Statutory warning: This article is a statement of my views, and while it is not meant to offend anyone in particular, its subject matter is contentious and may cause distress, anger or recriminations amongst certain readers. As always, I am in no way responsible for any fights, disagreements, or fallings-out caused by any discussion on this article. Thank you.
Ten years ago, as we all know, four planes were (according to the official narrative, to which we will adhere for the purposes of this article) hijacked by nineteen young mostly Saudi Arabian men wielding knives and “box-cutters” (an implement which I confess I’d never heard of before this incident), in order to be used as kamikaze guided missiles. These men were mostly based in Germany and the US, where some of them trained as pilots, and were led by one Mohammad Atta.
(Let me repeat that for the purposes of this article I will stick to the official story, which I do not necessarily accept. I will just note that there are, shall we say, problems and contradictions that leave some room for doubt.)
One aeroplane crashed into a field, possibly due to actions taken by the passengers on board. One slammed into the military centre of the Empire, the Pentagon. And the remaining two rammed the two boxlike towers of the World Trade Centre, demolishing both, as well as (very mysteriously) another third building a block away. Overall, just under three thousand people (2977 victims and 19 perpetrators) of various nationalities were killed.
This terrorist attack was allegedly, as the ultra-right wing rag India Today declared (not all that long before demanding that India join in the occupation of Iraq), a Jihad Against The World (see? I even remember the headline!) Anyway, the details of that little episode are too well known to dwell on at length, so I won’t. I’m not even going to describe in excruciating detail where I was and what I was doing at the moment I got to know of the planes hitting the WTC towers, and what my emotions were afterwards, something which seems to be de rigueur for this kind of exercise. I’ll spare you all that, not the least because there have been other things before and afterwards that have affected me more.
This being the tenth anniversary, there is going to be a lot of stock-taking, discussion and palaver on the wherefores and earth-shaking repercussions of that episode. I’m OK with something being discussed on a tenth anniversary – normally, it should provide enough distance in time for something to be analysed as history and not a raw wound (though a nation which is incapable of comprehending the metric system should surely place more stress on the twelfth anniversary, or the hundred and forty-fourth, shouldn’t it? Sorry, couldn’t resist that snark). However, in this case, it seems that the discussion is still all about the thing that happened ten years ago, and not the reasons for it or the results of it.
The causes, really, aren’t that far to seek. They aren’t difficult to find out because the alleged perpetrators themselves made no effort to hide them, going to great lengths to explain their position – and it really doesn’t need much thought to intuit those causes anyway. They can be expressed in one single word: blowback.
Blowback for the fervent and unconditional support to the zionazi pseudostate in Occupied Palestine, blowback for propping up venal dictators in Muslim countries, blowback for treating Muslims like dirt; blowback for every slight, real or imagined (and imagined slights are perfectly real to those doing the imagining), the Muslim world has had to suffer at the hands of the West since the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
Payback, as someone said, is a bitch.
Since the root cause can be expressed in one single word, I won’t go on about it much longer. As it is, a fair amount of discussion will dwell on it, so let’s move on to what’s left, pausing just long enough to mention that there’s more than a little likelihood that a certain nation was well aware that the attack was about to happen but made no attempt whatsoever to inform its putative ally, the victim.
So in this, my annual 11/9 blog article, something that has become a bit of an annual ritual over the last few years, and which has pissed off its fair share of people, I’ll focus on the consequences, and more especially, on the victims. And since there are enough people to talk about the consequences to the nation at the receiving end of those attacks, I’ll just make two observations about it and then move on to the main thrust of my article.
The first observation is, of course, that if we assume that Osama bin Laden was the actual author of the attacks (despite the fact that nation after nation has been devastated in the name of destroying his group, he was never charged with them) – if we assume that, then there’s no denying the logical conclusion. That conclusion is that Osama bin Laden has won. Even if he was actually killed by a SEAL team in Pakistan, as advertised, and despite all the holes in that story, he has won. Even if he died of kidney failure ten years ago, he has won. There’s no escaping that.
If we accept the idea (as stated by George W Bush and repeated ad nauseam by many, many people) that the 11/9 attacks happened because “they” hate “our” freedoms, then having forced “us” (you know what I mean by “us” in this case) to abandon those freedoms means “they” have won. With colour-coded terror alerts (remember them?), virtual strip-searches at airports, and allied tokenism of the Security State, not to speak of phone tapping, etc, what “freedoms” are there to hate? Not much, it seems to me!
