9/11 and the Functions of the ‘War on Terror’

Five years on from the attack on the Twin Towers we can see how it was used to justify a war for oil and a general clampdown on civil liberties all around the world. We have also seen revolutionary movements, particularly in Latin America which will inevitably cut through the fog of confusion the capitalist have attempted to throw up.

Editor's Note: Much of the information in this article, including research, citations, and source material is based on information found in Endless War, by David Keen.


"I shall give a propagandist reason for starting the war, no matter whether it is plausible or not. The victor will not be asked afterwards whether he told the truth or not. When starting and waging a war it is not right that matters, but victory." Adolf Hitler, speech to Wehrmacht commanders-in-chief, 22 August 1939

It has been said that September 11th portends something new; that the terrorist attacks carried out on September 11, 2001 against the USA have changed the world. "It stands to reason that 19 men cannot change history. But they did." (The Economist, 31 August 2006) The so-called ‘war on terror', a continuum of the 1980s Reagan's war, has been designed to end ‘terror'. To achieve this it will require years of ‘counter-terrorism', a war that would not be "over in a month or a year or even five years." (Donald Rumsfeld, September 2001) In fact, the ‘war on terror' goes back to the Russian Revolution and to what the imperialists called the ‘red terror'. This brief analysis, however, does not delve into that period nor does it deal with the real perpetrators of the attacks, but with the hidden functions of the current ‘war on terrorism'.

One of the techniques used to sell a war is to advertise it, to say it often enough so people will believe it. Adolf Hitler had already taken this insight into the political sphere, ‘The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous ... [Propaganda] must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.'" (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, chapter 6) Hitler, in fact, made the connection with commercial advertising explicit, "All advertising, whether in the field of business or politics, achieves success through the continuity and sustained uniformity of its application." (Mein Kampf, chapter 6)

Another technique is ‘good versus evil', the ‘Us' against ‘them' rhetoric. Because of its allegiance to freedom and democracy the US is good. Therefore, ‘because the US is good it deserves to be powerful and, by nature, cannot use its power for evil ends.' Once the ruling classes monopolise violence, they ‘legitimise' their use of violence, and terror, and de-legitimise the violence of rebels as ‘terrorism'; we fight for freedom, they fight against freedoms; "If they do it, it's terrorism, if we do it, it's fighting for freedom." (Anthony Quainton, US Ambassador to Nicaragua, 1984).

‘Terrorism' has been used as ‘communism' was used before. The threat of an ‘evil empire' that wanted to export its ‘communism' has been replaced by the threat of ‘Islamic terrorism' (and ‘Islamic fascism') that does not like ‘our way of life and values' and wants to ‘destroy our democracy'. A militarised economy required scaring the hell out of the American people during the ‘Soviet threat' period.

Today, international terrorism is the drive and the excuse for the spending spree on armaments. Whether the enemy has been ‘communism', ‘rogue states', ‘Islamic fundamentalism', ‘drugs', or ‘terror', the ‘war on terror', wrote David Keen, "represents a new application of an old doctrine: the doctrine of endless war." (David Keen, Endless War, p.68) The objective, as Orwell put it, is ‘to keep the real structure of society intact' through creating a new enemy and diverting the masses from the class nature of conflicts.

Peter Singer's research, published in 2004, found that Bush used the term ‘evil' in 319 different speeches, in most cases as an adjective to describe an act (Singer, The President of Good and Evil, p.2). Similar to the function of witch-hunts in Britain, Germany and the New World (brilliantly depicted in Arthur Miller's The Crucible), the aim is not only to eliminate ‘evil', it is also to establish the ‘legitimate' ground for such activity. And similar to the mechanism of the witch-hunt, in the name of hunting down ‘evil', today's Orwellian prophesy ‘could have you punished for what you thought or intended or presumed to have intended, rather than what you have actually done'.

