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(en) The Utopian #2 - On the World Trade Center Attack by Christopher Z. Hobson

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(http://www.utopianmag.com/)
Date Sat, 12 Oct 2002 04:12:38 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

This special section includes responses to
the September 11, 2001 events written
in their immediate aftermath, with a
brief update (November 30), as well as
the poem "September 1, 1939," by W. H.
Auden, widely circulated in the weeks
since the attacks.--Editors

September 27, 2001
I took advantage of a day off--and the occasion of Yom
Kippur seemed right--to go to the World Trade Center
site. With a friend I approached southward along Church
Street and then west to the Hudson River. From these van-
tage points one is half a mile away and sees the site only
through gaps in the buildings; so we circled around and
approached on the east side, along Broadway, where one
can walk within a few blocks of the ruins. The scene is
very grim. The crowds are kept some blocks away from the
actual destruction, and one does not see anything not
already seen more clearly in photographs, but it is entirely
different to be there. The sense of reality is heightened by
the still-acrid air that makes eyes sting and phlegm build
up. Only at the real site, not in photos, can one realize
physically that right there, in those several acres of rubble
in some places four to five stories high, were the two huge
and several smaller towers and thousands of people who
are now simply ash.

It's difficult to imagine these thousands--I mean this liter-
ally, it is hard to hold in mind a conception of their pres-
ence and now their absence. But there amid the New
Yorkers and tourists straining for a look or photo--one
well-dressed elderly man posed for a snapshot against the
backdrop of collapsed buildings--one can begin to imag-
ine what those not immediately killed experienced; one
can hear their echoes, like the email message printed in the
New York Times (Sept. 12) from someone in the buildings
to a recipient at the New School University, "I don't think
I'm going to get out. You've been a really good friend."
One's heart goes out too to the soldiers, some still adoles-
cents, who are now on duty at the site and will be sent--
they or their brothers, sisters, lovers and friends--to bomb
and/or advance on land against their brothers and sisters,
military and civilian, in Afghanistan and perhaps other

Virtually unanimously, anarchists, anti-imperialists, and
decent people in general have condemned the attacks on
the World Trade Center and Pentagon. It would be super-
fluous to add my own view. Nonetheless there are some
points worth making or underlining. First, the attack was
wrong not because it was an attack on the United States
but because it was an attack mainly on uninvolved civil-
ians, most of them working and oppressed people. (Even
in the Pentagon, which of course is a military command
center, most of the victims were low-level clerical and
service workers.) This is what makes terrorism so stupid,
as well as morally wrong: ordinary people, who should be
and in many cases are opponents of U.S. power, can imag-
ine their spouses or brothers dying in such an attack--or
their spouses/brothers did die--and wish, not unreason-
ably, to kill those responsible. But--for us it goes without
saying--we should oppose the U.S. retaliation that is plainly
ahead. Whatever its specific targets, the U.S. campaign will
not be aimed just at punishment but at removing political
opponents and reasserting U.S. world power, objectives every
opponent of oppression should resist. My impression--per-
haps biased because I am in New York with its multicultural
population--is that many people are on a kind of knife-edge,
with aggressive responses balanced by awareness that the U.S.
has a lot to answer for. Bush and his advisors want to keep
this equivocal sentiment from growing. It is vital that they
not succeed and that people be encouraged to voice their
own doubts about the U.S. reponse in whatever terms they
find meaningful. Now more than ever anarchists and other
radicals should not talk as if we have all the answers, but we
should hold to an unshakeable opposition to the U.S. war.
Second, anarchists must be clear about our position on
terrorism. In the past some anarchists have been sympa-
thetic to revolutionary groups that waged terror attacks
against civilians. I think this position has always been
wrong. There are two classical arguments against revolu-
tionary terrorism, both valid. First, terror operations--
necessarily secret and waged by small bands--do not
encourage oppressed people to take action themselves for
their liberation. On the contrary, they reduce them to pas-
sive spectators and increase their dependence on and sup-
port for the government, since they can see that they
themselves may become victims. Further, working and
oppressed people are our class brothers and sisters, even if
they may be divided from us by adherence to the oppres-
sor's ideology. We do not attack them, or we do so to the
smallest extent possible (for example, it is legitimate to
attack an occupying army).

Additionally, the organizing of terror attacks reflects the ter-
rorists' own antidemocratic politics, their view of ordinary
people as expendable pawns and themselves as a future ruling
power. It shouldn't take much imagination to realize that
people who are willing to blow up uninvolved civilians either
to strike fear into the enemy side or to impose discipline on
"their own" population are not going to set up participatory
democratic societies if and when they gain power.

