Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 31              September 8 - 14,  2002            Quezon City, Philippines

Join the Bulatlat.com mailing list!

Powered by groups.yahoo.com

This essay is adapted from The Clash of Barbarisms: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder, to be published in November 2002 by Monthly Review Press. 


Back to Alternative Reader Index

Every attempt to explain the descent into terrorism that culminated in the suicide attacks of September 11, 2001, as a consequence of the deplorable state of the world we live in has run up against a barrage of vicious polemical artillery. In a climate of intellectual intimidation bearing a certain resemblance to the dark hours of the Cold War, the intimidation relied on two deliberate amalgams.

Anti-Americanism and ‘Values’

First, according to the censors, any systematic critique of the U.S. government’s actions is evidence of an ignominious “anti-Americanism.” The recrudescence of the use of this term, particularly since the Kosovo War, in order to discredit criticism of Washington’s policies inevitably evokes the memory of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which became notorious not that many years ago in the run-up to McCarthyism. This “paranoid” logic always ends up devouring its own children, as it did in the past when Republican Senator Joe McCarthy went so far as to take on Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower.1 In keeping with this same logic, accusations of anti-Americanism have already been leveled against Washington’s most loyal allies as soon as they dared express the slightest reservation about the Bush Administration’s actions.

Accordingly, following criticisms of the treatment of the prisoners transferred to the U.S. base at Guantánamo in Cuba, the European edition of the Wall Street Journal opened its columns to a certain Stephen Pollard, who explained that the European media’s “quite grotesque” commentaries showed that “European anti-Americanism is not the exclusive preserve of the left, nor of Continentals.”2 Naturally the European “left,” allegedly represented by the Guardian and Le Monde, hates Americans, wrote Pollard; these two dailies “were filled with articles protesting Je ne suis pas americain!” (Like Hermione in Racine’s Andromaque, Le Monde could rightly complain in this case of its “love repaid with black ingratitude.”) But the European right and center are just as anti-American, Pollard continued, and include “many of the real enemies—some might say the most vitriolic.” Besides, “the anti-Americanism of the British establishment is as deep as that elsewhere,” as the articles in the very conservative Daily Telegraph or the Thatcherian Matthew Paris’ articles in the Times show. All these anti-Americans had been concealing their perfidy, but the GuantE1namo affair “revealed them in their true colors.”

The second amalgam that the censors have used to intimidate the U.S. government’s critics amounts to dismissing any explanation of September 11 that mentions the existence of injustice in the world as equivalent to a justification of mass murder—as if it were inconceivable for one form of barbarism to engender another, equally reprehensible form of barbarism.

Salman Rushdie himself—though he of all people ought to be particularly allergic to anything resembling excommunication—joined the fray with all the zeal of a neophyte. (He became a New Yorker himself quite recently.) In the Washington Post he violently took on the “sanctimonious moral relativism” of those who think that the United States ought to change its own conduct, accusing them of carrying out a “bien-pensant anti-American onslaught.” He treated them to this devastating and original moral lesson—without any sanctimony, of course: “Terrorism is the murder of the innocent; this time, it was mass murder. To excuse such an atrocity by blaming U.S. government policies is to deny the basic idea of all morality: that individuals are responsible for their actions.”3 One quite simple idea did not occur to the author of the Satanic Verses: that without in any way “excusing” mass terrorism, one can hold the government of the United States responsible for its own actions and the hatred that they call forth. It thus bears a share of the responsibility for what happens to its citizens when they end up being used as targets by those who commit the—unquestionably reprehensible and unjustifiable—crime of taking revenge for oppression carried out from Washington by murdering U.S. civilians.

