What created the monster at this scale?


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Category: International Date: 16 Sep 01

Planes slicing through steel of 110-story twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York with military precision, a volcanic explosion of black and orange, crumbling floors, people falling from the sky, human explosives, stunned, injured, shocked crowds stumbling in a daze in thick, black smoke, a woman’s shoe, the remnants of a loved doll whose owner is dead, the weeping woman holding up a photograph of her son, the stench of burnt flesh, the body bags laid out in rows, the fright of the stewardesses whose throats were slashed, the final call from the hijacked planes, the ghastly image of a cheering people in Palestine. A skyline is altered, a world symbol is destroyed. Who is next? Where? Thousands of innocent people who didn’t know they were in a war, dead.


There are a multitude of stories to cover. Where to start - with the dead and the survivors, with stranded passengers, a temporary buckling economy, with a hunt for terrorists?


I was in London when the story broke and got a call from a friend saying, “Watch World War Three on the BBC.” I remained glued and watched with great shame for my profession, one reporter milk tears from a young girl for the camera.

“And your fiancé was in that building?” And “you haven’t heard from him for four hours?  And “aren’t you due to be married in December?” 

When do we start reporting and stop milking? As if the story weren’t sensational enough.


But even that was better than the shift to vengeance. Young, patriotic soldiers are now saying on CNN they are willing to become human explosives to retaliate.


This act of terrorism is beyond belief, beyond human comprehension, and is rightly being condemned as a heinous crime by fanatics without humanity. Nothing can justify mass murder. But as the denouncement continues, we must dig this story out from its roots. What created the monster of terrorism at this scale? What created men who willingly die to kill thousands of innocent people?


The following are extracts of a commentary by the British journalist John Pilger in the Independent newspaper in August 1998. He wrote this with chilling prescience:


“By knowingly killing innocent people, for political ends, President Clinton is a terrorist. By supporting his action, the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary are accomplices. The dictionary meaning of terrorism allows no other interpretation; the rest is willful obfuscation, or propaganda. What matters now is our informed reaction.


In 1990 there was ‘the truly evil’ Saddam Hussein, another one of Bush’s and Reagan’s old pals, whose regime they had armed and backed (along with Margaret Thatcher, who sent most of her Cabinet to Baghdad as supplicants or arms salesmen). Saddam’s use of American and British weapons in his attack on the ‘evil’ mullahs in Iran in 1980 was perfectly acceptable. A million people died in that ‘forgotten’ war; and the American and British arms industries never looked back.


Alas, Saddam, the nominal victor, then attacked the wrong country, Kuwait, which is effectively an Anglo-American oil protectorate. He was clearly unreliable: ‘an uppity bastard’, as one State Department briefer described him, more in sorrow than anger. Punishing the uppity bastard cost as many as 200,000 Iraqi lives, according to a study by the Medical Educational Trust. These were ordinary Iraqis who died during and immediately after a period of military and economic carnage whose true scale has never been appreciated outside the Middle East.


This old-fashioned colonial massacre was called the Gulf War. The dead included thousands of Kurdish and Shi’a people who were Saddam’s bitter opponents and whom Bush had called upon to rise up against their oppressor. Long after it was over, New York Newsday revealed, from official sources, that three brigades of the US 1st Mechanised Infantry Division – ‘The Big Red One’ - had used snow ploughs mounted on tanks to bury alive Iraqi conscripts in more than seventy miles of trenches. A brigade commander said, ‘For all I know, we could have killed thousands’. ‘This is a war crime’.”


Pilger refers in this column to the thousands dead due to American intervention in Panama, Khartoum, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, to the “million children could have died as a direct result of sanctions.”

Pilger continues:


“All, of course, are unpeople: the victims of an unerring pattern of ruthless, lawless terrorism, imperialist by nature and infinitely greater than that of any Islamic or Irish group. It is time to stop sniggering at the distractions of this rampant power and to recognise the truth about it and to speak out.”


Pilger’s final paragraph was a warning, three years old, if heeded could have averted the unspeakable, horror of last Tuesday’s events. No one spoke out then, and no one’s listening now. Not the journalists, not the politicians, not the army, not the terrorists. One Fleet Street hack’s refrain in journalism courses is: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”


Punish terrorists, but with a long vision, look for solutions which will prevent people from choosing terror to communicate. The Americans need to push their faces out of the soot and aim for a bird’s eye view, for context, to give equal value to all human lives. But now that the US is resolute on war, it may be too late for us all.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur