The truths and lies of 9/11.
Do they concern us?
by Rahnuma Ahmed
Being labelled a 'conspiracy theorist'
On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Twin Tower attacks in New York -- the attack on the Pentagon and a fourth passenger plane crashing in Shanksville, Pennsylvania is generally subsumed under this name -- I'd written "9/11, growing disbelief at US govt's account a decade later" (New Age, September 11, 2011).
My friend, writer Hana S. Ahmed posted the article on facebook (I don't have an fb account), and later forwarded me a comment on my article. I present it in its entirety below, exactly as I had received it: without marking out any of the typo errors, despite being overly long (space constraints of a daily). I must add, I haven't sought the commenter Zabin Mansoor's permission, on the grounds that having been posted on fb, it was not a private communication.
3:51am, September 12, 2011
"This is one seriously flawed article.
It appeared that the author had been reading up a lot from the pages of “conspiracy theorist” – aka a few nut cases who like to think 9-11 attack was orchestrated by US govt. It is preposterous – and without basis.
Invasion of Iraq was a colossal mistake by Bush admin, but rooting out AQ from Afghanistan was NOT (and bear in mind – more than half of American did not want him to be the president – meaning more than half of Americans did not approve his policies, and Bush does NOT equate American philosophy or sentiments or values). It is not secret that Bush admin defined an “Axis of Evil” – and some people like Cheney/Rove et al might have had some ill conceived idea of actually following through – but to think that the uprise by freedon-loving people that recently swept through Arabian peninsula, starting with Egypt in north Africa – is so “out there” that it begs to challenge the author’s depth of knowledge on U.S. politics and foreign policies.
The screen writers of the Hollywood action films do better job and come up with better theory than to make ill attempts of piecing some opinions (hardly facts) and then establish a cockamamie idea.
There are some dark episodes in U.S. political history – the one I personally find unforgiving is their siding with Pakistan while the generals launched an army to butcher innocent civilians 4 decades ago. Defenders of McCarthyism bring up cold-war, communist aggressions…what not. But truth is – Nixon/Kissinger admin allowed a genocide (of 3 million people) to happen. And then there was staged coup in 1953 in Iran to oust Mossadeg, that made way for the Shah family take over. Oh well – we know how that went. Shah was toppled only the country to be taken over by crazy fundamentalist…. So yes, in the past US poked its nose in to business that it shouldn’t have. But to try to connect the dots….where there is no line to be connected – is absolutely unacceptable.
Who could argue that Iraq war a horrible mistake. I am with those who claim Bush should face trial in international court. But even he would not allow the thought of attacking innocent civilians.
It angst me to see some people acting like they understand geopolitics and US role in it – especially of recent years – when in reality you don’t get to absolve just by reading some general’s books on war. Americans don’t have time to pick war with Libya – US is trying to end wars on two fronts already. And the $400 billions already spent – that came from tax payers like me. There is a new Nobel winning president in charge – and his admin is working to provide job security, affordable health care and energy independence for the people. Not that the systems are perfect here – but I have travelled to over 40 countries world wide, and I have not found a place where the system works as well as it does here.
The author mentioned how the buildings next to the towers did not collapse – to imply that the WTC towers were sabotaged is another scrawny theory. So the author does not understand the “engineering design of steel structure” – I get it, the author did not go to engineering school like I did – but then she should have read up on the reports – there are thousands of pages of reports available on how the jet fuel melted the metal structure that held the tower.
that The article is hurtful to the families of victims – who had been trying so hard to go on their lives."
In my brief reply to Zabin's comment, which Hana posted on fb, I had referred to people who did know better. Former president Eisenhower, and the 1,500 architects and engineers.
First, however I commented on her "breathless", without-pausing (to reflect on what she is writing) style of writing which does both her and me a disservice: one is often at a loss to understand what she means (re: Cheney/Rove...uprise by freedon-loving people...Arabian peninsula...Egypt in north Africa) and to assess whether she has really read my article carefully, which is necessary if one is to offer criticism. I pointed out that to say "even he [Bush] would not allow the thought of attacking innocent civilians" brushes away the fact that his policies had led to the attack and slaughter of "innocent" Afghan and Iraqi civilians (this implies that 3,000 American lives are far more precious than millions of Arab/Muslim lives, or, as critics maintain, that those who were killed in the Twin Tower attacks are "human", while Afghans/Iraqis are "unhuman").
Her notion of "dark episodes", I said, cannot explain the systemic nature of acts of aggression, war, occupation, death and destruction which are a result of continuing US policies, they reveal a superficial understanding of US history. I advised her to read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and to carefully read and reflect on US president Eisenhower's 1960 `Military Industrial Complex' speech, and president John F. Kennedy's speech on secret societies and the free press (I provided internet links).
While it is true, I said, that I don't understand the "engineering design of steel structure" -- I understand other things instead -- I assume that Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, the 1,500 architects and engineers who,
demand, a truly independent investigation with subpoena power in order to uncover the full truth surrounding the events of 9/11/01 – specifically the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers and Building 7. We believe there is sufficient doubt about the official story to justify re-opening the 9/11 investigation. The new investigation must include a full inquiry into the possible use of explosives that might have been the actual cause of the destruction of the World Trade Center Twin Towers and Building 7
do. (The number of architects and engineers has now increased to 1,700 plus). I provided her the link to Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, where these demands are raised in their petition to the members of the US House of Representatives and the Senate.
