Canada Flag . . . . . Blue Ribbon . . . . . Any Browser :-)

"WW III? No thanks...!" On-Line Library

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

The algebra of infinite justice

by Arundhati Roy

As the US prepares to wage a new kind of war, Arundhati Roy
challenges the instinct for vengance

The Guardian
September 29, 2001

In the aftermath of the unconscionable September 11 suicide attacks
on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre, an American newscaster
said: "Good and evil rarely manifest themselves as clearly as they
did last Tuesday. People who we don't know massacred people who we
do. And they did so with contemptuous glee." Then he broke down and

Here's the rub: America is at war against people it doesn't know,
because they don't appear much on TV. Before it has properly
identified or even begun to comprehend the nature of its enemy, the
US government has, in a rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric,
cobbled together an "international coalition against terror",
mobilised its army, its air force, its navy and its media, and
committed them to battle.

The trouble is that once Amer ica goes off to war, it can't very well
return without having fought one. If it doesn't find its enemy, for
the sake of the enraged folks back home, it will have to manufacture
one. Once war begins, it will develop a momentum, a logic and a
justification of its own, and we'll lose sight of why it's being
fought in the first place.

What we're witnessing here is the spectacle of the world's most
powerful country reaching reflexively, angrily, for an old instinct
to fight a new kind of war. Suddenly, when it comes to defending
itself, America's streamlined warships, cruise missiles and F-16 jets
look like obsolete, lumbering things. As deterrence, its arsenal of
nuclear bombs is no longer worth its weight in scrap. Box-cutters,
penknives, and cold anger are the weapons with which the wars of the
new century will be waged. Anger is the lock pick. It slips through
customs unnoticed. Doesn't show up in baggage checks.

Who is America fighting? On September 20, the FBI said that it had
doubts about the identities of some of the hijackers. On the same day
President George Bush said, "We know exactly who these people are and
which governments are supporting them." It sounds as though the
president knows something that the FBI and the American public don't.

In his September 20 address to the US Congress, President Bush called
the enemies of America "enemies of freedom". "Americans are asking,
'Why do they hate us?' " he said. "They hate our freedoms - our
freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and
assemble and disagree with each other." People are being asked to
make two leaps of faith here. First, to assume that The Enemy is who
the US government says it is, even though it has no substantial
evidence to support that claim. And second, to assume that The
Enemy's motives are what the US government says they are, and there's
nothing to support that either.

For strategic, military and economic reasons, it is vital for the US
government to persuade its public that their commitment to freedom
and democracy and the American Way of Life is under attack. In the
current atmosphere of grief, outrage and anger, it's an easy notion
to peddle. However, if that were true, it's reasonable to wonder why
the symbols of America's economic and military dominance - the World
Trade Centre and the Pentagon - were chosen as the targets of the
attacks. Why not the Statue of Liberty? Could it be that the stygian
anger that led to the attacks has its taproot not in American freedom
and democracy, but in the US government's record of commitment and
support to exactly the opposite things - to military and economic
terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorship, religious bigotry and
unimaginable genocide (outside America)? It must be hard for ordinary
Americans, so recently bereaved, to look up at the world with their
eyes full of tears and encounter what might appear to them to be
indifference. It isn't indifference. It's just augury. An absence of
surprise. The tired wisdom of knowing that what goes around
eventually comes around. American people ought to know that it is not
them but their government's policies that are so hated. They can't
possibly doubt that they themselves, their extraordinary musicians,
their writers, their actors, their spectacular sportsmen and their
cinema, are universally welcomed. All of us have been moved by the
courage and grace shown by firefighters, rescue workers and ordinary
office staff in the days since the attacks.

America's grief at what happened has been immense and immensely
public. It would be grotesque to expect it to calibrate or modulate
its anguish. However, it will be a pity if, instead of using this as
an opportunity to try to understand why September 11 happened,
Americans use it as an opportunity to usurp the whole world's sorrow
to mourn and avenge only their own. Because then it falls to the rest
of us to ask the hard questions and say the harsh things. And for our
pains, for our bad timing, we will be disliked, ignored and perhaps
eventually silenced.

The world will probably never know what motivated those particular
hijackers who flew planes into those particular American buildings.
They were not glory boys. They left no suicide notes, no political
messages; no organisation has claimed credit for the attacks. All we
know is that their belief in what they were doing outstripped the
natural human instinct for survival, or any desire to be remembered.
It's almost as though they could not scale down the enormity of their
rage to anything smaller than their deeds. And what they did has
blown a hole in the world as we knew it. In the absence of
information, politicians, political commentators and writers (like
myself) will invest the act with their own politics, with their own
interpretations. This speculation, this analysis of the political
climate in which the attacks took place, can only be a good thing.

