9-11. Chomsky, Noam. Edited by Greg Ruggiero. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2001. 128 Pp.
US $8.95. ISBN 1-58322-489-0 (paperback).
It is a telling commentary on the political and intellectual culture of the world’s most powerful state that though Noam Chomsky’s booklet 9-11 is a bestseller, mainstream papers in the United States have so far not seriously reviewed this important analysis of the events of September 11, 2001 and its aftermath. The reason for this neglect is that any mention of Western state terrorism is unacceptable in “polite” company. Chomsky’s book offers a thorough, rigorous and detailed analysis of the causes and the effects of the events of September 11th attacks.
The atrocities of September 11th, in which thousands of innocent civilians died, were serious and unparalleled heinous acts of terrorist attacks in the United States. There is no dispute that those responsible for perpetrating this outrageous violence should be brought to justice and punished according to US and international laws. The US authorities quickly launched a war on Afghanistan citing capturing or killing Bin Laden and routing al-Qaida terrorists as its goal, but later insisting that the overthrow of the Taliban regime was its objective.
This war against Afghanistan has led to the deaths of at least 3,000 civilians according to Professor Mark Herold’s comprehensive study of available media reports. It also led to countless injuries, immense hardships, diseases, and dislocations of Afghans. Thus, grave sufferings were inflicted on one of the poorest people in the world. The US military actions put a large number of people on the brink of malnutrition and risk of starvation. It is doubtful that there will be a complete accounting of the deaths and the sufferings of the Afghans and other wretched masses because it is of little consequences to the rich and the powerful.
The US authorities deliberately ignored international norms. Even though the US could have readily obtain UN endorsement, it ignored UN charter and did not consult the UN Security Council. The Taliban regime was no match for the US. The Taliban regime quickly fell to US-supported Northern Alliance whose record of atrocities and human rights violation was comparable in type, if not in scale, to that of the previous regime. But much of Taliban’s leadership and that of al-Qaida, including those suspected to be the ring-leaders of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, seems to have escaped and survived intact. There is no reason to believe that US actions have reduced the future possibility of terrorism either globally or against civilians in the West.
Given the large number of deaths and the immense hardships that the war on Afghanistan caused on the Afghans, some logical questions to ask, but never done so in the Western press, are: Could this course of action been avoided? Was this necessary? While one cannot undo history and there will be no definitive answers, the record shows the US rejected the path of negotiations. It ruled out of hand the Taliban’s offer to turn over Bin Laden if sufficient evidence of his complicity were given to them. This was not an unreasonable demand. While Taliban’s offer may well have been a ruse, the fact remains that the US never seriously contemplated the possibility of negotiations. Had the Taliban refused to comply with Washington’s demand for handing over Bin Laden after evidence of his role was made available, there was still further alternatives available, such as concerted actions by the international community coordinated by the UN. The US intelligence agencies and Interpol could have undertaken prolonged investigations and painstaking searches for the culprits. The objective could have been the compilation of evidence to prove the case against the terrorists in independent national or international courts. At the international level and among world public opinion, there was no objection whatsoever to police (and military) actions against suspected terrorists responsible for the atrocities in attempts to arrest those responsible. The most compelling evidence linking Bin Laden and al-Qaida to the atrocities of September 11th, such as the video tapes in which Bin Laden and his associates boasts of the damages caused, express their admiration for such crimes, and speak of their support of the men responsible for who flew planes and so on, either surfaced or were all obtained after the bombing of Afghanistan began. While it is possible that the authorities had other additional evidence, these are yet to be made public.
This booklet is based on a collection interviews conducted with Noam Chomsky following the atrocities of September 11th. The author and the editor made some edits, revisions, and additions incorporating the latest news and cutting repetitions of the same points. Chomsky begins by saying that the attacks of September 11th were something new in world affairs because this was the first time that the national territory of the US was under attack. But in terms of terrorist attacks and assaults on civilians resulting in large numbers of deaths, massive destructions and sufferings, there are far too many examples, such as Western annihilation of Native Americans, US conquests of Mexico, Hawaii, Philippines, and invasion of Vietnam; and European colonization of South Asia (Indian subcontinent), Congo, Algeria, and Ethiopia, and so on.
According to Chomsky the official doctrine and practice of what is euphemistically called “low intensity warfare” is actually a form of terrorism as understood in US laws. While there is some truth to the dictum that terrorism is often the weapon of the weak, terrorism actually is a frequently used tool of the powerful. The US has often supported a variety of terrorist criminal wars. It was responsible for the unlawful use of force against Nicaragua and backed for terrorists contras. It gave critical supply of arms for Turkey’s brutal suppression of Kurds and attacks on about 3,500 villages and towns. It gives substantial aid to Israel’s illegitimate occupation of Palestinian territories. Chomsky points out that the US, UK, Egypt, France, and Pakistan organized, financed, trained, and armed Islamic fundamentalists. (He goes on to provide a good analysis of the evolution and the structure of the al-Qaida.) The Western countries consistently supported Saddam Hussein without any hesitation when he was committing atrocities against Kurds and other Iraqis. They also supplied Indonesia’s military with weapons when East Timor was invaded and occupied. The post-September 11th alliance between USA, Russia, China, Indonesia, Algeria, Egypt has enabled these countries to carry out their own terrorist atrocities. Cuba has also been subject to United States’ direct and proxy terror for many years. So far the US has no extradited Emmanuel Constant, a brutal paramilitary leader tried in absentia for carrying out massacres in Haiti. John Negroponte, who is now United States’ representative at the UN, served as the “proconsul” to Honduras while it carried out atrocities. The terrorist attack of September 11th was a major setback for Palestinians. The Israeli authorities used the rhetoric of combating terrorism to crush Palestinian resistance, kill Palestinian civilians, imprison activists, and destroy infrastructure and ruin whatever semblance of an independent state that the incompetent Palestinian Nationality Authority was able to put.
