9/11: What should we do now?

S Sayyid Tim Garden David Held Scilla Elworthy Mary Kaldor
10 October 2001

The purpose of terrorism is to frighten you.

Tim Garden writes:

In most counter-terrorist operations, the military are always subservient to the forces of law and order and the intelligence activities, even when it’s overseas. The international community now have started building up the most extraordinary coalition across the world, which means that intelligence can be shared in a way that was unthinkable even a fortnight ago. We’ve focused and personalized this around one individual which is always slightly difficult, - Osima bin Laden. There would perhaps be great satisfaction in bringing him to justice, and I would prefer that we captured him and took him to a court and tried him. But however it is done, the elimination of one man will not end terrorism. The campaign – and I don’t go much for the use of the word ‘war’ in all this – it is a long-drawn-out counter-terrrorist campaign that we are talking about – will have to continue even if we are successful in the very difficult task of finding one man in a remote region of the world. Nevertheless, the infrastructure that he has can be removed by military means, and I think we will see that done in the near term.

There is then the question of the support. Whenever you look at counter-terrorist operations, you look at ways to remove the support that comes from the community within which the terrorist organisation thrives. There are two aspects to that. If he is getting government support, you need to change the government or change its mind. The other is the local population, where you need to remove the causes of that support. If we see an operation designed to remove the Taliban government, it needs to be coupled at the same time with an operation to feed and return Afghanistan to a viable state. There is a humanitarian crisis emerging there – I would say it is already there - that is on a scale far exceeding that in Kosovo. Removal of the Taliban government has to be replaced by an infrastructure that can provide the UN and other NGO aid organizations with a way into Afghanistan.

So there is a way forward in all this, and it seems to me that so many disparate nations working together is a real opportunity. It is very difficult to keep them all together.
There is one other area which seems to me important, and that is what you and I do as individual citizens. The purpose of any terrorist organisation is to frighten the life out of you. It is to make your life impossible by the restrictions which are put on your freedom. It is to undermine the economy and the way of life that we have. We don’t need to give them that victory. We lived for fifty years against the background of a threat that was far worse: nuclear war. We lived through that. We raised families. We had happy lives. We can do that again, even with the increased risk from international terrorism. It is a wonderful war to fight because the way to do it is to go out to the shops, buy your new car early, go to the theatre this week-end, accepting that one of the penalties is that you will have a slightly increased risk from international terrorism, until we get it more under control.


Learning to hate each other

Mary Kaldor writes:

When Timothy Garden was talking about how the terrorists want to destroy our way of life and our economy, I wanted to say - actually, that isn’t what they want. If we think that the events were instrumental, that there was a politics behind it, then what was intended was to create a spiral of fear and hate because that is the way that you mobilise more people to your cause. What is intended is to create a kind of response from the United States of light bombing, in order that they can then say: ‘We told you so. Now more people should join al-Qaida’ – or whatever it is that is this extremist network. And that is exactly the logic that operated in Yugoslavia. People didn’t hate each other before the war in Bosnia. Indeed, I remember one of my friends saying to me: ‘The reason this war had to be so bloody is because we had to learn to hate each other….’

If the whole purpose of this is political mobilisation on the basis of fear and hate – maybe in technical terms, what you do have to do to catch terrorists includes removing the Taliban regime - but the point is that what has to be said publicly is a political alternative that aims at building a global political legitimacy - that is what is crucial. Why can’t, for example, the UN Security Council do what was done over Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and create an ad-hoc court for this purpose?


Who, exactly, is it who hates whom? Response to David Held.

Bobby Sayyid writes:

So soon afterwards, anything you say pales into insignificance compared to the human suffering that we saw, very clearly and very directly on television. But still: to reply to your call for international peace with justice

History does not begin on September 11, and it didn’t end on September 11. That’s a commonplace observation, but important nevertheless. After the tragedy, we were offered an attempt to describe these events in a way that made sense: a very human instinct. If you were at all like me, you will remember a sense of unbelief. Is it really happening? What is the scale of all this? And it wasn’t just a personal experience on that day. The American government seemed paralysed. Nobody knew what was happening. Planes had gone missing. Air spaces were being closed. There was a huge sense of panic, and within that panic, the need to make sense of what had completely interrupted a normal day…

So what do we do when we attempt to recover from the unexpected and to normalise a turn of events? My general remark concerns this, the story we tell ourselves about who we are, and how we cope. We are all, if you like, our own personal film directors. We make a film of our own life, our being, who we are and our values. Of course, we tend to edit out the boring bits, the bad bits. These edited out bits get left behind. What happens quite often is that these bad bits left on the cutting floor end up being put into a movie about somebody else. Quite often who we are ends up being, ‘Well, actually, I’m quite nice and charming. It’s the other guy who’s boring.’

