September 11: A Discussion

The Dollars & Sense Collective

This article is from the November/December 2001 issue of Dollars and Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice available at http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2001/1101-911comment.html

issue 238 cover

This article is from the November/December 2001 issue of Dollars & Sense magazine.

All of us at Dollars & Sense were shaken by the attacks of September 11. In discussing our response, we found that we agreed on many issues, and differed on some. So we are listing our main points of agreement, followed by individual statements from D&S collective members. We hope this will help promote the kind of discussion and debate the left needs right now.—Eds.

We mourn those killed by the September 11 attacks, and condemn the attacks without qualification.

We honor those who rushed to the rescue, in many cases at the cost of their own lives.

We oppose scapegoating and official profiling based on race, religion, or national origin.

We oppose attacks on civil liberties, including those directed against immigrants, on the pretext of "anti-terrorism."

We oppose attempts to exploit the September 11 attacks to push a right-wing political agenda, including increased military spending, tax cuts for the rich, and new corporate "free trade" agreements.

We deplore the tyranny of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the reactionary aims of the al Qaeda organization.

We deplore U.S. government policies that, in the interests of U.S. political and economic elites, frequently subvert democracy and support tyranny abroad, especially in the world's impoverished countries.

We oppose U.S. retaliation that will cause widespread suffering and death among ordinary people in Afghanistan or other countries, and believe that such action will only result in an escalating cycle of violence.

We believe that people responsible for targeting and killing non-combatants should face criminal prosecution as human-rights violators.

We stand for political liberty, economic justice, and social equality, and stand with those who fight for them anywhere in the world.

The Dollars & Sense Collective

I reject the view of history as a closed circle that starts and ends in Washington, in which the U.S. government is the sole protagonist. The present struggles within the Islamic world, the conflict over the future of the global economy, even the war, all indicate to me that "history" is an open contest, a continuous struggle between fundamentally different ideas of "progress." Is "progress" the globalization of commodity fetishism? Is it the fascist resistance to the modernizing (and revolutionary) forces of capital? (The Taliban, which has turned every Afghan home into a concentration camp for women and children, represents this fascism in the Islamic world.) Or is "progress" the eradication of global poverty? My job as a progressive is to identify cracks in the empire and intervene meaningfully in history—to help increase the bargaining power of the most vulnerable people, and to generate a humane and persuasive vision of the future.—Betsy Aron

I've grown so used to the habitual American government posture of false righteousness against false demons that it has been a struggle to acknowledge what is different here. But the World Trade Center attacks are the first genuine threat to national security I've ever known, al Qaeda has none of the virtues of a liberation movement, and scapegoating the Taliban has finally ended official tolerance of the world's most despicable regime. These differences do not justify bombing civilians, but we ignore them at our own political peril. —Phineas Baxandall

Outside the United States embassy in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, Muslim women march holding signs that read, "No to war, No to terrorism." You would hope we could do as well. And as long as we are saying no, why not say no to blackmail: that to fight terrorism we now must endorse free trade, corporate bailouts, bogus missile defense, and accelerated tax giveaways for the rich?—John Miller

I am a woman who believes in herself, believes in you, in the strength of what we have in common, in the richness of our differences, that no one should die of starvation or diarrhea, from bullets, bombs, or heartbreak. I believe in laughter. I am the anti-Taliban. Since the September 11 attacks I have been pissed-off and sad. I want the people who did this brought to justice. But as any student of United States' foreign and economic policy knows, the pursuit of justice for these crimes cannot be driven by moral certitude or delivered in the incendiary fire of a bomb. Security won't be found in the barrel of a gun. The world is a mess. Official U.S. policy makes it a messier place. What can we do? Wipe our tears, grab our brooms, and get to work.—Laura Orlando

I can't count the number of times I've seen the film of Chile's Air Force bombing the country's presidential palace during the CIA-sponsored military coup of September 11, 1973. The parallels with last September 11—not only the date, but also the aircraft attacks and burning buildings—are wrenching. This date has for nearly three decades been one of grief and anger for many Chileans, including my family and me. The Chileans I have known, however, always focused their anger on Pinochet and the generals, on Nixon and Kissinger—never to my knowledge on the people of the United States in general. I think they dreamed of a just and equal world, in which those people would somehow be included. The great majority, I'm sure, grieve now for those killed on September 11, 2001.—Alejandro Reuss

Grieving for the "other" is a political act. We can resist becoming desensitized to the violence inflicted in our names by grieving each Afghan life taken by U.S. bombs as a loss equal to each American life lost so horribly on September 11. Hope is also a political act. I hope the current situation provokes greater awareness of the United States' role in the world, and that in the long run it leads to a foreign policy consistent with human rights and democratic values. I also hope that the abolition of extreme poverty (24,000 people die of hunger every day, unmourned in the mainstream media) becomes the world's top priority in the coming decade.—Adria Scharf

I've been thinking about patriotism. I cringe when I see U.S. flags everywhere, because the flag has become a symbol of U.S. military and economic domination worldwide. People suffering from that domination must feel like we would feel if millions of people suddenly started flying the Confederate flag. But symbols have multiple meanings, and clearly many people are flying U.S. flags in solidarity with the victims of September 11. Countries, too, have many aspects, and compared to most countries in the world the United States is a haven of liberty and tolerance. How do we build on a celebration of this country's strengths to challenge its flaws? How do we grow from solidarity with U.S. victims to solidarity with victims of the U.S.? I hope to see the day when millions of Americans fly flags in sympathy with civilian victims in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor, Guatemala, or Rwanda.—Chris Tilly

The meaning of the September 11 attacks and the desirable response to them are tangled with moral complexity. On the one hand, the present situation in the Middle East reflects the moral and political failure of U.S. policy, from the 1953 CIA-sponsored coup in Iran through to today's reprehensible and counterproductive economic sanctions against Iraq. On the other hand, the September 11 attacks represent not resistance to oppression by a principled liberation movement, nor the just demands of a state protecting its own interests, but an attack on society itself by a self-appointed network of terrorists. The perpetrators seek, as ends in themselves, to inflict maximum violence and terror on the United States and to ignite a cataclysmic world war. People of conscience should both recognize the uniqueness of this situation and wrestle seriously with the moral ambiguities it presents.—Thad Williamson