The ‘war on terror' has given licence to domestic repression in countries supporting this war. A few days ago an architect of Iraqi descent was forced to take off his T-shirt that bore the words ‘we will not be silenced' before boarding a flight at John F Kennedy airport. It is repeated again and again that the terrorists are against our democracy and freedoms, but couldn't we also argue that because of this hypocritical talk about these freedoms and values by ‘our leaders' while at the same time they wage one war after another, killing hundreds of thousands of people, intimidating and humiliating whole nations that has made these young people resentful and murderers.

Walter Wolfgang who heckled Jack Straw, the then British foreign secretary, over the war in Iraq was dragged out of the Labour Party conference (September 2005) under the powers of the anti-terrorist laws. Spanish former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar banned the Basque separatist party Batasuna though there was no proof that the latter was linked to the Madrid bombing.

In Israel, China, the USA, Britain, the Philippines, Pakistan, Columbia, Uzbekistan, Russia, not to speak of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, the ‘war on terror' has been an opportunity to crack down on dissidents, labelling activists as al-Qaeda sympathisers or just ‘terrorists' and pass new draconian laws that allow rounding up people without charge, discriminating against minorities, and attacking gains that the labour movement and human rights groups fought for decades ago.

"Attack from the air on September eleven
Kindled once more sweet vengeance's flame:
Never forgotten or ever forgiven,
Those uninvolved must carry the blame
Like prisoners of conscience, raised to new heights,
Few are made present by merit alone.
Confined to a cage, deprived any rights,
Laws are rewritten and oppression condoned."

Those are verses by Moazzam Begg, from ‘The Dagger's Hilt' composed in January 2004 in Guantánamo Bay. Begg, a British Muslim and former Guantánamo prisoner, observed that one of the quotes he heard people tell the guards a lot is "that they weren't terrorists before they came in, but they certainly will be when they leave." Indeed it is possible for an innocent person who has suffered torture to become more radicalised and look for vengeance, or even join a political or a religious group. Syyid Qutb, a known leader in the political Islam movement who later radicalised thousands of Muslims, had been himself radicalised because of the torture inflicted on him while he was in an Egyptian prison. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden's second in command, also suffered torture.

The defenders of the imperialist policies can be amazingly honest. Take Alan Dershowitz and Robert Cooper, for example. The Havard law professor Dershowitz believes that "we could easily wipe out international terrorism if we were not constrained by legal, moral, and humanitarian considerations." (Why Terrorism Works, 2002, p. 3) As for Cooper, Tony Blair's adviser, the reality that we should live with is that "the post-modern world [?] has to start to get used to double standards ... Among ourselves we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle." (Why we still need empires, The Observer, 7 April 2002)

Let's suppose it is right for a country to attack another country if it fears it is about to be attacked. Is it not right, then, for Iraq [under Saddam], Iran and North Korea to attack the United States to pre-empt being attacked? Let's not forget that the argument given by Bush and Co. is that any country which harbours terrorists is itself terrorist and must be dealt with. It is known that Cuban exiles living in Miami operate freely and use terrorist attacks aiming at killing people in Cuba or overthrowing the Cuban regime. Has Cuba the right, then, to attack the US because the latter harbours terrorists, including a notorious one: Luis Posada Carriles?

How could one explain that while the flattening of Fallujah in Iraq and the killing of civilians by the occupying forces is not terrorism but the killing of passengers on the trains in Madrid and London are acts of terrorism?

Bin Laden's Allah vs Bush's God

"In great contests, each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against at the same time." Abraham Lincoln

It was Bin Laden who argued that Islam was everywhere under attack by the infidels and that every Muslim has a duty to embark on jihad in its defence. Opinion polls show that millions of Muslims now think America's real aim in Iraq was to grab its oil and help Israel or just wage a war on Islam. It was in 1996 when Bin Laden consistently made his case for attacking the US: the US military occupation of Saudi Arabia (the holy land), her support for the Israeli state in killing the Palestinians and the invasion of Iraq in 1991 and the bombing and the starving of its people through sanctions. "Our nation has been tasting this shame and degradation" for 80 years now, said Bin Laden.

