12 September 2001>Commentary>Calamitous Perspective

Calamitous Perspective
Michael Albert . ZNet . 12 September

Sending a commentary on a topic other than today’s horrific events has seemed untenable. Addressing today’s events has also seemed untenable. That our web and email server has been inaccessible all day, depriving us of internet communications and of access to update ZNet hasn’t helped. It seems web traffic was so great that it caused problems in Washington State, around Seattle, where our servers are located.

A simple chronicle of the day’s events would be superfluous. Known facts are displayed on every TV station. Reliable deductions are relatively obvious. After routine take-offs four planes were commandeered by terror teams and simultaneously flown on dramatically distorted trajectories to demolish pre-selected targets. The devastation is not yet known, but is certainly horrific. What can one conclude other than that devastating suicidal terrorist attacks are eminently doable? Annihilating skyscrapers in the U.S. or other developed countries is harder than the U.S. bombing cities in targeted nations, but it is evidently far from impossible.

Good-hearted Americans will mourn these innocent and horrible deaths with dignity and with respect. Media analysts and politicians, however, will soon use pictures of the rubble to seek increased police and military spending and greater state interventionary and surveillance powers. They will intone that killing civilians is cowardly and warrants swift and merciless punishment. They will however ignore having themselves supported the recent assault on Yugoslavia that terrorized that country’s civilian population to topple its despised government. They will also ignore that the U.S.-led embargo of Iraq has caused hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, again to destabilize a hated government. Today’s terrorism was horrendously vile. It arose in a terror-infected world.

People throughout the third world have long had their destiny held hostage by distant rulers. First world diplomats and entrepreneurs year after year pursue power and profit imposing nearly unimaginable third world calamity. Due to our distance from the victims and the endless mass media obfuscation of their plight, we first world citizens fail to realize that when a million people starve because a poor country’s energies are commandeered to benefit multinational capital, it is murder. But, it is murder, and so third world populations have long endured near total dependence on choices made by distant authoritative leaders who are callous to their futures.

The same abysmal condition has arrived, to a degree, for populations in developed countries. Those who died in today’s attacks also suffered a choice made by far away actors callous to the carnage they imposed. First world populations may henceforth share not the degrading conditions and daily poverty of the third world, but some of the fear of being held hostage by others. To try to overcome this condition, but even more to enlarge their already grotesquely bloated powers, first world leaders may in coming weeks challenge decades of gains in civil and legal rights, trying to turn back freedom's clock.

Can anything curtail the carnage of capital, the carnage of terrorism, and the carnage of repressive reaction? Our best hope is to win institutional change that reduces profit-seeking and political subordination, while also reducing desires to lash out with mindless and inhumane terrorism.

In coming weeks we may suffer a kind of celebration in America, a celebration of security and of power, a celebration of surreptitious information retrieval, a celebration of arms growth, and perhaps of assassination, all described as virtuous goals rather than uncivil abominations, all touted as if the terror victims will be honored rather than defiled by our preparing to entomb still more innocent people around the world. Normal good-hearted Americans will weep for the suffering that today’s events exacted and hope to create a world in which such hate and callousness disappears. But I fear that America’s leaders will cynically bulk up their ammo belts while seeking to make ubiquitous their listening devices—trying to relegate public freedoms to an incinerator.

In this environment, people of good will must explain as often as necessary that terrorism is horrific and insane, but so to is capitalist business as usual. And we must not step back from dissent, but must instead work harder to oppose all kinds of injustice with massive public demonstrations and civil disobedience.