Arundhati Roy on September 11

Mr. FoRK
Sun, 7 Oct 2001 16:23:08 -0700

Here's a response I sent to a relative this afternoon. Not the most well
thought out replies, but I had to say something.

Here is a direct link for future reference:,4273,4266289,00.html

Here's the article and a few of my responses...

As the US prepares to wage a new kind of war, Arundhati Roy challenges the
instinct for vengance

Arundhati Roy

Saturday September 29, 2001

In the aftermath of the unconscionable September 11 suicide attacks on the
Pentagon and the World Trade Centre, an American newscaster said: "Good and
evil rarely manifest themselves as clearly as they did last Tuesday. People
who we don't know massacred people who we do. And they did so with
contemptuous glee." Then he broke down and wept.

Here's the rub: America is at war against people it doesn't know, because
they don't appear much on TV.
> We are at war in order to get them to appear more on television? What kind
of crack is she smoking?

Before it has properly identified or even begun to comprehend the nature of
its enemy, the US government has
> How does she know what the US goverment comprehends?

, in a rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric
> embarassing? to whom? What did they say? Are facts optional here?

, cobbled together an "international coalition against terror",
> 'cobble' - why use a word with such negative connotations? How about
'build' or 'create' or something.
> "To put together clumsily; bungle"
> How does she know the coalition building was clumsy? Facts are really
useful from a news organization.

 mobilised its army, its air force, its navy and its media, and committed
them to battle.
> What does she mean by "its media" - the US government has very small
organizations of media throughout the
> world - some broadcasting to US personnel, but I don't think that's what
she means. I think she means the
> US media corporations. Why would she try to imply that they are one and
the same? Doesn't she know that
> we don't have government controlled radio, tv, newspaper or magazine

The trouble is that once America goes off to war, it can't very well return
without having fought one. If it doesn't find its enemy, for the sake of the
enraged folks back home, it will have to manufacture one.
> And if it does find an enemy - she can now claim that it isn't the 'right'
one, that it was only 'manufactured'. She
> is setting people up to ignore reality and preventing them from making
their own decisions.

Once war begins, it will develop a momentum, a logic and a justification of
its own, and we'll lose sight of why it's being fought in the first place.
> I don't think so.

What we're witnessing here is the spectacle of the world's most powerful
country reaching reflexively, angrily, for an old instinct to fight a new
kind of war. Suddenly, when it comes to defending itself, America's
streamlined warships, cruise missiles and F-16 jets look like obsolete,
lumbering things. As deterrence, its arsenal of nuclear bombs is no longer
worth its weight in scrap. Box-cutters, penknives, and cold anger are the
weapons with which the wars of the new century will be waged. Anger is the
lock pick. It slips through customs unnoticed. Doesn't show up in baggage
> Anger? Doesn't that imply a justified or justifiable cause? How about
'insane raving lunatic psychotics'? That would
> have worked just as well and it wouldn't have absolved the hijackers of

Who is America fighting? On September 20, the FBI said that it had doubts
about the identities of some of the hijackers. On the same day President
George Bush said, "We know exactly who these people are and which
governments are supporting them." It sounds as though the president knows
something that the FBI and the American public don't.
> Yes it does sound like 'we' means more the only the FBI. I doubt the
public is in any position to know from direct
> experience much about the details of who did what and when.

In his September 20 address to the US Congress, President Bush called the
enemies of America "enemies of freedom". "Americans are asking, 'Why do they
hate us?' " he said. "They hate our freedoms - our freedom of religion, our
freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each
other." People are being asked to make two leaps of faith here. First, to
assume that The Enemy is who the US government says it is, even though it
has no substantial evidence to support that claim. And second, to assume
that The Enemy's motives are what the US government says they are, and
there's nothing to support that either.
> There are many links to extremist Islamic terrorists - and the words of
those groups do indeed oppose the way governing
> bodies work - separation of church and state is a huge one for example.

For strategic, military and economic reasons, it is vital for the US
government to persuade its public that their commitment to freedom and
democracy and the American Way of Life is under attack.
> This implies that these things are not under attack and that the public
didn't already believe that or couldn't
> make that connection by reading the words of the terrorists themselves - a
pretty insulting point of view.
> And if those things actually were under attack - anybody saying so is now

In the current atmosphere of grief, outrage and anger, it's an easy notion
to peddle.
> 'peddle' - cheap things are peddled - so therefore this idea is cheap -
without actually needing to examine it. Elegant.

