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War and Rumours of War


[A major rally was organised by the South Asian Alliance in Birmingham on Sunday 15th September 2002.The aim of the rally was to look at the world one year on from September the 11th.The speakers at the rally were Tariq Ali, Shaukat Butt, Asma Jhangir, Tariq Mehmood, Colin Prescod, Amrit Wilson.]

What follows is the text of a speech given by TARIQ ALI at the rally.

THE balance sheet one year on, in the war on terror is very clear. It has de-stabilised the world much more than it was prior to September 11th. We have a situation now where the United States Empire, the only Empire in the world, is very open about what it wants to do. Essentially what we have seen is the American administration using the events of September 11th to re-map the world and the re-mapping of the world according to their own economic, political and strategic military interests. The notion, which is very common amongst sections of liberals, humanitarian NGOs, that somehow Western interventions, which have taken place since the Cold War came to an end, are humanitarian interventions is a sick joke. These interventions are carried out to open up new markets, to establish new controls. If we just go through what the Americans said their war aims were after September 11th, we see what is happening very clearly.

In the first place it was not an act of war that was committed against them, it was an act of terror and when terrorists attack buildings or individuals, the normal way to deal with them is basically to use police methods; to find the evidence, to arrest them and to bring them to trial. This was totally rejected and it was rejected for a very clear reason; in a number of serious articles in the Washington Post and the New Yorker magazine, analysing what happened on September 11th and 12th in the United States, make it very clear that Condoleezza Rice the National Security Advisor of Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, the most hard-line member of the administration and Donald Rumsfeld, argued that ‘we should use September 11th now to re-order the world and to bring people back into line’, and that’s what they’ve been doing.

The aims in Afghanistan were to break the back of Al-Qaeda to capture Osama Bin Laden, to capture Mullah Omar and bring them back for trial. That aim has failed; they have not succeeded in breaking the back of this organisation, they have not succeeded in capturing its leadership. The only person they captured is Abu Zubeida who was number three in the hierarchy, was captured in the sleepy Pakistani town of Faislabad by using traditional time honoured police methods. As far as Afghanistan is concerned the situation is a mess. The notion that somehow the overthrow of the Taliban regime, which none of us supported and had been fighting against and arguing against for many years. The notion that bringing down this regime by military force from the outside would suddenly create democracy or social justice in Afghanistan has proved to be a complete joke. Basically what we have is a colonial regime in Afghanistan set up by the United States, symbolised by the fact that Hamid Karzai, the puppet leader of Afghanistan does not trust any Afghans to guard him, so his entire bodyguard is supplied by the USA which is very symbolic of the situation and this is not a situation which can last too long. The only way the Americans can keep this regime in power is if they have their troops there for the next 50 years. Without that, it is not going to be possible to have that puppet regime in power and in terms of rebuilding the country, all our information suggests that very little is being done.

Secondly the war in Afghanistan has de-stabilised the situation between India and Pakistan on the following levels:- as far as India, the regional big power, is concerned, they argue that if the United States can go and invade a foreign country, change its government to destroy terrorist bases, why can’t we? Now, the logic is impeccable on one level but on another level this is not possible because India is not a big empire and India cannot do what it wants to do if the United States opposes it and the main reason the war between India and Pakistan did not take place has nothing to do with the needs and desires of the Indian regime or the Pakistani regime. The simple fact was that there were American troops and pilots present in all Pakistan’s Military and Air Force Bases, this meant that if India attacked Pakistan given the war in Afghanistan and the American presence in Pakistan it was a very risky operation. So I was one of those who never took that war threat or all the talk of war seriously. It was sabre- rattling however what that sabre- rattling shows is that the region has become more de-stabilised since the American intervention in Afghanistan and that a solution has to be found to the problems confronting these two countries.

Now we have an irony in that Pakistan currently has a military dictator – un-elected, unaccountable, except to the army, but this military dictator happens to be secular. And we have an Indian government which is an elected government, elected by the Indian people in coalition with other parties which is essentially a religious, fundamentalist government with an extremely right wing programme. Now, if a secular dictator could deliver the army which has been the main obstacle in creating a lasting peace in the sub-continent, one would have assumed that the fundamentalists in India could deliver public opinion but the problem is they don’t want to, so relations between these two countries are paralysed at the present time, each digging itself deeper into positions.

I have always argued that the only solution in the sub-continent is a long-term treaty of peace between all the major powers and some creation of a South Asian Union which preserves the borders of each country but allows them to collaborate with each other economically, politically, reduces restrictions on travel. Within such a new union you could have autonomy for regions like Kashmir and the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka because it should involve all the countries in that region. But at the moment this seems a Utopian hope, though I’m convinced that it’s the only one.

If we go from South Asia then to the Middle East, here we have a situation which has been disrupted by September 11th in a very brutal way. Ariel Sharon, the leader of Israel and an old war criminal used the so-called war against terror to toughen his stance against the Palestinians, to go on an offensive against the Palestinians, to kill Palestinians at will and to try and destroy the Palestinian cause and the Palestinians as a political entity. The aim of Sharon is very clear – he wants to destroy the political identity of Palestine and in this he is being backed by George Bush, Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney. Rumsfeld, the American Defence Secretary recently referred to the occupied areas of Palestine as the “so-called occupation” which indicates how deep the links are between the Zionist establishment in Israel, the military establishment in that country and the United States. If the United States wanted to, it could stop this business very quickly by putting massive economic pressure on Israel, but they don’t want to because Israel has been their enforcer in this oil-rich region for far too long.

