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What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

Gagging the sceptics

The US, founded to protect basic freedoms, is now insisting that its 
critics are its enemies

George Monbiot Guardian

Tuesday October 16, 2001

If satire died on the day Henry Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize, 
then last week its corpse was exhumed for a kicking. As head of the United
Nations peacekeeping department, Kofi Annan failed to prevent the genocide 
in Rwanda or the massacre in Srebrenica. Now, as secretary general, he 
appears to have interpreted the UN charter as generously as possible to 
allow the attack on Afghanistan to go ahead.

Article 51 permits states to defend themselves against attack. It says 
nothing about subsequent retaliation. It offers no licence to attack 
people who might be harbouring a nation's enemies. The bombing of 
Afghanistan, which began before the UN security council gave its approval,
is legally contentious. Yet the man and the organisation who overlooked 
this obstacle to facilitate war are honoured for their contribution to 

Endowments like the Nobel Peace Prize are surely designed to reward 
self-sacrifice. Nelson Mandela gave up his liberty, FW de Klerk gave up 
his power, and both were worthy recipients of the prize. But Kofi Annan, 
the career bureaucrat, has given up nothing. He has been rewarded for 
doing as he is told, while nobly submitting to a gigantic salary and 
bottomless expense account.

Among the other nominees for the prize was a group whose qualifications 
were rather more robust. Members of Women in Black have routinely risked 
their lives in the hope of preventing war. They have stayed in the homes 
of Palestinians being shelled by Israeli tanks and have confronted war 
criminals in the Balkans. They have stood silently while being abused and 
spat at during vigils all over the world. But now, in this looking-glass 
world in which war is peace and peace is war, instead of winning the peace
prize the Women in Black have been labelled potential terrorists by the FBI
and threatened with a grand jury investigation.

They are in good company. Earlier this year the director of the FBI named 
the chaotic but harmless organisations Reclaim the Streets and Carnival 
Against Capitalism in the statement on terrorism he presented to the 
Senate. Now, partly as a result of his representations, the Senate's new 
terrorism bill, like Britain's Terrorism Act 2000, redefines the crime so 
broadly that members of Greenpeace are in danger of being treated like 
members of al-Qaida. The Bush doctrine - if you're not with us, you're 
against us - is already being applied.

This government by syllogism makes no sense at all. Osama bin Laden and 
al-Qaida have challenged the US government; ergo anyone who challenges the
government is a potential terrorist. That Bin Laden is, according to US 
officials, a "fascist", while the other groups are progressives is 
irrelevant: every public hand raised in objection will from now on be 
treated as a public hand raised in attack. Given that Bin Laden is not a 
progressive but is a millionaire, it would surely make more sense to round
up and interrogate all millionaires.

Lumping Women in Black together with al-Qaida requires just a minor 
addition to the vocabulary: they have been jointly classified as "
anti-American". This term, as used by everyone from the US defence 
secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Daily Mail to Tony Blair and several 
writers on these pages, applies not only to those who hate Americans, but 
also to those who have challenged US foreign and defence objectives. 
Implicit in this denunciation is a demand for uncritical support, for a 
love of government more consonant with the codes of tsarist Russia than 
with the ideals upon which the United States was founded.

The charge of "anti-Americanism" is itself profoundly anti-American. If 
the US does not stand for freedom of thought and speech, for diversity and
dissent, then we have been deceived as to the nature of the national 
project. Were the founding fathers to congregate today to discuss the 
principles enshrined in their declaration of independence, they would be 
denounced as "anti-American" and investigated as potential terrorists. 
Anti-American means today precisely what un-American meant in the 1950s. 
It is an instrument of dismissal, a means of excluding your critics from 
rational discourse.

Under the new McCarthyism, this dismissal extends to anyone who seeks to 
promulgate a version of events other than that sanctioned by the US 
government. On September 20, President Bush told us that "this is the 
fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom".
Two weeks later, his secretary of state, Colin Powell, met the Emir of 
Qatar to request that progress, pluralism, tolerance and freedom be 
suppressed. Al-Jazeera is one of the few independent television stations 
in the Middle East, whose popularity is the result of its uncommon regard 
for freedom of speech. It is also the only station permitted to operate 
freely in Kabul. Powell's request that it be squashed was a pre-emptive 
strike against freedom, which, he hoped, would prevent the world from 
seeing what was really happening once the bombing began.

Since then, both George Bush and Tony Blair have sought to prevent 
al-Jazeera from airing video statements by Bin Laden, on the grounds of 
the preposterous schoolboy intrigue that they "might contain coded 
messages". Over the weekend the government sought to persuade British 
broadcasters to restrict their coverage of the war. Blair's spin doctors 
warned: "You can't trust them [the Taliban] in any way, shape, or form." 
While true, this applies with equal force to the techniques employed by 
Downing Street. When Alastair Campbell starts briefing journalists about
"Spin Laden", it's a case of the tarantula spinning against the money 

If we are to preserve the progress, pluralism, tolerance and freedom which
President Bush claims to be defending, then we must question everything we 
see and hear. Though we know that governments lie to us in wartime, most 
people seem to believe that this universal rule applies to every conflict 
except the current one. Many of those who now accept that babies were not 
thrown out of incubators in Kuwait, and that the Belgrano was fleeing when
it was hit, are also prepared to believe everything we are being told about
Afghanistan and terrorism in the US.

There are plenty of reasons to be sceptical. The magical appearance of the
terrorists' luggage, passports and flight manual looks rather too good to 
be true. The dossier of "evidence" purporting to establish Bin Laden's 
guilt consists largely of supposition and conjecture. The ration packs 
being dropped on Afghanistan have no conceivable purpose other than to 
create the false impression that starving people are being fed. Even the 
anthrax scare looks suspiciously convenient. Just as the hawks in 
Washington were losing the public argument about extending the war to 
other countries, journalists start receiving envelopes full of bacteria, 
which might as well have been labelled "a gift from Iraq". This could 
indeed be the work of terrorists, who may have their own reasons for 
widening the conflict, but there are plenty of other ruthless operators 
who would benefit from a shift in public opinion.

Democracy is sustained not by public trust but by public scepticism. 
Unless we are prepared to question, to expose, to challenge and to dissent,
we conspire in the demise of the system for which our governments are 
supposed to be fighting. The true defenders of America are those who are 
now being told that they are anti-American.