The First War of the 21st Century

The attack on the World Trade Center was characterized as despicable and cowardly. Despicable, yes, horribly so: but cowardly? I don't think so. To willingly give one's life for a cause is not cowardly. Immoral, yes -- and probably insane -- but not cowardly. I'm not just parsing words here; the distinction is important. If, as seems likely, Osama bin Laden is the mastermind of this horrible act, then it is clear that he has been able to gather, far beyond his own inherited wealth, substantial human and political resources into a terrorist network capable of pulling off such a sophisticated and devastating exploit. There had to be a large, well-coordinated team in the field. The September 11th attack wasn't just well thought out -- it was executed with deliberate precision (as were the simultaneous attacks on the two African embassies, attributed to the bin Laden team).

So, assuming that evidence continues to point to bin Laden, we must ask ourselves, who is this guy, and how did he become so influential? His fame began when, with help from the CIA, he led resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He is characterized as an evil genius -- even worse, perhaps, than Saddam Hussein! -- implying that if we could just kill him, like the Monarch of the killer bees, his followers would lose all power and focus.

But it ain't so, and that should by no means come as a surprise to us. Osama bin Laden recruits his people -- soldiers willing to die for their cause -- from among the millions upon millions of people who loathe the United States.

Although our "President" fatuously and stupidly described the coming war as a "struggle between good and evil", these millions upon millions of people who loathe the United States are not all bad people. Osama bin Laden is, as far as I can tell, a very bad person indeed. But his troops, who believe in their cause enough to die for it, are not. The Catholic church canonizes and reveres its martyrs -- and the USA reserves most special honor for those who are killed in the defense of their country -- even, perhaps especially, when their country sent them to die in pointless, fruitless "police actions". So why should we disparage these pilots, just because they had no F16s or cruise missiles? There is, in the final analysis, really no such thing as "terrorism"; there is only war, which is always horrible and always kills innocent people. There is also no such thing as a "war crime"; all war is criminal. The only difference is that some nations have very large armies and very devastating weapons, and therefore can afford to pay lip service to such notions as "rules of engagement" -- but only, to be sure, while the "doctrine of overwhelming force" is working in their favor.

The first thing out of our "President's" mouth were words of revenge, and he has now called the coming retribution "the first war of the twenty-first century". But we all cannot help but wonder who W is chiefly going to command his troops to fight against. Against the bin Laden network? Good luck. It won't stop with Afghanistan. There are reports that bin Laden has people in Iran, in Syria, in Morocco, in Miami, Florida -- in a great many places. Who shall we bomb, occupy, conquer? Ourselves? In a way, I wouldn't be surprised if bin Laden (if he is responsible) were still working for the CIA, because this tragic event seems to have so lavishly given the "Bush administration" what it wants: a chance to go somewhere and make war.

Let's not be confused about this: if the United States -- as now seems inevitable, with polls showing 90+ per cent in favor - - proceeds to go and Kick Some Towelhead Butt, then there will be more terrorist attacks. The bin Laden network will have plenty of volunteers for glorious martyrdom. And those attacks will be against not just the US but also our NATO allies, who officially view themselves as allied with, and indeed part of, the Great Satan.

Is there a way out? There is, but it demands a policy shift so drastic, so fundamental, as to be utterly unprecedented in US history; it demands consistency with the Founders' rhetoric on basic human rights; it demands a complete re-thinking of our nation's policy toward the Middle East. Israel should be secure, yes -- but the Palestinians should also have self-determination, and Israel/Palestine should be governed by a secular state that guarantees basic human rights to all its people -- and among those rights must be the people's equal and undeniable right to the land. The United States, having never secured that most basic right for its own people, is scarcely in a position, politically, to demand that other nations do so -- yet that is where we must begin.

September 13, 2001

What Folks Have Been Saying:

