Make no mistake: America far from innocent

Veronica Chase

I suspect 10 days ago, if George W. Bush had soberly observed the United States was engaged in a “monumental struggle of good versus evil,” the comment would have elicited howls of laughter from a wide spectrum of Americans.

After all, this esteemed President had only recently withdrawn U.S. support for the Kyoto Protocol – admittedly a flawed document, though for its limitations, not its excesses – essentially telling the international community the fate of the planet is of no concern to the United States.

He had announced his intention to dispose of the international arms control structure by proceeding with “national missile defense” and the militarization of outer space. He had followed his predecessor’s rejection of an International Criminal Court. He had jettisoned a U.N. conference seeking restrictions on the trafficking of small arms, and he had withdrawn the American delegation from a U.N. conference on racism.

He had unequivocally pledged his allegiance to the ruling butchers of Russia and Israel and he had begun filling his administration with apologists for terror like Elliott Abrams and John Negroponte. In essence, the president of the United States shouted to the world, “we” don’t care what “you” want or think.

Yet eight days ago, when George W. Bush did, in fact, proclaim “America” was engaged in a “monumental struggle of good versus evil,” the statement’s reception was rather bizarre. Following the president’s lead, a number of so-called “patriots” decided overnight it was taboo to even suggest reality was more complex than a simplistic struggle between the “civilized world” and its discontents.

To posit there might have been a reason for the events of Sept. 11, however inexcusable they were, was apparently to engage in anti-American propaganda and justify the attacks. And to remark that the events might have been grounded in the quite legitimate resentment with which most people around the world react to American hubris and violence – whether military or economic – was to render oneself traitorous, pathetic, parasitical, or an intellectual defender of terrorism.

Make no mistake: The president’s good and evil designations are not only ridiculous but dangerous. Human rights scholars have pointed to the establishment of an “us and them” binary as a psychological precondition for widespread abuses and genocide. Given the probability the United States will soon embark on a campaign that might kill thousands of civilians, I seriously question those who argue it is inappropriate or untimely to challenge the moral basis for what might become large-scale mass murder. As persons presumably concerned with the loss of life, we should be encouraging critical examinations of the United States, not denouncing or belittling them. Silently acquiescing in Washington’s march to war is not demonstrating “patriotism” or solidarity with last week’s victims; it is ensuring more innocent people will die. And one can be certain, many will die.

Over the last several days, the administration has informed the Arab world “[t]he time has come to choose sides,” threatened “ending states who sponsor terrorism,” and warned the “full wrath of the United States” will fall upon those who fail to join its crusade. The term “terrorism” must be qualified. What’s being referred to by Washington is not actually terrorism per se, but rather terrorism directed at “us.” While appropriate, it of course takes little courage to denounce the terror of one’s enemies and assert it must end. It is far more difficult, but far more necessary, to denounce the terror of one’s own government and actively work to stop it. This must be done by all Americans.

So exactly what, then, does Washington mean by “terrorism”? Certainly Washington doesn’t mean the 1988 downing of an Iranian civilian airliner by the U.S. warship Vincennes, killing 290 people. In fact, two years later, the commander of the Vincennes was given a Legion of Merit award for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service.”

Nor would the Administration have in mind the 1985 CIA-sponsored car-bomb attack in Lebanon that killed 80 people and injured 200. And of course they don’t mean the present strangling of Iraq, America’s nearly unequivocal support for the Saudi Arabian torture state, the destruction of Yugoslavia, the subsidizing of the increasingly brutal Israeli occupation, the billions of dollars benefiting right-wing thugs in Colombia – none of these qualify as terrorism.

No, for purposes of good and evil, terrorism can only be attacks on American and Israeli civilians.

Almost as if taking orders, the U.S. mass media have in recent days parroted countless official assertions about the reach and direction of the Al Qaeda “network” headed by Osama bin Laden. Quickly and conveniently forgotten has been the portrait that emerged during the African embassy bombings trial in New York earlier this year. The New York Times stated in a front-page report, “The trial … revealed evidence that tended to counter long-held assumptions about Mr. bin Laden’s followers, who have long been portrayed as marching in ideological lock step, ready to pay any price, including death, for his cause”.

Contrary to the image of a highly-coordinated “network,” which the Bush
administration has been shamefully finessing, a much different view of the group was presented by government prosecutors at the trial. A former deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Counterterrorism remarked, “To listen to some of the news reports a year or two ago, you would think bin Laden was running a top Fortune 500 multinational company – people everywhere, links everywhere. He continued, “What the evidence at trial has correctly portrayed is that it’s really a loose amalgam of people with a shared ideology, but a very limited direction.”

How quickly the reporting has changed. The reason for this is not difficult to comprehend. Put simply, the evil afflicting the United States must have a face in order to become a target. Washington cannot launch a war against an unknown enemy and expect Americans to blindly go along. And the United States must go to war – we are repeatedly told.

Yet if bin Laden is indeed responsible for the events in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania – and the administration’s unverifiable assertions should not be trusted on this matter – the media has yet to highlight the incredible irony in the current logic of war. When the United States last attacked Afghanistan and Sudan, the government claimed bin Laden must know “we” will not stand for terror.

Did he get this message? If it is true he was responsible for the attacks last week, he reacted by upping the ante. And the U.S. response? Hit him again. What will he do after Washington next responds militarily? Will he lay down his arms and give up? Don’t count on it. And even if bin Laden were to be killed, would the anger that motivated his “network” disappear? If anything, the United States could expect further and escalated instances of terror.

As I heretically suggested last Wednesday (“Holistic perspective required in the aftermath,” Sept. 12), terrorism cannot be defeated militarily. As a nation, we must consider why so many people hate the United States if we hope to minimize the horrific slaughter of American civilians, not to mention the widespread suffering of people around the world.

And while it is critical the perpetrators of last week’s attacks be brought to justice, this must be done in accordance with human rights principles, humanitarian law, and international criminal procedures. It will require the cooperation of other countries. Yet the United States can expect little meaningful assistance and little resolution if it doesn’t also begin to address the extreme hypocrisy dividing American rhetoric from its global reality.

There are a number of activities on campus this week and next week that will try to make sense of Sept. 11 and what should be done about it. And Thursday there will be a rally at Northrop Plaza at 11:30 against the U.S. march to war. Keep an eye out for notices in the Daily and for flyers around campus to find out what’s happening.


Scott Laderman’s column appears alternate Tuesdays. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]