The Empire Strikes Back


First, there was the explosion, then the collapse. Then words rushed in: vermin, cowards. Posters promised, respectively, that Jesus, Peace, and War were the answer. As Bush and his posse wage retaliation, we think not just of what has happened, but what will happen next. For a response, the Voice turned to the griots, teachers, and critics whose words have helped us keep on keeping on. The question: Is there an alternative to a military response to the events of September 11? If so, what might it be?

Isabel Allende, author of Portrait in Sepia A massive Marshall Plan for the third world is required to help diminish the gap between rich and poor. The “gated community” mentality will not keep the underprivileged subdued and invisible.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and author of Anger By punishing Afghanistan—and we are not even sure we would be punishing the right people—we will make more suffering. They will suffer and they will always hit back and we will suffer also. Face what you think is the cause of your suffering and say: I know you must have suffered a lot in order to have done such a thing to us. Have we contributed to your suffering? If you say this sincerely, it is not a lack of courage but a courageous act. Military power cannot buy peace. Only sincerity and humanity can do this.

Howard Zinn, author of The People’s History of the United States Treat this as if a criminal is taking refuge in a neighborhood of poor, desperate people who will not give him away. Try to apprehend the evil one. Don’t bomb the neighborhood, but clean it up with food, jobs, good housing, and health care, in order to get at the root of terrorism and eliminate the pool of desperation from which terrorists are recruited.

Ellen Willis, director of NYU’s cultural journalism program Deliberate destruction on such a scale—the mass murder of over 6000 people!—can’t be allowed to go unpunished, not morally and not practically. To allow this would reveal to ourselves, our enemies, and our allies that we are willing to violate our most basic social compact, to “provide for the common defense.” But we also need to find the political will to address the economic misery and theocratic tyranny that produce fundamentalist violence.

Eduardo Galeano, author of Upside Down (reprinted with permission, La Jornada) In the battle of Good versus Evil, it is always the common people who fill the graves. Contempt for the popular will is one of the many common threads between state terrorism and private terrorism. In Porto Alegre, at the beginning of the year, the Algerian revolutionary leader Ahmed Ben Bella warned, “This system, which has already made the cows mad, is driving the people mad.” And the madmen, mad with hate, act exactly the same as the power that produces them.

Katha Pollitt, Nation columnist and author of Subject to Debate What if the U.S. offered to lift nonmilitary sanctions on Iraq in return for Osama bin Laden, who would be tried at the international criminal court? As for Afghanistan, perhaps the most miserable place on earth at the moment, the government should take the money it would spend on bombs and soldiers and use half of it to help the wretched Afghan people and support those among them who favor democracy, human rights—especially women’s rights and ethnic cooperation—and the other half to Pakistan in return for withdrawing its support for the Taliban.

Robin D.G. Kelley, history professor, NYU, and coauthor of Three Strikes In 1932, a group of French and Caribbean Surrealists got together and wrote a brief called “Murderous Humanitarianism,” vowing to change “the imperialist war, in its chronic and colonial form, into a civil war.” I say the same thing: We need a civil war, class war, whatever, to put an end to U.S. policies that endanger all of us. Imagine a U.S. foreign policy committed to real democracy in the world, ending poverty with no strings attached or profit motive, respecting Islamic concerns regarding Western occupation of sacred land. Rather than beat up a whole nation, we could identify and isolate those directly responsible and bring them to trial and, as we should have done with the Confederate South, make them liable for damages by seizing assets.

Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair columnist and author of The Trial of Henry Kissinger The last time I was invited to contribute to a Voice symposium, I was asked to specify the highest and lowest cultural points of the last two decades. I replied that the lowest point was the fatwah against Salman Rushdie, with the capitulation by publishing houses and many pseudo-intellectuals to the supposed imperatives of religious feeling. The high point was the ultimately successful resistance to such blackmail. I’ll take this opportunity to repeat myself: The struggle against theocratic fascism is one of the main struggles of our time; it started long before 11 September 2001; no compromise with such an enemy is either possible or desirable; and those who wish otherwise, or who stand aside, or who look for excuses, will still be treated with contempt (and as if they were “collateral damage”) by a resourceful foe who cannot win and who, therefore, can as well as must be pitilessly defeated. Secular democracy is not a free gift; it will require volunteers to defend itself against all enemies foreign and domestic. No time like the present.

Alice Walker, novelist In a war on Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden will either be left alive, while thousands of impoverished, frightened people are bombed into oblivion around him, or he will be killed in a bombing attack for which he seems quite prepared. But what would happen to his cool armor if he could be reminded of all the good, nonviolent things he has done? Further, what would happen to him if he could be brought to understand the preciousness of the lives he has destroyed? I firmly believe the only punishment that works is love.

Noam Chomsky, linguistics professor, MIT When the U.S. launched a murderous terrorist war against Nicaragua, Nicaragua did not set off bombs in Washington but took the matter to the World Court, which ordered the U.S. to cease its “unlawful use of force” and to pay substantial reparations. The U.S. responded by escalating the terrorist attack. Nicaragua approached the Security Council, which called on all states to observe international law (vetoed by the U.S.), and then went to the General Assembly, which passed a similar resolution (again vetoed by the U.S.). No one will stop the U.S. if it follows the procedures that it blocked in the case of Nicaragua.

Gloria Steinem, founder, Ms. magazine Many of the Afghan women who have been warning us about the Taliban for years say that bombing would be the surest way to unite most Afghanis around them. We need an act as positive as the terrorists were negative. For example, a massive airlift of food and medicine into Afghanistan. Instead of dividing the world into Islam and the West, we need to make clear that we are part of the same world.

