Wednesday, March 19, 2008

9/11: Shifting Blood

Reviewing South Park's take on the 9/11 truth movement ("The Mystery of the Urinal Deuce"), a classic bit of satire, I began thinking to myself about the 9/11 truth movement. I was wondering, as I often do, what common ground progressive and radical people could have with these folks. And I began to realize: Neither story of what happened that day, the conventional explanation of a cell connected to the bin Laden-oriented movement or the various 9/11 truth hypotheses about sleeper cells or the US government having advanced warning and allowing the planes to hit or bombs being planted in the basement or missiles being fired at the Pentagon or any permutation, really actually changes anything. Either or both could be true and we as Americans, we as a species, would face some irrespective truths.

It wouldn't change that thousands of innocent people died for no justifiable reason, and millions more were collectively terrified of losing loved ones, saddened by death, and angered by violence. It wouldn't change that Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, and their respective systems are without question responsible for innumerable atrocities and should be brought to justice.

It wouldn't change that the US government used the atrocities of that day and sullied the memories of those who had died by launching a new cycle of hatred. It wouldn't change that the US government and its elites had a vested motive in seeing their own people die because, whoever the perpetrator, the attacks facilitated military, economic and political objectives of an extraordinary reactionary nature. It wouldn't change that we have a political system that benefits from, indeed in a twisted sense needs and feeds off of, chaos, disorder and violence.

It wouldn't change the fact that, either way, the events of that day in September are extraordinarily poorly understood given their extensive study by just about everyone in the world. And it wouldn't change the fact that this ignorance is due to the imperial system refusing to investigate what happened, blocking the 9/11 Commission and others trying to discover everything about how and why the events transpired. It wouldn't change the motive for this refusal: That a simple myth of Osama masterminding the entire enterprise on dialysis in a cave in Afghanistan is far more useful to imperial prerogatives than the truth, whatever that truth is. (Of course, if the US government were behind the attacks, it would provide an additional motive, but the one I mentioned is more than sufficient). It wouldn't change Chomsky's sobering argument that even months after the invasion Mueller and US intelligence agencies could only be "probably" sure about what precisely happened and about Afghanistan's ties. It wouldn't change the fact that funding for the enterprise supposedly came from Germany and the United Arab Emirates, nor would it change that neither of those countries were bombed (unlike Afghanistan), because that would have been insane.

It wouldn't change the fact that the attacks opened an exceedingly short window wherein the majority of the world expressed compassion for the United States, compassion that in large part stemmed from their own knowledge of what it feels like to have your buildings blown up and your people in terror. It wouldn't change the tragic reality that the Bush Administration squandered that opportunity to advance their and their true constituency's core interests at the cost of insuring that hatred and violence would become even more entrenched. It wouldn't change the alternate reality that could have been, where that sympathy for the globe was parlayed into a sea change wherein America would abandon its imperial domination of the globe and work with others to root out terrorists whereever they may be and bring them to justice, even if those terrorists are white and on cushy book tours or even American Presidents, current and former.

Osama bin Laden could have hijacked every single plane and escaped in a Cobra Commander-esque rocket pod and it still wouldn't change that he, and the mujahadeen, and Saddam, and Islam Karimov, and the Shah, and a long list of others owed their power and existence in no small part to the CIA and American imperial power. It wouldn't change that the bombings of Afghanistan and Iraq were criminal idiocies that turned both countries into cauldrons of chaos, terror and death. It wouldn't change that Saddam Hussein had no connection with Osama bin Laden and no plausible connection with any serious terrorism, yet the invasion of Iraq caused an explosion of new opportunities for radical Islamic terrorism. It wouldn't change that al Qaeda as a whole is stronger now than in 2001, that Osama bin Laden has not been brought to justice, or that the State Department estimates that terrorist actions are becoming more, not less, common in the world. (And it wouldn't change that the State Department's interpretation of terrorism would never include US terror against the globe). It wouldn't change that justifiable rage at what Osama did was no justification or excuse for anything that came after, for retribution and death being visited upon Afghani civilians who had done nothing to Americans and were Osama and the Taliban's victims.

