In Why the Media Lies: The Corporate Structure of the Mass Media, we reviewed in detail the principal structural and institutional characteristics of the mass media, and concluded that these characteristics entail that the mass media is intrinsically subservient to elite interests. This is basically due to the fact that the mass media is ultimately an ideological institution framed by, and rooted in, the wider matrix of corporate elite power in society. As a consequence, the mass media largely propagates news and information in a manner that is skewered é and sometimes fabricated é in accordance with corporate elite interests and the ideological requirements legitimising those interests.
Here, we intend to briefly examine how the mass media pandered to elite interests in reporting the September 11th terrorist attacks, thus leading to the propagation of highly distorted, and sometimes fabricated, news and information. This will thus provide a clear example of how the mass media usually operates, not as an impartial provider of untainted facts, but rather as a highly partial provider of ideological legitimacy to elite interests and policies.
Many opinion-makers deride the idea that the September 11th terrorist attacks could have been somehow linked to American foreign policy. To seek such connections may be seen as adding insult to injury, or unpatriotic. At the same time, it is clear that such an outrage could not appear simply out of the blue. We have the explanation of George W. Bush, that it was an attack on freedom by terrorists who hate freedom. While this makes an excellent formula for a speech to elementary schoolers, little evidence can be found to support such a simple theory.
In reality, the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon constituted an atrocious, and indeed predictable, backlash rooted in decades if not centuries of oppression. To avert future acts of terrorism such as this, it is essential to understand the causes of this backlash in the West’s ongoing terrorisation and repression of the majority of the world’s population.
But this is exactly what the mass media has refused to do. On the contrary, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, many mainstream commentators labeled Black Tuesday as the worst act of terrorism in history. For example, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, head of the U.S. National Commission on Terrorism, declared that “this is a different order of magnitude… This is not only the worst terrorist attack in American history, it is the worst terrorist attack in history, period.”
There is no doubt that what occurred on September 11th 2001 was certainly the worst act of terrorism to be committed against the United States. But this sort of irresponsible commentary has served well to present a distorted ahistorical portrayal of the attacks, the result of which is that the United States is presented as an innocent victim of terrorism. Few mainstream commentators have paused to remind the public that, in reality, the United States itself has carried out and supported some of the worst acts of terrorism. The 11th September attacks, horrendous as they were, can barely be compared to the scale of atrocities carried out, for instance, by U.S.-backed terrorists in South America to secure U.S. interests, resulting in the mass murder of hundreds and thousands of innocent civilians. The internationally acclaimed American political analyst Dr. Michael Parenti provides a particularly acute overview:
“Since World War II, the U.S. government has given more than $200 billion in military aid to train, equip, and subsidize more than 2.3 million troops and internal security forces in more than eighty countries, the purpose being not to defend them from outside invasions but to protect ruling oligarchs and multinational corporate investors from the dangers of domestic anti-capitalist insurgency. Among the recipients have been some of the most notorious military autocracies in history, countries that have tortured, killed or otherwise maltreated large numbers of their citizens because of their dissenting political viewsé U.S. leaders profess a dedication to democracy. Yet over the past five decades, democratically elected reformist governmentsé were overthrown by pro-capitalist militaries that were funded and aided by the U.S. national security state.”
The ahistorical portrayal of the United States as a victim of terrorism has served well to justify a permanent posture of aggression as the defining characteristic of U.S. foreign policy. Absolving the U.S. government of any responsibility for its rich record of terrorist atrocities against civilians and governments of the Third World, the U.S. elite is empowered to launch a new crusade in order, supposedly, to wipe out international terrorism.
Despite a total lack of evidence that would stand up in a court of law, media and academic commentators prompted by Western government hints immediately speculated about the involvement of “Islamic fanatics”. It was not long before, Osama Bin Laden was labeled the chief culprit. The inconsistencies and vacuous nature of the evidence presented by the Bush administration and its allies to support its claims has, however, been largely ignored by the mass media. But in a rare and insightful piece published by the London Guardian, British journalist George Monbiot highlights the ridiculous nature of the proof of Bin Laden’s guilt:
“Like almost everyone on earth, I want to believe that the attack on New York was the work of a single despot and his obedient commando. But the more evidence U.S. intelligence presents to this effect, the less credible the story becomes.
“First there was the car. A man had informed the police, we were told, that he’d had a furious argument with some suspicious-looking Muslims in the parking lot at Boston airport. He led investigators to the car, in which they found a copy of the Qur’an and a flight manual in Arabic, showing that these were the fundamentalists who had hijacked one of the planes. Now flying an airliner is not one of those things you learn in the back of a car on the way to the airport. Either you know how to do it or you don’t. Leaving the Qu’ran unattended, a Muslim friend tells me, is considered sinful. And if you were about to perpetrate one of the biggest terrorist outrages the world has ever seen, would you draw attention to yourself by arguing over a parking place?
