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Two September 11ths

The past week led to several reflections on the significance of the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. This is as it should be. The memories of the several victims of this dastardly attack demand this. Equally appropriate were columns such as those appearing in this outlet reflecting on the policies adopted by the USA in the aftermath of these attacks and the extent to which they suited a culture of militarization, civil repression and consumerism. Obscured because of the particular connotation this date has taken is the memory of another September 11th which connects with some of the policies decried by many in the aftermath of the New York and Washington attacks- the Chilean coup d’etat led by the late Augusto Pinochet against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973.

Last Monday marked the thirty eight anniversary of this bloody coup which paved the way, and is said to have been deliberately staged to pave the way, for the introduction of the very same neoliberal reforms that, later at a global level, are shown to have benefited from the measures adopted post 9/11/2001.

That attack on the presidential palace in Santiago, Chile,  of Tuesday September 11th 1973 brought an end to one of the longest parliamentary democracies in the region and paved the way for the policies and blueprints developed by the Chicago Boys, Chilean economists , who were sold on Milton Friedman’s and Arnold Harberge’s principles, to start being implemented against the backdrop of a veritable reign of fascist terror. This reign  led to the execution of thousands of  declared or suspected  leftists. Among the victims were intellectuals such as the musician Victor Jara killed by death squads in a sports stadium that is now named after him. The national football stadium (not the one where Jara was executed), due to host a qualification decider for the 1974 World Cup (soccer), between Chile and the USSR (ironic, given the alleged links between the Allende government and the Soviet union), became a veritable concentration camp where people were interrogated, tortured or threatened to be shot . The USSR refused to turn up for the qualifier affirming its refusal to play on a field associated with events leading to the demise of several victims of the military regime, thus granting Chile an automatic qualification to the W. Germany world cup. Thousands were killed, tortured or simply ‘disappeared’ in the first months of the regime.  Survivors such as UK citizen, medical doctor,  Sheila Cassidy spoke of the horrors of torture carried out by DINA the Chilean secret police. This is a common feature of the Monroe Doctrine meant to protect US ‘security’ and economic interests in the region. The Chile coup was to be followed by other equally terrible coups leading to similar situations of terror such as that in Argentina which led to several arrests, killings and disappearances as well as that in Turkey in 1980 ( a Madres movement still makes its presence felt in Taksim Square, Istanbul). These events constituted the bloody presage for the onset of US driven neoliberal policies in these countries –  policies which are liberal only insofar as market economics are concerned but which sit comfortably with a range of fascist conservative policies that lead to clamp downs on any form of dissidence and critical thinking.

In many respects, the notion of a ‘September 11’ is inextricably linked with the onset of neoliberal policies, ushered in Chile as a form of trial run against the backdrop of a bloody fascist deposition of a democratically elected government, in a country which, until then, boasted the longest parliamentary democratic tradition in the region. It is also inextricably linked with those very same neoliberal policies that  were attacked, on the same date but different year, by Muslim fundamentalists in a manner that shows that the reaction to Neo-liberalism and hegemonic globalization not always stems from progressive leftists (for example the Ejercito Zapatista in Chiapas on 1 January 1994, marking the coming into effect of NAFTA) but also from religious fundamentalists such as Al Qaeda.

Deaths, torture and destruction are a common feature of the post September 11th aftermaths. This is what the Pinochet regime would mainly be remembered for despite any economic growth the country might have registered in terms of its Neoliberal capitalist development. While the deaths of thousands of innocent people will also be remembered with respect to the 2001 twin towers and pentagon attacks, we must remember the other forms of destruction, torture and deaths caused in the aftermath against an innocent people in Iraq.  To date, there have been no proven connections between this country and the movement that gave rise to the attacks inside the USA . Likewise there has been no incontrovertible proof of this country’s alleged possession of WMDs. As with Chile, economic considerations leading to the trading of blood for economic returns seem to be the overriding motive.  The notorious Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and Villa Grimaldi (Santiago) centers stand as stark, chilling reminders of these nefarious policies.

The range of  deaths and destruction becomes even broader when we consider that the war has been waged on both fronts, both the foreign and home fronts, in the sense that the debts incurred as a result of the war in Iraq  have led to cutbacks in essential services for the poor and needy in the US who are left to flounder by the wayside or end up either in body-bags, having no choice but to fight on the foreign front, or else as inmates in the ever booming prison industry.

Recent reflections on September 11 lead us to focus on what is valued in society, who is deemed worthy of living or of being disposed of, what is it that is fundamentally unsavory about western imperialist politics and what is it that breeds so much resentment against western imperialist powers in many parts of the world to lead to such a barbarous and callous attack on ordinary civilians as happened on that particular day in 2001. But it should lead us to reflect on the earlier September 11 and what it represents in terms of the way western economic interests are safeguarded at the expense of so many innocent lives as was the case in Chile, with the creation of the right (if you can excuse the pun) conditions (toppling an elected government which had been nationalizing services), and the rest of what we call the ‘majority world’ including Africa, Asia and Latin America – the tri-continental world.

These infamous September 11ths and their immediate aftermaths lead us to reflect on how critical thinking, dissent and the construction of plausible democratic alternatives, that certainly figured in the dreams and narratives of the many persons, young and old (including high school children in Argentina), who disappeared and lost their lives in Chile and Argentina, not to mention East Timor and Turkey later, become the first casualties in these situations –  when economic interests, at the expense of human rights,  occupy centre stage in the foreign policies of western nations.  This makes a mockery of the exaltation of these very same democratic virtues in these nations’ discourses regarding the basis of a democratic education.

PETER MAYO is Professor in sociology of education and adult education as well as Head, Department of Education Studies, University of Malta. His books include Gramsci, Freire and Adult Education (Zed Books, 1999), subsequently republished in five languages, Liberating Praxis (Praeger, 2004; Sense, 2008) which won a 2005 Critics Choice Award, American Educational Studies Association, Learning and Social Difference (with Carmel Borg, Paradigm, 2006) and Public Intellectuals, Radical Democracy and Social Movements. A Book of Interviews (with Carmel Borg, Peter Lang 2007). He is about ot publish (with Leona English)  Learning with Adults. A Critical pedagogical Introduction to Adult Education (in press, Sense, 2011). He is co-series editor of (with Antonia Darder and Anne Hudson) of the Palgrave-Macmillan book series, ‘Postcolonial Studies in Education’ and series editor of Sense book series ‘International Issues in Adult Education’.

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