Now in Arabia, Needed in Italy:
Americaís War on International Terror
by Sarah Whalen
September 6, 2003
Terrorism is now "knocking down democracy" in Italy, Guiseppe Pisanu, Italyís Interior Minister, warns.
So when President Bush calls for a world-wide war on terrorism and asks allies and U.N. member states to rally the troops, why aren't we marching off to Italy? Or to Liberia, where the carnage threatens to engulf almost the whole of Africa? Or to Spain, where Basque separatists routinely murder politicians? Or Colombia, where terrorism is so persistent and endemic they colloquially call it "la violencia?" Or Peru, where 69,000 persons perished between 1980 and 2000 while their government fought off the Shining Path, a radical Maoist insurgency? Or, dare we say it, Korea, where threats of nuclear holocaust and those ignominious weapons of mass destruction are real? Or how about our own Oklahoma City?
Italy, or at least its bureaucracy and socialist bourgeoisie (in Italy, there is such a thing), could use some help. Terrorists, reportedly Red Brigades, assassinated my law professor, Marco Biagi, in Bologna, last year. Admittedly, his death was different than 3,000 people getting killed in one day.† But terrorist actions that large are mercifully rare.† Biagi's death was at terrorists' hands, but it was far more typical.† He was gunned down as he parked his bicycle from the train station where he commuted to his Modeno University teaching job to the door of his modest apartment on the Via Valdonica. Inside waiting for him were his treasured wife and children.
Why was he killed? Supposedly because he'd taken a consulting job with Prime Minister Berlusconi's administration to reform Italian labor laws, pulling them in line with EU regulations and discarding decrepit legislation guaranteeing virtual lifetime employment. And he had the audacity to write regularly about his mission in local newspapers like Il Sole 24 Ore. Much to someone's apparent rage, Marco Biagi had opened up public commentary on Italian labor law to the public, apart from the bookish law journals that hold brilliant ideas hostage to a chosen few intellectuals who comment much but too often do little about them.
The two motorcycling assailants who witnesses saw trail Biagi, pedaling his rickety little bicycle to his home from the Modeno train station, dealt him the same fate met by Massimo D'Antona, an earlier murdered academic consultant whom Biagi had replaced, and reportedly used the same gun. Within hours of Biagi's murder, Italy's then-Interior Minister Claudio Scajola, who had just previously canceled Biagi's bodyguards, cryptically memorialized the Modeno University law professor as "a pain in the ass." Simultaneously, Italy's multitudinous trade unions, to whom attention as suspects first turned, practically fell over each other to condemn the assassination and solemnly express their "sincere human and civil solidarity" with Biagi's family by launching--what else in Italy?--a series of workers' strikes and demonstrations, including a massive general strike. Sobbing relatives and angry students and friends took to the streets intermingling with marching, banner-unfurling Italian workers, unionists, and stone-faced trades representatives. Berlusconi's cabinet turned pale, and EU representatives tut-tutted about the unacceptability of violence in any form, by any person. Somber declarations about the sanctity of all human life flowed in from across the continent.
I think Marco Biagi might have found these memorial strikes amazing and even amusing. If he weren't dead, of course. And dead solely because of his ideas. Ideas that were meant to increase Italian employment and increase workers' freedoms of contract.
But his death did not occur in a vacuum. The July before his murder, shortly before the Genoa G8 summit, there was in Italy a series of dynamite attacks against police stations and Berlusconi-owned Mediaset offices. There were left-wing anti-government demonstrations, and a bomb exploded at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Later two persons, supposedly Red Brigades operatives, were arrested on a train as they traveled around Italy presumably photographing potential bombing sites. They shot two police apprehending them, one fatally, before one operative was himself shot dead. A crumpled copy an Il Sole article on Biagiís reforms was found in his pocket, leading to hasty conclusions that these were Biaggi's killers. The new Interior Minister Pisanu, appointed after Scajola, whoíd cursed Biagi even while his body was still warm, was forced to resign, warned that "domestic terrorism could forge ties with international terrorism" and was seeking new recruits. While the
identities and motives of who's doing what are still unclear, it is obvious that Italy's got some kind of terrorist momentum going on, and it seems rather deeply ingrained. As Pisanu proclaimed, democracy is in danger there.
So why doesnít the U.S. military go to Italy and run these terrorists to ground? Why arenít the IRS, the FBI and all those Treasury agents setting up shop in Italy and poring over the banking records? Poking their noses into the shady trade unions and good-old-boy business circles? Following the money and "connecting" all those "dots," as the recently-released U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report on 9/11 insists is necessary for the publicís safety? After all, the Red Brigades, if thatís who Biagiís killers really are, had to buy their train tickets somehow. Perhaps some misguided charity has been feeding and clothing them. Why arenít the forces off to Italy?
