How about a quick quiz on "terrorism"? What is the only nation ever found guilty of this crime by the World Court?
If you answered the United States, you're right. The US earned this dubious distinction in the World Court for its relentless activities against the revolutionary government and people of Nicaragua in the 1980s. The US financed a war of terror specifically aimed at unarmed "soft targets" --schools, clinics, teachers, doctors and nurses.
But such knowledge is unlikely to be gained from studying the "reality" as presented by CNN, "The Lehrer News Hour" and other major media. As CBS's Dan Rather put it so simple-mindedly, "George Bush is the president --he wants me to line up, just tell me where."
The only reply to probing of the Bush administration's conduct, as cartoonist Tom Tomorrow aptly points out, has been "Why do you hate America so much?" It is into this intimidating environment that leading American dissident author and MIT professor Noam Chomsky boldly goes in his brief but powerful book 9-11.
The human toll of 9/11 was horrific, inexcusable in any way, and the work of men with a twisted, primitive view of humanity, Chomsky unambiguously stresses. But he ventures beyond repeating the now-obvious truths. Merely focusing exclusively on Bin Laden's atrocities misses the question of how America can avoid adding fuel to the flames of terrorism even while proclaiming to stamp them out.
Chomsky dares to place the horrors of 9-11 in a framework that has been largely excluded from the commercial media: "Nothing can justify crimes such as those of September 11, but we can think of the United States as an 'innocent victim' only if we adopt the convenient path of ignoring the record of its actions and those of its allies, which are, after all, hardly a secret."
Quite bluntly, the use of terror has been an integral part of US policy. Along with the more familiar examples of Vietnam and US-backed coups in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile, Chomsky also points out fresher instances of US power at its worst:
America provided 80% of the weapons for Turkey's war against its Kurdish population during the1990s.
Colombia --with the worst human-rights record in the Western hemisphere --has become the largest recipient of US military aid. Human rights groups estimate that the Colombian military and its paramilitary allies account for 70% of civilian deaths. Colombia has consistently led the world in assassinations of union leaders.
The US was directly involved in a 1985 car bombing in Beirut, Lebanon --of precisely the type always widely condemned when conducted by Palestinian or IRA fanatics --that killed some 80 innocent people and wounded 250 more
The revelation of these inconvenient truths makes Chomsky's work so vital at this moment. Some of Chomsky's well-documented charges about US policy demand a thorough re-thinking of 9/11's roots and its meaning:
Chomsky stresses that the US intervention in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion of 1979 brought together the most fanatical elements of the Islamic world. The US-funded and US-armed effort teamed Osama bin Laden up with other equally intolerant advocates of extremist doctrines. The Taliban finally emerged as the rulers of this US-financed hothouse of fanaticism. Eventually, the US threw the Taliban out of power, much as it turned against former allies like Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein.
Citing former CIA officials quoted by David Rose in the London Observer (discussed in more depth by Rose in the January Vanity Fair), Chomsky argues that the Clinton administration passed up the opportunity to gain invaluable information on bin Laden and Al Qaeda from the government of Sudan. But while the FBI was eager to get its hands on the dossiers and photos of bin Laden's leading disciples, the State Department regarded Sudan's government as an irredeemable terrorist regime and insisted that no transfer of information take place. So instead of taking up the Sudanese offer of help, the US answer came in the form of bombs in 1998 dropped on Sudan's most important pharmaceutical factory.
Chomsky shreds the oft-repeated myth that the Sept. 11 atrocities were somehow an expression of "anti-globalization" sentiment. In numerous interviews, Bin Laden has never displayed any understanding --or resentment about --the re-shaping of the world economy and culture under the domination of transnational corporations and institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Ignorant of this dynamic, Bin Laden's worldview is a harshly simplistic, narrow telescope limited by his brand of Islamic fundamentalism.
Meanwhile, the forces of economic fundamentalism --what Chomsky calls "investor-rights" globalization --are fanatically and unquestioningly worshiped by pundits and editorial writers for almost all the major media in the US. Similarly, the post-9-11 mindset of unwavering support for President Bush visible both in the media and leading Democrats has created an appalling absence of audible opposing voices. Thus, Chomsky's judgment on the effects of 9/11 are sobering and frighteningly on-target:
"Such terrorist atrocities are a gift to the harshest and most repressive elements on all sides, and are sure to be exploited --already have been in fact --to accelerate the agenda of militarization, regimentation, reversal of social-democratic programs, transfer of wealth to narrow sectors, and undermining democracy in any meaningful form."
Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based writer and activist.