The Guardian (UK)
Saturday September 27, 2001

The algebra of infinite justice
As the US prepares to wage a new kind of war,

Arundhati Roy challenges the   instinct for vengance

  In the aftermath of the unconscionable September  11   suicide
attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade  Centre,   an American
newscaster said: "Good and evil rarely manifest   themselves as
clearly as they did last Tuesday. People who we   don't know
massacred people who we do. And they did so with   contemptuous
glee." Then he broke down and wept.

Here's the rub: America is at war against people  it   doesn't know,
because they don't appear much on TV. Before it  has   properly
identified or even begun to comprehend the nature  of   its enemy,
the US government has, in a rush of publicity and   embarrassing
rhetoric, cobbled together an "international   coalition against
terror", mobilised its army, its air force, its  navy   and its
media, and committed them to battle.      The trouble is that once
Amer ica goes off to war,   it can't very   well return without
having fought one. If it  doesn't   find its   enemy, for the sake of
the enraged folks back  home,   it will have   to manufacture one.
Once war begins, it will  develop   a momentum,   a logic and a
justification of its own, and we'll   lose sight of   why it's being
fought in the first place.

What we're witnessing here is the spectacle of the   world's most
powerful country reaching reflexively, angrily,  for   an old
instinct to fight a new kind of war. Suddenly,  when   it comes to
defending itself, America's streamlined warships,   cruise missiles
and F-16 jets look like obsolete, lumbering  things.   As
deterrence, its arsenal of nuclear bombs is no   longer worth its
weight in scrap. Box-cutters, penknives, and cold   anger are the
weapons with which the wars of the new century  will   be waged.
Anger is the lock pick. It slips through customs   unnoticed.
Doesn't show up in baggage checks.

Who is America fighting? On
September 20, the FBI   said that it   had doubts about the
identities of some of the   hijackers. On the   same day President
George Bush said, "We know   exactly who these   people are and which
governments are supporting   them." It sounds   as though the
president knows something that the  FBI   and the   American public

In his September 20 address to the US Congress,   President Bush
called the enemies of America "enemies of  freedom".   "Americans
are asking, 'Why do they hate us?' " he said.  "They   hate our
freedoms-our freedom of religion, our freedom of   speech, our
freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with  each   other."
People are being asked to make two leaps of faith   here. First, to
assume that The Enemy is who the US government  says   it is, even
though it has no substantial evidence to support   that claim. And
second, to assume that The Enemy's motives are  what   the US
government says they are, and there's nothing to   support that
either.      For strategic, military and economic reasons, it  is
vital for the   US government to persuade its public that their
commitment to   freedom and democracy and the American Way of Life
is under   attack. In the current atmosphere of grief,  outrage   and
anger,   it's an easy notion to peddle.

However, if that were true, it's reasonable to   wonder why the
symbols of America's economic and military  dominance  -the World
Trade Centre and the Pentagon-were chosen as the   targets of the
attacks. Why not the Statue of Liberty? Could it  be   that the
stygian anger that led to the attacks has its   taproot not in
American freedom and democracy, but in the US   government's record
of commitment and support to exactly the opposite   things-to
military and economic terrorism, insurgency,   military
dictatorship, religious bigotry and unimaginable   genocide
(outside America)? It must be hard for ordinary   Americans, so
recently bereaved, to look up at the world with   their eyes full
of tears and encounter what might appear to them  to   be
indifference. It isn't indifference. It's just   augury. An absence
of surprise. The tired wisdom of knowing that what   goes around
eventually comes around. American people ought to   know that it is
not them but their government's policies that are  so   hated. They
can't possibly doubt that they themselves, their   extraordinary
musicians, their writers, their actors, their   spectacular
sportsmen and their cinema, are universally   welcomed. All of us
have been moved by the courage and grace shown by   firefighters,
rescue workers and ordinary office staff in the  days   since the