But war is looming large. Whatever remains to be said must be said
quickly. Before America places itself at the helm of the
"international coalition against terror", before it invites (and
coerces) countries to actively participate in its almost godlike
mission - called Operation Infinite Justice until it was pointed out
that this could be seen as an insult to Muslims, who believe that
only Allah can mete out infinite justice, and was renamed Operation
Enduring Freedom- it would help if some small clarifications are
made. For example, Infinite Justice/Enduring Freedom for whom? Is
this America's war against terror in America or against terror in
general? What exactly is being avenged here? Is it the tragic loss of
almost 7,000 lives, the gutting of five million square feet of office
space in Manhattan, the destruction of a section of the Pentagon, the
loss of several hundreds of thousands of jobs, the bankruptcy of some
airline companies and the dip in the New York Stock Exchange? Or is
it more than that? In 1996, Madeleine Albright, then the US secretary
of state, was asked on national television what she felt about the
fact that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of US economic
sanctions. She replied that it was "a very hard choice", but that,
all things considered, "we think the price is worth it". Albright
never lost her job for saying this. She continued to travel the world
representing the views and aspirations of the US government. More
pertinently, the sanctions against Iraq remain in place. Children
continue to die.

So here we have it. The equivocating distinction between civilisation
and savagery, between the "massacre of innocent people" or, if you
like, "a clash of civilisations" and "collateral damage". The
sophistry and fastidious algebra of infinite justice. How many dead
Iraqis will it take to make the world a better place? How many dead
Afghans for every dead American? How many dead women and children for
every dead man? How many dead mojahedin for each dead investment
banker? As we watch mesmerised, Operation Enduring Freedom unfolds on
TV monitors across the world. A coalition of the world's superpowers
is closing in on Afghanistan, one of the poorest, most ravaged,
war-torn countries in the world, whose ruling Taliban government is
sheltering Osama bin Laden, the man being held responsible for the
September 11 attacks.

The only thing in Afghanistan that could possibly count as collateral
value is its citizenry. (Among them, half a million maimed
orphans.There are accounts of hobbling stampedes that occur when
artificial limbs are airdropped into remote, inaccessible villages.)
Afghanistan's economy is in a shambles. In fact, the problem for an
invading army is that Afghanistan has no conventional coordinates or
signposts to plot on a military map - no big cities, no highways, no
industrial complexes, no water treatment plants. Farms have been
turned into mass graves. The countryside is littered with land mines
- 10 million is the most recent estimate. The American army would
first have to clear the mines and build roads in order to take its
soldiers in.

Fearing an attack from America, one million citizens have fled from
their homes and arrived at the border between Pakistan and
Afghanistan. The UN estimates that there are eight million Afghan
citizens who need emergency aid. As supplies run out - food and aid
agencies have been asked to leave - the BBC reports that one of the
worst humanitarian disasters of recent times has begun to unfold.
Witness the infinite justice of the new century. Civilians starving
to death while they're waiting to be killed.

In America there has been rough talk of "bombing Afghanistan back to
the stone age". Someone please break the news that Afghanistan is
already there. And if it's any consolation, America played no small
part in helping it on its way. The American people may be a little
fuzzy about where exactly Afghanistan is (we hear reports that
there's a run on maps of the country), but the US government and
Afghanistan are old friends.

In 1979, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA and
Pakistan's ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) launched the largest
covert operation in the history of the CIA. Their purpose was to
harness the energy of Afghan resistance to the Soviets and expand it
into a holy war, an Islamic jihad, which would turn Muslim countries
within the Soviet Union against the communist regime and eventually
destabilise it. When it began, it was meant to be the Soviet Union's
Vietnam. It turned out to be much more than that. Over the years,
through the ISI, the CIA funded and recruited almost 100,000 radical
mojahedin from 40 Islamic countries as soldiers for America's proxy
war. The rank and file of the mojahedin were unaware that their jihad
was actually being fought on behalf of Uncle Sam. (The irony is that
America was equally unaware that it was financing a future war
against itself.)

In 1989, after being bloodied by 10 years of relentless conflict, the
Russians withdrew, leaving behind a civilisation reduced to rubble.