In any event, hasn’t the U.S. government indirectly acknowledged its own responsibility by indemnifying the victims’ families, and asking them in return to agree in writing to take no legal action against it for what happened on September 11?4 A banker whose father died in a 1975 attack emphasized this same point in an article in Wall Street Journal: “By creating a first-of-its-kind fund with an estimated $4.6 billion of taxpayer money (in addition to providing full federal tax amnesty for 2000 and 2001), the federal government is implicitly accepting blame for the September attacks.”5 The author proceeded to cite many other attacks after which the government did not compensate the victims’ families at all. This was the case for example with all those killed in the Oklahoma City bombing who were not federal employees: “cafeteria workers, parents of the children killed in the day-care center, and those who died visiting the building received no federal benefits whatsoever.”6

In a country where everything has a price tag, we can in any case see a prosaic, monetary motive in the government’s haggling with some of the September 11 victims’ families. This at least supplements the political motives that lead the White House to deny categorically and virulently, in the teeth of the evidence, any cause-and-effect relationship between the United States’ foreign policy and the attacks that targeted it. Thus, whereas the forty-first president, George H. W. Bush, tacitly acknowledged the link between “the threat of terror” and injustice in the world in his speech of September 11, 1990, his son George W. Bush, the forty-third president, quickly exerted himself to rule any explanation of the kind out of court. According to presidential ukase, the crimes of September 11, 2001, could not be conceived of as a reaction to any legitimately questionable aspects of U.S. policy in the Middle East or anywhere else. They could only be the product of a visceral rejection of the noblest “values” of the United States and the West. According to Bush junior—in his speech on September 20, 2001, delivered like his father’s to a joint session of Congress—the terrorists had to have acted out of hatred of democracy and freedom.

Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber—a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms—our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.7

Addressing both the U.S. people and its elected representatives, George W. Bush thus took them all for the kind of simpletons who could believe that the September 11 terrorist hijackers hated the United States enough to die killing as many people as possible on its soil simply out of abhorrence for democratic institutions and civil liberties. The argument is all the more mind-boggling inasmuch as it is followed directly by the—in this case undeniable—statement that the attackers aimed at overthrowing the governments of their own countries: “They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.” Could Bush have thought that these three countries have democratically elected governments too?

As if to illustrate the frankness that is the benefit of a certain degree of “realism,” Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, countered allegations of this kind with a good dose of common sense:

Al-Qaeda may have originated in the Wahhabi branch of radical Islam—which rejects Western civilization—but it has not attacked targets in the Western world at random. Nor has it concentrated its efforts against the most secular and permissive Western nations, which are in Europe, not North America.

On the contrary, bin Laden’s terrorist network has been obsessively focused on the United States. The reason is that specific U.S. policies are unacceptable to Al-Qaeda and threaten its perceived core interests and beliefs.8

Absolute and Relative Evil

However, the most effective and intimidating obstacle of all to critical thought about the meaning of September 11 has been the tendency to treat the event itself as something absolute and unparalleled. Is there anything that has not been said or written about September 11, 2001?! Just one example among many, admittedly a particularly grandiloquent one: “We will live, and our children will live on, in a history in which the explosion of the Towers is redrawing the map of the world and tracing the unreachable horizon of a terrorist twilight of humanity.”9 In a somewhat more sober key, innumerable commentators have proffered the supposed insight that September 11 was a major, historic turning point in world history comparable to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The latter had been mythologized not long before the attacks by a Hollywood mega production serving the cause, dear to George W. Bush, of a missile shield. The “new Pearl Harbor” of September 11, which the president declared the next day to be an act of “war” even more than of “terrorism,” was immediately elevated to the rank of the opening shots of a new war, baptized unhesitatingly by many “World War III.” The banner title under CNN’s special broadcasts was quickly changed from “America Under Attack” to “America at War.”

The 1991 Gulf War in its day was already called a “CNN war.” But the September 11 attacks undeniably marked a new peak in media globalization. No event has ever been watched by as many people as the attack on Manhattan’s Twin Towers, either live or in replay. It has been rebroadcast on television stations around the world in continuous loops and made available in the form of videos and stills on an incalculable number of websites, without even mentioning what are now called “paper supports.” The corollary to this historic record is that no event has ever been as massively, preeminently subject to the magnifying effect of TV broadcasts on its perception. A magnifying effect which is also a deforming effect, of course. As Naomi Klein wrote in a clever reaction, “[V]iewed through the U.S. television networks, Tuesday’s [September 11] attack seemed to come less from another country than another planet.”10