  America's grief at what happened has been immense   and immensely
public. It would be grotesque to expect it to   calibrate or
modulate its anguish.      However, it will be a pity if, instead of
using  this   as an   opportunity to try to understand why September
11   happened,   Americans use it as an opportunity to usurp the
whole world's   sorrow to mourn and avenge only their own. Because
then it falls   to the rest of us to ask the hard questions and  say
the harsh   things. And for our pains, for our bad timing, we   will
be   disliked, ignored and perhaps eventually silenced.   The world
will   probably never know what motivated those  particular
hijackers who   flew planes into those particular American
buildings. They were   not glory boys. They left no suicide notes, no
political   messages; no organisation has claimed credit for  the
attacks. All   we know is that their belief in what they were  doing
outstripped   the natural human instinct for survival, or any
desire to be   remembered. It's almost as though they could not
scale down the   enormity of their rage to anything smaller than
their deeds. And   what they did has blown a hole in the world as we
knew it. In the   absence of information, politicians, political
commentators and   writers (like myself) will invest the act with
their   own   politics, with their own interpretations. This
speculation, this   analysis of the political climate in which the
attacks took   place, can only be a good thing.

But war is looming large. Whatever remains to be   said must be
said quickly. Before America places itself at the   helm of the
"international coalition against terror", before  it   invites (and
coerces) countries to actively participate in its   almost godlike
mission-called Operation Infinite Justice until  it   was pointed
out that this could be seen as an insult to  Muslims,   who believe
that only Allah can mete out infinite justice, and   was renamed
Operation Enduring Freedom-it would help if some   small
clarifications are made. For example, Infinite   Justice/Enduring
Freedom for whom? Is this America's war against   terror in America
or against terror in general? What exactly is  being   avenged here?
Is it the tragic loss of almost 7,000 lives, the   gutting of five
million square feet of office space in Manhattan,   the destruction
of a section of the Pentagon, the loss of several   hundreds of
thousands of jobs, the bankruptcy of some airline   companies and
the dip in the New York Stock Exchange? Or is it   more than that?

In 1996,      Madeleine Albright, then the US secretary of  state,
was asked on   national television what she felt about the fact
that 500,000   Iraqi children had died as a result of US economic
sanctions. She   replied that it was "a very hard choice", but  that,
all things   considered, "we think the price is worth it".   Albright
never lost   her job for saying this. She continued to travel  the
world   representing the views and aspirations of the US
government. More   pertinently, the sanctions against Iraq remain in
place. Children   continue to die.      So here we have it. The
equivocating distinction   between   civilisation and savagery,
between the "massacre  of   innocent   people" or, if you like, "a
clash of  civilisations"   and   "collateral damage". The sophistry
and fastidious   algebra of   infinite justice. How many dead Iraqis
will it  take   to make the   world a better place? How many dead
Afghans for   every dead   American? How many dead women and children
for  every   dead man?   How many dead mojahedin for each dead
investment   banker? As we   watch mesmerised, Operation Enduring
Freedom  unfolds   on TV   monitors across the world. A coalition of
the   world's superpowers   is closing in on Afghanistan, one of the
poorest,   most ravaged,   war-torn countries in the world, whose
ruling   Taliban government   is sheltering Osama bin Laden, the man
being held   responsible for   the September 11 attacks.

The only thing in Afghanistan that could possibly   count as
collateral value is its citizenry. (Among them,  half   a million
maimed orphans.There are accounts of hobbling   stampedes that
occur when artificial limbs are airdropped into   remote,
inaccessible villages.) Afghanistan's economy is  in   a shambles.
In fact, the problem for an invading army is that   Afghanistan has
no conventional coordinates or signposts to plot  on   a military
map-no big cities, no highways, no industrial   complexes, no   water
treatment plants.      Farms have been turned into mass graves. The
countryside is   littered with land mines-10 million is the most
recent   estimate. The American army would first have to   clear the
mines   and build roads in order to take its soldiers in.   Fearing
an   attack from America, one million citizens have  fled   from
their   homes and arrived at the border between Pakistan  and
Afghanistan.   The UN estimates that there are eight million  Afghan
citizens who   need emergency aid. As supplies run out-food and   aid
agencies   have been asked to leave-the BBC reports that  one   of
the worst   humanitarian disasters of recent times has begun  to
unfold.   Witness the infinite justice of the new century.

