In the Tragedy of Errors you can't always tell the
protagonists apart, says Eduardo Galeano.
The terrorists killed workers from 50 countries in New York and Washington in the name of Good against Evil. And in the name of Good against Evil, President Bush vowed revenge: ‘We will eliminate Evil from this world.’
Eliminate Evil? What would Good be without Evil? Religious fanatics are not the only ones that need enemies to justify their madness. The arms industry and gigantic military apparatus need enemies to justify their existence. Heroes become monsters and monsters heroes: the actors switch masks according to the script.
There’s nothing new here. German scientist Werner von Braun was evil when he invented the V-2 rocket, which Hitler used to pulverize London, but he became good the day he placed his skills in the service of the United States.
Stalin was good during World War Two and bad later, when he became ruler of the Evil Empire. During the years of the Cold War, John Steinbeck wrote: ‘Perhaps the entire world needs Russians. I bet even Russia does. Maybe there they call them Americans.’
Afterwards the Russians turned good. Now Putin says: ‘Evil must be punished.’
Saddam Hussein was good, and so were the chemical weapons he used against the Kurds and Iranians. Later he turned bad. He was called Satan Hussein when the US, which had just invaded Panama, invaded Iraq because Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Bush Sr. presided over this war of Good against Evil. With the humanitarian and compassionate spirit that characterizes his family, he killed more than 100,000 Iraqis, the vast majority civilians.
Satan Hussein is the same as he always was, but now this enemy-number-one of humanity has slipped to second place. The scourge of the world is now called Osama bin Laden. The CIA taught him everything he knows about terrorism: bin Laden, loved and armed by the US Government, was one of the principal ‘freedom-fighters’ in the war against communism in Afghanistan. Bush Sr. was Vice President when President Reagan said that these heroes were ‘the moral equivalent of America’s Founding Fathers’. And Hollywood agreed with the White House: Rambo III was being shot at the time, and the Muslim Afghanis were the good guys. Not any more: now they are evil incarnate, a mere 13 years later.
Henry Kissinger was one of the first to react to the recent tragedy: ‘Those who provide support, financing and inspiration to the terrorists are as guilty as they are,’ he stated, using words that President Bush repeated just hours later.
If this were the case, the first step would be to bomb Kissinger. He would be guilty of far more crimes than bin Laden and the rest of the world’s terrorists combined. And in many more countries: acting in the service of various American administrations, he provided ‘support, financing and inspiration’ to state terrorism in Indonesia, Cambodia, Cyprus, the Philippines, South Africa, Iran, Bangladesh and the countries of South America that suffered under the dirty war of Operation Condor.
On 11 September 1973, exactly 28 years before the World Trade Towers collapsed in flames, Chile’s presidential palace burned. Kissinger anticipated the epitaph of Salvador Allende and Chilean democracy when he commented on the election results: ‘We do not have to accept a country going Marxist because of the irresponsibility of its people.’
Disdain for the popular will is one of the many points in common between state terrorism and private terrorism. For example, the Basque separatist movement in Spain, ETA, which kills in the name of an independent Basque state, proclaimed through a spokesman: ‘Rights have nothing to do with minorities or majorities.’
There are many similarities between home-made and high-tech terrorism, between that of religious fundamentalists and free-market zealots, between that of the dispossessed and the all-powerful, between the solitary madmen and the professionals in uniform. All share the same lack of respect for human life: the murderers of the 6,500 people killed in the demolition of the Twin Towers and the assassins of 200,000 Guatemalans, mostly Indians, exterminated without the slightest attention paid by the world’s media. These Guatemalans were killed not by Muslim fanatics but military terrorists who received the ‘support, financing and inspiration’ of one American administration after another.
These terrorists also share an obsession with reducing social, cultural and national contradictions to military terms. In the name of Good against Evil, in the name of the Single Truth, they seek resolution by killing first and asking questions later. And in this way they end up galvanizing the very enemy they are fighting. It was the atrocities of the Shining Path that incubated Peruvian President Fujimori, who with considerable public support initiated a reign of terror and sold Peru for the price of a banana. It was the atrocities of the US in the Middle East that largely fuelled the Holy War of Islamic terrorism.