Yet to the extent that September 11, and its aftermath are thought to be crucial events with implications for the future of humanity, critical reflection on their meaning should be considered all the more essential to the public interest. A true critical effort is therefore called for, first of all so as to dissipate the prevailing impressionism that has turned these horrible attacks into an absolute incarnation of evil. As it happens, we are not dealing with a simple metaphor. George W. Bush has invoked the metaphysical notion of “evil” on several occasions, as we know too well, deliberately using the term that Ronald Reagan once applied to the Soviet Union. At that time the United States was backing today’s “evil,” the shock troops of Islamic fundamentalism, against yesterday’s “Evil Empire,” the Soviet Union. The United States, as is only proper, still incarnates “good”—should it perhaps be called “the Good Empire”?11

Washington is calling on the imagery of the Second World War for the third time since the end of the Cold War, after having resuscitated Hitler successively in the shape of Saddam Hussein and then Slobodan Milosevic. Continuing down the road of these playground ethics, George W. Bush has designated three of the “rogue states” (as they are called in Washingtonese), Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, along with their “terrorist allies,” as an “Axis of Evil.” The phrase originated in his first State of the Union speech to Congress on January 29, 2002, in which the president used the term “evil” five times. A study of all the occurrences of this word and its various derivatives in public speeches in the United States since September 11 would certainly come up with staggering results.

Evil, in its metaphysical, absolute sense, is a notion common to the fundamentalist, reactionary religious worldview that Bush and bin Laden share. To use the apt formula of the celebrated German TV presenter Ulrich Wickert, the two men share similar “mental structures” (“Denkstrukturen”).12 George W. Bush actually stands today at the head of the Protestant fundamentalist movement in the United States, as a recent Washington Post article explained:

For the first time since religious conservatives became a modern political movement, the president of the United States has become the movement’s de facto leader—a status even Ronald Reagan, though admired by religious conservatives, never earned. Christian publications, radio and television shower Bush with praise, while preachers from the pulpit treat his leadership as an act of providence. A procession of religious leaders who have met with him testify to his faith, while Web sites encourage people to fast and pray for the president.13

The president’s speech, after the manner of all religious discourse, has even become a topic of theological discussion. To top it off, there are even criticisms of George W. Bush’s intransigence based on Christian forgiveness, which parallel moderate Islamic criticisms of the religious exhortations by the head of the al-Qaeda network. As the New York Times reported:

“The evil one”: Mr. Bush has regularly used this phrase to describe Osama bin Laden. Among evangelical Christians, it is an obvious reference to Satan, and appears throughout the Bible. (From Matthew, in the New American Standard Bible: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.”)

Mr. Bush was raised an Episcopalian, became a Methodist after his marriage and then in 1986 said he was recommitting his heart to Jesus Christ—a born-again experience, at least in the words of evangelicals, although the president has not used that term to describe himself. Still, evangelicals recognize the terminology of “the evil one” as their own.

But some in the evangelical movement have questioned the phrase.“The problem with ‘the evil one’ is that in Christian thought, the only one who is totally, hopelessly evil is Satan,” said Richard J. Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., the largest seminary in North America for the mainstream evangelical movement. “We don’t really believe that anybody is beyond redemption until their dying breath, if they reject Christ.” Calling Mr. bin Laden “the evil one” supernaturalizes him, Dr. Mouw said. He added that saying Mr. bin Laden was wanted dead or alive, as the president had done, trivializes human life.14

The Uniqueness of September 11

Criticizing the way the terrorist horror of September 11 has been treated as an absolute is all the more indispensable since the event has been buried under a particularly dense layer of superlative epithets. It is thus necessary to put this event in proportion, situating it in the context where it belongs, without giving in to intimidating accusations that any such effort amounts to trivializing the atrocity. No one has a monopoly on moral indignation. Putting a vile act in the context of acts of the same kind does not trivialize it, still less justify it, particularly since its authors or inspirers themselves evoked this same context as their motivation, explicitly and from the beginning. Rather, to put the act in context is to reject selective indignation.

So what was so truly extraordinary about the terrorism of mass destruction that took about 3300 lives on September 11 (according to the last adjusted figure)? On the scale of carnage for which the U.S. government is directly responsible, and has never expressed the least regret for, it was all in all a pretty ordinary massacre. Is it forbidden to mention the 200,000 civilian victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on the pretext that Osama bin Laden himself has made clever use of the argument? What about the three million Indochinese civilians who were victims of U.S. aggression—whom bin Laden has mentioned much less, by contrast, because as the good anticommunist fighter he was for so long he had to approve of that war? Do we also need to keep silent, just because bin Laden has constantly referred to them, about the 90,000 people—40,000 children under five years old and 50,000 other civilians—who according to UN agency estimates have died each year for the last ten years from the effects of the embargo against Iraq?

