[Reader-list] The Alternative to Global Terror

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at mnet.fr
Wed Oct 24 00:23:49 IST 2001

South Asia Citizens Wire  |  Dispatch #2.
24 October 2001
[The below article is also available on the web at:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/act/message/1114 ]

by Rohini Hensman

Father, Son and Holy War

My apologies to Anand Patwardhan, but I can't resist the temptation 
to borrow the title of his film as an apt description of what is 
happening in the world right now (i.e. October 2001, the month after 
the terrorist attacks in the USA). Whether the father is Saudi 
billionnaire Mohammed bin Laden, with his close ties to the Saudi 
royal family, the son is his estranged offspring Osama, who is 
enraged every time he thinks of infidel American troops stationed on 
the holy soil of Saudi Arabia, and the holy war is the jihad which 
the latter has declared against America and Americans; or the father 
is George Bush Sr, who started it all with his war to defeat Saddam 
Hussein by gradually exterminating the people of Iraq, the son is 
George Jr., who has trouble opening his mouth without putting his 
foot in it, and the holy war is the crusade the latter has declared 
against, well, let us say vaguely specified enemies who happen to be 
Muslims - in both cases, the themes of religious communalism, 
militarism and machismo are inextricably intertwined.

There is even an uncanny similarity in the ways that the two sons 
think, if we ignore the cowboy rhetoric of one ('wanted - dead or 
alive', 'smoke 'em outa their holes', etc.) and the pious expressions 
of the other ('may God mete them the punishment they deserve', etc.). 
Bush tells us, 'either you are with us, or you are with the 
terrorists' (statement of 20/9/01); Osama tells us the entire world 
is divided into 'two regions - one of faithŠand another of 
infidelity' (statement of 7/10/01). In other words, they both want us 
to believe that the population of the world is divided into two 
camps, one headed by Bush, the other by bin Laden.

If this is true, then we are heading into an epoch of unlimited 
violence and terror. South Asia is right at the centre of the 
conflict, and could suffer the most from it. For example, if the war 
goes on much longer, General Musharraf could be overthrown by even 
more extremist communal forces in Pakistan, who would then have 
nuclear weapons in their hands. On the other side of the border, 
there could well be a hidden agenda behind the BJP-led government's 
enthusiastic support for the US war. What do they hope to gain from 
it? Not US mediation in Kashmir to put pressure on Pakistan to stop 
cross-border terrorism - Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh made it very 
clear that mediation would not be welcome. Belligerent speeches by 
Kashmir's Chief Minister Farouq Abdullah and Home Minister 
L.K.Advani, as well as aggressive firing across the border the same 
day that corruption-tainted Defence Minister George Fernandes 
regained his ministry, suggest that what they want is the US go-ahead 
to do exactly what Big Brother is doing: i.e. to bomb Pakistan as the 
US is bombing Afghanistan, on the same pretext of 'a war against 
those who harbour terrorists'. That could be the prelude to a nuclear 

For those of us who are opposed to both camps, the only way to avert 
such a catastrophe is to build a viable third alternative - a new 
non-aligned movement for human rights and democracy - at top speed. 
This will become obvious when we take a closer look at the two camps 
which have already constituted themselves. But first we need to be 
clear what we are talking about when we refer to 'terrorism'.

What do we mean by 'terrorism'?

The first kind of definition of terrorism is lack of definition. 
Eqbal Ahmad, after going through at least twenty US documents on 
terrorism, came up with a surprising (or perhaps not so surprising) 
discovery: not once was terrorism defined. And he concluded that this 
was quite deliberate: 'If you're not going to be consistent, you're 
not going to define' ('Terrorism: Theirs and Ours', Alternative Radio 
programme). Since September 11th, we find the definition chopping and 
changing, according to expediency. First it is made clear that only 
acts of violence against US citizens are acts of terrorism; the same 
acts against citizens of other countries don't count. When some 
governments whose support the US wishes to retain question this, the 
definition is expanded slightly. At no point are similar acts of 
violence committed or supported by the US defined as terrorist.

Ranged against this are counter-definitions by anti-globalisers like 
Vandana Shiva, who classify hunger, poverty, unemployment and 
environmental degradation as terrorism; we can call this an economic 
reductionist type of definition. One problem is that it is so wide 
that it becomes impossible to define a strategy to fight it; it is a 
bit like trying to make tables, chairs, beds, windows and doors with 
a tool-kit consisting entirely and solely of a hammer: you end up 
unable to make any of them. Another problem is that terrorism as 
political violence is nowhere acknowledged, so that it becomes 
possible to join hands, as Vandana Shiva has done, with terrorists of 
the Sangh Parivar in the struggle against globalisation. I would say 
that even disasters like Bhopal and Chernobyl, which kill and injure 
tens of thousands of victims, should not be classified as terrorism, 
because they occur in the pursuit of economic gain and therefore 
require different remedies (e.g. health and safety and environmental 
legislation which makes them impossible).