9/11 saw thousands of innocent people killed in cold blood by an act of terrorism. Yet the impulse to retaliate has already shown us why a ‘war on terror' cannot be won. "Why would other people," asks David Kean, "not feel similar emotions and impulses when they are attacked, when their innocent people are bombed or shot in the name of somebody else's ‘justice'?"

In the words of Shylock, in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice,

"He hath disgraced me ... laughed at my losses ... scorned my nation, and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? ... If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" (The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1)

Bin Laden expressed this humiliation and disgrace clearly when he said: "Under what grace are your victims innocent and ours dust, and under which doctrine is your blood blood and our blood water?" (Guardian, 17 April 2004) It is the hypocrisy of the very same western rulers who preach human rights and violate their own preaching by torturing prisoners and putting them on the leash like dogs, by imprisoning people for 3 or 4 years in a Gulag-like prison (Amnesty International, 2006) without trial or charge or access to lawyers and, by bombing and maiming tens of thousands of people and freeing them from their bodies, by supporting the barbaric bombing of Lebanon by the Israeli state, by destroying what is left in a shattered Palestinian society and blockading and arresting democratically elected members of government...

Is it a war on Islam then, as many Muslims, and some non-Muslims, see it? William Dalrymple wrote in the New York Review of Books (December 2003): "While al-Qaeda has dominated the news since September 11, 2001 there are dozens of similar groups made up of freelance Islamic radicals trained since the 1980s in camps on the Afghan border. Many of these were run by the ISI [Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence] and funded initially by the CIA (one reliable estimate puts the US contribution at 7 billion dollars), and later, after the Soviet withdrawal, by Saudi intelligence."

The fact that the US sponsored and worked with the mujahidin prior and after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the fact that Saudi Arabia has been spared from any US retaliation when it has been found that most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi-born Muslims along with befriending the sheiks of the other Gulf states, the regime in Pakistan, etc., the fact that both the American and the British government have been working with what they call the ‘moderate' Muslims, the fact that since 1948 the US, through bombing and/or invading many countries has killed millions of people, which amount to a small percentage of those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq if compared with the Vietnam war alone, and the fact that staunch foes of America in the Middle East were secular leaders, among them Sukarno, Nasser and Saddam Hussein, to name a few, proves that what the US and Britain really oppose are some old Muslim friends who could not serve their interests anymore.

The monopoly of religion to serve real hidden objectives is also used by the rulers. Religion is useful because ‘it breeds deterrence to the ruling class', says Leo Strauss. If Bush and Blair strongly believe that God are with them, and that he even talked to one of them, in their mission then why should terrorists not have faith that their particular version of Islam is right? Some American fundamentalists, the Jerry Falwells and the Pat Robertsons, saw September 11 as God's displeasure, ‘a punishment of the pagans', but they had to retract later to allow retaliation against the ‘evil enemy'. The USA is a country where Christian fundamentalism is strong and this is used to get many Americans to believe that their country - in reality their government - is on a divinely-inspired mission to save the world. What is common in the two types of fundamentalisms, the Christian-capitalist fundamentalism in the USA and the Islamic fundamentalism of the jihadis, and al-Qaeda militants in particular, is that both can make you believe absurdities and can make you commit atrocities.

It is obvious for any socialist or progressive person that the perpetrators of September 11th as well as many Islamic fundamentalists adhere to a reactionary doctrine that claims to embody the Truth, the Absolute Truth, and preaches and acts for the establishment of an obscurantist society governed by 1400 year-old laws. But to analyse the background and the nature of this movement isolated from the crisis of world capitalism is to misunderstand the real conflict of the two fundamentalisms and the confluent factors behind terrorism.

