Cover of October 8, 2001 Issue

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October 8, 2001 Issue

Richard Falk urges the US to seek a just response; Eric Foner says that patriotism does not mean uncritical support of whatever actions the…

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Justice, Not Vengeance

The atrocious attacks on the World Trade Center were massive crimes against humanity in both a real-world sense and in a technical legal sense, as Richard Falk reminds us. As s...

Nation Notes

The Nation's phone and e-mail were disrupted as a result of the World Trade Center attacks. We are grateful to Public Interest Network Services for advice and technical ...

Barbara Lee’s Stand

When Congress voted to authorize the Bush Administration to use military force in response to the September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Rep...

The Democrats’ Dilemma

So long, politics? As George W. Bush mounted Operation Noble Eagle, Republicans and Democrats found little over which to disagree. In the days after the September 11 terror att...

A Matter of Rights

Nothing tests our commitment to principle like terrorism. Before September 11, America banned assassinations of foreign leaders; now the Administration is considering abandonin...


The American flag behind barbed wire

Put Out No Flags

My daughter, who goes to Stuyvesant High School only blocks from the World Trade Center, thinks we should fly an American flag out our window. Definitely not, I say: The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war. She tells me I'm wrong--the flag means standing together and honoring the dead and saying no to terrorism. In a way we're both right: The Stars and Stripes is the only available symbol right now. In New York City, it decorates taxicabs driven by Indians and Pakistanis, the impromptu memorials of candles and flowers that have sprung up in front of every firehouse, the chi-chi art galleries and boutiques of SoHo. It has to bear a wide range of meanings, from simple, dignified sorrow to the violent anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry that has already resulted in murder, vandalism and arson around the country and harassment on New York City streets and campuses. It seems impossible to explain to a 13-year-old, for whom the war in Vietnam might as well be the War of Jenkins's Ear, the connection between waving the flag and bombing ordinary people half a world away back to the proverbial stone age. I tell her she can buy a flag with her own money and fly it out her bedroom window, because that's hers, but the living room is off-limits. There are no symbolic representations right now for the things the world really needs--equality and justice and humanity and solidarity and intelligence. The red flag is too bloodied by history; the peace sign is a retro fashion accessory. In much of the world, including parts of this country, the cross and crescent and Star of David are logos for nationalistic and sectarian hatred. Ann Coulter, fulminating in her syndicated column, called for carpet-bombing of any country where people "smiled" at news of the disaster: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity." What is this, the Crusades? The Rev. Jerry Falwell issued a belated mealy-mouthed apology for his astonishing remarks immediately after the attacks, but does anyone doubt that he meant them? The disaster was God's judgment on secular America, he observed, as famously secular New Yorkers were rushing to volunteer to dig out survivors, to give blood, food, money, anything--it was all the fault of "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians...the ACLU, People for the American Way." That's what the Taliban think too. As I write, the war talk revolves around Afghanistan, home of the vicious Taliban and hideaway of Osama bin Laden. I've never been one to blame the United States for every bad thing that happens in the Third World, but it is a fact that our government supported militant Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979. The mujahedeen were freedom fighters against Communism, backed by more than $3 billion in US aid--more money and expertise than for any other cause in CIA history--and hailed as heroes by tag-along journalists from Dan Rather to William T. Vollmann, who saw these lawless fanatics as manly primitives untainted by the West. (There's a story in here about the attraction Afghan hypermasculinity holds for desk-bound modern men. How lovely not to pay lip service to women's equality! It's cowboys and Indians, with harems thrown in.) And if, with the Soviets gone, the vying warlords turned against one another, raped and pillaged and murdered the civilian population and destroyed what still remained of normal Afghan life, who could have predicted that? These people! The Taliban, who rose out of this period of devastation, were boys, many of them orphans, from the wretched refugee camps of Pakistan, raised in the unnatural womanless hothouses of fundamentalist boarding schools. Even leaving aside their ignorance and provincialism and lack of modern skills, they could no more be expected to lead Afghanistan back to normalcy than an army made up of kids raised from birth in Romanian orphanages. Feminists and human-rights groups have been sounding the alarm about the Taliban since they took over Afghanistan in 1996. That's why interested Americans know that Afghan women are forced to wear the total shroud of the burqa and are banned from work and from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative; that girls are barred from school; and that the Taliban--far from being their nation's saviors, enforcing civic peace with their terrible swift Kalashnikovs--are just the latest oppressors of the miserable population. What has been the response of the West to this news? Unless you count the absurd infatuation of European intellectuals with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance of fundamentalist warlords (here we go again!), not much. What would happen if the West took seriously the forces in the Muslim world who call for education, social justice, women's rights, democracy, civil liberties and secularism? Why does our foreign policy underwrite the clerical fascist government of Saudi Arabia--and a host of nondemocratic regimes besides? What is the point of the continuing sanctions on Iraq, which have brought untold misery to ordinary people and awakened the most backward tendencies of Iraqi society while doing nothing to undermine Saddam Hussein? And why on earth are fundamentalist Jews from Brooklyn and Philadelphia allowed to turn Palestinians out of their homes on the West Bank? Because God gave them the land? Does any sane person really believe that? Bombing Afghanistan to "fight terrorism" is to punish not the Taliban but the victims of the Taliban, the people we should be supporting. At the same time, war would reinforce the worst elements in our own society--the flag-wavers and bigots and militarists. It's heartening that there have been peace vigils and rallies in many cities, and antiwar actions are planned in Washington, DC, for September 29-30, but look what even the threat of war has already done to Congress, where only a single representative, Barbara Lee, Democrat from California, voted against giving the President virtual carte blanche. A friend has taken to wearing her rusty old women's Pentagon Action buttons--at least they have a picture of the globe on them. The globe, not the flag, is the symbol that's wanted now. Read More