b> I saw the 2nd World Trade Center tower being destroyed as I was on my way to the Jersey City Main Branch Library... It looked like the end of the world. If anyone has a chance, peruse The Financial Times (pages 1 -15) 09/13/01 edition.
Pia Francesca Tabitha DeSilva <[email protected]>
Jersey City, NJ USA - Thursday, September 13, 2001 at 19:47:59 (EDT)
I'm sorry, Lindy, but some problems cannot be solved by sweet reasonableness and economic fairness. "Israel should be secure, but the Palestinians should also have self-determination?" Yes, in a better world, but what if a considerable number of Palestinians and other Arabs are dedicated to ridding their part of the world of Israel? Yes, there will be more terrorist attacks if the U.S., as you put it, Kicks Some Towelhead Butt, but there will be more terrorist attacks if we don't, and appear weak. Let us strive for economic justice, at home and abroad, but let us keep in mind that bin Laden isn't fighting for a little land on which to cultivate his own vine and fig tree. As Aristotle put it, men do not become tyrants in order to keep warm, nor, one might add, suicide bombers either.
Nicholas Rosen <[email protected]>
Arlington, VA U.S.A. - Thursday, September 13, 2001 at 21:54:40 (EDT)
Because some New Agers are convinced that ALL people are equally "good" no matter WHAT acts they commit. These folks who plan and organize and DO these kinds of acts, DON'T BELIEVE IN LOVE, GOLDEN LIGHT AND UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD. They believe in killing you and yours, right down to the last person. Does that mean WE should believe and do the same? NO! But using focused, directed, targeted and effective violence at those who would commit murder cannot be equated, morally or otherwise, with the deliberate murder of innocents.
Craig M. Collins <[email protected]>
Chicago, IL USA - Friday, September 14, 2001 at 10:25:19 (EDT)
Nicholas, you may well be right. But I wonder whether the Palestinians and Arabs would be so dedicated to eliminating Israel if US policy had been different. Did the United States truly want to support Israel, or did it enter into a marriage of convenience in order to project its power in the region?

And Craig, I completely agree with you, but I most strongly doubt that we are about to use "focused, directed, targeted and effective violence". We have never done so before. I certainly hope I am wrong about this, but the rhetoric I had been hearing pour out of everyone on the Bush team does not make me hopeful.

It seems to me that what I'm saying here is far from "sweet" new-age naïvte; it is bitter medicine. If the USA had the moral high ground, then we could all be totally clear in our determination to eliminate terrorism -- but unfortunately, things are not that simple. I believe the bin Laden network is an enemy of civilized human community and that it should be taken out. But I also suspect very strongly that another terrorist project will quickly replace it.
Lindy <[email protected]>
- Friday, September 14, 2001 at 10:49:47 (EDT)

As usual, I agree with the insights, particularly the CIA possibilities, but the larger issue of global land rights does not seem to be trumpeted by any of the so-called Muslim extremists. Their primary message is one of hate and murder, and it appears that they don't know what they want, or why, but lump it all into a confusing blob of "Great-Satan". The vision which they have seems to be one of ruling the masses of ignorant and poor, just as ruthlessly and in the style of centuries and millenia past. I do not see them giving Henry George lectures and growing an educated, focused, front from which to suggest change. If that were their intentions, then they wouldn't need a "Great Satan" motivator, nor would they need to visit violence on other countries. Will the Single tax come from the US where vested interests stifle it, or is it more likely to be grown from areas quite with different social/political climes. there really a difference in terms of land rights. I've travelled many countries, and not one of them is Single Tax or Land Rights--Just Leaders and their circles taking advantage of the duped. I have also studied revolutions, and see a convincing argument against the bloody ones offering a better lifestyle for the people as a result.

Everyone knows how to start a war but no one knows how to end one. The land deprived will not benefit by killing the landlords. Ideas remain, where people are dead, and political fanatics have no justification, just a warped sense of reality and priority.
Todd D. Williamson <[email protected]>
Overland Park, KS United States - Monday, September 17, 2001 at 11:57:36 (EDT)

This is not just an act of terrorism, this is an attack on civilization. Yes, we all know there are many major flaws, and inequities with our American, capitalist society, but, when the innocent as well as the guilty perish, it's out and out evil! So let's not get wrapped-up in jinoistic patriotism, but let all of us truly understand why, and what it means to call ourswelves Americans. I've personally survived the 1968 riots, in Harlem after Dr.King, and Bobby Kennedy's assasinations. I was a baby anti-Vietnam protester at Columbia University, and Mark Rudd (the former SDS Leader at Columbia U.) hid in my family's apartment before he went underground. So as a woman of African, Portuguese, English/Scots, Italian, Saint Thomanian, Brazilian, French, Danish and Dutch background, let us all be very, very careful in pointing the finger at on e particular group, or another. "WAR IS THE NEGATION OF COMMUNITY(SOCIETY)" Henry George Said it over one hundred and something years ago. Let's not forget this truth
Pia Francesca DeSilva <[email protected]>
Jersey City, NJ USA - Monday, September 17, 2001 at 11:59:03 (EDT)
The idea that war is a crime is ludicrous. It depends on what you are fighting for. IE Hitler Cultural Sadist/ Mass Murderer: =Criminal warrior Roosevelt/churchill Leaders of democratic people/instituions: =Anti-criminal warriors Are you suggesting that by vanquishing Nazism we (the Allies) were all criminals? I am afraid your mind is confused and possible diseased.
Spencer Eccles <[email protected]>
SLC, UT - Monday, September 17, 2001 at 19:41:15 (EDT)
Spencer, thanks for your concern for my mental health. I would not deny that there is such a thing as evil in the world, and that Hitler had to be stopped. And I think bin Laden ought to be stopped too. But it is either naive or disingenuous to frame things in this all-or-nothing way. Hitler's rise had a lot to do with the allies' punitive treatment of Germany following WWI, and a lot to do with unregulated real-estate profiteering during the 1920s that led to hyperinflation. Likewise, the rise of Islamic terrorism has much to do with the legacy of Cold War maneuvering over control of oil resources. These are facts. War, itself, is an abomination -- and if its cause lies in a series of unjust and avoidable political decisions, then I say it is criminal, regardless of how evil the enemy is.