The US is not the only state whose definition of terrorism shifts 
according to who is the perpetrator and who is the victim. In Sri 
Lanka, the UNP and its supporters defined the JVP and Tamil militant 
groups as 'terrorist' when these groups committed admittedly horrific 
acts of indiscriminate violence, but even more violent responses by 
the state and state-sponsored paramilitaries were, supposedly, not 
terrorism. The militants, on the other hand, denounce state 
terrorism, but would not call their own actions terrorist. In 
Kashmir, violence against civilians by militants from Pakistan are 
called terrorism by the Indian state, which does not, however, give 
the same name to its own violence against Kashmiri civilians; 
conversely, the Pakistani state refers to the militants as 'freedom 
fighters', and denounces Indian state terrorism. It is not possible 
to fight something without knowing what it is.

Against this miasma of rhetoric, and taking off from dictionary 
definitions of 'terrorism', I would say that acts of terrorism are 
acts or threats of violence against ordinary, unarmed civilians 
carried out in the pursuit of a political objective. It should be 
irrelevant whether the perpetrators are state parties or non-state 
parties, and other characteristics (like skin colour, ethnicity, 
gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, social 
origin or anything else) of the perpetrators and victims should 
likewise be irrelevant. Further, the stated political objective 
should not come into the picture either, whether it is a religion, 
nationalism, national interest, national security, national 
liberation, democracy, socialism, communism, infinite justice or 
enduring freedom. A murderer's claimed motive does not change the 
fact of a murder.

In this connection, we need to dispense with another term: 
'collateral damage'. In the context of terrorism as defined above, it 
makes no sense, because the purpose of terrorism is not to kill or 
injure people, that is merely a means to some political end. For 
example, in the case of the 11 September attacks, we cannot know for 
sure the motives of the hijackers because they are all dead, but if 
we assume for the sake of argument that they were in some way 
connected to Osama bin Laden , then the demands are very clear: the 
US must stop supporting Israeli aggression against the Palestinians, 
stop the bombing of Iraq and lift the sanctions against that country, 
stop supporting corrupt regimes in the Middle East, and move their 
armed forces out of Saudi Arabia. The purpose was not to kill all 
those people in the aeroplanes, the World Trade Centre and Pentagon; 
they were merely collateral damage.

Does that sound outrageous? Of course it does. Because we are not 
used to hearing dead Americans referred to as 'collateral damage'. 
But shouldn't it sound equally outrageous when Bush, Blair and their 
cohorts justify the killing of Afghani civilians in the bombing as 
'collateral damage'? 'According to Michael Tonry, Professor of Law at 
the University of Minnesota, "In the criminal law, purpose and 
knowledge are equally culpable states of mind. An action taken with a 
purpose to kill is no more culpable than an action taken with some 
other purpose in mind but with knowledge that a death will probably 
result. Blowing up an airplane to kill a passenger is equivalent to 
blowing up an airplane to destroy a fake painting and thereby to 
defraud an insurance company, knowing that the passenger will be 
killed. Both are murder. Most people would find the latter killing
more despicable" (Malign Neglect, p. 32)' (A.J.Chien, 'The Civilian 
Toll', Institute for Health and Social Justice, October 11). So let 
us forget about collateral damage. Murder is murder, and mass murder 
is mass murder. Terrorist acts which result in mass murder can 
additionally be defined as crimes against humanity.

It seems to me that this could be a functional definition of 
terrorism or acts of terrorism, which can be agreed upon by pacifists 
as well as those who believe that armed resistance to armed 
aggression is justified. Fighting between combatants would not count 
as terrorism. Only minimal grey areas are left; for example, those 
cases where settlers on land seized from others by acts of terrorism 
either defend their gains with arms or are defended by armed forces, 
as in the case of the Israeli settlers in the occupied territories of 
Palestine, whom Nigel Harris graphically describes as 'Jewish Taliban 
and Zionist Red Necks' ('Collapse of the Peace Process', Economic and 
Political Weekly, 15/9/01). In such cases, I would say that adult 
settlers cannot be regarded as innocent unarmed civilians, whereas 
children can. Another problematic case would be one where a 
politician who advocates and promotes the transfer of populations (a 
crime against humanity according to the Nuremburg Principles 
articulated to prosecute Nazi war criminals), such as Israeli 
Minister Rehavam Ze'evi, is assassinated. All one can say is that if 
that is terrorism, so was the attempted assassination of Hitler.