Civil war in Afghanistan raged on. The jihad spread to Chechnya,
Kosovo and eventually to Kashmir. The CIA continued to pour in money
and military equipment, but the overheads had become immense, and
more money was needed. The mojahedin ordered farmers to plant opium
as a "revolutionary tax". The ISI set up hundreds of heroin
laboratories across Afghanistan. Within two years of the CIA's
arrival, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland had become the biggest
producer of heroin in the world, and the single biggest source of the
heroin on American streets. The annual profits, said to be between
$100bn and $200bn, were ploughed back into training and arming

In 1995, the Taliban - then a marginal sect of dangerous, hardline
fundamentalists - fought its way to power in Afghanistan. It was
funded by the ISI, that old cohort of the CIA, and supported by many
political parties in Pakistan. The Taliban unleashed a regime of
terror. Its first victims were its own people, particularly women. It
closed down girls' schools, dismissed women from government jobs, and
enforced sharia laws under which women deemed to be "immoral" are
stoned to death, and widows guilty of being adulterous are buried
alive. Given the Taliban government's human rights track record, it
seems unlikely that it will in any way be intimidated or swerved from
its purpose by the prospect of war, or the threat to the lives of its

After all that has happened, can there be anything more ironic than
Russia and America joining hands to re-destroy Afghanistan? The
question is, can you destroy destruction? Dropping more bombs on
Afghanistan will only shuffle the rubble, scramble some old graves
and disturb the dead.

The desolate landscape of Afghanistan was the burial ground of Soviet
communism and the springboard of a unipolar world dominated by
America. It made the space for neocapitalism and corporate
globalisation, again dominated by America. And now Afghanistan is
poised to become the graveyard for the unlikely soldiers who fought
and won this war for America.

And what of America's trusted ally? Pakistan too has suffered
enormously. The US government has not been shy of supporting military
dictators who have blocked the idea of democracy from taking root in
the country. Before the CIA arrived, there was a small rural market
for opium in Pakistan. Between 1979 and 1985, the number of heroin
addicts grew from zero to one-and-a-half million. Even before
September 11, there were three million Afghan refugees living in
tented camps along the border. Pakistan's economy is crumbling.
Sectarian violence, globalisation's structural adjustment programmes
and drug lords are tearing the country to pieces. Set up to fight the
Soviets, the terrorist training centres and madrasahs, sown like
dragon's teeth across the country, produced fundamentalists with
tremendous popular appeal within Pakistan itself. The Taliban, which
the Pakistan government has sup ported, funded and propped up for
years, has material and strategic alliances with Pakistan's own
political parties.

Now the US government is asking (asking?) Pakistan to garotte the pet
it has hand-reared in its backyard for so many years. President
Musharraf, having pledged his support to the US, could well find he
has something resembling civil war on his hands.

India, thanks in part to its geography, and in part to the vision of
its former leaders, has so far been fortunate enough to be left out
of this Great Game. Had it been drawn in, it's more than likely that
our democracy, such as it is, would not have survived. Today, as some
of us watch in horror, the Indian government is furiously gyrating
its hips, begging the US to set up its base in India rather than
Pakistan. Having had this ringside view of Pakistan's sordid fate, it
isn't just odd, it's unthinkable, that India should want to do this.
Any third world country with a fragile economy and a complex social
base should know by now that to invite a superpower such as America
in (whether it says it's staying or just passing through) would be
like inviting a brick to drop through your windscreen.

Operation Enduring Freedom is ostensibly being fought to uphold the
American Way of Life. It'll probably end up undermining it
completely. It will spawn more anger and more terror across the
world. For ordinary people in America, it will mean lives lived in a
climate of sickening uncertainty: will my child be safe in school?
Will there be nerve gas in the subway? A bomb in the cinema hall?
Will my love come home tonight? There have been warnings about the
possibility of biological warfare - smallpox, bubonic plague, anthrax
- the deadly payload of innocuous crop-duster aircraft. Being picked
off a few at a time may end up being worse than being annihilated all
at once by a nuclear bomb.

The US government, and no doubt governments all over the world, will
use the climate of war as an excuse to curtail civil liberties, deny
free speech, lay off workers, harass ethnic and religious minorities,
cut back on public spending and divert huge amounts of money to the
defence industry. To what purpose? President Bush can no more "rid
the world of evil-doers" than he can stock it with saints. It's
absurd for the US government to even toy with the notion that it can
stamp out terrorism with more violence and oppression. Terrorism is
the symptom, not the disease. Terrorism has no country. It's
transnational, as global an enterprise as Coke or Pepsi or Nike. At
the first sign of trouble, terrorists can pull up stakes and move
their "factories" from country to country in search of a better deal.
Just like the multi-nationals.