“Then there was the passport. The security services claim that a passport belonging to one of the hijackers was extracted from the rubble of the World Trade Centre. This definitive identification might help them to track the rest of the network. We are being asked to believe that a paper document from the cockpit of the first plane – the epicentre of an inferno which vapourised steel – survived the fireball and fell to the ground almost intact.
“When presented with material like this, I can’t help suspecting that intelligence agents have assembled the theory first, then sought the facts required to fit ité The West, in the name of civilisation, was insisting that Bin Laden was guilty, and it would find the evidence later.
“For these reasons and many others (such as the initial false certainties about the Oklahoma bombing and the Sudanese medicine factory, and the identification of live innocents as dead terrorists), I think we have some cause to regard the new evidence against Bin Laden with a measure of scepticismé [I]f the West starts chasing the wrong man across the Hindu Kush while the real terrorists are planning their next atrocity, this hardly guarantees our security.” 
It is worth noting that although one of the hijacker’s passports, as Monbiot reports, allegedly survived the WTC inferno é consisting of fire and heat over a 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit – according to FBI officials, all the Black Boxes were in contrast totally destroyed and rendered unusable. The Black Boxes, constituting a Flight Data Recorder and a Cockpit Voice Recorder in each plane, are specifically designed to withstand massive explosions. According to ABC News:
“Although investigators look for an entire black box, sometimes the only parts of the device that survive are the recorder’s crash-survivable memory units (CSMU). The CSMU is almost indestructible. It is housed within a stainless-steel shell that contains titanium or aluminum and a high-temperature insulation of dry silica material.
“It is designed to withstand heat of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour, salt water for at least 30 days, immersion in a variety of liquids such as jet fuel and lubricants, and an impact of 3,400 G’s. By comparison, astronauts are typically exposed to up to six Gs during a shuttle takeoff.”
Each plane has two separate Black Boxes designed to be indestructible in the event of crashes, which in total means that there were eight Black Boxes é since there were four planes in total used in the attacks on U.S. targets. Yet the FBI is asking us to believe that while all eight Black Boxes were completely and utterly destroyed in the crashes, a mere paper passport survived to be discovered a few blocks away. CNN reported that: “The searchers found several clues, he said, but would not elaborate. Last week, a passport belonging to one of the hijackers was found in the vicinity of Vesey Street, near the World Trade Center. ‘It was a significant piece of evidence for us,’ Mawn said.” “In New York, several blocks from the ruins of the World Trade Center, a passport authorities said belonged to one of the hijackers was discovered a few days ago, according to city Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.” Not only then did a passport survive a plane crash that was allegedly so intense it obliterated the virtually indestructible Black Box, the same passport is also supposed to have flown down a few blocks from the WTC. It is true that due to the sudden shattering of the windows in the WTC, all paper materials in the building were immediately ejected out before incineration. Yet a passport in the pocket of a hijacker sitting within a plane that explodes will naturally undergo the same process as the hijacker and the plane he is sitting in, along with the other passengers: absolute cremation.
This is only one anomaly out of many that have been ignored, leaving the official story accepted uncritically as unquestionable fact, by the vast majority of mainstream media outlets. The timely release of tapes depicting Bin Laden apparently admitting involvement in 9-11, served as a convenient propaganda exercise in buttressing the official narrative, while pushing its inherent incoherence down the memory hole. As usual with government claims in war-time, the mass media simply assumed that the tapes released by the Defense Department were genuine. But there is certainly reasonable room for doubt.
Sean Broughton, director of the London-based production company Smoke and Mirrors and one of Britain’s leading experts on visual effects, has stated that it would be relatively easy for a skilled professional to fake a video of Bin Laden. He admitted that to fool top experts would, however, be difficult, although he added that: “There are perhaps 20 people in America who would be good enough to fool everybody.” Another expert, Bob Crabtree, editor of the magazine Computer Video, has gone further, stating that it was impossible to judge whether or not the video was a fake without more details of its source: “The U.S. seems simply to have asked the world to trust them that it is genuine.” Dr. Peter French, a forensic expert specialising in audio, speech, and language, similarly confirms that using digital technology, “it’s possible to edit or fabricate in ways that completely defy forensic detection.” Canadian foreign correspondent Eric Margolis, who believes that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the 9-11 attacks, nevertheless expresses scepticism with respect to the of authenticity the Bin Laden tape, commenting in the Toronto Sun: “é two other Arabic experts say the tape’s audio quality is so poor that almost nothing bin Laden says on it can be verifiedé
“To my ears, well accustomed to Arabic, half of bin Laden’s words were inaudible. The translation was sometimes out of sync with the action on screen. Bin Laden’s statements looked cut up and edited. Cynics suggest the tape was a forgery made by Russian intelligence or the U.S. government, with incriminating statements spliced into an otherwise boring exchange of pleasantries between bin Laden and a visiting admirer. This is possible. In 1990, the U.S. used retouched satellite photos to convince the Saudis that Iraq was about to invade – which it was not.”
