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imperialism & war | legacies

Globalization Strikes Back

"The war against terror must be a war against poverty.. Washington reserved to itself the right to attack other states.. The most important corrections should be made in two political fields, the unsolved conflicts in the Middle East and the unequal distribution.."

By Ernst-Otto Czempiel

[This article originally published in November 11, 2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.attac.de/stuttgart/dokumente/czempiel.htm.]

Every attempt at interpreting the mass murder of September 11, 2001 in Washington and New York must begin with a statement about the extent of the acts. The acts killed several thousand completely uninvolved people, a very great number. Human sympathy should be extended to these victims and their relatives. Candles were kindled in the Atlantic world as a sign of solidarity. A crime against humanity was committed there. People were shocked and reacted in the Atlantic world and beyond.

In the midst of peace, an act of violence was perpetrated that belongs in the dimension of war because of the number of victims. This act exceeds the conventional term terror whose victims in the past were usually counted in two-digits or three-digits. The atrocities were carried out with a precision and command of very complex technology that suggests an organization with a general staff, that is a paramilitary unit. This attack from the air must be regarded as a belligerent or warlike act even if it was carried out by social actors, not by a state. That a regular campaign may have started on September 11 with further acts of violence should be feared.

The military intervention in Afghanistan carried out mainly by the US and Great Britain was justified more by the claim to retribution than by unequivocal evidence that the social actors were in the Usama Bin Ladin organization. This is understandable on first view but cannot hold up on second view. The culprits must obviously be found and punished. However they are not identical with the Taliban. They must be sought and found where they originated in the US and in Europe. Another strike perpetrated by these actors must be prevented. This can only happen in the US and Europe, not in Afghanistan. Many things could be undertaken without the repeated propaganda that the military intervention in Afghanistan enjoys.

Thirdly and lastly, the reasons for this act of violence should be considered. The term terrorism already gives an answer. Terrorist violence is only applied for the sake of the effect. Terrorist violence is politically blind and has only one clearly recognizable interest, the use of force. "Analyzing the motives of the new terrorists is difficult", Walter Laquer wrote in 1998. "How can fanaticism be quantified?" This resignation should be abandoned. The undifferentiated use of the terrorism term for all kinds of violence by non-political groups makes difficult its differentiated assessment and control. The generalized terrorism term can serve as an all-purpose argument for totalitarian-authoritarian governments to disqualify all resistance and refuse any compromise.


Instead the terrorism term should be reserved for the case to which it really applies and for the two other more important cases of the use of physical force by social actors who pursue specific identifiable goals. Only those acts of violence count as terrorism that are politically faceless, so to speak, and follow a blind urge to destruction of human life. The destruction of the office building in Oklahoma City for which McVeigh was executed in the spring of 2001 and the poison gas attack of the Japanese Aum sect on the Tokyo train for which many death penalties were inflicted are examples. These acts of violence were pure terrorism. The anthrax attacks in the US probably fall in this category. They spread terror and fear but have no kind of political signature because they have no public.

The physical violence used by social actors for concrete political goals after all other non-violent means failed is very different... Revolutionaries attempt to overthrow a government unbearable to them. Oppressed minorities shake off rule imposed on them. Secession is sought in the national or ethnic fight for independence or liberation. Armed resistance against a foreign rule perceived as occupation helps produce or restore autonomy. The conflicts in Northern Ireland, Basque land, Corsica, Kosovo and in Israel's occupation of Palestinian areas are examples of this violence.

The groups proclaiming and exercising violence are well-known like their leaders. They follow a clearly formulated political program that they defend with forceful resistance and implement with the autonomous use of force.

These groups are quickly described as terrorists by the governments they confront. This term serves as a political weapon... The resistance fighters of the Albanians in Kosovo were described by Belgrade as terrorists like the UCK of Skopje operating in western Macedonia. In both cases, NATO interventions helped these "terrorists" become politically justified. The freedom fighter Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for decades by Pretoria as a terrorist until he rose to be president. The president of the autonomous Palestinian authority Arafat was disqualified for decades by Jerusalem as a terrorist.

