Independent Media Center
9-11: Noam Chomsky Interviews (english) Saturday 22 Sep 2001 author: Noam Chomsky
summary: Composite interview with Noam Chomsky compiled from various phone and other interviews, including with the
Greek, Spanish and French Press, concerning the events of September 11, 2001.
Composite interview with Noam Chomsky compiled from various phone and other interviews, including with the Greek,
Spanish and French Press, concerning the events of September 11, 2001.
By Noam Chomsky
1) The fall of the Berlin Wall didn't claim any victims, but it did profoundly change the geo-political scene. Do you
think that last week's attacks could have a similar effect?
The fall of the Berlin Wall was an event of great importance, and did change the geopolitical scene, but not in the ways
usually assumed, in my opinion. I've tried to explain my reasons elsewhere, and won't go into it now.
The events of September 11 are something quite new in world affairs, not in their scale and character, but in the
target. For the US, this is the first time since the War of 1812 that the national territory has been under attack, even
threat. Many commentators have brought up a Pearl Harbor analogy, but that is quite misleading. On Dec. 7 1941, military
bases in two COLONIES were attacked. Not the national territory, which was never threatened. During these years the US
annihilated the indigenous population (millions of people), conquered half of Mexico, intervened violently in the
surrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past
half century particularly, extended its resort to force throughout much of the world. The number of victims is colossal.
For the first time, the guns have been directed the other way. That is a dramatic change.
The same is true, even more dramatically, of Europe. Europe has suffered murderous destruction, but from internal wars.
Meanwhile European powers conquered much of the world with extreme brutality. With the rarest of exceptions, they were
not under attack by their victims outside. England was not attacked by India, or Belgium by the Congo, or Italy by
Ethiopia . It is not surprising, therefore, that Europe should be utterly shocked by the terrorist crimes of Sept. 11.
Again, not because of the scale, regrettably.
Exactly what this portends, no one can guess. But that it is something strikingly new is quite clear.
2) My impression is that these attacks won't offer us new political scenery, but that they rather confirm the existence
of a problem inside the "Empire". The problem concerns political authority and power. What do you think?
The likely perpetrators are a category of their own, but uncontroversially, they draw support from a reservoir of
bitterness and anger over US policies in the region, extending those of earlier European masters. There certainly is an
issue of "political authority and power." In the wake of the attacks, the _Wall Street Journal_ surveyed opinions of
"moneyed Muslims" in the region: bankers, professionals, businessmen with ties to the US. They expressed dismay and
anger about US support for harsh authoritarian states and the barriers that Washington places against independent
development and political democracy by its policies of "propping up oppressive regimes." Their primary concern, however,
was different: Washington's policies towards Iraq and towards Israel's military occupation. Among the great mass of poor
and suffering people, similar sentiments are much more bitter, and they are also hardly pleased to see the wealth of the
region flow to the West and to small Western-oriented elites and corrupt and brutal rulers backed by Western power. So
there definitely are problems of authority and power. The immediate US reaction is to deal with these problems by
intensifying them. That is, of course, not inevitable. A good deal depends on the outcome of such considerations.
3) Is America having trouble governing the process of globalization - and I don't mean just in terms of national
security or intelligence systems?
The US doesn't govern the corporate globalization project, though it of course has a primary role. These programs have
been arousing enormous opposition, primarily in the South, where mass protests could be suppressed or ignored. In the
past few years, the protests reached the rich countries as well, and hence became the focus of great concern to the
powerful, who now feel themselves on the defensive, not without reason. There are very substantial reasons for the
worldwide opposition to the particular form of investor-rights "globalization" that is being imposed, but this is not
the place to go into that.
4) "Intelligent Bombs" in Iraq, "humanitarian intervention" in Kosovo. The USA never used the word "war" to describe
that. Now they talking about war against a nameless enemy. Why?
At first the US used the word "crusade," but it was quickly pointed out that if they hope to enlist their allies in the
Islamic world, that is a serious mistake, for obvious reasons. The rhetoric therefore shifted to "war." The Gulf war of
1991 was called a war. The bombing of Serbia was called a "humanitarian intervention," by no means a novel usage. That
was a standard description of European imperialist ventures in the 19th century. To cite some more recent examples, the
major recent scholarly work on "humanitarian intervention" cites three examples of "humanitarian intervention" in the
immediate pre-World War II period: Japan's invasion of Manchuria, Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, and Hitler's
takeover of the Sudetenland. The author of course is not suggesting that the term is apt; rather, that the crimes were
masked as "humanitarian." But the pretext of "humanitarian intervention" cannot be used in the normal way in the present
case. So we are left with "war."
To call it a "war against terrorism," however, is simply more propaganda, unless the "war" really does target terrorism.
But that is plainly not contemplated. Perhaps I may quote political scientist Michael Stohl: "We must recognize that by
convention -- and it must be emphasized _only_ by convention -- great power use and the threat of the use of force is
normally described as coercive diplomacy and not as a form of terrorism," though it commonly involves "the threat and
often the use of violence for what would be described as terroristic purposes were it not great powers who were pursuing
the very same tactic," in accord with the literal meaning of the term. Under the (admittedly, unimaginable)
circumstances that Western intellectual culture were willing to adopt the literal meaning, the war against terrorism
would take quite a different form, along lines spelled out in extensive detail in literature that does not enter the
5) Nato is keeping quiet until they find out whether the attack was internal or external. How do you interpret this?
I do not think that that is the reason for Nato's hesitation. There is no serious doubt that the attack was "external."
I think the reasons are those that European leaders are giving. They recognize, as does everyone with close knowledge of
the region, that a massive assault on a Muslim population would be the answer to the prayers of Bin Laden and his
associates, and would lead the US and its allies into a "diabolical trap," as the French foreign minister put it.
6) Could you say something about connivance and the role of American secret service?
I don't quite understand the question. This attack was surely an enormous shock and surprise to the intelligence
services of the West, including those of the US. The CIA did have a role, a major one in fact, but that was in the
1980s, when it joined Pakistani intelligence and others (Saudi Arabia, Britain, etc.) in recruiting, training, and
arming the most extreme Islamic fundamentalists it could find to fight a "holy war" against the Russian invaders of
Afghanistan. After that war was over, the "Afghanis" (many not Afghans, like Bin Laden) turned their attention
elsewhere: to Chechnya and Bosnia for example, where they may have received at least tacit US support. And to their
prime enemy, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, which Bin Laden regards as having invaded Saudi Arabia much as Russia
invaded Afghanistan. A long story.
7) What consequences do you foresee for the Seattle movement? Do you think it will be brought up short, or is it
possible that it will gain momentum?
It is certainly a setback for the worldwide protests against corporate globalization, which -- again -- did not begin in
Seattle. Such terrorist atrocities are a gift to the harshest and most repressive elements on all sides, and are sure to
be exploited -- already have been in fact -- to accelerate the agenda of militarization, regimentation, reversal of
social democratic programs, transfer of wealth to narrow sectors, and undermining democracy in any meaningful form. But
that will not happen without resistance, and I doubt that it will succeed, except in the short term.
8) What are the consequences for the Middle East? in particular for the Israeli-palestinian conflict?
The atrocities of September 11 were a devastating blow for the Palestinians, as they instantly recognized. Israel is
openly exulting in the "window of opportunity" it now has to crush Palestinians with impunity. In the first few days
after the Tuesday attack, Israeli tanks entered Palestinian cities (Jenin, Jericho for the first time), several dozen
Palestinians were killed, and Israel's iron grip on the population tightened, exactly as would be expected. Again, these
are the common dynamics of a cycle of escalating violence, familiar throughout the world: Northern Ireland,
Israel-Palestine, the Balkans, and elsewhere.
9) How do you judge the reaction of Americans? From over here they seemed pretty cool-headed, but Saskia Sassen said in
an interviw "We already feel as though we are at war".
The immediate reaction was shock, horror, anger, fear, a desire for revenge. But public opinion is mixed, and
countercurrents did not take long to develop. They are now even being recognized in mainstream commentary. Today's
newspapers, for example.
10) In an interview you gave to "La Jornada", you said that we are faced with a new type of war. What exactly did you
It is a new type of war for the reasons mentioned in response to question (1): the guns are directed in a different
direction, something quite new in the history of Europe and its offshoots.
11) Are Arabs, now defined as necessarily fundamentalist, the west's new enemy?
