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(DV) Petersen: Making Sense of Terrorism







Making Sense of Terrorism
by Kim Petersen
July 20, 2005

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A US diplomat mused over the surrender of the organs of the US government to the Pentagon. The official arrived at a rationalization: “I just wake up in the morning and tell myself, ‘There’s been a military coup,’ and then it all makes sense.” (1)


Sensible or not, people exposed to the lethality of US empire are dying with no near end in sight and there has been no let up in the Iraqi resistance or, as the London bombings indicate, the war on terror. Why it happened does not require anything beyond Stegosaurian cognition. As one Iraqi doctor related, “The U.S. induces aggression. If you don’t attack me, I will never attack you. The U.S. is stimulating the aggression of the Iraqi people!” (2)


UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has correctly identified an “extreme and evil ideology” lying at the root of the terror. Where the mendacious Blair erred is exclusively ascribing a “poisonous misinterpretation of the religion of Islam” as being the root cause of the terror. The root cause is rather the insidious ideology of capitalism that spawns imperialism, exploitation, and usurpation of wealth by a few people.


An insightful reader, Amrita Douglas, noted of the London bombing:


The spectacle of the media worldwide, busy covering the death of 50-60 people and the injuries (including many minor injuries, judging by the photographs) of 700 people, and the disruption of metropolitan transport -- as against their nonchalant non-coverage of the death and severe maiming of thousands of people and the complete destruction of infrastructure in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in Palestine too. The sight of white people randomly injured and in anguish no doubt adds a special kick for those seeking vengeance. 


Douglas critically mentions the racist nature of the War on Terror. This factor seems to influence levels of abhorrence to the killing. The public indifference toward and corporate media insouciance to reporting the massacres that are perpetrated by the West on the black people of Haiti stands in stark contrast to the tragedy in London. Just the day before the London bombings, the UN lackeys of US empire were slaughtering Haitian civilians. It was reported that 350 UN troops were sent on a “successful” mission to assassinate “a 31 year-old man and his lieutenants that Haiti’s rightwing media and reactionary business community had labeled a bandit and armed supporter of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.” According to witnesses, the alleged bandit and four others, including a woman and child, were killed in “a hail of gunfire that came from all directions including a circling helicopter.” (3) Hardly the vision conjured up when one contemplates a UN “peacekeeping” operation.


The earlier reaction of US Defense [sic] Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to a terrorist attack that claimed a similar number of victims in Iraq to the London bombings was very telling. In response to a car bombing that killed about 50 people, Rumsfeld callously quipped that there are murders in every major city in the world “because human beings are human beings.” (4) Contextually, such a statement would seem to equally sum up Rumsfeld’s feelings on the London bombings.


A historical perspective sheds further light on the racism that underlies the selective abhorrence of terror.


On 9 April 1919, a crowd of Indians, estimated to number 40,000, strode through the Punjabi town of Amritsar, in defiance of the British imperial rule that they were chafing under. Police and troops arrived on the scene and stones and bullets were exchanged.  Five Europeans and at least 25 Indians were killed.


What really goaded the British, however, was an attack on a white woman -- “a sacred being” -- and therefore “an unpardonable offense in the eyes of the British male.”


On 13 April 1919, the ambitious Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer led a detachment of Indian troops into the Jallianwala Bagh, an open space not far from the famed Golden Temple in Amritsar, where tens-of-thousands of people were crammed. Dyer ordered his men to fire. Ten minutes later, 379 civilians lay murdered with 1,200 others wounded.


The next day, the British followed this up with the aerial bombing of Gujranwala. Eleven Indians were killed and 27 wounded. Captain D.H.M. Carberry claimed the ability to discern innocents from 200 feet up, of which he stated there were none. In response to why he machine-gunned people after they had dispersed, he arrogantly responded, “I was trying to do this in their own interests. If I killed a few people, they would not gather and come to Gujranwala and do damage.” This morally reprehensible reasoning mirrors the contemporary US-UK slaughter of 100,000 Iraqi civilians to purportedly liberate them -- one surmises the liberation was from a life under occupation.


Much as the US-UK forces heap humiliation on the Iraqis and Afghans today, in imperial Punjab, the British occupiers had intensified the humiliation of Indians. Dyer sought to punish all Indians for the “unspeakable attack on British womanhood.” All Indians were required to crawl at the point-of-a-bayonet when they wanted to pass the street where the British damsel had been attacked. At the street’s end a public flogging station was built to punish the alleged attackers “without the inconvenience of a trial.”


