Through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder.
Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth.
Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate.
Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that….
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
Satyagraha is a process of educating public opinion, such that it covers all the elements of the society and makes itself irresistible.
Satyagraha is a relentless search for truth and a determination to search truth.
Satyagraha is an attribute of the spirit within.
Satyagraha has been designed as an effective substitute for violence.
— Mahatma Gandhi
The destruction of the World Trade Center towers and a part of the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, was more than an attack on the symbols of financial and military power of the United States. It was more than what the media have called an “Attack on America.” It was mass murder of people from around the world. The flames of fear and sorrow and tears spread rapidly across the oceans and north and south across the Americas that day. U.S. as well as international phone lines to New York and Washington were jammed. People from more than fifty countries were among those who perished along with thousands of Americans. No goal, however lofty, can justify the murder of innocent people.
People from around the world are grieving and share the immense sadness of the families and friends of the victims of the tragedies. The staff of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) grieves with them. I have written this message and these suggestions for resistance to violence and terror and militarism at the instance of and on behalf of the entire IEER staff.
The September 11 events of global terror cry out for and deserve a global response to help make the world as secure as we can from the threat of mass destruction. This was not the first or the most devastating event of mass destruction. As is well known, air warfare was created in the twentieth century as an instrument of state terror to entirely neutralize or destroy “vital centers” – that is, cities, thereby obliterating the difference between combatants and non-combatants in war. (A brief history of air warfare doctrine is posted on IEER’s website.) Nuclear weapons extended the terror of conventional explosive bombing and fire bombing to a new dimension. But September 11, 2001 has nonetheless created a dreadful watershed in world history. The preponderance of evidence indicates that a non-state party, a terrorist network, has now used civilian aircraft as weapons of mass destruction to kill thousands.
The possibility that terrorists may create destruction on a vast scale has until now been postulated in studies and hinted at by many actual acts of terrorism such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and the 1995 chemical attack on a Tokyo subway. But the enormous scale and coordination of the assault, the choice of targets, the years of preparation, and the results of the September 11, 2001 attack mean that what was once largely hypothetical has moved into the column of grim reality.
The risk of continued terrorist attack remains, according to the U.S. government. Retributive violence would add to the risks of continued terrorism, and it may also add to the risk of escalation to the use of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons by a terrorist group. We do not know if some non-state groups already have nuclear materials. And we do not know how much they might have, if they do. Specifically, instability and conflict in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state, over cooperation with U.S. military actions might have unpredictable consequences.
It is imperative that we try to persuade the U.S. government against a policy of violence and for a process that will lead to capture of the suspects and a trial. Moreover, if eradication of terrorism is the overall goal, a trial of the suspected plotters and financiers would reveal more about how terror networks are organized and maintained than a violent elimination of the suspects. The Nuremberg trials not only brought many of the perpetrators of the Holocaust to justice but also revealed great detail about how it was organized and implemented. They also led to important advances in international law. A trial in relation to the September 11 attacks would also show the world the best side of the traditions of the United States: the struggle for the rule of law and justice that motivated the American constitution, which has inspired not only generations of Americans but also freedom fighters worldwide.
But we need more than a trial. We need a process will lead to a progressive diminution of the conflicts and hatreds that lead up to acts of terror and indiscriminate killing. It is widely recognized that they are rooted in the terrible injustices and inequities that characterize our world. Reducing violence requires a reduction in militarism and repression by states and a systematic reduction of the great inequities in the world, so that people can have hope instead of despair. One analysis and discussion of the world economic and military structure as a kind of global apartheid (with some important differences) can be found in a July 9, 2001 article in The Nation by Salih Booker and William Minter. Another can be found in my book, From Global Capitalism to Economic Justice, (Apex Press, 1992, reprinted in 1996), along with a discussion of possible approaches to reduce global inequity and violence.
Given the level, scale and geographical spread of inequity, injustice, and anger in the world, it is likely that violent retribution by the United States would lead to global disunity and more conflict. It would increase the likelihood of more terrorist attacks, possibly more devastating ones. Such a prospect would be made more likely if U.S. retribution produces large-scale civilian casualties.
Oil is and has been, through much of the twentieth century, one of the central aspects to the violent tangle of Middle Eastern, Central Asian, U.S., and world politics. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came after the U.S. imposed an oil embargo to prevent Japan from getting access to and eventual control of Indonesian oil, which belonged neither to Japan, nor to the United States, nor to the Dutch colonialists who then ruled Indonesia. As another example, the CIA-supported overthrow of an elected government in Iran in 1953 (in reaction to nationalization of the Iranian oil industry) and its replacement by the Shah of Iran led to two and a half decades of repression in which substantial dissent was only possible in the mosques. The process was central to the dynamic that led up to the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. For an excellent history of oil politics, see Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991). For a fine, recent analysis of Central Asian oil resources and U.S. policy see Michael Klare, Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001).