Further, I pointed out to Zabin, my article is not "hurtful" to victims families because many of them want to know the truth about 9/11; I forwarded the YouTube link of RememberBuilding7 Ad : "Stand with 9/11 Families : Demand NEW Building 7 Investigation" -- as evidence.
In reply, Zabin posted more comments (kindly forwarded by Hana), but it was not clear from her comments whether she was aware of/had read Zinn's book. Whether she had any inkling of his notion that the strength of the American system lay not in being the best working system as she contends, "I have travelled to over 40 countries world wide, and I have not found a place where the system works as well as it does here", but in, as Zinn writes,
[being] the most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in natural resources, talent, and labor power the system can afford to distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent to a troublesome minority. It is a country so powerful, so big, so pleasing to so many of its citizens that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to the small number who are not pleased. There is no system of control with more openings, apertures, leeways, flexibilities, rewards for the chosen, winning tickets in lotteries. There is none that disperses its controls more complexly through the voting system, the work situation, the church, the family, the school, the mass media--none more successful in mollifying opposition with reforms, isolating people from one another, creating patriotic loyalty” (A People’s History of the United States, 1492 to Present, 1980).
From Zabin’s reply it was not possible to gauge whether she had previous knowledge of/had bothered to look up president Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech to the nation: his revelatory notion of the US being a “military-industrial complex”, which was a new phenomenon, unknown during the Second World War or the Korean War (1950-53). That the permanent armanents industry which it had been compelled to create to ward off potential aggressors was one of “vast proportions” (more was spent on military security than the “net income of all United States corporations”), and, that this had “grave implications” for the structure of society. The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry had led to “total influence”, not only in the (more predictable) “economic [and] political” spheres, but “even [in the] spiritual” sphere.
The military-industrial complex, he cautioned, could acquire “unwarranted influence.” It had the “potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power”; it could “endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” He warned American citizens that nothing should be “taken for granted”; that what America needed was an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” to “compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
But has that happened in the fifty plus years since he uttered these dire words of caution? Has concern for security been balanced with securing and further entrenching civil liberties?
Of course, it hasn’t.
On the contrary, the military-industrial complex has expanded into what what has been termed the “military-industrial-Congressional-academic-media complex” with many other national institutions having been drawn into and made subservient to the military-industrial complex. Every Congressional district appear to have links to the complex because it is defense contractors who provide the jobs, thereby ensuring that Congressional representatives vote in favour of public funds being allotted to private defense contractors; the academia and mainstream media provide support and cover for war-mongering, and the conduct of war (David Krieger, Remembering Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, Common Dreams, January 15, 2011).
The mainstream media and the defense industry linked? How? NBC provides a good example, its owner is General Electric which “designed, manufactured or supplied parts or maintenance for nearly every major weapon system used by the U.S. during the Gulf War” -- this includes the Patriot and Tomahawk Cruise missiles, the Stealth bomber, the B-52 bomber, the AWACS plane, and the NAVSTAR spy satellite system. This means that when correspondents and paid consultants on NBC television praise the performance of U.S. weapons, they are actually eulogising “equipment made by GE, the corporation that pays their salaries.” (Norman Solomon, The Military-Industrial Media Complex, Extra, July/August 2005).
But, as I’ve said above, from Zabin’s reply to my rejoinder, as well as further comments posted by her, there was nothing to indicate that she had looked up these sources, had thought and reflected on why the former president ‘s characterisation of the American system has not only not been forgotten but has been further developed by analysts to deepen our understanding of the entire network of institutions and ideologies, which in “conjunction” wield power in the United States. A network of power so deeply entrenched that George Kennan, American adviser, diplomat, political scientist and historian, wrote in the preface to Norman Cousin’s book, The Pathology of Power (1987),
Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial complex would have to remain, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy (preface, The Pathology of Power, 1987).
In her subsequent posts, Zabin did not offer any apology regarding my so-called “scrawny theory”, there was no self-correction given that 1,500 architects and engineers who do understand the “engineering design of steel structures” have publicly challenged the official explanation of Building 7’s destruction and have teamed up with the “families of victims” (who find it difficult to “go on [with] their lives” without knowing the truth about why and how they lost their loved ones) in order to build up public pressure so that the New York City Council and the Manhattan District Attorney are compelled to open an investigation. Building 7, a 47-story skyscraper on the north side of the WTC was not hit by an airplane (in other words, the “jet fuel” theory even if applicable for the Twin Towers can not be mechanically applied here), it suffered minimal damage from the collapse of the Twin Towers. It collapsed in “under 7 seconds” on the afternoon of September 11, 2001, and, as demolition experts and other knowledgeable persons have repeatedly insisted, its collapse “closely resembles a controlled demolition.”
Instead, Zabin wrote back to say she stood “uncorrected.” This means that the “dark episodes” which she spoke of in her first comment -- invasion of Iraq, US support for Pakistan’s genocide in its then eastern wing (now Bangladesh), the CIA’s overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran -- remained isolated instances, functioning more as name-droppers rather than affording us an opportunity to trace ruptures and continuities in the history of American empire-building.
In her last post, after saying that the “implication that 9-11 was an insider job -- something Bush admin concocted -- is preposterous. Absurd to the highest degree” she held forth on Bush and the American system:
...world-leaders like Bush are guilty of bad foreign policies – but they are seriously patriotic about their country and its people (in their own ways). People not familiar with US ways or their philosophies cannot the [sic] fathom what great length public officials would go to protect its citizens. It is not an American way to orchestrate something as remotely as 9-11 (unless it is an act of domestic violence by those alike [sic] Tim McVay [sic] who are anti establishment to begin with – they want abolition of all forms of govt).