What is crucial, in my view, is that supporting a political
goal is not the same as supporting any particular group
that happens to be fighting for it, or their strategy or tac-
tics. For instance, one can and should be for Palestinian
independence without endorsing any of the Palestinian
political groups, and while condemning Palestinian
attacks on uninvolved Israeli civilians. By the same token,
no false comparison between the number of Palestinian
attacks on Israeli citizens and the number (larger or
smaller) of Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians should
make us forget the basic difference that Israel is denying
Palestinian independence, while Palestinians are fighting
for independence. Nevertheless, in my opinion, we must
be clear that not just the World Trade Center bombing but
every kind of revolutionary terror against civilians is both
counterproductive and morally wrong.

A final point is that the U.S. and Israeli governments share
responsibility for the World Trade Center and Pentagon
attack. They are responsible in a general sense--the
attack, no matter how wicked, is partly a response to the
Israeli government's occupation of Palestine, its refusal to
grant independence to the half of Palestine still populated
by Palestinians, its daily discrimination and violence
against Palestinian civilians, and its assassinations of
Palestinian leaders--for example Mustafa al-Zibri, leader
of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who
was killed by two missiles fired through his office windows
by Israeli forces on August 27. All these actions were sup-
ported or only weakly criticized by the United States. In
addition, the U.S. and Israeli governments are responsible
in a very specific way. Israeli prime minister Sharon, then
in opposition, set out deliberately to wreck the faltering
peace negotiations in September 2000, with his police-
backed assertion of Israeli power over the Al Aqsa mosque
area in Jerusalem, a holy site for Muslims that Israeli
forces had generally stayed outside of. Sharon's act was
designed to depth-charge the peace talks and set Israel and
Palestine on a war footing, and it succeeded in doing so.
The U.S. neither broke with Sharon nor opposed these tac-
tics in any effective way. The attacks on the World Trade
Center and Pentagon are the long-term result of Sharon's
and the U.S. government's own policies.

Further, the U.S. government in an overall sense is a terrorist
power--not just imperialist, though it is that, but terrorist, in
that it claims the right to use force against a wide range of
political opponents. Besides the anti-personnel attacks in
Israel just mentioned, the U.S. government continues to bomb
Iraq between once and twice every week, in a policy begun
under the first Bush and continued (even intensified) through
the Clinton administrations until now. A long list of similar
actions could be added.

Given this history it's not surprising that some Palestinians
initially cheered the attack. A widely-circulated email claims
that CNN footage of these celebrations was fabricated, but
this seems not to be true and in any case it misses the
point--it is entirely understandable that such reactions
would occur. Reportedly, some crowds in Chile also celebrat-
ed, with comments like, "Now they know what we went
through"--referring to the U.S. support for the 1973-1990
Pinochet military dictatorship, which rounded up thousands
of opponents in a soccer stadium, tortured and killed them
there, and pushed leftist youths out of helicopters to their
deaths. (Such reactions to the World Trade Center conflagra-
tion, however, died down as the horror of the deaths of
innocent people and rescue workers sank in.)

This home truth isn't very fashionable now in the U.S.
Learned commentators tell us that Osama bin Laden hates
all Western civilization, not just Israel or U.S. support for
Israel. True enough, but what about the cheering crowds
the same commentators are quick to denounce? The U.S.
should take a long look in the mirror; when it does it will
realize the same point W. H. Auden stated in his poem on
the beginning of World War II, printed elsewhere in this
issue: "Out of the mirror they stare, / Imperialism's face /
And the international wrong."

These points in no way lessen the criminality of the World
Trade Center bombing, the horror experienced by its vic-
tims, the suffering of those affected by it. They only indi-
cate the criminality of what the United States and its allies
have inflicted on countless others.

Many decent people, nonmilitarists who are appalled by
the terrorist action, are now asking: What should the
United States do in response to the attack? In my view the
answer is very simple, although also "utopian." The United
States should recognize the independence of Palestine.
Beyond that, the U.S. should stop bombing Iraq, recognize
the Taliban government in Afghanistan--it is a brutal dic-
tatorship but it is the government of the country--stop
sending billions in military equipment to pro-U.S. dicta-
torships in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, and con-
duct all its relations in the Middle East (and elsewhere) on
a basis of equality. Then we could see how much support
for terrorism remains. The U.S. however will not do any of
this; not just because Bush prefers a war policy but
because the whole economic-military system we live in is
moving toward an attempt to build up, not scale back, U.S.
domination of the Middle East.

