The following day, I was listening to the news in the car on the way home
and heard the tail end of an interview with what I think was an Israeli spokesman.
He was asked how the world could co-ordinate its attack on Terrorism if it
couldn't even agree what it was. He replied "It doesn't matter how we
define it, so long as we're all committed to fighting it" or something
of that ilk. This is an example of what I am starting to call the "Philosophy
Gap" (which will become another essay in due course). It illustrates
an approach to intellectual problems which does its best not to involve the
intellect. In this particular case, there is a simple, obvious and uncomfortable
truth. The world cannot agree its definition of Terrorism. Nevertheless, we're
apparently all committed to combating incitement to it, whatever it is.
That this is philosophically absurd is probably obvious even to non philosophers.
It is not remotely conceivable that the reasonably intelligent men (mostly)
who were present at that UN debate remain unaware of this absurdity. But,
like the emperor's clothes, this embarrassing fact is politely ignored - even
when direct and pertinent questions are asked about it.
This isn't just golden material for satirists. It is very dangerous and will
lead to further unnecessary deaths and repression. One of the consequences
of this international incompetence is that it leaves "Terrorism"
firmly in the mind of the beholder:
As Human Rights Watch noted:
"...the resolution's sponsors have made it easy for abusive governments
to invoke the resolution to target peaceful political opponents, impose censorship
and close mosques, churches and schools."
"Instead, the proposed resolution uses vague and overbroad language
in calling on states to "prevent" incitement and to "counter" incitement that
is "motivated by extremism and intolerance" or that is "subvert[ing] educational,
cultural, and religious institutions."
Indeed, much of what I am saying on my own web site clearly falls within
such a definition of "incitement" if not the actual terrorism. I
am certainly opposed to most religious institutions and governments and I'm
trying my damndest to subvert them all. True, I don't advocate violence. Indeed
I generally oppose it. But I don't have an ethical problem, for example, with
unlimited direct action up to and including the complete shut down of a nation's
economy and the peaceful seizure of strategic infrastructure in order to remove
the political obstacles of existing governments. As we will see - that probably
fits the current American definition of terrorism if not my own country's.
According to the BBC, a "high level panel", presumably of UN Civil
Servants, proposed this
failed definition (of Terrorism):
"Any action, in addition to actions already specified by the existing
conventions on aspects of terrorism, the Geneva Conventions and Security Council
resolution 1566 (2004), that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm
to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such act, by its nature
or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international
organisation to do or to abstain from doing any act."
The Beeb helpfully reminds us that:
(The Geneva Conventions now outlaws attacks aimed only at civilians and
Security Council Resolution 1566 passed last year condemned "all acts
of terrorism irrespective of their motivation".)
Subsequently, the negotiators charged with polishing up the definition in
preparation for the 60th anniversary UN celebrations chose to add wording
which made it clear that such an action "cannot be justified on any
grounds and constitutes an act of terrorism". which, frankly, doesn't
seem to me to add anything of substance but, like them, I'm happy to have
it included if it helps.
However, as the Beeb points out:
This definition would cover actions of both governments and terrorist
organisations but still leaves room for interpretation. For example, governments
could declare they were not intimidating a population but seeking wrong-doers.
Terrorists could argue that civilians are soldiers out of uniform.
MIFT have a much
better argument than that, as we shall see below. In any case, the definition,
ambiguous and flexible as it was:
...went too far for some. They thought that some acts of violence could
be justified. Islamic countries wanted a reference to the right of peoples
to resist occupation. This would cover, for example, acts carried out by Palestinian
resistance groups. This in turn was seen by some Western states as an attempt
to justify terrorism. In the end, no definition was agreed though terrorism
"in all its forms" is condemned.
(You do realise, don't you, that we paid good money for those people to be
in New York?)
Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism...
There are few words in human discourse which carry such emotional baggage,
few words which have such a widely disagreed definition and few words which
have been so deliberately abused.
My main philosophical objection to the use of the word "terrorist"
is that is most often used as a substitute for the more straightforward word
"enemy". In addition, it is almost always used as a demonising word
in a grossly manipulative and dishonest way in order to suppress dissent,
to slur potential legitimate opponents and to deter attempts at really understanding
the cause of whatever conflict has produced the "terrorism".
It is this basic compulsion to be dishonest which is the real reason the
world cannot agree a definition of terrorism. For example, the Egyptian foreign
Minister - Ahmed Aboul Gheit - interviewed by BBC Newsnight 14 Sept 2005,
offered a relatively straightforward definition
"Terrorism is when you act against innocent civilians in any way...
Killing civilians is a terrorist thing which has to be condemned"
Who can possibly disagree with that?
The Americans, for a start. They've killed between 30 and 100 thousand innocent
civilians so far, in response to the attack on 9-11 which killed 3 thousand
of their own citizens. They can't possibly accept a definition that broad. It
makes them the world's biggest terrorists. Yes, I know that's exactly what many
people do argue, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Right now we're debating
definitions. It's hardly surprising that the world's last empire doesn't want
to agree a definition which puts it in the dock - perhaps literally.
However, on the Radio 4 Today programme on 16 September 2005, Prime Minister
Blair may have come to their rescue, when confronted with the definition problem
he was unequivocal and added just one important word
is the killing of innocent civilians deliberately. (exerpt
on mp3 - 160k)
This allows the Americans to defend themselves against charges of terrorism
on the grounds that they didn't deliberately kill thousands of civilians.
