Can the U.S. bring justice?
October 12, 2001 | Pages 8 and 9
AHMED SHAWKI is editor of International Socialist Review and a member of the International Socialist Organization. He spoke at an evening plenary session of the People's Summit in Washington, D.C., in late September. These are excerpts from his speech.
THE TRAGEDY of September 11 is being used by the government of this country not to honor those who died, not to search for justice, but to advance its agenda.
Some of this agenda has been in the works for years, but couldn't be advanced. But they intend to try to use this crisis to push it as quickly as possible.
The attacks are coming fast and furious: militarism and a drive to war; a slew of attacks on minorities--Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs, people of color.
I'm wearing a button today that I wouldn't have thought I'd have to wear, which says simply, "No scapegoats! Being Arab is not a crime."
But it is the case that, instead of flying to D.C., I drove. It is the case that hundreds of Arabs, Muslims and others have been visited by law enforcement agencies to ask if they have a connection--what are their politics, what are their views.
It is the case that this government is moving forward with legislation to expand police powers. They're talking about surveillance mechanisms and about rolling back a whole number of rights that it took years and years to win.
And it isn't simply happening here in the United States. People will remember last summer's events in Genoa, Italy, where a 23-year-old global justice demonstrator named Carlo Giuliani was shot twice in the head and killed during protests of the Group of Eight summit.
The government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi came under some pressure and criticism after the bloody police raid on the headquarters of the organizers of the demonstrations, the Genoa Social Forum.
It may have gone unnoticed, but the investigation into the crimes of the Genoa police and the state security forces is over. There was a whitewash rushed through the Italian parliament of the police forces, leaving Berlusconi off the hook.
So here is what Silvio Berlusconi now feels like he can say to reporters: "We should be confident of the superiority of our civilization, which counts on value systems that have given people widespread prosperity and guarantees respect for human rights and religion. This respect does not exist in the Islamic countries."
And he goes on to discuss the need--and he puts it very bluntly--for the West and Christian civilization to recolonize those parts of the world that are now out of their reach.
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THAT'S THE kind of politics that are being floated today. And it's the kind of politics that domestically finds its reflection in George W. Bush's demands for Star Wars and new security laws.
Plus the Republicans who want to give money to the rich to fight terrorism. Their proposal is for a capital gains tax cut and a new tax structure to benefit the rich.
Why? To fight terrorism, of course. How? Well, it's not exactly clear.
But when it comes to the question of compensation for workers whose family members or colleagues died in the World Trade Center, not a penny is to be found in the U.S. Treasury.
As House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas said: "The model of thought that says we need to go out and extend unemployment benefits and health insurance benefits and so forth is not one which is commensurate with the American spirit."
A tragedy took place in America on September 11. But there isn't one America. There isn't one America that we stand all united in.
This country, from its very inception, was a country that privileged some and excluded many. It's a country that was built by the labor of many to the benefit of the few. And it's a country in which war has always been used, no matter how noble the supposed cause, in order to advance the interests of those who run this country.
Don't believe me. Believe U.S. Marine Gen. Smedley Butler, who wrote still the best indictment of imperialism that I've ever read by a member of the Marine Corps: "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the marine Corps And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism
"I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China, I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested."
Now people will say that Butler was talking about the 1910s. But I say that we already know what this war will be about.
We had a glimpse of it in 1991 Gulf War. That was supposedly a war to preserve "democracy" in a feudal monarchy.
That war produced the term "collateral damage"--the Pentagon's phrase meaning the death of innocents.
At the turn of the 20th century, four-fifths of all deaths in wars took place on the battlefields. By the turn of the new millennium, that proportion was reversed--four-fifths of those who die in wars are civilians.
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A CALL to war today will not bring us a step closer to justice. But it will bring danger and instability to the world that will cause further violence.
Now some people say, "What about justice?" The brother who spoke just said that we want justice, and we want peace. But I think he rightly also said that we have to be very wary who is asking for justice, on whose terms and in what way.
There've been some proposals, for instance, to have a tribunal to try those responsible for the attacks in the U.S., presided over by the United Nations. Yet this country has refused to abide by the UN resolutions that have asked for the condemnation of the state of Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.
The U.S. cares about the UN only when it serves its purposes. We should not be asked to respect two different sets of laws.
The abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass put it well in a speech on the Fourth of July. He said that you ask me to speak here on the Fourth of July, and you speak of freedom and dignity in a country that enforces slavery--this is the height of hypocrisy. And I condemn not the people of this country but those who would try to use the language of justice to advance their own narrow interests.
It wasn't so long ago, on March 21, 1983, that Ronald Reagan declared Afghanistan Day in honor of the "freedom fighters" who were fighting in Afghanistan, armed and trained by the CIA.
That's one group of people in this country that knows all about Osama bin Laden. In fact, the president's father would know something about that, too--about how it all started.
We will not allow them to take the language of justice away from our movement. We don't have to explain why we're against war, why we're for civil liberties and against racism--versus those who are on the other side.
In the 1960s, the United States meant two things to the world. On the one hand, it represented napalm, it represented war, and it represented the barbarism of the war it was conducting in Vietnam.
But it also represented something else to hundreds of thousands of people. I know my first thoughts at the time in Egypt were not about the Vietnam War--but were about the pride I felt when the Black Panther Party stood up and said we should have rights here.
There are two Americas. There's an America of the rich and powerful. And there's the one that represents us.
And there are also those who would bring war to this country, and there are those who are adamantly opposed to that war.