Yet Peace and Justice Must Prevail

October 6, 2001

September 19—A sea change has occurred in our nation’s
life. The terrorist attack on September 11 has shaken all of us. Few
things will be the same.

There have been other terrorist attacks, both in our recent and more
distant past, but nothing on this scale or with these consequences.
The enormity of the death and destruction is only beginning to sink
into people’s consciousness.

Terrorism is morally and politically reprehensible. Under no circumstances
can it be justified. Its only outcome is to strengthen the forces of
political reaction, racism, and militarism in our own country as well
as abroad.

The death of more than five thousand people is an American
tragedy. Other countries have experienced equal or worse tragedies,
but this took place on our national soil and was so cruel and unexpected.

In politics it is necessary to separate what is momentary and episodic
from what is long term and deep going. The manifold repercussions of
the terrorist attack fall into the latter category. Indeed, people are
questioning long held assumptions that inform how we think about our
lives, our families, and our nation’s future.

We are all asking, "How could it happen here and what can be done
to prevent its reoccurrence?"

And the progressive movement has to help answer these
questions, knowing that convincing and compelling answers may not be
easy to come by, particularly given the pressure coming from our nation’s
ruling circles to respond to violence with more violence.

During the past century, as a nation we have felt invulnerable to external
threats owing to our military might, unrivaled economic power, and geographical
location. According to official mythology, we were a shining and secure
city on the hill.

Somehow we thought that we were immune and protected
from the violence and turmoil experienced by other nations not blessed
with our advantages. But no more.

The world is smaller, weapons of mass destruction are
in the hands of individuals as well as powerful states, and terrorism
is a worldwide phenomenon.

No country, not even ours, is an impenetrable fortress able to safeguard
people’s livelihoods and lives. This lesson has been brought home with
enormous force.

So how do we as a nation respond to terrorist attacks?

There is a clamor for immediate retaliatory strikes even if we don’t
know who the enemy is and even if innocent people are the probable casualties,
as well as for a more sustained campaign against the terrorists and
their state sponsors.

The accent in these quarters, beginning with the Bush
administration and the mass media, is on military measures, on projecting
American power to far flung regions of the world, and on turning our
country into a garrison state, with diminished civil liberties and privacy

Of course, the immediate flaw in this strategy is that no one knows
who the terrorists are – let alone where they are headquartered or to
what extent our democratic rights will be restricted in the name of
fighting terrorism.

Another major flaw is that this strategy has brought few successes in
the past. Rather retaliatory strikes have resulted almost invariably
in escalating countermeasures by terrorist groups. And there is little
reason to think that bombing or invading Afghanistan will bring any
different outcome. We might vanquish the Taliban, but it is unlikely
such an action will defuse the terrorists. Instead, tensions in the
Middle East will probably heighten to the extreme and terrorist counterattacks
will inexorably follow.

Still another flaw in this strategy is that it ignores
the subsoil from which terrorism and terrorists spring. Isn’t it naïve
to think that US government sponsored sanctions against Iraq that callously
kill children and other innocent people, or the brutal suppression of
the rights of the Palestinian people or the support for right-wing,
anti-democratic Arab regimes or the arrogant projection of US military
power around the world, or the crippling poverty, rampant disease, widespread
unemployment and social breakdown across huge regions and even whole
continents will breed anything but bitter resentment and desperate actions?

We can kill the terrorists and we can tear up the networks and states
that sustain them, but like a many-headed hydra, new networks will spring
up. As long as there exists this underbelly of fierce exploitation,
grinding poverty, unequal political power, and the unrestrained use
of military force by the powerful against the weak, terrorism will continue

Or to put it differently, terrorism cannot be reduced to a religious
phenomenon nor is it specific to a people. Instead its roots are in
the contemporary capitalist world. And retribution in one form or another
will come from the disposseed and disinheritied across our globe to
the extent that a handful of nations and powerful transnational corporations
— especially Big Oil which figures so heavily in shaping our policies
in the Middle East — impose their profit driven interests on a reluctant

A final flaw in this strategy is that it is silent about state-sponsored
terror orchestrated by our own and other powerful governments. Indiscriminate
carpet bombing, blockades and sanctions against smaller countries, political
assassinations, the arming and training of terrorists, like the Mujahadeen
in Afghanistan, the contras in Nicaragua, and the right wing death squads
in Colombia by US intelligence agencies are a few examples that convince
millions of people worldwide that our government is a sponsor of terrorism.

How then can we break the cycle of violence, how can
we combat terrorism?

First, the world community has to condemn terrorism
in all of its forms. There is absolutely no justification for terrorist
action whether carried out by powerful states or loose networks of individuals.

To be sure, conventional and nuclear warfare between states has been
more lethal and deadly up until now. In the Congo, for instance, three
million people, most of them innocent civilians, died in 1990s in a
civil war, while 140,000 men, women, and children were immolated almost
instantly when our government dropped nuclear bombs at the close of
WWII on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the size of the death count should
not determine our attitude toward this new form of warfare. Terrorism
is a new and growing threat to humankind, especially with the spread
of weapons of mass destruction, and should be universally condemned.

Second, a successful struggle against terrorism requires
the collective voice, participation, and wisdom of every country and
all humankind. No one nation, and particularly our own, should act alone
or assume that it has a unilateral right to lead a world coalition against
terrorism. An emergency international conference under the auspices
of the United Nations would seem like a good place to begin such a world

In the meantime, mass expressions for peace and against terrorism in
all its forms should be organized in major cities around the world.

Third, political and diplomatic solutions should be favored over military
ones. Violence only begets more violence. The perpetrators of this heinous
crime in our country should be held accountable and apprehended to be
sure, but what must guide our country’s and the world’s response to
this new threat is the rule of law not vigilantism; reason not hysteria;
justice not revenge; the protection of peoples of Arab ancestry and
Moslem faith not xenophobic and racist assaults; the preservation of
rights and liberties, not the narrowing of the boundaries of political
dissent, and, above all, peace not violence.

In the longer run, building an economically just, peaceful,
democratic, and tolerant world is the only sure path to isolate and
eventually eliminate terrorism and all other forms of warfare. The 20th
century was the bloodiest and most violent in the history of humankind.
Rather than fighting the first war of the 21st century, let us find
a way to eliminate war in all of its forms and guarantee economic security
to all people. For our children and future generations, let us finally
turn our swords into plowshares and study war no more.


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