Terrors Old and New

As we go to print, the sordid endgame of the events that began with the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by hijacked passenger planes is being played out close to South Asia. The U.S. military continues to drop gravity bombs, cluster bombs and Cruise missiles on Afghanistan, interspersed with a few food packets for the millions of terrorized Afghan refugees their vendetta has displaced. The explosive meals reflect the new, culturally sensitive U.S.: "salt, pepper, and hot pepper, are also included." Bombs, bread and spices.

The September 11 attacks were contemptible. We New Yorkers have lived under the shadow of immense sadness these past three months. The attacks were a deadly testament to the utter pointlessness of terrorism. Our hearts go out to those families who have lost loved ones in this assault. However, we do believe that a principled opposition to U.S. aggression does not compromise our grief.

Caught between the multiple fault lines of U.S. vengeance, the Taliban's disregard for human rights and democracy, Pakistan's cruel refusal to respond to the refugee crisis and the Northern Alliance's sectarian violence, Afghan refugees leave their decrepit homes to embark on yet another uncertain journey. Atal Behari Vajpayee has shown unseemly eagerness in offering India, once a founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, as a partner in the United States' fight against "Islamic Terror." In the aftermath of 9/11, making war on nations in response to freelance acts of violence has become the imperialist action of choice. Thus, the Israeli army bombed Yasser Arafat's office in Gaza in response to suicide bombings by individuals, to the guarded approbation of the White House. Whatever be the long-term fallout of 9/11, one thing is depressingly clear: the fates of two ravaged populations, of Palestine and Afghanistan, became a lot grimmer.

South Asians in the U.S. have not had it easy either. Their grief at having lost loved ones on September 11 was compounded by events of racist "retaliation" (burnt Pakistani shops, torched gurudwaras, broken mosques and Sikh killings). But things are undoubtedly much worse for other groups. Hundreds of people, mostly Arabs, languish in federal detention centers, with little or no access to lawyers, as a string of new anti-immigrant laws breeze past Congress. In the new, "safer" U.S., non-citizen civilians can be tried by military tribunals, held without trial, and summarily executed.

However, in the midst of all this gloom, there are faint glimmers of hope. On October 7, the day the U.S. attacks began, over 15,000 marched in New York chanting, "Our grief is not a cry for war." Organizing against this particular war has been a fraught affair, though. The seductive media spin about U.S. operations, the indisputable fact of the Taliban's venality and their relatively quick capitulation, the U.S. promises of "rebuilding" Afghanistan after the military operations, all lead to some defensiveness among the ranks of the protesters. This has manifested itself in the tendency of anti-war actions to flag over time. Nevertheless, we must reiterate that never has our organizational task of advocating against imperialism been more urgent than now.

The western world has cobbled together a group of competing Afghan interest groups who met at Bonn to determine a future course of action in post-Taliban Afghanistan. It is a telling comment on the composition of this outfit that all women's groups who took on the Taliban in conditions of extreme danger have been excluded from this meeting (presumably because of their objection to the equally barbaric practices of the Northern Alliance). Under these conditions, and given past history (Vietnam, Laos), it is difficult to take the U.S. claim of "rebuilding" seriously. Amid the rubble of buildings in Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat, an entire population that got in the way of somebody else's war continues to wait.

At this moment, it is an ethical imperative to advocate strongly for human rights and civil liberties, and against state vigilantism, racist violence, anti-immigration sentiment, and above all, indiscriminate bombing of civilians. At the same time, we must pause and remember those innocent victims who perished in this extraordinarily heinous and violent terrorist attack. There is no excuse for terrorism of any form, and nothing is ever gained from it. As a world, we are poorer and sadder for what happened on September 11th.


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