Certainly not. First of all, no one with even a shred of rationality defines Arabs as "fundamentalist." Secondly, the US
and the West generally have no objection to religious fundamentalism as such. The US, in fact, is one of the most
extreme religious fundamentalist cultures in the world; not the state, but the popular culture. In the Islamic world,
the most extreme fundamentalist state, apart from the Taliban, is Saudi Arabia, a US client state since its origins. As
we know, Islamic fundamentalist extremists were US favorites in the 1980s, because they were the best killers who could
be found. In those years, a prime enemy of the US was the Catholic Church, which had sinned grievously in Latin America
by adopting "the preferential option for the poor," and suffered bitterly for that crime. The West is quite ecumenical
in its choice of enemies. The criteria are subordination and service to power, not religion.
12) Is the nation's so-called war on terrorism winnable? If yes, how? If no, then what should the Bush administration do
to prevent attacks like the ones that struck New York and Washington?
I will not elaborate here, but if we want to consider this question seriously, we should recognize that in much of the
world the US is regarded as a leading terrorist state, and with good reason. We might bear in mind, for example, that
the US was condemned by the World Court for "unlawful use of force" (international terrorism) and then vetoed a Security
Council resolution calling on all states (meaning the US) to adhere to international law. Only one of countless
But to keep to the narrow question -- the terrorism of others directed against us -- we know quite well how the problem
should be addressed, if we want to reduce the threat rather than escalate it. When IRA bombs were set off in London,
there was no call to bomb the US, the source of most of the financial support for the IRA. Rather, efforts were made to
deal with what lay behind the resort to terror. When a federal building was blown up in Oklahoma City, there were calls
for bombing the Middle East, and it probably would have happened if the source turned out to be there. When it was found
to be a militia-based bombing, there was no call to obliterate Montana and Idaho. Rather, there was a search for the
perpetrator, who was found, brought to court and sentenced, and there were efforts to understand the grievances that lie
behind such crimes and to address the problems. Just about every crime -- whether a robbery in the streets or colossal
atrocities -- has reasons, and commonly we find that some of them are serious and should be addressed.
That is the course one follows if the intention is to reduce the probability of further atrocities. There is another
course: react with extreme violence, and expect to escalate the cycle of violence, leading to still further atrocities
such as the one that is inciting the call for revenge. The dynamic is very familiar.
13) What aspect or aspects of the story have been under-reported by the mainstream press, and why is it important that
they be paid more attention?
There are several fundamental questions:
First, what courses of action are open to us, and what are their likely consequences. There has been virtually no
discussion of the option of adhering to the rule of law, as others do, for example Nicaragua, when it responded to the
US terrorist assault by going to the World Court and the UN Security Council (failing, of course, but no one will bar
such moves by the US); or as England did in the case of the IRA, or as the US did when it was found that the Oklahoma
City bombing was domestic in origin. And innumerable other cases. Rather, there has been a fairly solid drumbeat of
calls for violent reaction, with only scarce mention of the fact that this will not only visit a terrible cost on wholly
innocent victims, many of them Afghan victims of the Taliban, but also that it will answer the most fervent prayers of
bin Laden and his network, as the US falls into the "diabolical trap" they are laying, as the French Foreign Minister
warned a few days ago, and as every knowledgeable observer has been trying to make clear.
The second question is: "why?" The veteran British correspondent Robert Fisk, one of the most respected experts on the
region, has had innumerable interviews, and he observes that almost no one is asking him that question. To refuse to
face this question is choose to increase significantly the probability of further crimes of this kind. There have been
some exceptions. The Wall Street Journal, to its credit, has reviewed the opinions of "moneyed Muslims": bankers,
professionals, businessmen, people who are pro-American but severely critical of US policies in the region, for reasons
that are familiar to anyone who has paid any attention. The feelings in the streets are similar, though far more bitter
The bin Laden network itself falls into a different category, and in fact its actions for 20 years have caused great
harm to the poor and oppressed people of the region, who are not the concern of the terrorist networks. But they do draw
from a reservoir of anger, fear, and desperation, which is why they are praying for a violent US reaction, which will
mobilize others to their horrendous cause.
Such topics as these should occupy the front pages -- at least, if we hope to reduce the cycle of violence rather than
to escalate it.
14) How do you see the media coverage of this event? Is there a parallel to the Gulf War in "manufacturing consent?"
Media coverage is not quite as uniform as Europeans seem to believe, perhaps because they are keeping to the NYT, NPR,
TV, and so on. Even the NYT conceded, this morning, that attitudes in New York are quite unlike those they have been
conveying. It's a good story, also hinting at the fact that the mainstream media have not been reporting this, which is
not entirely true, though it has been true, pretty much, of the NYT. But it is entirely typical for the major media, and
the intellectual classes generally, to line up in support of power at a time of crisis and to try to mobilize the
population for the same cause. That was true, with almost hysterical intensity, at the time of the bombing of Serbia.
The Gulf war was not at all unusual. To take an example that is remote enough so that we should be able to look at it
dispassionately, how did the intellectuals of Europe and North America react to World War I -- across the political
spectrum? Exceptions are so few that we can virtually list them, and most of the most prominent ended up in jail: Rosa
Luxemburg, Bertrand Russell, Eugene Debs,...
15) Assuming that the terrorists chose the World Trade Center as a symbolic target, how does globalization and cultural
hegemony help create hatred towards America.
This is an extremely convenient belief for Western intellectuals. It absolves them of responsibility for the actions
that actually do lie behind the choice of the WTC. Was it bombed in 1993 because of concern over globalization and
cultural hegemony? A few days ago the Wall Street Journal reported attitudes of rich and privileged Egyptians at a
McDonald's restaurant wearing stylish American clothes, etc., and bitterly critical of the US for objective reasons of
policy, which are well-known to those who wish to know: they had a report a few days earlier on attitudes of bankers,
professionals, businessmen in the region, all pro-American, and harshly critical of US policies. Is that concern over
"globalization", McDonald's, and jeans? Attitudes in the street are similar, but far more intense, and have nothing at
all to do with these fashionable excuses.
As for the bin Laden network, they have as little concern for globalization and cultural hegemony as they do for the
poor and oppressed people of the Middle East who they have been severely harming for years. They tell us what their
concerns are loud and clear: they are fighting a Holy War against the corrupt, repressive, and "un-Islamist" regimes of
the region, and their supporters, just as they fought a Holy War against the Russians in the 1980s (and are now doing in
Chechnya, Western China, Egypt (in this case since 1981, when they assassinated Sadat), and elsewhere. Bin Laden himself
probably never even heard of "globalization." Those who have interviewed him in depth, like Robert Fisk, report that he
knows virtually nothing of the world, and doesn't care to. We can choose to ignore all the facts and indulge in
self-indulgent fantasies if we like, but at considerable risk to ourselves, among others. Among other things, we can
also ignore, if we choose, the roots of the "Afghanis" such as bin Laden and his associates, also not a secret.
16) Are the American people educated to see this? Is there an awareness of cause and effect?
Unfortunately not, just as the European people are not. What is crucially important for privileged elements in the
Middle East region (and even more so, on the streets) is scarcely understood here, particularly the most striking
example: the contrasting US policies towards Iraq and Israel's military occupation. About the latter, the most important
facts are scarcely even reported, and are almost universally unknown, to elite intellectuals in particular. Very easy to
give examples. Can easily refer you to material in print for many years, if you like, including right now.
17) How do you see the reaction of the American Government? Who's will are they representing?
The US government, like others, primarily responds to centers of concentrated domestic power. That should be a truism.
Of course, there are other influences, including popular currents -- that is true of all societies, even brutal
totalitarian systems, surely more democratic ones. Insofar as we have information, the US government is now trying to
exploit the opportunity to ram through its own agenda: militarization, including "missile defense," a code word for
militarization of space; undermining social democratic programs and concerns over the harsh effects of corporate
"globalization," or environmental issues, or health insurance, and so on; instituting measures that will intensify the
transfer of wealth to very narrow sectors (e.g., eliminating the capital gains tax); regimenting the society so as to
eliminate discussion and protest. All normal, and entirely natural. As for a response, they are, I presume, listening to
the foreign leaders, specialists on the Middle East, and I suppose their own intelligence agencies, who are warning them
that a massive military response will answer bin Laden's prayers. But there are hawkish elements who want to use the
occasion to strike out at their enemies, with extreme violence, no matter how many innocent people suffer, including
people here and in Europe who will be victims of the escalating cycle of violence. All again in a very familiar dynamic.