The bin Laden-Taliban camp: communalist terrorism

I prefer the term 'communalism', as used in South Asia, to the more 
commonly-used 'fundamentalism', for two reasons. (1) Communalism, 
meaning an adoption of identity based overwhelmingly on membership of 
a community, with corresponding isolation from or hostility to others 
- ranging from opposition to intermarriage with them to genocidal 
massacres of them - is a much broader term. It can encompass 
identities based not only on different religions, but on different 
ethnic groups, and on sects within the same religion (Shia and Sunni, 
Protestant and Catholic, etc.) (2) Claims of fundamentalists that 
they are defending the 'fundamentals' of their religion have 
convincingly been contested by theologians of those same religions; 
it is therefore a misleading term, suggesting that more humane 
interpretations are somehow less authentic.

Attacks like those of 11 September were unprecedented in the US, but 
not in our countries. Indeed, almost nine years earlier we felt the 
same horror and fear when a terrorist attack brought down the Babri 
Mosque, accompanied and followed by anti-Muslim riots which took a 
death toll similar to that of the US attacks. So unlike several 
consecutive US administrations which have supported and still 
continue to support communal forces in our countries (more about this 
later), many of us, especially women, have long recognised the dire 
danger posed to women's rights in particular, and human rights and 
democracy in general, by communal terrorism, and have been battling 
against it for decades.

The hell that women have gone through under the Taliban - girls and 
women denied education, women not allowed to earn a living, even if 
the only alternative for them and their children is death by 
starvation, not allowed to go out except covered from head to foot by 
a burqa and accompanied by a male relative, brutal punishments 
including stoning to death or being buried alive if they break any of 
the draconian rules imposed on them - these are only the most extreme 
examples of the violation of women's rights which is much more 
widespread. And while patriarchal authority in its Islamic form 
receives the widest publicity, let us remember that other forms - 
like the common practice of female infanticide in India, 
bride-burning, ill-treatment of widows, and the lynching of young 
people who have out-of-caste relationships - can be just as barbaric. 
Other forms of communal terrorism may provide more space for women, 
and the LTTE even encourages them to become suicide bombers, but all 
this is premised on blind support for the supreme leader. The penalty 
for independent thought, expression or action, as Rajani Thiranagama 
and Sarojini Yogeshwaran found out to their cost, is death.

The suppression of women's rights goes along with a more general 
authoritarian control over what members of the religious or ethnic 
community may or may not say and do. Depending on the degree of power 
the communal group enjoys, punishments for those who refuse to 
abandon the struggle for human rights and democracy can vary from 
social boycott, to beatings (e.g. Asghar Ali Engineer), to death 
(notably Neelan Thiruchelvam). But the greatest violence is directed 
outward, towards other ethnic/religious communities. Massacres of the 
type that the Taliban inflicted on non-Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan 
(and which warlords of those tribes also carried out when they were 
in a position to do so) are familiar in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, 
Bangladesh. They have been carried out in the name of Islam, 
Hinduism, Buddhism, Sinhala, Tamil and a whole number of other ethnic 
nationalisms. The victims, starting from the Partition riots, add up 
to millions dead, apart from massive displacement and destruction of 

Nor is this kind of terrorism confined to South Asia. Rwanda, East 
Timor and the Balkans have recently seen horrific communal killings. 
They can even be seen as genocidal, if genocide is seen not as an 
attempt to exterminate a people from the whole face of the earth but, 
rather, to clear them out of the territory controlled by a particular 
ethnic or religious group. How can we explain such terrorism? This is 
important if we wish to combat it. One popular explanation is that 
terrorism is a response to oppression, but I am not happy with this. 
If this is true, why is it that millions of exploited and oppressed 
people throughout the world never become terrorists? Why is it that 
women, who are the most oppressed of the oppressed, rarely go down 
this path, since it is not biologically impossible, as the female 
fighters of the LTTE show?

Secondly, there is a fine line between explanation and justification, 
and I fear that this explanation slips over the line into 
justification. Thus, for example, Steve Cohen, who correctly makes a 
clear distinction between Jews and zionists, actually blurs the 
distinction when he goes on to explain zionism as a response to 
anti-semitism (That's Funny, You Don't Look Anti-Semitic). That, I 
feel, is an insult to all those Jewish people who suffer 
anti-semitism without endorsing ethnic cleansing. It is entirely 
legitimate and understandable for people who suffer constant 
persecution and regular pogroms to wish for a place where they can 
live in security and dignity. It is quite something else to create 
this place by clearing out the majority of the indigenous population 
by murderous terror. The same goes for Sri Lanka Tamils: the craving 
for a homeland where one can be safe and enjoy equal rights is 
absolutely justified; trying to create it by driving out and killing 
ordinary Sinhalese and Muslims is not justifiable, as all my research 
suggests that the majority of Tamil people would agree.