I suspect that's largely true.
But what does a senior American have to say about, for example, the right
of people to resist "Occupation"? The aforementioned Newsnight program
also interviewed Ambassador Peter Galbraith, the US representative at the
Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. He conceded the legitimacy
of such resistance but concluded:
"What is not legitimate is to go out and kill civilians intentionally,
or to take on military targets knowing that you're going to be killing
a large number of innocent civilians" (emphasis added)
That was what United States Ambassador, Peter Galbraith, said, out loud,
on BBC Television. I've recorded it (sound only) and I've put the clip
here (mp3) so you can hear it for yourself.
Anyone spot a problem with this position?
How did the 30-100 thousand innocent civilians killed by the US since 9-11
come to die then Peter?
I'm assuming (unlike the conspiracy theorists) that the vast majority of
the killings were not intentional. They occurred as a direct result of attacks
on known or suspected military targets which just happened to be in the middle
of heavily populated civilian areas. Is it the American position that they
didn't know that their attacks would result in those civilian deaths?
That implausible claim might have been acceptable for the first few attacks,
while they were still learning the lesson, or just trying to kid themselves,
or us, that their laser and satellite guided weapons - or their human target
selectors - never made mistakes, but the error must have become clear to them
even more quickly than it did to the rest of the watching world.
Thereafter, attacks against military targets in civilian areas were
clearly committed with both the knowledge that civilian deaths were inevitable
and with reckless disregard for that knowledge. There is no other
interpretation possible which does not insult the intelligence. Consequently,
Ambassador Galbraith has confirmed, at the very least, that the Americans
have caused tens of thousands of illegitimate deaths.
But at least they can hold their head up high and argue that the deaths they
caused were not the result of State sponsored Terrorism. Why not? Motive.
They weren't "deliberate" killings. I still agree with this defence.
The key concept behind terrorism - as the "high panel" definition
implies - is the intent to intimidate - to terrorise - the target population.
Or, as Bill Moyer
puts it in his excellent analysis of the rise of the Religious Right:
Terrorists plant time bombs in our heads, hoping to turn each and every
imagination into a private hell governed by our fear of them.
I'm sure that their bitterest enemies would disagree with me but I do not
believe that the US intent was intimidation. In fact such a view is not feasible.
Intimidation would only work if the target population could somehow be expected
to influence the behaviour of the real military targets, which clearly, in
the case of both the Taliban and Saddam Hussein was not plausible.
But it's not much of a defence - against charges of terrorism - to have to
argue that the tens of thousands of unnecessary and illegitimate deaths you
have caused were the result "only" of wilful and reckless disregard
for the safety of the civilian population. After the first few "mistakes"
all subsequent indiscriminate slaughter has been as inexcusable and "evil"
as the terrorism it was fighting.
And the survivors should seriously consider using Galbraiths testimony is
the American Courts when they sue for billions in compensation.
Do not, meanwhile, expect to find an intelligent definition of Terrorism
anywhere near the American administration or their legislators. Humpty Dumpty
like, they seem to believe that "words mean what I say they mean". Their
formal definition has been so widened that it now includes virtually any means
of opposing the establishment.
Below is a reasonable summary of the American legal definition of terrorism
under the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001. But just before we deal with that, let's
consider that title for a few moments.
"USA PATRIOT" stands for:
Uniting and Strengthening America
by Providing Appropriate Tools
Required to Intercept and Obstruct
Notice how I've helpfully bolded the initials which make up the acronym?
That's just in case you needed help in understanding how they arrived at the
acronym because you're as stupid as they must think you are. Just sit back,
close your eyes and consider, for a few moments, what that title tells us
about the background and mindset of the people who think the acronym, not
to mention the law itself, are good ideas.
Now you begin to understand the scale of the problem we are up against! I
challenge anyone to provide a better justification of Samuel Johnson's famous
"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" (1775)
One thing it tells us: those involved have
- never read George Orwell's 1984, or worse,
- failed to understand it. Or worse still
- understood it and decided it was a good idea!
Those options are all scary on an increasing scale.
In any case, here is the promised summary
of the USA PATRIOT definition of Terrorism:
Domestic terrorism is now defined in part as any activities that "involve
acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws" and
which "appear to be intended" to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population"
or "to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion."
(If you feel the urge to examine the full text, you can find it here)
OK, now let's look at the summary in a bit more detail...
acts dangerous to human life
not obviously unreasonable, at least, not immediately...
that are a violation of the criminal laws
can't argue with that, providing, of course, that the laws have been democratically
appear to be intended
What? Whoa there Neddy! Appear?
You mean they might not actually be committing an offence, but just
look like they are? And that's enough to qualify as being a terrorist?
Even if they didn't know they looked like terrorists? They cannot
But they are. Let's carry on regardless:
to intimidate or coerce a civilian population
hmmm. Go on...
to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.
OK. In short their definition of terrorism seems to be "life threatening
behaviour committed with the aim of intimidation or coercion (of the people
or their governments)."
Is an angry mob intimidating? Damn right it is!
But is it terrorism?
Is it bollocks!
An angry mob evicted
the corrupt Georgian regime in November 2003. Certainly storming a government
building, even peacefully, is bound to pose some "danger to human life",
particularly if the existing regime is trying to defend it, and we can guarantee
that it was a "violation of criminal laws", so using their definition,
the authors of the USA PATRIOT act would have you believe that the overthrow
of the corrupt Georgian regime was terrorism, or at least, it would be if
it happened in the US of A.
