For a magic moment, the citizens’ movement was no longer on the defensive. From Seattle to Genoa, via Washington, Prague, Quebec, Nice and a dozen other destinations, the dispiriting decades of unbridled corporate greed and freewheeling financial markets seemed to be drawing to an ignominious close, smothered under their own sheer awfulness. Or if such a perception was mere wishful thinking and a bit premature, at least neoliberalism was under credible and forceful attack.
Negatively labeled “antiglobalization” by the media but known to its thousands of participants and millions of sympathizers as the movement for global justice, the nebula of protest and proposals was coalescing and gaining strength. The corporate and political elites could no longer meet in plush peace and confidential quiet to do their deals, and were obliged to retreat to fortresses whose defenses the demonstrators regularly stormed both physically and ideologically. The winds of history were blowing in a new and refreshing direction.
Then came September 11. Like the rest of the world, Europeans were shocked and horrified, especially by the sheer scale of the destruction and the potent symbolism of the targets, but in another and admittedly limited sense, we’d been there before. We’d had bombs in our metros, terrorist attacks on our railways and exploding cars in our streets, not to mention centuries of wars, invasions and occupations.
As the initial trauma wore off, we also tried to analyze what precisely lay behind the attacks and to ask political as well as moral questions. While everyone agreed that nothing could justify the terrorist attacks on the United States, some also recalled another September 11 when the American-sponsored coup d’état in Chile brought down the democratically elected Allende government, ushering in a fascist regime that murdered and “disappeared” thousands. American support for the contras in Nicaragua; the training of Latin American torturers in North America; the attacks against weak and defenseless countries like Panama, Grenada and Sudan; the bombing and blockading of Iraq leaving civilians dead and maimed but Saddam Hussein firmly in place–all these were remembered and discussed, as was the crucial US role in the endlessly destructive Israel-Palestine war.
While the prestigious French daily Le Monde headlined “We Are All Americans,” others felt that this assertion very much depended on “which” Americans. Yes, without question, if it meant mourning for the victims and their families; no, if it meant unqualified support for the corporate, financial and government elites, and for business as usual.
Nor were we surprised when these same elites in Europe, our neoliberal corporate adversaries and their domestics, instantly seized upon the atrocities to advance their cause. By the morning of the 12th they had already sharpened their sticks. Using crude, faulty but sometimes effective logic in an attempt to intimidate and criminalize the citizens’ movement, they declared, “You’re antiglobalization, therefore you’re anti-American, therefore you’re on the side of the terrorists.” For weeks, the media gleefully and unrelentingly framed their coverage and their questions in that light alone.