The Tribune - Spectrum

, March 10, 2002

A tell-tale mirror for America to look into, uncomfortably
Rajesh Kathpalia

by Noam Chomsky. An Open Media Book, Indian edition by Natraj Publishers, Dehra Dun. Pages 125, Rs 250

"This is not the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming days. It is also about American missiles smashing into Palestinian homes and US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and American shells crashing into a village called Qana and about a Lebanese militia paid and uniformed by America's Israeli ally hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps".

—Robert Fisk

(a distinguished British reporter and an authority on the region)

THAT truth has many sides and we generally interpret it from our own side is a truism. People who were caught in the unfortunate happenings of 9-11 (September 11) directly or indirectly have their own side of the story. The perpetrators of the crime and their silent or not-so-silent supporters have a different tale to tell. There are many in-between versions also. Partial truths, all? Yet, the truth, the objective truth, has the habit of gate crashing its way into our lives.

For the first time, Chomsky says, since the war of 1812, US national territory has come under attack. Even Pearl Harbor analogy is wrong, as it was not national territory. In 1941, only military bases in two US colonies were attacked.

During the past several hundred years, the USA annihilated the indigenous population numbering millions, conquered half of Mexico, intervened violently in surrounding regions, rummaged through Hawaii and the Philippines and extended the use of force throughout much of the world particularly during past half century. The destruction it let loose has been immense. And now, for the first time the guns have been directed the other way.


There are obviously very superficial ways of looking at the events also. Cultural/civilisational fault lines or religious fundamentalism versus secular polity apart from war of democracy against terror that was mentioned earlier. The West, particularly the USA, has had no problems in living with or even abetting the forces of religious fundamentalism in the past. In the Islamic world, the most extreme fundamentalist state (apart from now- defunct Taliban, which the US indirectly helped create) is Saudi Arabia, which is a US client state since its origin.

"Radical Islamist extremists, were US favourites in the 1980s, because they were the best killers who could be found". And in those years, a prime enemy of the USA was Catholic Church, which was on the wrong side of US because of its 'preferential option for the poor'. The criterion was subordination and service to power and not religion. So much for the fight against religions fundamentalism or the cultural clash.

The USA is billing it as a 'war against terrorism'. Very well! Everyone condemns terrorism. But what is terrorism? In its propagandistic usage by Western powers, 'terrorism' is used to refer to 'terrorist acts committed by enemies against us or our allies'. So during apartheid times, African National Congress was a 'terrorist organisation' but South Africa was not a 'terrorist state'!

A small country, Nicaragua, was subjected to violent assault by the USA in the 1980s. The country was substantially destroyed and tens of thousands of people died. Nicaragua didn't respond by setting off bombs in Washington, it couldn't.

They went to the world court, which ruled in their favour. Chomsky reminds us that the US is the only country that was condemned for "unlawful use of force" (international terrorism) by the world court in 1986 and then vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states (meaning the US) to adhere to international law. But there is a huge difference between 'terrorism of others directed against us' and 'terrorism by us'.

The book is based on a set of interviews conducted with Noam Chomsky by a variety of interviewers during September-October after the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Chomsky was much in demand then, providing a much-needed historical-global perspective to the events and daringly highlighting the facts that were being glossed over and even deliberately hidden by powers that be.

The facts Chomsky states (and he states loads of them) about the complicity of Western powers in terrorism the world over both directly and indirectly would be generally known to anybody who cares to know them. Only, these haven't become part of common sense history in western countries because of 'manufactured consents' and 'manufactured common sense'.

Who in this region doesn't know of America's propping up of Afghan mercenary resistance against Russia? The USA, along with its allies, assembled a huge mercenary army, may be one lakh strong and recruited people like bin Laden to fight the Soviet Union, which they caused in the first place to come to the aid of Afghanistan government. President Carter's National Security Advisor Zbiegniew Brzezinski claims that in mid 1979 he had instigated secret support for Mujahidin fighting against the government of Afghanistan in an effort to draw the Soviet Union into what he called an "Afghan Trap". He is very proud that they did fall into this trap.

Their mission accomplished in 1989 with the pullout of Soviet troops, the mercenaries turned their attention elsewhere—Chechnya, Bosnia and Kashmir. They also gunned for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the US, which bin Laden regarded as having invaded Saudi Arabia.

But these uncomfortable facts and facts like these are sought to be suppressed. Do you hear any more of destruction of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan (by American missiles) in 1998. It produced 90 per cent of Sudan's major pharmaceutical products including life-saving drugs? Chomsky compares the consequences of its destruction with recent bombings (and receives brickbats and hate mail for this) through he says, former involved mainly silent deaths, but deaths nonetheless….

What was the reaction of the Western powers, to the destruction of the plant? "Oh, well too bad, minor mistake, let's go to the next topic." No doubt, when bin Laden brings up that bombing, 'he strikes a resonant chord, even among these who despise and fear him'.

People like bin Laden and their associates have over the years caused great harm to the poor and oppressed people of the region. Terrorist groups don't care about the people but they draw support from a reservoir of anger, fear and desperation in the people. Probably, that is why terrorists pray for violent US reaction against the events which may have its own chain reaction.

The bombings are a gift to the hard jingoist right. They are a gift to the harshest and most repressive elements on all sides. They are already being used for accelerating the agenda of militarisation, regimentation and reversal of social democratic programs and for transfer of wealth to narrow sectors.

If only people, particularly in Western countries, choose to be aware of the underlying facts and deeper causes of the happenings like 9-11, they will have much greater leverage and restraining effects on the course of events. The event of 9-11 should implore American people to change not the way they look at Afghanistan or Islam but the way they look at themselves!