However, if that were true, it's reasonable to wonder why the symbols of
America's economic and military dominance - the World Trade Centre and the
Pentagon - were chosen as the targets of the attacks. Why not the Statue of
> Because that wouldn't attack the 'american way of life'. It wouldn't kill
as many people or cause as much fear and terror.

Could it be that the stygian anger that led to the attacks has its taproot
not in American freedom and democracy, but in the US government's record of
commitment and support to exactly the opposite things - to military and
economic terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorship, religious bigotry and
unimaginable genocide (outside America)?
> No.

It must be hard for ordinary Americans, so recently bereaved, to look up at
the world with their eyes full of tears and encounter what might appear to
them to be indifference. It isn't indifference. It's just augury. An absence
of surprise. The tired wisdom of knowing that what goes around eventually
comes around.
> What goes around? Like billions in funding, aid and disaster relief? When
is that coming around over here? What about the
> examples of allowing citizens to live as they please, worship whatever
they want, operate any business they conceive?
> When is that going to 'come around'?

American people ought to know that it is not them but their government's
policies that are so hated.
> Those government policies are mainly experienced by citizens to the extent
that they affect those citizens -
> an attack on the government is an attack on those policies - such as
freedom of speech, separation of church
> and state, individual liberty, etc. The policies of funding dictatorships
and toppling goverments exists but is not
> generally known or thought of by the public.

They can't possibly doubt that they themselves, their extraordinary
musicians, their writers, their actors, their spectacular sportsmen and
their cinema, are universally welcomed. All of us have been moved by the
courage and grace shown by firefighters, rescue workers and ordinary office
staff in the days since the attacks.

America's grief at what happened has been immense and immensely public. It
would be grotesque to expect it to calibrate or modulate its anguish.
However, it will be a pity if, instead of using this as an opportunity to
try to understand why September 11 happened, Americans use it as an
opportunity to usurp the whole world's sorrow to mourn and avenge only their
own. Because then it falls to the rest of us to ask the hard questions and
say the harsh things. And for our pains, for our bad timing, we will be
disliked, ignored and perhaps eventually silenced.
> And if you are silenced, it won't be due to bad timing, it will be due to
being wrong.

The world will probably never know what motivated those particular hijackers
who flew planes into those particular American buildings. They were not
glory boys. They left no suicide notes, no political messages; no
organisation has claimed credit for the attacks. All we know is that their
belief in what they were doing outstripped the natural human instinct for
survival, or any desire to be remembered. It's almost as though they could
not scale down the enormity of their rage to anything smaller than their
deeds. And what they did has blown a hole in the world as we knew it. In the
absence of information, politicians, political commentators and writers
(like myself) will invest the act with their own politics, with their own
interpretations. This speculation, this analysis of the political climate in
which the attacks took place, can only be a good thing.
> And it can only exist in the type of secular governments that allow free
discourse of many ideas.

But war is looming large.
> Duh.

Whatever remains to be said must be said quickly.
> Otherwise what?

Before America places itself at the helm of the "international coalition
against terror", before it invites (and coerces) countries to actively
participate in its almost godlike mission - called Operation Infinite
Justice until it was pointed out that this could be seen as an insult to
Muslims, who believe that only Allah can mete out infinite justice, and was
renamed Operation Enduring Freedom- it would help if some small
clarifications are made. For example, Infinite Justice/Enduring Freedom for
whom? Is this America's war against terror in America or against terror in
general? What exactly is being avenged here? Is it the tragic loss of almost
7,000 lives, the gutting of five million square feet of office space in
Manhattan, the destruction of a section of the Pentagon, the loss of several
hundreds of thousands of jobs, the bankruptcy of some airline companies and
the dip in the New York Stock Exchange? Or is it more than that? In 1996,
Madeleine Albright, then the US secretary of state, was asked on national
television what she felt about the fact that 500,000 Iraqi children had died
as a result of US economic sanctions. She replied that it was "a very hard
choice", but that, all things considered, "we think the price is worth it".
> Apparently so did the Iraqi government.

Albright never lost her job for saying this. She continued to travel the
world representing the views and aspirations of the US government. More
pertinently, the sanctions against Iraq remain in place. Children continue
to die.