The Uses of Adversity

Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public...

Osama bin Laden

Of Sin, the Left & Islamic Fascism

Not all readers liked my attack on the liberal/left tendency to "rationalize" the aggression of September 11, or my use of the term "fascism with an Islamic face," and I'll select a representative example of the sort of "thinking" that I continue to receive on my screen, even now. This jewel comes from Sam Husseini, who runs the Institute for Public Accuracy in Washington, DC:   The fascists like Bid-Laden could not get volunteers to stuff envelopes if Israel had withdrawn from Jerusalem like it was supposed to--and the US stopped the sanctions and the bombing on Iraq.   You've heard this "thought" expressed in one way or another, dear reader, have you not? I don't think I took enough time in my last column to point out just what is so utterly rotten at the very core of it. So, just to clean up a corner or two: (1) If Husseini knows what was in the minds of the murderers, it is his solemn responsibility to inform us of the source of his information, and also to share it with the authorities. (2) If he does not know what was in their minds--as seems enormously more probable--then why does he rush to appoint himself the ventriloquist's dummy for such a faction? Who volunteers for such a task at such a time? Not only is it indecent to act as self-appointed interpreter for the killers, but it is rash in the highest degree. The death squads have not favored us with a posthumous manifesto of their grievances, or a statement of claim about Palestine or Iraq, but we are nonetheless able to surmise or deduce or induct a fair amount about the ideological or theological "root" of their act (Husseini doesn't seem to demand "proof" of bin Laden's involvement any more than the Bush Administration is willing to supply it) and if we are correct in this, then we have considerable knowledge of two things: their ideas and their actions. First the actions. The central plan was to maximize civilian casualties in a very dense area of downtown Manhattan. We know that the killers had studied the physics and ecology of the buildings and the neighborhood, and we know that they were limited only by the flight schedules and bookings of civil aviation. They must therefore have been quite prepared to convert fully loaded planes into missiles, instead of the mercifully unpopulated aircraft that were actually commandeered, and they could have hoped by a combination of luck and tactics to have at least doubled the kill-rate on the ground. They spent some time in the company of the families they had kidnapped for the purpose of mass homicide. It was clearly meant to be much, much worse than it was. And it was designed and incubated long before the mutual-masturbation of the Clinton-Arafat-Barak "process." The Talibanis have in any case not distinguished themselves very much by an interest in the Palestinian plight. They have been busier trying to bring their own societies under the reign of the most inflexible and pitiless declension of shari'a law. This is known to anyone with the least acquaintance with the subject. The ancillary plan was to hit the Department of Defense and (on the best evidence we have available) either the Capitol Dome or the White House. The Pentagon, for all its symbolism, is actually more the civil-service bit of the American "war-machine," and is set in a crowded Virginia neighborhood. You could certainly call it a military target if you were that way inclined, though the bin Ladenists did not attempt anything against a guarded airbase or a nuclear power station in Pennsylvania (and even if they had, we would now doubtless be reading that the glow from Three Mile Island was a revenge for globalization). The Capitol is where the voters send their elected representatives--poor things, to be sure, but our own. The White House is where the elected President and his family and staff are to be found. It survived the attempt of British imperialism to burn it down, and the attempt of the Confederacy to take Washington DC, and this has hallowed even its most mediocre occupants. I might, from where I am sitting, be a short walk from a gutted Capitol or a shattered White House. I am quite certain that in such a case Husseini and his rabble of sympathizers would still be telling me that my chickens were coming home to roost. (The image of bin Laden's men "stuffing envelopes" is the perfected essence of such brainless verbiage.) Only the stoicism of men like Jeremy Glick and Thomas Burnett prevented some such outcome; only