"Ah but..." they might protest "the Georgian government was corrupt. They deserved
what they got."
And? Your point is?
Who is to judge whether in the relevant set of circumstances, a charge of
corruption is legitimate or not? It certainly can not be those facing the
Not, that is, unless they're also prepared to extend that privilege to all
others charged with crime in general:
Now then sonny - was what you just did a Crime?
Right then, off you go.
Now that would empty the prisons!
The point is that the same uncomplicated minds who believe that the USA PATRIOT
Act is both a good name and a good idea are clearly not familar with either
the practice or existence of subtle thought. They further seem unaware that
we can see the way they are thinking. Like Ambassador Galbraith, they don't
seem to realise what they're saying out loud. Or perhaps they simply don't care
that we can read their paranoid minds because they're so convinced of their
There is, of course, a strong case for mobilising the forces of society against
the modern threat of religiously inspired terrorism. I've dealt with that,
There is, however, no case for making the cure
worse than the disease. Unsurprisingly, the USAPATRIOTs don't see it that
Their Not So Hidden Agenda
To some extent, I'm speculating (but with a considerable evidence
base as you can see if you follow the previous couple of links) but it seems
to me that for the Neocons and elements of the Religious Right, the very real
threat represented by MIFT - and their legitimate need to contain the threat
- has presented them with their golden opportunity to put the genie of "permissiveness"
back in the bottle. The excuse to impose their Police
State to protect themselves from terrorists also provides their best opportunity
for decades to regain the control they lost in the 60s. When America, for
a moment, forgot to be a god-fearing country.
All the signs are present; in addition to all the detail revealed by Bill
Moyer's piece, we have the Manifesto For the Christian Church, the Wedge Strategy,
Patrick Henry College, the "born again" President, the Neocon dominance
of the civil power structure and so on. (it's all under the above links if
you haven't already been there). This is their opportunity to re-impose that
fear of god. This is their religious revival.
And if you think that's scary, remember that what they are up against (where
the terrorism is coming from) is exactly the same thing - another
religious revival - in a different religion. It is no accident that representatives
of both sides have called this a holy war.
Meanwhile, if the US Administration really is saying that they would label
the Georgian people's triumph - or the 2004 Ukrainian Orange Revolution -
as terrorism if it took place in the Land of the Free, then one more thing
is clear: They either simply want a definition of terrorism which amounts
to "Opposition to US" or they really don't understand what terrorism
is. If that's the case, they are going to be somewhat confused by what I'm
about to say regarding the events of World War II. On the one hand I've labelled
some attacks as the most successful acts of terrorism ever. And, on the other,
I've categorically argued that, subject to motivation, some of those terrorist
acts were ethical, and thus reasonably defensible.
How can you possibly have ethical terrorism?
It's all to do with your state of mind. If you've bought into the
propaganda, then War, with all its official declarations and military pomp,
is somehow more honourable than terrorism. Terrorism is the purest form of
Evil. (other than sex, of course) To the fundamentalist religious mind on
the target side of the fence it is literally Satanic behaviour, while to the
equally fundamentalist religious minds on the attacker's side, the same act
is considered an act of divinely inspired martyrdom for which the word "terrorism"
is wholly inappropriate. It is, in short, the most wholeheartedly demonised
word in the English language (and, presumably other human languages). None
of which has any bearing on reality.
Terrorism is just another military strategy. And one of the oldest. Regardless
of centuries of Bushido, Chivalry and sundry other "codes of honour" - all
of which try to provide a moral basis for the conduct of the slaughter of
other human beings, there is nothing in reality particularly ethical about
trying to ensure that we maintain level playing fields while trying to kill
an enemy. In fact it's a stupid concept. It implies that you want to be "fair"
to someone you also wish to kill! Generally, if you're intent on killing someone,
you simply want to maximise your advantage and minimise your risk as far as
is humanly possible. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles are the best expression
of that ambition that we've created so far. Maximum advantage, and, particularly
if the enemy doesn't possess similar weapons, minimum risk.
So why didn't they just nuke Iraq? (An option still under active
consideration for terrorism in general)
Because, of course, they would immediately have become international pariahs.
In the longer run, they would almost certainly suffer the most terrible, if
somewhat delayed, revenge. And most of the rest of the world would agree they
Because we've evolved notions of fairness even when killing people. And,
somehow, it's considered fairer, for example, to kill 200,000 Iraqi troops
(the 1991 prequel) with carpet bombing; or a few thousand talibs trying feebly
to defend their country against the world's largest conventional weapons,
such as the daisycutter,
the "poor mans A bomb", which is reputed to kill anything within
1000 yards of ground zero.
Fairer, that is, than vapourising them with a tactical nuclear device.
The Nuke is (or, at least, has been until recently) seen as a step too far.
For visceral rather than logical reasons, it marks the boundary over which,
should we step, Armageddon is the most probable outcome.
It's an entirely arbitrary line but a useful one nevertheless. It probably
has held us back from the Nuclear Holocaust we thought inevitable at various
times during the Cold War. So the Western World and the former Soviet Union
should be congratulated for their nuclear restraint. The Soviets bankrupted
themselves building the damn things, but at least they didn't use them.
