Remembering 11 September merely as gruesome spectacle is an insult to the victims of that epic crime. However, remembering is important in order to make sense of it, and especially of what happened next.
Most of the hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, a US protectorate. Saudi Arabia is the home of the Bin Laden family, who were clients of George Bush Sr in his capacity as consultant for the huge Carlyle Group, which has extensive oil interests. Oil and America’s struggle to defeat the Soviet Union were at the heart of it.
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were the bases of the CIA’s Operation Cyclone, which, with a treasury of $4bn and the secret approval of the White House, effectively created the Islamicist war party that attacked America. This terrorist movement, the mujahedin, was the weapon America wielded against the Soviet Union; the Islamicist gene kept emerging and growing in direct proportion to the spread of American influence and pressure in the region. The rise of the Taliban was a direct result.
Saudi Arabia, home of Islam’s holiest place, became a vast American base during the assault on Iraq in 1990-91, which was represented to the west by President Bush Senior as “the greatest moral campaign since World War Two”. The unadvertised goal of this “war” was the consolidation of American power in the oilfields and the “containment” of an Iraq whose cheap, high-quality oil posed a threat to the price of Saudi oil. The “greatest moral campaign” of liberating Kuwait had precious little to do with it.
Al-Qaeda took root in Saudi Arabia among those of the ruling families who opposed the Fahd family’s deals with the United States, which they saw as a Faustian pact. “The day the bubble burst” is how many in the Arab world who understood these tensions describe 11 September.
Run by rich and powerful men, al-Qaeda drew on the Arab world’s bitterness at America’s underwriting of Israel; and this, in a broader sense, was shared across the world, in varying degrees, by those who had long felt the imperial boot of the west. In his 1961 classic The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon accurately predicted this reaping of a whirlwind sewn by colonialism.
None of this lessened the shock of 11 September. The first response of people everywhere was a humane one; those in the twin towers were innocently going about mostly ordinary jobs. This almost universal sympathy was appropriated by Bush and Blair; the pursuit of justice was wrapped in the banner of a corrupt imperial power, whose subsequent actions ought to be as infamous as the crime itself.
Although the scale of suffering is beyond comparison, there are similarities with the appropriation of the Holocaust as an enduring justification for the injustice and crimes committed in Palestine. It will be no less a profanity if “9/11″ is awarded that currency in our consciousness.
The combined forces of the supercult of Americanism – from the Washington fundamentalists themselves to the unctuous reporters standing in front of the White House – want us to believe that the events on that day “changed the world”, providing an appendix to Francis Fukuyama’s scam about the end of history.
The world did not change. The thrust of American military and economic power merely accelerated, along with the assault on social democracy. And just as Fukuyama’s nonsense has been discredited, so will 11 September as another “end of history”. For what has happened in the past year is an awakening across the world to the true rapacity of dominant American power. It is the opposite of what the propagandists wish; or as John Berger once wrote: “Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one.”
The press windbags who call for the incineration of innocent people in Iraq (whom they smear, collectively, as Saddam Hussein) speak to each other as if from unattended platforms at Hyde Park Corner on a grim winter’s day. Every indication is that the majority of people in this country and around the world are not listening, and are fed up with the American drumbeat.
Edward Said once described the extraordinary power of Frantz Fanon’s writing as “a surreptitious counter-narrative to the above-ground force of the colonial regime”. That same extraordinary power is emerging in many countries, on every continent, not least those the western media has struck from the map. It is cause, I believe, for optimism.
Bush’s and Blair’s reaction to 11 September was understood quickly. As far back as October, Gallup International reported that a majority in more than 30 countries opposed military solutions. Tony Blair had no mandate to send the marines on their vacuous expedition, chasing tribesmen in the manner of 150 years ago. Today, a clear majority of the British public oppose his unexplained plans to join an American invasion of Iraq, a country which American propagandists, without evidence, associate with the failed “war on terrorism”.
