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America is innocent?
Wednesday September 19 2001
Guest: Noam Chomsky, Professor of linguistics at MIT
Hosts: Svetlana Vukovic, Svetlana Lukic B 92:


Why do you think these attacks happened?

CHOMSKY: To answer the question we must first identify the  perpetrators of the crimes. It is generally assumed, plausibly, that their  origin is the Middle East region, and that the attacks probably trace back to  the Osama Bin Laden network, a widespread and complex organization, doubtless  inspired by Bin Laden but not necessarily acting under his control. Let us  assume that this is true. Then to answer your question a sensible person would  try to ascertain Bin Laden's views, and the sentiments of the large reservoir of  supporters he has throughout the region. About all of this, we have a great deal  of information.

Bin Laden has been interviewed extensively over the years by highly reliable  Middle East specialists, notably the most eminent correspondent in the region,  Robert Fisk (London "Independent"), who has intimate knowledge of the entire  region and direct experience over decades. A Saudi Arabian millionaire, Bin  Laden became a militant Islamic leader in the war to drive the Russians out of  Afghanistan. He was one of the many religious fundamentalist extremists  recruited, armed, and financed by the CIA and their allies in Pakistani  intelligence to cause maximal harm to the Russians - quite possibly delaying  their withdrawal, many analysts suspect - though whether he personally happened  to have direct contact with the CIA is unclear, and not particularly important.

Not surprisingly, the CIA preferred the most fanatic and cruel fighters they  could mobilize. The end result was to "destroy a moderate regime and create a  fanatical one, from groups recklessly financed by the Americans" ("London Times"  correspondent Simon Jenkins, also a specialist on the region). These "Afghanis"  as they are called (many, like Bin Laden, not from Afghanistan) carried out  terror operations across the border in Russia, but they terminated these after  Russia withdrew. Their war was not against Russia, which they despise, but  against the Russian occupation and Russia's crimes against Muslims.

The "Afghanis" did not terminate their activities, however. They joined  Bosnian Muslim forces in the Balkan Wars; the US did not object, just as it  tolerated Iranian support for them, for complex reasons that we need not pursue  here, apart from noting that concern for the grim fate of the Bosnians was not  prominent among them. The "Afghanis" are also fighting the Russians in Chechnya,  and, quite possibly, are involved in carrying out terrorist attacks in Moscow  and elsewhere in Russian territory.

Bin Laden and his "Afghanis" turned against the US in 1990 when they  established permanent bases in Saudi Arabia - from his point of view, a  counterpart to the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, but far more significant  because of Saudi Arabia's special status as the guardian of the holiest shrines.  Bin Laden is also bitterly opposed to the corrupt and repressive regimes of the  region, which he regards as "un-Islamic," including the Saudi Arabian regime,  the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist regime in the world, apart from the  Taliban, and a close US ally since its origins. Bin Laden despises the US for  its support of these regimes.

Like others in the region, he is also outraged by long-standing US support  for Israel's brutal military occupation, now in its 35th year: Washington's  decisive diplomatic, military, and economic intervention in support of the  killings, the harsh and destructive siege over many years, the daily humiliation  to which Palestinians are subjected, the expanding settlements designed to break  the occupied territories into Bantustan-like cantons and take control of the  resources, the gross violation of the Geneva Conventions, and other actions that  are recognized as crimes throughout most of the world, apart from the US, which  has prime responsibility for them.

And like others, he contrasts Washington's dedicated support for these crimes  with the decade-long US-British assault against the civilian population of Iraq,  which has devastated the society and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths  while strengthening Saddam Hussein - who was a favored friend and ally of the US  and Britain right through his worst atrocities, including the gassing of the  Kurds, as people of the region also remember well, even if Westerners prefer to  forget the facts. These sentiments are very widely shared. The "Wall Street  Journal" (Sept. 14) published a survey of opinions of wealthy and privileged  Muslims in the Gulf region (bankers, professionals, businessmen with close links  to the US).

They expressed much the same views: resentment of the US policies of  supporting Israeli crimes and blocking the international consensus on a  diplomatic settlement for many years while devastating Iraqi civilian society,  supporting harsh and repressive anti-democratic regimes throughout the region,  and imposing barriers against economic development by "propping up oppressive  regimes." Among the great majority of people suffering deep poverty and  oppression, similar sentiments are far more bitter, and are the source of the  fury and despair that has led to suicide bombings, as commonly understood by  those who are interested in the facts.

The US, and much of the West, prefers a more comforting story. To quote the  lead analysis in the "New York Times" (Sept. 16), the perpetrators acted out of  "hatred for the values cherished in the West as freedom, tolerance, prosperity,  religious pluralism and universal suffrage." US actions are irrelevant, and  therefore need not even be mentioned (Serge Schmemann). This is a convenient  picture, and the general stance is not unfamiliar in intellectual history; in  fact, it is close to the norm.

It happens to be completely at variance with everything we know, but has all  the merits of self-adulation and uncritical support for power. It is also widely  recognized that Bin Laden and others like him are praying for "a great assault  on Muslim states," which cause "fanatics to flock to his cause" (Jenkins, and  many others.). That too is familiar. The escalating cycle of violence is  typically welcomed by the harshest and most brutal elements on both sides, a  fact evident enough from the recent history of the Balkans, to cite only one of  many cases.