There are plenty of bin Ladens on both sides, as usual.
18) Economic globalization has spread the western model all over, and the USA in primis have supported it, sometimes
with questionable means, often humiliating local cultures. Are we facing the consequences of the last decades of
american strategic policy? Is America an innocent victim?
This thesis is commonly in advanced. I don't agree. One reason is that the western model -- notably, the US model -- is
based on vast state intervention into the economy. The "neoliberal rules" are like those of earlier eras. They are
double-edged: market discipline is good for you, but not for me, except for temporary advantage, when I am in a good
position to win the competition.
Secondly, what happened on Sept. 11 has virtually nothing to do with economic globalization, in my opinion. The reasons
lie elsewhere. Nothing can justify crimes such as those of Sept. 11, but we can think of the US as an "innocent victim"
only if we adopt the convenient path of ignoring the actions of the US and its allies, which are, after all, hardly a
19) Everybody agrees that nothing will be the same after 11th september, form daily life with a restriction of rights up
to global strategy with new alliances and enemies. What is your opinion about this?
The horrendous terrorist attacks on Tuesday are something quite new in world affairs, not in their scale and character,
but in the target. For the US, this is the first time since the War of 1812 that its national territory has been under
attack, even threat. Its colonies have been attacked, but not the national territory itself. During these years the US
virtually exterminated the indigenous population, conquered half of Mexico, intervened violently in the surrounding
region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half century
particularly, extended its resort to force throughout much of the world. The number of victims is colossal. For the
first time, the guns have been directed the other way. The same is true, even more dramatically, of Europe. Europe has
suffered murderous destruction, but from internal wars, meanwhile conquering much of the world with extreme brutality.
But India did not attack England, or the Congo Belgium, or the East Indies the Netherlands. One can think of marginal
exceptions, but this is truly novel in several centuries of history -- not in scale, regrettably, but in the choice of
I do not think it will lead to a long-term restriction of rights internally in any serious sense. The cultural and
institutional barriers to that are too firmly rooted, I believe. If the US chooses to respond by escalating the cycle of
violence, answering the prayers of bin Laden and his associates, then the consequences could be awesome. There are, of
course, other ways, lawful and constructive ones. And there are ample precedents for them. An aroused public within the
more free and democratic societies can direct policies towards a much more humane and honorable course.
20) World-wide intelligence services and the international systems of control (Echelon, for example) could not forsee
what was going to happen, even if the international islamic terrorism network was not unknown. How is it possible that
the Big Brother s eyes were shut? Do we have to fear, now a Bigger Big Brother?
I frankly have never been overly impressed with concerns widely voiced in Europe over Echelon as a system of control. As
for world-wide intelligence systems, their failures over the years have been colossal, a matter I and others have
written about, and that I cannot pursue here. That is true even when the targets of concern are far easier to deal with
than the bin Laden network, presumed to be responsible for the Sept. 11 crimes. Surely one would expect the network to
be reasonably well understood by the CIA, French intelligence, and others who participated in establishing it and
nurtured it as long as it was useful to them for a Holy War against the Russian enemy, but even then they did not
understand it well enough to prevent such events as the assassination of President Sadat in 1981, the suicide bombing
that effectively drove the US military out of Lebanon in 1983, and many other examples of what is called "blowback" in
the literature on these topics.
By now the network is no doubt so decentralized, so lacking in hierarchical structure, and so dispersed throughout much
of the world as to have become largely impenetrable. The intelligence services will no doubt be given resources to try
harder. But a serious effort to reduce the threat of this kind of terrorism, as in innumerable other cases, requires an
effort to understand and to address the causes.
When a Federal Building was blown up in Oklahoma City, there were immediate cries to bomb the Middle East. These
terminated when it was discovered that the perpetrator was from the US ultra-right militia movement. The reaction was
not to destroy Montana and Idaho, where the movements are based, but to seek and capture the perpetrator, bring him to
trial, and -- crucially -- explore the grievances that lie behind such crimes and to address the problems. Just about
every crime -- whether a robbery in the streets or colossal atrocities -- has reasons, and commonly we find that some of
them are serious and should be addressed. Matters are no different in this case -- at least, for those who are concerned
to reduce the threat of terrorist violence rather than to escalate it.
21) Bin Laden, the devil: is this an enemy or rather a brand, a sort of logo which identifies and personalizes the evil?
Bin Laden may or may not be directly implicated in these acts, but it is likely that the network in which he was a prime
figure is -- that is, the network established by the US and its allies for their own purposes and supported as long as
it served those purposes. It is much easier to personalize the enemy, identified as the symbol of ultimate evil, than to
seek to understand what lies behind major atrocities. And there are, naturally, very strong temptations to ignore one's
own role -- which in this case, is not difficult to unearth, and indeed is familiar to everyone who has any familiarity
with the region and its recent history.
22) Doesn't this war risk to become a new Vietnam? That trauma is still alive.
That is an analogy that is often raised. It reveals, in my opinion, the profound impact of several hundred years of
imperial violence on the intellectual and moral culture of the West. The war in Vietnam began as a US attack against
South Vietnam, which was always the main target of the US wars, which ended by devastating much of Indochina. Unless we
are willing to face that elementary fact, we cannot talk seriously about the Vietnam wars. It is true that the war
proved costly to the US, though the impact on Indochina was incomparably more awful. The invasion of Afghanistan also
proved costly to the USSR, but that is not the problem that comes to the fore when we consider that crime.
23) Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that bin Laden was behind the events. If so, what reason might he have
had? It certainly can't help poor and disempowered people anywhere, much less Palestinians, so what is his aim, if he
planned the action?
One has to be cautious about this. According to Robert Fisk, who has interviewed him repeatedly and at length, bin Laden
shares the anger felt throughout the region at US support for atrocities against Palestinians, side by side with US
devastation of Iraqi civilian society. That ranges from rich to poor, across the political and other spectrums, and it
would be surprising if he didn't share the feelings.
Many who know the conditions well are also dubious about bin Laden's capacity to plan that incredibly sophisticated
operation from a cave somewhere in Afghanistan. But that his network was involved is highly plausible, and that he is an
inspiration for them, also. These are decentralized, non-hierarchic structures, probably with quite limited
communication links among them. It's entirely possible that bin Laden's telling the truth when he says he didn't know
about the operation, though he is outspoken in approving of it.
All that aside, bin Laden has been quite clear about what he wants, not only to any Westerners who want to interview
him, like Fisk, but more importantly to an Arab audience: on cassettes in Arabic that are circulating everywhere, and
that are much like what he tells Westerners, according to those who have heard them. Adopting his framework for the sake
of discussion, the prime target is Saudi Arabia and other corrupt and repressive regimes of the region, none of them
truly "Islamic." And he and his network are intent on supporting Muslims defending themselves against "infidels"
wherever it may be: Chechnya, Bosnia, Kashmir, Western China, Southeast Asia, North Africa, maybe elsewhere. They fought
and won a holy war to drive the Russians (Europeans, in their view) out of Muslim Afghanistan, and they are even more
intent on driving the Americans out of Saudi Arabia, a far more important country to them, as the site of the holiest
places. His call for the overthrow of corrupt and brutal regimes of gangsters and torturers resonates quite widely, as
does his indignation against the atrocities that he and others attribute to the US, hardly without reason. It's entirely
true that his crimes are extremely harmful to the poorest and most oppressed people of the region. The latest attacks,
for example, were a crushing blow against Palestinians. But what looks like sharp inconsistency from outside may be
perceived rather differently from within. By courageously fighting oppressors, who are quite real, he may appear to be a
hero, however harmful his actions are to the poor majority. And if the US succeeds in killing him, he may become even
more powerful as a martyr whose voice will continue to be heard on the cassettes that are circulating and through other
means. He is, after all, as much of a symbol as an objective force, both for the US and probably much of the population.
There's every reason, I think, to take him at his word. And his crimes can hardly come as a surprise to the CIA.
"Blowback" from the radical Islamic forces organized, armed, and trained by the US-Egypt-France-Pakistan and others
began almost at once, with the 1981 assassination of President Sadat of Egypt, one of the most enthusiastic of the
creators of the forces assembled to fight a Holy War against the Russians. And has been continuing since without let-up.
