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Chris Ford: Anti-American Imperialist Sentiment Behind September 11, 2001 Attacks

Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Last week I was not able to blog due to the fact that I have had a problem in changing over to a new internet service provider and consequently I missed the September 11th anniversary and the chance to blog about my views surrounding it on that very date.

The tragedy of September 11th, 2001 will not be forgotten by me and nor anyone else who witnessed the events on our television screens that early morning Wednesday, September 12th (New Zealand Time). I had my television on in my bedroom and it was tuned to TV One's overnight feed of the BBC World TV news channel. I woke up at about 1.05am, just as the second plane hit the second World Trade Centre Tower in New York. I remember my blurry eyes trying to focus on what initially appeared to be a tall building on fire and then, as my focus improved after waking up, I realised from the rolling news ticker that it was that famous New York landmark. I then switched between the BBC and CNN for the rest of the night and it was one on which I didn't sleep on at all. It was effectively the plot of Tom Clancy's novel 'Executive Orders' (where all the American political elite are killed by a suicide pilot while listening to the President deliver a Congressional address) brought to life.

No doubt the events of September 11, 2001 were horrifying as thousands of ordinary people were killed and injured that day. These dead and injured came from all walks of life, religions and nationalities (including two New Zealanders.) Yes, they were all innocent victims.

But what must be remembered as well is that it was probably only a matter of time until the US was struck by a deadly terrorist attack by Islamic fundamentalists in retaliation for the years of unjustified intervention that the Middle East has been subjected to. Ever since the first American and British oil companies had set up shop in the Middle East to exploit the new found natural resource, oil, in the early part of the 20th century, the West has subjected the Middle East to the machinations of modern geopolitics.

The peoples of the region, mainly Arab and Muslim in the majority, watched as their region was plundered by the Western powers and subjected to neoimperialist military interventions by the British, French and Americans across the last century. These interventions, where the Arabic and other peoples of the region were manipulated and treated as mere bystanders in the struggles of the larger powers, are too numerous to name but some stand out.

First, there was the British and French carve up of the old Arab territories of the Turkish Ottoman Empire after the First World War. Second, there was the subsequent establishment of puppet regimes by Britain and France in nations such as Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Third, there was the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 whose foundation was not just or peaceful in that it disregarded the rights of the resident Arab-Palestinian population in the process. Fourth, this gave the Americans a powerful ally, Israel, who would become its de-facto military and political enforcer in the region so that its multinationals could continue to exploit the oil and other natural resources of the region. Fifth, there were the two American military interventions in Lebanon (1958 and 1982) as well as the British sponsored coups in Iraq and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) inspired overthrow of the left-wing nationalist/progressive Mossadegh regime in Iran during the early 1950s. Sixth, there was the US intervention in both the Iraq-Iran War (on the side of Iraq) and then, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Americans under George Bush Senior saw this as a threat to their regional dominance and using the fig leaf of the United Nations, gathered a coalition that ejected Iraq from Kuwait.

All of these actions and the continued American support for Israel while the Jewish state continued to occupy the Palestinian territories seized in the Six Day War of 1967 added to the increasing hostility shown towards the US and its interests in the region. I believe that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the region could have been halted in its tracks if the US, Britain and France had backed off from their neocolonialist policies. For example, the US/British hostility to the progressive nationalist regime of Abdul Gamal Nasser in Egypt during the 1950s only served to fuel the view that any progressive left regime would be undermined by the West and that it was better to adopt a stronger Islamic-based political alternative as a counterfoil.

So it was that Iran became the first country to adopt an Islamic-theocratic system of government following the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Khohmeini in 1979. This action in itself heralded the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East (which basically mirrored the rise of Christian fundamentalist politics in the US at the same time.) This gave credence to the emergence of radical groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas who were sponsored by Iran and served as the main anti-Israeli proxies in key strategic countries such as Lebanon.

At the same time as the US (under both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan) were opposing the Islamist regime in Iran, they were backing Islamist inspired Mujahadeen fighters in Afghanistan who were at war against the Soviet invaders of their country. This great paradox of the US opposing Shiite Islamist fundamentalism in Iran on the one hand while assisting Islamist elements in a bordering country on the other, should be seen as one of the greatest strategic and political mistakes they have ever made. Through clandestinely supporting Afghan fighters (including a young Saudi militant Osama bin Laden), they merely helped create the power vaccuum that followed the Soviet exit in mid-1989. This eventually led to the Taliban coming to power in 1996 and, under that regime, Bin Laden and his new Al-Qaeda organisation (an outgrowth of the earlier CIA-backed organisation that Bin Laden was a part of) were granted sanctuary there in 1998.

Therefore, the US, through their cumulative actions in exploiting the Middle East, supporting fundamentalist Islamists including Bin Laden while opposing (in their own selfish interests) any regime that threatened its hegemony over the region including Islamic Iran, simply brought the day closer when America would itself be attacked in response. In this sense, the events that led up to September 11th could be compared to the situation with Germany after World War One when it was wrongly punished for having supposedly started that war through a series of punitive sanctions and indemnities. This created the economic, social and political climate that produced Adolf Hitler and the Nazis who then went onto wage aggressive war in Europe after 1939.

With that historical comparison in mind, it was most likely that Bin Laden knew (in blessing the September 11 attacks) what he was about to get into in terms of provoking an overwhelming American response against Afghanistan that would then turn into a prolonged guerilla war where the strategic advantage would eventually swing back in favour of the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies as it has done. The US in its desire for vegeance and to show who was still the region's ultimate boss has now fought and largely lost two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in this lies a lesson - the US should have chosen a different, more measured response post-9/11 and also should never have delved into the murky politics of the region in the first place.

That is why the desire for the US to exercise its political hegemony over the Middle East was largely, in my view, behind the September 11th, 2001 attacks. Although a tragedy for all who those whose lives were taken so horrifically that day, what Americans must start to think about is as to how their country is viewed in the world and not just as some shining beacon on a hill that is a democratic exemplar to the world.

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