Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 2:44 pm 
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If your family was attacked by someone who lived in a large, rundown apartment house, would you go and start burning down the apartment house, apartment by apartment, destroying apartments, or not, and killing occupants, or not, without knowing if your attacker was still in the building or, if so, what part of it he occupied? If the attacker whom you sought (who was in any case not really the one who carried out the attack and probably not its planner, but perhaps the inspiration behind it) moved furtively from one part of the building to another, would you gradually destroy all of the shabby, rundown building? And would you try to get the occupants of most of the surrounding buildings to support you in your efforts, while openly asserting that you might begin attacking them at some later time? Even if they sympathized with you over the attacks—though some of them clearly thought you had provoked them and were less sympathetic—would you expect them to be enthusiastic about the destruction in their neighborhood? (In an online interview, MSNBC Chat Room, October 2, Noam Chomsky made a similar analogy; I have embroidered it further.)

No one knows yet how much "collateral damage," as the killing of innocent civilians is euphemistically called, has so far occurred, but what is known is that the bombing of Afghanistan by the US and Britain has led to the deaths of four UN workers engaged in clearing land mines. Afghanistan has ten percent of the world's land mines. The dropping of food packages, said by the organization, Doctors Without Borders, to be of little use and chiefly a public relations move, increases the danger that more innocent, hungry, children will be killed or maimed while running out to get the packages--which may also set off mines when they hit the ground.

A spokesman has asserted that Osama bin Laden is safe. Bin Laden is an engineer who has constructed many defensive tunnels and caves in Afghanistan. He is probably better able to hide in Afghanistan than any other person, and the country's rugged terrain has defeated all invading armies The fiftyish doctor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who leads the Islamic Jihad organization from Egypt now linked with Al-Qa'ida, has been assumed to be the "brains" now of the combined organizations. His present whereabouts are completely unknown. Bin Laden may have ceased to be the tactician and become more a figurehead; but his success as a spokesman for Muslim and Arab outrage increased enormously when the Qatar-based Al-Jazira TV station broadcast a filmed appearance by bin Laden and al-Zawahiri right after the beginning of US bombing. In that film bin Laden quietly, eloquently, in a language understood in every Arab country and integral to the religion of Islam, evoked Moslem defiance and anger at the US for its complicity or direct involvement in many crimes against Arabs and Moslems—for, as he put it, eighty years of "humiliation and disgrace": his emphasis this time was on the sufferings of Iraq and the Palestinians. Bin Laden's timing was right. Al-Jazeera is watched attentively everywhere in the Arab World. Few Arab governments are closely allied with the US, but even in countries where they are, the public has been impressed by bin Laden now. Bush and Blair have succeeded chiefly in impressing themselves and their local sympathizers. Reports of the Afghan bombings' "success" are for western consumption only. In world public relations, as well as humanitarian, terms, they are a disaster.

The good news: that the position of the despotic and fanatical, virulently anti-feminist Taliban regime may already be severely weakened by the US/British attacks. The bad news: Afghanistan will only be more destabilized and undermined by the attacks, and the opposition Northern Alliance, itself guilty of criminality and violence, its forces outnumbered four to one by the Taliban, is no basis for a replacement government. Nor is the aging ex-king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, likely to be much help in putting together such a government.

All this distracts attention from the danger which the September 11 attacks made clear: that terrorists are living as "sleepers" or "moles" in the United States, and that whatever happens in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or Iraq, or elsewhere, will not deter them. "Members of Congress have been told by intelligence officials that there is a '100 percent chance' of retaliation" (London Times, October 6). The FBI has been busy doing the INS's work for it, running down visa violators of Moslem Arab origin and often going beyond the INS and the Bill of Rights by detaining them without bringing charges. The FBI has now been instructed to shift its focus to the danger of new terrorism.

In fact, there seems to be a great problem of focus here. The general population in the United States, focused on grief and paranoia resulting from the coordinated attacks of September 11th, has trouble focusing on what people in other countries outside the western alliances may be feeling. They don't often realize that for over fifty years the Arab World has been enraged by America's support of Israel and Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, and that most recently the US's tacit support of Israel's violence against the second Intifada has caused more rage than ever from the Mediterranean to the Gulf. The average American, focused on a sense of his own outrage at foreign violence on home ground, may have trouble focusing on the complexity of the situation: the existence of jihad cells or organizations in at least twenty, if not forty, countries around the world; the conflicts among Moslem, and Arab, states; the gulf between governments and general populations in the Arab World. President Bush seems to share this trouble in focusing on the nature of the danger and the means of combating it. "Revenge is sweet," it is said. But revenge against bin Laden may have a very bitter taste. And speaking of focus, why has it been forgotten to mention the subject of oil?

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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