So what we are seeing is the use that is being made of September 11th to re-map the Middle East, to give the Israelis the green light to really crush the Palestinians which may work temporarily but isn’t going to work in the long run. As for imagining that this sort of behaviour in Palestine is going to reduce acts of terrorism, only someone who lives in a dream world could believe that because what it will do is actually increase the threats of terrorism by small groups of embittered, angry and frustrated individuals all over the world, who will feel that all their hopes and their aspirations are now being crushed. At the same time as George Bush and his gang are giving the green light to Sharon to crush the Palestinians, they are preparing an invasion of Iraq and this is a very critical time now for us. It is a time to mobilise the broadest possible anti-war movement against this war. The plan is to invade Iraq and to change it’s regime. This can only lead, even in the medium term to the Balkanisation of this country. Why do the United States want to do it? The reason they want to do it is because essentially oil remains a crucial commodity to fuel the needs of global capitalism. All the talk we heard for the last 25-30 years of substitutes being found for oil has not happened – oil is absolutely essential for Western Capitalist economies to function, that is what gives this oil-rich region of the Middle East the priority it has. The notion that the reason the Americans are doing it is because they hate Islam is a joke to be perfectly honest. They have worked with Islam against other enemies in the past. Many of the Islamic fundamentalist groups which have now become big bogies for them were created by them, they worked with them throughout the Cold War period. So I don’t accept this idea of a permanent division or a clash between the United States and Islam. When it suits them both sides have worked together – right wing Muslim groups and the United States have worked together. It’s worth stressing this fact and making this very clear, so the conflict which appears to be a conflict between the American Empire and the world of Islam is in fact basically a conflict to win control of all the oil reserves in the region indefinitely. That is what the American Empire is after.

Now Iraq is an oil-rich country but it has a regime which the Americans don’t like – though they used to work with Saddam Hussain for many years, but they don’t like him now so they want to topple him, to have a pliant regime in that region. The second reason is that they view the Iraqi army, which is now outside their control, as the only strong military force which could balance Israel. And so there is a lot of Israeli military pressure on the United States to sort out the Iraqi army which is the only army of which they are nervous and suspicious. As for the notion that the reason they are going in is because Saddam has dangerous weapons, this is such a joke, such a set of lies that it makes one despair to think that people even believe them. No-one has come up with any proof that he has any nuclear weapons. What they are saying is that he has the capacity to make nuclear weapons. Well these days, intelligent students of physics in any part of the world have the capacity to make nuclear weapons. It is not a secret provided you can get the raw materials and in the free market of capitalism, raw materials are available if you have the money – so anyone with money can construct a nuclear device. So what? That’s the condition to which we have been brought.

So Saddam Hussain and the Iraqi regime have the capacity to make nuclear weapons but there is one country in the Middle East which already has nuclear weapons and that’s Israel so here we have double standards pertaining in the most grotesque way. Israel has nuclear weapons, Israel has chemical weapons but that is fine. Saddam Hussain getting these weapons is a problem. Why? Because he might use them because he’s a dictator. Excuse me! The only country so far in the world which has used nuclear weapons was not a dictatorship, it was the United States of America the world’s largest democracy at the time which used nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killed hundreds and thousands of civilians, maimed others. So the balance sheet on that is clear; it’s got nothing to do with democracy and dictatorship, it’s got everything to do with power and who exercises it and who wants to dominate the world and control it. And that is what the attack on Iraq is all about.

Now, will the United States succeed? They might temporarily, I don’t think we should have too many illusions about that, they have the power, they will have to lose lives, they will probably. They are capable of taking Iraq militarily, but after then what? Will we see democracy in Iraq? I don’t think so and the reason we won’t see democracy in Iraq is because the majority of the Iraqi population is Shiah Muslim. The United States even as it talks about fighting Islam has been actually encouraging the religious Shiah leaderships, giving them money to fight against Sadam Hussain. So in having created and encouraged making politics in that country religious and using everyone they can get, they are repeating the mistakes they’ve made in the past. If they permit a free general election in Iraq, there will be a Shiah majority – a Shiah majority in Iraq which could technically have a long term pact between Iran and Iraq. Which would spell disaster for American policy in that region as presently conceived. So we are not going to have democracy in Iraq. Essentially we will have a protectorate, an American protectorate, possibly with UN sanction.

I’m very nervous of the argument which says that if the UN backs this war it makes it a just war. The UN is largely under the control of the United States, they need to bully France into submission and pressure China by making a few concessions to abstain and they can get their own way. So what is being offered to the people of Iraq is an American protectorate. Now what the consequences of this will be immediately are unforeseeable but I can predict that in the medium and long term it will lay the seeds of despair and destruction which will actually make the world much less safe than it has been for a long time . If the United States is fearful of acts of terrorism against it, this is the best way of actually going and increasing them.

So I think it is extremely important to understand and see the war against Iraq in the context in which it is being waged – it has nothing to do with the character of the Saddam Hussain, regime, it is nothing to do with nuclear weapons or chemical weapons it is everything to do with American war aims and American imperial strategy and that is why I have been arguing now for the last year since September 11th, that the mother of all fundamentalisms is American imperialist fundamentalism and unless this is fought and resisted we will face more and more disasters on a global scale. So what we need is a broad anti-imperialist alliance which can take the movement forward.

And I will end on a note which might make some people unhappy which is the following:- that in order to defeat this imperialism, you can resist it for a long time, but in order to defeat it you have to come up with a global alternative which is superior to what the West offers and this alternative cannot come from religious fundamentalists because they do not have a vision apart from a very unrealistic one of imposing some form of that religion on the world. They are not able to provide the answers. But until we move back to a situation where we look for different ways of reordering and reorganising the world, something the anti-globalisation movement is struggling towards, we are going to face problems.

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