Everyone has heard of the Japanese Kamikaze pilots who flew their "Zeros"
into the American Pacific battle fleet in a desperate attempt to fend off impending
defeat towards the end of the second World War. But until nearly 40 years later,
introduced suicide bombing as a peacetime option with disregard for civilian
casualties, (later perfectect by the Tamil
Tigers), this was another line we all thought that no-one would ever cross.
There seems to have been a similar notion that the deliberate targeting of civilians
was equally taboo. Not so, of course. Both random and deliberate targeted killing
of civilians has probably been a mainstream military tactic since before we
left the trees. We now know that even
Chimpanzees practice small scale warfare and raids targeted against isolated
individuals who are not posing any current threat - the nearest we can get in
Chimpworld to a "non combatant" or civilian.
The Romans, of course, introduced "decimation" as their contribution
to terrorism; but with a unique twist. Decimation
was first employed to terrorise the Army itself (to ensure that none dared display
cowardice) - not the target population; that was a later addition. Japanese
military discipline was almost as brutal and effective in ensuring compliance
and "loyalty" and ensured that they too were particularly good at
terrorising their target populations. Then, of course, we remember Atilla
The Hun or Vlad
the Impaler. Leaving a trail of impaled Muslim corpses here, wiping out
a few hundred non combatants there all had the desired effect of terrorising
the population and minimising resistance. Not to mention the Vikings, the Goths,
the Visigoths and so on. We won't even talk about the behaviour of either side
during the conquest of America by the white settlers.
Murder, pillage, rape and terrorism have always been standard parts of the
"game" of warfare. Only in recent decades has this begun to change
and that is one of the more positive results of the growth of media power and
penetration - which renders such behaviour increasingly visible in real time
- but which we can discuss elsewhere. Are all those previous wars now to be
relabelled terrorism? Fine, but don't even try to limit it to medieval and earlier
warfare. Modern wars, as we'll discuss below, have been vastly more brutal and
terrorising than any of their predecessors.
Suicidal self sacrifice, in contrast, is much rarer than slaughtering non combatants,
but certainly not unheard of. There have always been exceptionally brave and
committed fighters who have been prepared to launch an attack, or maintain a
defence knowing that, whatever happens, their own death is certain. Military
history is littered with examples. The final athletic event of the modern Olympic
Games is dedicated to the memory of one of the more famous ones. It is also
the case that Suicidal attacks on legitimate military or political targets have
frequently also killed innocent civilians.
The combination, however, of suicide and the deliberate targeting
and slaughter of civilians is - as far as I can tell - a wholly new development
for which MIFT can claim the undisputed copyright. Which event can claim to
be the first such attack is much disputed. For example, most of us in the
West take for granted that Palestinian suicide bombers have been targeting
Israeli civilians for a couple of decades. C.E. Carlson went there to see
for himself . He reports
it somewhat differently, not least because the Israeli military are so
ubiquitous that almost any attack in Israel can, arguably, be construed as
against a military target, even though it usually - like the average American
or Israeli attacks - happens to kill more civilians than soldiers. So it may
well be that 9-11 was the first suicide attack against an unambiguously civilian
target in the shape of the World Trade Centre.
It is hardly surprising and not seriously disputed that the attack was the
purest form of Terrorism. But I've always been mystified by why it was also
Why on Earth were suicidal terrorists ever described as Cowards?
At 1.04 pm on Sept 11 2001 Bush made his first
public response to the terrorist attack on America which included:
Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible
for these cowardly acts.
Initially we might have been inclined to a charitable view. This was just the
off the cuff remarks of a very stressed president who is not renowned for his
mastery of the English language. But he - and, later, others - kept using the
word. I suspect he's still using it today. He was certainly still
using it in 2004. It was obviously a deliberate conscious choice.
Again, only the leading edge minds that think up things like USA PATRIOT would
think it appropriate to call such attackers Cowards. It certainly implies
a new and interesting definition
Even Richard Clarke (then Bush's "National Co-ordinator For Security Infrastructure
Protection and Counterterrorism" - but you can can call him the NCFSIPC for
short) did a doubletake when he heard the President referring to this "cowardly"
attack during his first TV broadcast. (see "Against
All Enemies" pp 16-17)
"Lunatic" or "Psychotic" or even "Psychopathic" we might
accept as being a reasonable description of someone who thinks it a good idea
to fly loaded planes into tall buildings full of civilians, but, frankly, its
difficult to imagine 19 lunatics organising something that well.
"Psychotic?" well yes, certainly in the same Social Psychotic sense I describe
here. Fundamentalism (whether religious or secular) is, in my view, a social
psychosis and there is little doubt that the perpetrators of 9-11 were religious
fundamentalists; but psychotic in the "mad axeman" sense? Hmmm... doesn't
work for me. The "social" side of the psychosis is, I speculate, a
critical component of the condition. If they weren't members of a like minded
group, they would almost certainly not be inclined to behave in such an extreme
I don't know enough about individual psychosis to know whether it usually disables
its sufferers. But certainly one of the problems with social psychosis is that
it does not disable its. They remain frighteningly capable of following their
tunnel vision plans, whether those plans are to "dismantle
science's foundations block by block" or to use a loaded passenger
plane as a weapon of mass destruction.. Certainly in the case of the hijackers,
despite - or perhaps because of - any social psychosis they shared, the more
you think about what those men did, the more you realise how rational and methodical
their planning and execution must have been in order to succeed as well as they
did. While we may automatically deplore their target, we have to "admire"
Certainly, if we want to have any prospect of defending ourselves against
the huge range of attacks that became credible after 9-11, we need to acknowledge
the skill, planning capability and total commitment that our enemy has displayed.