24) Again, if bin Laden planned these actions, and especially if popular fears of more such actions come are credible,
what is the proper approach to reducing or eliminating the danger? What steps should be taken by the U.S. or others,
domestically or internationally? What would be the results of those steps?
Every case is different, but let's take a few analogies. What was the right way for Britain to deal with IRA bombs in
London? One choice would have been to send the RAF to bomb the source of their finances, places like Boston. Putting
aside feasibility, that would have been criminal idiocy. Another possibility was to consider realistically the
background concerns and grievances, and to try to remedy them, while at the same time following the rule of law to
punish criminals. Makes a lot more sense, one would think. Or take the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City.
There were immediate calls for bombing the Middle East, and it probably would have happened if even a remote hint of a
link had been found. When it was found to be a militia-based bombing, there was no call to obliterate Montana and Idaho.
Rather, there was a search for the perpetrator, who was found, brought to court and sentenced, and to the extent that
the reaction was sensible, there were efforts to understand the grievances that lie behind such crimes and to address
the problems. Just about every crime -- whether a robbery in the streets or colossal atrocities -- has reasons, and
commonly we find that some of them are serious and should be addressed. At least, that is the course we follow if we
have any concern for right and justice, and hope to reduce the likelihood of further atrocities rather than increase it.
The same principles hold quite generally, with due attention to variation of circumstances. Specifically, they hold in
There are hysterical cries that we dare not look at the reasons that lie behind criminal acts carried out by our enemies
(it's fine in other cases) because that amounts to condoning them. Aside from the transparent absurdity, that stance is
profoundly immoral, on the most elementary grounds: it increases the likelihood of serious harm. And like other immoral
acts, we should ask what lies behind this disgraceful stance. The answers often are not pretty.
25) What steps, in contrast, is the U.S. government seeking to undertake? What will be the results, if they succeed in
What has been announced is a virtual declaration of war against all who do not join Washington in its resort to
violence, however it chooses. The nations of the world face a "stark choice": join us in our crusade or "face the
certain prospect of death and destruction" (RW Apple, NYTimes, Sept. 14). Bush's rhetoric of Sept. 20 forcefully
reiterates that stance. Taken literally, it's virtually a declaration of war against much of the world. But I am sure we
should not take it literally. Government planners do not want to undermine their own interests so grievously. What their
actual plans are, we do not know. But I suppose they will take to heart the warnings they are receiving from foreign
leaders, specialists in the region, and presumably their own intelligence agencies that a massive military assault,
which will kill many innocent civilians -- not Taliban, but their victims -- will be the answer to bin Laden's prayers.
Even if he himself is killed -- maybe even more so if he is killed -- a slaughter of innocents will only intensify the
feelings of anger, desperation and frustration that are rampant in the region, and mobilize others to his horrendous
cause. The US will fall into a "diabolical trap" that bin Laden is setting, as the French Foreign minister put it. He
may well have used the words advisedly. He -- or at least his intelligence agencies -- surely know that they were
instrumental in drawing the Russians into an "Afghan trap," as Carter's National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski
proudly informed the French press, congratulating himself on having sprung the trap months before the Russians actually
invaded by arranging for US support for Mujahideen fighting the government. Brzezinski may have been bragging about his
own brilliance in creating the monster that has been spreading death and destruction through much of the Middle East,
Africa, and beyond, including New York City, but there's probably at least some truth to it.
What the Administration will do we don't know; it will depend in part at least on the mood at home, which we can hope to
influence. What the consequences of their actions will be we also cannot say with much confidence, any more than they
can. But there are plausible estimates, and unless the course of reason, law, and treaty obligations is pursued, the
prospects could be quite grim.
26) Many people say that the citizens of Arab nations should have taken responsibility to remove terrorists from the
planet, or governments that support terrorists. How do you react?
It makes sense to call upon citizens to eliminate terrorists instead of electing them to high office, lauding and
rewarding them. But I would not suggest that we should have "removed our elected officials, their advisers, their
intellectual claque, and their clients from the planet," or destroyed our own and other Western governments because of
their terrorist crimes and their support for terrorists worldwide, including many who know fall into the category of
"terrorists" because they disobeyed orders: Saddam Hussein, and many others before him. However, it is rather unfair to
blame citizens of harsh and brutal regimes that we support for not undertaking this responsibility, when we do not do so
under vastly more propitious circumstances.
27) Many people say that all through history when a nation is attacked, it attacks in kind. How do you react?
When countries are attacked they try to defend themselves, if they can. According to the doctrine proposed, Nicaragua,
South Vietnam, and numerous others should have been sending suicide bombers to destroy the US from within, Palestinians
should be applauded for suicide bombings in Tel Aviv, and on, and on. It is because this doctrine had brought Europe to
virtual self-annihilation after hundreds of years of savagery that the nations of the world forged a different compact
after World War II, establishing -- at least formally -- the principle that the resort to force is barred except in the
case of self-defense against armed attack until the Security Council acts to protect international peace and security.
Specifically, retaliation is barred. Since the US is not under armed attack, these considerations are irrelevant -- at
least, if we agree that the fundamental principles of international law should apply to ourselves, not only to those we
International law aside, we have centuries of experience that tell us exactly what this doctrine entails. And in a world
with weapons of mass destruction, what it entails is an imminent termination of the human experiment -- which is, after
all, why Europeans decided half a century ago that the game of mutual slaughter in which they had been indulging for
centuries had better come to an end, or else.
28) Many people evince horrified anger at the expressions of anger at the U.S. emanating from many parts of the world,
including but not confined to the mideast. The images of people celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center leave
people wanting revenge. How do you react to that?
The US-backed army took control in Indonesia in 1965, organizing the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people,
mostly landless peasants, in a massacre that the CIA compared to the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. That led to
uncontrolled euphoria in the West, a display of exuberance that could not be contained, in the national media and
elsewhere. Indonesian peasants had not harmed us in any way. When Nicaragua finally succumbed to the US assault, the
mainstream press lauded the success of the methods adopted to "wreck the economy and prosecute a long and deadly proxy
war until the exhausted natives overthrow the unwanted government themselves," with a cost to us that is "minimal,"
leaving the victim "with wrecked bridges, sabotaged power stations, and ruined farms," and thus providing the U.S.
candidate with "a winning issue": ending the "impoverishment of the people of Nicaragua." We are "united in joy" at this
outcome, as the New York Times proclaimed. It's easy to continue.
Very few people around the world celebrated the crimes in New York; overwhelmingly, they were deplored, even in places
where people had been ground underfoot by Washington's boots for a long, long time. But there were undoubtedly feelings
of anger at the US. However, I am aware of nothing as grotesque as the two examples I just mentioned, or many more like
them in the West. Those who believe that reactions last week call for revenge should be dedicating themselves to a
campaign of mass destruction against their own institutions, and themselves, if the reactions are based on any moral
29) Getting beyond these public reactions, in your view what are the actual motivations operating in U.S. policy at this
moment? What is the purpose of the "war on terror," as proposed by Bush?
The "new war on terror" is neither "new" nor a "war on terror." We should recall that the Reagan administration came to
office 20 years ago proclaiming that "international terrorism" would be a prime focus of our foreign policy, and we must
undertake a war to eliminate this "cancer," this "plague" that was destroying civilization. It acted on that commitment
by organizing campaigns of international terrorism that were extraordinary in scale and destruction, even leading to a
World Court condemnation of the US, while lending their support to innumerable others, for example, in southern Africa,
where Western-backed South African depredations killed a million and a half people and caused $60 billion of damage
during the Reagan years. Hysteria over international terrorism peaked in the mid-80s, while the US and its allies were
well in the lead in spreading the cancer they were demanding must be extirpated. If we choose, we can live in a world of
comforting illusion. Or we can look at recent history, at the institutional structures that remain essentially
unchanged, at the plans that are being announced -- and answer the questions accordingly. I know of no reason to suppose
that there has been a sudden change in long-standing motivations or policy goals, apart from tactical adjustments to
We should also remember than one exalted task of intellectuals is to proclaim every few years that we have "changed
course," the past is behind us and can be forgotten as we march on towards a glorious future. That is a highly
convenient stance, though hardly an admirable or sensible one.
30) Do you believe that most Americans will, as conditions permit more detailed evaluation of options, accept that the
solution to terror attacks on civilians is more terror attacks on civilians, and that that solution to fanaticism is
surveillance and curtailed civil liberties?