Terrorism as a phenomenon may never go away. But if it is to be
contained, the first step is for America to at least acknowledge that
it shares the planet with other nations, with other human beings who,
even if they are not on TV, have loves and griefs and stories and
songs and sorrows and, for heaven's sake, rights. Instead, when
Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, was asked what he would
call a victory in America's new war, he said that if he could
convince the world that Americans must be allowed to continue with
their way of life, he would consider it a victory.

The September 11 attacks were a monstrous calling card from a world
gone horribly wrong. The message may have been written by Bin Laden
(who knows?) and delivered by his couriers, but it could well have
been signed by the ghosts of the victims of America's old wars. The
millions killed in Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, the 17,500 killed
when Israel - backed by the US - invaded Lebanon in 1982, the 200,000
Iraqis killed in Operation Desert Storm, the thousands of
Palestinians who have died fighting Israel's occupation of the West
Bank. And the millions who died, in Yugoslavia, Somalia, Haiti,
Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Panama, at the
hands of all the terrorists, dictators and genocidists whom the
American government supported, trained, bankrolled and supplied with
arms. And this is far from being a comprehensive list.

For a country involved in so much warfare and conflict, the American
people have been extremely fortunate. The strikes on September 11
were only the second on American soil in over a century. The first
was Pearl Harbour. The reprisal for this took a long route, but ended
with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This time the world waits with bated
breath for the horrors to come.

Someone recently said that if Osama bin Laden didn't exist, America
would have had to invent him. But, in a way, America did invent him.
He was among the jihadis who moved to Afghanistan in 1979 when the
CIA commenced its operations there. Bin Laden has the distinction of
being created by the CIA and wanted by the FBI. In the course of a
fortnight he has been promoted from suspect to prime suspect and
then, despite the lack of any real evidence, straight up the charts
to being "wanted dead or alive".

 From all accounts, it will be impossible to produce evidence (of the
sort that would stand scrutiny in a court of law) to link Bin Laden
to the September 11 attacks. So far, it appears that the most
incriminating piece of evidence against him is the fact that he has
not condemned them.

 From what is known about the location of Bin Laden and the living
conditions in which he operates, it's entirely possible that he did
not personally plan and carry out the attacks - that he is the
inspirational figure, "the CEO of the holding company". The Taliban's
response to US demands for the extradition of Bin Laden has been
uncharacteristically reasonable: produce the evidence, then we'll
hand him over. President Bush's response is that the demand is

(While talks are on for the extradition of CEOs - can India put in a
side request for the extradition of Warren Anderson of the US? He was
the chairman of Union Carbide, responsible for the Bhopal gas leak
that killed 16,000 people in 1984. We have collated the necessary
evidence. It's all in the files. Could we have him, please?)

But who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase that. What is
Osama bin Laden? He's America's family secret. He is the American
president's dark doppelgŠnger. The savage twin of all that purports
to be beautiful and civilised. He has been sculpted from the spare
rib of a world laid to waste by America's foreign policy: its gunboat
diplomacy, its nuclear arsenal, its vulgarly stated policy of
"full-spectrum dominance", its chilling disregard for non-American
lives, its barbarous military interventions, its support for despotic
and dictatorial regimes, its merciless economic agenda that has
munched through the economies of poor countries like a cloud of
locusts. Its marauding multinationals who are taking over the air we
breathe, the ground we stand on, the water we drink, the thoughts we
think. Now that the family secret has been spilled, the twins are
blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable.
Their guns, bombs, money and drugs have been going around in the loop
for a while. (The Stinger missiles that will greet US helicopters
were supplied by the CIA. The heroin used by America's drug addicts
comes from Afghanistan. The Bush administration recently gave
Afghanistan a $43m subsidy for a "war on drugs"....)

Now Bush and Bin Laden have even begun to borrow each other's
rhetoric. Each refers to the other as "the head of the snake". Both
invoke God and use the loose millenarian currency of good and evil as
their terms of reference. Both are engaged in unequivocal political
crimes. Both are dangerously armed - one with the nuclear arsenal of
the obscenely powerful, the other with the incandescent, destructive
power of the utterly hopeless. The fireball and the ice pick. The
bludgeon and the axe. The important thing to keep in mind is that
neither is an acceptable alternative to the other.

President Bush's ultimatum to the people of the world - "If you're
not with us, you're against us" - is a piece of presumptuous
arrogance. It's not a choice that people want to, need to, or should
have to make.