That technically necessary analysis is inconsistent with any form of cowardice
which does not stretch the English language beyond recognition.
It is also inconceivable that such men were unaware of the ethical basis
of their actions. They were certainly not guilty of any kind of moral cowardice.
They obviously reached conclusions with which most of the rest of us fundamentally
disagree. But they had the moral courage to face the personal consequences
of their choices.
Presumably we can skip the debate over whether deliberately flying a bomb
into your enemy target constitutes some kind of physical cowardice.
The real point, of course, is that they (the USAPATRIOTs) desperately
wanted Coward to be the right word because the coward is the universal
pariah. Everybody despises the coward (except other - honest - cowards, who
sympathise). Presumably their thinking must have been along the lines of:
"if we could just persuade everyone that the suicidal hijackers were
cowards, then everybody will hate them like we do."
This is what (the late) Susan Sontag, one of the few who dared to point out
- at the time - that the emperor's threads were a bit bare, had to say in
New Yorker 24 Sept 2001.
The disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous dose of reality and the
self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures
and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow
the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public.
Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack
on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity"
or "the free world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed
superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and
actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq?
And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly
applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the
sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the
matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the
perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards.
The use of the term "coward" wasn't just inappropriate, it was
It's as though they don't think We The People (WTP) can make the distinction
between an act of evil and the skilled execution of that act. Think "Holocaust"
and the supremely efficient management of that industrial scale killing machine.
We can routinely acknowledge the anal precision of Nazi bureaucracy without
conceding any ethical merit to the slaughter they were recording so meticulously.
Is it really necessary for me to emphasise?: Nobody was one jot less offended
or horrified by 9-11 just because we didn't see the hijackers as cowards.
They were obviously very courageous men. But if they weren't already dead,
many of us would gladly rip them limb from limb in response to their awful
and awesome attacks.
Anyway, the USAPATRIOT brigade chooses to label these obviously courageous,
though psychotically misguided, young suicide hijackers Cowards, and
presumably hopes that if the docile media repeat it often enough, eventually
WTP will believe it. Precisely the kind of logic Orwell is trying to portray
in 1984, and, as Thom Hartmann
graphically outlines, it is also the kind
of propaganda technique used by Joseph Goebbels.
The problem for them (USAPATRIOTs) - if that analogy isn't just an American
liberal's not so private nightmare - is that, nowadays, too many people can
see the source documents and make up their own mind. Granted most of the sheep
won't bother checking beyond their "Fair And Balanced" Fox News
reports. But there are tens of millions of goats out there as well and they're
all chewing over the evidence with varying degrees of intelligence. Few are
dumb enough to be persuaded by the Project
Leaders. ("Project for the New American Century" - PNAC) There
were doubtless a couple of million goats in Germany in the mid 30s, but unlike
today's goats, they couldn't get at the data. They couldn't expose the lie.
Or perhaps the USAPATRIOTs also thought that this early attempt to belittle
the 9-11 attack would help to soften the barely
suppressed celebrations on the "Arab Street."
Only in Palestine did we see actual celebrations. Hardly surprising once
you begin to understand
what is going on there. Palestine was the major item on the Hijackers' agenda.
And the deep and bitter resentment provoked within the Muslim community largely
by that issue resulted in a considerable measure of satisfaction that, at
last, the Americans had got something of what they deserved. Up to a quarter
of the population in some Islamic countries actually regarded the attack as
legitimate - for reasons it has taken the years since for the minority of
Americans, who are so inclined, to begin to understand.
But the natural horror and sympathy felt by 95% of the human race, including
the majority of Muslims, must have been diluted, not just in the Arab Street
but in the Islamic world generally by that description of the killers as cowards.
That attempt to trivialise what they had done actually constituted the very
first self imposed "shot in the foot" by the Americans. They lost
their first few percent of global sympathy just through that naïve and manipulative
Perhaps, given their apparent lack of socio-analytical abilities generally,
they (the US administration) don't (or didn't) even understand that there
is such a constituency as the "Arab Street". Or worse, they believed that
its members were so unintelligent or so gullible that they'd be taken in by
the description of suicidal hijackers as cowards. They cannot imagine
that literally millions in that constituency will - feeling insulted or patronised
- reply along the lines of: One day, Imshallah, I will get my chance to
die with such cowardice.
And, as Susan Sontag discusses, if there is a cowardly way to kill people,
surely cruise missiles must be a major contender. It doesn't take a fraction
of the courage to order the death of a few hundred people under a guided missile
that it takes to fly a plane into a tall building.
The use of the pariah word "Coward" is a juvenile, simplistic and naïve attempt
at portraying the attackers as inherently weak minded and evil. If this characterisation
were remotely accurate, then the enemy would be a lot less serious threat
than they obviously are.
The objective evidence suggests that the 9-11 terrorists were no more inherently
evil than their enemy. And no less.
