[OPE-L:5950] war

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Wed Sep 19 2001 - 15:06:11 EDT

my understanding of events has been overly shaped by media coverage, so the 
following reflections may be terribly superficial. i have been sitting on these 
comments for some time; so they are stale for that reason too.  

Gil wrote:

> The difference is subtle but important:  to a terrorist, acts of terror are
> expressive, while to a guerrilla, if they are used, acts of terror are
> instrumental. 

perhaps another way of making same distinction is to remember that 
ideologically and territorially rooted movements--Chinese, Algerian, 
Vietnamese, Cuban, Angolan, and Nicaraguan--led protracted "guerrila" armed 
struggles without carrying out acts such as hijacking (terrorism). Nor did they 
provide haven to hijackers. There were injunctions against indiscriminate, 
attention seeking use of terror. And revolutionary "guerrila" violence tended 
to be sociologically and psychologically selective. It struck at widely 
perceived symbols of oppression--landlords, rapacious officials, repressive 
armies. It aimed at widening the revolutionaries' popular support by freeing 
their potential constituencies from the constraints of oppressive power.

Patrick underlines that the civilians on the airplanes and in the wall street 
towers cannot in any rational sense be seen as symbols of oppression. Gil 
underlines that these attacks could not have been meant to be "instrumental" in 
above sense but only "expressive". 

I AGREE. Yet we are left with how these attacks have been understood in the 
Arab world. the question is now whether we will allow ourselves to do more than 
express our most profound condemnation and ask questions other than who did 
these attacks and how. can we probe into causes without exculpating the 
terrorists? can we enquire into the (multilayered) meaning of these symbolic 
attacks not for americans but for the arab and muslim masses in western asia? 
this may sound heartless because it does take attention away from the grieving 
and suffering, yet at some point we have to try to understand those against 
whom bush wants to launch a crusade.  Do we have marxist intellectuals who are 
immersed enough in the cultures to provide real analysis? maxime rodinson and 
eqbal ahmad have both passed. has fred halliday written anything which could be 
posted here? 

 Some may point out that the pentagon  arms and equips sharon's state, as well 
as the gulf ruling families,  and the world trade centers house the traders in 
bonds for which the corrupt arab ruling classes seem to have such an insatiable 
appetite that no offical records are kept of their holdings. Where do the poor 
arab masses think their wealth of black gold has gone but into the towers of 
wall street (itself the greatest symbol of usury and perhaps in popular 
demonology "international judaism")? 

In fact it may have been the intention of the terrorists to demonstrate to the 
arab and muslim peoples that if the most important symbols of the US power 
which backs their otherwise feeble, if not compradorial, ruling regimes can be 
so spectacularly destroyed, then surely successful domestic civil wars can be 
won. especially if americans cannot stomach the loss of american lives in the 
defense of pro washington regimes. That is, the goal of these attacks on the 
pentagon and the wtc may not have simply been to express vicious hatred of 
americans but to elicit civil war in western asia.  

the arab elites know that they must cooperate with the US in the destruction of 
the islamic fundamentalist threat but if they accede to US demands without 
winning any concessions vis a vis the rights of palestinians who are now 
walking on a trail of tears and relaxation of the murderous  sanctions on iraq 
(from which an estimated 5% of the population have died, according to Martin 
Amiss in the Guardian), the arab and pakistani masses could in fact turn on 
them. In the latest Nation, Tariq Ali has underlined how grave this threat is 
in Pakistan. 