People not familiar with US ways or their philosophies -- can one reasonably say this of president Eisenhower, who’d warned that the military-industrial system could acquire “unwarranted influence”? Could “endanger our liberties or democratic processes”? Who’d cautioned citizens to “take nothing for granted”?
Or, of Howard Zinn (American academic historian, author, playwright, social activist, tenured political science professor, Boston University), who’d analysed the American system as being “the most ingenious system of control in world history”?
Or, George Kennan who’d said that if the Soviet Union were to sink tomorrow the American military-industrial complex would have to “remain substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented”?
Zabin had added, being a “sworn Bush-hater” did not mean she would fall for any “half-baked theory” that Bush or people in his administration had anything to do with 9/11. Her concluding line was, “I don’t understand how people consider themselves serious writer [sic] when all they are doing is taking a quote from here, and a quote from there
– and scotchtaping a theory and feeding it relatively low-info, anti-US Bangladeshis.” But if I hadn’t quoted, I’m reasonably sure that she would have accused me of having made them up.
Since Zabin’s last post was prefaced by “Okay. This will be last email from me about this”, I did not pursue rebuttals any further. If I had, I would surely have picked up on the issue of sources cited by me.
Besides Bush and CentCom commander general Tommy Franks, I’d cited,
– Professor Michel Chossudovsky (professor emeritus, University of Ottawa, Canada; contributor to Encyclopaedia Britannica; his works have been published in more than twenty languages)
– Wesley Clark (retired four star general, former commanding general of US European Command)
– Colonel Ronald D Ray (deputy assistant secretary of defence during Reagan administration, a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran)
– Dr Steve Pieczenik (deputy assistant secretary of state under Henry Kissinger, Cyrus Vance and James Baker; a medical doctor, with doctoral degrees in psychiatry (Harvard), and international relations (MIT))
The last four cited were quoted as having said that the invasion of Afghanistan was planned well in advance of 9-11 (Clark, Chossudovsky) and, that 9/11 was a false flag operation (Ray, Pieczenik).
What could be more preposterous and absurd than calling people with such credentials “nut cases”?
There is something else I would like to take up briefly: Zabin’s faith in Obama. “There is a new Nobel winning president in charge – and his admin is working to provide job security, affordable health care and energy independence for the people.”
This faith, however, has not been borne out by subsequent events. Job security? The Obama administration has cut government jobs and spending, accompanied by repeated calls for greater austerity (for the majority, not the 1%). Affordable health care? Surely not, for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (dubbed the Unaffordable Care Act by critics) subsidises the pharmaceutical and insurance companies, not the public. Energy independence? The Obama administration is pursuing the same energy geopolitics pioneered by Dick Cheney, during the two former Bush administrations (Michael Klare, “Is Barack Obama morphing into Dick Cheney?” June 21, 2012).
But one of the more pernicious changes introduced domestically by the Obama administration is the recent ruling on election funding: while limits have been placed on campaign donations from individuals and businesses (PAC for political action committees) plus the need to disclose, corporations, unions and wealthy individuals have been allowed to “operate totally independently” which means Super PACs can spend as much as they wish on election campaign media packages. They can also hold fundraisers to solicit money from donor with no limits (Patrick Henningsen, “Israeli lobby launch new Super PAC effort to bring down Ron Paul,” Global Research, January 21, 2012).
And the “new Noble winning president in charge” has made fun of the Peace prize he was awarded by expanding the so-called war on terror -- drone attacks, covert operations, presidentially selected assassinations -- leading Aaron David Miller, an advisor to six secretaries of state, to call him “George W. Bush on steroids” (Barack O’Romney, Foreign Policy, May 23, 2012).
But she’s not the only one to allege that I indulge in “conspiracy theories.”
Very recently, a Dhaka-based British journalist wrote an email to Nurul Kabir, editor, New Age -- after the daily had published my “London Bombings & Tony Blair’s ‘Ludicrous Diversion’” on the seventh anniversary of the 7/7 bombings (July 30, 2012) -- accusing me of writing one “conspiracy theory” article after another, and I quote, “Is Osama bin laden really dead? 9/11 was done by the US state?” There is “no analysis” in my articles, he complained, adding, I “NEVER” (in caps) look at “the information from all sides” but “simply” repeat extreme right wing conspiracy theorist arguments which support my own prejudices.
In other words, the official account, be it of 9/11 or the London bombings, is sacrosanct. One may question the existence of God, I mused, but not US/UK government narratives. Independence for an investigative journalist does not stretch that far, at least not in this earthly world. The US, with its awesome arsenal of retributive powers, is the new God.
I do not want to go into too many details about his letters here but after pointing out in my rejoinder, mailed to Kabir (I’m grateful to him for having forwarded the said journalist’s letter and his reply to my rebuttal) that not only had I not consulted the source which the journalist accused me of -- Muad Dib’s documentary 7/7 Ripple Effect -- but instead, the ones which I had (Tom Secker, J7) were equally critical of Muad Dib’s reconstruction of the London bombings (“a Saturday night fictional TV thriller,” Ripple Effect’s narrative is as “unsubstantiated” as the government one). The journalist responded, yes, she’s right about the source thing, but “they come from the same kind of mindset.”