Because the U.S. doesn't really want a world-wide war on terrorism. It wants assistance and support for its continued attacks on its perceived enemies in the Middle East and Central Asia. It wants to be unmolested as it asserts itself as the new occupier of a new Iraq, planning a new Middle East in which its presence will be largely featured and in which favorable financial arrangements can be fostered. Because right now, the whole world is short on money, and the international debt system upon which the West bases its economy needs shoring up.
The U.S. is not interested in bringing order to terrorized Liberia, North Korea, troubled Western states, or even to itself. Military actions cost money, and the U.S., like a bank robber, is now going to where Wolfowitz has said the money is, or will be, once that oil gets pumping again. In Washington's current mindset, political murders like Marco Biagi's, sabotage and bombings in Western states, and even mass murders like in Oklahoma City, simply don't count as terrorism anymore.
Terrorism is now defined in the U.S. as something Muslims do.
Right now, Americans don't know much about terrorism beyond the Muslim world. There was no public outcry in the U.S. over my law professor's murder, no formal expression of solidarity with his Italian family. No calls to the trenches were declared. No soldiers sent off. No half-mast flags, no moment of silence.
Marco Biagi would be relieved. He was a mediator and a lover of compromise, a rare combination of intelligence and perennial optimism. He would not want his death avenged. He would not want his death internationalized.
But he would want to know the truth about why he was killed. That's how I best remember him, pausing to answer a student's question to say, "Do you want the usual right answer? Or do you want to know the truth?"
The 9/11 victims and their families similarly want to know the truth about who and what caused their deaths, and why. But instead of truth, the U.S. offered something more easily and quickly obtained-unthinking revenge. And revenge not just on Afghanistan, home of the suicide killers and their supposed mastermind, but revenge on the region. After months of the most solemn daily sermons on the "absolute value" of human life and the "absolute value" of democracy, the nation was geared up and ready, in the name of these same moral absolutes, to shove millions of people into the interminable hell of war and humiliating occupation.
These pushers and shovers were our national heroes yesterday. And today, when the desperate hand of the unemployed, unwashed, unfed, and homeless Iraqi clenches into a fist or picks up a weapon or elects to instead blow himself up (alongside some occupiers) with a rag-tag bomb, we will again be treated to hours of daily televised, increasingly absurd lectures from Fox talking heads about how violence in any form is unacceptable, and human life is to be absolutely valued. Unless it is U.S. violence, of course, engaged in for the greater good. And clearly, some human lives are more absolutely valued than others.
Oh, these angry, unacceptably violent acts are not the acts of Iraqis, we are told. These are not the acts of Iraqis who wailed and despaired as they held their children or parents, or brothers or sisters or best friends as they died in their arms. These are not the acts of Iraqis who survived, maimed or burned, limbless or eyeless, only to find their homes destroyed, their cars blown up, their jobs and paychecks vaporized, their cupboards bare. These are not the acts of Iraqis who have no electricity, no running water, no medical care, and daily endure the humiliation of house, body, and vehicle searches by heavy-handed, heavily armed foreign soldiers. These are not the acts of Iraqis who endured the 1991 bombing of Iraq and the continuous bombings that followed, as well as sanctions which denied Iraqi children access to basic medicines, leading to more than 500,000 infant deaths. The shootings and bombings that daily down U.S. soldiers and ripped the facades off the Jordanian embassy and U.N. headquarters are not the acts of these desperate, defiant, and very, very angry Iraqis, we are assured.
Well then, who's doing it? Disgruntled Sadaam loyalists, Ba'ath Party members, and their foreign supporters from Iran and Saudi Arabia, we are told. The greedy loyalist and Ba'athists want their palaces back. The Saudi Arabians are just "crazy Wahhabis" who want to use their wealth to distribute free Qur'ans to incite the populace to jihad, no less an authority than a former CIA officer Robert Baer proclaims. And the Iranians, well, they want to build a great Shi'ite nation and they want revenge. Revenge on the Great Satan. Can't imagine why.
Can't we? Anyone reading a newspaper regularly could probably think of several reasons that would be fair. U.S. support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war that devastated Iran and murdered thousands, many of them child-soldier conscripts, is one reason. The U.S.'s 1987 sinking of an Iranian ship is another. America's shooting down of an unarmed, commercial Iran Airbus by the U.S.S. Vincennes in 1988, snuffing out the lives of 290 civilians without so much as an apology at the time, is one more. And then, there is the matter of Muslim sympathy and support for one another, a very real phenomenon that is based on a shared spiritual life and sense of belonging to the community of the ummah. Western psychologists have long observed that people behave differently in groups than they do on their own. In the group, there is incredible capacity for collective goodness and generosity as well as for unbridled anger and collective revenge. And the feeling of revenge, as leaders from Trotsky to bin Laden to Bush acknowledge, has its rights.