Even in so prestigious a journal as Foreign Affairs, chief publication of the U.S. foreign policy think tank the Council on Foreign Relations, the sanctions imposed on Iraq have been called “sanctions of mass destruction.” In an article in Foreign Affairs in 1999, two U.S. professors, John Mueller and Karl Mueller, estimated that weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, and biological, not counting the Nazi gas chambers) have caused 400,000 deaths over the course of history. They concluded—taking care to use the conditional tense so as to soften the impact of their statement:

If the U.N. estimates of the human damage in Iraq are even roughly correct, therefore, it would appear that—in a so far futile effort to remove Saddam [Hussein] from power and a somewhat more successful effort to constrain him militarily—economic sanctions may well have been a necessary cause of the deaths of more people in Iraq than have been slain by all so-called weapons of mass destruction throughout history.15

In a passage that is very relevant to our own topic, the Muellers continued:

It is interesting that this loss of human life has failed to make a great impression in the United States. Americans clearly do not blame the people of Iraq for that country’s actions: even at the height of the Gulf War, 60 percent said they held the Iraqi people innocent of responsibility for Saddam’s policies. Yet the massive death toll among Iraqi civilians has stirred little public protest, and hardly any notice.

Some of the inattention may derive from a lack of concern about foreign lives. Although Americans are extremely sensitive to American casualties, they—like others—often seem quite insensitive to casualties suffered by those on the opposing side, whether military or civilian. Some of the inattention may also be due to the fact that, in contrast to deaths caused by terrorist bombs, those inflicted by sanctions are dispersed rather than concentrated, and statistical rather than dramatic.16

Here we have two fundamental factors that help explain what is unique about September 11. The first thing that was extraordinary about the mass murder in Manhattan and Washington, in fact, was that it killed Americans in the heart of U.S. metropolises. As Noam Chomsky rightly remarked, “the crimes of September 11 are indeed a historic turning point—but not because of the scale, rather because of the choice of target.”17 To realize the singular impact of this particularly painful blow to “American exceptionalism,” one need only pose the questions that one commentator, remaining carefully objective, formulated on this point:

Our feelings are unleashed, not in proportion to the gravity of the facts, but in proportion to the meaning that is assigned to them; not so much in function of the real human cost, as of our sympathy for the victims. Would the (obviously fully justified) emotions called forth by the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center towers in New York and part of the Pentagon in September 2001 have been on such a scale if this murderous devastation had been perpetrated somewhere in the Third World? Would the images of the disasters have received quite so much attention in the media?18

What in fact would have been the reaction around the world if a mass murder of this kind had been committed in a country other than the U.S.—say an African country—or if for example the targets of the attacks had been the two giant Petrona Towers in Kuala Lumpur? We need only compare media coverage of the Twin Towers razed to the ground in Manhattan with the coverage of Grozny, Chechnya, an entire city that Russian army bombing reduced to the equivalent of “Ground Zero.”

The fact that the September 11 attacks struck New York and Washington, the two capitals of “globalization”—which means first and foremost “Americanization,” in the sense of the spread of the U.S. socioeconomic and cultural model—explains not only why Americans were so deeply shocked and moved, but also why the rest of the world was as well to such a degree. Absolute U.S. hegemony over the media universe of fiction and information results in a strong tendency for consumers of images the world over to identify with U.S. citizens. This is also why people identify above all with the metropolises of the U.S. empire, since they are familiar to TV viewers and moviegoers around the planet.

In this sense, attacks as deadly as the ones on September 11 would have generated much less attention and emotion if they had happened anywhere else, not just if they had hit some third world country. The same would hold true if European or Japanese cities or even less central U.S. cities (like Oklahoma City) had been hit. As a rule, the intensity of emotion is directly proportional to the proximity of the scene of the crime to the nerve center of the world system and the privileged stage of global spectacle. The perpetrators of September 11 chose their targets very purposefully when they picked New York and Washington.