This large group of violent criminals should not be described as terrorists but as social actors who use force for concrete political goals. The use of force is obviously always illegal. However it can be quite legitimate and may have a claim to future legality. A careful analysis is necessary for their classification.


This act of violence seems to justify the term terrorism with the horrors that spread in the industrialized world and the anonymity hiding its authors. Nevertheless classifying this act of violence in the category of blind faceless terror would be wrong. The act of violence must be emphasized because so many innocent persons were killed...

With the choice of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the violent criminals destroyed symbols of the US and the western world whose symbolism was just as great as the monarchs killed by assassins in the days of yore. Therefore a political background can be rightly presumed. This background must be illumined so it can be politically analyzed. This is the third task left behind by the violent acts of September 11, after preventing further attacks and punishing the perpetrators. This is the most important and the most difficult task.

We know who carried out this act of violence. We do not know who ordered and organized it. That it was Bin Ladin is only a supposition. If it is true, he was not alone but part of a network extending over many states. President George W. Bush named Uzbekistan and Egypt as states with such networks a week after the attacks. Presumably these networks can be found in more than 60 states.

Whether the members of this network included the suicide culprits of New York and Washington and acted out of political motives is unknown. Individually the most different causes could flow together. The use of violence arose out of these different causes. Religious or political fanaticism, individual frustration, desires for revenge and pure lust for murder could have played a role. Since the culprits were killed, the causes driving them to this atrocity cannot be explained.

The culprits are in the Arab world and beyond the Arab world. Their general public was the source that fed the readiness for violence although not its cause. The cause is still unfathomable. However the violent criminals acting out of inscrutable individual motives sought acknowledgment from a political group for their acts of violence. This was the context for the approval of the acts of violence. The political success of the violence depends on the magnitude of this approval. If the consensus is marginal or absent, the act was in vain and will not be repeated in the long run.

The RAF in Germany found itself in this situation. Their notorious assassinations found no resonance in the German population. The RAF collapsed. The successful prosecution of the main offenders certainly contributed to that collapse.

Mao Tse-Tung described this general dependence of violent political criminals on the approval of their general public in the picture of fish who depend on water to swim. The water did not produce the fish. The water supports them but has nothing directly to do with them. No fish can survive if the water runs out or doesn't exist any more.

Whether blind terrorism or a politically targeted violence was involved can be gleaned from the reaction of the environment. If people react critically to the use of force, this has a political reason. The violent political criminal recognizes and influences this context of his public. His success depended on the approval of that part of society to which he turned. This approval is not necessary from the beginning. The violent political criminal can try to produce or enlarge this approval with his act of violence. Without this encouragement, his readiness for acts of violence withers.


The cruel act of violence on September 11 raises the question whether and how the conduct of industrial states described with the generic term "globalization" contributed to that context seen by the violent criminals. Globalization undeniably caused negative consequences in the environment... That the externalized consequences of globalization inflicted far more damage than was recognized for a long time was underscored by the destruction of the World Trade Center.

The term globalization has always underexposed the complexity of the processes that have dissolved the familiar world of the states since the middle of the 20th century. The states continue in the arising globalized world and must grapple with society's increasing claim to join in the conversation. Political and economic actors raise this claim. The great and increasing number of non-governmental organizations testifies to this. On September 11, very unwelcome social actors appeared in activities on a scale only ascribed to states in the past. When Usama Bin Ladin in his television address directly provoked the US, the hubris of a fanatic and the self-confidence of a man certain of the approval of massive social groups were clear. That the challenge is enriched with religious differences should not mislead us about its political character. Religious differences were always instrumentalized for political ends from the crusades of the High Middle Ages to the Northern Ireland conflict and the civil wars in the Balkans. Political and economic conflicts were always crucial. What the violent criminals of September 11 had in mind was hardly the defense of Islam against Christianity but rather the oppressed against the oppressor, the dominated against the rulers and the impoverished against the wealthy.