This systemic grasping of an imperialist system for greater,
more universal power already existed before September 11.
The ordinary citizens and workers in the World Trade Center,
not to mention air travelers and firefighters--and even cops,
who are oppressors on a daily basis but were not acting as
such at the World Trade Center in the chaos following the
explosions--were in part its victims, victims not just of the
vicious and antidemocratic policy of the immediate attackers
but of U.S. imperialism's standing aim of dominating the
world. Those U.S. soldiers and the soldiers and civilians of
other countries who will inevitably lose their lives in the com-
ing weeks are victims of this same power, which we must
oppose as well as we can.

November 30: The remarks above were written before the
U.S. attack on Afghanistan began October 8. Events have
only confirmed what I wrote then: the attack is the spear-
head of an offensive aimed at enforcing U.S. supremacy
throughout the Middle East, cementing new imperialist
alliances, and isolating--if possible destroying--anti-U.S.
governments. The Taliban regime's apparent collapse has
handed the U.S. at least a momentary victory and lots of
propaganda pictures of grateful Afghans. But it will only
embolden Bush to extend his ambitions--and his attacks
on civil rights at home. Already Bush and his advisers are
talking about an attack on Iraq; and Attorney General
Ashcroft is overseeing the biggest extension of government
repressive power since the 1950s, reminding us that intol-
erance of dissent, not tolerance, is the historic U.S. norm.
To state what should be obvious but has been obscured by
the mass media's collusion: the U.S. is not waging a cam-
paign against terrorism but for international domination.
The ray of hope is that uneasiness about the war, aware-
ness of U.S. imperialism's role, and outright opposition are
all greater than the media admit--I hear this in the sub-
way and on the corner--and greater than at a comparable
period in the Vietnam war. We can only try to build this
sentiment into a powerful movement to make the imperi-
alist bullies feel their shame.

The Attack on the Twin Towers
(Posting to the "Organise!" Anarchist
Discussion Listserve, September 14, 2001)
The U.S. has done evil deeds abroad and now an evil deed
was done to the U.S.
As a New Yorker I am deeply affected by the attacks on the
World Trade Towers (I am more ambivalent about the
Pentagon attack, although opposing it). Like most people, I
feel deep sympathy for the thousands dead, most of them
working class, "white collar" and "blue collar," many of them
poor workers, often people of color. And I fear the rightwing
turn which the attackers have facilitated, the spread of
super-patriotism and anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, sentiments.
The mighty technology of capitalist industrialism was used
against us. Gigantic buildings, made in an effort to create the
"world's tallest buildings," were turned into death traps for
thousands. Supersonic jet planes, with their enormous
power and fuel tanks, were turned into missiles of death by
kamikaze fanatics. The overcentralized technology, which
has been destroying the balance of nature, has shown anoth-
er aspect of its deadly vulnerability.

The attackers do not realize the damage they have done to
the cause of anti-imperialism. The U.S. population is enor-
mously ignorant of world politics. They believe that the
U.S. ("we") only does good to other nations. They are com-
pletely puzzled by the hostility of foreigners. They know
nothing about the U.S. role in the Middle East. To them, it
was a bolt out of the blue, and they react by fury and
increased chauvinism.

In their hatred of U.S. imperialism, I agree with the
attackers (I am assuming for now that they are probably
Muslim nationalists). But I disagree with the program they
have adopted to fight imperialism, a program which
includes this mass murder of workers, theocratic dictator-
ship or secular statism, and often the extreme oppression
of women. They think in terms of national blocs: because
they have a (real) grievance against the U.S. rulers, they
feel justified in killing any U.S. people at all, even workers
who have no control over U.S. world policy. And much of
the U.S. population responds in a mirror image, national-
bloc, way: because supposedly some Arabs/Muslims
attacked them, they blame all Arabs and Muslims, and are
prepared to kill all of them. This nationalist form of
thinking is a curse, both for the oppressed and for the
oppressor peoples.

We Leftists and revolutionaries can put this monstrous evil
in the context of worldwide suffering. But we must not hard-
en our hearts to the suffering and pain of so many right now
in New York. We must not let abstractions of "class" and
"imperialism" get in the way of a human response. We are
right, but should not fall into self-righteousness. The desire
of working people to help each other and support each other
in a time of crisis has been wonderful, and we should be part
of that. Meanwhile we must do all we can to oppose the tide
of nationalist hatred and especially to defend Arabs and
Muslims in the U.S. from attacks. We must be prepared to
oppose the coming U.S. war.

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