Indeed, even if one assumes that the tape is genuine, whether it really does provide “smoking gun” proof of Bin Laden’s culpability in the 9-11 attacks is extremely unclear. Richard Thomas, Director of Public Policy at the British law firm Clifford Chance argues that: “The tape which we have so far seen doesn’t actually contain hard evidence that Mr. bin Laden was the person who organized the attacks. He simply talks about his reaction to the attacks as they took place. And again, that wouldn’t be hard evidence that he was the organizing mind behind these dreadful attacks.”
The vacuous nature of much of the evidence presented by Bush & Co. for Bin Laden’s guilt é which then justified the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan – indicates that finding the terrorists responsible for the 9-11 attacks was not an integral U.S. objective. Indeed, the absence of decisive proof of Bin Laden’s involvement suggests that fighting against terrorism has never been the real concern behind the subsequent militarisation of U.S. foreign policy. It seems that there is, rather, another more dubious agenda. Whether or not Bin Laden is actually guilty or not, in this respect, is besides the point é obviously, the Bush administration was not interested in the facts, but instead was more keen to hastily find a suitable scapegoat which would provide an ample pretext for a permanently aggressive U.S. military posture.
In this respect, the scattered continued existence of Al-Qaeda plays a functional role within world order, at least for the next few years. The London Guardian noted this functional role played by Osama bin Laden within the matrix of U.S. foreign policy objectives in an 18th September report:
“If Osama bin Laden did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. For the past four years, his name has been invoked whenever a U.S. president has sought to increase the defence budget or wriggle out of arms control treaties. He has been used to justify even President Bush’s missile defence programme, though neither he nor his associates are known to possess anything approaching ballistic missile technology. Now he has become the personification of evil required to launch a crusade for good: the face behind the faceless terror… [H]is usefulness to western governments lies in his power to terrify. When billions of pounds of military spending are at stake, rogue states and terrorist warlords become assets precisely because they are liabilities.”
To consolidate and expand U.S. hegemony, and to fully counter its Russian, Chinese and European rivals, a massive threat is required to establish domestic consensus on the unrelentingly interventionist character of U.S. foreign policy in the new and unlimited “war on terror.” The bogeyman of Osama Bin Laden’s international terrorist network thus plays, in the view of the Bush administration, a functional role within the matrix of U.S. plans to increasingly subject the world order to its military, political, strategic, and economic influence.
U.S. officials have spoken of the need to indiscriminately target states where terrorists are suspected to reside or with a record of being implicated in terrorist acts, rather than merely focus specifically on the perpetrators of this particular crime. Speculation by innumerable esteemed personalities including U.S. officials, academics and journalists about the role of Osama Bin Laden and his legendary terror network has also been exploited to fuel a more general anti-Muslim suspicion and hostility. The hysteria harks back to the 1998 bombing of Sudan when the U.S. destroyed a pharmaceutical factory, killing an unknown number of civilians, on the pretext that it was actually one of Bin Laden’s chemical weapons factories. Not long after this event it was revealed that the factory produced essential medicines for the Sudanese people é not to mention much of Africa – and had nothing to do with Bin Laden. The U.S. also blocked an inquiry by the UN into the bombing which would have disclosed the exact number of civilian casualties.
The reaction of the United States speaks volumes about the real nature of the new programme targeting the entire Muslim world. Former spokesman for the U.S. State Department James Rubin outlined the future vision on BBC 2’s Newsnight: “We lead. We go around the world and we make people be counted whether they’re on our side, or on the side of the terrorists.” The U.S. solution it seems is to categorise “people” around the world into two types: those who support U.S. and Western terrorism around the world whether they know it or not and who are thus “on our side”; and those who do not, who will inevitably be labeled those “on the side of the terrorists”. And accordingly those who are not “on our side” will be targeted indiscriminately. This simplistic division of the world into “us” and “them” é firstly, the crusaders against terrorism and secondly, the terrorists themselves é collectively demonises all those who do not support American foreign policy in the post-9-11 period and reduces them to an alien “otherness” who must be indiscriminately destroyed. This U.S. government attempt at legitimisation of a policy with unnervingly fascist é if not genocidal é overtones, has been widely parroted by the mass media.
For example, on the same day as the WTC and Pentagon terrorist attacks, a former U.S. Secretary of State was paraded on CNN, advocating that the U.S. adopt the very same policy of terrorism utilised by the 9-11 terrorists: “There is only one way to begin to deal with people like this, and that is you have to kill some of them even if they are not immediately directly involved in this thing.”
The next day, the New York Post echoed CNN’s sentiments: “The response to this unimaginable 21st-century Pearl Harbor should be as simple as it is swift – kill the bastards. A gunshot between the eyes, blow them to smithereens, poison them if you have to. As for cities or countries that host these worms, bomb them into basketball courts.” The Post was in agreement with the New York Daily News, which was even more detailed in advocating the same fanatical terrorist strategy pursued by Al-Qaeda: “This is no time to be precious about locating the exact individuals directly involved in this particular terrorist attack…. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.”
