Socialist Worker

An anti-war alternative

by Alex Callinicos
Issue No. 1769

IT IS too early to tell how much really has changed as a result of the atrocities of 11 September. One thing is clear, however. Defenders of the status quo are going to use the 'war on terrorism' in order to justify all sorts of measures that they want to achieve anyway.

Look, for example, at the way in which the Tory press are demanding that the IRA is treated in the same way as Osama Bin Laden. This is a cynical attempt to exploit 11 September for a longstanding campaign against the peace process in Ireland. Again, the introduction of identity cards seems irrelevant to the 'war against terrorism'.

Identity cards have long existed in Germany-the country where, according to the security forces, the attacks on Manhattan and Washington were planned. Making people produce identity cards to receive public services is yet another way of targeting refugees and immigrants.

But what alternative do opponents of repressive measures and war have? How would we deal with terrorism? The short answer is to dismantle the American Empire. As Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy put it in an excellent piece in last Saturday's Guardian, 'Terrorism is a symptom, not the disease.'

The disease is a world where the divisions between rich and poor are ever more stark, where suffering and privilege coexist in forms that become more obscene the more sophisticated our technology becomes. But global capitalism is not merely an economic system.

Its survival depends upon the existence of military power to defend it against both internal and external enemies, and it is in the US that wealth and armed might are most concentrated. Edward Said commented on the US media response to 11 September, saying, 'What is most depressing is how little time is spent trying to understand America's role in the world.

'You'd think that 'America' was a sleeping giant rather than a superpower almost constantly at war, or in some sort of conflict, all over the Islamic domains.' Thus the issue that seems to have turned Bin Laden against the US was the American military presence in Saudi Arabia.

US troops were sent there in response to Saddam Hussein's seizure of neighbouring Kuwait in August 1990. They were supposed to leave once he had been driven out, but they are still in Saudi Arabia more than ten years after Operation Desert Storm.

A grievance shared by far larger numbers of people is US support for Israel. The Israeli war against the Palestinians has been consistently sustained by US money and arms. At the minute Washington is putting pressure on Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to resume negotiations with the Palestinians.

The violence in the Occupied Territories threatens the cohesion of the international anti-terrorist coalition. But not long before 11 September US vice-president Dick Cheney expressed his support for Sharon's policy of 'targeted killings', or assassinations, of Palestinian activists.

There are many other situations where US policy causes anger around the world. The Belgian physicist Jean Bricmont recently listed some of them in the Parisian daily Le Monde:

  • George Bush's repudiation of the Kyoto protocol and the targets it set for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

  • The US and Israeli walkout from the Durban conference against racism.

  • The disintegration of Macedonia at the hands of Albanian nationalists armed and encouraged by the US.

  • US support for the Islamist guerrillas and indeed for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

  • The Anglo-American blockade of Iraq.

  • The collision between a Chinese fighter and a US spy-plane off the coast of China in April. As Bricmont asks, 'How many Chinese or Indian planes stray so close to American coasts?'

    No wonder that, as Bricmont says, 'Millions of people defeated, humiliated and crushed by the United States are tempted to see in terrorism the only weapon that can really hit the empire.'

    So if the US government really wants to get rid of terrorism, it should withdraw from its military bases abroad, end its support for Israel, and more generally allow the peoples of the world freely to pursue their own destinies. Of course, there is no way that Bush and his advisers are going to take these measures.

    Their response to 11 September is an even more forceful assertion of US imperial power. It will take a mass movement from below, in the US and around the world, to remove the real causes of terrorism.


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    Mon 1 Oct 2001, 00:00 BST
    Issue No. 1769
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