Thirdly, this explanation ignores terrorist movements within Europe 
and the US, like those who were responsible for the Oklahoma bombing 
and are now suspected of spreading anthrax. This newspaper report is 
highly revealing:

The FBI's domestic terrorism unit is investigating the possible role 
of illegal militia groups in the spate of anthrax outbreaks in 
Florida and New York. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber who killed 
168 people when he blew up a federal building in 1995, was a 
supporter of one such group, the National Alliance.

Others have threatened to use biological weapons, including anthrax, 
botulism, and ricin, in their struggle against what they see as a 
global conspiracy between the US administration and the United 
Nations to disarm and enslave them. Every state has its own "patriot" 
group of disaffected right-wing Christian radicals opposed to central 
government and federal regulations. Most are organised along 
paramilitary lines. The FBI estimates their numbers at up to 40,000, 
with the larger militias in backwoods country areas. They claim they 
are mobilising to fight the "New World Order".

In places like Idaho, Texas, Montana and West Virginia, they wear 
army surplus camouflage uniforms and train with assault rifles and 
explosives against the day when they might have to defend themselves 
against direct interference from the federal authorities. They range 
in outlook from Pat Robertson, a failed 1988 presidential candidate, 
with his vision of a "Christian America" to the sinister Posse
Comitatus, Aryan Nations and Minnesota Patriots' Council, who favour 
armed insurrectionŠ

Most of the militias' philosophy is based on white-supremacist principles,
looking down on blacks as "mud people" and Jews as instigators of the global
plot against them and manipulators of the world economy for their own
benefit. Despite their redneck reputation, they have developed a sophisticated
communications network using computer e-mail, shortwave radio, and fax. The
North American Patriots, a group with members from California to Kansas,
publish a newsletter entitled Firearms and FreedomŠ

In January 1999, police and security forces responded to 30 anthrax hoaxes
in southern California alone. Since then, there have been thousands of false
alarms across the country. Many aimed at government buildings, 
including deliveries of envelopes containing suspicious white powder, 
were militia inspired. (Ian Bruce, The Herald, 16/10/2001).

These people, who bomb Black churches, synagogues, abortion clinics 
and gay bars, are clearly not reacting to oppression, but, on the 
contrary, to what they see as unwarranted restrictions on their 
'right' to oppress.

When capitalism develops, it produces, broadly speaking, three types 
of social forces: the old dominant elites, the bourgeoisie, and the 
working classes. In colonies, the bourgeoisie is furher split into 
the imperialist ruling class and the nascent local capitalist class. 
Each of these forces is pitched against all the others, but in 
specific conjunctures, depending on who is perceived as the greatest 
enemy, they may make pragmatic alliances. My own feeling is that 
communal terrorism represents a resistance to social change from 
traditional dominant groups whose power is undermined by the 
development of what has been called bourgeois democracy or modernity. 
Patriarchy, clerical power, monarchy in some countries, hierarchical 
caste domination in India: these are the values they uphold. But they 
are internally divided, into those who seek an accommodation with 
modernity while preserving traditional values, and those who 
represent all-out rejection of modernity and everything that goes 
with it. The governments of India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are 
examples of the former variant, hence their ability - even obscene 
eagerness in the case of India - to join the US-led alliance. The 
RSS, VHP, jihadi groups in Pakistan, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban 
are examples of the latter. They are certainly not seeking to put an 
end to oppression: far from it. The whole basis of the way of life 
they seek to perpetuate is that that all human beings are not born 
equal, are not entitled to equal respect as persons.