It does the Muslim ummah the greatest moral credit that it does not merely observe with vacant indifference on how Muslims around the world are treated. Muslims are threatened by Soviet-Communist domination in
Afghanistan? Other Muslims went in to save them, and contributed to Communism's collapse. Muslim fighters saved other Muslims in the post-Yugoslavian debacle when the rest of the world left them to be helplessly slaughtered. Muslims fighters aid other Muslims seeking safety, religious freedom, and even an independent homeland in Chechnya. Recognition of the ummaís courage and willingness to take responsibility is not the same as condoning terrorism. Sometimes violence erupts, but the legitimacy of this struggle for self-preservation and self-determination, at least in legal terms, cannot be denied. Self-determination is what modern nation-building is supposedly all about. But tell that to the Palestinians, who have endured this cycle of right of revenge for decades, with no end in sight.
What bin Laden did, just as Trotsky did much earlier, was to take this collective feeling of "right of revenge" and refusal to be supplicant, and bend it to his individual will. Bin Laden was careful "not to extinguish" the Middle East Muslim's "unfulfilled feeling of revenge, but on the contrary to stir it up again and again, to deepen
it, and to direct it against the real causes of all injustice and human baseness." Trotsky saw this "revolutionary" process as the task of Social Democracy. Bin Laden's view, similarly utopic and anarchic, saw this as the task of his declared jihad against the United States and, more largely, against the Western system. The Islamist view, and especially that taught by extremists, sees all these crimes against Muslim humanity, all the indignities both great and petty, all the humiliations to which Muslim bodies and spirits are subjected, as the twisted outgrowths and expressions of the West's existing social system, of which the United States is the most powerful and vocal proponent. What bin Laden and his murderous band accomplished was to direct all this sense of rage and revenge into a collective struggle against the Western system's most powerful member. This drive, to those who doggedly pursued it, became an expression not of criminality but of a religious duty of the highest order. However misconstrued and misguided this crusade, this is the dilemma now facing the West squarely, and it refuses to wither away. This is why many Middle Easterners admired bin Laden. To paraphrase Bush's father, he truly felt their pain, and could communicate that empathy.
The U.S.'s response to this crusade has been to continuously attempt to criminalize it even beyond its immediate delictum. This effort is difficult because the criminals directly involved can usually only accomplish their dramatic ends by blowing themselves up. Someone has to drive the bombmobile, someone has to get on the plane and take it over, someone has to get on the bus with a body rigged full of explosives. These people usually die in their attempts. They avenge their own dead, but in doing so they also escape our punishment, they thwart our desire for revenge. In a way, their own revenge is perfect. For them.
Who then, to punish? Whoever paid them, whoever was close to them, whoever enabled them to do their evil deeds. Get them. And if you canít get them, get somebody, by God! The bankers at the banks where they, like millions of less violently-active people, kept their accounts. Get them. The princess who opened her pocketbook and gave generously to a hungry, desperate woman and children in need, who then duplicitously passed the money on to others. Get her. The cantankerous Imam at the mosques where they may have worshipped. Get him. A clerk in the office of a charity that sent them a free Qur'an. Get him. Why not also the butcher who sold them meat, the baker who sold them bread, and the candlestick maker who sold them light by which to work? Get them. Get them all. Whisk them off the streets, take away their lawyers. Blindfold and bind them and throw them into a pit at Guantanamo and let God sort them out.
Is this who Americans are? It's not, but it's who Americans are becoming.
And if Americans were Israelis, they'd round up every findable relative and huff and puff and knock all their houses down. Right now the Patriot Act only gives the U.S. the right to secretly search their houses. But is the wrecking ball coming next?
Dare to know the truth, Marco Biagi told his students and would have told his killers if they'd had the courage to face him. The truth indeed can set you free, but this freedom is not always what one imagines. Just as terror's victims and families need to seek out the truth, the American people need to know the truth about why their government has become so particularly hated in the Middle East. The crusade against the West continues even though bin Laden has been effectively silenced. We need to understand why. This understanding, and not endless reprisals that result only in more suicidal murders, is the beginning of safety, if not peace.
And we must reach this understanding soon, because pro-Western elites in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and the Gulf states may soon be unable to withstand the backlash from a U.S. "war" on Islamic Iraq. Or Islamic Iran. Or Afghanistan. Or against world Islam, which is what things are fast becoming. These elites, however imperfect, are the West's best hope of moderating the current lawlessness that is violently spinning off from a religion and way of life that is, paradoxically, the law's greatest essence.