I hope not, but we should not underestimate the capacity of well-run propaganda systems to drive people to irrational,
murderous, and suicidal behavior. Take an example that is remote enough so that we should be able to look at it with
some dispassion: World War I. It can't have been that both sides were engaged in a noble war for the highest objectives.
But on both sides, the soldiers marched off to mutual slaughter with enormous exuberance, fortified by the cheers of the
intellectual classes and those who they helped mobilize, across the political spectrum, from left to right, including
the most powerful left political force in the world, in Germany. Exceptions are so few that we can practically list
them, and some of the most prominent among them ended up in jail for questioning the nobility of the enterprise: among
them Rosa Luxemburg, Bertrand Russell, and Eugene Debs. With the help of Wilson's propaganda agencies and the
enthusiastic support of liberal intellectuals, a pacifist country was turned in a few months into raving anti-German
hysterics, ready to take revenge on those who had perpetrated savage crimes, many of them invented by the British
Ministry of Information. But that's by no means inevitable, and we should not underestimate the civilizing effects of
the popular struggles of recent years. We need not stride resolutely towards catastrophe, merely because those are the
31) After the attack in the USA, Colin Powel said that the government will revise the laws for terrorism, including the
law of 1976 that does not enable the american personel to kill or plan the murder of terrorists. European Union is about
to apply a new law on terrorism. Up to which point will this attack constrict our freedom? For instance, does
terrorist's action give the right to any government to put us under surveillance, in order to trace suspects and prevent
A response that is too abstract may be misleading, so let us consider a current and quite typical illustration of what
such plans mean in practice. This morning (Sept. 21), the New York Times ran an opinion piece by a respected
intellectual who is considered a moral leader (MIchael Walzer). He called for an "ideological campaign to engage all the
arguments and excuses for terrorism and reject them"; since as he knows, there are no such arguments and excuses for
terrorism of the kind he has in mind, at least on the part of anyone amenable to reason, this translates as a call to
reject efforts to explore the reasons that lie behind terrorist acts that are directed against states he supports. He
then proceeds, in conventional fashion, to enlist himself among those who provide "arguments and excuses for terrorism,"
tacitly endorsing political assassination, namely, Israeli assassinations of Palestinians who it claims support
terrorism; no evidence is offered or considered necessary, and in many cases even the suspicions appear groundless.
US-supplied attack helicopters have been used for such assassinations for 10 months. Walzer puts the word
"assassination" in quotes, indicating that in his view, the term is part of the "fervid and highly distorted accounts of
the blockade of Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." He is referring to criticism of US-backed Israeli atrocities
in the territories that have been under harsh and brutal military occupation for almost 35 years, and of US policies
that have devastated the civilian society of Iraq (while strengthening Saddam Hussein). Such criticisms are marginal in
the US, but too much for him, apparently. By "distorted accounts," perhaps Walzer has in mind occasional references to
the statement of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright over national TV when she was asked about the estimates of 1/2
million deaths of Iraqi children as a result of the sanctions regime. She recognized that such consequences were a "hard
choice" for her administration, but "we think the price is worth it."
I mention this single example, easily multiplied, to illustrate the substantive meaning of the relaxation of constraints
on state action. We may recall that violent and murderous states quite commonly justify their actions as
"counter-terrorism": for example, the Nazis fighting partisan resistance. And such actions are commonly justified by
To be sure, there are many factors to be considered in thinking about your question. But the historical record is of
overwhelming importance. At a very general level, the question cannot be answered. It depends on specific circumstances
and specific proposals.
32) Bundestag in Germany already decided that German soldiers will join american forces, although 80% of the german
people do not agree with this, according to a survey of the Forsa Institute. How do you comment this?
For the moment, European powers are hesitant about joining Washington's crusade, fearing that by a massive assault
against innocent civilians the US will be falling into a "diabolical trap" set by bin Laden (in the words of the French
foreign minister), helping him to mobilize desperate and angry people to his cause, with consequences that could be even
33) What do you think about the nations acting as a global community on war time? It is not the first time that every
country should be allied with USA, otherwise it is considered an enemy, but now Afganistan is declaring the same thing.
The Bush administration at once gave the nations of the world "a stark choice": join us "or face the certain prospect
of death and destruction" (NY Times, Sept.14). It might be interesting to seek historical precedents.
The "global community" strongly opposes terror, including the massive terror of the powerful states, and also the
terrible crimes of Sept. 11. But the "global community" does not act. When Western powers use the term "international
community," they are referring to themselves. For example, NATO bombing of Serbia was undertaken by the "international
community" according to consistent Western rhetoric, although those who did not have their heads buried in the sand knew
that it was strongly opposed by most of the world, often quite vocally. Those who do not support the actions of wealth
and power are not part of "the global community," just as "terrorism" conventionally means "terrorism directed against
us and our friends."
It is hardly surprising that Afghanistan is attempting to mimic the US, calling on Muslims to support it. The scale, of
course, is vastly smaller. Even as remote as they are from the world outside, Taliban leaders presumably know full well
that the Islamic states are not their friends. These states are prime targets of the radical Islamic forces organized
and trained by the CIA, Egypt, Pakistan and others to fight a Holy War against Russia. These states have, in fact, been
subjected to terrorist attack by the radical Islamicist forces they helped to create ever since the assassination of
President Sadat of Egypt -- one of the most enthusiastic of the creators -- 20 years ago.
34) According to you, an attack against Afganistan, is "a war against terrorism"?
An attack against Afghanistan will probably kill a great many innocent civilians, not Taliban but their victims,
possibly enormous numbers in a country where millions are already on the verge of death from starvation. It will also
answer bin Laden's most fervent prayers, as Washington is hearing from foreign leaders, specialists on the region, and
presumably its own intelligence agencies. Such an attack will be a massive crime in itself, and will very likely
escalate the cycle of violence, including new acts of terror directed against the West, possibly with consequences even
more horrifying than those of September 11. The dynamics are, after all, very familiar.
35) Could you imagine how the situation would be if the terrorist's attack in the USA had happened during the night,
when very few people would be in the WTC? In other words, if there were very few victims, would the American government
react in the same way? Up to what point is it influenced by the symbolism of this disaster, the fact that the Pentagon
and the Twin Towers were hit?
I doubt that it would have made any difference. It would have been a terrible crime even if the toll had been much
smaller. The Pentagon is more than a "symbol," for reasons that need no comment. As for the World Trade Center, we
scarcely know what the terrorists had in mind when they bombed it in 1993 and destroyed it last week, but we can be
quite confident that it had little to do with such matters as "globalization," or "economic imperialism," or "cultural
values," matters that are utterly unfamiliar to bin Laden and his associates and of no concern to them, just as they
are, evidently, not concerned by the fact that their atrocities over the years have caused great harm to poor and
oppressed people in the Muslim world and elsewhere, again on September 11. Among the immediate victims are Palestinians
under military occupation, as they surely must have known. Their concerns are different, and bin Laden, at least, has
been eloquent enough in expressing them in many interviews: to overthrow the corrupt and repressive regimes of the Arab
world and replace them with properly "Islamic" regimes, to support Muslims in their struggles against "infidels" in
Saudi Arabia (which he regards as under US occupation), Chechnya, Bosnia, western China, North Africa, and Southeast
Asia; maybe elsewhere.
It is convenient for Western intellectuals to speak of "deeper causes" such as hatred of Western values and progress.
That is a useful way to avoid questions about the origin of the bin Laden network itself, and about the practices that
lead to anger, fear and desperation throughout the region, and provide a reservoir from which radical Islamicist
terrorist cells can sometimes draw. Since the answers to these questions are rather clear, and are inconsistent with
preferred doctrine, it is better to dismiss the questions as "superficial" and "insignificant," and to turn to "deeper
causes" that are in fact more superficial even insofar as they are relevant.
36) Are we assisting to a war? Should we call it a war?
There is no precise definition of "war." People speak of the "war on poverty," the "drug war," etc. What is taking shape
is not a conflict among states, though it could become one: the US has warned, loud and clear, that the nations of the
world face a "stark choice": join us in our crusade or "face the certain prospect of death and destruction" (RW Apple,
NYTimes, Sept. 14). If the US literally follows through on that threat, or anything like it, there will be war on an
extraordinary scale. I think that is highly unlikely, but not excluded.
37) Is it a conventional war? A new one, a crusade, as Mr. Bush said, or simply an act of terror?