And yet, their resistance to a certain type of oppression, usually 
associated with foreigners and especially the West, provides them 
with an appeal for oppressed people who do not see effective 
resistance to their oppression coming from anywhere else. This is 
clearly the reason why Osama bin Laden has become an icon to so many. 
What does he protest against in public? US support for Israel's 
murderous occupation of Palestine, where Palestinians who were driven 
out decades ago are barred from returning while more land is occupied 
(in clear violation of several UN resolutions) and more Palestinians 
are being killed every day; the bombing of Iraq, which killed around 
200,000 at the time of the war, many of them conscripts massacred 
while retreating from Kuwait, and sanctions against Iraq which have 
killed 1.5 million civilians, including some 540,000 children; 
support for corrupt and undemocratic regimes in West Asia; and now 
the bombing of Afghanistan. Don't these causes strike a resonance 
with us? They certainly do with me. I don't have to be the mother of 
the Palestinian child shot dead while he crouched terrified by his 
father, the young man conscripted to fight for Saddam Hussein and 
killed by the US in cold blood, the Iraqi child dying of leukemia 
from exposure to depleted uranium, I don't even have to be an Arab or 
a Muslim to feel grief and fury at the cruelty and injustice of it 
all, at the apparent failure of all legal and democractic attempts to 
enforce respect for human rights. So is it surprising that people who 
are not necessarily aware of Osama bin Laden's real agenda regard him 
as a hero for highlighting these iniquities? Is it surprising if boys 
and men burning to wipe out the humiliation and in some cases 
bereavement they have been subjected to are attracted to groups like 
Al Qa'ida, just as some of the many war-traumatised Tamil children in 
Sri Lanka might join the LTTE in order take revenge against 'the 
Sinhalese'? In this more complex sense, perhaps, imperialist 
oppression legitimises terrorism and provides it with recruits.

For us, however, opposition to communal terrorism is a matter of 
survival, and this means we have to be equally opposed to the Bush 
camp. What, after all, do they stand for?

The Bush camp: racist imperialist terrorism

Imperialism - and this means not merely economic exploitation but 
actual political and/or military subjugation, as even Lenin 
acknowledged - takes different forms. In South Asia it was relatively 
mild, certainly using sufficient brutality to subjugate the 
'natives', but not clearing them out with wholesale massacres. In the 
Americas and Australia, by contrast, the indigenous population was 
virtually wiped out by the European colonisers. Africa was devastated 
by the slave trade, in which tens of millions of Africans perished, 
apart from being colonised. Apartheid represents a half-way house 
between ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population and allowing 
them to remain where they are: they are herded into Bantustans from 
where their labour power can be used by the colonisers. Israel 
initially appeared to adopt the apartheid model, but more recently 
seems to be attempting to wipe out the Palestinians from Palestine 
altogether. The colonies of tsarist Russia briefly seemed to be 
destined for self-determination after the revolution, but Stalinism 
soon reverted to imperial domination over the Central Asian peoples, 
some of whom were ruthlessly massacred.

World War II ended with the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima 
and Nagasaki, proving, for those who needed proof, that it was not a 
war against fascism on the part of the Allies but an 
inter-imperialist war to re-divide the world between imperialist 
powers, where this crime against humanity could be justified as a 
demonstration of naked military might. Post-war, while one colony 
after another achieved independence, the Cold War provided the basis 
for a different type of imperialist strategy. In the name of the 
struggle against 'communism', the US installed and propped up brutal 
fascistic dictatorships throughout the world, from Latin America to 
Indonesia. Where these failed to hold up, as in Cuba and Vietnam, it 
intervened directly. Tens of millions were killed in these actions to 
stamp out democracy in the name of democracy. This is why, for most 
people in the world, the US and the 'American way of life' are 
associated not with democracy and freedom but their very opposite: 
authoritarian dictatorships, rape, torture, death squads and 
massacres. The Soviet Union, for its part, mostly restricted its 
military interventions to the parts of the world that had been 
awarded to it as the spoils of war - its own empire in Central Asia, 
now extended by the 'Eastern Bloc' in Eastern and Central Europe - 
while also attempting to extend its influence elsewhere. One of the 
few countries outside its own 'sphere' which it invaded and occupied 
was Afghanistan, in 1979.

Imperialism is premised on racism: the belief that humankind is 
divided into different 'races', out of whom the European or Caucasian 
or White or Aryan 'race' is superior to all the rest. Only such a 
premise can legitimise the wholesale domination, enslavement or 
extermination of other peoples. Those who understand imperialism 
purely in terms of monopoly capitalism miss this dimension. No doubt 
capitalism is brutal and oppressive, and certainly contains an 
element of what might be called class racism in the way that the 
lives and health of workers, including child labourers, are treated. 
Yet the rationale of this is the production of profit and the 
accumulation of capital. The quest for control over sources of raw 
materials, markets and labour power is certainly an element in 
imperialism. Yet if this were its sole rationale, then one would 
expect populations in the colonies to be treated in the same way as 
those in the imperialist countries, and this has not been the case.