The globalized world reveals these antagonisms. Criticism of development policy and the distribution of wealth continued for years along with criticism of the non-nuclear world in the refused disarmament of the nuclear powers. The criticism of the policy of industrial states came from the governments of the non-industrialized world and was taken up and intensified by social actors ready for resistance. The demonstrations in Seattle and Genoa and the conflicts at the Anti-racism conference in Durham were writings on the wall that we refused to see.

Thus it has escaped us that globalization, the expansion of our economic interests and our claims to power and rule, meets with more rejection than approval among the impacted. Not only the policies of industrial states have globalized. The reaction of those social groups that disagree with this globalization and reject it has also globalized. In the parts of the world negatively affected by globalization, social actors emancipated themselves from the controls of political systems and showed a potential for action that no one held possible until September 11.

Whether and how this potential was strengthened or weakened in New York and Washington by the mass media will be revealed. The political consequences could be immense if this potential increases - which will depend on the conduct of the industrial states. Therefore great attention should be given to an actor like Usama Bin Ladin and his network Al-Qaida. Whether the campaign against Afghanistan represents the right remedy can be left undecided.
We are obviously in a process of reciprocal globalization. The emancipation of social interests from the control of their political systems and the expansion of their activities far beyond the borders of their home states is no longer a phenomenon of industrial states mainly produced by economic groups of actors. This emancipation now also appears in the non-industrialized world where social actors also remove themselves from the control of their political systems, operate globally and use force worldwide. The Al-Qaida group, it is presumed, has affiliates in more than 60 countries of the world. We do not know whether there are more groups and their connection to the drug trade or organized crime.


These networks of violent opposition are not identical with the societies in which they exist. The societies are not responsible for these networks. The societies did not commission these networks to oppose the globalization policy of industrial states with force. This globalization policy cannot be seen as the cause of the acts of violence. In their own interest, states must note much more sensitively how their policy is received by the affected. This policy must be changed if it does not meet with majority approval. Otherwise it promotes a political attitude that could be a nutrient solution for future violent criminals. Adjusting all outward effects of the policy of industrial states so this policy becomes compatible with the interests of economic and political development of the concerned is crucial for security policy reasons.


If one listens to the voices of those negatively impacted by globalization, the most important corrections should be made in two political fields, the unsolved conflicts in the Middle East and the unequal distribution if chances of development between industrial states and developing countries. A solution of the Jerusalem and Palestine problem could be the most important pretext for all violent criminals, for most Arab journals and for the Saudi Arabian defense minister Prince Sultan. These conflicts that represented a source of the tension in the Middle East for more than 50 years concern all Muslims, not only Arab Muslims. The American and German foreign ministers rightly try to revive the Middle East peace process, unfortunately with the conventional pendulum-diplomacy. The parties to conflict would be helped far more with an internationalization of conflict resolution as president George Bush proposed at the Madrid conference in 1991.

The industrial states tapped a similar source of political terror through the 10-year strangulation of the Iraqi population with sanctions. Political terror has intensified for three years with the bombings of Iraq by Anglo-American aircraft. This policy of the industrial states have killed more than 500,000 children in Iraq as an unintended consequence.

Whether this sanction policy made political sense was doubted for a long time. This sanction policy greatly contributes to a spreading feeling in Arab society of being oppressed and literally controlled by the industrial states. Iraq must be reintegrated in the Middle East world of states as quickly as possible. The sanction policy must be immediately suspended in exchange for renunciation on weapons of mass destruction.

The American UN ambassador Negroponte openly wrote that the bombing of Iraq arose out of the American intention to independently prevent the rearmament of that country and is part of a claim to global power. Washington reserved to itself the right to attack other states of the region after the victory in Afghanistan. The tendency of the United States to unilaterally claim world leadership and at best tolerate the right of other states to join the conversation in the form of consultations was recognized for a long time. Instead of grounding the new world on strengthening multilateralism in the United Nations as George Bush proposed in 1991, his successors have preferred the single-handed effort more and more.