It is neither "new," nor a "war against terrorism." We should not forget that the Reagan administration came into office
20 years ago announcing that a primary focus of foreign policy would be the threat of "international terrorism," and it
reacted to this threat with programs of international terrorism on a remarkable scale, even leading to a World Court
condemnation of the US for "unlawful use of force" (i.e., international terrorism).
What happened on Sept 11 was, unquestionably, a horrifying crime. There are proper ways to respond to crimes, great or
small, in accord with US domestic and international law, and there are precedents; for example the one I just mentioned.
Nicaragua presumably could have reacted to Washington's terrorist war by setting off bombs in Washington. Instead, it
approached the World Court, which issued the judgment that I just cited. The US of course dismissed the Court with
contempt. Its response was to escalate the terrorist attack, and to veto a Security Council resolution calling on all
states to observe international law, then voting against a similar General Assembly resolution (alone with Israel and El
Salvador; the following year Israel alone). The US could choose to adhere to its obligations under international law as
well, and of course would face no barriers. That is by no means the only example. When the US attacked Sudan in 1998,
destroying the facilities that produce half its pharmaceutical supplies (which it could not replenish), causing the
death of unknown numbers of people, Sudan approached the Security Council, but the US refused to permit even an inquiry.
When IRA bombs were set off in London, there was no call to bomb the US, the source of most of the financial support for
the IRA. Rather, efforts were made to deal with what lay behind the resort to terror. When a federal building was blown
up in Oklahoma City, there were calls for bombing the Middle East, and it probably would have happened if the source
turned out to be there. When it was found to be a militia-based bombing, there was no call to obliterate Montana and
Idaho, where most of the ultra-right militias are based. Rather, there was a search for the perpetrator, who was found,
brought to court and sentenced, and there were efforts to understand the grievances that lie behind such crimes and to
address the problems. Just about every crime -- whether a robbery in the streets or colossal atrocities -- has reasons,
and commonly we find that some of them are serious and should be addressed.
These are the proper ways to respond to criminal acts, whether by individuals or by states.
38) Can we talk of the clash between two civilizations?
This is fashionable talk, but it makes little sense. Suppose we briefly review some familiar history.
The most populous Islamic state is Indonesia, a favorite of the US ever since Suharto took power in 1965, as army-led
massacres slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people, mostly landless peasants, with the assistance of the US and with
an outburst of euphoria from the West that was unconstrained, and is so embarrassing in retrospect that it has been
effectively wiped out of memory. Suharto remained "our kind of guy," as the Clinton administration called him, as he
compiled one of the most horrendous records of slaughter, torture, and other abuses of the late 20th century. The most
extreme Islamic fundamentalist state, apart from the Taliban, is Saudi Arabia, a US client since its founding. In the
1980s, the US along with Pakistani intelligence (helped by Saudi Arabia, Britain, and others), recruited, armed, and
trained the most extreme Islamic fundamentalists they could find to cause maximal harm to the Russians in Afghanistan.
As Simon Jenkins observes in the _London Times_, those efforts "destroyed a moderate regime and created a fanatical one,
from groups recklessly financed by the Americans." One of the beneficiaries was Osama Bin Laden. Also in the 1980s, the
US and UK gave strong support to their friend and ally Saddam Hussein -- more secular, to be sure, but on the Islamic
side of the "clash" -- right through the period of his worst atrocities, including the gassing of the Kurds, and beyond.
Also in the 1980s the US fought a major war in Central America, leaving some 200,000 tortured and mutilated corpses,
millions of orphans and refugees, and four countries devastated. A prime target of the US attack was the Catholic
Church, which had offended the self-described "civilized world" by adopting "the preferential option for the poor."
In the early 90s, primarily for cynical great power reasons, the US selected Bosnian Muslims as their Balkan clients, to
their enormous harm.
Without continuing, exactly where do we find the divide between "civilizations." Are we to conclude that there is a
"clash of civilizations" with the Catholic Church on one side, and the US and the most murderous and fanatic religious
fundamentalists of the Islamic world on the other side? I do not of course suggest any such absurdity. But exactly what
are we to conclude, on rational grounds?
39) Do you think we are using the word civilization properly? Would a really civilized world lead us to a global war
It is said that Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western civilization, and answered that he felt it might be a
good idea. No civilized society would tolerate anything I have just mentioned, which is of course only a tiny sample
even of US history, and European history is even worse. And surely no "civilized world" would plunge the world into a
major war instead of following the means prescribed by international law, following ample precedents.
40) How do you see the imminent future? What do you expect to happen now?
The US might follow the course it has proclaimed, attacking Afghanistan and probably killing a great many innocent
civilians, not Taliban but their victims, possibly enormous numbers in a country where millions are already on the verge
of death from starvation. By doing so, it will also answer bin Laden's most fervent prayers, as Washington is hearing
from foreign leaders, specialists on the region, and presumably its own intelligence agencies. Such an attack will be a
massive crime in itself, and will very likely escalate the cycle of violence, including new acts of terror directed
against the West, possibly with consequences even more horrifying than those of September 11. The dynamics are, after
all, very familiar.
Or, the US might heed the warnings that it is receiving, for example, from the French foreign minister, who warned that
the US would be falling into a "diabolical trap" set by bin Laden if it massacred innocents in Afghanistan.
I would not venture a prediction. But there clearly are choices within the spectrum just indicated.
41) Which political consequences do you believe this conflict will have in a long term? What kind of world will our sons
and daughters heritage from us?
That depends on which course is chosen. The consequences of one or another choice are not certain, but we can make some
rather plausible estimates.
42) What do you think the terrorists tried to do or say with the attacks?
I presume no one knows the answer better than the CIA, who helped establish and train the terrorist networks, and has
been well acquainted with them since the first time that they turned against their creators, in 1981, when they
assassinated President Sadat of Egypt. Or two years later, when one suicide bomber, perhaps with links to the same
networks, drove the US military out of Lebanon. And on many occasions since. They have also been quite clear in
articulating their goals, particularly bin Laden himself, in many interviews over the past 10 years: to overthrow the
corrupt and repressive regimes of the Arab world and replace them with properly "Islamic" regimes, to support Muslims in
their struggles against "infidels" in Saudi Arabia (which he regards as under US occupation), Chechnya, Bosnia, western
China, North Africa, and Southeast Asia; maybe elsewhere. Their terrorist activities have been very harmful to the poor
and oppressed majority, but that is not their concern, and they know that they can draw from the reservoir of
desperation, fear, and anger that in significant measure results from US policies, as people of the region, including
the most pro-American of them, are well aware.
43) The attacks have been called an act of hate. Where do you think this hate comes from?
For the radical Islamists mobilized by the CIA and its associates, the hate is just what they express. The US was happy
to support their hatred and violence when it was directed against US enemies; it is not happy when the hatred it helped
nurture is directed against the US and its allies, as it has been, repeatedly, for 20 years. For the population of the
region, quite a distinct category, the reasons for their feelings are not obscure. The sources of those sentiments are
also quite well known. The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed the attitudes of "moneyed Muslims": bankers,
professionals, businessmen, pro-American but severely critical of US policies in the region. They deplored Washington's
support for harsh and repressive regime, its opposition to democratic tendencies, and the barriers it places to
independent economic development by "propping up oppressive regimes." But their primary concern was Washington's
decisive support for Israel's harsh and brutal military occupation, a policy that is even more shocking by contrast to
the devastating US assault against the civilian society of Iraq, a huge crime against innocent people that also happens
to strengthen Saddam Hussein. Similar sentiments prevail, though in much harsher terms, among the great majority outside
the narrow circles of privilege. They do not, of course, share the comforting illusions prevalent in the US about the
"generous" and "magnanimous" offers at Camp David, let alone other favored myths.
44) Do you think innocent people ad civilians are going to pay for the attacks?
Yes, exactly as in the past. Who have been the victims of the crimes I have already mentioned, a minuscule sample?
45) What do you think about the european attitude in the conflict?
