B 92: Why do you think these attacks happened?
CHOMSKY: To answer the question we
must first identify the perpetrators of the crimes.
It is generally assumed, plausibly, that their origin
is the Middle East region, and that the attacks
probably trace back to the Osama Bin Laden network,
a widespread and complex organization, doubtless
inspired by Bin Laden but not necessarily acting
under his control. Let us assume that this
is true. Then to answer your question a sensible
person would try to ascertain Bin Laden's views,
and the sentiments of the large reservoir of supporters
he has throughout the region. About all of
this, we have a great deal of information.
Bin Laden has been interviewed extensively over
the years by highly reliable Middle East specialists,
notably the most eminent correspondent in the region,
Robert Fisk (London "Independent"), who
has intimate knowledge of the entire region and
direct experience over decades.
A Saudi Arabian millionaire, Bin Laden became a
militant Islamic leader in the war to drive the
Russians out of Afghanistan. He was one of
the many religious fundamentalist extremists recruited,
armed, and financed by the CIA and their allies
in Pakistani intelligence to cause maximal harm
to the Russians - quite possibly delaying their
withdrawal, many analysts suspect - though whether
he personally happened to have direct contact with
the CIA is unclear, and not particularly important.
Not surprisingly, the CIA preferred the most fanatic
and cruel fighters they could mobilize. 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, also a specialist on
These "Afghanis" as they are called (many,
like Bin Laden, not from Afghanistan) carried out
terror operations across the border in Russia, but
they terminated these after Russia withdrew.
Their war was not against Russia, which they despise,
but against the Russian occupation and Russia's
crimes against Muslims.
The "Afghanis" did not terminate their
activities, however. They joined Bosnian Muslim
forces in the Balkan Wars; the US did not object,
just as it tolerated Iranian support for them, for
complex reasons that we need not pursue here, apart
from noting that concern for the grim fate of the
Bosnians was not prominent among them. The "Afghanis"
are also fighting the Russians in Chechnya, and,
quite possibly, are involved in carrying out terrorist
attacks in Moscow and elsewhere in Russian territory.
Bin Laden and his "Afghanis" turned against
the US in 1990 when they established permanent bases
in Saudi Arabia - from his point of view, a counterpart
to the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, but far
more significant because of Saudi Arabia's special
status as the guardian of the holiest shrines.
Bin Laden is also bitterly opposed to the corrupt
and repressive regimes of the region, which he regards
as "un-Islamic," including the Saudi Arabian
regime, the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist
regime in the world, apart from the Taliban, and
a close US ally since its origins. Bin Laden
despises the US for its support of these regimes.
Like others in the region, he is also outraged
by long-standing US support for Israel's brutal
military occupation, now in its 35th year: Washington's
decisive diplomatic, military, and economic intervention
in support of the killings, the harsh and destructive
siege over many years, the daily humiliation to
which Palestinians are subjected, the expanding
settlements designed to break the occupied territories
into Bantustan-like cantons and take control of
the resources, the gross violation of the Geneva
Conventions, and other actions that are recognized
as crimes throughout most of the world, apart from
the US, which has prime responsibility for them.
And like others, he contrasts Washington's dedicated
support for these crimes with the decade-long US-British
assault against the civilian population of Iraq,
which has devastated the society and caused hundreds
of thousands of deaths while strengthening Saddam
Hussein - who was a favored friend and ally of the
US and Britain right through his worst atrocities,
including the gassing of the Kurds, as people of
the region also remember well, even if Westerners
prefer to forget the facts. These sentiments
are very widely shared. 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 expressed much the
same views: resentment of the US policies of supporting
Israeli crimes and blocking the international consensus
on a diplomatic settlement for many years while
devastating Iraqi civilian society, supporting harsh
and repressive anti-democratic regimes throughout
the region, and imposing 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, and are the source of the fury and
despair that has led to suicide bombings, as commonly
understood by those who are interested in the facts.
The US, and much of the West, prefers a more comforting
story. To quote the lead analysis in the "New
York Times" (Sept. 16), the perpetrators acted
out of "hatred for the values cherished in
the West as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious
pluralism and universal suffrage." US actions
are irrelevant, and therefore need not even be mentioned
(Serge Schmemann). This is a convenient picture,
and the general stance is not unfamiliar in intellectual
history; in fact, it is close to the norm.
It happens to be completely at variance with everything
we know, but has all the merits of self-adulation
and uncritical support for power.
It is also widely recognized that Bin Laden and
others like him are praying for "a great assault
on Muslim states," which cause "fanatics
to flock to his cause" (Jenkins, and many others.).
