New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 340

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Letters

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We, the enlightened democrats
While I naturally deplore this latest public display of bestiality, I cannot – unlike our moral arbiters in politics and press – single it out for special condemnation. Though such massive devastation is unusual it hardly stands out as unprecedented, except in its bitterly ironic touch of the Hollywood-esque. What’s new is where it took place. We ‘civilized’ Western nations, among whom the US is shamelessly dominant, regularly mete out like treatment on those we assume to be unable to offer significant resistance, but we aren’t accustomed to substantial retaliation on our own shores; that’s not playing the game by our rules. Hence the soul-searching confusion into which America has descended, the ‘How could it happen here?’ attitude.

'despite all their posturing to the contrary, their security crackdowns and missile defence shields, our governments cannot guarantee our safety'

One could only be surprised by the 11 September attack if one were blind to the misdeeds that are, with dismal regularity, perpetrated in our name. The population of the ‘developing’ world suffers by the million under the yoke of an economic system that keeps us rich by keeping them poor. Nations who dare to diverge from the new world order are subjected to crippling economic retribution (for example Cuba), or bombed into submission by our air forces (ask the Iraqis or the Serbs). Meanwhile, to keep things running smoothly, our clients and allies murder and maim on a daily basis, either at our bidding or with our acquiescence. Far from standing firm against mass terrorism, Western democracies are implicated in it. ‘Terrorists’ come in many guises, among them the sharp suits of our politicians and business leaders, and the uniforms of our soldiers.

So what are our victims to make of us? Some among them have been driven to war. Can we honestly blame them? While the Western public continues to offer support for aggressive foreign policy we shall remain targets for reciprocal aggression; and despite all their posturing to the contrary, their security crackdowns and missile defence shields, our governments cannot guarantee our safety. Until US foreign policy is radically changed it will remain the largest single threat both to America’s own national security, and to ours, and to the security of our ‘enemies’.

To call the terrorists evil fanatics, as has Tony Blair, is to misunderstand the world around us. The primitive bi-tonal picture that talk of good versus evil brings to mind has no informative content; it can only encourage us in our ignorance to perpetuate the cycle of which this latest monstrosity is just a part. We, the enlightened democrats, tend to dismiss as extremist any viewpoint that falls outside the narrow bandwidth of acceptable discourse. But those who demarcated the perimeter of the acceptable forgot to consult huge swathes of humanity when doing so. The result is that many of us have no recourse to reasonable debate; and the result of such exclusion is, naturally, anger.

This anger is bound to turn into violence, the latest example of which has had truly horrifying consequences. But though the attack on the World Trade Center was diabolical it was not mindless and neither was it cowardly, as has been claimed. People with the intelligence to have carried out such co-ordinated mass murder, and who committed suicide in the process, must have had some pretty compelling motives.

To allow fervent moral condemnation of the brutal means employed by the terrorists in this case to cloud our understanding of their motives is to blind ourselves to the legitimate grievances of millions, in which we have arguably had a hand. If the West sets out, as I fear we shall, more to punish and to proselytize than to listen and learn then the world will continue to be unsafe for us all. Granted, some sort of justice must be seen to be done. But reprisals alone, though they might redress (in some small way) this particular outrage, cannot but reinforce the structural context out of which the latest atrocity has arisen.

Of all those responsible, and of the fate to which the guilty party in this particular instance shall probably be subjected, it’s tempting to say that he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword. Sadly, however, that’s often not the case for the bin Ladens or the George Bushes; it’s the rest of us who have to suffer.

Dan Bailey
London, England

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Look within
Predictably, ‘Dubya’, supported by his unscrupulous former oil-industry cronies (Cheney, Rice etc), promised retaliation against the perpetrators and those who harbour them. He apparently failed to realize, or perhaps chose not to admit, that US overseas policy, particularly its pro-Israeli policy, was indirectly responsible for the attacks. The question he should be asking is: ‘Why do they hate us so much?’

It is about time the US Government realized that just because it presides over the most powerful nation on earth it cannot continue to adopt shortsighted, self-serving overseas policies. All this does is foster frustration, anger and desperation among Majority World nations, especially in the Muslim world. This is when the fanatics move in.

Sure, the perpetrators need to be punished, but this will not solve the problem. It will only push it under the carpet for a while.

Ian Thornton
Great Wakering, England

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Pursuit of profit
Before reconstructing the World Trade Center and the financial framework it was part of, perhaps we can pause to consider if it is time to include a far greater awareness of human decency and morality in the way that commerce is conducted. The relentless pursuit of profit, and the ideological woolliness which equates this with ‘freedom’ has to be moderated if we are to have a world worth living in.

Trade and profit are an essential part of all our lives. However, we need to take further responsibility for the effects of trade when its scale gives it the power to sow the seeds of hatred through the agency of indifference, exploitation and debt.

Simon Baxter
South Devon, England

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Common cause
While the violence of 11 September is deplorable and inexcusable, to consider that on one side is God and goodness, and on the other evil, is madness. Over 100 years of American foreign policy that, through overt and covert activity and through the support of abusive regimes, has caused the death, suffering, displacement, disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of people, in Central and South America, in Africa, in the Caribbean, in South-East Asia, in the Middle East and elsewhere, under cover of the mythology of freedom and democracy, but always primarily for the self-interest of its capitalist multinationals, must be placed in the balance.

I weep for the many killed and injured on 11 September, for the uncountable others bereaved of parents, children, lovers, siblings, friends. Such violence is never excusable and tends only to breed more violence.

Sane people everywhere must strive to reduce the violence. It begins, it seems to me, in the personal life of each of us, with the recognition that all of humanity is one in the mysterious and unnamable life-force that animates us all and all life in the universe; by the recognition that sanity and strength reside in humility, understanding, forgiveness, compassion and love and a profound commitment to healing. It begins, also, with a recognition that money, essentially, is the symbol of an illusion, that the only wealth there is is shared by all humanity: the thin and fragile biosphere that surrounds our small planet, source and sustenance of all life.

Such beliefs must, of course, give rise to consequent behaviour and be given an insistent voice. Only by being coherent in our behaviour and effectively vocal can we who share these beliefs ever hope to affect public policy.

Yves Saint-Pierre
Montreal, Quebec, Canada


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