So here we have it. The equivocating distinction between civilisation and
savagery, between the "massacre of innocent people" or, if you like, "a
clash of civilisations" and "collateral damage". The sophistry and
fastidious algebra of infinite justice. How many dead Iraqis will it take to
make the world a better place?
> Probably only one.

How many dead Afghans for every dead American?
> none. Death isn't necessary to resolve these issues.

How many dead women and children for every dead man? How many dead mojahedin
for each dead investment banker?
> I think we've gone beyond 'an eye for an eye' - that will only leave the
whole world blind. (Thanks Gandhi..)

As we watch mesmerised, Operation Enduring Freedom unfolds on TV monitors
across the world. A coalition of the world's superpowers is closing in on
Afghanistan, one of the poorest, most ravaged, war-torn countries in the
world, whose ruling Taliban government is sheltering Osama bin Laden, the
man being held responsible for the September 11 attacks.

The only thing in Afghanistan that could possibly count as collateral value
is its citizenry. (Among them, half a million maimed orphans.There are
accounts of hobbling stampedes that occur when artificial limbs are
airdropped into remote, inaccessible villages.)
> The Taliban airdrops artificial limbs? What considerate rulers.

[etc etc etc]
[the rest of the article follows, too tired to follow up on the remaining
loaded terms]

Afghanistan's economy is in a shambles. In fact, the problem for an invading
army is that Afghanistan has no conventional coordinates or signposts to
plot on a military map - no big cities, no highways, no industrial
complexes, no water treatment plants. Farms have been turned into mass
graves. The countryside is littered with land mines - 10 million is the most
recent estimate. The American army would first have to clear the mines and
build roads in order to take its soldiers in.

Fearing an attack from America, one million citizens have fled from their
homes and arrived at the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The UN
estimates that there are eight million Afghan citizens who need emergency
aid. As supplies run out - food and aid agencies have been asked to leave -
the BBC reports that one of the worst humanitarian disasters of recent times
has begun to unfold. Witness the infinite justice of the new century.
Civilians starving to death while they're waiting to be killed.

In America there has been rough talk of "bombing Afghanistan back to the
stone age". Someone please break the news that Afghanistan is already there.
And if it's any consolation, America played no small part in helping it on
its way. The American people may be a little fuzzy about where exactly
Afghanistan is (we hear reports that there's a run on maps of the country),
but the US government and Afghanistan are old friends.

In 1979, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA and Pakistan's
ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) launched the largest covert operation in
the history of the CIA. Their purpose was to harness the energy of Afghan
resistance to the Soviets and expand it into a holy war, an Islamic jihad, w
hich would turn Muslim countries within the Soviet Union against the
communist regime and eventually destabilise it. When it began, it was meant
to be the Soviet Union's Vietnam. It turned out to be much more than that.
Over the years, through the ISI, the CIA funded and recruited almost 100,000
radical mojahedin from 40 Islamic countries as soldiers for America's proxy
war. The rank and file of the mojahedin were unaware that their jihad was
actually being fought on behalf of Uncle Sam. (The irony is that America was
equally unaware that it was financing a future war against itself.)

In 1989, after being bloodied by 10 years of relentless conflict, the
Russians withdrew, leaving behind a civilisation reduced to rubble.

Civil war in Afghanistan raged on. The jihad spread to Chechnya, Kosovo and
eventually to Kashmir. The CIA continued to pour in money and military
equipment, but the overheads had become immense, and more money was needed.
The mojahedin ordered farmers to plant opium as a "revolutionary tax". The
ISI set up hundreds of heroin laboratories across Afghanistan. Within two
years of the CIA's arrival, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland had become
the biggest producer of heroin in the world, and the single biggest source
of the heroin on American streets. The annual profits, said to be between
$100bn and $200bn, were ploughed back into training and arming militants.

In 1995, the Taliban - then a marginal sect of dangerous, hardline
fundamentalists - fought its way to power in Afghanistan. It was funded by
the ISI, that old cohort of the CIA, and supported by many political parties
in Pakistan. The Taliban unleashed a regime of terror. Its first victims
were its own people, particularly women. It closed down girls' schools,
dismissed women from government jobs, and enforced sharia laws under which
women deemed to be "immoral" are stoned to death, and widows guilty of being
adulterous are buried alive. Given the Taliban government's human rights
track record, it seems unlikely that it will in any way be intimidated or
swerved from its purpose by the prospect of war, or the threat to the lives
of its civilians.