And I would likewise add to Pia, that yes, this is certainly an attack on civilization -- but not the first, or the worst.
Lindy Davies <[email protected]>
- Tuesday, September 18, 2001 at 10:33:28 (EDT)

Lindy's views on the situation represent a most rational appraisal. Bush's bellicose rhetoric will go down with the ignorant masses but scare the shit out of we who were old enough to experience WW2 or Korea., The initial mistake was made by UN when the former protectorate of Palestine was subdivided to create a Jewish homeland. If a condominion of Jews and Arabs had been established to share the territory in peaceful coexistence, there would have been hope for the Middle East but 50 years later Israelis are still justifiably remembering the blood shed in 1948 and the past 12 months of Palestine offensives haven't improved attitudes on either side.
Ken Meredith <[email protected]>
NELSON, New Zealand - Wednesday, September 19, 2001 at 06:54:14 (EDT)
The response to the atrocities seems to fall somewhere on a line between the "smoking crater" crowd, (as in, "reduce Kabul to a smoking crater"), and the "peace and love" response. Of course, there can be no real love where there is no justice, and justice demands some response. But if the response is merely more smoking craters, the only result will be even more smoking craters, and more collapsing buildings. While we cannot avoid a military response, and should not wish to do so, a response purely military will ignore what the real problems and causes are. Some of course, mainly from the Smoking Crater people, would like us to believe that it is merely Muslim hatred that causes this, and specifically their hatred for freedom and prosperity. One particular fool, The National Review columnist Ann Coulter, has suggested that the response to the Islamic world should be to conquer and convert them, a response that is surprisingly "Islamic". In her words, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

Yet without getting into conversion by the sword, or the cruise missile, one can point out that Islam does have some real issues to face. Jihad, or "struggle" is not something invented by the Taliban or Hezbollah, but something with a real tradition in Islam. We have all heard on the TV the protestations from Muslim leaders that this is not a valid interpretation of Islam, but in fact the Surahs, like the Christian Scriptures, often say contradictory things and lead to contradictory interpretations. So in some places Qu'ran will say "Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way" (Surah 16:125) and "There is no compulsion in religion" (Surah 2:256). However, it also says "Kill those who join other gods with Allah wherever you find them; besiege them, seize them, lay in wait for them with every kind of ambush" (Surah 9:5) It is not for me, as a Christian, to interpret the Ku'ran for Muslims; rather it is an issue for Islam to proclaim to each Muslim the true interpretation of these and like passages. Only if Islam proclaims the authentic teaching, and only if her proclamation is authentic, will there be any hope of ending terrorism. Non-muslims, however, may certainly point out the likely consequences of these interpretations.

My understanding of Jihad is that it is two-fold, an inner and an outer struggle. The outer struggle, called the lesser one, is the struggle against evil in the world, including the evil of the infidels. But the greater "Jihad" is the internal one, the struggle against one's own unruly passions and it is a struggle for internal righteousness. A Muslim Hadith (tradition outside the Qu'ran) states that, when Mohammed and his troops came back from war, he told them "This day we have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad". When someone asked "What is the greater jihad?" he replied "It is the struggle against oneself". No one, of any religious tradition, can deny that this is an authentic and profound religious expression. But Islam has an "internal" Jihad that must be undertaken to define the true meaning of the outer Jihad and to proclaim clearly, and not just to the Western media, whether the understanding of Jihad given by Taliban and Hezbollah is authentic or not.

But anything that is authentic in one religion enlightens what is authentic in any other religion, even in Christianity, the religion founded by the incarnate God himself. For God is one, and anything that is true is of God. And we may ask if there is anything authentic in Jihad which can enlighten both us and Muslims? Given that we ourselves have a history of "crusades" which is subject to varying interpretations, not to mention an unsavory history, we certainly cannot merely pass the whole history off as an example of Muslim bloody-mindedness alone.