And the day after that, the public continued to be whipped into a frenzy of bloodlust by the National Review: “America roused to a righteous anger has always been a force for good. States that have been supporting if not Osama bin Laden, people like him need to feel pain. If we flatten part of Damascus or Tehran or whatever it takes, that is part of the solution.” Bill O’Reilly on FOX News Channel concurred:
Bill O’Reilly: “If the Taliban government of Afghanistan does not cooperate, then we will damage that government with air power, probably. All right? We will blast them, because…”
Sam Husseini, Institute for Public Accuracy: “Who will you kill in the process?”
O’Reilly: “Doesn’t make any difference.”
And there are many, many more such statements. This baseless, inflammatory and indeed racist reaction of the media mimics its previous response to the Oklahoma bombing when commentators eagerly vied with one another to blame “Arabs” and “Muslims” for the attack. Although it was eventually discovered that the perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh, was actually a former U.S. soldier – notwithstanding the long period of unwarranted demonisation of Islam and Muslims é the lesson apparently has not been properly absorbed. We are seeing a repeat of the hysterical reaction of those days. The 9-11 attacks must be condemned in the strongest terms, but they must also be understood. They are an indirect consequence of successive U.S. administrations systematically pursuing policies of mass murder and pillage throughout the world.
But the policy of worldwide mass murder and pillage must be dressed up as a global humanitarian crusade against terrorism in order to ensure public support for the policy. And this means manufacturing a suitable pretext for the policy. This procedure is deeply entrenched in the structures of the foreign policy making establishment. For instance, a mid-1941 memo from the War and Peace Studies Project of the Council on Foreign Relations during the Second World War – whose participants included top government planners and members of the foreign policy establishment – recognised that a “formulation of a statement of war aims for propaganda purposes is very different from a formulation of one defining the true national interesté
“If war aims are stated, which seem to be concerned solely with Anglo-American imperialism, they will offer little to people in the rest of the world… Such aims would also strengthen the most reactionary elements in the United States and the British Empire. The interests of other peoples should be stressed, not only those of Europe, but also of Asia, Africa and Latin America. This would have a better propaganda effect.”
Today, this effect is achieved through dressing up military operations either as humanitarian interventions or as a war for self-defence. The maintenance of insanely high levels of military spending, in order to support the unlimited militarisation of U.S. foreign policy, has thus entailed the manufacturing of new threats by which to justify such spending. In the current world order, the Soviet/Communist “threat” has become defunct. One of the major new ideological constructions being highlighted as an alleged threat to national security, and thus being utilised as a pretext on which to maintain massive investment in the military, is ‘Islamic fundamentalism’. This phenomenon can be found within the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe. The current crisis has permitted the U.S. to exaggerate the alleged threat of “Islamic terrorism” beyond all proportion to suit its drive towards military escalation to secure strategic and economic interests. Professor of International Law at the University of Illinois College of Law, Francis Boyle, comments:
“According to the facts in the public record so far, this was not an act of war and NATO Article 5 does not apply. President Bush has automatically escalated this national tragedy into something it is not in order to justify a massive military attack abroad and an apparent crackdown on civil liberties at home. We see shades of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which the Johnson administration used to provide dubious legal cover for massive escalation of the Vietnam War.”
On this basis, it is evident that in the near future, on the pretext of targeting scattered terrorist cells connected to Al-Qaeda, various countries around the world that are of strategic value to the United States will fall victim to Bush’s ‘new war’ for U.S. hegemony. The escalating and contrived ‘clash of civilisations’ that may result from this cynical U.S. policy, and the corresponding chaos and destruction, bear ominous implications for the future of humanity.
Indeed, the new pretexts are already being conjured up. President Bush Jr. virtually declared war on any country deemed by the U.S. to be a threat, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, 29th January 2002. Bush warned of “thousands of dangerous killers, schooled in the methods of murder, often supported by outlaw regimes,” and openly threatened an attack on Iran, Iraq and North Korea in particular. Both the U.S. government and media have made concerted efforts to allege some sort of connection between Al-Qaeda and the countries of Iran and Iraq. “By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.” Bush added that: “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”
It is no coincidence that the Middle East and Central Asia together hold over two-thirds of the world’s reserves of oil and natural gas. After Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq are respectively the second and third largest oil-producers in the region. Both Iran and Iraq, in accordance with their local interests, are fundamentally opposed to the U.S. drive to secure unimpeded access to regional resources. The former, for instance, has been attempting to secure its own interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia, thus coming into direct conflict with regional U.S. interests, whereas the latter has for a decade now been tolerated only because the U.S. has been unable to replace Saddam Hussein’s regime with a viable alternative. In light of the results of the apparently successful ‘test case’ provided by the war on Afghanistan é which has opened up Central Asian resources to U.S. corporate clutches – the U.S. seems intent on attempting a replay in Iraq by eliminating Saddam, and enlisting the opposition to establish a compliant new regime. Similar plans may be in the pipeline for Iran. As for North Korea, this country borders China, and is thus strategically located in terms of longstanding U.S. policy planning. China has long been viewed by U.S. policy planners as its principal rival in north and east Asia. The military network being installed by the United States in the wake of 11th September systematically encircles China-Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, and now Korea.