After all that has happened, can there be anything more ironic than Russia
and America joining hands to re-destroy Afghanistan? The question is, can
you destroy destruction? Dropping more bombs on Afghanistan will only
shuffle the rubble, scramble some old graves and disturb the dead.

The desolate landscape of Afghanistan was the burial ground of Soviet
communism and the springboard of a unipolar world dominated by America. It
made the space for neocapitalism and corporate globalisation, again
dominated by America. And now Afghanistan is poised to become the graveyard
for the unlikely soldiers who fought and won this war for America.

And what of America's trusted ally? Pakistan too has suffered enormously.
The US government has not been shy of supporting military dictators who have
blocked the idea of democracy from taking root in the country. Before the
CIA arrived, there was a small rural market for opium in Pakistan. Between
1979 and 1985, the number of heroin addicts grew from zero to one-and-a-half
million. Even before September 11, there were three million Afghan refugees
living in tented camps along the border. Pakistan's economy is crumbling.
Sectarian violence, globalisation's structural adjustment programmes and
drug lords are tearing the country to pieces. Set up to fight the Soviets,
the terrorist training centres and madrasahs, sown like dragon's teeth
across the country, produced fundamentalists with tremendous popular appeal
within Pakistan itself. The Taliban, which the Pakistan government has sup
ported, funded and propped up for years, has material and strategic
alliances with Pakistan's own political parties.

Now the US government is asking (asking?) Pakistan to garotte the pet it has
hand-reared in its backyard for so many years. President Musharraf, having
pledged his support to the US, could well find he has something resembling
civil war on his hands.

India, thanks in part to its geography, and in part to the vision of its
former leaders, has so far been fortunate enough to be left out of this
Great Game. Had it been drawn in, it's more than likely that our democracy,
such as it is, would not have survived. Today, as some of us watch in
horror, the Indian government is furiously gyrating its hips, begging the US
to set up its base in India rather than Pakistan. Having had this ringside
view of Pakistan's sordid fate, it isn't just odd, it's unthinkable, that
India should want to do this. Any third world country with a fragile economy
and a complex social base should know by now that to invite a superpower
such as America in (whether it says it's staying or just passing through)
would be like inviting a brick to drop through your windscreen.

Operation Enduring Freedom is ostensibly being fought to uphold the American
Way of Life. It'll probably end up undermining it completely. It will spawn
more anger and more terror across the world. For ordinary people in America,
it will mean lives lived in a climate of sickening uncertainty: will my
child be safe in school? Will there be nerve gas in the subway? A bomb in
the cinema hall? Will my love come home tonight? There have been warnings
about the possibility of biological warfare - smallpox, bubonic plague,
anthrax - the deadly payload of innocuous crop-duster aircraft. Being picked
off a few at a time may end up being worse than being annihilated all at
once by a nuclear bomb.

The US government, and no doubt governments all over the world, will use the
climate of war as an excuse to curtail civil liberties, deny free speech,
lay off workers, harass ethnic and religious minorities, cut back on public
spending and divert huge amounts of money to the defence industry. To what
purpose? President Bush can no more "rid the world of evil-doers" than he
can stock it with saints. It's absurd for the US government to even toy with
the notion that it can stamp out terrorism with more violence and
oppression. Terrorism is the symptom, not the disease. Terrorism has no
country. It's transnational, as global an enterprise as Coke or Pepsi or
Nike. At the first sign of trouble, terrorists can pull up stakes and move
their "factories" from country to country in search of a better deal. Just
like the multi-nationals.

Terrorism as a phenomenon may never go away. But if it is to be contained,
the first step is for America to at least acknowledge that it shares the
planet with other nations, with other human beings who, even if they are not
on TV, have loves and griefs and stories and songs and sorrows and, for
heaven's sake, rights. Instead, when Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence
secretary, was asked what he would call a victory in America's new war, he
said that if he could convince the world that Americans must be allowed to
continue with their way of life, he would consider it a victory.