Civilians starving to death while they're waiting  to   be killed.
In America there has been rough talk of "bombing   Afghanistan back
to the stone age". Someone please break the news   that Afghanistan
is already there. And if it's any consolation,   America played no
small part in helping it on its way. The American   people may be a
little fuzzy about where exactly Afghanistan is  (we   hear reports
that there's a run on maps of the country), but  the   US government
and Afghanistan are old friends.      In 1979, after the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan,   the CIA and   Pakistan's ISI (Inter
Services Intelligence)   launched the largest   covert operation in
the history of the CIA. Their   purpose was to   harness the energy
of Afghan resistance to the   Soviets and expand   it into a holy
war, an Islamic jihad, which would   turn Muslim   countries within
the Soviet Union against the   communist regime   and eventually
destabilise it. When it began, it  was   meant to be   the Soviet
Union's Vietnam. It turned out to be  much   more than   that.
Over the years, through the ISI, the CIA funded  and   recruited
almost 100,000 radical mojahedin from 40 Islamic   countries as
soldiers for America's proxy war. The rank and  file   of the
mojahedin were unaware that their jihad was  actually   being fought
on behalf of Uncle Sam. (The irony is that America   was equally
unaware that it was financing a future war against   itself.)      In
1989, after being bloodied by 10 years of   relentless conflict,
the Russians withdrew, leaving behind a  civilisation   reduced to
  Civil war in Afghanistan raged on. The jihad  spread   to Chechnya,
Kosovo and eventually to Kashmir. The CIA  continued   to pour in
money and military equipment, but the overheads  had   become
immense, and more money was needed. The mojahedin   ordered farmers
to plant opium as a "revolutionary tax". The ISI  set   up hundreds
of heroin laboratories across Afghanistan. Within   two years of
the CIA's arrival, the Pakistan-Afghanistan   borderland had become
the biggest producer of heroin in the world, and  the   single
biggest source of the heroin on American streets.   The annual
profits, said to be between $100bn and $200bn,  were   ploughed back
into training and arming militants.

In 1995, the Taliban-then a marginal sect of   dangerous,   hardline
fundamentalists-fought its way to power   in   Afghanistan. It was
funded by the ISI, that old   cohort of the   CIA, and supported by
many political parties in   Pakistan. The   Taliban unleashed a
regime of terror. Its first   victims were its   own people,
particularly women. It closed down   girls' schools,   dismissed
women from government jobs, and enforced   sharia laws   under which
women deemed to be "immoral" are  stoned   to death, and   widows
guilty of being adulterous are buried  alive.   Given the   Taliban
government's human rights track record, it   seems unlikely   that it
will in any way be intimidated or swerved   from its   purpose by the
prospect of war, or the threat to  the   lives of its   civilians.
After all that has happened, can there be anything   more ironic
than Russia and America joining hands to  re-destroy   Afghanistan?
The question is, can you destroy destruction?   Dropping more bombs
on Afghanistan will only shuffle the rubble,   scramble some old
graves and disturb the dead.

