In a series of snapshots after the attack on the World Trade Centerfrom a day, to a week, up to a year and beyondEliot Weinberger offers thoughtful and provocative reflections on his city, the country, and the state of the world.
An excerpt from
New York: Four Weeks After (Shrapnel)
October 9, 2001: After ordering the bombing of Afghanistan on October 7, George Bush went out on the lawn to play with his dog and practice his golf swings. Since September 11, he has maintained his normal schedule of working until 6 p.m., four days a week, and leaving at noon on Fridays for long weekends at his ranch or the Camp David retreat. Never has an American president in a crisis looked so rested.
Along with the Tomahawk cruise missiles and the bombs falling from F-14s and F-16s, B-52s, B-1s and B-2s, the US also dropped 37,500 "Humanitarian Daily Ration" packets, a single mealcomplete with "moist towlettes"in a country where four million are starving. These packets contained peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Peanut butter sandwiches are iconic in the Bush family. Bush Jr. has stated that it is his favorite food. Bush Sr., shortly after he was elected president, outlined his vision of the future in these terms: "We need to keep America what a child once called 'the nearest thing to heaven.' And lots of sunshine, places to swim, and peanut butter sandwiches."
The original name of the mission, "Infinite Justice" was changed when Muslim clerics complained that only Allah may dispense infinite justice. The new name, "Enduring Freedom," was meant to proclaim that American freedom endures, but it now means that the Afghans must endure American freedom.
We are bombing Afghanistan in reprisal because it is believed that the terrorists who attacked the Trade Center and the Pentagon were housed and trained for their mission in Afghanistan. There is, as yet, no evidence for this assertion. What has been proven, however, is that the terrorists were housed and trained for their mission in Florida.
We are bombing Afghanistan to overthrow the repressive Taliban regime, which was of little interest to the US government on September 10. To this end, we are supporting the "freedom fighters" of the Northern Alliance, whose rule, from 1992 to 1996, was marked by internecine warfare, shifting alliances, betrayals, and the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians. Or we are supportingand it would be laughable if it weren't so sadthe restoration of the King of Afghanistan, now 86 years old and never known for any leadership abilities. The Taliban brought an immediate order, however monstrous, to the country: it held public executions for social crimes, but it did not slaughter the masses. In brief: the Taliban is bad and the alternatives are worse.
In order to justify a military buildup and intervention, we have had to turn a small group of criminal outlaws into a full-scale enemy. The actual affinities of the hijackers are unknown, but it may be assumed that they were at least ideologically sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, the leader of one of many terrorist groups. Bin Laden, undoubtedly to his delight, has now been turned into the mastermind of all terrorist groups, tightly connected and organized as the al Qaeda network, which in turn has been portrayed as part and parcel of a national government, the Taliban, which has, although few, traditional military targets. With the invention of an enemy, the military must naturally exaggerate the capabilities of that enemy, a scenario familiar from the Cold War. The military cannot understand that against our billions of dollars of hightech weaponry, the "enemy" attacked, and won the battle, with a handful of boxcutters. Thus the continual scare stories of chemical and biological weapons, for which there is no evidence that any terrorists either have them or would be able to deploy them.
Military reprisals for terrorist attacks (Libya, 1986; the Sudan and Afghanistan, 1998) killed civilians, strengthened anti-American sentiments, evidently did nothing to stop terrorism, and probably added new sympathizers to their ranks. Terrorism is a criminal and a not a military activity; it cannot be erased, but it can be lessened with preventive security measures and with more attentive investigation, including the sharing of information among nations. For example, the 1993 bombing of the Trade Center might have been prevented if the FBI had translated the boxes of letters, documents, and tapes of conversations they already had in their possession. But these were in a foreign language, and the G-men couldn't be bothered.
An end to terrorism also depends on an impossibility, best articulated in a Utopian message written on a banner held by Pakistani demonstrators a few weeks ago: "America: Think About Why the World Hates You."
Rather than the attempt to apprehend the responsible criminals for trial in the World Court, we are now faced with a possible cascade of dominoes:
In Pakistan, General Musharraf has traded his support of US military intervention for the lifting of sanctions and the prospect of millions in foreign and military aid. Yet many members of the Pakistani army are veterans of the Afghan-Russian war, or their disciples, and are sympathetic to bin Laden. To avoid a coup d'etat or its own civil war, Musharraf will have to unite the country against a common enemy, which could only be India, with the battleground, as it has been for years, Kashmir. For its part, India, ruled by Hindu fundamentalists, has openly expressed its desire to follow the American example and attack Kashmiri terrorist groups which are housed and trained in Pakistan. Both countries, of course, have atomic bombs. (During the presidential campaign last year, Bush, when asked, could not name the leaders of Pakistan and India. Now, presumably, he knows.)
In Uzbekistan, which is admitting American troops, the Islamic Movement guerrillas trying to overthrow the dictatorial Islam Karimov, will surely gain followers, which could provoke Russian intervention, leading to another Chechnya. The American attacks will also rally forces in the continuing Chechnya war, as well as among the Muslims leading a separatist movement in China's Xinjiang province.
Palestinian police yesterday killed Palestinian youths demonstrating in support of bin Laden. The crumbling of Arafat's authority, already in progress, will lead to the strengthening of militarist groups, which in turn will provoke further interventions by the terrifying Ariel Sharon, who has already charged the US with "appeasement" of the Arabs.
Throughout the Muslim world, the specter of American military might slaughtering helpless Afghan peasants will only fuel the rage of the youths of Radical Islam, threatening regimes from the autocratic Saudi Arabia, which bin Laden wants to overthrow for allowing the American military on sacred land, to Egypt and Turkey, which are already under threat from fundamentalist movements.
Meanwhile, the FBI, with their usual sensitivity to the public, has stated that there is now a "100% certainty" of terrorist reprisals in the US.
The War on Terrorism will be orchestrated by Vice President Cheney in the same manner in which he ran the Gulf War: in secrecy and with total control of the media. (At his press conference yesterday, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld three times told reporters not to quote him, even though the press conference was being broadcast live on CNN.) American successes will be exaggeratedthe Gulf War was reminiscent of Orwell's 1984 in its daily pronouncements of victorious triumphbut there is hope that the Western media, at least outside of the US, will not allow itself to be fooled again, and what has changed since the Gulf War is the rise of the internet as a source of instant oppositional information. It remains to be seen whether the Taliban has the media savvy to appeal to the world's sympathies by magnifying their own casualties, or whether they will stubbornly maintain the machismo of pretending that they have not been harmed at all.
Bin Laden, however, has unexpectedly turned out to be a media genius. He has managed to indeed "terrorize" the West, and greatly magnify the perception of his actual powerwhich, before now, was smallby planning (or capitalizing on) the transformation of a Hollywood disaster-movie image into an unbearable reality. On the other side, his release of a tape of himself two days ago, immediately following the initiation of the bombing, was a brilliant evocation of a revered figure in Muslim tradition: the wise and ascetic saint in his cave. His message, in image and word, had the directness of television advertising, and would be impossible to refute with an equal directness: We are simple men of the faith and they are the monsters who bombed Hiroshima and have killed a million children in Iraq and will kill us now in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden, in the tape, recalled the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. He was followed by his chief tactician, Ayman al Zawahiri of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, who invoked the "tragedy of al Andalus," the expulsion of the Moors from Spain. One side believes this war began four weeks ago; the other that it is five hundred years old.
There is something more: I knew two people who died on September 11; many others were the friends of friends. Until now, they and the six thousand others were the innocent victims of an unimaginably enormous crime. But, as I watched the scenes of demonstrations around the world, I realized that they, in death, had been transformed into something else. Now they are war casualties, numbers in an increasing body count, as anonymous as the Afghans who will die from the American bombardment. No longer murder victims, they will now be portrayed, by both sides, as having died for a cause. By avenging their deaths with more deaths, Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice and Powell are murdering the identities and, above all, the innocence of our own dead as they murder abroad.
Copyright notice: Excerpted from pages 43-49 of 9/12: New York After by Eliot Weinberger, published by Prickly Paradigm Press and distributed by the University of Chicago Press. ©2003 by Eliot Weinberger. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the publisher.