The September 11 attacks were a monstrous calling card from a world gone
horribly wrong. The message may have been written by Bin Laden (who knows?)
and delivered by his couriers, but it could well have been signed by the
ghosts of the victims of America's old wars. The millions killed in Korea,
Vietnam and Cambodia, the 17,500 killed when Israel - backed by the US -
invaded Lebanon in 1982, the 200,000 Iraqis killed in Operation Desert
Storm, the thousands of Palestinians who have died fighting Israel's
occupation of the West Bank. And the millions who died, in Yugoslavia,
Somalia, Haiti, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic,
Panama, at the hands of all the terrorists, dictators and genocidists whom
the American government supported, trained, bankrolled and supplied with
arms. And this is far from being a comprehensive list.

For a country involved in so much warfare and conflict, the American people
have been extremely fortunate. The strikes on September 11 were only the
second on American soil in over a century. The first was Pearl Harbour. The
reprisal for this took a long route, but ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This time the world waits with bated breath for the horrors to come.

Someone recently said that if Osama bin Laden didn't exist, America would
have had to invent him. But, in a way, America did invent him. He was among
the jihadis who moved to Afghanistan in 1979 when the CIA commenced its
operations there. Bin Laden has the distinction of being created by the CIA
and wanted by the FBI. In the course of a fortnight he has been promoted
from suspect to prime suspect and then, despite the lack of any real
evidence, straight up the charts to being "wanted dead or alive".

>From all accounts, it will be impossible to produce evidence (of the sort
that would stand scrutiny in a court of law) to link Bin Laden to the
September 11 attacks. So far, it appears that the most incriminating piece
of evidence against him is the fact that he has not condemned them.

>From what is known about the location of Bin Laden and the living conditions
in which he operates, it's entirely possible that he did not personally plan
and carry out the attacks - that he is the inspirational figure, "the CEO of
the holding company". The Taliban's response to US demands for the
extradition of Bin Laden has been uncharacteristically reasonable: produce
the evidence, then we'll hand him over. President Bush's response is that
the demand is "non-negotiable".

(While talks are on for the extradition of CEOs - can India put in a side
request for the extradition of Warren Anderson of the US? He was the
chairman of Union Carbide, responsible for the Bhopal gas leak that killed
16,000 people in 1984. We have collated the necessary evidence. It's all in
the files. Could we have him, please?)

But who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase that. What is Osama bin
Laden? He's America's family secret. He is the American president's dark
doppelgänger. The savage twin of all that purports to be beautiful and
civilised. He has been sculpted from the spare rib of a world laid to waste
by America's foreign policy: its gunboat diplomacy, its nuclear arsenal, its
vulgarly stated policy of "full-spectrum dominance", its chilling disregard
for non-American lives, its barbarous military interventions, its support
for despotic and dictatorial regimes, its merciless economic agenda that has
munched through the economies of poor countries like a cloud of locusts. Its
marauding multinationals who are taking over the air we breathe, the ground
we stand on, the water we drink, the thoughts we think. Now that the family
secret has been spilled, the twins are blurring into one another and
gradually becoming interchangeable. Their guns, bombs, money and drugs have
been going around in the loop for a while. (The Stinger missiles that will
greet US helicopters were supplied by the CIA. The heroin used by America's
drug addicts comes from Afghanistan. The Bush administration recently gave
Afghanistan a $43m subsidy for a "war on drugs"....)

Now Bush and Bin Laden have even begun to borrow each other's rhetoric. Each
refers to the other as "the head of the snake". Both invoke God and use the
loose millenarian currency of good and evil as their terms of reference.
Both are engaged in unequivocal political crimes. Both are dangerously
armed - one with the nuclear arsenal of the obscenely powerful, the other
with the incandescent, destructive power of the utterly hopeless. The
fireball and the ice pick. The bludgeon and the axe. The important thing to
keep in mind is that neither is an acceptable alternative to the other.

President Bush's ultimatum to the people of the world - "If you're not with
us, you're against us" - is a piece of presumptuous arrogance. It's not a
choice that people want to, need to, or should have to make.

© Arundhati Roy 2001

----- Original Message -----
From: J.A. Littooy
To: MIKE DierkenHome
Sent: Friday, October 05, 2001 9:46 PM
Subject: FW: Article : Guardian Unlimited ©Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001

> You may find this article informative and/or disturbing.
> You may even elect not to open it.
> And have a wonderfull week off.

> Rather than copy the article
> perhaps you would like it from the source:
> Search for keyword: Arundhati Roy