Thus although there was intensive bombing of Germany in the final 
stages of the war, the German people were not chosen as guinea-pigs 
to test the destructive potential of nuclear weapons. No European 
country was subjected to the intensive chemical warfare waged against 
Vietnam, where children were set on fire with napalm and others are 
still born with birth defects, and land is still unusable as a result 
of bombardment with Agent Orange. The bombing of Yugoslavia, 
reprehensible though it was, was not on anything like the same scale 
as the bombing of Iraq, nor was it followed by sanctions which took a 
similar toll on civilian life. I still remember how stunned I was to 
read a report of Madeleine Albright's response in 1996 to an 
interviewer who pointed out that half a million children had died as 
a result of sanctions against Iraq, and asked whether she thought it 
was worth it? She replied that although it was a hard choice, 'we 
think the price is worth it'. That's unbelievable, I thought; either 
this woman is a psychopath who could just as easily round up 500,000 
Eurpean-American kids and kill them off at a rate of 1000 per week, 
or she thinks of Iraqis - and probably coloured people in general - 
as some kind of sub-human species who can be slaughtered in the 
pursuit of political gain.

The same kind of racism is apparent in the treatment of Afghanistan, 
beginning with the Soviet occupation. It is estimated that at least a 
million Afghanis died in the war against the Soviets, who also took 
the chance to litter the country with millions of anti-personnel 
landmines during their occupation, as a result of which civilians are 
still being blown up and crippled or killed every day. And now this 
new war. Who are being killed in this so-called war against 
terrorism, despite the blatant lies which White House and Pentagon 
officials are doubtless paid to put out? Even if we discount reports 
of hundreds of civilian casualties by the Taliban and Al-Jazeera TV 
(despite the fact that they are confirmed by lakhs of refugees 
fleeing the carnage and foreign reporters who were invited in by the 
Taliban), doesn't it seem strange that one of the earliest strikes 
was against the UN mine-clearing facility in a civilian area, killing 
four workers and destroying the building along with the equipment? 
And this despite the fact that the UN had earlier notified the US of 
the location of its offices? Why was a Red Cross office with huge 
stores of food aid bombed, despite the fact that it could be 
identified by the huge red cross on its roof? There are only two ways 
these incidents can be explained: either the bombs are falling way 
off their supposed military targets, and the Pentagon knows it, or 
civilian facilities and civilians are deliberately being targeted. 
Take your pick.

However, this is not the only death toll resulting from the bombing. 
Right from the beginning, aid agencies have been warning that unless 
massive amounts of food aid are transported to various locations 
including remote villages before the winter makes roads impassable by 
mid-November, up to seven-and-a-half million people could starve to 
death. Every day that bombing continues therefore means that lakhs 
more people will starve. The same agencies have pointed out that the 
surreal exercise of dropping food packets during bombing raids could 
at best keep some tens of thousands of people alive for one more day 
(after which they will die anyway); at worst it could result in 
people getting blown up by landmines as they run for the food. This 
may serve as a justification for people who can't count, or for 
pilots who would not like to think of themselves as murderers blowing 
up women with small children, the elderly, the crippled, i.e. those 
unable to run away from the bombing, but it is no use to the starving 
people of Afghanistan. Total civilian casualties as a result of the 
bombing are likely to be several millions. When you look at the NATO 
alliance backing the war, its racist nature becomes explicable. All 
the imperialist countries are there, including, this time, Russia, 
represented by ex-KGB agent Putin, the butcher of Chechnya. Why 
hasn't anyone suggested bombing the US to get rid of the right-wing 
militias which are apparently present in every state? What can 
explain these double standards if not racism?

In other words, this type of terrorism and the kind represented by Al 
Qa'ida share some basic premises in common: all human beings are not 
born equal, and it is justifiable to kill innocent civilians in the 
pursuit of a political objective.This is what allows them to coexist 
and collaborate with each other so easily. It is what allowed the US 
to pour money, arms and training into the Pakistani ISI, and through 
them to the Taliban, the Northern warlords and Osama bin Laden from 
1979 onwards - 'aid' that has had a devastating fallout not only for 
the women of Afghanistan, but also for those of Pakistan and Kashmir, 
where for the first time women were recently subjected to acid 
attacks for not wearing a burqa. It is what allows the US to continue 
to have a close alliance with Saudi Arabia, where women are treated 
scarcely any better than they are by the Taliban - a cozy 
relationship best exemplified by the business association of Bush the 
father with bin Laden the father in the Carlyle Group, whose 
investments in armaments could mean that both fathers profit from the 
war declared by their sons! (see Wall Street Journal 27/9/2001). It 
is what allowed the Israeli state to promote Hamas in its effort to 
undermine the secular elements in the Palestinian liberation 
struggle. Finally it is also the reason why President Bush can still 
ally himself with the warlords of the Northern Alliance, none of whom 
accept voting rights for women, and, as the Revolutionary Association 
of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) have repeatedly told us, raped, 
looted and massacred their way through the regions they captured 
after 1992.

