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Fw: [GP2001] Guardian of London: The Need for Dissent

Sep 22, 2001 11:36 PM
by Pendragon

A good reminder to stay true and not live in fear. Each one of your
voices is needed right now.

Peace + Solidarity,
"Barbara Lee Voted for Me."

September 18, 2001

Guardian of London

The Need for Dissent

Voices from Britain and the US highlight the risks of a hasty response

by George Monbiot

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 US
president has sought to increase the defense budget or wriggle out of
arms control treaties. He has been used to justify even President Bush's
missile deface program, 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.

The closer you look, the weaker the case against Bin Laden becomes.
While the terrorists who inflicted Tuesday's dreadful wound may have
been inspired by him, there is, as yet, no evidence that they were
instructed by him. Bin Laden's presumed guilt appears to rest on the
supposition that he is the sort of man who would have done it. But his
culpability is irrelevant: his 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.

By using Bin Laden as an excuse for demanding new military spending,
weapons manufacturers in America and Britain have enhanced his iconic
status among the disgruntled. His influence, in other words, has been
nurtured by the very industry which claims to possess the means of
stamping him out. This is not the only way in which the new terrorism
crisis has been exacerbated by corporate power. The lax airport security
which enabled the hijackers to smuggle weapons on to the planes was,
for example, the result of corporate lobbying against the stricter
controls the government had proposed.

Now Tuesday's horror is being used by corporations to establish the
preconditions for an even deadlier brand of terror. This week, while the
world's collective back is turned, Tony Blair intends to allow the
mixed oxide plant at Sellafield to start operating. The decision would
been front-page news at any other time. Now it's likely to be all but
invisible. The plant's operation, long demanded by the nuclear industry
and resisted by almost everyone else, will lead to a massive
proliferation of plutonium, and a high probability that some of it will
find its way into the hands of terrorists. Like Ariel Sharon, in other
words, Blair is using the reeling world's shock to pursue policies which
would be unacceptable at any other time.

For these reasons and many others, opposition has seldom been more
necessary. But it has seldom been more vulnerable. The right is seizing
the political space which has opened up where the twin towers of the
World Trade Center once stood.

Civil liberties are suddenly negotiable. The US seems prepared to lift
its ban on extra-judicial executions carried out abroad by its own
The CIA might be permitted to employ human rights abusers once more,
which will doubtless mean training and funding a whole new generation of
Bin Ladens. The British government is considering the introduction of
identity cards. Radical dissenters in Britain have already been
identified as terrorists by the Terrorism Act 2000. Now we're likely to
be treated as such.

The authoritarianism which has long been lurking in advanced capitalism
has started to surface. In these pages yesterday, William Shawcross
- Rupert Murdoch's courteous biographer - articulated the new
orthodoxy: America is, he maintained, "a beacon of hope for the world's
poor and dispossessed and for all those who believe in freedom of
thought and deed". These believers would presumably include the families
of the
Iraqis killed by the sanctions Britain and the US have imposed; the
peasants murdered by Bush's proxy war in Colombia; and the tens of
millions living under despotic regimes in the Middle East, sustained
and sponsored by the US.

William Shawcross concluded by suggesting that "we are all Americans
now", an echo of Pinochet's maxim that "we are all Chileans now": by
which he meant that no cultural distinctions would be tolerated and no
indigenous land rights recognized. Shawcross appeared to suggest that
those who question American power are the enemies of democracy. It's a
different way of formulating the warning voiced by members of the Bush
administration: "If you're not with us, you're against us."

The Daily Telegraph has set aside part of its leader column for a
directory of "useful idiots", by which it means those who oppose major
military intervention. Perhaps the roll of honor will soon include
families of some of the victims, who seem to be rather more capable of
restraint and forgiveness than the leader writers of the rightwing
press. Mark Newton-Carter, whose brother appears to have died in the
outrage, told one of the Sunday newspapers: "I think Bush should be
caged at the moment. He is a loose cannon. He is building up his forces
getting ready for a military strike. That is not the answer. Gandhi
said: 'An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind' and never a truer
word was spoken." But when the right is on the rampage, victims as well
as perpetrators are trampled.

Mark Twain once observed that "there are some natures which never grow
large enough to speak out and say a bad act is a bad act, until they
have inquired into the politics or the nationality of the man who did
it". The left is able to state categorically that Tuesday's terrorism
was a dreadful act, irrespective of provenance. But the right can't
bring itself to make the same statement about Israel's new invasions of
Palestine, or the sanctions in Iraq, or the US-backed terror in East
Timor, or the carpet bombing of Cambodia. Its critical faculties have
long been suspended and now, it demands, we must suspend ours too.

Retaining the ability to discriminate between good acts and bad acts
will become ever harder over the next few months, as new conflicts and
paradoxes challenge our preconceptions. It may be that a convincing
case against Bin Laden is assembled, whereupon his forced extradition
would be justified. But, unless we wish to help George Bush use
barbarism to defend the "civilization" he claims to represent, we must
distinguish between extradition and extermination.

Tuesday's terror may have signaled the beginning of the end of
globalization. The recession it has doubtless helped to precipitate,
coupled with a new and understandable fear among many Americans of
engagement with the outside world, could lead to a reactionary
protectionism in the US, which is likely to provoke similar responses on
this side of the Atlantic. We will, in these circumstances, have to be
careful not to celebrate the demise of corporate globalization., if it
merely gives way to something even worse.

The governments of Britain and America are using the disaster in New
York to reinforce the very policies which have helped to cause the
problem: building up the power of the defence industry, preparing to
launch campaigns of the kind which inevitably kill civilians, licensing
action. Corporations are securing new resources to invest in
instability. Racists are attacking Arabs and Muslims and blaming liberal
asylum policies for terrorism. As a result of the horror on Tuesday, the
right in all its forms is flourishing, and we are shrinking. But we must
not be cowed. Dissent is most necessary just when it is hardest to

 Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001 ###
(Originally published in the Guardian 18th September 2001. Reprinted
with permission from the author.) George Monbiot's book Captive
State: the corporate takeover of Britain is now published in

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