B 92: What consequences will those attacks have on US inner policy and  to the American self reception?

CHOMSKY: US policy has already been officially announced. The world is  being offered a "stark choice": join us, or "face the certain prospect of death  and destruction." Congress has authorized the use of force against any  individuals or countries the President determines to be involved in the attacks,  a doctrine that every supporter regards as ultra-criminal. That is easily  demonstrated. Simply ask how the same people would have reacted if Nicaragua had  adopted this doctrine after the US had rejected the orders of the World Court to  terminate its "unlawful use of force" against Nicaragua and had vetoed a  Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law.  And that terrorist attack was far more severe and destructive even than this  atrocity. As for how these matters are perceived here, that is far more complex.  One should bear in mind that the media and the intellectual elites generally  have their particular agendas. Furthermore, the answer to this question is, in  significant measure, a matter of decision: as in many other cases, with  sufficient dedication and energy, efforts to stimulate fanaticism, blind hatred,  and submission to authority can be reversed. We all know that very well.

B 92: Do you expect US to profoundly change their policy to the rest  of the world?

CHOMSKY: The initial response was to call for intensifying the  policies that led to the fury and resentment that provides the background of  support for the terrorist attack, and to pursue more intensively the agenda of  the most hard line elements of the leadership: increased militarization,  domestic regimentation, attack on social programs. That is all to be expected.  Again, terror attacks, and the escalating cycle of violence they often engender,  tend to reinforce the authority and prestige of the most harsh and repressive  elements of a society. But there is nothing inevitable about submission to this  course.

B 92: After the first shock, came fear of what US answer is going to  be. Are you afraid, too?

CHOMSKY: Every sane person should be afraid of the likely reaction -  the one that has already been announced, the one that probably answers Bin  Laden's prayers. It is highly likely to escalate the cycle of violence, in the  familiar way, but in this case on a far greater scale. The US has already  demanded that Pakistan terminate the food and other supplies that are keeping at  least some of the starving and suffering people of Afghanistan alive. If that  demand is implemented, unknown numbers of people who have not the remotest  connection to terrorism will die, possibly millions. Let me repeat: the US has  demanded that Pakistan kill possibly millions of people who are themselves  victims of the Taliban.

This has nothing to do even with revenge. It is at a far lower moral level  even than that. The significance is heightened by the fact that this is  mentioned in passing, with no comment, and probably will hardly be noticed. We  can learn a great deal about the moral level of the reigning intellectual  culture of the West by observing the reaction to this demand. I think we can be  reasonably confident that if the American population had the slightest idea of  what is being done in their name, they would be utterly appalled. It would be  instructive to seek historical precedents.

If Pakistan does not agree to this and other US demands, it may come under  direct attack as well - with unknown consequences. If Pakistan does submit to US  demands, it is not impossible that the government will be overthrown by forces  much like the Taliban - who in this case will have nuclear weapons.

That could have an effect throughout the region, including the oil producing  states. At this point we are considering the possibility of a war that may  destroy much of human society. Even without pursuing such possibilities, the  likelihood is that an attack on Afghans will have pretty much the effect that  most analysts expect: it will enlist great numbers of others to support of Bin  Laden, as he hopes.

Even if he is killed, it will make little difference. His voice will be heard  on cassettes that are distributed throughout the Islamic world, and he is likely  to be revered as a martyr, inspiring others. It is worth bearing in mind that  one suicide bombing - a truck driven into a US military base - drove the world's  major military force out of Lebanon 20 years ago. The opportunities for such  attacks are endless. And suicide attacks are very hard to prevent.

B 92: "The world will never be the same after 11.09.01". Do you think  so?

CHOMSKY: The horrendous terrorist attacks on Tuesday are something  quite new in world affairs, not in their scale and character, but in the target.  For the US, this is the first time since the War of 1812 that its national  territory has been under attack, even threat. It's colonies have been attacked,  but not the national territory itself. During these years the US virtually  exterminated the indigenous population, conquered half of Mexico, intervened  violently in the surrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines  (killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half century  particularly, extended its resort to force throughout much of the world.

The number of victims is colossal. For the first time, the guns have been  directed the other way. The same is true, even more dramatically, of Europe.  Europe has suffered murderous destruction, but from internal wars, meanwhile  conquering much of the world with extreme brutality. It has not been under  attack by its victims outside, with rare exceptions (the IRA in England, for  example). It is therefore natural that NATO should rally to the support of the  US; hundreds of years of imperial violence have an enormous impact on the  intellectual and moral culture.

It is correct to say that this is a novel event in world history, not because  of the scale of the atrocity - regrettably - but because of the target. How the  West chooses to react is a matter of supreme importance. If the rich and  powerful choose to keep to their traditions of hundreds of years and resort to  extreme violence, they will contribute to the escalation of a cycle of violence,  in a familiar dynamic, with long-term consequences that could be awesome. Of  course, that is by no means inevitable. An aroused public within the more free  and democratic societies can direct policies towards a much more humane and  honorable course.


Another article from Chomsky.