Like virtually everyone, Europeans reacted with justified horror, shock, and dismay to the terrorist atrocities. But for
Europe and its Northamerican offshoot, these came as a particular shock. The crimes have been described as something new
in modern history, and that is correct -- not in scale, regrettably, but in the target. For the US, this is the first
time since the War of 1812 that its national territory has been under attack, even threat. Its colonies have been
attacked, but not the national territory itself. During these years the US virtually exterminated the indigenous
population, conquered a large part of Mexico, intervened violently in the surrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the
Philippines (killing hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half century particularly, extended its resort
to force throughout much of the world. The number of victims is colossal. For the first time, the guns have been
directed the other way. The same is true, even more dramatically, of Europe. Europe has suffered murderous destruction,
but from internal wars, meanwhile conquering much of the world with extreme brutality. It has not been under attack by
its victims outside, with rare exceptions. It is therefore natural that NATO should quickly rally to the support of the
US; hundreds of years of imperial violence have an enormous impact on the intellectual and moral culture.
Nevertheless, European leaders, and to some extent public commentary, have been warning the US not to react with extreme
violence. They have not, I believe, gone as far as President Mubarrak of Egypt, who urged the US to provide credible
evidence before launching an attack, and to operate within the framework of international law -- and recall that Egypt,
one of the initial creators of the terrorist networks, has suffered bitterly from its atrocities for 20 years. However,
Europe has been, so far, a restraining force, with variations of course.
46) What do you suggest the citizens of the Western World could do to make peace come back?
That depends what these citizens want. If they want an escalating cycle of violence, in the familiar pattern, they
should certainly call on the US to fall into bin Laden's "diabolical trap" and massacre innocent civilians. If they want
to reduce the level of violence they should use their influence to direct the great powers in a very different course,
the one I outlined earlier, which, again, has ample precedents. That includes a willingness to examine what lies behind
the atrocities. One often hears that we must not consider these matters, because that would be justification for
terrorism, a position so foolish and destructive as scarcely to merit comment; but unfortunately common (this morning's
New York Times, Sept. 21, for example, on the part of a respected intellectual). But if we do not wish to contribute to
escalating the cycle of violence, with targets among the rich and powerful as well, that is exactly what we must do, as
in all other cases, including those familiar enough in Spain.
47) Who do you think is going to be benefited from this conflict?
Such atrocities commonly benefit the harshest and most repressive elements on both sides, just as a massive retaliation
against civilians is widely expected to benefit the terrorist networks. In this case, the Sept. 11 atrocities were a
crushing blow against Palestinians living under military occupation, and Israel made no effort to conceal its
satisfaction in exploiting a "window of opportunity" (as it was openly described) to tighten its grip on Palestinians.
The Bush administration at once moved to exploit the opportunity to ram through its own agenda: militarization,
including "missile defense," a code phrase for militarization of space; undermining social democratic programs and
concerns over environmental issues, the harsh effects of corporate "globalization," and so on; instituting measures that
will intensify the transfer of wealth to very narrow sectors (e.g., eliminating the capital gains tax); regimenting the
society so as to eliminate discussion and protest. That is all natural, and to be expected. Escalation of violence is
likely to have similar effects, on all sides. Again, the dynamics are familiar.
48) What did you think of these terrorist attacks? Where they predictible?
The attacks were an atrocious crime against humanity. No one seriously doubts that. That something of this scale and
sophistication could take place, no one could have predicted. That includes the world's intelligence agencies, which
monitor very closely the activities of the terrorist networks that are presumably responsible. Bear in mind as well that
the leading intelligence agencies know a great deal about the terror networks, if only because they helped establish
them and observed their criminal activities closely while continuing to provide them with massive aid and training. But
although an assault of this nature was surely not anticipated, that some kind of terrorist attack might take place is a
surprise to no one who has been paying attention to US policies in the Middle East region.
49) Did the US "ask for" these attacks? Are they a consequences of American politics?
The attacks are not "consequences" of US policies in any direct sense. But indirectly, of course they are consequences;
that is not even controversial. There seems little doubt that the perpetrators come from the terrorist network that has
its roots in the mercenary armies that were organized, trained, and armed by the CIA, Pakistani intelligence, Egypt,
Saudi Arabia, and others (with initiatives from French intelligence too) in order to fight a Holy War against the
Russian invaders in Afghanistan. The backgrounds of all of this remain somewhat murky. President Carter's National
Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has boasted that he was responsible for drawing the Russians into an "Afghan
trap" (his words) by initiating support for Mujahideen fighting the government in mid-1979, six months before the
Russian invasion. China and Iran were also apparently active in 1978-79 in similar activities, joining later with the
US-centered operation. It is possible that Brzezinski is simply bragging about his brilliance in helping unleash the
monster that has been causing havoc around much of the world since, but there may be something to his story. There is no
doubt that these operations were underway at an enormous scale from early 1980. And it is not surprising that the CIA
and its associates preferred the most extreme radical elements that they could round up from North Africa, Saudi Arabia,
and elsewhere, to form the core of their "Afghanis," who were forged into a mercenary army of hundreds of thousands,
armed with advanced weapons. These radical Islamists (called "fundamentalists," in much Western commentary) were the
most fanatic and dedicated killers. And the "blowback," to borrow the CIA's term, began at once. In 1981, radical
Islamists with "Afghani" roots assassinated President Sadat of Egypt, one of the most enthusiastic creators of the
"Afghanis". In 1983, a single suicide bomber, possibly with indirect links to the same growing networks, effectively
drove the US military out of Lebanon. Since then, particularly in the 1990s, they have spread terror around much of the
world. Their great triumph was driving the Russians out of Afghanistan, at enormous cost. The end result was to "destroy
a moderate regime and create a fanatical one, from groups recklessly financed by the Americans" (_London Times_
correspondent Simon Jenkins, a specialist on the region; most of the funding was apparently Saudi). "Afghanis" then
joined Muslim forces fighting in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kashmir, Western China (themselves veterans of the Chinese-inspired
campaigns), the Philippines, and elsewhere. They have carried out murderous terror attacks in the countries where the
regimes are their main enemies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And in the 1990s, against the United States, which, according to
bin Laden and his associates, have been occupying Saudi Arabia much as the Russians occupied Afghanistan, since the US
established permanent military bases there. And the US of course is the prime backer of the corrupt and brutal Saudi
regime, and others like it in the region -- none of them "Islamist" by the standards of the terrorist monster that was
created by the West for its own purposes.
Furthermore, as is common knowledge among anyone who pays attention to the region, the terrorists draw from a reservoir
of desperation, anger, and frustration that extends from rich to poor, from secular to radical Islamist. That it is
rooted in no small measure in US policies is evident, and constantly articulated to those willing to listen.
50) Why are the US so much hated in the Middle East? Support for Israeli occupation, support of repressive Arab regimes,
sanctions against civilian populations in Irak, arrogance, US as a symbol (of what?), religious reasons?
The _Wall Street Journal_ (Sept. 14) published a survey of opinions of wealthy and privileged Muslims in the Gulf
region (bankers, professionals, businessmen with close links to the US). They strongly support the general policies that
the US is advancing throughout the world: corporate globalization, and all the rest. But they bitterly resent US
policies in the Middle East. Their primary grievance is the massive US military, diplomatic, and economic support for
Israel's brutal military occupation, now in its 35th year, a stand that contrasts sharply in their minds with
Washington's attack against Iraqi civilian society, devastating it while strengthening Saddam Hussein -- who, as they
know, the US strongly supporter through his worst atrocities, including the gassing of the Kurds. They also object
strenuously to US support for harsh, repressive and corrupt regimes throughout the region, its opposition to democratic
tendencies, and its imposition of barriers against economic development by "propping up oppressive regimes." Among the
great majority of people suffering deep poverty and oppression, similar sentiments are far more bitter. Though the bin
Laden network and others like them cause immense harm to the people of the region, nonetheless their denunciation of the
brutal and corrupt regimes, and their condemnation of US policies, surely has ample resonance.
51) You said that the main practitioners of terrorism are countries like the US which use violence for political
motives. When and where?