At the same time, because these opposing forces are so similar to 
each other in their propensity to violate human and democratic 
rights, they also reinforce each other. There is credible evidence 
that the US was already planning an attack on the Taliban even before 
the September 11 events, but the terrorist strikes provided an 
excellent pretext for that attack. Many people who would have 
objected if the war appeared to be motivated by the desire to build 
an oil pipeline through Afghanistan, were disarmed by the claim that 
the purpose was a 'war against terrorism'. Those of us who still 
object have a much harder task to convince others that this war is a 
crime against humanity. Unlike the self-immolation of the Buddhist 
monks in Vietnam to draw the world's attention to the rape of their 
country, the September 11th gestures could easily be coopted by the 
imperialist agenda. On the other side, Bush has reacted exactly as 
bin Laden would have wanted him to; if I were cartoonist, I would 
draw a picture of the former as a puppet with the latter pulling the 
strings. Millions of people around the world, some of whom can hardly 
have heard of Osama bin Laden before, now regard him as a hero; and 
if the CIA kills him without any convincing proof of his guilt, as 
they have now apparently been authorised to do, that will elevate him 
to the status of a martyr, silenced because he spoke up for the 

So the apparent choice - Bush or bin Laden - is really no choice at 
all. What alternative do we have?

A worldwide movement for human rights and democracy

Freedom from forced labour, freedom of expression and association, 
equal rights and opportunities, the right to elect one's 
representatives to government - these are usually referred to as 
'bourgeois democracy'. The implication is that these are values 
upheld by the bourgeoisie, but I disagree. My contention is that 
these are values fought for spontaneously by working people 
throughout the world, especially working women, and supported only 
sporadically by the bourgeoisie, whose only values are the right to 
property and the freedom to exploit. One indication is provided by 
the struggle for universal adult suffrage. The original idea was that 
only males with property would have the right to vote; the 
dispossessed and women had to fight against these restrictions, and 
only working class women and those who supported them were 
steadfastly in favour of universal adult suffrage.

Another indication is the ease with which the bourgeoisie attacks 
so-called bourgeois democracy, and the fact that fascism too is a 
form of bourgeois rule, despite its negation of all the rights and 
freedoms listed earlier. The US, for all its tall claims to be a 
defender of democracy, has attacked it not only abroad but even at 
home. The McCarthy years saw a fascistic attack on democratic rights, 
and many observers have commented that similar forces are at work 
post-September 11 - restrictions on the right to information, freedom 
of expression and association, the right to privacy, etc. A speaker 
at a meeting in Bombay who had recently returned from the US said 
that the ubiquitous Stars and Stripes reminded him of the Swastika 
displayed everywhere in Nazi Germany. Vicious attacks on dissenters, 
not only by the state but by other citizens, are evidence of fascism 
developing as a mass movement. And the fact that Congress, with the 
sole dissenting voice of Congresswoman Barbara Lee, voted to give 
unelected President George Bush Jr. almost unlimited powers for 
military attacks on anyone anywhere in the world, in violation of 
international law, the UN Charter and the US Constitution, suggests 
uncomfortable parallels with other regimes of absolute power. Let us 
be very clear: this may be the American way of life according to 
George Bush, but it is not democracy.

Both sides in the Cold War propagated the notion that socialism and 
communism were the opposite of democracy, yet when these ideals were 
first put forward, they constituted not a negation but a further 
development of democratic control over spheres from which it is 
normally excluded even under 'bourgeois democracy', notably 
production relations and distribution of wealth, the repressive 
apparatus of the state, and international relations. However, the 
Soviet Union's use of these terms to describe policies which 
ruthlessly crushed democratic rights both at home and abroad, all but 
wiped out the memory of what these ideals had originally meant. If 
the destruction of Afghanistan is one of the tragic consequences of 
the Cold War, the destruction of the notions of democracy, socialism 
and communism are in a different way equally tragic, because they 
deprive us of a language in which to argue for the interests of the 
third social force, the working people of the world. Again, I reject 
the notion that these ideals are 'alien' to us in the Third World. 
Perhaps they were articulated first by spokespeople like Kant, Marx 
and Sylvia Pankhurst because capitalism, and therefore the working 
class, had developed further in Europe than the rest of the world in 
the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. But ordinary working people 
anywhere in the world can respond to them if they are explained in a 
comprehensible manner.

This, I think, is the task that faces us. We need to create a culture 
where these values are taken for granted, in opposition to the values 
of both communal and imperialist terrorism, and we need to do it on a 
global scale. That's a massive task, but let me suggest a few 
starting points here.