In Christian terms (and I suspect in Muslim terms as well), the struggle for inner righteousness is not just an individualistic matter, for individuals live in, and are shaped by, a society. Thus the struggle for justice and truth has an social dimension. In addition to inner righteousness, there is social justice to consider as well. People deprived of justice, people living in squalor and desperation do desperate things. And while the desperation may not justify the actions we have all witnessed and wept over, nevertheless one has to be a fool to think that the terror will end before the injustice does. America's hands are not clean in this regard. There is good reason to believe that our prosperity is built on other's poverty; that our freedom depends on other's oppression. Most Americans would of course deny this, but many, if not most, in the rest of the world accept this as fact. And even if the judgement of the rest of the world is too harsh, America's rather breezy grant of absolution to itself is far too facile. President Bush, among others, can find no reason for this attack other than some unreasonable hatred of freedom, as if there were bunches of people wiling to commit murder and suicide just to prevent annual elections and city council meetings. If that's what the President thinks, and America with him, the war might be longer than anyone can imagine, and we might not win it.

The smoking crater crowd seem to be the same people who can only give you good reasons why the poor are poor and why inviolable laws must keep them so, and anyway, justice is one thing and economics another, etc. Their major themes for "justice" seem to be always about lowering taxes and increasing globalization. Well, maybe another tax cut and another trade treaty will solve the problem, but I have my doubts. I suspect that we will have to examine what the real problems really are. If we do not listen to the oppressed when they speak softly, we cannot complain when they crank up the volume with bombs. By all means, let us conduct the outer Jihad, and be as bloody-minded as we need to be (but no further) in hunting these people down. But let us also conduct the inner Jihad, the struggle for real justice. Without both struggles, the inner and the outer, there will be no real peace. The "enemy" has discovered our weakness; our complex systems are also fragile, and a small group can wreak great damage. And given the range of cheap weapons (an airplane ticket, a vial of anthrax, etc.) it would be foolish to think that a military response is all that is required, that our security systems can, by themselves, bring security.

-- John C. Médaille
John Medaille <[email protected]>
- Thursday, September 20, 2001 at 12:32:56 (EDT)