Their tactics and targets were, of course, appalling and inexcusable. But
no more so than the subsequent retaliation in both the invasion of Afghanistan
and Iraq, both of which have killed far more innocent non-combatant civilians
than died on 9-11. It is simply not good enough for the Americans to argue
that their use of precision weapons is unprecedented and has resulted in major
reductions in civilian casualties. "Only" killing 10-20,000 civilians (in
Afghanistan; 30-100,000 in Iraq) in response to the terrorists slaughter of
3,000 is every bit as evil, if not considerably more so than the original
crime. There is simple no rational ethical argument which can justify that
equation. The Americans blew it. Big time.
Of course, we can and should welcome the fact that they could have killed
even more but didn't. But that only sets an upper limit on their crime, it
doesn't begin to excuse it.
The real problem is...
...this aint just their problem.
They've made it a huge problem for the world at large. They have dramatically
increased the risk that we, the human race, will self destruct.
A bizarre competition has emerged. Politicians in what was once called the
"free world" compete to invent ever more repressive measures against their
own citizens in their desperate attempts to regain control of what goes on
within their borders. On the terrorist side, they compete to outdo each other
in the extent of merciless terror they can exploit. Russia's own 9-11 - Beslan
September 3 2004 - represents the lowest point they have sunk to at the time
of writing. It, too, is a more evil act even than 9-11 for reasons we will
discuss below. The televised execution by hacking off a hostage's head with
a knife is not far off the same level.
Most prominently in the firing line in 2005 are the main supporters of the
United States - particularly if their support extended to the invasion of
Iraq - and Russia which has its own home-grown problem in the Caucasus. But
the week before the Beslan slaughter, the kidnapping of the two French journalists
was in the news. They were taken by a (non Iraqi) fundamentalist outcrop of
MIFT calling themselves "Islamic Army of Iraq". Their sole
demand (on pain of death of the hostages) was the reversal of the French
law on the wearing of Islamic headscarves in schools.
This marked a dramatic new development with such far reaching implications
that they were forced by other fundamentalists to back down. Most
of Islam realised that this was a step too far.
Islamic leaders around the world rose up to protest at this kidnapping in
a way they had not done - to the same degree at least - for any previous victims.
Why? Well, partly because the French called
in the diplomatic favours they have been cultivating in the Arab world
for the previous 40 years, but partly also because they knew that if they
didn't protest and this demand was seen to be condoned, even if only by passive
acceptance, they knew how this would be seen in the rest of the world.
Such demands by militant Islam clearly endorse the view that certain strains
of Islam have their own World Domination agenda. If moderate Islam was not
seen vigorously to oppose such ambitions and tactics, this would imply support
amongs mainstream Islam and move us all a step closer to the major religious
war which bin Laden seems to be playing and praying for and most Muslims don't
want even to contemplate.
This global Islamic pressure resulted in the reasonably swift release of
the French hostages, and, in the process, revealed an important feature which
has (to my knowledge) gone unremarked elsewhere. It proved that there are
channels of communication and levers which can be pulled to influence even
the most extreme MIFT players. It also showed that they're not quite as insane
as we may have either hoped or imagined.
Many have tried to comfort themselves and come to terms with this new reality,
by imagining that Bin Laden and his colleagues are short of a few marbles.
Not playing with a full deck. Educationally sub normal. Not very intelligent.
As well, of course, as psychotic, like all fundamentalists.
But it's much much worse than that.
In truth, he is completely
No. You're right, that is going too far. Sane and "wouldn't it be a
good idea to fly loaded airplanes into the World Trade Centre?" can't
really fit into the same mental universe. But one has to admit that within
the confines of their distorted world view, they are behaving, if not rationally,
then at least intelligently and consistently.
Whether anyone cares to admit it or not, they obviously have a legitimate
and rational basis for a number of their complaints. They also have the record
of the past 50 years to show that these complaints have not only not been
largely ignored, but exacerbated. They also have the sympathy of a large minority
of the global Muslim community. They have the active support and participation
of tens of thousands of very angry Muslims, a significant minority of whom
are sufficiently committed to allow themselves to be used as weapons in this
war, even if it means their own certain death.
Furthermore, although individual tactical operations have been of questionable
benefit to their own cause, their overall strategy is sound. They clearly
cannot confront either a superpower like the United States, or an ex superpower
like the Russians on the battlefield where they are hopelessly outgunned.
What they can do, however, is work towards making those societies tear themselves
apart. In order to achieve that, they must provoke an internal crisis within
each country. The polarisation we are seeing in the United States was evident
well before 9-11. The Republican attacks on Clinton in the late 90s followed
by the Bush election in 2000 revealed that. But the depth and scale of the
political chasm has been massively expanded since then by three main factors.
The first is the growth of the Police State of America. The Bush administration's
desperate attempt to achieve security through a mixture of intrusive and repressive
laws giving levels of unsupervised authority to their enforcement apparatus
more effective and sweeping than those the Stasi enjoyed in East Germany.
The second is the damage done to America's reputation and standing by the
cavalier attitude of the administration towards the rest of the world. This
peaks in the conduct of their invasion of Iraq but is also visible in their
attitudes to many international issues such as their refusal to join the Kyoto
protocol, their refusal to join the International Court of Human Rights, their
double standard<u>s</u> with regard to many World Trade issues and so on.
Third, of course, is the rise of the Christian Taliban and the attack on
Rationalism which we've already covered elsewhere.