Michael Mann suggested that, "Jihadis ... alienate most people through extreme violence, as they did in the early 1990s in Algeria and Egypt. Islamism and jihadis were declining from the mid 1990s. But then the US actions began to revive them." (Michael Mann, Incoherent Empire, p. 116)

Osman Hussain, one of the suspects in the 21 July failed bombings is said to have been a notorious womaniser in his earlier days. Hussain told his Italian interrogators that he and his friends had watched hours of footage on the war on Iraq, "of women and children killed or wiped out by British and US soldiers, of weeping widows, mothers and children". Siddique Khan's video from the grave, reiterated nearly the same message, "Until you stop the bombing, gassing, and imprisonment," he declared "... we will not stop the fight."

In his study which included the biographies of 400 al-Qaeda members Marc Sageman, who helped run the Afghan war for the CIA, directly contradicted ‘the misconception ... that the typical al-Qaeda person is somebody who comes from a poor background, broken family, he's ignorant, immature young man, no skill, no family, job or responsibility, or weak mind that's vulnerable to brain washing.' In fact, Sageman found that three-fourths of the 400 "are from upper and middle-class background. The vast majority come from a caring, intact family. Sixty per cent have a college education. The average age at joining the organisation is 26. Three-fourths are professional or semi-professional. Three-fourths are married. The majority have children." (quoted in Lawrence Pintak, Reflections in a Bloodshed Lens - America, Islam & the War of Ideas, 2006, pp. 113-114)

Sageman's study found that 75 per cent of jihadis of al-Qaeda recruits "had joined outside the borders of their native land, most while studying abroad, while another 10 per cent had been born in the West of immigrant parents, like the London bombers." Sageman speaks of a group of people who had been alienated and had their hopes dashed.

This phenomenon of middle class young people forming or joining terrorist groups is not alien to the Western world. Social laws tell us that similar conditions produce similar phenomena. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Patriotic Council in the US, Baader Meinhof in West Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy, Timothy Mc Veigh (of the Oklahoma City bombing where some 160 people perished), and others were born in the West and used terrorist acts. “The system has made us kaput, we shall destroy the system,” was a slogan of the second generation of Baader (West Germany). Left wing groups, which engaged in terrorist activities, harmed the cause they were fighting for as well as alienating the working class.

Trotsky wrote that terrorism, even if successful, would cause confusion among the ruling classes only for a short time. The capitalist system does not rest on a Prime Minister or a President and would not disappear with the elimination of one. "Methods of compulsion and terrorization," he wrote in 1920, "have up to now benefited and continue to benefit in an infinitely higher degree the cause of reaction ... than that of historical progress..." And to equal resistance movements struggling for independence or against occupiers, as the case with the Algerian resistance against the French, the Iraqi's against the American and British armies or Hizbu'llah's against Israel's occupation of Lebanon to individual terrorism that is unconnected to the mass movement of the people, is to play in the hands of the state.

The argument that the current conflict should be framed in a ‘clash of civilisation' has also been prevalent. In fact this is not a new argument. Long before Samuel Huntington, the ‘motto' ‘East is East, West is West and they will never meet' reflected, and still does, the imperialist vision of ‘them' and ‘Us'. As in society, the tactic of divide et impera is used in the world arena as well. In this respect, we don't think that the question is religious at all. "It is entirely wrong to pose the question in terms of Islam versus the West," explained Alan Woods. "This only divides and weakens the anti-war movement when what is necessary is to unite all the anti-imperialist forces in the world to fight this criminal occupation [of Iraq]." (Alan Woods, Editor of Marxist.com interviewed on Pakistan TV)

In Blair's view, the invasion of Iraq was about supporting Islam's moderates against its reactionaries and bolstering ‘democracy' against dictatorship. "Such argument," admits The Economist magazine, "no longer sell in the West, let alone in the Muslim world. If it was all about dictatorship, what about the dictatorship the West continues to embrace in Saudi Arabia, and the quasi-dictatorship in Pakistan?... By what right do you invade someone else's country in order to impose a pattern of government." (The Economist, 31 August 2006, my emphasis, N.M.)

