Guardian,Thursday September 13, 2001
When the bombing in Oklahoma occurred, pundits were quick to point the finger at "Muslim fanatics". Now the same rhetoric is coming from every other commentator - including heads of government. But in the murky world of terror and counter-terror, soundbites are crassly misleading, as they fail to address the complexities behind the apocalyptic scenes we have witnessed.
The first thing to remember about terrorist groups is that they are easily and often penetrated by their enemies, in order to carry out long-term strategies as well as sudden death and destruction. No black box will ever tell us who the real perpetrators of this terrible vengeance are, as every terrorist has his minder, and every minder his minder, often with conflicting, if not warring, agendas.
But culpable culprits aside, there is no doubt that the United States has become the focus of a great deal of visceral, human hatred, mainly because of its unchecked arrogance. This arrogance was in abundant display in Durban which made a conference, supposedly held to fight racism, into a symbol of the inability of the rich, industrialised west (led by the US) to overcome racism. They could not gracefully acknowledge and apologise for a mixed bag of holocausts and genocides committed against those of different hues and different beliefs, from medieval times, through colonial times, to the present.
Many of the peoples of the world have had America wage war on them - in Latin America, in south-east Asia and in the Middle East - first in its struggle with another superpower, and then in its refusal to allow any challenger a margin of freedom, ecologically, economically, politically or militarily.
All must kowtow to the Pentagon and the almighty dollar, or be blown to smithereens. The attack on these two symbols of American hegemony on Tuesday was a reminder that power has its vulnerable limits. One hopes that the painful lesson that Americans have had to learn is not drowned out by cowboy ravings about "getting the bastards".
America's policies - and those of its allies - have become a crippling liability, for which American civilians are now having to pay. It is only in a correction of those poli cies that Americans might once again acquire the security that constitutes their expensive and overriding obsession.
The technical might of the American military has reduced wars against real human beings - in which civilian populations were bombarded, besieged and starved - into video games that Americans watched more casually than their afternoon soap-operas. Do Americans know what their government does in their name? Or are they all comatose on the drip-drip of consumerism and political disinformation - if not outright propaganda - that constitutes the bulk of what they are fed about the world?
The rhetoric about terror, in the mouths of American, British and Israeli commentators, is at least as frightening as terror itself and does not help us to understand its causes. The historical facts often fly in the face of the glibly spouted received wisdom. For example, terror was used in the Middle East - and very successfully - by Jewish groups who wanted to stampede the British and the Palestinians out of Palestine. It was terror that created the state of Israel, although no one would think it convenient to call it by its name.
And it will be terror, learnt by the Palestinians from their Israeli tormentors, that will one day soon create the state of Palestine too, since the cycle of history is hardly innovative but, rather, smugly repetitive. In its war against Palestinian moderates in the 70s, Israel penetrated Palestinian extremist groups to use them to kill off those pioneering Palestinians who were then ready for peace - leaving itself with no interlocutors.
The United States bears a huge responsibility in creating the phenomenon of Islamist terrorism. It was the US that financed extremist groups - among them that of Osama bin Laden (then its creature, now its monster) - to use them against the Soviets in Afghanistan. This was one of the dirtiest chapters of the cold war.
Glued to our TV screens on Tuesday, while waiting to hear the Taliban news conference, a group of us watching (which included Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians and Palestinians) - all of us the human debris of American interventions in the Muslim world, were struck by the fact that, in an extraordinary reversal of fortune, we could no longer tell whether the scenes of devastation we were seeing were set in Manhattan or Kabul.