I find the question baffling. The US is, after all, the only country condemned by the World Court for international
terrorism -- for "the unlawful use of force" for political ends, as the Court put it, ordering the US to terminate these
crimes and pay substantial reparations. The US of course dismissed the Court's judgment with contempt, reacting by
escalating the terrorist war against Nicaragua and vetoing a Security Council resolution calling on all states to
observe international law (and voting alone, with Israel, against similar General Assembly resolutions). The terrorist
war expanded in accordance with the official policy of attacking "soft targets" -- undefended civilian targets --
instead of engaging the Nicaraguan army. That was only a small component of Washington's terrorist wars in Central
America in that terrible decade, leaving 200,000 corpses and four countries in ruins. In the same years the US was
carrying out large-scale terrorism elsewhere, including the Middle East: to cite one example, the car-bombing in Beirut
in 1985 outside a Mosque, timed to kill the maximum number of civilians, with 80 dead and 200 casualties, aimed at a
Muslim Sheikh, who escaped. And it supported much worse terror: for example, Israel's invasion of Lebanon that killed
some 18,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, not in self-defense, as was conceded at once; and the vicious "iron
fist" atrocities of the years that followed, directed against "terrorist villagers," as Israel put it. And the
subsequent invasions of 1993 and 1996, both strongly supported by the US (until the international reaction to the Qana
massacre in 1996, which caused Clinton to draw back). The post-1982 toll in Lebanon alone is probably another 20,000
civlians. In the 1990s, the US provided 80% of the arms for Turkey's vicious counterinsurgency campaign against Kurds in
its southeast region, killing tens of thousands, driving 2-3 million out of their homes, leaving 3500 villages destroyed
(10 times Kosovo under NATO bombs), and with every imaginable atrocity. The arms flow had increased sharply in 1984 as
Turkey launched its terrorist attack and began to decline to previous levels only in 1999, when the atrocities had
achieved their goal. In 1999, Turkey fell from its position as the leading recipient of US arms (Israel-Egypt aside),
replaced by Colombia, the worst human rights violator in the hemisphere in the 1990s and by far the leading recipient of
US arms and training, following a consistent pattern. In East Timor, the US (and Britain) continued their support of the
Indonesian aggressors, which had already wiped out about 1/3 of the population with their crucial help (France as well).
That continued right through the atrocities of 1999, with thousands murdered even before the September assault that
drove 85% of the population from their homes and destroyed 70% of the country -- while the Clinton administration kept
to its position that it is the responsibility of the Indonesians, and we don't want to take that away from them. It was
only after enormous pressure that the Administration informed the Indonesians that the game was over, at which point
they immediately withdrew, revealing the latent power that was always there had the US not been committed to support for
Indonesian mass murderers. In 1998, in one of the minor episodes of US terrorism, Clinton destroyed half the
pharmaceutical supplies in Sudan and the facilities for replenishing them, with a casualty toll that must be enormous,
though no one knows, because the US blocked a UN inquiry and Western intellectuals evidently are not concerned about
such trivialities: similar attacks in France, or Israel, or the US would presumably lead to a different reaction, though
the comparison is unfair, because these are rich countries with ample supplies that can easily be replenished. I have
already mentioned the devastation of Iraqi civilian society, with about 1 million killed, over half of them young
children -- "a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it," as Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright explained on prime time TV a few years ago. This is only a small sample.
I am, frankly, surprised that the question can even be raised -- particularly in France, which has made its own
contributions to massive state terror and violence, surely not unfamiliar.
52) You said if the Clinton doctrine on retaliation is to be taken litterally, some countries would have the right to
set off bombs in Washington. Could you explain this?
I don't recall ever referring to a "Clinton doctrine on retaliation," but if you have in mind official US policy, in all
administrations, the explanation seems transparent. Merely to take a single example -- uncontroversial because of the
World Court ruling -- according to US doctrine, after Washington had rejected the orders of the World Court and the
Security Council, and escalated its terrorist war, Nicaragua should have set off bombs in Washington. And after
Washington's decisive support for Israeli atrocities in Lebanon and the occupied territories, the victims should be
doing the same. And so on. This is just simple logic. If the doctrine is accepted -- not just for ourself, but for
others -- the conclusions follow at once.
53) There are rather unanime reactions in the US? Do you share them, partly or completely?
If you mean the reaction of outrage over the horrifying criminal assault, and sympathy for the victims, then the
reactions are virtually unanimous everywhere, including the Muslim countries. Of course every sane person shares them
completely, not "partly." If you are referring to the calls for a murderous assault that will surely kill many innocent
people -- and, incidentally, answer bin Laden's most fervent prayers -- than there is no such "unanimous reaction,"
despite superficial impressions that one might derive from watching TV. As for me, I join a great many others in
opposing such actions. A great many. The New York Times surveyed opinion in the streets of New York, and at a memorial
for the victims, discovering that the sentiments expressed in words and in signs were overwhelmingly opposed to a resort
to violence. What majority sentiment is, no one can really say: it is too diffuse and complex. But "unanimous"? Surely
not, except with regard to the nature of the crime.
54) What will be the consequences of these attacks? In the United States? Concerning the civil liberties, Defense
Such atrocities commonly benefit the harshest and most repressive elements on both sides, just as a massive retaliation
against civilians is widely expected to benefit the terrorist networks. Predictably, the Bush administration at once
moved to exploit the opportunity to ram through its own agenda: militarization, including "missile defense," a code
phrase for militarization of space; undermining social democratic programs and concerns over environmental issues, the
harsh effects of corporate "globalization," and so on; instituting measures that will intensify the transfer of wealth
to very narrow sectors (e.g., eliminating the capital gains tax); regimenting the society so as to eliminate discussion
and protest. That is all natural, and to be expected. What the longer term consequences will be depends, as always, on
how the population responds after the initial shock is absorbed and the efforts to inspire obedience become less
effective. I suspect that the society will prove rather resilient.
55) In other countries?
It depends which countries you mean. Surely many countries will rejoice at the opportunity to enlist Washington's
support for their own atrocities. Commentators express much satisfaction that other countries are expressing some
willingness to join Washington's "crusade against evil," but they are not explaining why. They surely know the reasons.
US assistance is welcomed by Russia for crushing Chechens, by China for its wars against Muslims in Western China, by
Indonesia for its continuing atrocities in Aceh and elsewhere, by India for destroying resistance to its rule in
largely-Muslim Kashmir, and on, and on. If you have in mind the Middle East, the regimes that are the targets of bin
Laden's wrath and despised many of their own citizens will be inclined to join Washington's assault against their
enemies, but they are also wary of the consequences. They doubtless agree with Foreign Minister Vedrine about the
"diabolical trap" laid by bin Laden, who reiterated what has been stressed by specialists on the region and presumably
US intelligence agencies. They understand the likely consequences of a ground war in Afghanistan, and understand as well
that the massacre of Afghanis -- not Taliban, but their victims -- will only help bin Laden and others like him to
enlist others in the horrendous cause, the familiar dynamic of an escalating cycle of violence.
We cannot be confident about consequences, just as Washington planners cannot be. But there are plausible assessments of
the likely consequences of the various choices that Washington and its allies might make.
56) What shoud the US government do now? What can they do? And the European countries?
It should follow the rule of law and its treaty obligations, a course for which there are ample precedents. For example
the case of Nicaragua, just mentioned -- and recall that the US attack against Nicaragua was a serious affair, leaving
tens of thousands killed and the country ruined. True, Nicaragua's efforts to follow the rule of law were blocked by a
violent superpower, but no one will block the US. That is far from the only example. If half the pharmaceutical
facilities and supplies in the US were destroyed by the bin Laden network, the crime would be considered horrendous, and
there might be a violent response. Sudan however, went to the UN, where it was of course blocked by its attacker. When
IRA bombs went off in London, the government did not send the RAF to bomb the source of their finances; where I live in
Boston, for example. Even if that had been feasible, it would have been criminal idiocy. A more constructive response
was to consider realistically the background concerns and grievances, and to try to deal with them seriously, while at
the same time following the rule of law to punish criminals. Or take the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma
City. There were immediate calls for bombing the Middle East, and it probably would have taken place if there had been
even a remote hint of a connection. When the perpetrator was found to be a militia sympathizer, there was no call to
obliterate Montana and Idaho and Texas, and other places where the ultra-right militias are based. Rather, there was a
search for the perpetrator, who was found, brought to court and sentenced, and to the extent that the reaction was
sensible, there were efforts to understand the grievances that lie behind such crimes and to address the problems.
Just about every crime -- whether a robbery in the streets or colossal atrocities -- has reasons, and commonly we find
that some of them are serious and should be addressed. At least, that is the course we follow if we have any concern for
right and justice, and hope to reduce the likelihood of further atrocities rather than increase it. The same principles
hold quite generally, with due attention to variation of circumstances. Specifically, they hold in this case.
There are lawful and proper ways to proceed in the case of crimes, including horrifying crimes of international
terrorism -- of which this, regrettably, is not the first example.
As for the European countries, they do not need my advice.