The elites are a bridge between them and us, no matter which side you're on. Terrorist or tinker, soldier, sailor, or spy, the elites are the Janus faces looking one way to their own people and the other way to us, whose backs we walk upon to meet our enemies and hopefully, turn them to our cause. Or, less hopefully, size them up.
And yet we have now tossed out our Middle Eastern elites like so much trash. In a truly remarkable turn of affairs, Saudi Arabiaís royal family has responded to U.S.--sanctioned "Saudi bashing" by turning to Russia for overtures of alliance. Meanwhile, any evidence that the Saudi royal family directly is guilty of sponsoring the 9/11 terrorists has yet to be revealed. Numerous lawsuits by attorneys seeking Saudi billions assure us the truth is out there, but whereís the proof?
But the U.S.ís reckless disdain for elites and the effort to cultivate them for national security purposes is nothing new. For decades, the U.S. has placed its foreign friends and its own citizens in grave danger through unilateral foreign policy decisions that have proved to be unwise and even cruel. In numerous instances, the U.S. eschewed world opinion and U.N. consensus, and went on to shoot down two Libyan planes in 1981; bombarded Beirut in 1983 and 1984; bombed two Libyan cities in 1986, killing more than 60 people; sank an
Iranian ship in 1987; shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in 1988; shot down two Libyan planes in 1989; bombed Iraq and implemented sanctions in 1991; killed more than 1,000 Somalians in 1993; bombed Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, destroying a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant. That the U.S. had various grounds for these actions gives only a customary legal underlining to actions that collectively have now come back to haunt us in the most devastating of ways. Then there is the matter of U.S. financial and military support for Israel's increasingly violent occupation of Palestine and corresponding condemnation of any Arab resistance to it. And the U.S.'s large, uncompromising military presence in Iraq and various Gulf states now adds a new and potentially dangerous dimension to an already unstable situation. Bin Laden only came
here because the U.S. went there.
By invading Iraq pretextually and without a U.S. Secuirty Council resolution, the United States has placed itself above the law. No surprise, and many nations try to do the same. But its repeated failure to police itself and account for its own actions and excesses has led to its being easily hated by people who are otherwise quite decent. Most recently, its falsely pious calls for revenge and retaliation over the bombing of Baghdad's U.N. headquarters have met with tepid enthusiasm from many of its own allies. Rather than getting more fodder for its ceaseless cannons from its "friends," if the U.S. fails to get a grip on itself, it may soon find itself isolated internationally in a way that cannot be cured through all its might.
Italy needs to get a grip and find a cure, too. Its "democracy" thrives in the shade, and Biagiís heinous murder, a troubling blot on the European Community, remains a mystery. DNA found at the scene in the form of chewing gum wads and cigarettes the assassins carelessly left behind as they tailed their prey does not match that of the killers captured and killed on the train. And some people think there may be more to Biagi's murder than the Red Brigades. Biagi, who'd received death threats, was murdered only after his bodyguards were dismissed by Claudio Scajola, who was later forced to resign by an infuriated popular outcry over the way he handled Biagiís murder investigation. Did Berlusconi or someone close to him have a stake in getting rid of Biagi?
Stranger things have happened. Giulio Andreotti, who became Italy's Prime Minister on the day of Aldo Moro's abduction by the Red Brigades and held the post no fewer than seven times, was recently found guilty of complicity in the 1979 murder of a scandal sheet publisher who reportedly had access to confessions made by Moro during his captivity-confessions viewed as potentially damaging to the Christian Democrats. Rumors have long circulated that the Christian Democrats, Andreotti included, avoided bargaining with the terrorists not on principle, but because they who now knew the party's dark political secrets could not be allowed to live, including Moro. Andreotti, who's now 84 years old, will not be punished for his role in the murder because of his "advanced age." In fact, he's becoming quite a television personality.
And Claudio Scajola, the former Interior Minister who publicly cursed and criticized Biagi and then reportedly flubbed the investigation of his murder, is now back in Berlucsniís cabinet, re-appointed as "Minister Without Portfolio Responsible for Government Programs."
Perhaps it's time for the U.S. to send the FBI, the IRS, and Treasury agents into Italy, because Italians clearly need as much help as the Saudis in tracking down their terrorists and avenging their dead. And then perhaps on to France, which has given Red Brigades terrorists sanctuary for decades.
Would Federal Agents be as welcome in Italy as they are in Saudi Arabia? Hard to tell. But if international terrorism is truly the problem that the Bush administration claims, Italy would be as good a good place as Saudi Arabia to start cleaning things up.
Sarah Whalen is an expert in Islamic Law and teaches law at Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans, La. She studied labor law with Marco Biagi at the University of Bologna, Italy, in 1981. She writes articles for Arab News, Palestine Chronicle, and scholarly journals. She can be reached at: email@example.com