Two 9/11s, two stories

It is, of course, the anniversary of September 11 which to the huge majority of people means the remembrance of the terrorist attack on New York and Washington two years ago which resulted in the deaths of around 3,000 people.

Of course, (especially if you read the Guardian) you will know, September 11 is also the 30th anniversary of the CIA backed Pinochet coup in Chile which also led to the slaughter of thousands.

Both events merit remembrance, both tell us something about the US, the world and how it has changed but the coincidence of the two anniversaries is unfortunate in one respect – it allows some people to escape from the uncomfortable truths about the atrocity at the World Trade Centre and take refuge in the comforts of old cold war certainties.

In the Guardian today Roger Burbach, looks back at the events in Chile but also feels the need to bring September 11, 2001 into the picture.

The years to come will focus on the great divide that has emerged out of the two September 11s. On the one side stands an arrogant unilateralist clique in the US that engages in state terrorism and human rights abuses while tearing up international treaties.

On the other is a global movement that is determined to advance a broad conception of human rights and human dignity through the utilisation of law, extradition treaties and limited policing activities.

If only that were true.

Certainly there is a divide between the US and those in the second group that Burbach describes. But it is extremely dishonest to suggest that September 11 brought that divide to light.

It is bizarre to have to point this out but the divide that emerged on that day (and it is one that Burbach manages to totally ignore in his piece) it is that between fanatical Islamic terrorists and the rest of us.

I would have thought that most observers would have noted this divide given that the past two years have consisted of two wars which are to a greater and lesser degree related to that division of the world.

The headline to the piece is Two 9/11’s, One Story and it is sub-headed To understand better what happened in New York in 2001, go back to Chile in 1973. To which the only reply has to be – Why?

In what way were the actions of Bin Laden’s charges in anyway related to the struggle for democracy in Chile or a reaction to its supression?

I presume that the author did not write the headline or the subhead but the whole flow of his argument hints at but never makes explicit the link. He simply outlines the shameful and reactionary role of the US in Chile and then moves on to what has happened since the WTC and appears to suggest that Afghanistan and Iraq were simply more of the same.

The nearest he gets to an explanation is this:

Similarities abound between the emergence of terrorist networks in Latin America and events leading to the rise of al-Qaida. Osama bin Laden first became involved in militant Islamist activities when he went to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight with the Mujahideen against the Soviet-backed regime that had taken power. Even in the 1980s it was recognised that many of those fighting against the Soviets and the Afghan government were religious fanatics who had no loyalty to their US sponsors. Ronald Reagan likened them to America’s “founding fathers”. …….

Today, we see the consequences of the Bush administration’s refusal to learn from the past. Instead of ending transgressions against other nations, the US has spread carnage and war, violating civil liberties and human rights.

But what really are the similarities between the coup in Chile and the wars since 9/11?

In 1973 the United States acted as a violent enemy of democracy and gave its support to mass murder in the overthrow of a democratically elected socialist government. If you want to call it state terrorism, the label fits pretty well. Of course the US had Chilean-specific reasons for its shameful acts but primarily the support for the bloody coup in Chile was part of an overall strategy during the cold war.

In 2001, the United States was a victim of an attack by the violent enemies of democracy. Mass murder was committed against innocent civilians by reactionary religious fanatics whose goal is a medieval order created by terrorism.

Since then the United States has engaged in two wars; crucially it has not used local proxies as in Chile but actually carried out the wars itself along with its allies.

The result of the US-led war in Afghanistan was the removal of the Taliban, a clerical-fascist regime that harboured the medievalist terrorists and had oppressed its people. The US facilitated the creation of a broad-based representative government that it hopes will follow a path to democracy.

The result of the war in Iraq was the removal of a vicious tyranny which had waged war against its people for three decades. The US facilitated the creation of a broad-based governing council that it aims to see transformed into a democratically-elected government.

In other words, in the two wars since September 11, 2001, the US has been on the side of democracy and freedom against murderous dictatorships and terrorism – the exact opposite of 1973.

And that is what Burbach calls “not learning the lesson”?

Just as in 1973 though, when the US was not concerned primarily with the fate of the ordinary Chilean, the American government has not acted not out of some curious interest in the liberty of Afghans or Iraqis but as part of a broader strategy, that includes a war on terrorists but also includes a spreading and reinforcing of US hegemony.

The ‘big picture’ goal of the US elite has not fundamentally changed but the methods utilised certainly have and those methods make the left’s cold-war positions no longer automatically tenable.

When the method of hegemony meant the US supporting Pinochet, Saddam or the Contras against ‘our people’, then it was easy for the left tp decide where it stood. But when the method involves liberating Afghans or Iraqis (our people?) it makes things complicated. It involves a rethink and rethinking is not something a large part of the left seems to have much capacity for.

Aside from the intellectual challenge, the aftermath of September 11, 2001, was difficult for many on the left for emotional reasons. It was not hard to declare your solidarity for the Chileans. It was strange to be in a position where your sympathy was with the American people, to see the citizen’s of the world’s powerful nation as victims – we hadn’t been there before.

Clearly some have found their ‘solution’ by airbrushing the terrorists out of the story of September 11.

We should remember Chile and honour the victims of the coup. But the coincidence of anniversaries cannot be used to escape from the complex realities of the present into the safety of an era that has ended.

It is a complex situation but surely not that difficult for internationalists?

When the US moved against Chilean democrats it struck against all those who hoped for peaceful social change in the world – we stood with the Chileans.

In the same way, the terrorists of 9/11 struck not just against America but against all of us who wish to live in a peaceful and free world.

They are not just America’s enemy.