The reader is advised to take a look at the magazine's archive to find out the sheer hypocrisy in this rhetoric. The Economist staunchly supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq and hailed the elections there as a great step towards ‘democracy'. "Mr Bush has got the big foreign-policy decisions right ... on the evidence that presented itself at the time, he rightly decided to invade Iraq," stated The Economist in August 2004. If this is not imposing a pattern of government, we don't know what it is.

In practice the US strategy in the Middle East still follows the same pattern; it relies entirely on the ability of the pro-American dictatorships, in particular those in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, to control the anger of their population. The so-called ‘moderate Muslim leaders', out of fear and greed, publicly wring their hands but collude with the US and offer their territory for bases (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, Kuwait and (some Muslim leaders in Britain) pay lip-service to Blair and Bush. Notably, no Muslim country has called for an oil embargo or a serious boycott of American and British companies. Some of them, with fundamentalist groups, did call for a boycott of Danish products against the publication of Muhammad cartoons, but not when ‘their lands' are occupied and their fellow Muslims killed by the thousands!

What has been achieved?

On the ground, the ‘war on terror' is endlessly supplying the terrorist groups, as well as the non-terrorist groups, with ‘new' recruits and new operations. "After the known terrorist leaders were arrested, time passed, and new, unknown terrorists emerged," as Richard Clark, a top US expert on terrorism, referring to The Battle of Algiers, noted. Meanwhile, the ruling classes exploit every new terrorist attack, and alleged plot, to prepare public opinion for more counter-attacks ‘to fight evil'. Thus one feeds the other and the circle of terror carries on ad infinitum. Studies have proved that state terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism in Guatemala in the 1980s, in Colombia and Chechnya, to name a few, have actually strengthened the guerrillas, the FARC and the Islamic militants respectively. Bloody Sunday in Ireland drove hundreds of men and women to take up arms.

According to figures compiled by the U.S. military and published by The New York Times, 17 August 2006, and contrary to the reiterated lie that the everyday killings in Iraq are almost entirely sectarian where Muslims are killing their fellow Muslims, 70 per cent of the 1, 666 bombs exploded by the ‘insurgents' in July, for example, were directed against the American forces and 20 per cent against the puppet police force. Civilian casualties amounted to 2 per cent. The ‘insurgents' are using increasingly sophisticated weapons. In other words, unlike the killing perpetrated by the US army, such as the killing of several thousand people in Fallujah, the resistance is fighting basically a military war. The truth, as John Pilger commented, is suppressed, as it was in Vietnam.

The ‘war on terror' in Iraq has achieved nothing but ‘mass murder' on an ‘unimaginable scale'. American soldiers massacring an entire family in Haditha are, like those who carried out the torture in Abu Ghraib, described as ‘bad apples' working under ‘intense pressure', but Muslims involved in terrorism in the West are just a misguided generation, or ‘Muslim fascists'. No one, however, should dare explain the real roots of terrorism.

In Afghanistan suicide bomb attacks have become common. The British soldiers are facing a fierce Taliban resistance. British casualties are higher than ever since the invasion in late 2001. A British commander in Afghanistan spoke about "the most intense combat since Korea [!]." (BBC1, 10 O'clock News, 06 September 2006)

In an article entitled, "US has emerged as a loser in the Middle East" the Financial Times (20 August 2006) admits that "America's stance on the Lebanon war has had a wide range of negative consequences for America. It has driven Sunni and and Shia Arabs together in an anti-US front, at a time when potential US allies among Sunni Muslims were themselves worrying about the rise of Hizbollah and Iran. It has provoked and empowered the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, just as Washington is deploying more troops to Baghdad to try to quell the violence there.

"It has distracted attention from the Iranian nuclear issue, just as the United Nations Security Council was coming together to threaten sanctions on Tehran. It has destroyed whatever remaining hope there was for the US to be perceived as an honest broker between Israelis and Arabs in the search for peace in the Middle East. It has undermined US allies and democratic reformers in Arab states. It has also created a new crisis of confidence with America's European allies just when transatlantic relations were starting to improve."