those who chose who die fighting rather than allow such a profanity, and such a further toll in lives, stood between us and the fourth death squad. One iota of such innate fortitude is worth all the writings of Noam Chomsky, who coldly compared the plan of September 11 to a stupid and cruel and cynical raid by Bill Clinton on Khartoum in August 1998. I speak with some feeling about that latter event, because I wrote three Nation columns about it at the time, pointing out (with evidence that goes unrebutted to this day) that it was a war crime, and a war crime opposed by the majority of the military and intelligence establishment. The crime was directly and sordidly linked to the effort by a crooked President to avoid impeachment (a conclusion sedulously avoided by the Chomskys and Husseinis of the time). The Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant was well-known to be a civilian target, and its "selection" was opposed by most of the Joint Chiefs and many CIA personnel for just this reason. (See, for additional corroboration, Seymour Hersh's New Yorker essay "The Missiles of August"). To mention this banana-republic degradation of the United States in the same breath as a plan, deliberated for months, to inflict maximum horror upon the innocent is to abandon every standard that makes intellectual and moral discrimination possible. To put it at its very lowest, and most elementary, at least the missiles launched by Clinton were not full of passengers. (How are you doing, Sam? Noam, wazzup?) So much for what the methods and targets tell us about the true anti-human and anti-democratic motivation. By their deeds shall we know them. What about the animating ideas? There were perhaps seven hundred observant followers of the Prophet Muhammed burned alive in New York on September 11. Nobody who had studied the target zone could have been in any doubt that some such figure was at the very least a likely one. And, since Islam makes no discrimination between the color and shade of its adherents, there was good reason to think that any planeload of civilians might include some Muslims as well. I don't myself make this point with any more emphasis than I would give to the several hundred of my fellow Englishmen (some of them doubtless Muslims also) who perished. I stress it only because it makes my point about fascism. To the Wahhabi-indoctrinated sectarians of Al Qaeda, only the purest and most fanatical are worthy of consideration. The teachings and published proclamations of this cult have initiated us to the idea that the tolerant, the open-minded, the apostate or the followers of different branches of The Faith are fit only for slaughter and contempt. And that's before Christians and Jews, let alone atheists and secularists, have even been factored in. As before, the deed announces and exposes its "root cause." The grievance and animosity predate even the Balfour Declaration, let alone the occupation of the West Bank. They predate the creation of Iraq as a state. The gates of Vienna would have had to fall to the Ottoman jihad before any balm could begin to be applied to these psychic wounds. And this is precisely, now, our problem. The Taliban and its surrogates are not content to immiserate their own societies in beggary and serfdom. They are condemned, and they deludedly believe that they are commanded, to spread the contagion and to visit hell upon the unrighteous. The very first step that we must take, therefore, is the acquisition of enough self-respect and self-confidence to say that we have met an enemy and that he is not us, but someone else. Someone with whom coexistence is, fortunately I think, not possible. (I say "fortunately" because I am also convinced that such coexistence is not desirable). But straight away, we meet people who complain at once that this enemy is us, really. Did we not aid the grisly Taliban to achieve and hold power? Yes indeed "we" did. Well, does this not double or triple our responsibility to remove them from power? A sudden sheep-like silence, broken by a bleat. Would that not be "over-reaction"? All I want to say for now is that the under-reaction to the Taliban by three successive United States administrations is one of the great resounding disgraces of our time. There is good reason to think that a Taliban defeat would fill the streets of Kabul with joy. But for the moment, the Bush Administration seems a hostage to the Pakistani and Saudi clients who are the sponsors and "harborers" the President claims publicly to be looking for! Yet the mainstream left, ever shuffling its feet, fears only the