Wha..? Did I get that right? How can a thinking person claim that two opposed lines of thinking/proceeding/inquiry basically belong to the “same” mindset? Does it not betray a fetishistic notion of “mindset”, a fixation, one that defies the whole art of investigation: searching for evidence, sifting, cross-checking, analysing, discussing the methods and approaches followed, debating why the adoption of a particular line of inquiry is better, why it yields more credible results than the other. I found what he said astounding, almost akin to saying that a correspondent reporting on the court proceedings of the International War Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka who, by raising questions regarding the fairness of the tribunal holds the same position as that of say, a journalist who supports alleged war criminals of the Jamaat-e-Islami, who expresses apparently similar reservations about the tribunal. No context, no thick description, no political contestations, brushing them all off with a magical notion of “mindset.”
In my rebuttal, I wrote that I had expected him to engage not in personal slander, but to engage with the issues that I’d raised in my article on the London bombing, how the official account -- as presented in the government report, ISC report, and the inquest report -- of the London bombings fails to identify or provide explanations for,
i) the actual explosive used, this has not been established or determined
ii) the motives of the alleged perpetrators has not been established
iii) witness statements about the four alleged bombers are either contrary to the official version or vague, unreliable and contradictory
iv) the absence of CCTV footage, amazing given the fact that the UK is the “most surveilled” of all western indsutrialised states
v) inquests have not been held into the deaths of the alleged bombers (required under British law)
and, other alarming trends which speak of legalising government cover-ups ad inifinitum, a shoot-to-kill policy, and the outsourcing of torture to Bangladesh.
vi) the passage of the Inquiries Act 2005 (dubbed the Public Inquiries Coverup Bill) which decrees that any inquiry will be controlled by the relevant government minister who is empowered to block public scrutiny of state actions
viii) allegations that those police officers who had gunned down 27-year old Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes have received promotions and
viiii) former civil servant from Wales Jamil Rahman’s torture in Bangladesh, which as reported in The Guardian was carried out to make Jamil Rahman confess to being the mastermind of the July 7/7 bombings.
But in his reply to my letter, not a whiff of a response to any of these issues. Instead, a repetition of what he’d written earlier, this time, at greater length. His basic criticism, he said, of all the (so-called) conspiracy theories which I’ve (allegedly) written, “remains” (reminiscent of Zabin’s arrogant, “I stand uncorrected”). Conspiracy theorists, he added, attack the “US/UK and other states for mass murder of their own citizens”, they have no credibility except in the “fringes of society/journalism or those willing to believe them.” Reputable newspapers with reputable journalists do not publish these accounts not because they are “pro-state lackeys” but because these are “absurd theories” which “do not stand up to scrutiny.”
And oh yes, a not so veiled accusation of anti-Semitism as well (perhaps predictable?),
I am sure it will not be long before she writes about how there were no Nazi death camps in WWII - there are a few discredited historians like David Irving who I am sure would love a bit of promotion.
No engagement, a blocking-off, a shutdown. In both cases, it seemed I’d written to a stone wall, or a block of thick wood. Their responses had no reference to any critical literature, produced either by academics or investigative journalists.
To provide an instance of the latter, American journalists David Wise and Thomas B. Ross in The Invisible Government (1964), claim that there are two governments in the United States, one is visible, the other is invisible. Citizens reading their newspapers and children studying civics books know only about the first. The second is the “interlocking hidden machinery that carries out [American] policies” in the Cold War. It “gathers intelligence, conducts espionage, and plans and executes secret operations all over the globe.” It is not a formal body but a loose, amorphous grouping of individuals and agencies drawn from many parts of the visible government. It is not limited to the CIA, although the CIA is its heart. It is not confined to the nine other agencies which together form the intelligence community but includes many other units, agencies, individuals as well, which “appear outwardly to be a normal part of the conventional government” but encompass seemingly private business firms.
When John McCone, director, CIA discovered that the book looked into his ties to the military-industrial complex, the CIA secretly obtained its proof copies from the publishers, McCone demanded deletions, when the authors refused, the CIA considered buying up all copies of the book. When Random House pointed out that it would then go for a second edition, McCone formed a special group which would deal with the book, would get bad reviews written.
The point that I want to make is this, it is difficult to conduct any meaningful conversation with those who, whether engineers or journalists, apparently do not keep track of the debates and contestations made by professional practitioners within their own respective fields -- whether concerning a particular event such as 9/11, or longer-term analyses of how power works in a particular/state setting (which of course does not mean that I expect the said journalist to agree with everything that Wise and Ross have written, or others, such as Daniel Ellsberg, author of The Pentagon Papers, or, Myra MacPherson’s All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I. F. Stone. All that I insist is that he expand his reading material, and that it be evident from what he writes, even if it be to a colleague because letters also express, fortunately or unfortunately, as Bengalis would put it, the writer’s peter bidya). With those who repeatedly refuse to engage with the issues, with the evidence which contradicts their own “prejudices” (choosing the path of personal slander instead), demonstrating, if I may use the word, a “mindset” which reflects a lack of openness, a free, enquiring and critical mind, one which, as Eisenhower would put it, does not take things for granted.
“Standing uncorrected,” or “remain”-ing self-righteously convinced reflects nothing else but an appalling ignorance of the growing body of serious, academic scholarship on 9/11.
It also begs the question, whose interests, knowingly or unknowingly, does parroting allegations of “conspiracy theory” serve?
Conceptual flaws of the epithet “conspiracy theory”
I turn to Michael Parenti now, who, to my knowledge has written the best critique of mindlessly trotting out the slur, “conspiracy theory.”
Some individuals believe, he writes, almost as an “article of faith” that “conspiracies are either kooky fantasies or unimportant aberrations.” While wacko conspiracy theories do exist, it is not logical to assume that “all conspiracies are imaginary.”