Paul Berman, author of A Tale of Two Utopias Should we go to war? Dear friends, we needn’t bother. War has come to us. If our enemies would stop attacking us, that would be peace. But even if we adopted Jerry Falwell’s most visionary ideas and abolished gay rights and the ACLU (thus eliminating America’s putative sins), and even if we followed the left-wing Falwells and stopped trying to preserve the Jewish state and allowed Saddam Hussein to resume his massacres (thus eliminating America’s other putative sins), even if we did all that, our enemies would go on attacking. So we had better defend ourselves.

Raghida Dergham, senior diplomatic correspondent, Al-Hayat For this global struggle against terrorism to succeed, it needs to be deep and thorough not broad and shallow. The administration must dare to tell Israel it has to end its settlements and occupation. The Arab and Islamic world must self-examine and recognize the need for democratic processes. The American public needs to learn foreign policy, not only to know the enemy, but to learn about the world as the U.S. shapes up new bilateral, regional, and global relations.

Michael Ignatieff, professor of the practice of human rights policy, Harvard University Military action is not the only thing we can do: international police co-operation, extradition and trials, new conventions outlawing the harboring of terrorists. But to exclude the military option is to misunderstand what we are faced with: a genuine threat to the territory of the United States and all states who ally with her.

Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed I don’t know how you wage war against one person; it doesn’t make sense. I can imagine a commando-type raid to capture Bin Laden, then a trial, with evidence, before the world court. But that would not address the vast global inequalities in which terrorism is ultimately rooted. What is so heartbreaking to me as a feminist is that the strongest response to corporate globalization and U.S. military domination is based on such a violent and misogynist ideology.

Marshall Berman, political science professor, CUNY, and author of All That Is Solid Melts Into Air The alternative: Follow the money. Stop the flow. This couldn’t have been done without a global monetary network. The U.S. government has been so blasé about this piece of it because money laundering has become synonymous with American capitalism. Also, read John LeCarré, who says American intelligence is overblown, obsessed with a technological fix, and has no sense of human character. Our “intelligence” has a lot of data but doesn’t know the first thing about how to listen.

Naomi Klein, author of No Logo The left needs to reject, once and for all, the label “anti-globalization.” As Bush forces the world to join America’s war, sidelining the United Nations and the international courts, we need to become passionate defenders of true multilateralism. What we are seeing is not a global response to terrorism but the internationalization of one country’s foreign policy objectives. This is the trademark of U.S. international relations, from the WTO negotiating table to Kyoto. We can make these connections not as “anti-Americans” but as true internationalists.

Rabbi Robert J. Marx, president of National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice How can we declare to the nations of the world that they are either for us or against us, while we demonstrate our contempt for the world by greedily devouring its resources, by refusing to join the Kyoto Environmental Pact, by rejecting the 1972 ban on biological weapons, and by refusing to join the world court. Above all, we need to begin to feel that we are part of the world, until now we have been spared its pain. Now we need to share its sacrifice.

Suheir Hammad, poet Before any military action is ever taken anywhere, all citizens of the world will recite the pledge below:

Me, I pledge my allegiance/to the love of all of humanity/and to the aspirations we all share/one species/one blood/one love/one destiny/one love/one destiny/under all manifestations of god/indivisible/with liberty and/medicine and shelter and/food and self-determination and freedom of religion and freedom of expression and freedom of movement and love and justice/for all.

Vivian Gornick, author of The Situation and the Story A military strike? Where? What? When? Above all, against whom? If you hit them in Iraq, they’ll re-group in Libya. if you squash them in Libya, they’ll rise up in Afghanistan. They have struck us, and in their strike announced: We’d rather die—and take you with us—than go on living in the world you have forced us to occupy. Force will get us nowhere. It is reparations that are owing, not retribution.

Vandana Shiva, author of The Stolen Harvest Military response to terrorism aggravates the conditions that give rise to terrorism. It will trigger a chain reaction of violence. The alternative to the military response is the creation of peace and democracy in every sphere of life and every level of society. Fighting for economic democracy and the creation of people’s security is at the heart of finding peaceful responses to terrorism.

Bernardine Dohrn, director of the Children and Family Justice Center Nothing justifies the unspeakable attack against human beings. And if our rejection of terrorism encompasses all forms—individual, group, and official—we are obliged, even amid tidal waves of sorrow and solidarity, fury and fear, to openly reckon with U.S. interventions, tyranny, and terror. No aggrandizement of American power will yield safety or security. We need to strengthen our longings for peace and our active resistance to xenophobia. Can we choose to share our fate with other peoples on the uneasy terrain where equity and justice are the only possible paths to peace?

Todd Gitlin, author of Media Unlimited Objectors to war must also be conscientious. “Bombing the hell out of Afghanistan,” as recommended by Senator Zell Miller of Georgia, may or may not have been rejected. To the degree that the American assaults are indiscriminate, American vengeance will fuse with fundamentalist paranoia and generate terrorist recruits. But even less unjust wars will likely blow back on us. Thinking with our blood won’t do. I wish I knew what would.

David Barsamian, author of Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting The U.S. can pursue what it did in the Balkans, when it acted through the International Court at the Hague. These criminals—Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians—were apprehended at almost no additional cost to human life. It seems there’s a double-standard for “Islamic terrorists” who are being tried in public by a cowboy administration. The U.S. is harboring a Haitan death-squad leader, Emmanuel Constant. Should the Haitain air force bomb the U.S.?