The desolate landscape of Afghanistan was the  burial   ground of
Soviet communism and the springboard of a unipolar   world
dominated by America. It made the space for   neocapitalism and
corporate globalisation, again dominated by  America.   And now
Afghanistan is poised to become the graveyard for   the unlikely
soldiers who fought and won this war for America.
And what of America's trusted ally? Pakistan too  has   suffered
enormously. The US government has not been shy of   supporting
military dictators who have blocked the idea of   democracy from
taking root in the country. Before the CIA  arrived,   there was a
small rural market for opium in Pakistan. Between   1979 and 1985,
the number of heroin addicts grew from zero to   one-and-a-half
million. Even before September 11, there were  three   million
Afghan refugees living in tented camps along the   border.
Pakistan's economy is crumbling.
Sectarian violence, globalisation's structural   adjustment
programmes and drug lords are tearing the country  to   pieces. Set
up to fight the Soviets, the terrorist training   centres and
madrasahs, sown like dragon's teeth across the   country, produced
fundamentalists with tremendous popular appeal   within Pakistan
itself. The Taliban, which the Pakistan government   has sup
ported, funded and propped up for years, has   material and
strategic alliances with Pakistan's own political   parties.

  Now the US government is asking (asking?) Pakistan   to garotte the
pet it has hand-reared in its backyard for so many   years.
President Musharraf, having pledged his support to   the US, could
well find he has something resembling civil war on   his hands.
India, thanks in part to its geography, and in  part   to the vision
of its former leaders, has so far been fortunate   enough to be
left out of this Great Game. Had it been drawn in,   it's more than
likely that our democracy, such as it is, would  not   have
survived. Today, as some of us watch in horror,  the   Indian
government is furiously gyrating its hips, begging   the US to set
up its base in India rather than Pakistan. Having   had this
ringside view of Pakistan's sordid fate, it isn't   just odd, it's
unthinkable, that India should want to do this.  Any   third world
country with a fragile economy and a complex  social   base should
know by now that to invite a superpower such as   America in
(whether it says it's staying or just passing   through) would be
like inviting a brick to drop through your   windscreen.

  Operation Enduring Freedom is ostensibly being   fought to uphold
the American Way of Life. It'll probably end up   undermining it
completely. It will spawn more anger and more  terror   across the
world. For ordinary people in America, it will  mean   lives lived
in a climate of sickening uncertainty: will my  child   be safe in
school? Will there be nerve gas in the subway? A   bomb in the
cinema hall? Will my love come home tonight? There   have been
warnings about the possibility of biological  warfare  -smallpox,
bubonic plague, anthrax-the deadly payload of   innocuous
crop-duster aircraft. Being picked off a few at a   time may end up
being worse than being annihilated all at once by  a   nuclear bomb.

The US government, and no doubt governments all  over   the world,
will use the climate of war as an excuse to  curtail   civil
liberties, deny free speech, lay off workers,  harass   ethnic and
religious minorities, cut back on public spending   and divert huge
amounts of money to the defence industry. To what   purpose?
President Bush can no more "rid the world of   evil-doers" than he
can stock it with saints. It's absurd for the US   government to
even toy with the notion that it can stamp out   terrorism with
more violence and oppression. Terrorism is the   symptom, not the
disease. Terrorism has no country. It's   transnational, as global
an enterprise as Coke or Pepsi or Nike. At the  first   sign of
trouble, terrorists can pull up stakes and move   their "factories"
from country to country in search of a better  deal.   Just like the
Terrorism as a phenomenon may never go away. But  if   it is to be
contained, the first step is for America to at  least   acknowledge
that it shares the planet with other nations, with   other human
beings who, even if they are not on TV, have loves   and griefs and
stories and songs and sorrows and, for heaven's   sake, rights.
Instead, when Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence   secretary, was
asked what he would call a victory in America's  new   war, he said
that if he could convince the world that Americans   must be
allowed to continue with their way of life, he  would   consider it
a victory.      The September 11 attacks were a monstrous calling
card from a   world gone horribly wrong. The message may have  been
written by   Bin Laden (who knows?) and delivered by his   couriers,
but it   could well have been signed by the ghosts of the   victims
of   America's old wars. The millions killed in Korea,   Vietnam and
Cambodia, the 17,500 killed when Israel-backed  by   the US-
invaded Lebanon in 1982, the 200,000 Iraqis killed   in Operation
Desert Storm, the thousands of Palestinians who  have   died
fighting Israel's occupation of the West Bank. And   the millions
who died, in Yugoslavia, Somalia, Haiti, Chile,   Nicaragua, El
Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Panama, at the   hands of all the
terrorists, dictators and genocidists whom the   American
government supported, trained, bankrolled and   supplied with arms.
And this is far from being a comprehensive list.      For a country
involved in so much warfare and   conflict, the   American people
have been extremely fortunate.