The states and societies of the world obviously know that they are not as important as the US for world leadership. However they are not insignificant. Former foreign minister Genscher described respecting the equality of all states even the smallest and poorest as the basis of successful leadership. If respecting equality is neglected, the claim to world leadership quickly appears as the classical striving for hegemony, as the attempt at enforcing one's interests worldwide and preventing the rise of rival powers. Among western geo-politicians, the key to American Asian policy can be found in these interests. This was not true for all American presidents after 1990. Like Jimmy Carter, George Bush and Bill Clinton tried to solve the political conflicts of this world. Bill Clinton even attempted to abolish the killing term "rogue states" and replace it with the term "problem states". However the globalization policy of the world leader altogether benefited its own interests in the last decade.

Western Europeans hardly act differently. They did not oppose the globalization of the NATO deployment in the alliance's new concept in April 1999. They did not prevent the air war against Serbia as a test run of this new concept all over the world. Building their own European crisis reaction troop supports this interpretation. Didn't NATO force the Macedonians in its own mandating without any UN mandate? The policy of the European Union (EU) did not prevent or solve any conflict in Africa. Africa's states south of the Sahara closely allied with the EU are more economically desperate than ever before after 48 years of associating with Western Europe.


Criticism of a globalization that mainly serves the interests of western industrial states was striking at the demonstrations of Seattle and Genoa. The world trade conference will be much more open to developing countries, ringing in a "development round" so to speak. This is more than overdue. Given constantly increasing population statistics, the development policy is inadequate though it has accomplished many things. 1.3 billion people still live in absolute poverty. As a consequence of hunger and poverty, nearly a quarter of humanity give "fertile ground for terrorism" as the chairperson of World Hunger Relief, Ingeborg Schlauble, said at the beginning of October in Berlin. Therefore the war against terrorism must be a war against poverty, the Philippine president urges.

Nevertheless the United Nations at its millennium summit in September 2000 only resolved to cut the number of poor and hungry in half by the year 2015. This program may seem ambitious on the background of past development policy. However it is not enough as therapy of political terror. James Wolfensohn summarized the consequences of September 11 in the two demands to increase developmental- and foreign aid and reduce trade barriers around the industrialized world.

Whoever wants to block the sources of international terrorism must change the paradigms of foreign economic- and development policy. Distributive justice in these fields increasingly became a demand of security policy, not only a demand of morality and humanity.

World policy can no longer be separated from defense capacity in a globalized world where states and social groups become independent actors in the international realm. We don't yet have a "world domestic policy" which the two former presidents of Germany, von Weizsacker and Herzog, advocated. Still the structures of the globalizing world are analogous to domestic policy. The world has become so interconnected that the global defense of political and economic interests provokes worldwide reactions from the impacted. This global defense extends to the use of force in the extreme case. Passive suffering, silent or lo9ud criticism of industrial states, political opposition against them and the rise of corresponding stereotypes are the preliminary stages. Twenty years ago the US was regarded as a friend by societies of the Middle East. Now the State Department in Washington warns all Americans against visiting these countries. Western Europeans are advised against traveling to Africa.

In the future, globalization cannot be seen as a one-way street. A lively two-way traffic prevails. This affects our security. The term security must be expanded and completely reformulated. While defense is part of security, a foreign policy that understands itself as security policy in a global world and strives for the approval of the impacted should be the model. Economic assistance is modern security policy and foreign economic policy. Both must be measured and judged with this yardstick.

Whoever practices the foreign policy of the old world of states in the globalized social world and trusts the security of armed forces and the prosperity of the economy lives dangerously. This kind of globalization strikes back.


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thank you 07.Sep.2004 13:09


terror is being perpetrated by the u.s. government,and aimed at african american men.

So who, after all, blew up the Twin Towers? 07.Sep.2004 18:45


Much more yak yak--

But neither here, nor in the Investigative Commission, nor anywhere else, has the actual method by which some as yet unknown terrorists evaded the most sophisticated defense of the world's most powerful country.

The official line is simply rubbish.

Cheney knows-- and he said there will be more if the Americans vote for the "wrong" candidate.  http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0907-10.htm