It wouldn't change the fact that all one needs to know about the bankruptcy of the system is in plain view, easy to find. It wouldn't change the fact that one can tell something about the bankruptcy of mainstream culture when it can be seriously argued that it is justified to bomb a country and turn it into a terrorist battleground because that way "we'll" fight them "there" not "here"; in short, using innocent people who have done no wrong to you as human shields so you don't have to be inconvenienced. Or that no one bothers to mention that bombing a country that has weapons of mass destruction is not especially likely to allow one to secure those weapons, but is much more likely to lead to those weapons and materials being looted and sold on the black market. It wouldn't change the fact that conservatives may end up being vindicated in a tragically ironic way when Americans are killed in a chemical weapons attack or by a dirty bomb facilitated by the capture of Iraqi material... thanks to the invasion. It wouldn't change the fact that the average American needs no more reason to resist the system than what their own eyes and ears tell them. They know how bad it is: They suffer from the poverty, the failing health care system, the myths of opulence juxtaposed against the failure of slowing growth rates, the "outsourcing", the mind-numbing work that condemns them to eight hours of servitude daily in a supposed democracy. It wouldn't change that all that is needed to foment change is not stories about US government complicity in yet another crime (as if adding a few thousand more dead really turns the government from saint to sinner compared to their millions) but a movement that can unmask both the injustices of the system and its vulnerability to courageous resistance. And, as South Park's creators Trey and Matt point out, it wouldn't change the fact that, barring hope that the system can be confronted, all the majority of the population accepting their theories would do is further amplify the belief that the system is invincible.

It wouldn't change the fact that the mainstream corporate media is structurally designed to obfuscate essential truths, to safeguard the egos and guilt of the rich that it serves, that power in our society is concentrated in a very small set of hands.

And even if the CIA planned every step of the hijackings, even if the Pentagon was struck by a missile, even if the plane sent to hit the White House was shot down, even if bombs were planted in the WTC buildings, it still wouldn't change that the 9/11 truth movement seems to cling to some disturbing myths. Like the quasi-racist notion that a group of Muslims couldn't pull this off: It had to be white people and their intelligence agencies. Or the apparent belief many of them have that America was at one point a city on a hill and only recently has it been corrupted by bad politicians. Or the lack of insight they have into the core fact that all the conspiracy theories would prove is that a small group of people did something horrible, saying very little about the whole systemic injustice the world faces. It wouldn't change that their singular and often fanatical focus is used by the mainstream media to ridicule those who resist atrocities. It wouldn't change the fact that a large portion of the population does already believe them and that there has nonetheless been no revolutionary upturn in activism, a sign of the real impact of their critique: Hopelessness and cynicism.

And what if the American government were somehow behind the attacks? Would it change the extraordinary incompetence of FEMA in New Orleans (an incompetence especially palpable to those with a better "tan"), or the inability of regulatory agencies to stop massive corporate fraudsters from ripping off even the rich the government protects, or the failure of the strongest military on the planet's surface to battle an underfunded and underarmed insurgency in Iraq? Would it change that the private insurance system the US runs by costs more per person to operate and is therefore by definition deeply inefficient?Would it change that the system as a whole is riddled not only with criminality but actual inability to perform basic tasks?

And what if the American government were not behind the attacks? Would it change their complicity in creating a climate of hate and violence that facilitates attacks like 9/11? Would it change that even Eisenhower knew that the perception of America and Americans as evil had to do with the US government's campaigns of warfare, overthrowing elected regimes, installing dictators, blocking economic growth, and securing control of other peoples' natural resources, and that he and every President after made a decision to continue this pattern even if it would harm Americans? Would it change that many of the organizations that are responsible for these atrocities were created by the CIA to punish the Russians during an invasion that Brzezinski claimed he was responsible for? Would it change that the US government should have been able to prevent the crimes of that day had they not made several crucial mistakes along the way? Would it change that the FAA should have noticed the planes making massive deviations from planned flight paths, that the FAA should have alerted trained scrambler jets, and that if they were not in on the attacks the US government's bureaucracy must then be guilty of truly colossal ineptitude? Would it change that even the CIA admitted sadly that had Clinton not been so determined to crucify the Sudanese he could have accepted data they had compiled that may have allowed arrests and investigations to be made that would have prevented 9/11? Would it change Time's allegation that, due to the government failing to actually adopt Richard Clarke's recommendations, that "many of those in the know-the spooks, the buttoned-down bureaucrats, the law-enforcement professionals in a dozen countries-were almost frantic with worry that a major terrorist attack against American interests was imminent. It wasn't averted because 2001 saw a systematic collapse in the ability of Washington's national-security apparatus to handle the terrorist threat[?]" Would it even change the fact Michael Moore decried post-2001 that people were being allowed to bring lighters on board thanks to pressure from tobacco companies?

