Book Review: Noam Chomsky’s ‘9-11: Was There an Alternative? ’
By Muhammad Ashraf
Title: 9-11: Was there an alternative?
Author: Noam Chomsky
Publisher: Seven Stories Press, 2011
Noam Chomsky’s book, 9-11: Was there an alternative?, is a new arrival to my college library. The title reminded me of an incident that took place during my visit to San Francisco city last month. I, along with some Pakistani Muslims, was coming out of a local Masjid after a Friday congregation. We were dressed in white, and one of us wore a green colored Pakistani turban. I guess we looked more like a bunch of Muslim clerics in religious attire, although most of us were not. While crossing a freeway at Shafter Avenue, Third Street, someone shouted, “Fuck you, fuck Islam, fuck Muslims”. Keeping in mind that 9/11 has left Muslims in America and indeed, all over the world, feeling increasingly vulnerable; I began to read Chomsky’s dissident narrative. It is one that raises several questions about the publicly accepted notions and theories regarding the ‘War on Terror’ proclaimed immediately following the World Trade Centre attack. Chomsky asks what the U.S wars since September 11 have accomplished. Was it right to wage war on an uncertain and nameless enemy? Was there an alternative? And should the U.S obey the rules and principles outlined by international organizations such as the United Nations?
‘9-11 Was There an Alternative?’ was published by Seven Stories Press in New York, to international acclaim, which proves the fact that many such dissident voices are constantly being heard by the public in an unprecedented way. The Editor’s note states, “if we indeed survive our government’s propensity for confrontation and violence over diplomacy, it may be because we break away from the news feed long enough to heed dissident voices like Chomsky’s, published in pamphlets, posted online, spoken at protests, and shouted from the rooftops.” The book was first published in November 2001, a mere two months after 9/11. The edition I read was published in 2011 with a new essay that Chomsky wrote after ‘Operation Geronimo’ in which Osama Bin Laden was assassinated. Chomsky narrates the killing of untold numbers of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, as an outcome of the ‘War on Terror’. He provides evidence for U.S military retaliations, which left thousands of innocent people displaced and murdered. He quotes British historian Anatol Lieven, who tells us that the war in Afghanistan is “destabilizing and radicalizing, risking a geopolitical catastrophe for the United States and the world – which would dwarf anything that could possibly occur in Afghanistan.”
Chomsky’s opinion is that the U.S invasion of Pakistani territory to carry out the political assassination of Osama bin Laden, served to aggravate anti-U. S sentiment in Pakistan. He quotes Eric Margolis, “He (bin Laden) repeatedly asserted that the only way to drive the U.S from the Muslim world and defeat its satraps was by drawing Americans into a series of small but expensive wars that would ultimately bankrupt them.” Chomsky further asserts that “the debt is being cynically exploited by the far right, with collusion of Democrat establishment, to undermine what remains of social programmes, public education, unions, and, in general, remaining barriers to corporate tyranny.” He goes on to analyse what he calls “the first 9/11”; when the U.S. helped replace the democratic government of Salvador Allande by the brutal regime of General Pinoche in Latin America. He insists that the series of incidents plotted by the U.S in Latin America is a form of hemispheric plague rather than “hemispheric defense” or “internal security”, and these actions set in motion the cycle of violence in Latin America.
He sheds light on the matter of the disposal of bin Laden’s body without an autopsy, describing it as gruesome, and says that an international law that mandates an inquiry whenever violent death occurs from government or police action was ignored. Even though these are not current debates, many past American government actions continue to influence the shape of the present world order. He claims that these are in reality international crimes and ought to be criticized as such. The existence of earthmovers, as he says, doesn’t change the fact that the earth is not flat. “Similarly, it is uncontroversial that Bush and associates did commit the supreme international crime, the crime of aggression.”
Much of the book is a collection of adapted excerpts from several interviews with him, in which he tries to re position the arguments he has in his new essay, written after the assassination of bin Laden. In ‘Not Since the War of 1812’ from the part titled ‘9-11’, he talks about geopolitical implications, and why they named this a ‘war’ against a nameless enemy unlike its predecessors, (‘intelligent bombs’) in Iraq and (‘humanitarian intervention’) in Kosovo. In the first part, he provides a disturbing answer to the question ‘Is the war on terrorism winnable?’ by analysing mainstream media’s manufactured consent, and validates the claim of crimes against humanity, instead of war on terror, by providing enough proof. He exemplifies the Nicaraguan government’s position in retaliating against attacks from external powers in the failed American counterterrorist invasions.
In this book, Chomsky also argues that “an assault that kills innocent Afghans would be virtually a call for new recruits to the horrendous cause of the bin Laden network and other graduates of the terrorist forces set up by the CIA and its associates 20 years ago to fight a HOLY WAR against the Russians, meanwhile following their own agenda.” And he consciously points out the atrocities that would increase the strength and ground support they entertain from the public, leaving dangerous messages. He consistently insists that September 11 was an event of historical importance, not because of scale, but because of the murder of innocent victims.
The book ends with an essay that tries to answer these four questions;
- Who is responsible?
- What are the reasons?
- What’s the proper reaction?
- And what are the longer term consequences?
As for the first, although there’s only thin evidence, he also repeats the assumed conclusion that the “guilty parties were bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network … organised into a military and terrorist force for normal reasons of States, not even for helping Afghans resist Russia.” He answers the second question by saying that “the basic reason, the national security council advised, is the recognition that the U.S. supports corrupt and brutal governments that block democracy and development, and does so because of its concern to protect its interests in Near East oil.” Turning to the third question, he concludes that “the answers are doubtless contentious, but at least the reaction should meet the most elementary moral standards” as well as “those who reject this standard simply declare that acts are justified by war”. Discussing the long-term consequences, he points out various immediate aftermaths, such as the increasingly large military bases in Asia, the expansion of overwhelming military advantages over the rest of the world, and an increased advantage to move on with the mission of global dominance.
Chomsky critiques America’s insistence on internal security and its impact on the lives of citizens in countries the U.S. imagines as threatening global peace. This book offers some disturbing insights into this mindset and is a thoughtful exposition on matters of global importance.
Muhammad Ashraf is currently a research intern at Madeenathunnor, Calicut, Kerala. He is an interviewer, writer and independent research fellow, specializing in the areas of Sufism, Islamic studies and cultural anthropology. He is also interested in tradition, philology and subaltern literature
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