Conspiracy is recognised as a legitimate concept in law: “the collusion of two or more people pursuing illegal means to effect some illegal or immoral end.” People judged to be guilty of conspiring receive imprisonment (in Bangladesh, this can be death by hanging). Wanting to know whether a conspiracy has occurred, for instance, whether two or more people had colluded in the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, was a matter of concern not only for Awami League politicians, but for many Bangladeshis. However, it is simultaneously true that curiosity regarding the role of US former secretary of state Henry Kissinger in the assassination was confined to a lesser number of people (the Awami League has largely been silent on the matter, members of the shusheel shomaj or the foreign-funded designer ‘civil society’ prefer to ignore it completely), but this does not mean that wanting to know the truth about the assassination was/is not regarded as a rightful endeavour and a worthwhile pursuit in a larger community of scholars, researchers, journalists etc. The English American author and journalist Christopher Hitchens is to be congratulated for having performed this deed most admirably in his The Trial of Henry Kissinger (2001) (but of course not for his ardent support of the Iraq war).
The Watergate break-in, and the Watergate cover-up, says Parenti, were both conspiracies which led to US president Richard Nixon’s downfall, as was the Iran contra affair, and the savings and loan scandal. I would like to mention here the presently running Libor scandal in the UK and how both members of the public and the journalist community regard it as legitimate to frame questions on the lines of “conspiracy” in their urge to know the truth about what precisely happened and which actors were involved. For instance, it is not extraordinary to come across news reports titled thus: “The Libor conspiracy: Were the Bank of England and the Whitehall in on it?” (The Independent, July 4, 2012). Now, does that make the reporters working on the story, Oliver Wright, James Moore and Nigel Morris, “conspiracy theorists” or, journalists investigating a conspiracy? Surely, the latter.
Those who suffer from conspiracy phobia are fond of saying: “Do you actually think there’s a group of people sitting around in a room plotting things?” For some reason that image is assumed to be so patently absurd as to invite only disclaimers. But where else would people of power get together - on park benches or carousels? Indeed, they meet in rooms: corporate boardrooms, Pentagon command rooms, at the Bohemian Grove, in the choice dining rooms at the best restaurants, resorts, hotels, and estates, in the many conference rooms at the White House, the NSA, the CIA, or wherever. And, yes, they consciously plot - though they call it “planning” and “strategizing” - and they do so in great secrecy, often resisting all efforts at public disclosure.
...Yet there are individuals who ask with patronizing, incredulous smiles, do you really think that the people at the top have secret agendas, are aware of their larger interests, and talk to each other about them? To which I respond, why would they not? This is not to say that every corporate and political elite is actively dedicated to working for the higher circles of power and property. Nor are they infallible or always correct in their assessments and tactics or always immediately aware of how their interests are being affected by new situations. But they are more attuned and more capable of advancing their vast interests than most other social groups.
The alternative is to believe that the powerful and the privileged are somnambulists, who move about oblivious to questions of power and privilege; that they always tell us the truth and have nothing to hide even when they hide so much; that although most of us ordinary people might consciously try to pursue our own interests, wealthy elites do not; that when those at the top employ force and violence around the world it is only for the laudable reasons they profess; that when they arm, train, and finance covert actions in numerous countries, and then fail to acknowledge their role in such deeds, it is because of oversight or forgetfulness or perhaps modesty; and that it is merely a coincidence how the policies of the national security state so consistently serve the interests of the transnational corporations and the capital-accumulation system throughout the world (Dirty Truths, 1996).
So, one of the obvious questions one is confronted with, is this: when did the “conspiracy phobia” begin, which, as should be obvious, appears to be the most powerful tool operating to de-legitimise any questions that contest the official account of 9/11, its power deriving not only from encouraging self-censorship, but making people think that this is the only way of being patriotic (not, ala Thomas Jefferson, dissent is patriotic), of being intellectually and morally superior (from the rabble, i.e., kooky conspiracy theorists).
Professor Graeme MacQueen, professor emeritus of the Religious Studies Department at McMaster University and one of the founders and directors of McMaster’s Centre for Peace Studies, thinks that the notion of conspiracy theory really took off, at least, in north America, after the assassination of America’s former president John F. Kennedy (I’ll introduce the event at which he said this later). In his discussion MacQueen points to something which provides an interesting contrast to the phobia one encounters when questions are raised about the official account of 9/11. The Warren Commission, which was set up to investigate the assassination of JFK, had worked on the basis of two distinct hypotheses: that there was a sole perpetrator (the ‘lone gun’) and, that it was a conspiracy i.e., more than one person was involved. There is no doubt that the Commission reached the “wrong conclusion” (that JFK was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald), says MacQueen, but that is a separate issue. What is important to remember is that there were two positions, and that both were regarded as being legitimate. However, this is not the case with 9/11; any dissenting opinion, he says, is immediately labelled as being a conspiracy theory which is absurd because the crime of 9/11 was obviously nothing else but a conspiracy. “Obviously there were two or more people, obviously it was planned, obviously it was criminal, obviously they did it in secret.” Whether the perpetrators were 19 Saudis or others, the fact of the matter remains that it was a conspiracy.
Which brings me to ask, if the Warren Commission, set up by an executive order, could legitimately entertain two hypotheses to probe into JFK’s assassination why is it that posing two hypotheses on 9/11 becomes “absurd”, “preposterous”, an activity partaken only by those at the “fringes” of society?