Such issues are either a cause for embarrassment or a cause celebre for the
minority of Americans who take any notice at all of what is going on, politically,
in their own country. It doesn't matter which side of those issues you are
on. The inescapable truth is that America is much more bitterly divided now
than, probably, at any time since its Civil War. MIFT can claim a fair proportion
of the credit/blame for that.
Furthermore, they have also demonstrated that their actions can more directly
affect the (so called) democratic process in the West. The current Spanish
government would not be in power were it not for 3-11 - the bombing of commuter
trains in rush hour Madrid on March 11 2004. Granted, the bombs didn't frighten
the Spaniards into voting against their incumbent incompetents. It was the
pathetic way the then Government tried to mislead its people (by insisting
that it must have been the work of Basque terrorists - who have never even
attempted an attack on that scale, particularly against civilians) that ensured
their ballot failure. Nevertheless, MIFT can claim full credit for provoking
the crisis at the opportune time.
More recently, we've had the London
Bombings and within weeks, the UK Parliament was signing up to further ill
thought out repressive
measures which restrict liberty and hand further victories to the terrorists.
These political successes are a major incentive for the terrorists to continue
their military campaigns. They also offer a clue as to what kind of attacks
we might begin to anticipate. It is not simply the terrorising of the population
that matters. The aim is to do so in such a way that the host governments
exacerbate the problem by creating ever increasing internal dissent.
For example, if they had wanted a different president following the 2004
elections, we would have seen a major escalation of activity in Iraq (of the
kind we saw after the "agreement" on the Iraqi Constitution) in
order to demonstrate the continuing failure of that policy. In fact, it was
a reasonably calm period in Iraq (by their standards) because, of course,
the last thing that MIFT wanted was a change in the American Establishment.
They were more than happy with the direction the Americans were taking. Why
upset that apple cart?
The last thing they want at the moment is a Democrat president. There is
a serious risk that he would take steps (or at least try) which would significantly
decrease the tension and conflict which they've worked so hard and, so far,
so successfully to achieve. And they can't imagine a Democrat ratcheting up
the Police State at anything like the pace of the PNAC zealots. They look
forward to their own version of a "tipping point". The point at
which the authoritarianism begins to produce home-grown terrorism from within
the extensive reservoir of libertarians in the United States who already believe
their government has gone many steps too far.
Either MIFT or PNAC subcontractors might still try to kill Bush, as I first
The purpose of such an assassination would be to provoke a massive pro-religious-republican
back-lash which would ensure that the Project continues.
You may or may not agree with that conspiratorial analysis but I doubt if
you would disagree that any further 9-11 scale attacks (or even 3-11) on the
American mainland will cement the Police State mentality deeply into the American
psyche - they might even push for and get Amendments to the constitution designed
to undermine the protections of the previous amendments.
Should MIFT attacks continue to succeed in this manner, and both America
and Russia begin to implode, and Europe, led by Britain begin to follow in
their footsteps, then what hope for the human race?
And what, if anything, can WTP do about it?
Kick out the governments responsible is an obvious choice. Providing you
can stomach what you'll get instead.
But even after that electoral bloodletting, the very real problems will still
remain. We have to address them. We need much more than a change of personnel.
More even than a change of political system. We need to start using our intelligence,
in ALL senses of that word.
We can begin by understanding what Terrorism is. And we can start that process
by stating clearly what:
Terrorism is NOT:
Taking a pair of nail cutters on a plane
Protesting at the bullying tactics of the State
Supporting the Palestinian cause against the Israelis
- Preaching religious hatred
Restricted to private individuals or private armies
The lethal targeting of non combatants to promote fear
throughout the enemy population.
- Motivated by the primary aim of all warfare, short of genocide - to coerce
the enemy to bow to the demands of the attackers.
- Generally unethical - but no more so than "traditional" warfare techniques
where those result in the reckless deaths of non combatants
See? Not that difficult to define - providing we're not trying to leave escape
clauses or score political points. It is, as I said earlier, just another military
The military logic of attacking the non combatant ("civilian") population is
- Unlike those with military training, civilians are much more likely to
be intimidated by brute force.
It forces the enemy to divert military resources to civil
There is less risk and fewer obstacles to the attacker
from a non military target.
Demonstrating the enemy leadership's inability to protect
their civil population places enormous pressure on that leadership which
the attackers hope will cause the enemy to concede their demands by recognising
capitulation as the only way to stop the slaughter.
So, with all that in mind...
Which single attack would you nominate as the worlds biggest ever
Deduct two points if you nominated 9-11. It's not even in the ball park.
In fact, deduct ten points. I gave you a clue earlier!
Dresden is the main
contender. It is the biggest military slaughter of non-combatants in history
resulting from a single attack. It is probably the greatest single war crime
ever (if we regard the Holocaust and Stalin's purges, both of which took place
over a period of years, as millions of individual crimes rather than single
events; otherwise, of course, they would be the clear winners) It remains,
arguably, the greatest unpunished crime ever committed. Of course, it helped
that it was a crime committed by the victors, rather than the vanquished,
so nobody ever had the guts to stand up, at the time, and charge Churchill
- who was directly responsible - with being a war criminal and terrorist.
There was never the slightest shred of military justification for the attack
on Dresden. It did nothing to shorten the war and thus, far from saving lives
in the long run, it merely destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives for nothing
more than a geopolitical whim. It was not necessary, at that stage in the
War (February 1945) to further frighten the German people in order to force
their government to surrender. They were gradually being beaten back into
their bunkers and the end was only a matter of relatively short time.