The bombing of al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan was a perfect example of the arrogance of the Western power. It is known that there was no credible evidence linking al-Shifa to terrorism. It is known that this substantially affect Sudan’s to provide critical medical drugs. Although reports of the lack of ties of al-Shifa to terrorism and the potential consequences of the bombing of this factory to the Sudanese population were available in the mainstream press, the international community (which effectively means the Western countries) have neither investigated this crime nor labeled those responsible for this as terrorists, let alone calling for their punishment. No US official has bothered to apologize for the destruction of this factory. Because the indirect victims of the destruction of al-Shifa are from developing an African country, little will be heard about them.
Chomsky rejects the conceited misconception articulated by various establishment intellectuals, such as Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis, that there is a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam. The notion that the quest for freedom, tolerance, prosperity, democracy, peaceful coexistence is alien to Muslims or Arab has no real basis. Contrary to the claims of “experts” who assert that the US is hated for its freedom, democracy, and wealth or that Arabs and Muslims are against fast food chains or blue jeans, he sticks to the facts: The resentment of the US in the Muslim and the Arab countries, even among the Westernized elites, stems from its policy of harsh sanctions against Iraq and support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian West Bank and Gaza. The US supported Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in which about 17,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Chomsky also reminds the readers of US sponsorship of terrorist bombing in Beruit in 1985. The Washington Post revealed in a report published three years later that due to this bombing 80 people were killed and 250 people injured. The Western countries are quite eager to support fundamentalist Islamic regime, such as that of Saudi Arabia, as long as they can secure cooperation from the Arab ruling elites in the exploitation of Middle Eastern oil. The Western countries did not hesitate to give crucial support to the Latin American elite to crush the Catholic Church when some of its priests sided with the poor and the oppressed.
As Chomsky emphatically says, “Nothing can justify crimes such as those of September 11th.” Meanwhile it has become fashionable to denounce anyone suggesting that one has to try to fathom the causes of terrorism. If one is serious about reducing or eliminating terrorism then one would have to address its causes. Christopher Hitchens of the Nation denounced what he called the “Chomsky-Zinn-Finkelstein quarter,” as if examining the plausible connections between the rise of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and Western state terrorism is sacrilege. It is completely irrational to believe that an attempt to understand the causes of terrorism is a rationalization of violence. Hitchens has subsequently gone on to praise the US for “bombing a country back out of the Stone Age,” arguably because of marginal improvements of women’s rights in particular and other human rights in Afghanistan. Whether there has indeed been a real and sustainable improvement in human rights, especially women’s rights, in Afghanistan is an empirical question that has to be careful examined, judged and shown, not merely proclaimed. The deaths and the sufferings that the Afghan people had to go through for the reported gains and the great risk of further violence and instability are far too excessive a price to pay for what appears at best to be marginal improvements of social conditions. For those who reject the vulgarity of “bombing a country back out of the Stone Age” and instead seek peace, justice, real change in human rights situation and an end to terrorism and war, Chomsky’s 9-11 will enable one recall the long history of Western state terrorism, understand the context of events of September 11th, and discuss what the alternatives are available to reduce violence in today’s world.
Chomsky correctly observes that for the US media the problem of state censorship is insignificant but there is a real problem of self-censorship and self-induced conformity to the interests of the powerful. The US authorities did, however, apply pressure on Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV because of its exposure of the corruption and the abuse of power of monarchies and dictators in Arab states. He rejects the notion that the activists must abide by the dictums of power and privilege. As he notes in the United States there are many undercurrents of resistance underway to the wars of terrorism. Chomsky presciently observes that terrorist attacks serve as “a gift to the harshest and most repressive elements on all sides, and sure to be exploited . . . to accelerate the agenda of militarization, regimentation, reversal of social democratic programs, transfer of wealth to narrow sectors, and undermining democracy any meaningful form.” He envisions that people in West are unlikely to let this happen without challenge. This booklet will be an essential read not only for those who wish to resist the attempt to curb freedom and democracy but also everyone who wants to learn about the background to the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
A few suggestions can be made to improve the booklet. These interviews can be supplemented by recent ones. A detailed postscript analyzing subsequent developments in the war on Afghanistan may be added. A chronology of events would be helpful. The editor may also want to add an index.
Without reviews in the major newspapers and journals of opinion, books rarely become instant bestsellers in contemporary US. That this booklet is selling well in independent bookstores in the US and abroad is a testimony to the public’s growing interest in alternatives to the official propaganda and the sophistry of party commentators. For the sake of broader public discussion of war and terrorism, it is hoped that the mainstream media will pay critical attention to not just whom Hitchens has mocked as “Chomsky-Zinn-Finkelstein quarter” (in his initial diatribe he missed several prominent critics of the war, such as Edward Herman, Alexander Cockburn and Tariq Ali) but many others who also support peace and justice and refuse to sing hymns of war, terrorism, and violence.
Tanweer Akram is an economist. Views expressed in this review are solely that of the reviewer. The reviewer thanks Dr. Annie Campbell Higgins for her helpful comments. Akram can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org