Globalization and Narcissistic Compassion

For obvious reasons of affinity, those who identify the most with North Americans either live in the Western world or belong to the transnational social layers that share the same way of life, characteristic above all of New York yuppies. We could call it the “cosmopolitan bourgeois way of life,” an elite, updated, globalized version of the “American way of life” of the 1950s. Thomas Friedman, well-known New York Times columnist and bard of globalization/Americanization, is a prominent exponent of this way of life.19 In his characteristically swaggering and ingenuous style, he recounted how he spent his weekend two weeks after September 11:

I went to the ballgame Friday night, took in Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony at the Kennedy Center Saturday, took my girls out to breakfast in Washington Sunday morning, and then flew to the University of Michigan. Heck, I even went out yesterday [Monday] and bought some stock. What a great country.

I wonder what Osama bin Laden did in his cave in Afghanistan yesterday?20

It is a safe bet that many fewer people in the world are familiar with a schedule like Thomas Friedman’s than with a life rather like bin Laden’s in his cave. Striking the same note but in a more precious style, Peruvian writer and former presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa was bent on singing the praises of the elite cosmopolitanism of the age of globalization/Americanization by telling everyone in the Madrid daily El PaEDs how exalting he always finds it to be in New York: a city where he “always felt [he] was at the center of the world,” where fortunately “the eggs Benedict and the Bloody Mary are still delights in the brick shrine P. J. Clarke’s on Third Avenue.”21 Touched, the New York Times published an abridged translation of the article.

In reality, the exceptional intensity of the emotions elicited worldwide by the destruction of Manhattan’s Twin Towers is due primarily to what we can call “narcissistic compassion.” It is a form of compassion evoked much more by calamities striking “people like us,” much less by calamities affecting people unlike us. The fate of New Yorkers (in this case) elicits far more of it than the fate of Iraqis or Rwandans ever could, to say nothing of Afghans. Located at the very heart of the premier metropolis of capitalist cosmopolitanism, the towers of the World Trade Center constituted in a certain sense the totem poles of the globalized category of adepts of the “cosmopolitan bourgeois way of life”—a category that massively felt hurt at their destruction.

Only this narcissistic compassion—going beyond legitimate compassion for any human being victimized by a barbaric act—makes it possible to understand the formidable, absolutely exceptional intensity of the emotions and passions that seized hold of “public opinion,” beginning with opinion-makers, in Western countries and the metropolises of the globalized economy in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Only this narcissistic compassion enables us to understand how in a country like France, supposedly in the grip of virulent “anti-Americanism,” the most prestigious daily newspaper could have gone so far as to headline its front-page editorial the day after the attacks, “We are all Americans.”22 This phrase had a double meaning. On the one hand, it expressed compassion; on the other hand, pride in showing solidarity with the dominant country, the “godfather” of the family that Le Monde is very happy to belong to (particularly at the moment when he is about to burst out in one of his rages) and that not everyone is lucky enough to belong to. This is what Freud called the “narcissistic satisfaction provided by the cultural ideal,” which he explained as follows: “No doubt one is a wretched plebeian, harassed by debts and military service; but, to make up for it, one is a Roman citizen, one has one’s share in the task of ruling other nations and dictating their laws.”23

Admittedly, narcissistic compassion is one of the most common features in the world. It is far from restricted to the emotions felt in some countries and by some categories of people about the victims of September 11. True; but the uniqueness of the narcissistic compassion shown by opinion-makers and other “elites” in Western metropolises is that they camouflage it as an oceanic humanism indifferent to skin color or religion. Their pretension towers even above the former World Trade Center towers themselves. From this exalted height Western elites condescendingly summon other human groups and demand that they share the elites’ own feelings, in the name of the humanism that they assume to be their monopoly. Too often their “humanism” is nothing more than a masked expression of their own ethnocentrism.

