Our September of sorrow

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 11 Sep 2005

HUMAN rights advocacy should not be selective in its commemorations or its condemnations. 

The month of September will always be remembered for the unspeakable horror of 9/11 in the United States. 

In mourning the victims of the demonic act, we need to affirm the principle that the killing and maiming of civilians by terrorist attacks cannot be justified on any ground whatsoever. Having said that, a number of observations must be made. 

Moral consistency: We must be consistent in our commemorations and courageous in our condemnation of all acts of terrorism no matter who commits them. It will not do to express outrage at some perfidies and suffer amnesia about others. 

Sept 11, 2001: There is much hype about Sept 11, 2001, as having changed the world. Indeed it is a watershed event because it unleashed primordial forces in the world’s sole superpower and allowed a militantly rightist government to extend its world empire by brutal force. From the point of view of media coverage too, no other previous perfidy received as much coverage. 

But surely Sept 11, 2001 was not the most grave or tragic event of the last few decades. Many other “September Elevens” of greater savagery and suffering have gone unrecognised and unmourned. 

Uprooting of Palestinians: On Sept 11, 1922, the British government, as a follow-up to the 1917 Balfour Declaration which promised European Zionists a national home, decided to bequeath the ancient land of 700,000 Arabs to the Jews. Europe and America then watched with indifference as Zionist gangs descended terror on the Palestinians in order to force them to flee their homeland. 

Deir Yassin: One such perfidy was at Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948. Jewish commandos attacked this peaceful hilly village that lay in the corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem outside the area assigned to Israel by the UN. One hundred and seven innocent residents were massacred in cold blood. Fifty-three orphaned children were dumped along the wall of the Old City. 

Deir Yassin was the beginning of a calculated programme of depopulation of over 400 Arab villages and the brutal expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from the lands on which they had lived for centuries. 

There are no memorials to mark this tragic history and no commemorations to remember these brutalities. 

Chile: On Sept 11, 1973, General Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in a CIA-backed coup. In the 17-year regime of terror that followed, thousands of people were killed, tortured or incarcerated.  

Iraq: Sept 11 has resonance also for Iraq. On Sept 11, 1990, George Bush Sr, on the authority of the UN, announced his decision to go to war with Iraq over the latter’s conquest of Kuwait. Appalling acts of inhumanity were committed by the allied forces. Iraq was subjected to a month of devastating bombings and missile attacks.  

Sabra, Shatila: On Sept 16, 1982, under the watchful eyes of their Israeli allies who had encircled and sealed the camps, Lebanese Maronite Christian militiamen entered Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. There followed a three-day orgy of rape and slaughter that left nearly 3,500 innocent Palestinian and Lebanese civilians dead. 

The Security Council and the General Assembly condemned the massacre as a genocide. But no one was ever tried or punished for the atrocities. The chief perpetrator of the massacre went on to become the Prime Minister of Israel.  

Western-inspired terrorism: Terrorism is not an invention of the Muslims or of the Palestinians. The bloodstained pages of history have ample record of demonic leaders who bludgeoned whole populations into panic and horror.  

The two World Wars, the Holocaust in Germany, the incineration of thousands of innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the widespread torture and murder by the former apartheid regime in South Africa were all crimes against humanity. 

Likewise, the horrific bombings and use of deadly chemicals by the United States in Vietnam and Cambodia that killed 1,750,000 peasants were acts of terror. So was the ethnic “cleansing” in former Yugoslavia.  

In 1988, the US launched a missile attack against an Iranian civilian airline over the Persian Gulf. All 280 aboard were killed.  

During the Reagan years, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans lost their lives as Washington’s proxy army, the Contras, raped, bombed, tortured and murdered. Hundreds of thousands were brutally murdered by US-sponsored civil wars and coup d’etats in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Guatemala and El-Salvador.  

John Galtung and Dietrich Fischer point out that since 1945 the US has intervened abroad 67 times, causing 12 million deaths, about half by overt action (Pentagon) and covert action (CIA). 

Redefining terrorism: Terrorism challenges our conscience and singes our soul. It is a threat to much that civilised society stands for. We need to understand it in all its dimensions. 

First, “state terrorism” is no less despicable than terrorism by non-state actors.  

Second, war is the ultimate form of terrorism. When a nation wages a war of aggression or economic pillage of another nation and tyrannises, shatters and brutalises entire populations – that too is terrorism and a crime against humanity. The illegal war against Iraq in 2003 on trumped-up charges is a case in point. 

Third, terrorism should not be defined so narrowly as to cover only hijackings and suicide bombings. It must also encompass such atrocities as illegal land annexation, political kidnappings, mass rapes, ethnic cleansing and targeted killings like the type resorted to by the US and Israel. 

Fourth, from a Third World perspective, the perimeters of terrorism should include such abominations as deliberate destruction of basic amenities, homes and farms, and wilful attempts at economic strangulation by destroying a people’s livelihood. 

False attributions: Terrorism is not the monopoly of any particular region, religion or race. Accusing Islam of fomenting terrorism has become a new and profitable business. But if there was consistency in drawing attributions, it will be seen that terrorists exist in every community.  

In any case, we must distinguish the faith from the misguided actions of the faithful. 

The western world practised slavery and apartheid. It annihilated indigenous groups in three continents. It committed genocide in Nazi Germany and Yugoslavia. It is participating in the brutalisation of innocent people in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

A string of American presidents from Truman to Bush have caused the death of millions of coloured people in 28 or so countries around the world. But their sins are never laid at the door of their religion, and rightly so.  

When Saddam tried to manufacture a bomb, it was an Islamic bomb. But the US bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki and 28 other countries since 1945 are never described, and rightly so, as Christian bombs. 

Combating terrorism: In trying to overcome this threat to our civilisation, we must seek to understand the phenomenon of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. 

We must not be selective in our commemorations and in our condemnations. 

We must wage the struggle against terrorism in accordance with the law. Illegal wars, targeted killings and torture of suspects as in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay are contrary to the basic values of a humanitarian age. They fuel the fires of hatred, violence and revenge. They convert the war against terrorism into a war between terrorists. 

While condemning terrorism, we must seek to understand the root causes of this malady. The world needs to ask why some people have crossed that point of tolerance beyond which they are prepared to die on their feet than to live on their knees. 


o Prof Dr Shad Faruqi is professor of Law at Universiti Teknologi Mara, Malaysia 

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