Add the proviso that uncertain numbers of Americans might be killed storming Baghdad, a slim majority of people in the United States are also against an invasion, which is both heartening and remarkable, given the festival of paranoia since 11 September.
The truth is that the Bush gang and its adjutants, Ariel Sharon and Blair (and the barely acknowledged, though keener-than-thou John Howard in Australia), are isolated. Television’s age of passivity is passing. Public meetings draw thousands, mostly by word of mouth. In the US, the great resistance historian Howard Zinn watches his e-mail traffic as it records countless protests in small towns, defying the stereotype.
Perhaps what is stirring in America, beneath the weight of its myths of exceptionalism, moralism and what the cold war planner George Kennan cynically called its “Rotary Club idealism”, is the faint beginning of a rejection, of the kind and magnitude that led to the great civil and human rights movements. Never have ordinary Americans seemed as cynical about the greed and corruption of their rulers.
This must not be overstated, but under any regime and in any circumstances, and in spite of the propaganda of their accredited guardians, people are never still. The specious morality play spun by Blair has had the reverse effect. What mainstream commentators called “the public unease” can be traced to Blair’s ringing call for Gladstonian and actual gunboats in tune with Bush’s evocation of the American Wild West where, as D H Lawrence pointed out, the heroes were simply killers.
A silence has broken since 11 September. International hostility to the Bush gang’s violence (in Afghanistan, a University of New Hampshire study estimates, up to 5,000 people were bombed to death) probably would have happened anyway; but their abuse of the great tragedy of 11 September has been the marker. That is what has changed.
In Britain, the media dam has sprung dangerous leaks. A popular tabloid, the Daily Mirror, has turned back to its serious, dissenting roots and caused such elitist fear and loathing that one of its American owners has made veiled threats, and that hagiographer of Washington, Whitehall and Murdoch, William Shawcross, has commanded a page in the Guardian from which to condemn the “infantile” Mirror and pretty well anybody else who dares question our government’s obeisance to Bush’s lawlessness.
Washington’s courtiers, or “Atlanticists”, as they like to be known, are worried; the once reliable censorship-by-omission that allowed the British state to join America’s imperial adventures, notably the one-sided slaughter in the Gulf in 1991, the most “covered” event in history and the least reported, is no longer fully operational. In the Mirror, on the Guardian’s main opinion pages, in this journal, in the reporting of Robert Fisk in the Independent and here and there on radio, dissent – the lifeblood of any free society – has been heard. On the internet, there is now the equivalent of a robust samizdat: for example, the excellent www.medialens.org and www.zmag.org.
Only television has been muted. The stamina of BBC mythology about its “objectivity” and devotion to “balance” ought not be underestimated. Much of the rest of humanity continues to be objectified in degrees of their value to the west and incorporation into western cultural slogans. As Fanon wrote more than 40 years ago: “For the native, objectivity is always directed against him.” Thus, the BBC’s Newsnight can “balance” justice and injustice, facts and vested lies, while reducing whole societies to the sum of their dictators’ demonology. When will those charged with training future broadcasters begin to alert their young hopefuls to the sophistication of our own state propaganda?
Making sense of 11 September is urgent. Another crime is imminent. In 1998, the Pentagon warned Bill Clinton that the “collateral damage” of an all-out invasion of Iraq could be as high as 10,000 civilians. How often, routinely, does humanity have to suffer this? That is the question many now ask. When the correspondent of the Washington Post, a famous liberal news-paper, can say on the BBC that the British are speaking out against the war party because they are jealous of America having “the sun around which the rest of the world revolves” (words to that effect) then you appreciate how the elite of great power thinks. The Romans and the imperial British would have thought like this. But the 21st century has arrived and the respectability that Nazism finally stripped from imperialism ought not to be allowed to return.
John Pilger’s documentary, Palestine Is Still the Issue, will be shown on ITV at 11pm on Monday 16 September