Even if we do not accept the “they hate our freedoms” hypothesis, the alternative, that Osama bin Laden meant to entangle the Empire in a ruinous war without end, still means he won. As he himself said:
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written ‘al-Qaeda’, in order to make generals race there and to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations."
It’s as though Osama bin Laden tapped on the outside of a plate glass window with a knife, and the Empire promptly dived headfirst at him through that plate glass window, handily slicing open its own throat.
Either way, Al Qaeda has won. Even as it survives only as a chain of decentralised franchises, as an idea and not as a united organisation, it has won.
The second observation is about the victims of the original attack. Of those 2977 people, those who died aboard the planes and in the World Trade Centres were undoubtedly innocent (not so the Pentagon people, because they were part of the cause of the attacks in the first place, and because that was a legitimate military target according to the rules the Pentagon – which claims that a TV station is a legitimate military target – itself set). Yes, it was a tragedy that they died, but it’s been ten years, and normally that’s enough of a mourning period for most people. Keeping on scraping the wound raw, claiming the world “changed” (how did it? Was terrorism invented on that day when the chickens of the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad came home to roost?) and making their deaths an excuse for Operation Endless War is an insult. It’s an insult to them, it’s an insult to logic, and it’s an insult to common humanity – including their families.
Let me explain what I mean. Suppose your girlfriend has been brutally raped and murdered by a person who’s a worshipper of the Great God Zog. And then suppose your local government puts together a posse to hunt down and kill all worshippers of the Great God Zog, even those who patently had nothing to do with the crime. Suppose years have passed, and you want to move on with your life, but you are constantly reminded of your loss, and you are being constantly sickened by the crimes being committed as an alleged revenge for that loss. How would you feel? Not too happy, I’ll warrant.
I don’t think the families of the 11/9 victims, who were certainly not all Americans, are all that happy.
And, in any case, they weren’t the only victims. Far from it.
So here I go talking about the other victims of 11/9; the victims nobody wants to talk about. There are so many of them – all over the world, killed, wounded, dispossessed, imprisoned, all in the name of “fighting terror”. I can scarcely begin enumerating them, so let me focus on the one nation that was the first affected by the “revenge for nine-eleven” frenzy: Afghanistan. And, because the Afghan tragedy is hardly comprehensible in its awfulness, let’s just tell the tale of a quasi-fictional Taliban warrior, one of those Pashtun tribesmen who have fought the Empire to a standstill, and try and think of just why he does it.
We have to give him a name, so let’s call him Hanifullah. He’s young, in his late teens to early twenties, at the age when he’s at his physical peak, the age when he should probably be a farmer or student and perhaps beginning a family. Instead, he’s a hardened warrior, ready and willing to take life and give his own. Why?
Let’s get the Big One out of the way first: he’s not doing it because he sympathises with the 11/9 hijackers. In fact, it’s virtually certain that he has never even heard of the 11/9 attacks – 92% of the young men of his age-group in Afghanistan haven’t.
For a moment, set aside your prejudices, and imagine that you’re Hanifullah.
You were born, let’s say, in the early nineties, just after the Communist government of Dr Najibullah was finally overthrown by CIA-paid mujahideen who promptly began blasting one another to pieces as they fought for power. Your early years would have been a fairly nightmarish experience, without functioning schools or hospitals or basic facilities. Your father’s farm would have been raided by the local warlord, your ten-year-old sister perhaps abducted, raped, and forcibly married to one of the so-called “freedom fighters”. If your father had wanted to take his farm’s produce to the local market, he’d have to pay toll at so many roadblocks manned by different warlord groups that he might as well let the harvest rot in the field. And so on.
Then one day, when you’re about five years old, suddenly there is this black-turbaned force of bearded young insurgents who drive away the warlords, smash down the roadblocks, and establish some kind of security. Not great security, just the kind that comes out of the barrel of a gun, but still, security. Maybe the new rulers force your mother and sister into shuttlecock burqas, but at least they don’t have to fear being gang-raped if they go out to draw water from the well. And you, well, you still probably don’t have a school, but there aren’t shells falling on your head while contending warlords squabble over portfolios.