As David Keen put it, "the context is of a long historical experience of colonialism and in institutionalised humiliation in Arab and Muslim countries. The colonial experience has shaped perceptions not just in the Middle East but also, for example, in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines." (David Keen, Endless War, 2006, p. 32) Furthermore, the imperialist encroachment with unresolved long sufferings of the Palestinians, the support of the dictatorships in the Arab and Muslim world along with Israel, the dislocation and social frustration caused by capitalism in those societies have fuelled anger, resentment and despair.

The ‘war on terror' has tended to deepen the double anger of most of the Muslim people in the world, "not only by increasing grievances at Western foreign policy but also by reinforcing domestic oppression in many countries around the world and by boosting discrimination". The Muslims in Britain now are the ‘enemy within' (Sunday Times, 13 August 2006, article available on Timesonline.co.uk), the miners were the ‘enemy within' under Thatcher!

The ‘war on terror' has not only been counter-productive on a big scale, it has also shifted the already meagre resources for social needs to tackle ‘terrorism'. The defence budget of the USA amounts to $500 billion a year. This drain of resources is deepening the deficit and exposing the depth of class division in the supposedly richest country on earth more than ever (the New Orleans disaster, for instance). Today the richest 1 per cent in the USA own more than 38 per cent of the national wealth. In 2001, 9 million people in the country were classified by the department of agriculture as experiencing ‘real hunger'. As summed up by Michael Moore, "Perhaps the biggest success in the War on Terror has been its ability to distract the nation from the Corporate War on Us." (Fahrenheit 9/11, 2004)

Who has been paying the bill to finance this war? Extensive further increases in federal spending, tax cuts, but not for the rich, squeezing more surplus from the American working class, and assistance from countries like Saudi Arabia and the hope to stabilise Iraq, which is unlikely to materialise in the near future. The massive fiscal deficit has also made the United Sates dependent on continued flows of capital and cheap commodities from East Asia in particular (mainly China). This current situation will continue to determine, to a great extent, the US's foreign policy for the coming years.

The more the ruling class feels its economic power threatened, the society unstable, and that power might slip from its hands, the more it resorts to violence. And since foreign policy is the continuation of domestic policy by other means, whether it is Bush's and Blair's or others', will not make a difference in pursuing a policy of war of terror, plunder, and subjugation. Creating an atmosphere of fear serves this greed of this ferocious class. As depicted by Aleksei Tolstoi, ‘death rays' are used to destroy the moon, among other targets, not because the moon is thought to be of great strategic importance but its destruction would occasion a great panic from which capitalist speculators would benefit.

The US today is like ‘a baby with a bomb', observed Neil Young, the Canadian singer. Her might is at the same time her weakness as has been demonstrated in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Capitalism and the ‘war on terror' not only help to sustain one another but they have this in common: they worship success but are nourished by failure." (Keen, p.199)

The myth that the 9/11 attacks have changed history is like Fukuyama's myth that history has ended because ‘democracy' is the ultimate end for the whole world. In fact history, though it knows all kinds of transformations as Lenin said, carries on, but with a vengeance. The 9/11 atrocity, incomparable with the imperialist atrocities in the last 50 years alone, has only added a new volume in the bloody history of the ruling classes of the so-called civilised world; it has turned more people than ever before against another kind of terrorism: the terrorism of the ‘free market' that starves millions of people and keeps half of the world on the brink of starvation.

In the midst of this anarchy that has made the world less safe, it seems that the right wing media (notably that quoted above, the Financial Times and The Economist) have taken a different stance towards the way things should have been done. In fact, what the defenders of the system want is to save their class from going too far in its madness; to dupe the masses by putting the blame on this or that head of state; to make people believe that there have been mistakes made, but now we have to move on and not to repeat them.

In the midst of this anarchy, the five years that followed September 11th also experienced the biggest anti-war movement, a shift to the left in Latin America, a beginning of a surge in the labour movement in Europe, which has started to have its contagious effects in the US itself. From the womb of such a movement, the alternative to capitalism, terrorism and imperialism is emerging.

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