Much U.S. policy in the Middle East makes for alliances with undemocratic regimes, including the one in Saudi Arabia, where, as in Afghanistan, no freedom of religion is allowed. That the Saudi Islamic government has allowed the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, which has the two places most sacred to Muslims as well as the largest oil reserves in the world, has been in the center of the anger of some Islamic militants of the region. (See for instance a TV interview with Osama bin Laden partly conducted by ABC news correspondent John Miller in 1998. See also Mary Ann Weaver’s article on Osama bin Laden in the New Yorker and John K. Cooley, Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, Second Edition, (London, Pluto Press, 2000).) And as is increasingly recognized, those angry militants largely come from the phase of U.S. policy that funded and trained them in the 1980s to oust the Soviet military from Afghanistan. Later, the Taliban was partly funded by Saudi Arabia until the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. (For a brief history of the Taliban, see Ahmed Rashid, “The Taliban: Exporting Extremism,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 1999, pp. 22-35).
If retribution and violence are the wrong answers, how can the people of the world work together to pursue justice and increased security? Active, non-violent resistance to evil that goes to the root of the problem in a manner that everyone could participate was the hallmark of the Gandhian struggle for India’s independence, known as Satyagraha, as it was of the U.S. civil rights movement, and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Making salt, making cloth, and desegregating lunch counters and buses were everyday acts that mobilized millions.
The Gandhian struggle in India had a part of its inspiration in U.S. history – in the acts of Henry David Thoreau in the mid-nineteenth century to resist an unjust war and slavery. The civil rights struggle led by Martin Luther King, inspired in part by Gandhi’s example, was non-violent resistance to injustice returning to the United States. This rich history can perhaps provide us with the inspiration we need in these grim and sad days to find ways to resist the violence both from weapons of mass destruction but also from injustice and exploitation that has come to characterize global society. More than five hundred million children have died needless deaths from starvation, lack of clean water, and lack of elementary medical care since World War II. At the same time, the wealthiest 400 people control more wealth than the poorest two billion. Maintenance of such inequalities requires a vast and global repressive machinery that has led to many valiant struggles for justice, but also bred hopelessness, anger, and hate.
October 2 is Gandhi’s birthday. Perhaps it can be a day when we can all reflect on what we might do individually, in our communities, and on a global scale to resist militarism and violence, whether it comes from non-state groups or from states and to help create security, peace and justice.
For instance, one way in which those of us who live in the West and consume more than our fair share of fossil fuels can resist the cynical and militarist politics of oil be to reduce our petroleum consumption as much as we can. A 25 percent reduction in oil consumption in the wealthy countries would amount to about 10 million barrels a day – more than the production of Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s largest oil exporter. That could change the face of oil politics. While we cannot completely eliminate the use of oil in short and medium term – it would cause immense economic dislocation and suffering – significant voluntary reduction of oil consumption as well as sensible policies to that same end could help create a direction of greater equity, security, and environmental sanity. The soldiers who may be sent to fight in the desert sands, or those who are already there, with oil as a prime objective, would breathe easier too. (For an analysis of the proposed Bush administration energy policy and for IEER’s energy policy recommendations see Science for Democratic Action, vol. 9 number 4, August 2001)
Another idea that has been put forth is to send food to the villages of Afghanistan instead of bombs. That act of love might create cooperation from the heart that may increase the chance that there will be a trial instead of cycles of escalating violence. The official rhetoric in Washington makes it seem unlikely that the U.S. government would, at this stage, take actions friendly to the people of Afghanistan – indeed it is in the contrary direction.
How people to people diplomacy might be conducted around the world to create a direction of peace at time when the talk of war is so loud is a major challenge, to say the least. But Nelson Mandela, the African National Congress, and the people of South Africa joined by people all over the world used Gandhi as an inspiration to get rid of apartheid in South Africa. We now need a bigger struggle that taps into the same roots to get rid of global apartheid.
It will take the cooperation of organizations and people of goodwill around the world to rise to the challenge. We might begin this October 2 by gathering in our communities to remember those who died in a common global disaster and to ponder what we might do together across national boundaries that would honor the global nature of the tragedy and prevent its repetition. At meetings around the world on that date, we might gather to consider the questions of justice and of finding a path away from global apartheid, global violence and militarism, whether by states or terrorist groups, and towards global democracy, justice, equity, and friendship.