That too is familiar. The escalating cycle
of violence is typically welcomed by the harshest
and most brutal elements on both sides, a fact evident
enough from the recent history of the Balkans, to
cite only one of many cases.
B 92: What consequences will those attacks
have on US inner policy and to the American self
CHOMSKY: US policy has already been officially
announced. The world is being offered a "stark
choice": join us, or "face the certain
prospect of death and destruction." Congress
has authorized the use of force against any individuals
or countries the President determines to be involved
in the attacks, a doctrine that every supporter
regards as ultra-criminal. That is easily
demonstrated. Simply ask how the same people
would have reacted if Nicaragua had adopted this
doctrine after the US had rejected the orders of
the World Court to terminate its "unlawful
use of force" against Nicaragua and had vetoed
a Security Council resolution calling on all states
to observe international law. And that terrorist
attack was far more severe and destructive even
than this atrocity.
As for how these matters are perceived here, that
is far more complex. One should bear in mind
that the media and the intellectual elites generally
have their particular agendas. Furthermore,
the answer to this question is, in significant measure,
a matter of decision: as in many other cases, with
sufficient dedication and energy, efforts to stimulate
fanaticism, blind hatred, and submission to authority
can be reversed. We all know that very well.
B 92: Do you expect US to profoundly change
their policy to the rest of the world?
CHOMSKY: The initial response was to call
for intensifying the policies that led to the fury
and resentment that provides the background of support
for the terrorist attack, and to pursue more intensively
the agenda of the most hard line elements of the
leadership: increased militarization, domestic regimentation,
attack on social programs. That is all to
be expected. Again, terror attacks, and the
escalating cycle of violence they often engender,
tend to reinforce the authority and prestige of
the most harsh and repressive elements of a society.
But there is nothing inevitable about submission
to this course.
B 92: After the first shock, came fear
of what US answer is going to be. Are you afraid,
CHOMSKY: Every sane person should be afraid
of the likely reaction - the one that has already
been announced, the one that probably answers Bin
Laden's prayers. It is highly likely to escalate
the cycle of violence, in the familiar way, but
in this case on a far greater scale.
The US has already demanded that Pakistan terminate
the food and other supplies that are keeping at
least some of the starving and suffering people
of Afghanistan alive. If that demand is implemented,
unknown numbers of people who have not the remotest
connection to terrorism will die, possibly millions.
Let me repeat: the US has demanded that Pakistan
kill possibly millions of people who are themselves
victims of the Taliban. This has nothing to
do even with revenge. It is at a far lower
moral level even than that. The significance
is heightened by the fact that this is mentioned
in passing, with no comment, and probably will hardly
be noticed. We can learn a great deal about
the moral level of the reigning intellectual culture
of the West by observing the reaction to this demand.
I think we can be reasonably confident that if the
American population had the slightest idea of what
is being done in their name, they would be utterly
appalled. It would be instructive to seek
If Pakistan does not agree to this and other US
demands, it may come under direct attack as well
- with unknown consequences. If Pakistan does
submit to US demands, it is not impossible that
the government will be overthrown by forces much
like the Taliban - who in this case will have nuclear
weapons. That could have an effect throughout
the region, including the oil producing states.
At this point we are considering the possibility
of a war that may destroy much of human society.
Even without pursuing such possibilities, the likelihood
is that an attack on Afghans will have pretty much
the effect that most analysts expect: it will enlist
great numbers of others to support of Bin Laden,
as he hopes. Even if he is killed, it will
make little difference. His voice will be
heard on cassettes that are distributed throughout
the Islamic world, and he is likely to be revered
as a martyr, inspiring others.
It is worth bearing in mind that one suicide bombing
- a truck driven into a US military base - drove
the world's major military force out of Lebanon
20 years ago. The opportunities for such attacks
are endless. And suicide attacks are very
hard to prevent.
B 92: "The world will never be the
same after 11.09.01". Do you think so?
CHOMSKY: 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. It's 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. It has not been
under attack by its victims outside, with rare exceptions
(the IRA in England, for example). It is therefore
natural that NATO should rally to the support of
the US; hundreds of years of imperial violence have
an enormous impact on the intellectual and moral
It is correct to say that this is a novel event
in world history, not because of the scale of the
atrocity - regrettably - but because of the target.
How the West chooses to react is a matter of supreme
importance. If the rich and powerful choose
to keep to their traditions of hundreds of years
and resort to extreme violence, they will contribute
to the escalation of a cycle of violence, in a familiar
dynamic, with long-term consequences that could
be awesome. Of course, that is by no means
inevitable. An aroused public within the more
free and democratic societies can direct policies
towards a much more humane and honorable course.
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