No Challenge to the United States
The Mail & Guardian (liberal), Johannesburg,
South Africa, Sept. 14, 2001
World Press Review, November 2001
The idea that U.S. military and economic muscle has been dented
in a fundamental way is a fantasy. The world has been left a more
dangerous and more unstable place by the attacks, but the global
balance of power is unchanged. For the foreseeable future there
is no state, or alliance of states, that can offer any challenge
to the United States' world ascendancy.
Rejoicing in the tragedy points to a sad failure of the imagination.
The desperation of those who leaped from the World Trade Center
and of the passengers in the doomed aircraft hardly bears thinking
about. These were not politicians and generals. They were office
workers and firemen- ordinary people going about their ordinary
What is frightening about the perpetrators was their belief
that a larger ideological cause justifies inflicting any amount
of suffering on innocent people. The same mentality lay behind
the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. The
bombers must have known they would kill hundreds of African bystanders.
Assuming that the killers are Islamic militants-and the suicidal
nature of the attacks suggests this-it is important to realize
that theirs is a minority version of Islam. Embracing a faith
that enjoins mercy on its adherents, most Muslims will abhor their
tactics. Certain Arab leaders who expressed outrage and sympathy
with the United States may have done so as an insurance policy.
But some Palestinians donated blood to the United States. The
fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood has condemned the attacks as
"contradicting all human and Islamic values."
The question arises: How should the United States respond
to this enormity? The first indications are not promising. U.S.
politicians immediately suggested on Wednesday that Afghanistan's
Taliban movement should be targeted. This represents an obsessive
focus on the alleged terrorist mastermind, Osama bin Laden. Informed
by a crude Manichaean view of the world as a battleground between
the forces of light and darkness, America's fatal tendency in
such situations is to blame "rogue states" and diabolical
individuals. The hand of the militarists and isolationists in
the U.S. state will be immensely strengthened. Even if Afghanistan
is bombed back to the Stone Age, and Bin Laden is caught and punished,
terror attacks on the United States will not stop. The most sophisticated
intelligence technology and the largest and smartest military
arsenals are powerless against conspirators with an ideological
The root problem is that the United States is hated throughout
the Arab world and in many other developing countries for the
arrogance of its power. As shown by its rejection of the International
Criminal Court, refusal to endorse the Kyoto Protocol, and withdrawal
from United Nations racism conference, it seeks to impose norms
on weaker countries while seeing itself as above international
regulation. Both isolationist and controlling, it is ignorant
of the world it rules and oblivious to the suffering caused by
many of its actions. An example is its 11-year blockade of Iraq,
which has left dictator Saddam Hussein unscathed but caused untold
misery to ordinary Iraqis, including the deaths of an estimated
500,000 children. The Lockerbie plane bombing was a terrible act,
but it is worth remembering that it was preceded by the U.S. downing
of an Iranian passenger liner in the Gulf, for which George Bush's
administration could hardly bring itself to apologize.
Considering its own strategic interests paramount, the United
States threw its weight behind a slew of monstrous regimes and
brutal rebel leaders during the Cold War. Millions have died in
Africa's Great Lakes region while the most powerful nation in
history has stood by.
It is a safe assumption that the trigger for this week's attacks
is the spiraling conflict in the Middle East, for which the United
States must accept much responsibility. There can be no peace
until the Israelis accept a Palestinian state, which in turn hinges
on the removal of Israeli settlements from the occupied territories
and concessions on the status of Jerusalem. Instead of initiating
talks on these issues, Ariel Sharon's government has chosen to
grind down Palestinian insurgency by collective punishments, extrajudicial
executions, and other violations of human rights. Without U.S.
patronage, Israel cannot survive. What has the world's superpower
done to push its client to the negotiating table?
World domination by a democracy like the United States is
preferable to some alternatives. Not many people would choose
to live under China's military-bureaucratic despotism or the repressive
fanatics of the Taliban. But the poor two-thirds of the globe
has little reason to feel grateful to America, and much to reproach
it for. While that profound polarity continues, terrorism-the
warfare of the powerless-will not go away.
Whatever military action the United States resorts to, what
is required of it in the longer term is an exhaustive political
engagement with, and sensitivity to, the concerns of the deeply
aggrieved who are its bitterest foes-starting with those in Palestine
and elsewhere in the Middle East. Engagement, not military action,
will ultimately deliver sustainable peace.
11th, 2001 - New York City