This narcissistic compassion, added to a servile desire to show its zealous solidarity with its “godfather,” explains why the European Union decreed a European-wide day of mourning and three minutes of silence for the 6,000 victims in the United States (according to the then current estimates). This same European Union did not observe a single minute of silence for the 7,000 people massacred in Srebrenica, presumably “Europeans” all. It ended up finding a silver lining in Russia’s dirty war in Chechnya. The hundreds of thousands of people massacred in Rwanda scarcely troubled it, and the tens of thousands of victims dying each year in Iraq hardly at all—restricting ourselves to examples in Europe’s own geographical periphery.

This European Union, together with the United States and the other big powers, has organized a veritable conspiracy of silence around another war in its former colonial empire, which has led to a humanitarian catastrophe of genocidal proportions. The number of deaths caused directly or indirectly by the war in progress in Congo-Kinshasa since August 1998 was close to 3 million by spring 2001—yes, three million people in less than three years!—according to a study carried out by a very credible source, the International Rescue Committee, headquartered in New York.24

The same European Union shares responsibility with the United States and the other rich countries for failing to help populations threatened by one of the worst “biogenocides” in history. The AIDS pandemic already affects more than 28 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than one per 1,000 of whom are receiving adequate treatment. The result was 2,300,000 deaths due to AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa during the course of the year 2001 alone, the first year of the twenty-first century—meaning more than two September 11s each day!

“At current levels of intervention, the number of Africans dead of AIDS in 10 years will probably surpass the population of France.”25 On a scale like this, failure to help the populations in danger constitutes in itself an immense crime against humanity. How is it possible not to see something deeply indecent, something deeply revolting, in the spectacle of the white world thrown into convulsions of distress over the “6,000” victims in the United States, while it hardly gives a thought to black Africa in its horrible agony?26

The Media and the Logic of War

The unavoidable consequence of this first way in which the attacks on Washington and New York were unique, due to the very nature of their targets, is the extraordinary media attention they received. This constitutes the second way in which they were unique. Media attention was not just the natural result of the “concentrated,” “dramatic” character of the mass murder in Manhattan, as contrasted with the “dispersed,” “statistical” character of the scourges that have struck Africa or the Iraqi victims of the U.N.-U.S. embargo, to use the expressions from the Foreign Affairs article cited above. Overdramatization of the September 11 attacks was also, and above all, the result of deliberate action by the media in the society of the “world spectacle,” a corollary of the world market recognized by Guy Debord.27

From early on, a political logic—“the logic of war,” to use a well-worn expression—dictated this media overdramatization. It was necessary to keep imperial atrocities and global poverty under wraps, the better to highlight the “absolute evil” that manifested itself on September 11, along the lines that George W. Bush had laid out. Even after the historic record level of live media coverage devoted to the attacks on New York and Washington, the attacks continued to be referred to and broadcast incessantly, and will be for some time to come, so as to cover up and justify new atrocities committed by the United States and its allies in the guise of reprisals. Tony Blair reminded the media of this rule at a moment when the polls were showing a clear reduction in support for bombing Afghanistan on the part of British public opinion: “In every part, we have justice and right on our side, and a strategy to deliver. It is important we never forget why we are doing it. Important we never forget how we felt watching the planes fly into the twin towers.”28

So that no one can ever forget it, the media have massively joined the “war effort.” Even a journalist supposedly carrying on his trade as a TV critic on the French side of the Channel unashamedly hailed the “war effort,” as if echoing the British prime minister.

What does taking part in the war effort mean for the media? Certainly not closing our eyes to the mistakes, the groping about, the glitches in the U.S. reprisals. We must keep our eyes open. But keep them open day-by-day, enduringly [sic], without ever forgetting the original image of the September 11 aggression.29

Among a plethora of other examples, we can also cite these, recounted in a Washington Post article about the way in which inflated estimates of the number of victims of September 11 continued to be used despite substantial downward adjustments (at that point down to barely 4,000). The examples bear witness to a vengeful logic that is much more serious than the simple exaggeration of figures that the article was meant to be about:

At a news conference on Oct. 29, a reporter asked for the “tactical rationale” for using cluster bombs, which human rights groups say can indiscriminately kill large numbers of civilians.

“Yes, this is very simple,” replied Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “On September 11, we lost over 5,000 people to an intentional act. We are now prosecuting a global war on terrorism.”

