necessary steps to prevent any new ones from getting started. I’ve been told that this is some strange kind of “imperialism,” that we shouldn’t force our values on others. Well, if our values are going to save lives, promote justice and strengthen freedom (as distinct from just maximizing corporate profits), then the use of our power and our wits to help remove criminals and lunatics from ruling impoverished nations is a good idea. It might be wise to avoid volating international law while we’re doing it, however. It is the contempt that America exhibits towards international law, and our leaders’ blithe assumption that “We’re America, we can do whatever we want!” that gives us zero moral authority in world politics today. Of course this “liberal imperialism” argument ignores the genuine imperialism of an administration that thinks it can invade and conquer any nation it wishes, any time it wants, and stay as long as it likes.

Let’s not neglect all the home grown, domestic terrorist groups, either. The mass media should be clear that Christian Militia groups are just as un-American as Islamic ones are. The fact that the anthrax letters mailed after 9/11 were sent to liberal politicians and media people is, in fact, a strong pointer towards domestic Christian terrorists. So why isn’t the Office of Homeland Security arresting members of the KKK and the American Nazi Party?

Foreign based terrorism cannot be stopped without a massive campaign to educate Third World peoples about science, technology, and pluralistic, democratic values (the same holds for eliminating domestic terrorism). To that end, we need a popular wave of enthusiasm to spend a few billion dollars to revive and deploy the Peace Corps and to send food, medicine, tools, and (non-GMO) seeds with them. This is something for which I would be willing to see a national draft in America and other industrial nations. Continue to write letters to your political representatives; they influenced Bush to suggest just such a policy (though he made sure it wasn’t funded properly).

We also need a long-term grassroots campaign to get Congress to pass laws and the Executive Branch to enforce them, forbidding the U.S. government and American corporations from ever again training and equipping terrorists or “insurgents,” as they did in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Central America, or providing chemical and biological weapons technology to dictators (as we did with Saddam Hussein during his war wih Iran). We have had an unforgettable lesson about the dangers of training rabid dogs — sooner or later they turn on their supposed masters. Write more letters to your political representatives. Ask them why they haven’t done it yet.

A real war against terrorism will take decades, will cost Western economies trillions of dollars, and will require a lowering of our obscenely wealthy standard of living — but we’ve already seen the deadly alternative. Will Americans and other Westerners be willing to do it? Probably not. We will have to lose a few cities first, which will most likely lead to military coups disguised as “temporary states of emergency” and the descent of most western democracies into fascist police states. Once several nukes have gone off, the environment will flip into a nuclear winter, which will kill a significant portion of the planet’s population and stimulate civil wars among the surviving factions.

Or we could try to remember two important rules: Regime change begins at home and Democracy — use it or lose it.

Copyright © 2002, 2005 c.e., Isaac Bonewits. This text file may be freely distributed on the Net, provided that no editing is done, the version number is retained, and everything in this notice box is included. If you would like to be on one or more of Isaac Bonewits’ emailing lists, click here to get subscription information.

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