The   strikes on   September 11 were only the second on American soil
in over a   century. The first was Pearl Harbour. The reprisal   for
this took   a long route, but ended with Hiroshima and  Nagasaki.
This time the world waits with bated breath for  the   horrors to
come. Someone recently said that if Osama bin  Laden   didn't exist,
America would have had to invent him. But, in a  way,   America did
invent him. He was among the jihadis who moved to   Afghanistan in
1979 when the CIA commenced its operations there.   Bin Laden has
the distinction of being created by the CIA and   wanted by the
FBI. In the course of a fortnight he has been   promoted from
suspect to prime suspect and then, despite the  lack   of any real
evidence, straight up the charts to being "wanted   dead or alive".

>From all accounts, it will be impossible to  produce   evidence (of
the sort that would stand scrutiny in a court of   law) to link Bin
Laden to the September 11 attacks. So far, it   appears that the
most incriminating piece of evidence against him  is   the fact that
he has not condemned them.      From what is known about the location
of Bin  Laden   and the   living conditions in which he operates,
it's   entirely possible   that he did not personally plan and carry
out the   attacks-that   he is the inspirational figure, "the CEO of
the   holding company".   The Taliban's response to US demands for
the   extradition of Bin   Laden has been uncharacteristically
reasonable:   produce the   evidence, then we'll hand him over.
President  Bush's   response is   that the demand is
"non-negotiable". (While talks   are on for the   extradition of
CEOs-can India put in a side   request for the   extradition of
Warren Anderson of the US? He was  the   chairman of   Union Carbide,
responsible for the Bhopal gas leak   that killed   16,000 people in
1984. We have collated the   necessary evidence.   It's all in the
files. Could we have him, please?)

But who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase   that. What is
Osama bin Laden? He's America's family secret. He  is   the American
president's dark doppelg"nger. The savage twin of   all that
purports to be beautiful and civilised. He has  been   sculpted from
the spare rib of a world laid to waste by  America's   foreign
policy: its gunboat diplomacy, its nuclear  arsenal,   its vulgarly
stated policy of "full-spectrum dominance", its   chilling
disregard for non-American lives, its barbarous   military
interventions, its support for despotic and   dictatorial regimes,
its merciless economic agenda that has munched   through the
economies of poor countries like a cloud of  locusts.   Its
marauding multinationals who are taking over the  air   we breathe,
the ground we stand on, the water we drink, the   thoughts we
think. Now that the family secret has been  spilled,   the twins are
blurring into one another and gradually becoming   interchangeable.
Their guns, bombs, money and drugs have been going   around in the
loop for a while. (The Stinger missiles that will   greet US
helicopters were supplied by the CIA. The heroin   used by
America's drug addicts comes from Afghanistan. The   Bush
administration recently gave Afghanistan a $43m   subsidy for a
"war on drugs"S.)

Now Bush and Bin Laden have even begun to borrow   each other's
rhetoric. Each refers to the other as "the head of   the snake".
Both invoke God and use the loose millenarian   currency of good
and evil as their terms of reference.      Both are engaged in
unequivocal political crimes.   Both are   dangerously armed-one with
the nuclear arsenal  of   the obscenely   powerful, the other with
the incandescent,   destructive power of   the utterly hopeless. The
fireball and the ice  pick.   The bludgeon   and the axe. The
important thing to keep in mind  is   that neither   is an acceptable
alternative to the other.  President   Bush's   ultimatum to the
people of the world-"If you're   not with us,   you're against us"-is
a piece of presumptuous   arrogance. It's   not a choice that people
want to, need to, or  should   have to   make.

  (c) Arundhati Roy 2001