1) Given the present context, we need to take an absolutely clear 
stand on the politics of both types of terrorism, and explain why it 
is necessary to do so. We have to insist on secular states in our 
countries, neither Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist, Sinhala or Tamil, 
because a state that is tied to any particular religious or ethnic 
group cannot be democratic. In elections - for example, the 
forthcoming parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka and assembly 
elections in Uttar Pradesh in India, both of which will be crucially 
important - the record of every candidate and party in terms of human 
rights and secularism should be examined, and support extended or 
withheld accordingly. Sadly, there may be many cases where we have to 
make do with the lesser of two evils rather than a positive good, but 
there is always a choice. At the same time, we have to explain to 
those who have illusions in the US (and that includes the majority of 
Americans!) why, as Gulf War resistor Jeff Paterson put it, 'Now, 
more than ever, the people of the world are not safe from the U.S., 
and the people in the U.S. are not safe from the U.S.' ('A Message to 
Troops, Would-be Troops and Other Youth', 15/10/01)

2. Wherever there are ongoing conflicts, as in Sri Lanka, Kashmir and 
many other places in the subcontinent, we must insist that the first 
priority for any resolution must be to safeguard the human and 
democratic rights of all those concerned - national minorities as 
well as local minorities, women, etc. - and this, again, cannot take 
place except within a genuinely secular state. Some 'peace' 
campaigners think it is possible to sidestep this issue, but any 
'peace accord' which allows for continuing violation of fundamental 
rights will not last long.

3.	Conflicts in other parts of the world affect us, as this 
latest crisis has shown, and we need to press for a just resolution 
of them too. In the current situation, the most urgent issues are: 
(a) Afghanistan: an immediate end to the bombing - since many legal 
experts have argued that it is illegal according to international 
law, and the death of civilians as a result of it constitute a crime 
against humanity - and resumption of food and other aid, protected by 
UN peace-keepers if necessary; prosecution of those responsible for 
the terrorist attack of 11 September as well as others who have 
committed crimes against humanity in the International Criminal 
Court. (b) Iraq: an immediate end to the bombing, and lifting of 
sanctions, so that adequate food, medicines and rebuilding of 
infrastructure takes place to end the appalling loss of life there. 
(c) Palestine: Implementation of numerous UN resolutions to bring 
about an Israeli evacuation (including settlers and the Israeli 
Defence Forces) from the Occupied Territories and the establishment 
of a secular, democratic Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its 
capital, as well as ensuring the right of return of Palestinian 
refugees to their homeland. This would mean challenging the notion of 
Israel as a Jewish state. As Israel Shahak, a survivor of the Belsen 
concentration camp and citizen of Israel, writes, 'In my view, Israel 
as a Jewish state constitutes a danger not only to itself and its 
inhabitants, but to all Jews and to all other peoples and states in 
the Middle East and beyond,' just as the self-definition of other 
states as 'Arab' or 'Muslim' also constitutes a danger. He points out 
that this communal definition resulted in close relations between 
zionists and anti-semites: 'Perhaps the most shocking example of this 
type is the delight with which some zionist leaders in Germany 
welcomed Hitler's rise to power, because they shared his belief in 
the primacy of "race" and his hostility to the assimilation of Jews 
among '"Aryans"' (Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion, Pluto 
Press,1994, pp. 2, 71). So the transformation of Israel into a 
secular, democratic state would also be required. UN sanctions may be 
needed to press for these changes.

4.	None of this could be achieved without an international 
movement for human rights and democracy, comprising supporters of 
these principles in all countries including the USA and Israel. There 
is also a need for international institutions capable of implementing 
them. Whether the UN can play this role remains to be seen. Although 
its role in this war has not been as shameful as in the Gulf War, 
where it merely rubber-stamped the slaughter of civilians, it has 
been side-lined completely so far. It seems obvious that so long as 
permanent members of the Security Council have veto powers, the UN 
cannot function in a democratic manner; so abolishing those veto 
powers is one reform which needs to be made in the long term. More 
immediately, however, the permanent International Criminal Court 
which was agreed upon in 1998 needs to be set up to deal with crimes 
against humanity including terrorism, war crimes and genocide. Other 
machinery is needed to deal with violations of fundamental rights (of 
women, workers, religious and ethnic minorities, indigenous people, 
dalits, etc.) where governments persistently fail to do so.
5.	Finally, this crisis has shown the need for alternatives to 
the mainstream media as sources of information and communication. The 
internet can play such a role, but only if those who have access to 
it also disseminate the information more widely, which involves 
translating it into local languages - a laborious task, but one 
without which a worldwide movement for human rights and democracy 
cannot grow.


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