The Guardian has also commented on these developments and their military-strategic context: “Every twist in the war on terrorism seems to leave a new Pentagon outpost in the Asia-Pacific region, from the former USSR to the Philippines. One of the lasting consequences of the war could be what amounts to a military encirclement of China.” In explanation, the London daily cites the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review warning of the danger that “a military competitor with a formidable resource base will emerge in the region.” The journal recommended a U.S. policy that “places a premium on securing additional access and infrastructure agreements.” The expansion of the misnamed ‘war on terror’ is thus specifically tailored to target regions of strategic and economic interest to the United States, and thus to consolidate unrivalled U.S. hegemony in these regions é many of which are predominantly Muslim.
So does current U.S. policy amount to a war on Islam? Commentators have debated the matter intensely in the post-9-11 period, but have largely ignored the wealth of evidence indicating that, in fact, Islam has long been considered an arch-enemy of U.S. policy, particularly in the Middle East. The process of fabricating a new enemy é Islam é was in full-swing by the early 1990s. Former bureau chief of the Jerusalem Post and Cato Institute scholar Leon T. Hadar documented U.S. moves towards the demonisation of Islam as a threat to U.S. foreign policy objectives in 1992:
“Now that the Cold War is becoming a memory, America’s foreign policy establishment has begun searching for new enemies. Possible new villains include ‘instability’ in Europe – ranging from German resurgence to new Russian imperialism – the ‘vanishing’ ozone layer, nuclear proliferation, and narcoterrorism. Topping the list of potential new global bogeymen, however, are the Yellow Peril, the alleged threat to American economic security emanating from East Asia, and the so-called Green Peril (green is the color of Islam). That peril is symbolized by the Middle Eastern Moslem fundamentalist – the ‘Fundie’, to use a term coined by The Economist.”
Thus, according to Amos Perlmutter in the Washington Post, “Islamic fundamentalism is an aggressive revolutionary movement as militant and violent as the Bolshevik, Fascist and Nazi movements of the past”. It is “authoritarian, anti-democratic, anti-secular” and by its inherent nature cannot be reconciled with the “Christian-secular universe”. Its goal is the establishment of a “totalitarian Islamic state” in the Middle East. Thus, the U.S. should ensure that the movement is “stifled at birth”. The rise of Islamic movements throughout countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia are contributing to an elitist “urge to identify Islam as an inherently anti-democratic force that is America’s new global enemy now that the Cold War is over”, writes Jim Hoagland in the same newspaper. According to the Washington Times, the rise of political Islam, unless quelled with appropriate Western policy, will lead “the Middle East and the once Soviet Central Asian republics [to] become in a few years the cultural and political dependencies of the most expansionist militarized regime in the world today, a regime for which terrorism is the governing norm.”
These essentially fascist views stem ultimately from the official perspective of the Western political establishment. In 1995, then Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Willy Claes, described Islam as “at least as dangerous as communism was.” He added that: “NATO is much more than a military alliance. It has committed itself to defending basic principles of civilization that bind North American and Western Europe.” Indeed, numerous think-tank studies have purported to analyse the ‘Islamic threat’ to a U.S.-dominated global order, concluding that it has now become a genuine Western foreign policy issue. Since the 1990s, U.S. Congress has conducted a series of hearings on the subject.
Thus, even before 9-11, Islam was directly associated with international terrorism é and specifically emphasised as a threat to U.S. security. Mamoun Fandy of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University reported in 1996 that:
“The U.S. has placed counterterrorism at the top of its international and domestic agendas, and much of the political mobilization to win support for antiterrorism measures has been focused on the need to confront and overcome ‘Muslim fundamentalism’ or ‘Islamic terror’. Domestically, the U.S. government won support for sweeping new antiterrorism legislation through repeated references, both veiled and overt, to the threat posed by Islamic terrorists. In speeches before the United Nations General Assembly in both 1995 and 1996, Clinton urged greater international cooperation against terrorism.”
But Middle East expert Fandy is critical of this simple equation, because it is indiscriminately applied to any and every political movement associated with Islam. Despite fervent U.S. claims to have “no quarrel with Islam”, observes Fandy:
“The U.S. identifies all political activities that mobilize using Islamic symbols as ‘terrorism’ aimed at undermining Washington’s grand strategy in the Middle Easté U.S. policymakers continue to use ‘Islamic terror’ as the replacement for ‘the communist menace’ or the ‘evil empire’, as the ideological enemy against which all U.S. policy should be aimed. The U.S. is still thinking in state-based, cold war terms”.