As a Canadian who shares the sorrow and anger of most Americans resulting from the attacks on the W.T. Buildings, as well as the other disasters that occurred, I am disappointed in some (not all) of your observations and comments. From an independent point of view, President Bush was elected by a majority of Americans to lead the U.S.A. (Many still dispute that, but it was nevertheless finally the way it ended up legally). I think it is distasteful therefore to brand your leader as you did, when you say that he "fatuously and stupidly described the coming war as a struggle between good and evil". If the world is going to settle this matter, it needs a leader. At this time, George Bush your President is that leader, and needs the support of all of us, and not conemnnation and nitpicking of the meanings of words from us, (including YOU). He is the person that, not alone, but with all his advisors and of us from among the other nations, has the enormous responsibility to PULL TOGETHER you and the rest of us to find a solution. Bashing him with the semantic nit-picking of the meaning of "terrorism" or "war" contributes nothing toward that end. You undermine the finding of a solution still further, when discussing the opinion of whether the people who steered the planes into the W.T. Buildings were courageous or not, by making the statement, "why should we disparage these pilots?" Surely you understand that these people are "the enemy". Let's not get tangled up in the semantics of the word "enemy"! The semantics of what is meant in the minds of every single individual in the world evokes a different meaning for the words "war", "terrorist", "courage", "good" or "evil" for each person, based on their own past experiences. Nitpicking about the hundreds of possible definitions contributes nothing to the solution that President Bush and the rest of the democratic world needs to come up with. I have great confidence that President Bush along with his advisors are carefully assessing all possible aspects of the situation in the available time which all agree is short, and that an appropriate response will be made, provided his leadership is not deterred and prevented from acting by "media" nitpickers and irresponsible yakkers from the sidelines. You'd better believe your President, and thank the good lord for him, when he says "This is a war, and it is a struggle between "good and "evil" and we had better win or else. I thoroughly agree with you that the BEGINNING of the problem was a land problem that started hundreds of years ago, and needs to be tackled with every means we can bring to bear on THAT. But in the meantime, there are "the enemy" out there right now.
Tom Burdon <[email protected]>
Wentworth-Nord, QC Canada - Friday, September 21, 2001 at 12:37:16 (EDT)
Chrissy <na>
na, na na - Saturday, September 22, 2001 at 05:33:36 (EDT)
Wheeling out B52 bombers is like using a sledge hammer to go after gnats. Of course, they are not terrorists weapons they cause only "collateral damage"
John A.Morales <[email protected] >
california, Mo usa - Saturday, September 22, 2001 at 09:23:44 (EDT)
bla, bla, bla, and so on. the lines ARE clearly drawn, those who oppose war vs those who love it. The voices of reason vs the voices of reaction,yada yada, every single word has been uttered before , every single aspect of this situation has occured before and will again and I now have proof of the theories reincarnation/history repeating itself in my lifetime. I am in complete agreement with Lindy Davies and totally opposed to the "we must do something"camp. NOTHING will change if "we" intend to maintain the status quo;if "we" expect to continue the exploitation of the many (the world at large) to benifit the few. (us and fewer us every day!) Progressives have the ideas but seem unable to get them into living policies and until they can it will be more of the same. Americans, let me be the first to tell you in case you havent heard it yet; the hints in lindys' commentary are smack on the money!!!. Look what dad and son did to their henchmen, Noriega, Hussein, Bin Laden et al. Americans! all the measures to be put in place within the next three years of this administration will be turned against you in very short order. Every single action will become "terroist action"and be dealt with accordingly. Learn the following song,make it your mantra. "Until the philosophy, that holds one race superior, and another inferior, is abandoned , totally destroyed, and forgotten.... and until the color of a mans'skin is of no more significance, than the color of his eyes.. you gotta to have war... and untill that day,the hope of lasting peace, world citizenship, and the rule of international morality, will be but an illusion to be persued, but never attained, and every where there'l be war!....."Haile Salaise/Bob Marley. Make the change in your oun hearts today and stop the warmongers now.
paul scott <[email protected]>
montgomery, tx tx - Saturday, September 22, 2001 at 12:46:42 (EDT)
It seems to me that a lot of the mess is in large part due to the idea that "My God is better than yours" If one day people can live without two crutches one labelled Faith the other Belief, and be spiritually evolved without identification to a Cult, Religion or ism, there would be a more real Love about. If the story of God telling Moses he can take the Promised Land and get rid of those on it, then I ask who needs a God that is patently a troublemaker. If a Christian believer were to obey God's Word i.e. the Bible then all kinds of hideous laws would have to be obeyed, but oddly Christians ignore the bits they don't like! The concept that those not of the Islamic faith are Infidels, and much else that makes little sense of true justice makes it sad that humanity is still at an unevolved mental stage. Religion can more easily manipulate minds if they are uneducated and therefore gullible. Luckily there are signs of the young throwing off these old out of date ideas, whether Jew, Christian, Muslim etc. E.g.'s see Ireland, Iran in recent years and lots of other countries as well. Here in France each village has its large church, fine buildings too, some villages a bare kilometer or two separation, nearly all of them priestless, and very few candidates for the job, this does not mean that the French have become an uncontrolled mob, on the contrary, much more humaneness is visible. This is just another way of looking at human loony behavior. Maybe the Middle East must end up by a frightful huge battle to the death as things become out of control, as appears to be happening. I hope and trust sense will prevail.
Ian Lett <[email protected]>
St. Medard de Presque 46400 St. Céré, France - Sunday, September 23, 2001 at 08:24:24 (EDT)
Good article. Particularly glad that Ms Davies has spotted that war/terror lovers, nominally opposed, are in effect on the same side - they justify each other.
Diana E Forrest <[email protected]>
Todmorden, Yorkshire UK - Sunday, September 23, 2001 at 08:29:15 (EDT)
Hats off to you !!!! Very well said... War never solves anything !!!History has spelt that out to us, but we don't wanna seem to learn from mistakes of our ancestors. Great civilizations have crumbled due to war and yet we choose to tread the same paths of agression as a solution and have the nerve to call it safeguarding of human rights. However, I fail to understand the point of view of the author which says that the US has failed to secure the most basic human rights for it's people. Would appreciate it if someone could enlighten me on this.
Ranitha <[email protected]>
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Sunday, September 23, 2001 at 22:32:34 (EDT)
I believe the writer has a good point. Everything seems to convieniently point to Bin Laden. I feel sad for the innocent people that did not know what they were dying for, did not know why this could be happening to them and the pain and suffering that some of them would have been subject to. To some they would relate this same pain and suffering to the people in Sudan and Iraq who were subjected to US missile attacks. And so it goes on. US will hit back at Afganistan and Iraq today to appease the US people who, looking at the polls, want blood. But remember, the people who volunteer to join the fight against the US have nothing to lose. Some of these people may be those who have lost their loved ones and are wiiling to give their lives to avenge the US.
Mohamed Ishak <[email protected]>
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Monday, September 24, 2001 at 02:30:37 (EDT)
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