For, to push the point even further, it would imply that the Warren Commission, by entertaining more than one hypothesis had done something absurd, preposterous, an activity befitting only the lunatic fringes of society.
A studious ignorance of 9/11 scholarship
Studies conducted by academic dissenters to the official account of 9/11 has grown over the last decade plus; I have mentioned two names above, professors Michel Chossudovsky and Graeme MacQueen, but there are many others.
One of the leading scholars is David Ray Griffin, professor emeritus, philosophy of religion and theology, at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California (1973-2004), where he remains a co-director of the Center for Process Studies. The New Statesman named Griffin one of The 50 People Who Matter Today. Professor Griffin, who has meticulously examined the official story as laid down in government reports, is a prolific writer and I list some of the titles of his books to signal the nature of his contribution to 9/11 studies (as the field has come to be known): 9/11 Ten Years Later: When State Crimes Against Democracy Succeed (2011); Cognitive Infiltration: An Obama Appointee’s Plan to Undermine the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory (2010); The Mysterious Collapse of World Trade Center 7: Why the Final Official Report About 9/11 Is Unscientific and False (2009); The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Cover-Up, and the Exposé (2008); Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory (2007); Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action (2006); 9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out, Vol 1, co-edited with Peter Dale Scott (2006); The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (2004); The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11, co-authored with Richard Falk (2004). New Pearl Harbor and De-bunking received the Helios Foundation and Independent Publisher Book Awards respectively.
For those who don’t know, Pearl Harbor refers to the Japanese attack of a US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawai in 1941; strong evidence indicates that the US government knew of the impending attack but “let it happen” in order to galvanise public support for America’s entry into World War II. Incidents such as these are known as ‘false flag’ attacks, which refer to the secret staging of attacks, and then blaming the enemy for it. The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an American thinktank based in Washington D.C. (1997-2006) whose stated goal was to “promote American global leadership”, in a document, pondered the need for “some catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a New Pearl Harbor” to assure the establishment of unilateral American power globally in the post-Cold War era (Rebuilding America’s Defenses. Strategy, Forces and Resources for A New American Century. A Report of the Project for the New American Century, September 2000). Many of PNAC’s core members were later appointed to serve in the George W. Bush administration: Richard Cheney (vice president), I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby (chief of staff for the vice president), Donald Rumsfeld (department of defense), Dov S. Zakheim (department of defense), Robert Zoellick
(department of state), Richard Armitage (department of state), John Bolton (department of state), Elliott Abrams (National Security Council), Paul
Wolfowitz (World Bank), Zalmay Khalilzad (US ambassador to Iraq), etc.
To return to David Ray Griffin, professor emeritus, the author of nearly thirty books, 240 articles and chapters, the editor of thirteen collections, international, peer-reviewed -- fringes of society? Has no credibility?
Hey, who was it who said, “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about”?
But other adjectives have also been put into play to de-legitimise the questioning of the official account. Jonathan Kay, editorialist at the National Post, Canada’s major national newspaper, wrote a book titled, Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground (2011). However, as Anthony Hall -- professor at the University of Lethbridge, Canada, who organised a multi-site Skype event, “The Responsibility of the Academy to Illuminate the Truths and Lies of 9/11” retaliated in the introduction to the event -- “I can assure you here that we are not underground, we are not in a cave in Afghanistan, we are on the 5th level of Togo Salomon Hall at the McMaster University, and we are very much public, we actually use our names, we are all well-published people, and we take responsibility for what we say” (see photo caption for names of other participants). The Skype discussion was part of his course “Capital, Culture & Globalisation.” Professor Hall graciously dedicated the event to Jonathan Kay.
Participants in a multi-site Skype event titled “The Responsibility of the Academy to Illuminate the Truths and Lies of 9/11” (from furthest behind to forward): professors Niels Harrit (centre), Anthony Hall (left), research student Joshua Blakeney (right), Graeme MacQueen (centre), PhD student Laurie Manwell (standing), Professor Colin Salter (head showing). Professor Michael Truscillo (not in photograph) skyped from Mount Royal University in Alberta, Canada. Main event (this photo) held at McMaster University, Ontario, Canada. March 2, 2011.
Speaking truth to power, as is only to be expected, has not enhanced professional acclaim and prestige. Some have lost their jobs, for instance, tenured physics professor Steven Jones at Brigham Young University (Utah, US), author of the research paper, “Why indeed did the WTC buildings completely collapse?” (2005) in which he called for a “serious investigation of the hypothesis that WTC 7 and the Twin Towers were brought down, not just by damage and fires, but through the use of pre-positioned explosives.” Jones drew attention to anomalies and deficiencies in the official explanations (reports by Federal Emergency Managment Agency, National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/11 Commission): symmetry of the collapses, speed of the collapses, characteristics of dust jets, reports of molten metal in the debris piles, and failures of the official collapse theories. Brigham Young University, by the way, had been voted to censure by the American Association of University Professors in 1998, for infringements on academic freedom and a “distressingly poor” climate of academic freedom (Jonathan Adams, Secular Humanist Bulletin, Vol 23, No 1, 2007).
Dr Kevin Barrett too, lost his Wisconsin university teaching position; according to Joshua Blakeney (“The Responsibility of the Academy..”) he was demonised by FoxNews for his class on Islam. Dr Barrett has authored the book, Truth Jihad: My Epic Struggle against the 9/11 Big Lie (2007), an incredibly humorous autobiography documenting his search for 9/11 Truth.