What does your father think about this? And the other people of his age group? While women in the cities are virtually imprisoned at home, what do they (living in the villages, where most of your people live) think? Here’s what:
They are not particularly for example interested that what they see as a miniscule minority of women in Kabul or the other cities may no longer go to university. They are very interested in their daughter getting through adolescence without being raped by some western-supported warlord’s levies.
And then there comes another nation, out of nowhere, for reasons utterly incomprehensible to your ten-year-old brain. They drop immense bombs from high-flying aeroplanes on your village, and claim that it is “a significant emotional event” to anyone in the vicinity. The warlords return, and set up their own private fiefs and their own private armies. And before you know it, things are just as bad as before.
What does your father do? He keeps his head down, tries to survive, but just keeping his head down is no longer enough.
First, someone comes along and claims part of your father’s farm. This someone has money, your dad doesn’t, so he can’t bribe the new courts for a judgement. Therefore, he has to lose half his farm and think he’s lucky not to have lost it all. Then, the local warlord demands that he grow poppies to produce opium. Then, just when he’s done that, the occupying forces come along and destroy that opium. To top it all, they break down your door in the middle of the night, slap your dad around, scream in an incomprehensible language at everyone while basically ripping apart your house looking for who knows what, and then (if you’re lucky) depart without killing or arresting anybody. On their way out, they shoot your dog and then fire a rocket through your neighbour’s house. And maybe they repeated what they did in Iraq, kill entire families and cover it up with air strikes, or kill someone for fun and remove his fingers as a trophy. Or bomb families from drones piloted from halfway round the world , just as they might murder boys your age from helicopters – boys gathering wood – and call them terrorists.
All of this while you’re an adolescent.
Now tell me – would this not have an effect on you? If this were a Hollywood movie, with the enemy a foreign occupier, what would your father – or you – be expected to do?
The answer’s simple; pick up the gun, that’s what.
And since your entire nation is awash with guns due to a civil war stoked by the same people occupying your land, guns are simple to come by. In fact, given the actual situation, it’s hard to see what you could do except pick up the gun. Democratic elections that are a joke? Justice that’s up for sale to the highest bidder? Give me a break.
Also, after living your entire life with war around you, except for a magic period of relative tranquillity under a regime where you at least had some measure of peace and security, on whose side would you be? On the side of the urban elite, who have access to the slush money the occupiers throw about? On the side of the people who buy everything, including justice? Or on the side of villagers like yourself, who have vowed to throw out the occupation and what you see as its collaborationist traitor cabal? Which?
And if that makes you a Talib, that’s a price you might think worth the paying.
Imagine an entire nation of Hanifullahs. None of them has heard of 11/9. None of them cares either way about Al Qaeda or anything of the sort. They have much more pressing problems, the foremost being the need to survive, and to throw off the incredibly corrupt government the foreign occupiers have imposed on them, backed by an equally corrupt police and army. And with a cultural ethos of resistance against foreign occupation, why would they ever quit fighting?
Answer: it’s their nation, and they won’t.
But, like human beings everywhere, even Hanifullah and his brethren have hopes and dreams, and would like nothing better than to be left alone to follow those hopes and dreams. Having them destroyed in the name of preventing a repetition of an episode that none of them has ever heard of isn’t reasonable to him. And since his entire nation has been destroyed – and continues to be destroyed, on a daily basis – he will continue to fight, and his children will continue to fight after him.
And now imagine a world of Hanifullahs – people from nations which had nothing to do with 11/9, at all, but which have borne the brunt of the “reaction” to it. Iraqis, Palestinians, Yemenis, Pakistanis, Somalis, Libyans, and so on and on and on. Why would any of them retain any sympathy at all for the direct victims of 11/9, always assuming they even knew of them in the first place? In their place, would you?
Even the Hanifullahs aren’t the only victims. The Bradley Mannings of the world are victims. The people in whose name these wars are being fought are victims, including those who have been brainwashed into supporting lies and military expeditions in the name of freedom. The prisoners of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib are victims. The soldiers who have been hoodwinked into giving life and limb and morality to the war machine are victims. The people who have had to lose their freedom of speech, or have given it up out of fear, are victims.
Just after the 11/9 attacks, a German magazine said “We are all Americans.” Today, as a result of the response to those attacks, not only are we not all Americans, not even the majority of Americans are “Americans”. Not in the sense the magazine meant.
One way or another, we are all victims. One way or other, we are all Hanifullahs instead.