Thus in 1999, Islamic fundamentalism was explicitly pinpointed by the United States as a new threat. Other potential enemies include rogue states and nuclear outlaws. The manufacturing of these new threats in place of the now obsolete Soviet Union justifed a $124 billion increase in military spending over seven years, jeopardising much needed investment within the U.S. on domestic issues such as education, social security, medicare and programmes for the poor. As U.S. news commentator Enver Masud, Chairman of the Washington-based Wisdom Fund, observes: “Anxious to protect cold war levels of defense spending, the Pentagon manufactured the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, rogue states and nuclear outlaws.” In a June 2000 report to Congress, L. Paul Bremmer III, Chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism, stated that the threat of terrorism to the U.S. “is becoming more deadly”. The commission, established in the aftermath of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, includes a majority of Muslim countries in its list of countries allegedly sponsoring terrorism, especially Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan – as well as Cuba and North Korea.
There is an important context to the sudden discovery of such grave enemies to the United States. U.S. arms trade expert and Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute William Hartung points out that the massive injections of public funds into military spending are not a result of genuine threats to U.S. security, but rather because “the arms industry has launched a concerted lobbying campaign aimed at increasing military spending and arms exportsé These initiatives are driven by profit and pork barrel politics, not by the objective assessment of how to best defend the United States in a post-cold war period.”
It should be noted that during this period, while U.S. military spending rocketed steadily on the pretext of the necessity of defending the nation against international terrorism, acts of terrorism against the U.S. were in fact on the decrease since the beginning of the 1990s. In particular, the number of terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims against the U.S. has also decreased é and are minute compared to the number of terrorist attacks committed by other national, ethnic and religious groups.
The new threat of ‘Islamic terror’ exemplified in the September 11th attacks thus plays a particularly important role within world order, permitting the United States to justify strategies by which to enforce U.S. hegemony within the Middle East, as well as in Africa and Asia. The major reason that Western institutions have taken it upon themselves to subtly demonise Islam in this respect, is inseparable from the structure of the global politico-economic order – in fact it is a logical consequence of that order and its relations to the Muslim people throughout the world.
Thanks to the efforts of media and academic commentators, it is commonly believed that there exists a vast, and in many ways unbridgeable, Islam-West divide, in which Islam at some significant level constitutes a fundamental danger to Western civilisation. Harvard political scientist Professor Samuel Huntington is well-known for articulating this belief in the form of an academically acceptable theory of international relations. His ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis is a particularly stark example of how Western academia attempt to justify the concept of an unfathomable Islam-West divide and a new inevitable Cold War with Islam. Tim Hames, a leading politician in the Republican Party who is very close to the Bush administration, claimed only one day after the attacks that Huntington’s thesis was dominating the U.S. political scene. Huntington has most recently presented a crass summary of his already rather crass opinions in an article titled ‘The Age of Muslim Wars’ for Newsweek magazine. The article’s introductory synopsis asserts that:
“Contemporary global politics is the age of Muslim wars. Muslims fight each other and fight non-Muslims far more often than do peoples of other civilizations. Muslim wars have replaced the cold war as the principal form of international conflict. These wars include wars of terrorism, guerrilla wars, civil wars and interstate conflicts. These instances of Muslim violence could congeal into one major clash of civilizations between Islam and the West or between Islam and the Rest.”
This is not the place to discuss in detail the myriad of logical leaps, shoddy presumptions, and lack of supportive data that hounds Huntington’s thesis, but we should point out some essential facts that in themselves point to the holes in the thinking behind the whole ‘clash of civilisations’ project as such. We may note, for instance, Professor Huntington’s extraordinary ignorance of the “civilizations” he purports to discuss – he seems quite unaware of the abundant scholarly literature disproving the redundant thesis of the inherently aggressive nature of Muslims. On page 256 of his study, The Clash of Civilizations, for example, he asserts that: “Muslims have problems living with their neighboursé The evidence is overwhelming.” The “overwhelming evidence” he reviews, however, appears to manifest only poor and prejudiced scholarship. Huntington performs an exceedingly shallow analysis of several cases of conflicts involving Muslims – many of which were in fact deliberately engineered by the United States – presents them in a historical and political vacuum, and then generalises the conclusions without warrant. The 20th Century conflicts relating to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Chechnya, Indonesia, Sudan, Palestine, and so on, are in fact directly related to U.S. foreign policy, which has in all these cases escalated and supported various actors in the respective conflicts to secure economic and strategic interests. In the interests of extending and consolidating global U.S. hegemony, U.S. policy has systematically manipulated communities, played them off against one another, generated wars and captilised on the results. Huntington’s examples, in other words, in reality demonstrate the extent to which U.S. foreign policy has contributed to conflict and war – and has often manipulated Muslim groups and hijacked Islamic symbols to the same end.
