SEMANA: ¿What kind of war is the war against terrorism?
Noam Chomsky: The war against terrorism is by no means new. For example, more than 15 years ago Nicaragua brought charges to the World Court accusing the US of terrorism. The Court ruled in favor of Nicaragua, condemning the US for "unlawful use of force" (i.e., terrorism) and ordering it to desist and pay substantial reparations. The US dismissed the Court with contempt, reacting to this orders by escalating the attack. The official State Department response to the Court was that since the world does not agree with us, we will determine for ourselves what lies within the "domestic jurisdiction" of the US, in this case, a terrorist war against another country. Nicaragua continued to follow the rule of law, asking the Security Council to intervene, as it did, with a resolution calling on all states to observe international law, vetoed by the US. Nicaragua brought the resolution to the General Assembly several times, where it passed unanimously (apart from the US and Israel, and one year, El Salvador). Of course, the US war against Nicaragua (not to speak of the wars of the US-backed client states against their populations at the same time) was far more severe in its consequences even than the huge atrocity on Sept. 11.
This is by no means the only case. Planes based in Florida began bombing Cuba in October 1959, and the officially organized state terrorist operations (Operation Mongoose) in the following years were far more extreme. And the same is true for a great many other cases. You can find a fair sample in a scholarly study _Western State Terrorism_ (A. George, ed., Blackwell-Polity 1990). And there has been a great deal more since.
As generally recognized, the worst kind of terror is state terror, and the terror of paramilitaries to whom terror is often delegated by state authorities. The matter is not unfamiliar in Colombia.
The war against terrorism continued through the 1980s particularly. In December 1987, the UN General Assembly passed a very strong resolution condemning terrorism in all its forms and calling on all states to cooperate in ending this plague of the modern age. It was passed unanimously, only Honduras abstaining -- except that the US voted against it, alone with Israel, so it is vetoed from history. Their reasons were that the resolution endorsed the right of people to struggle against "racist and colonialist regimes" and "foreign military occupation," a right that the US and Israel (alone) do not recognize. They had in mind at the time particularly South Africa, but the principle applies elsewhere, for example, to Israel's US-backed military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, now entering its 35th year of brutality. And complete illegality -- again, as recognized by the entire world with the exception of the US and Israel.
Without continuing, there is nothing new about terrorism, or the struggle against it. There is, however, something dramatically new about the terrorist atrocities on Sept. 11, not in scale, regrettably, but in the direction in which the guns were pointing. For the US, it is the firt time since the War of 1812 that the national territory has been under threat, let alone attack. For Europe, much the same is true. It has had devastating wars, but those involved Europeans slaughtering each other. The rest of the world is expected to be the victim, not the agent, of terrorism and atrocities. So there is some truth to the claim that the awesome crimes of Sept. 11 are new in history.
SEMANA: ¿Will the people and the US government be willing to sacrifice individual liberties to fight the new menace?
N.CH: Why a "new menace"? The Reagan administration came into office in 1981 announcing, loud and clear, that the prime security threat to the US was "international terrorism," and proceeded to combat it by massive terror, not only in Central America but in much of the world. As for your other question, a cycle of violence and counterviolence tends to strengthen the most harsh and brutal elements among the adversaries, a very familiar dynamic. They commonly exploit to achieve their own agendas. Nothing new or surprising about that. In the US, that will mean attempts to induce more regimentation and obedience and curtail civil liberties, but I doubt that they will be very successful. The more dangerous consequence is the escalating cycle of violence itself, which could lead to horrifying consequences, from which the rest of the world will not escape.
¿Why do these terrorists hate the US?
The answers are not obscure. They were reviewed, for example, by the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 14), surveying attitudes of "Moneyed Muslims" in the mid-East region: bankers, professionals, businessmen with close linked to the US. They gave many reasons, including Washington's consistent opposition to democratic tendencies and the barriers it places against independent development as a result of its insistence on "propping up oppressive regimes." But primary among the reasons are those that are "well-known," as the Journal put it: The long-standing US support for Israel's military occupation, now in its 35th year, with its takeover of land and resources and harsh oppression of the population; a stand that contrasts vividly with the US sanctions and bombing that have devastated Iraqi society (while strengthening Saddam Hussein -- Washington's friend and ally through his worst atrocities, as is also "well-known").
These and similar policies elicit bitterness and resentment, which is far more extreme among the great mass of poor and oppressed people, who also see the wealth of the region flowing to the West while the US supports corrupt and brutal dictatorships that serve the needs of US wealth and power. The Bin Laden network has other motives. The "Afghanis" as they are called (many of them, like Bin Laden, not Afghans) were recruited, trained and armed by the CIA and Pakistani intelligence for the war against the Russian military occupation, which they won. After that, they ignored Russia, apart from their participation in the struggle of the Chechens (as in Afghanistan, carrying the war into Russia, with terrorist actions). Their primary enemy is Saudi Arabia and other corrupt states of the region, and they turned against the US particularly when permanent US military installations were established in Saudi Arabia in 1990. Bin Laden has repeatedly explained that for him this is even worse than the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, because of the significance of Saudi Arabia, the guardian of the holiest Islamic shrines.
Since the terrorists have made their reasons clear and explicit, and since the reasons why they have a reservoir of support are also well-known, there should be no difficulty in answering your question. The answer was put succinctly by British correspondent Robert Fisk, the most respected journalist in the region for many years. Describing "The wickedness and awesome cruelty of a crushed and humiliated people" after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, he writes that "this is not the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming days. It is also about American missiles smashing into Palestinian homes and US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and American shells crashing into a village called Qana and about a Lebanese militia - paid and uniformed by America's Israeli ally - hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps." And much more.