Offence and Counter-Offence: Terrorist Attacks and the Aftermath

-- Pratyush Bharati

A major act of terrorism has taken place on the United States territory. Thousands of innocent lives have almost certainly been lost because of the immaculately planned and executed air attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. Americans and people around the world have been completely shaken because of this dastardly act of terrorism. It is important to mention, especially since it has been not highlighted in the media, that the people who have died have not just been Americans but from countries around the world. Numerous foreign companies had offices in the World Trade Centre. Lots of working people, like janitors, fire-fighters, mailroom workers, have lost their lives.

As the The Economist recently wrote, “Modern Americans have never learned to live with terrorism or with enemy action of any kind within their borders. They have not needed to. Neither the attack of 1993 on the World Trade Centre nor the bombing in Oklahoma in 1995 had changed that. Even the attack on Pearl Harbour was remote from the country’s heartland”.

After the terrorist attacks, there has been a resurgence of nationalism. This situation has been exasperated by the media. Radio stations spent days encouraging people to buy flags in order to display that they are “real Americans”. Not surprisingly, one of the hottest selling items at large supermarkets has been the American flag. Highways, houses and cars are covered with the flag in all different ways. A big billboard on the highway, that till very recently listed a phone number to call for divine advice, now proclaims “In God We Trust, United We Stand” with the flag in the background.

Another systemic social malaise has assumed dangerous proportions. That malaise is racism against coloured people. Presently anyone with brown skin and black hair, even worse a headdress, is under the threat of a racist attack. Last week a Sikh small business owner was shot outside his petrol station. Congressman John Cooksey, a Republican, told a network of Louisiana radio stations on Monday that someone “wearing a diaper on his head” should expect to be interrogated in the investigation of terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and New York City. Comments of this nature have fanned the flames of racial hatred. At a school in Connecticut, a second-grader has threatened a turban-wearing Sikh classmate, telling him, “You better watch out - you’re going to get beat up.” She later explained to the principal, “He looks just like the guys they said did it on TV.” There have also been hundreds of reports of intimidation, harassment and violence against Arab-Americans and Islamic groups. Although, several prominent politicians have called for tolerance, there does not seem to be a decrease in these attacks. It is quite interesting to note that after the Oklahoma City bombing there were no attacks on people who looked like Timothy McVeigh, the prime accused who liked a typical white American.

In this emotionally charged national scene, the airline industry has received the most monetary attention with a bailout package of at least $15 billion. While the airlines industry has been completely ruthless and have announced layoffs of about 100,000 employees. The aid package is obviously an act of corporate welfare, as there was trouble brewing in the industry even before the attacks. At a time when all Wall Street indexes have plummeted, the defence industry stocks have risen.

Civil liberties and human rights, especially for recent immigrants, are also under threat. There are several different legislations that are being considered by the Congress that would lead to a major expansion of the powers of the government to detain immigrants indefinitely in case of national emergency. Although this legislation is still in the making several civil rights organizations have expressed serious concerns about the power a bill of that nature might bestow on the government. The ‘manufacturing of consent’ started with the government’s rhetoric of ‘Wanted, Dead or Alive’ and the coverage in the media is dominated by talk of revenge and war. There is not even a mention of a fair and civilised trial for the perpetrators. This ominous situation is reminiscent of the ‘Wild West’.

It is a matter of some interest that anti-globalization movement has suddenly been pushed under the carpet. This situation also pushes into the background the issue of reparations and Palestinian liberation, which were brought to world attention in the recent Durban anti-racism conference.

The progressive and peace minded people and organizations have started to organize against the racist attacks, against the impending war and to protect the civil liberties and human rights. Throughout USA there have been efforts to organize people in umbrella groups for peace, tolerance and democracy. Several rallies and demonstrations will be organized in the next few weeks. Recently a Peace March and Rally was organized in Portland, OR where about more than 3000 people participated. The marchers were carrying placards with signs “The people of Afghanistan are not our enemy”; “US Foreign Policy kills innocent Iraqis, Afghanis and now Americans”; “Peace not bombs”; “Don’t retaliate re-evaluate”; “Peace is Patriotic”. This movement is at a very early stage and these are still marginal voices. Hopefully, soon, more people and organizations will join the movement and these marginal voices will be loud enough to have an impact.