EMAIL PAGE FIVE
COLUMN SIXTY-SEVEN, JANUARY 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz)
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CLEAR THINKING FROM THE NON-DOCTRINAIRE FAR LEFT
Davidson: 'Terrorism and the Present Danger'
Date: Mon, 19 Nov 2001 13:29:02 -0500
the Present Danger:
A Perspective for the American Left
Davidson ( firstname.lastname@example.org
) is the editor of the cyberMarxist journal, cy.Rev available at www.cyrev.net
. He is also a national committee member of the Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism, although this article does not necessarily reflect the
views of CCDS. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was a national leader of the student
and peace movements.]
Laden's al-Quaida committed an atrocious crime against humanity on September 11,
2001. In addition to slaughtering thousands in New York City and Washington,
D.C., this organization of theocratic fascists is campaigning for the
destruction of Western "infidel" civilization generally, with special
emphasis on Americans and Jews. To do so, it is trying to rally and mobilize the
one-fourth of humanity that makes up the Islamic world for the reactionary
"jihad" or holy war it has declared.
horrendous attack of Sept. 11 has thus thrown out a challenge to everyone---to
the U.S. ruling class, to the American public, and to the international
It has also
thrown down a challenge to the American left. For if we are to present ourselves
as an alternative to the current leadership and policymakers of our country,
then it is incumbent upon us to define how we would do things differently, not
only strategically, but also in the face of the immediate present danger. In
doing so, we must also be willing to take responsibility for the consequences of
our ideas, proposals and actions.
confronting us is not simply aimed at political or military targets; it's also
aimed at our society and economic life in the broadest sense. Thousands of
families are struggling to survive after burying their loved ones. Hundreds of
thousands are now unemployed, civil liberties are being constricted, public
health and public safety facilities are being challenged, even the postal system
is compromised. All this, in turn, has an even wider impact on the global
economy and other urgent matters of international peace and security.
administration quickly moved to build a broad coalition of countries against
terrorism with an emphasis on al-Quaida and those helping it. The president sent
U.S. Special Forces into Afghanistan, formed an alliance with the anti-Taliban
forces based among the Tajik and Uzbek nationalities, and launched a powerful
air war against the Taliban's military forces and infrastructure. Also, U.S.
security agencies have linked up with their counterparts in other countries, and
have arrested dozens of suspected members of al-Quaida cells in the United
Kingdom, Germany, France and Spain. In the U.S. several hundred foreign
nationals are being held, with a smaller number under high suspicion of being
linked to Bin Laden's network.
At the same
time, the Bush White House talks about getting back to normal, getting on with
our lives. But the fact of the matter is that we can't get back to where things
were before Sept. 11. It's not just buildings and human bodies that were
destroyed that day; a deep wound has been cut into our social fabric. The global
conflict, despite the retreat of the Taliban from Afghan cities, is far from
over; and most Americans expect more terror attacks to come.
perspective can help make sense of this global emergency? What should be our
response, as an American left, to the crisis now confronting us?
is that two Americas find themselves in a basic conflict with al-Quaida and the
forces it leads.
One is the
America of Empire. It seeks security for its sources of energy, stability for
its markets, reliable and expanding returns of its investments, fear and respect
of its military power, and hegemony for its politics and culture.
The other is
the America of Popular Democracy. It seeks peace and prosperity for itself and
everyone else, freedom from the restrictions of racial, sexist and class
privilege, democratic participation in political life, freedom of speech and
tolerance of differences in creeds and styles of life, freedom of religion and
freedom from the violence and intimidation of religious zealots.
makes no distinctions between these two Americas; it has declared its holy war
on both of them. The Bush White House, for its part, is delivering the American
Empire's "first war of the 21st century" response---a response which,
despite its immediate gains on the ground, is inherently compromised by
hypocrisy, narrow economic interests, policy divisions and several
self-defeating tactics. It is now widely known that successive U.S.
administrations helped to form and nourish bin Laden's forces in the Afghan
resistance to the Soviets, gave early support to the Taliban as a counter to
Iran's influence, helped Unocal plot with various regional factions over access
to the region's oil and gas resources, and fought within the U.S.
establishment's own ranks to discredit earlier efforts to destroy al-Quaida.