discomfort that might result from repudiating such an indefensible and humiliating posture. Very well then, comrades. Do not pretend that you wish to make up for America's past crimes in the region. Here is one such crime that can be admitted and undone--the sponsorship of the Taliban could be redeemed by the demolition of its regime and the liberation of its victims. But I detect no stomach for any such project. Better, then--more decent and reticent--not to affect such concern for "our" past offenses. This is not an article about grand strategy, but it seems to me to go without saying that a sincere commitment to the secular or reformist elements in the Muslim world would automatically shift the balance of America's up-to-now very questionable engagement. Every day, the wretched Arafat is told by Washington, as a favor to the Israelis, that he must police and repress the forces of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. When did Washington last demand that Saudi Arabia cease its heavy financing of these primitive and unscrupulous organisations? We let the Algerians fight the Islamic-fascist wave without saying a word or lending a hand. And this is an effort in which civic and social organizations can become involved without official permission. We should be building such internationalism whether it serves the short-term needs of the current Administration or not: I signed an anti-Taliban statement several months ago and was appalled by the eerie silence with which the initiative was greeted in Washington. (It ought to go without saying that the demand for Palestinian self-determination is, as before, a good cause in its own right. Not now more than ever, but now as ever. There are millions of Palestinians who do not want the future that the pious of all three monotheisms have in store for them.) Ultimately, this is another but uniquely toxic version of an old story, whereby former clients like Noriega and Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban cease to be our monsters and become monstrous in their own right. At such a point, a moral and political crisis occurs. Do "our" past crimes and sins make it impossible to expiate the offense by determined action? Those of us who were not consulted about, and are not bound by, the previous covert compromises have a special responsibility to say a decisive "no" to this. The figure of six and a half thousand murders in New York is almost the exact equivalent to the total uncovered in the death-pits of Srebrenica. (Even at Srebrenica, the demented General Ratko Mladic agreed to release all the women, all the children, all the old people and all the males above and below military age before ordering his squads to fall to work.) On that occasion, US satellites flew serenely overhead recording the scene, and Milosevic earned himself an invitation to Dayton, Ohio. But in the end, after appalling false starts and delays, it was found that Mr Milosevic was too much. He wasn't just too nasty. He was also too irrational and dangerous. He didn't even save himself by lyingly claiming, as he several times did, that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Bosnia. It must be said that by this, and by other lies and numberless other atrocities, Milosevic distinguished himself as an enemy of Islam. His national-socialist regime took the line on the towelheads that the Bush Administration is only accused, by fools and knaves, of taking. Yet when a stand was eventually mounted against Milosevic, it was Noam Chomsky and Sam Husseini, among many others, who described the whole business as a bullying persecution of--the Serbs! I have no hesitation in describing this mentality, carefully and without heat, as soft on crime and soft on fascism. No political coalition is possible with such people and, I'm thankful to say, no political coalition with them is now necessary. It no longer matters what they think. Read More



The Most Patriotic Act

The drumbeat now begins, as it always does in time of war: We must accept limitations on our liberties. The FBI and CIA should be “unleashed” in the name of national se… Read More


Minutes after the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center, my friend watched in horror as a man shot at two women in head scarves near Canal Street in downtown Manhatt...

Books & the Arts

Toward a Global New Deal

At the close of every great and violent social conflict comes due a bill of rights. Following the barbarism of World War II, the United Nations' 1948 Universal Declaration of H...

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