There may even be a case to argue that it was more despicable and evil than
any mere Terrorism. You can at at least argue that the Terrorist is trying
to intimidate the target population in order to force his ambitions on them.
The bombing of Dresden wasn't even aimed at the German victims it killed.
The only motivation appears to have been Churchill's desire to show the Russians
how much power the West could wield if it needed to, in the context of the
sharing of the Europeans spoils of war after what was, by then, the inevitable
victory of the allies. In other words we were killing innocent civilians in
one country, in order to try to intimidate the government of another country
who, at that stage, not only weren't our enemy, but were actually still one
of our allies!
By some accounts, more people died in Dresden than in both Hiroshima and
Nagasaki combined. And they didn't even die for a cause related to the war
they died in. How cold blooded can humanity get? Think about that - and meditate
on how little you hear about it.
What was the Most Successful Terrorist Attack ever?
Easily the most successful (in the sense that they achieved their objective)
single acts of terrorism to date were the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
in August 1945, which forced Japan to surrender in a matter of days.
Still horrified by the suggestion that Hiroshima was a Terrorist attack? Then
read the "Terrorism IS" paragraph again and point out where Hiroshima fails
to fit. If you don't like my definition, then read the "high panel"
definition at the top of this article - with or without the added "cannot
be justified on any grounds and constitutes an act of terrorism" bit
and point out where Hiroshima fails to fit. Or challenge Tony Blair's "Terrorism
is killing innocent civilians - deliberately". Incidentally, I must take
this opportunity to congratulate Anthony Howard who became the first person
I've ever heard make this point on air (Any Questions Radio 4 16 Sept 2005 (exerpt
on mp3 - 260k))
It gets worse. Hiroshima wasn't just a non combatant target. It had deliberately
not been attacked up to that point, partly because it had no major military
signifance, even as a port, but mainly in order that accurate assessments of
the effect of the worlds first atom bomb attack could be measured without confusing
those effects with damage wreaked by conventional weapons. That's how
cold blooded humanity can be.
The precise aim of the attack, of course, was to coerce or influence
the policy of the Japanese Government into unconditional surrender by attacking
and intimidating the civilian population with a public demonstration
that further resistance would result in unimaginable levels of civilian (and
military) slaughter and destruction. It even fits the USAPATRIOTs' own definition
puts it nicely:
A good place to start thinking about the moral
issues involved in the atomic bombing is with this description of the Japanese
attack on Hong Kong from Allen and Polmar (p. 158):
To force the surrender of Fort Stanley in Hong
Kong in December 1941, Japanese troops began torturing British and Chinese
captives, cutting off ears and fingers, cutting out tongues, and gouging eyes
before killing the victims by dismemberment. British and Chinese nurses were
tied down on corpses and raped, then bayoneted to death. The captors allowed
some witnesses to escape and report the atrocities. Fort Stanley surrendered.
We are naturally nauseated by this behavior. But why? Presumably there are
some Japanese apologists who would be only too glad to point out that the number
of civilians raped and butchered to induce surrender was less than the number
of Japanese soldiers who might have died in an assault on the fort. Nevertheless,
Allen and Polmar expect us to be repelled by the Japanese action and rightly
so, because there is a moral distinction between civilians and combatants. But
nowhere in their book on why "the atom bomb had to be dropped" (to
quote their subtitle) do they ever apply this same moral standard to U.S. behaviour.
In short, if Hiroshima wasn't Terrorism, then nothing else is or
ever could be. But it gets better than that.
Not only does Hiroshima fit any reasonable definition of Terrorism, but, even
more awkwardly, it is, as I hope to demonstrate, almost certainly defensible
- not least because of the effect it has had on our history. This should not
be misconstrued as an argument that "the end justifies the means".
Its only relevance is that it lends considerable credibility to the potential
ethical motivation which may have driven it forward. If my arguments hold water,
then Hiroshima is a glaringly prominent example of how even Terrorism can be
Even some Japanese have accepted that without Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they
might never have surrendered. The debate still rages and yes, I'm aware that
some Japanese historians argue that it was actually the Soviet declaration
of War against Japan that was the final straw, but there is also a strong
argument that this declaration was itself provoked by the display of the Atom
bomb. The debate will no doubt go on for centuries. But, for me, the most
cogent and credible picture of events, is contained in Herbert
Bix's summary, which includes the following
We may never know the actual thinking of Hirohito when he decided to
surrender. General MacArthur would not allow him to be questioned. But (Hirohito's
chief political adviser) Kido gave extensive depositions to the interrogators
of the International Prosecution Section of GHQ, which wrote the scenario
for the Tokyo Tribunal in accordance with Truman administration policy. In
those depositions he said the emperor surrendered in order to bring the war
to an end and save human lives. He and the other top leaders figured that
the new U.S. weapon of mass destruction, the atomic bomb, had given them a
face-saving excuse -- a way to accept defeat that would enable them to lead
the nation through the immediate post-surrender situation.
There is no dissent from the view that, had they refused to surrender, the
Japanese would eventually have been defeated and that it would have cost them
many millions more lives. The Americans, in turn, knew that continuing the conventional
war might have cost them upwards of a further million lives. Whether those deaths
would definitely have resulted can never be known, but the predictions were
certainly not unreasonable. Hence it is reasonable to argue that the quart