With this background, even when Bush says all the right things on the
current crisis, his message is considerably compromised, especially in the
Our task is
to define and put out an alternative. We need to take a clear stand for the
destruction of al-Quaida's terrorist network, but within that struggle, to
project a progressive voice and vision, a strategy and tactics, for the other
America, in order to defeat the threat posed to us by reactionaries at home and
This is not a
simple task. Nothing quite like this has ever happened before---the forces and
contradictions involved are highly complex and the scale is enormous, covering
the entire globe.
on What Happened
But the first
thing we need to do our work is clarity, starting with clarity about what
happened to us on Sept. 11.
House and the media immediately described the hijackings and attacks as acts of
war, and that the required U.S. response was to wage war in return.
their first mistake. It wasn't because the attack wasn't horrible enough to be
labeled an act of war. Rather, it was wrong because it ceded to the terrorists
exactly what they were trying to do: provoke a holy war between the U.S. and
militant Islam, a war the al-Quaida network hopes will soon draw in all of the
"infidel" West and Muslim civilization generally.
approach for our America is to name the Sept 11 events as a crime against
humanity, a crime that has evoked a national and international security
emergency. Because of its scope, all necessary forces---police, civil authority,
National Guard, intelligence and military, here and abroad---should be mobilized
to deal with it. But the insistence on the criminal character of the
perpetrators is required, not only to deny them a political victory, but also to
frame further action and response within the duties, limitations and constraints
of law, national and international.
military historian Sir Michael Howard, in a recent speech now being widely
circulated at top levels of Western governments, explains the importance of the
matter this way:
or rather to misuse the term 'war' is not simply a matter of legality, or
pedantic semantics. It has deeper and more dangerous consequences. To declare
that one is 'at war' is immediately to create a war psychosis that may be
totally counter-productive for the objective that we seek. It will arouse an
immediate expectation, and demand, for spectacular military action against some
easily identifiable adversary, preferably a hostile state; action leading to
decisive results. "The use of force is no longer seen as a last resort, to
be avoided if humanly possible, but as the first, and the sooner it is used the
better. The press demands immediate stories of derring-do, filling their pages
with pictures of weapons, ingenious graphics, and contributions from service
officers long, and probably deservedly, retired. Any suggestion that the best
strategy is not to use military force at all, but more subtle if less heroic
means of destroying the adversary are dismissed as 'appeasement' by ministers
whose knowledge of history is about on a par with their skill at political
The fact that
this conflict is not yet a war in any traditional sense came up immediately when
Congress was queried about a declaration of war, and many replied, "Against
Whom?" The perpetrator doesn't have a state, or an army, or a definite
people, or even a fixed territory or location. Al-Quaida is more like a network
of drug cartels or a politicized mafia with a large bankroll and terrible
weapons than any comparison that might be made with a third world country or
even a third world national liberation movement.
Congress, in its declaration, called the crisis an emergency. But part of the problem of being an imperialist superpower is
that it breeds an unrealistic arrogance in the national psyche, especially at
the level of leadership. If something terrible happens to us, it has to have the
most extreme label. It won't do to
call it a crime, even a crime against humanity. That's too wimpish; it makes us
too much of a victim, and we're not victims, we're the tough guys.
Attack us and you've declared war and you'll get even tougher war from us
on the Terrorists
11 a monstrous crime, however, doesn't belittle al-Quaida's dangerousness,
strength, skill or political acumen. It has plenty of all these. It has obtained
support of various kinds from a number of states, while being careful not to be
dependent on any of them for anything. (Even with the Taliban, it is not certain
in this symbiotic relationship who controls whom, or who has the ability to
"turn over" whom.) It is united around a feudal-theocratic-fascistic
ideology anchored in thousands of cult training schools. These schools, located
in centers of Muslim populations around the world, supply a steady stream of
al-Quaida's fighters and cadres? Depending on which sources you read, Bin Laden
in Afghanistan has an inner circle of 500 personal guards, surrounded by another
circle of 2000 terrorists-in-training, surrounded by an outer circle of
5000-10,000 fighters more loyal to him than the Taliban. Now place these forces
in the context of globalization: secret cells and allies in 60 or so countries,
access to weapons and technology, enormous transnational wealth, and millions of
active fundamentalist Muslim sympathizers on every continent.
This gives us
some clarity about al-Quaida. It is neither a handful of fanatics nor a front
for Iraq or some other country. This criminal "network of networks,"
nonetheless, is the present, immediate danger to the safety and security of
American people. It is also a serious threat to other Western countries and to
world peace and security generally. It is a serious danger not only because of
its global reach and demonstrated use of terror, but also because of it now
claims possession of nuclear weapons. Bin Laden has for several years openly
expressed the desire to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction, including
biological warfare and ground-delivered "suitcase" nuclear devices.
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