Even though the Leader of Civilization is calling for a new Crusade, Allah is innocent of the crimes committed in his name. After all, God did not order the Nazi Holocaust of the followers of Jehovah. Nor did Jehovah order the massacres at Sabra and Chatila or the expulsion of the Palestinians from their land. Might Jehovah, Allah and God be three names for the same divinity?
A Tragedy of Errors: no-one yet knows who is who. The smoke from the explosions is part of a far larger smoke screen that blocks our view. As vengeance breeds vengeance, each act of terrorism sends us stumbling deeper into darkness.
The spiral of violence breeds violence and also confusion: pain, fear, intolerance, hatred, madness. In Porto Alegre, Brazil, former leader of Algeria Ahmed Ben Bella warned: ‘This system, which has driven cows mad, is making people mad too.’ And madmen, maddened by hatred, act just like the force that unhinged them.
A three-year-old boy named Luca commented a few days ago: ‘The world doesn’t know where its home is.’ He was reading a map. He may as well have been watching the news.
Eduardo Galeano, who lives in Montevideo, Uruguay, is the author of many books, including Memories of Fire, The Open Veins of Latin America and, most recently, Upside Down. ©IPS.
Urvashi Butalia, the
terrorist trail can lead
to your own front door.
When thousands died after suicidal terrorists struck the US on 11 September, we in India were asked to observe two minutes of silence in solidarity with the victims. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, our Prime Minister told us, stop all activity and stand in silence.
But no matter how much I mourned those deaths I couldn’t erase from my thoughts the 3,000 people who died in anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984; the more than 2,000 who died in anti-Muslim riots in Bombay in 1993; and the 10,000-plus who died as a result of a gas leak in the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal in 1984.
Why was it that we weren’t asked to stand in silence for them? Was it because they weren’t all killed in what are strictly defined as terrorist attacks? In Delhi and Bombay the killers had the tacit support of the State. In Bhopal, Union Carbide had the might of America behind it. And yet didn’t the victims in Bombay and Delhi feel terror when facing their killers? Didn’t mothers in Bhopal feel terror as they watched the gas waft in and take away the lives of their children?
I remember being enraged by the paltry compensation Union Carbide offered to the Bhopal victims and complaining about this to an American at a seminar. ‘But my dear,’ he said matter-of-factly, ‘don’t you know that the price of an Indian life is much less than that of an American?’
I realize now, as the US prepares to fight a war in our region, on our soil, how true his words were. Here we are offering all help to America. Air space? Bases? Take them. We didn’t even wait to be asked.
We know only too well the exploitation, the widespread instances of rape, the arrogance of American soldiers on air bases all over the world. Yet here we are, laying ourselves open to this. Why? Because our Government wants to show up Pakistan on the world stage. And because they want to turn away attention from the real issues: starvation in the face of overflowing food stocks, a shaky economy, civil unrest.
Suddenly, India and Pakistan are at the heart of this impending war. How tragic that the momentum of dealing with the bitter legacy of the past has suddenly been lost, bartered away. For what? Why should we be implicated in an American war?
Even as I ask the question I know the answer. This war is ‘good’ for us. What better for our Hindu leaders than to have international validation of Muslims as terrorists, of Islam as the enemy? What better for Pakistan than to have the US conveniently forget its opposition to the country’s nuclear explosions, and lift sanctions?
It’s easy to fight a war that’s not on your own soil, easier still to pretend to be the guardian of all morality. It’s much more difficult to reflect, to analyse and to realize that sometimes the path to the source of terrorism may lead to your own front door.
Yet it’s not too late to confront the devil within. As a group of women from war-torn Kosovo recently wrote in an open letter: ‘American politicians and decision-makers... we ask you not to put us and your citizens at more risk… Please remember your past and learn from ours to leave a legacy of justice and peaceful construction, not of revenge, destruction and war.’
I don’t know what will happen to us in South Asia if the American war takes off. But I do know that both in America and here we’ll be much more vulnerable to violence. Islam will be further demonised, the hatred for minorities nurtured by our fundamentalist majoritarian politics will only get worse. And tolerance and peace will be a thing of the past.
Urvashi Butalia is a writer based in New Delhi.