While faculty members have had to pay with the price of tenure losses, many 9/11 whistleblowers with first hand information seem to have had to pay a much steeper price. Those who have died under “questionable circumstances” are, Barry Jennings, Beverly Eckert, Kenneth Johannemann, Michael Doran, Christopher Landis, Bertha Champagne, Paul Smith, Deborah Palfrey, Major General David Wherley, Salvatore Princiotta, Dr. David Graham (see, software engineer Kip Warner’s letter to the minister of Public Safety, Canada, February 22, 2011).
Another thing which piqued my interest as a former academic, was what Niels Harrit
-- Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), who has taught for over forty years -- said at the McMaster university’s multi-skyped event. Dr. Harrit is the lead scientist of the nine-author European, Australian and American peer reviewed study which found “nanothermite,” an ultra high tech incendiary explosive produced by the military, capable of slicing through steel beams, in the World Trade Center dust. At the McMaster event, Dr. Harrit said, there are engineers who have said in radio programmes that what I’m saying is “rubbish.” They can get away with saying this only when they are alone, say, in a TV or radio programme, or if they’re writing in their blogs, but it is not possible for scientists who support the official explanation to do so in an academic setting “together in a group of peers.” In Denmark, I have knocked and kicked on every door possible, I have said, why don’t we have a hearing, why can’t the Danish Academy of Engineers or the Technical Higher Schools make a symposium or half-day meeting or whatever, in which somebody among you gets up and defends the official story. But they stonewall completely because “You can lie when you are alone but you cannot lie at the lunchtable.”
The Towers, he says, were brought down by “controlled demolition.” Period.
One of the earliest dissenting studies of 9/11 which I personally came across was The Hidden History of 9-11-2001; the journal, Research in Political Economy, edited by professor Paul Zarembka, had devoted a whole issue to 9/11 (Vol 23, 2006). A bunch of impeccably researched articles, which were definitely an eye-opener for me. I was particularly amazed and yes, shocked to read Jay Kolar’s “What we now know about the alleged 9-11 hijackers.” Eleven of the FBI-named hijackers could not have been on the planes, argues Kolar, because “10 [were] still alive and another’s identity [had been] improvised by a double.” The “hijackers” had not only been closely monitored by agencies which denied having done so, an undercover FBI agent had lived with them the previous year. There were other revelations too, the hijackers had “national security overrides, protection in their alternate roles as drug traffickers, and deep political connections with governing elites.” But what was most amazing was the unravelling of the “devout/pious Muslim hijackers” myth. Mohamed Atta, the ringleader, had betrayed “the life of a playboy heavily into drinking, using cocaine (according to the testimony of his stripper girlfriend, Amanda Keller), carousing, and even eating pork” after arriving in Florida in 2000.
Very revealing too was “Terrorism and statecraft: Al-Qaeda and Western covert operations after the Cold War” by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed (executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Development, an independent think tank; faculty, University of Sussex; British-born, of Bangladeshi descent). Al-Qaeda, he argues and details with a fascinating array of evidence, is not the monolithic, hierarchical organisation led by Osama bin Laden as is conventionally portrayed but “a network whose raison d’etre and modus operandi are inextricably embedded in a disturbing conglomerate of international Western diplomatic, financial, military and intelligence policies today.” You would of course need to read the article to be persuaded as I was, but that al-Qaeda is not the West’s sworn enemy, as was drummed into our ears for nearly a decade, has become evident with it’s fighters fighting with Nato, on the same side, first in Libya to topple Gaddafi, and now, in the goal of regime change in Syria. How does one explain that if we take the official story of 9/11 -- “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda...”, George W. Bush, September 20, 2001 -- at face value?
There have been more recent journal collections devoted entirely to 9/11; the American Behavioral Scientist (February 2010) and the Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies (2011); both are international and peer-reviewed. In the former, I came across Lance deHaven-Smith’s “Beyond conspiracy theory: Patterns of high crime in American government”, a most impressive piece of theoretical exploration, it analyses post-World War II state crimes against democracy and highlights a number of commonalities -- targets, timing and policy consequences -- in the occurrence of such suspected crimes. They often appear when “presidential politics and foreign policy intersect”; they are different from earlier forms of political corruption, the latter are more likely to “involve political, military and/or, economic elites at the very highest levels of the social and political order.”
In “9/11, torture and law” professor Michael Keefer first states unequivocally that the official narrative is “in every significant detail...either false or misleading”, then moves into a much needed clarification, the notion that the US government has been forced to practice torture, that it is a legitimate response to the terror attack by Muslim fundamentalists on 9/11 -- is absolutely false. For over half a century the US has been the “principal international disseminator of torture”, methods developed by the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s were “propagated to American satrapies throughout Latin America and Asia.” What was new for me however, was that most of the information in chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the 9/11 Commission Report, the most critical ones as they deal with the planning and the execution of the attacks, came from “interrogations.” This makes them legally inadmissible, but Keefer moves on to other, more important issues after drawing our attention to the fact that admissions elicited from the “9/11 mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could well have been confirmed by another “high-value prisoner” Abu Zubaydah, but the former was waterboarded 183 times by the CIA, and the latter, 83 times! Since the statements of those tortured express nothing else but the “intentionality of the torturers” -- torture, in short, is nothing but a form of “ventriloquism” -- this means that the 9/11 Commission Report’s statements about “the agencies responsible for the attacks that launched the War on Terror...have the epistemic status of pure fiction.”