The fact that history is full of wars does not indicate that they were the result of differences in religions or cultures between civilizations. Rather, a scientific historical analysis demonstrates that the causes were power politics and aspirations for hegemony, a fact deliberately played down by Huntington. Wars have always been ultimately instigated by a handful of people in positions of power, who pit one nation against another in order to secure their own geostrategic and hegemonic objectives. Suffice it to say that the implications of Huntington’s thesis é that Muslim civilisation as such intrinsically tends towards war and conflict both internally and internationally – have long dismissed by specialists who have studied Islam and Muslims. For example, the Hindu scholar Professor K. S. Ramakrishna Rao – Head of the Department of Philosophy at the Government College for Women, University of Mysore – remarks on recent scholarship on Islam as follows:
“My work today is further lightened because those days are fast disappearing when Islam was highly misrepresented by some of its critics for reasons political and otherwiseé My problem in writing this monograph is easier because we are now generally not fed on this kind of history and much time need not be spent pointing out our misrepresentation of Islam. The theory of Islam and Sword for instance is not heard now frequently in any quarter worth the name. The principle of Islam that there is no compulsion in religion is well known. Gibbon, a historian of world repute says, ‘A pernicious tenet has been imputed to Mohammadans, the duty of extirpating all the religions by sword.’ This charge based on ignorance and bigotry, says the eminent historian, is refuted by Quran, by history of Musalman conquerors and by their public and legal toleration of Christian worship.”
As far as contemporary politics goes, the matter is largely the same. Muslims today are no more inclined to war or terrorism than other religious or ethnic groups. German journalist and political scientist Dr. Peter Scholl-Latour ascertained in 1999 that terror attacks by Muslim extremists were, contrary to widely propagated opinion, rare in both Europe and the United States:
“When they do take place, they take place in the context of the fatal Israeli-Palestinian rivalry over control of the Holy Landé, or they are aimed at what they see as American complicity with the system of hegemony in their own countries, with those military dictatorships, dynastic cliques or despots at the mercy of whom the peoples of the ‘Dar-ul-Islam’ continue to live in a more or less repressive form.”
Indeed, directly contradicting Huntington’s emphasis of the alleged potential rivalry from Islamic civilization is an authoritative study by the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, which records how the unique adaptability of Islamic to modernity is the very factor ensuring that such a confrontation will not occur as a simple result of civilizational dichotomies. Other Middle East specialists concur that “like their secular counterparts, on most issues many [Islamic-oriented political actors] would operate on the basis of national interests and demonstrate a flexibility that reflects acceptance of the realities of a globally interdependent world.”
It is certainly a shame that the esteemed Harvard scholar has to resort to regurgitating chauvinistic myths to support his untenable position. There is, however, a deeper context and pattern to this act of regurgitation by anti-Muslim academics such as Huntington. The background has been noted by political scientist Nadia Weiss in the monthly Zurich-based journal Current Concerns: “As soon as one delves into Huntington’s background, the first thing one notices is that one of his chief political allies is none other than Zbigniew Brzezinski, America’s chief geostrategist and author of ‘The Grand Chessboard’é
“Zbigniew Brzezinski is well known as the creator of the American strategy to achieve hegemony, which lies at the heart of American foreign policy. That battle for global hegemony is going to be fought in Eurasia. Therefore America needs access to geopolitically important countries like Ukraine, Turkey, Iran and the countries in the Caucasus. Both the expansion of the EU to the East and the expansion of NATO in the same direction are part of this strategy.
“In reading Huntington, one often has the impression of reading Brzezinski. Huntington, for example, writes that the maintenance of American hegemony is just as important for the entire world as it is for the United States. The world needs a superpower, and America is the only one left that can assume this role, and that is also necessary for American interests. In this context the American dominance in the world economy is crucial: ‘America is now being challenged by Japan, and in the future she will probably be challenged by Europe as well.’
“Brzezinski and Huntington are pursuing the same political plan: They want the world to be ruled by one power and they want to be part of that power ruling the world. It is no coincidence that Brzezinski sings the praise of Huntington’s book calling it ‘a monumental work which will revolutionize our view of foreign affairs.’ At another point he characterizes Huntington as the ‘democratic Machiavelli’.”
All of this is merely the latest stage in a historic pattern, according to J. A. Progler – Assistant Professor of Social Studies at the School of Education in the City University of New York, Brooklyn College é who notes that the demonisation of Islam and Muslims is rooted in a long record of self-serving Western encounters with Islam and Muslims:
“The long history of encounters between Western civilization and Islam has produced a tradition of portraying, in largely negative and self-serving ways, the Islamic religion and Muslim cultures. There is a lot of literature cataloguing (and sometimes correcting) these stereotypesé Images of the Other are prevalent in Western civilization, and have become firmly ensconced in the discourse of colonization and conquest, whoever the victims may be. Some images are rooted in Greek notions of barbarians, others born of the Middle Ages. They have been carried through the Reconquista and Inquisition, picked up during the age of colonial expansion, developed by Orientalists in the 19th and early 20th century, and continue on into the age of mass media and globalized political economy. But images don’t exist in a vacuum. They have usesé
“A growing body of critical literature examines the formation, utilization and perpetuation of images in the context of European conceptualization and colonization of the Muslim. Critics generally agree that Orientalist pursuits of knowledge are inextricably tied to colonial and imperial power, and that the West’s self-image has been cultivated in a binary relationship with Islamic cultureé
“Western image-makers, including religious authorities, political establishments, and corporate-media conglomerates, conceptualize for their consumers images of Muslims and/or Arabs in sometimes amusing and other times cruel or tragic ways. Upon closer examination, these images seem to serve essential purposes throughout the history of Western civilization. At times these purposes are benign, at others quite sinister. Often, there are tragic consequences for Muslims resulting from the socio-political climate fostered by imagesé
“If Arabs and Muslims are extremists in anything, I believe that it is in the patience and tolerance they have shown toward persistent Western interventions until very recently. Islamic movements have much more important characteristics than intolerance and violence. A central concept is social justice.”
