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Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research TFF
To end terrorism, end state terrorism
PressInfo # 158
Johan Galtung and Dietrich Fischer
September 6, 2002
One year ago, two dates punctuated a continuing cycle of violence and
counter-violence: the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon, with about 3,000 civilians killed, and the October 7 start of the
attack on Afghanistan, with about 6,000 civilians killed so far. How can we
break out of this vicious cycle?
Some days after September 11, a psychologist gave advice on CNN to parents
with children asking difficult questions. One young boy had asked "What
have we done to make them hate us so much that they do such things?" A
mature question, unlike the answer: "You could tell your child that there
are good people in the world, and evil - -". That boy had arrived at the
stage of reciprocity on psychologist Jean Piaget's scale of child
development, seeing the actions of others at least partly as influenced by
our own actions (and vice versa). By contrast, the psychologist's answer
remained at the earlier stage of autism, seeing evil actions by others as
uninfluenced by anything we do.
Motivation helps explain, but not justify. Hitler's success can be
explained by the humiliating 1919 Versailles treaty, which called Germany
alone responsible for World War I and imposed huge reparations for 50
years. Of course, nothing can justify what Hitler did. Understanding is not
forgiving. But without understanding, we are condemned to repeat history.
The US media never mention the state terrorism exercised by the USA on
other countries. Since 1945, the United States has intervened abroad 67
times, causing twelve million deaths, about half by overt action (Pentagon)
and covert action (CIA). These are practically unknown to most Americans,
and rarely mentioned, with the notable exceptions of Chalmers Johnson's
book "Blowback" and Bill Blum's "Rogue State: a Guide to the World's Only
Superpower." In addition, 100,000 people die daily in the world from hunger
and preventable diseases in the midst of enormous luxury and waste.
The targets of the September 11 terrorist attack were symbolic: the
Pentagon, and the World Trade Center, representing a system of world trade
that amasses unspeakable wealth in a few hands while impoverishing billions
in the Third World.
Bin Laden's statement broadcast by Al Jazeera shortly after September 11,
said, "Our nation has been tasting this humiliation and this degradation
for more than 80 years", referring to the 1916 Sykes-Picot treason,
bringing Arabia under the rule of infidels, breaking the British promise of
independence for the Arab nations in return for their participation in
defeating the Ottoman Empire; and the 1917 Balfour Declaration supporting
the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.
Terrorism (carried out be men and women without uniform) and state
terrorism (carried out by men and women in uniform, a difference of little
importance to the victims) have the following characteristics in common:
they use violence for political ends; they harm people not directly
involved in struggle; they are designed to spread panic/terror to bring
about capitulation; they have an element of surprise in the choice of who,
where, when; they make perpetrators unavailable for retaliation or
Wahhabism, a fundamentalist branch of Islam, state religion of Saudi
Arabia, and Puritanism, the civic religion of the USA, share some common
characteristics: Dualistm, dividing the world into US vs THEM, without
neutrals; Manicheism (WE are good, THEY are evil); and the inevitability of
a final decisive battle to "crush" them, like vermin (Armageddon). The
harder varieties of the three abrahamitic religions, Judaism, Christianity
and Islam, also share the concepts of being a Chosen People under God, with
a Promised Land; a glorious past and/or future; having suffered a trauma.
They are found in the rhetoric of both Bush and bin Laden.
Al Qaeda and Wahhabites see the USA as greedy, interested in oil (world
trade) and bases (Pentagon). Indeed, the USA seized an old Soviet base near
Kandahar. On 30 May 2002 came the signing of the
Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline by the two presidents and the
former UNOCAL consultant, now Afghanistan prime minister, Hamid Karzai. The
US totally confirmed its image.
If the USA had limited itself to a military campaign, leaving policing to
the UN Security Council and the Organization of the Islamic Conference,
without US bases and leaving rights to oil pipelines to the Afghan people,
they might even have won their war. Now it is lost.
The Islamic fundamentalists' long-term goal seems to be respect for
religious sensitivities. The US seeks free trade and military protection.
Trade with basic need priority, including religious sensitivities, could
Imagine Bush had said:
Fellow Americans; the attack yesterday on two buildings, killing thousands,
was atrocious, totally unacceptable. They have to be captured and brought
to justice by an appropriate international court, with a clear UN mandate.
But my address tonight goes beyond this. There are serious flaws in our
foreign policy, however well intended. We create enemies through our
insensitivity to the basic needs of the peoples around the world, including
their religious sensitivities. I am therefore taking these steps: -
withdraw our military bases from Saudi Arabia, - recognize Palestine as a
state, details can follow later, - enter into dialogue with Iraq to
identify solvable conflicts, - accept President Khatami's invitation for
the same with Iran, - pull out militarily and economically from
Afghanistan, - stop our military interventions and reconcile with the
That evening, 1.3 billion Muslims would have embraced America; and the few
terrorists left would have no water in which to swim. It would have taken a
speech-writer half an hour, and ten minutes to deliver it; as opposed to,
say $60 billion for the Afghanistan operation. Psychologically, this is not
easy, but the benefits are immeasurable.
Johan Galtung, a Professor of Peace Studies, is Director of TRANSCEND, a
peace and development network. Dietrich Fischer, a Professor at Pace
University, is Co-director of TRANSCEND (www.transcend.org).
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