Which kowtowing to the US by these regimes must be exactly what osama bin laden 
is hoping for so as to elicit this very popular reaction, though he is probably 
overly confident that he can channel that reaction into his own dark vision for 
the future--one is reminded of the extreme violence that the ayatollah khomeni 
had to carry out in order to contain the popular revolt which had outstripped 
his control.  At any rate, this popular reaction will probably engender the 
fascisization of these regimes. which is something welcomed probably by the cia 
(note comments on the charlie rose show by milt bearden, ex head of cia 
operations in pakistan) as well as these regimes themselves. 

the us which will not put any pressure on the israeli state that "harbors" the 
war criminal sharon will thus have a more difficult time getting west asian 
govts to come on board than it did in the coalition against saddam who was 
indeed rightly viewed by many as a menace. plus, last time cooperation was 
predicated on the us promise to do something for palestinians. people no longer 
have the illusion that there will be a payoff from cooperation. Lack of popular 
support will constrain these regimes in the support which they can provide the 

Of course Musharraf has already implied that the pakistani military has been 
asked to deliver what it cannot so as to justify a US war on its nuclear 
capacity--the only islamic bomb. Pentagon-India relations seem to be as good as 
ever, and there is the threat that India could be used as a staging ground, 
which could bring the whole region to the brink of unimaginable war. such a 
catastrophe probably means little in the calculations of bush and co--these 
lives have very cheap in the west for the last two hundred years or so (see 
Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts).  
at any rate, we can be certain that the kind of govt which osama bin laden or 
or dissident pakistani generals or sudanese generals would like to put in place 
would be at the very least as oppressive as those now in power (Andrew Kliman's 
news and letter analysis is excellent on this). So I agree with Patrick that we 
are most obviously not dealing here with a revolutionary movment...which as 
Patrick has rightly pointed out is so obvious from the callous disregard of 
innocent civilian life. 

i think we should  remember that the ratio of human losses inflicted by 
ilegitimate and state sanctioned terror, when compared with revolutionary 
terror and non official and nihilistic terror, is probably half a million or so 
to one.  and we need to remember that the visibility, and recognition, no less 
than the sympathy, accorded to the victims of those who belong to dominant 
powerful group are also many times greater than that accorded to those from 
weaker and powerless groups who have suffered in silence. 

we americans cannot expect others not to be as unbothered as we are by these 

Consider the US bombing of the Sudanese  pharmaceutical plant which seems to 
have produced a great percentage of essential drugs.   Even if we Americans 
have convinced ourselves of the benevolence of the US govt--it was an "honest" 
mistake-- many Sudanese were doubtless not comforted by the  US belief in its 
own good intentions. In fact many must have thought that the US  would not have 
taken the chance of making such a mistake if the US govt did not  have a racist 
disregard for African life in the first place. That the US then stymied the  
investigation into the consequences of the bombing probably only strengthened  
this interpretation. 

Some Sudanese elites (who are themselves of course frighteningly racist, if not 
genocidal) did vow to take revenge on the US;  after all, they were rewarded 
for having kicked osama bin laden out of the  country by being bombed a couple 
of years later. It is rather interesting that  no one is raising the question 
whether there was some sudanese backing to these  terrorist attacks; perhaps 
someone channelled funds to terrorist networks in  Afghanistan. It is best that 
the US consider this possibility before it engages  in indiscriminate bombing 
in Kabul (i can't see how the us engages in ground war with all those land 
mines); the US may well only create the next two to  three generations of 

 flag waving  seems so dangerous right now since it seems to be encouraging 
fealty to the very state whose actions may in fact guarantee more  terrorist 
taking of innocent american lives of which i include mine as one. 

this fear is manifest in the call by many americans for justice instead of 
vengeance which will only escalate  the conflict. people will continue to wave 
flags, i think the question in the short term becomes the struggle over what 
the flag symbolizes--fealty or justice, the civic religion of national unity or 
the constitution (i note here the loss of immigrant rights and rights of 
protest). The attorney general John Aschcroft will become the pivotal figure in 
this struggle over the meaning of the American flag.   But we are now asking 
questions about the culture, symbols and rituals of the working class. this 
means that we have to complete the marxist analysis of working class culture 
just as much we have to complete the critique of political economy. 

at any rate, i don't think it's a done deal that aschcroft will be able to 
mould the laws as he intended to before this tragedy occurred. i am hoping that 
once the lapses which allowed these attacks to happen are revealed, it will be 
possible to argue that security can be had without the infringements for which 
Aschcroft is fighting.   

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