British troops committed religious sacrilege and relieved themselves in the local wells. Indians carrying umbrellas were required to close and lower them when in the presence of a British officer. Back in Britain the public took little interest in the goings-on in far-off empire.


The Hunter Commission set up to whitewash the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre saw Lord Hunter apoplectically accuse Indian members of commission: “You people -- you want to drive the British out of the country.” Hunter had a dramatic grasp of the obvious. The British feted Dyer, the butcher of Jallianwala Bagh, as a hero for his lead role in the massacre, and presented him with money and a jeweled sword inscribed “To the Savior of the Punjab.” For Jawaharlal Nehru, who would later become Prime Minister of India, it was all too much. He wrote, “I realized then, more vividly than I had ever done before, how brutal and immoral imperialism was and how it had eaten into the soles of the British upper classes.”


Mohandas Gandhi held, “When a government takes up arms against its unarmed subjects then it has forfeited its right to govern.” (5)


The lesson that should have been learned long ago is that people will revolt against outside rule, especially when it is iniquitous. Given the murderous havoc wreaked by the US-UK in Iraq, it is not surprising that the resistance wages on against an immoral occupation.  The sham elections have meant nothing to the level of resistance. As journalist Robert Fisk presciently warned at the time of the so-called elections, “No one I met yesterday believes the insurgency will end -- many thought it would grow more ferocious -- and the Shi’ites in the polling stations said with one voice that they were also voting to rid Iraq of the Americans, not to legitimize their presence. This is a message that the Americans and British will ignore at their peril.” (6)


The coordinated explosions of ten suicide-car bombs across Baghdad on 15 July demonstrated further the cogency of Fisk’s warning. According to occupation collaborators, at least 25 people were killed and more than 100 were wounded. Western leaders’ expressions-of-outrage at the terrorism are noticeably hard to find.


Reuters continues to regurgitate the imperialist line that the bombing are “orchestrated by foreign militants like al Qaeda’s Iraq wing in alliance with Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab insurgents.” (7) The reference to Arabs as foreigners is a shameless journalism that reveals either ignorance or something more sinister. The allocation of Arab people into foreign nationalities designated by outside powers is based on the British deceit and the backstabbing of allies that foolishly assisted the British empire during World War 1.


That the bombings in Iraq are greeted with such a stifled response in comparison to the London bombings speaks volumes about a war for oil made easier by racist undertones.


As much as one can understand what causes terrorism, whether the state or retail variety, it is difficult and morally questionable to construe “sense” out of such wanton, violent acts. However, insofar as understanding the root causes can thwart future acts of terrorism, the exercise in understanding is morally necessary. For humanity to cohabit the planet in peace, an equitable sharing of the planet and its treasures is fundamental.


Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia. He can be reached at: 

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(1) Sonni Efron, “U.S. Diplomats Decry ‘Military Coup’,” Nowar Paix, 9 May 2003.


(2) Dahr Jamail, “Baghdad Doctors Reporting Cluster Bombs in Falluja, Harrassment of Patients by Troops,” Iraq Dispatches, 19 April 2004.
(3) Haiti Information Project, “UN ‘Peacekeepers’ in Haiti Accused of Massacre,” Haiti Action, 12 July 2005. An especially gory still from a video shows “31 year-old Leonce Chery moments after a headshot ripped through his jaw. Chery was clearly unarmed as he lay bleeding to death in a pool of his own blood.” It is a photo that might evoke the war-busting impact attributed to the horrific photo of the terrified girl running naked through Trang Bang, South Vietnam.


(4) Will Dunham, “Rumsfeld says Iraq killings reflect human nature,”, 11 February 2004.


(5) Anthony Read and David Fisher, The Proudest Day: India’s Long Road to Independence (W.W. Norton, 1997), 162-178. One writer contends that the US is now seeking to militaristically entice India to serve as an adjunct of hyperempire (see Siddharth Varadarajan, “America, India and the outsourcing of imperial overreach,” The Hindu, 13 July 2005).


(6) Robert Fisk, “Triumph and tragedy for Iraq,” The Star, 31 January 2005.


(7) Peter Graff, “Ten suicide bombs in Iraqi capital, 25 dead,” Reuters, 15 July 2005.

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