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September 11 - the day the world changed?

The terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept 11 2001 stunned and shocked the world. The number of people who died was eventually confirmed as 2,872. In the outpouring of grief and horror which followed, Sept 11 was described as the day the world changed.

It was a day when lessons could have been learned from tragedy:

- a day when the causes of terrorism could have been examined and a genuine commitment made to eliminate them;

- a day when a decision could have been made to establish the guilt of those responsible and to bring them to justice;

- a day when a decision could have been made not to respond to terror with terror.

It was a day the world could have changed.

When the United States government identified Osama Bin Laden as the main suspect in the Sept 11 attacks, the Taleban government offered to hand him over to a third party to be held pending trial. The US government refused that offer. In that moment they chose to abandon justice, and to follow a violent rather than peaceful path. Together with their allies, they attacked the people of Afghanistan, the people of one of the weakest poorest nations in the world.

The people of Afghanistan did not carry out the attacks in New York and Washington. Bombing them was not justice, it was vengeance; and an excuse to extend the US government's strategic and economic interests in the region.

There have been an estimated 5,000 civilian deaths from the bombing of Afghanistan, an unknown number of people injured and maimed, a country now littered with cluster bombs and other unexploded munitions which will go on killing and maiming for years to come, and an unknown number of people suffering from malnutrition and starvation because the war interrupted the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The bombing of Afghanistan was the first major military offensive in the new 'war on terrorism'. In the past year the 'war on terrorism' has spread throughout the globe: an additional 2,500 US special forces troops deployed in the Philippines; new US military bases established in the Middle East and Southern Central Asia. It has been used by the Russian government to increase military operations in Chechnya and by the Chinese government to clamp down on Muslim Uigurs and the people of Tibet.

The 'war on terrorism' has been used by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to justify the brutal reoccupation of Palestinian territories; by the US and British governments to make explicit threats to use nuclear weapons against the people of non-nuclear weapons states; and it brought India and Pakistan to the brink of nuclear war.

"We firmly believe that the real lesson of September 11 is that war and violence are the problems, not the solutions". ( Peaceful Tomorrows )

Mary Robinson, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner has described "governments [as] hiding behind the ongoing war on terrorism to trample civil liberties and crush troublesome opponents." It has been used by governments around the world (including the NZ government) to justify extraordinarily repressive legislation which breaches basic human rights. Almost 2,000 people remain in custody in the US without any recourse to legal processes; hundreds of prisoners from Afghanistan remain incarcerated in cages at the US base in Guantanamo Bay.

"Before September 11, it would have been regarded as politically unacceptable for the security service to regard mosques as a legitimate target for investigation; now it is not so unthinkable. The US has imposed new border controls, is fingerprinting those from certain countries and has given the FBI investigative powers which were previously regarded as unacceptable - thus rolling back restrictions imposed 25 years ago to curb anti-communist hysteria. The balance of liberty and safety has changed." (Stella Rimington, Former Head of MI5)

The 'war on terrorism' has fuelled racism, hatred and bloodshed around the world; spending on secret services and armed forces is going up, spending on real security - meeting people's needs - is going down. The only people benefiting from the 'war on terrorism' are corporate and political elites, and weapons manufacturers.

No-one responsible for the Sept 11 attacks has yet been brought to justice.

On Sept 11 2001, as on every other day of the year, close to 31,500 children under the age of five also died agonising deaths - tragic deaths from disease and malnutrition because of lack of access to clean water, food or basic health care. On that same day, as on every other day of the year, global military expenditure in a world 'at peace' averaged five and a half billion dollars.

If the governments of the world were serious about reducing the threat of terrorism, this is an obvious place to start. When people have access to clean water, food, education, and health care; representative government which listens to them; and they are engaged in socially useful work, they tend not to engage in destructive violent acts.

Working to stop the day to day terror people all around the world suffer because of economic and social inequalities is the only way forward. While state terrorism continues, non-state terrorism will continue too.

Sept 11 was the day the world could have changed ... but regrettably it did not.

Now the US and British governments are planning to wage a new all-out war on the people of Iraq.

"Nothing that we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen [Iraq]. The recent conflict has wrought near-apocalyptic results upon the economic infrastructure of what had been, until January 1991, a rather highly urbanised and mechanised society. Now, most means of modern life support have been destroyed or rendered tenuous. Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age" ... Marti Ahtisaari, Convener of the Post-War United Nations Mission to Iraq in 1991, describing the effects of the Gulf War.

Every month more than 4,500 children die in Iraq from starvation, diseases of malnutrition, and lack of medical supplies caused by economic sanctions. Every few days, US and British warplanes bomb within their self-declared 'no-fly zones' killing and injuring civilians and further destroying the infrastructure on which life depends. More than 1.5 million Iraqi people have died since 1991 because of the sanctions and the bombing. Both are clear breaches of the Genocide Convention and the Geneva Protocols for the Protection of Civilians.

The sanctions have been perpetuated by the US government and its allies allegedly to stop Iraq producing weapons of mass destruction. Yet the US government has more weapons of mass destruction than anyone else, and it will not permit inspections nor destroy its own arsenals. The same UN resolution which refers to UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, also requires the establishment of a 'weapons of mass destruction free zone' in the Middle East. Yet the Israeli government's nuclear weapons arsenal is not subject to UN weapons inspections, nor have economic sanctions been imposed.

The NZ government has said it will not send troops to take part in an attack on the people of Iraq unless there is a 'UN mandate'. Even if there were some kind of 'UN mandate', a new war on the people of Iraq would still be totally unacceptable.

Killing more people is not a solution. Military 'solutions' such as bombing only ever fuel hate and anger; increase violence; provoke further atrocities; and create more instability, grief and suffering on into the future. It's time to stop the cycle of hatred and violence: matching terror with terror is not the answer.

Peace Movement Aotearoa, leaflet text
11 September 2002

11 September 2002 in Aotearoa / New Zealand


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