But to admit this, of course, would be to lose the much needed enemy that justifies current Western interventions. Hence, the demonisation continues, and with it comes the dire ramification of wider social repression. Within the U.S., anti-Muslim sentiment is escalating. “In a recent Roper poll”, reported Angela Stephens in 1998, “more than half the respondents described Islam as inherently anti-American, anti-Western or supportive of terrorism – though only 5 percent said they’d had much contact with Muslims themselvesé
“Incidents of harassment and violence against American Muslims and Arabs have risen sharply following dramatic and devastating events such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and 1996 crash of TWA flight 800, even though in both events there was no connection to Islam or the Middle East.”
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported a massive 60 per cent rise in discrimination against Muslims in 1997 compared to 1996. In the aftermath of the 11th September attacks, these figures have risen drastically – not only in the U.S., but throughout the Western countries. In Britain for instance, the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) documented in an October 2001 study, The Anti-Muslim Backlash in the Wake of September 11, 2001, the unprecedented wave of Islamaphobia sweeping across the UK:
“IHRC is deeply concerned that there has been a significant rise in anti-Muslim attacks, hostility and discrimination in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the USA. It notes that women and children have been particularly targetedé The number of businesses reporting economical boycotts may so far be relatively small, but the possible repercussions and implications are profound. The historical precedents of economic boycotts, particularly in 1930s Germany, should sound alarm bells.”
This damning report was used by the British government’s Home Office and the United Nations.
That the images of Islam manufactured by the media and academia in tandem are actually quite contrary to documented facts is thus clear. We are then left with uncovering the real reasons behind the contemporary confrontation between Islam and West é these reasons are inherently rooted in the structure of the present global order. This has been lucidly explained by the distinguished CIA specialist William Blum, a former State Department official and leading U.S. foreign policy analyst:
“When asked ‘What is it that these terrorists want from the United States?’, Richard Haas, head of the foreign policy department at the Brookings Institution, replied: ‘Well, the answer is it’s not anything we’re simply doing. It is who we are. It’s the fact that we’re the most powerful country in the world. It’s the fact that we’re a secular country… It is simply who we are and it is our existence that really bothers them.’
“‘Americans are targets of terrorism, in part, because we act to advance peace and democracy and because we stand united against terrorism’, said President Clinton.” Blum continues: “These are some of the platitudes our leaders and policy makers feed us after each terrorist attack against an American installation. What they never let slip is that the terrorists – whatever else they might be – might also be rational human beings; which is to say that in their own minds they have a rational justification for their actions; and that the justification is usually retaliation for various American actions.
“The massive bombing of the Iraqi people; the continuing sanctions against Iraq; the unmitigated support of Israel; the double standard applied to Israeli terrorism, such as the massacre of 106 Lebanese at the UN base at Qana in 1996; the large military and hi-tech presence in Islam’s holiest land, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region; the unceasing persecution of Libya; the shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane… these are some of the American actions that can turn an Arab or a Muslim into a fanatic, into a terrorist. And their terrorist acts will continue as long as the United States gives them so many reasons for retaliation.”
Blum’s acute observations are corroborated by the findings of British journalist John Pilger, who was twice winner of Britain’s highest award for journalism, and who has reported every war in the last few decades:
“How is it that Western establishments can invert the public truth of their own power and terrorism? The answer is that it is apostasy in Britain and the United States to describe the democracies as terrorist states… Stereotypes are much preferred, such as the ‘Muslim fanatic’. In fact, not only have Muslims been responsible for a tiny proportion of deaths caused by terrorism, but in recent years it is they who have been the greatest sufferers from state terrorism: in Palestine, Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya and Somalia.”
In fact, authoritative statistical data é ignored by effective apologists for anti-Muslim hostility such as Huntington é demonstrates decisively that the majority of acts of terrorism are undertaken against Muslims, not by Muslims. This data also demonstrates that by and large, the pattern of terrorist attacks against the U.S. has been on the decline in the last decade, with attacks by Muslims in the minority. The U.S. State Department’s own report, Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1998, finds that “the number of international terrorist attacks actually fell again in 1998, continuing a downward trend that began several years ago.”
The State Department reports that ‘Total U.S. Citizen Casualties Caused by International Attacks’ are as follows: