What are the right questions to ask?

Originally published at xxx

Statement from Jørgen Johansen, former WRI chair, on the attacks of the 11.September

11 Sep 2001 — warresisters

What are the right questions to ask?

While the smoke from burnt flesh is still stinking from the ruins on lower Manhattan and the Pentagon there is too much we do not know. The task for the moment is not to guess, but to try to formulate the important questions. Among the strong feelings, the horror, the pain and the fear we need to start looking for the processes of how to understand what happened. A lot of the speculations and the growing hate towards large groups of innocent individuals have originated from spectacular media coverage and ill-founded rumours. We know the pattern from earlier situations of deep crises! Whenever the present situation is horrifying and the future is uncertain the darkest sides of humans show up. The main media is not able to paint in any other colour than black and white. Any loose rumour gets the largest headlines and the literary online publications do not allow the journalists to do even the most basic check of sources.

To understand is not easy, probably not possible for the moment. And to understand must of course not be mixed with defending or supporting what has happened. If we want to avoid the most devastating possible mistakes in the aftermath of these acts of terror, we need to try to put up the necessary questions. Let me in the following try to formulate some them.

Without knowing who are behind the terror we can still ask ourselves what is the sources of the hate the individuals in terrorist groups show up? What are the conditions that create humans who are willing to sacrifice themselves as well as thousands of innocent civilians?

The unjust distribution of goods to fulfil the basic needs for people in the world are responsible for around 100.000 humans killed per day! That is what we call the structural violence that is far more deadly than any other form of violence today. We never see the casualties on our TV-screens. The victims of this violence do not survive because they do not have access to pure water, sufficient food, medicines and acceptable housing. Can the sources of hate be found here?

Was the aim of the actions of terror to maximise the damage? Would they not in that case have aimed for nuclear power stations or storages of chemicals? They hit the two most prominent symbols of the US-empire: The symbol of economical power in World Trade Center and the symbol of global military superiority in Pentagon. Can we find some answers to the “why?” in the US economical dominance through IMF, World Bank and the global US-brands? I do not need to describe the consequences for millions of poor people living in the shadows of adverts from US-companies. These US-dominated economical factors are to large extent responsible for the widening gap between poor and rich people in the world.

Who will benefit from the attacks? I have difficulties in finding groups who will achieve much political support from these actions. There is a number of individuals who think that is was not a minute too late that the US should feel the “medicine” they have used themselves at so many occasions. American military forces have been used in more than two hundred cases against other countries. Innocent victims have suffered in the same way as those suffering in the aftermath of the attacks on Pentagon and World Trade Center on September the 11th. But on the organisational level I find it difficult to identify any winners. Even the most anti-American groups and countries have expressed sympathy with the victims and not at all celebrated the killing. Or do we have exceptions to this rule? Some extreme rightwing organisations have got more fuel on their burning crusade against Arabs and Muslims. Are we facing a new Oklahoma-case?

Many individuals with origin from countries or cultures that are among those were the authorities are looking for suspects are already hunted on the streets in USA and Europe. These groups can hardly bee seen as “winners” in the present situation.

We have already seen the immediate willingness to increase the military budget as well as enormous efforts on all sorts of security. The security services like NSA, FBI and CIA will have to sacrifice some of their leaders when the investigations on why they could not prevent disasters are finished. Isn’t it probably that they all, in the long run, will get large increases in their budgets?

What are the actual consequences of the terror? Would it be useful to search the answers depending on the time-perspective? There is already declared publicly that the president want revenge! We will most probably witness heavy military attacks against the countries that will be pointed out as hosting the group suspected for the attacks. Few will be surprised if the attack will be combined with boycotts and other forceful means.

Next twist on the spiral of violence will be new terrorist attacks. When NATO now has decided to use paragraph 5 and regard the strikes against US as attacks against all NATO-countries will we then face counter attacks on several NATO-countries? Why do they define the terror against New York and Washington as war and three months intense bombing of Yugoslavia as Humanitarian Intervention? Will quotations from the Old Testament once more show the way: “An Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth?” MK Gandhi concluded that the result would be a blind and toothless world…

What role have International Law in the future if the leading military forces in the world use the paragraphs as it suits them for the moment?

Will international law and juridical principles be leading the American answer? Is it justified to claim that when states use terror the main media are much more understandable to the consequences? Why?

What role can and should UN have in this situation? Is the fact that eighty percent of the permanent members of the Security Council (those with the right to use Veto) are Christian countries a problem in this case?

It is obvious easier to raise questions than to come up with good answers? But the results of the ongoing and coming discussions will of course be dependent on the answers we are putting up. That is why we should use some time to formulate relevant and useful questions. This was my contribution to that process.

Jørgen Johansen


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Posted in In English, Political comment and analysis

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