I suppose if the American government was behind 9/11, one might be skeptical about moves like PATRIOT and undermining the Geneva Conventions to reduce civil liberties in the hope of catching terrorists; after all, 9/11 truth activists point out, the terrorists are right here on American soil. But a conservative could accept that the US government planned 9/11 and nonetheless argue that there are real threats from abroad and that there needs to be enhanced means to deal with them. More importantly, perfectly mainstream understandings are more than adequate to respond to PATRIOT and moves to justify torture. After all, if the US government had been doing its job, it wouldn't have needed PATRIOT. It could have stopped antagonizing Arabs, or not created the mujahadeen in imperial war games, or accepted the Sudanese data, or listened to the warnings and fears of its intelligence agencies. It could have prevented the attacks years ago by making any number of different moves. Adding more plays to the playbook of a team that can't throw the ball, to use an oft-maligned sports metaphor, seems hardly the correct move. If even after the US stops behaving in ways that the Left has rightly predicted would spread hate and the desire to strike back with terror, if the US' bureaucracy is brought under control and actually does its job with the knowledge and capacities it had, if the US military stops creating enemies by invading countries and killing innocents, we still have a risk of terrorism, then perhaps we can talk about curtailing civil liberties (and not simply be rushed into doing so by fear and unaccountable political systems). And the usage of torture's mainstream success record has been providing "intelligence" that Osama was connected to Saddam Hussein and that Saddam Hussein was imminently capable of destroying the world, hardly a stellar performance. (And, of course, that "intelligence" is not only obviously wrong in hindsight, but was clearly and transparently wrong then, and the CIA knew it). After all, torture has been banned not just because we have come together to say that there are minimal standards of human decency and treatment but because torturing people causes them to tell you what you want to hear, not necessarily the truth. All PATRIOT and easing of human rights restrictions allow is the capacity of the American government to harass peace activists, innocent Muslims and Arabs, and all sorts of other groups it doesn't like.

Oh, and I almost forgot about racial profiling, which 9/11 truth movements would theoretically undermine. Of course, racial profiling is idiotic and unfair because it assumes that because of the actions of a tiny minority of any population, however disproportionate to that population, it is justified to harass the majority. It is idiotic and unfair because no one recommended looking for white skinheads after the Oklahoma City bombing. It is idiotic and unfair because it is not the case, as Bill Mahr seems to think, that al Qaeda is exclusively Arab: As anyone who pays attention knows, it can recruit Asian Indonesians, black Sudanese, and even the occasional John Walker Lindh. It is idiotic because such policies alienate precisely that group of people who need to be most communicated with: Muslim and Arab communities, who could be valuable assets in preventing terror. It is idiotic and unfair because ordinary people's ability to identify "Arabs" or "Muslims" has been severely called into question by their abusing Sikhs, who are generally neither but wear a turban and therefore match the stereotypical concept of those groups. It is idiotic because it makes people look for criteria that have an infinitesimal chance of true positives and a colossal chance of false positives, i.e. people's skin color and appearance, rather than criteria that all terrorists of all colors and ethnicities share. And, as rude as it may be to point out, it's idiotic and unfair because we will never racially profile for those who are truly responsible for massive terrorist acts: Primarily rich old white men.

Neither truth about that day would change corporate malfeasance, or ecological destruction, or the omnicidal risk of nuclear war that has not declined noticeably since the Cold War, or the major nuclear powers' undermining of non-proliferation norms and treaties, or cruise ships dumping their waste in resplendent coral reefs, or the thermostat being slowly and inexorably turned up on the world, or Bill Gates and the Walton family having more wealth than most countries, or the utter failure of market and corporate economies in providing for the majority of the world, or the criminal Israeli persecution of the Palestinians, or the elections Bush stole in 2000 and 2004. It wouldn't change that the American economy is being spent on a seemingly endless imperial war, that several thousand American soldiers died for this unjust cause, and that both the latter charges are mainstream but the million or so innocent Iraqi lives and the million or more refugees are beyond the pale to mention.

No, I'm afraid that the 9/11 truth movement's ultimate goal is even less effective than swapping deck chairs on the Titanic. It is simply reallocating blood from one set of hands, the al Qaeda network, to another, the American empire. The crucial insight is that both hands are already soaked with carnage.

I'm not saying that there's no utility in investigating the truth of what happened, nor at taking the American government to task both for its inability to actually close the books on 9/11 (i.e. figure out what happened and bring all the perpetrators and connected individuals to justice) and for its cynical usage of 9/11 to promote its own goals, damn the consequences. I'm not saying that it's impossible that the US government could have performed such a task. I'm skeptical if only because the political ramifications for being caught would make Watergate look like South Park's Closetgate. I'm also skeptical because motive alone does not prove a crime: After all, in some ways the US government benefitted from the tsunami, yet no one alleges that the US government built an earthquake machine. Questioning the government about the true meaning and implications of 9/11 in all its forms is vital. And I think that many in the 9/11 truth movement are expressing skepticism about the motives of leaders and hope that they can be brought to justice, motives that no one in the Left should lambast.

There's one more thing these critiques don't change. They don't change the courage and humanity of the global resistance to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They don't change the need, the possibility, the responsibility to replace our existing systems of death and violence with systems that promote peace, justice, tolerance, diversity, efficiency and freedom. They don't change the bankrupt nature of the nation-state, or archaic forms of authority, or capitalism, or racism, or sexism. They don't change the fact that it is possible for us to create a new world, one where all the above facts chang, hopefully even the need to be angry at institutional injustice. Because if we do our job right, all of the above will be a sad memory of a time of hate and violence long since transcended.


Post a Comment

<< Home