The challenge we face is how to prevent what is left on the cutting floor ending up turning into the killing fields. We demonise the other so that we can end up saying, ‘Well actually, these people aren’t really even people, and as such, we don’t have to worry about them.’ It was alarming and frightening how quickly this conflict suddenly became inexplicably about everything: it was about civilization, democracy, motherhood, apple pie. Whatever we were not, it was about. Because it was completely insane. Why would a sane person bring about so much damage, kill so many people, cause so much suffering? How could this happen?

The man behind it, we said, was Osama bin Laden. This was the Evil Genius who made all these things possible. After the war, we tried to make sense of Nazi Germany. The demonisation of Hitler allowed everyone to avoid admitting that this is actually quite a complicated process; that a lot of people were involved; that, perhaps, that kind of evil is possible within us at certain points. These questions can be dismissed if you think we were simply following this evil genius who tricked us into all this.

We can’t be so affected because the people dying here – as opposed to in Chechnya, Rwanda, Bosnia – were Americans. It can’t be just because it was on television. It is true that if you do have the pictures – we don’t get the pictures from Kashmir from example – you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. Part of it must be some sort of proximity. New York is a city that we all know, either directly or indirectly, even vicariously through the movies, and so on. So there is some sort of attachment there that needs to be explained.

Whatever it is, perhaps we require it to be an absolute evil which cannot be found. We give that evil the name of terror – terrorism. Somehow that explains everything. The difficulty is that the category is mobile. Most governments around the world have their own terrorists. Say ‘terrorist’ to Putin, and he will think of Chechens. Say it to the BJP Government in India, and they will think about Kashmiri liberation organizations. But whoever they are, they are outside the pale of global democracy, and world civilisation.

The difficulty, I would suggest, with this, is that democracy as we have known it has had two features. There is no democracy that I know of which doesn’t have the idea of a ‘foreigner’ who is not a citizen and therefore who is not allowed democratic rights. So when you have a globalised world where people move in such a way that the distinction between ‘citizen’ and ‘foreigner’ becomes quite blurred, it is hard for our notion of democracy to function. Secondly, in the form that we recognise it now, this liberal social democracy, although it has an ancient pedigree, is actually very young. Maybe fifty years old. Thirty years old in the United States. As such, it is also fragile, constructed by editing out certain elements we associated with the Soviet Union in the Cold War: it was totalitarian, mass society and so on.

Now, to some extent, that kind of editing out is being done in the face of ‘terrorism’/ Islam. Constant remarks from some government sectors that ‘this is not really about Islam’ do not sit well with the list of ‘global reach terrorist organisations’. They all happen to be Muslim organisations. The people killed in the wake of the events of September 11 are mainly Muslims or people who look like Muslims. A Sikh guy got shot in Arizona because he was wearing a turban. Somehow these people are outside the pale because others feel they harbour extremists and terrorists within them.

So how is it that Islam has come to play this kind of prominent role? Because in many ways, as Air Marshall Sir Timothy Garden said, it is not a comparable threat to that played by the Soviet Union. I suggest two reasons. Islam is actually transnational in the way that again blurs the divide between ‘citizen’ and ‘foreigner’. There are Muslims inside these countries who were born and bred inside Britain or America. But there are also Muslims outside. That confuses the notion of the nation-state. It raises the spectre of an alternative globalisation which is based around the world of Islam.

Secondly, we are at the turning-point an African-American philosopher describes as ‘the passing of the Age of Europe’. For the last fifty, thirty, twenty years, depending on how it is, you suddenly have the possibility of thinking of Europe as being a normal civilisation like any other, with known limits. The history of the world cannot simply be a replay of European history. Islam is implicated in this, because many Islamicists have started to say: ‘Well look, yes, there are these universal values, but they can be approached through many different kinds of tradition. There is no reason to follow that particular sequence of European events as a role model. We have our own resources, and they need to be recovered.’

The idea that Europe bequeathed to the world the only royal road to wisdom is fading. These two developments explain some of the anxieties underpinning the details of what is happening after September 11. What I would like to suggest is that what we are seeing here is an attempt to rearticulate and redefine democracy after the Cold War. In any struggle between a liberation organisation or a terrorist organisation and the state, we should, it seems to me, always be very cautious of the way in which the power of the state to inflict harm has always been greater. In the end perhaps the real danger lies with the response of those states to this terrorism which will actually transform what we consider to be democratic, before we have even noticed it.


Where you draw the line.

David Held writes:


David Held: I’ve spent some time just recently asking LSE students who have worked on this area, and who have a lot of familiarity with these groups across the world – asking them how they thought the justification for these acts would run. I have also spent some time looking at Bin Laden’s own documents and some of the relevant documents of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

He would start with an extremely poignant point. He would start with his disillusionment with the effects of American foreign policy in the Middle East. He would go on to talk about the way the Americans have supported monarchical and despotic regimes in the Middle East. He would talk about way in which these regimes had distorted the message of Islam in the Middle East, and the impact of the Iraqi war on the Middle East. He would produce a lot of very good arguments. To the extent that he said this, he is not a fanatic.

Secondly, he would argue as others have gone on to say – the pursuit of America for theser injustices is dictated by God an we must unconditionally surrender to God in this struggle. To the extent that it is an unconditional surrender – that might begin to sound fanatical. Not necessarily though. Max Weber talked years ago about the ‘many warring Gods we all submit to’: not only Christian, Jewish, Islamic – but the gods of consumerism and so forth…

What makes it a fanaticism, and what cannot be justified by the first two points and that is a third element: the relentless pursuit of violence against innocent people. That in my view justifies the concept of fanaticism. The massacre of the innocents: of diverse people of all religions and nationalities. To the extent that he stuck to the first two points – we could have a rational dialogue. To the extent that he argues that the rest follows – that is where I think we draw lines.

Bobby Sayyid: I’m very troubled when people start talking about fanaticism. I don’t know many people who would call themselves fanatics, even though they have determined views about certain things. We don’t call people fanatics on the whole if we agree with them – ‘He’s fanatically a liberal’ or something like that…

Then, it’s true that innocent people have been killed. But we need to be slightly more knowing in the third Christian millennium about the expansion of war increasingly to include innocent people. Every time you raise a counter-example, you will get accused of condoning what happened – this is one of the difficulties. But we need to understand some of the things that happened in this history which did not begin or end on September 11. Without having some idea of these events which were never called ‘fanatical’, which were not dismissed in this way, it will be hard for us to grasp why it is problematic for us to use ‘fanatic’ in this way.

I’m referring, for example, to the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima in a time of war. Bin Laden would say, I think, that his country is occupied by American troops and an American-supported regime. Therefore he is fighting a ‘liberation struggle’ to get rid of them. His argument would be that the enemy he sees makes no distinction between innocents and non-civilians because the Saudi regime’s main oppression, for example, is against women – women who want to drive for example!

So, we may disagree with the political logic of these people, but it may be better to engage with it as a political logic, engage with it politically, rather than denounce the other as ‘fanatical’. It might make us feel good about ourselves, but it probably doesn’t help us in the long run.


Question from the floor: Looking at the concepts we’ve used – On the one hand, we try to criminalise and depoliticise this act. We talk about how this is a criminal, not a political act. But Mary Kaldor then asks how we frame a ‘political response’. So it seems to me that the cosmopolitan model that David Held is outlining is a normative desire that we have. But I’m not sure how useful a model it is here. At one and the same time, we are saying, ‘This is political, according to a process of rational discussion over human rights.’ But at the same time, the attempt to criminalise it takes it away from being an act within a wider movement in history. It stops it from being political. And that doesn’t help. As desirable as it may be, does criminalising it actually explain anything?

Bobby Sayyid.
Legality requires two things. The first condition is that the law must be seen as legitimate. Without that belief, the law becomes just another instrument of oppression. Secondly, law without justice will always lead to violence. It seems to me in the absence of having that justice, recognising that something is political gives us more chance of transforming the situation. If we simply criminalise these acts, we have already given up on trying to change them. Let’s not wait for the emergence of a Utopian law. The political is what we have to hang onto. From that, everything flows.

David Held.
The political by itself is just an empty space. It depends what kind of politics – what kind of conception of the person, what kind of notion of rights, responsibilities, obligations and so forth – you put in it. To call for politics is to call for an empty box. The question is what kind of politics.

Mary is right to call for political process. The three points I set out of our jointly agreed position, were precisely an attempt to set out what this political process could be like, something other than a military process, an alternative to war and interstate militarism which is the dominant rhetoric of our time.

To call for this doesn’t necessarily disempower us from making moral statements. You might say – and it would be a great danger – that to understand these acts sacrifices our capacity to make the most elementary moral judgment about this massive violation of the sanctity of human life. If we can’t agree on a moral judgment about that – I don’t know what we can ever agree on. Understanding something politically does not preclude our making a moral judgment.

I take many of your points on globalisation, of course. Most of my work is precisely rethinking globalisation around a tougher concept of social justice. The anti-globalisers – many of them students and my closest friends – make a lot of distinctive points. But they are a motley and diverse crew. And what I do know is that they are unclear about what this project of democratising and locking justice into the globalisation process actually means. To call for that is right and sound. For globalisation has been unlocked from fundamental principles, moral concerns and social justice. If we take that seriously, of course we must broaden the concerns that have been expressed here this evening around a specific set of events. Of course we have to place at the center of our attention, not just acts of violence like those on 11 September, but routine everyday acts which no-one pays attention to except those working at the front line. For instance, the 17 million children who die of diarrhoea each year. But that is beyond the scope of this discussion…


What are my certainties?

Dr Scilla Elworthy writes:

I would like to take the opportunity to address these issues in personal terms, because there is an opportunity here for us to strip down to the bone what we believe and who we are. We are faced with questions such as: do I believe in revenge ? How do I cope with this world turned upside down ? What are my certainties ?

Is there order in the world? What if it happens here ? We need to remind ourselves that though we whole-heartedly condemn the atrocities that took place in New York and Washington, the kind of questions I have been talking about are ones that hundreds of millions of refugees and those overwhelmed by natural disasters have to cope with daily.

The fundamental issue that underpins all these is fear and dealing with fear, an whether we want to continue with an international relations system based on fear. Now, everybody deals with fear in their own way. But it is essential to deal with it.

I want to run through some suggestions, and be very pragmatic here. I’m not talking with my weapons of mass destruction researcher hat on. I’m going to talk as a person. First of all, I think we need to be clear in our own minds what works. That’s why probably a lot of people are here. We will all feel better if we can throw our weight behind a plan that we think will work. If we can make up our minds.

My take on this is that the United States must proceed on the basis of international law. We must follow the United Nations Charter, and use extradition law to bring the perpetrators to law. A trial would achieve far more than a shoot out, because it would give far more opportunity to get to grips with the roots of what is going on here. The aim should be justice rather than revenge. Bombing will only exacerbate the classic spiral of violence. Atrocity produces initially terror and horror. It produces fear and pain, grief which hardens into anger. Anger, if nothing is done about it hardens into bitterness, which hardens into revenge and retaliation and another atrocity. We’ve seen this in the Balkans. We’ve seen it in Rwanda Burundi Israel and Palestine.

In the short term, the point is, what actions can we take to intervene in that cycle of violence so that it simply doesn’t go round and produce another one? In the longer term, we have to root out the support systems for fundamentalist violent groups. Here, we have to look at the incredible success of non-violent conflict resolution in this particular instance. If we look at the number of lives that were saved by the route that Nelson Mandela chose to take while he was in jail (It cost him dear, not only in producing that point of view and teaching it to others, but also in convincing his colleagues when he came out) – he could have saved five or six million lives simply by taking that route of nonviolence, reconciliation and dare we say it – utter forgiveness. Then there were Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kyi, Ghandi – all people we have given the Nobel Peace Prize to because they took a powerful, non-violent route in circumstances precisely like these.

Secondly we have to review our own core certainties. Do I believe in a principle of order in the universe? It is an excellent time to do this. Instead of leading our ‘normal lives’, it builds our strength to take this moment to look at our values. Thirdly to review our own politics and to act on them. What do I believe are the causes behind these events? How can they be addressed ? What are the roots of religious fanaticism ? Write down what you believe and then take action.

If we believe that the causes are poverty – write to Clare Short at Dfid. Copy the letter to Tony Blair. Insist that budgets like those of Dfid which are doing something about the security sector and excessive military spending in developing countries – are enlarged. Join movements like the World Development Movement.

If we believe that the cause is fanaticism. Go to a mosque. Engage Muslim clerics in a rigorous debate. Read the Koran. Find out the basis of these religious beliefs and other religious beliefs, and you will find that it no more furnishes a basis for these acts than many other systems of thinking.

If we believe that the incendiary spark for these events is armaments – then voice our opposition to the CIA arming violent militarist factions such as the Taliban and the KLA in Kosovo – which always backfires. (The KLA, for example, having been armed by the CIA, produced the NLA in Macedonia – which Nato then had to go in and try and sort out.) Tell Tony Blair that our support for the US should depend on them stopping the CIA from doing this. And that the UK itself should stop subsidizing our own arms sales.

At the Oxford Research Group, we have just done an in-depth study into the degree to which the British government subsidises arms exports, and it works out that we the taxpayer are actually spending £4,600 per annum per job in the defence industry to continue exporting jobs. Fourthly, a lot of people are very frightened about this happening here. So find out the difference between the various possible chemical, and biological attacks. Find out if there are preventative measures that can be taken: gas masks will not do. Support independent groups and there are quite a few of them, like ours, which continue to work without accepting any government money – to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, and to get this message across to countries like ours, which continue to have their own weapons of mass destruction. The US and other states which have these weapons have been busy undermining treaties which have taken a painful thirty or forty years to build up. Those treaties are coming apart now. They are the main fabric on which a world without weapons of mass destruction will one day be built. So, we must insist that our government sends a message to the world: do as we say, not as we do.


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