In cautioning correspondents not to turn reports of civilian casualties in Afghanistan into propaganda for the Taliban, CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson said: “We must talk about how the Taliban85have harbored the terrorists responsible for killing close to 5,000 innocent people.”30

The prevalent code of ethics is more flexible than ever since Western warmongers began to lay claim to “humanitarian” concerns. According to this twisted morality it is thus highly immoral to try to put the crime of September 11 in proportion by referring to the long list of crimes committed by the U.S. government and cited in part by those who planned the attacks. Yet by contrast it is supposed to be a moral imperative, according to the same code of ethics, to put the criminal bombing of Afghanistan in proportion by incessantly referring to the crime that it is supposedly a response to. A double standard is at work here. This is the never-ending iniquity of every form of egocentrism, whether ethnic or social.

(GILBERT ACHCAR teaches politics and international relations at the University of Paris-VIII, and is a frequent contibutor to Le Monde Diplomatique. He is author of several books on contemporary politics published in French, and editor of The Legacy of Ernest Mande, Verso, 2000.)




See Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996).

Stephen Pollard, “America-Haters Revert to Type,” Wall Street Journal Europe, January 25–26, 2002.

Salman Rushdie, “Fighting the Forces of Invisibility,” Washington Post, October 2, 2001.

Elissa Gootman, “In Last Days for Comment, Victim’s Fund Is Under Fire,” New York Times, January 7, 2002.

Thomas Connor, “Terror Victims Aren’t Entitled to Compensation,” Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2002.

Ibid. “The families of federal employees received $100,000 approximately each.”

George W. Bush, “Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, Washington, September 20, 2001.

Dimitri Simes, “What War Means,” The National Interest, no. 65-S (special issue), Thanksgiving 2001, pp. 35–36.

AndrE9 Glucksmann, DostoEFevski E0 Manhattan (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2002), 15–16.

Naomi Klein, “Game Over,” The Nation Online, September 15, 2001.

Robert Worth, “A Nation Defined by Its Enemies,” New York Times, February 24, 2002.

Wickert made the remark in an article published in early October 2001 in the magazine Max. It brought down solemn reproofs on his head from the German “political class,” and nearly cost him his job. He was obliged to give a humiliating display of public contrition.

Dana Milbank, “Religious Right Finds Its Center in Oval Office,” Washington Post, December 24, 2001.

Elisabeth Bumiller, “Recent Bushisms Call for a Primer,” New York Times, January 7, 2002.

John Mueller and Karl Mueller, “Sanctions of Mass Destruction,” Foreign Affairs 78, no. 3 (May/June 1999): 51.

Ibid., 51–52.

Noam Chomsky, “September 11 and Its Aftermath: Where is the World Heading?” Public Lecture at the Music Academy, Chennai (Madras, India), November 10, 2001 <http://www.infoshop.org/news6/chomsky_india_lecture.html>.

André Versaille, “Retour sur le territoire des Autres,” foreword to GE9rard Chaliand and Jean Lacouture, Voyage dans le demi-siE8cle: Entretiens croisE9s avec AndrE9 Versaille (Brussels: Complexe, 2001), 12. The two last questions are in parentheses in the original.

Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization, revised and expanded edition (New York: Anchor Books, 2000).

Friedman, “Terrorism Game Theory,” New York Times, September 25, 2001.

Mario Vargas Llosa, “Novelista en New York,” El PaEDs, November 25, 2001. [“Out of Many, New York,” New York Times, December 11, 2001].

Editorial by Jean-Marie Colombani, Le Monde, September 13, 2001 (actually published on September 12).

Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, James Strachey trans. and ed., (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1961), 13.

The results of the study are available on the International Rescue Committee’s website <www.theirc.org>.

Barton Gellman, “An Unequal Calculus of Life and Death,” Washington Post, December 27, 2000.

Glucksmann, Dostoïevski à Manhattan, 184.

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone, 1995), 145.

Tony Blair, “Prime Minister’s Speech on the Conflict in Afghanistan” to the Welsh assembly, October 30, 2001.

Daniel Schneidermann, “Effort de guerre,” Le Monde, editorial in the TV supplement, November 4–5, 2001.

Shankar Vedantam, “Discourse Does Not Match Falling Sept. 11 Death Toll,” Washington Post, November 22, 2001.

We want to know what you think of this article.