Another article, this one from the Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies, which impressed me tremendously did so because it shook my own understanding and approach. Jack Bratich in “The shadow state-form of thought: Cultural studies and conceptual strategies” argues against overempasising the display of evidence because it repeats discursive moves within the current regime of truth and is thereby, detrimental to dissent. Cultural studies work, he says, should not be grounded in the distinction between kooky/wacko vs. credible evidence because this presumes two things, the “power of scholarship” and the “power of numbers.” The first is likely to lead us into murky terrain as curricula in certain American educational institutions is being organised to teach creationism as a legitimate option; in the case of the second, 500,000 strong rallies of anti-war protestors in NYC in 2003 were described by George W. Bush as a “focus group”, this should make us re-think the whole issue as it implies that discourse is not about numbers but about a “power of decision.” Of course, this does not mean that the issue of evidence is unimportant, adds Bratich, “one hypothesis might [well] become more compelling than the other”, but his point is that there is “no need to bring in a term like conspiracy theory to demarcate any of them.” Cultural studies should concentrate instead on disrupting the “dominant conceptual mechanisms of measuring truth” by disabling a concept like “conspiracy theories.”
Psychological explanations for ‘conspiracy phobia’
Playwright Arthur Miller had once remarked,
Few of us can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied.
If the state is losing its mind, then, maybe, one should not be so harsh on those who reject that which they know nothing about.
Laurie Manwell, one of the participants at the McMaster skype event, a PhD candidate in behavioral neuroscience and toxicology at the University of Guelph, is also one of the contributors to the American Behavioral Scientist 9/11 issue, “In denial of democracy: Social psychological implications for public discourse on state crimes against democracy post-9/11” (The Arthur Miller quote above, is taken from her article).
What prevents people from processing information which “challenges preexisting assumptions about government, dissent, and public discourse in a democratic society”?
Manwell writes, research which draws on terror management theory (TMT) and system justification theory (SJT) reveals that if the validity of a person’s worldview is threatened -- in other words, the security provided by that worldview -- the reaction can range from contempt to physical aggression. Since cultural worldviews provide deep security at a psychological level, and yet are “fragile constructions”, those who have different worldviews are met with a combination of disdain, attempts to convert them to one’s own views, and aggression.
The application of TMT concepts in research yields results demonstrating that when people are exposed to information which gives rise to thoughts related to death, they show a “greater bias toward their country or religion...increased support for charismatic leaders, especially in times of national threat.” However, generally, people are not conscious of the threatening thoughts and emotions associated with an event that invade their mind in order to protect themselves from reexperiencing the trauma.
After the attacks of 9/11, “heightened mass anxiety and fear” have in all likelihood been fostered by, for example, repeated media presentations of highly emotional images, such as those of the destruction of the Twin Towers accompanied by screams of witnesses, leading to long-lasting fear and aversion related to these events. The phrase “9/11” has become indivisible from “traumatic death, destruction, and terrorism.” It has affected many Americans and Canadians; when reminded of 9/11 there has been an “increase in defensive and aggressive behavior.” Research indicates that when Americans are reminded of 9/11, their support for president Bush and counter-terrorism policies increase. A year later, New York residents, who were still suffering from stress, displayed a “greater willingness to surrender some of their civil liberties.” A study of Canadians undertaken at the same time showed an “exaggerate[d]...pride and confidence in their country and their contempt for Islam.”
These findings indicate, says Manwell, that if people are prompted with reminders of 9/11, it can lead to the rise of strong emotions which may be used by both government officials and mainstream media to manipulate the behavior of citizens.
What if the existing social, economic and political arrangements are unjust and exploitative? Are people still willing to defend and justify them? Yes, says Manwell, and in this case many social psychological mechanisms exist which help to maintain “consistency, coherence, and certainty, and existential needs to manage various forms of threat and distress and to find meaning in life.” To acquire or hold definite answers to questions -- rather than suffering from uncertainty, confusion or ambiguity -- people would rather evaluate less information. Faulty beliefs (justifying one’s society despite obvious flaws) may persist at both individual and societal levels because they promote feelings of safety and justice, which are psychologically reassuring.
But if people resort to justifying the unjust system in which they live, what happens, are there other consequences? Well, yes. It can interfere with gaining an awareness of things such as religious and political conservatism, American capitalism, and foreign military intervention. The failure to think critically about whether one’s worldview is valid, i.e., “the tendency to believe that oneself always sees and responds to the world objectively”, means that when others do not agree with their particular worldview people insist their’s is not based on reality.
It is not surprising, therefore, that when confronted with the inconsistencies of the events of September 11, 2001—for example, conflicts between information widely reported by the mainstream media, government, and 9/11 Commission and dissimilar information presented by less-well-known alternative media, dissenting experts, scholars, and whistleblowers—many people initially react by aggressively defending the official story, even to the point of fabricating arguments to support their beliefs.
The “America under Attack” mindset rules the collective consciousness and promotes a particular agenda; the mainstream media parrots the US government’s account of 9/11 without “any judicious investigation.”
In other words, writes Canadian philosopher John McMurtry, we get a “ruling group-mind,”
[a] socially regulating syntax of thought and judgment which locks out all evidence against its assumptions and blinkers out the destructive effects which reveal its delusions... Since the ruling group-mind always operates a priori, facts cannot dislodge what its categorical structure perceives and knows already...[for example, the making of] primary connections...are pre-empted...(1) the policy declaration in 2000 by U.S. national security planners in PNAC... which expressed the commitment to “full-spectrum dominance” by the U.S. state across the world; (2) its expressed desire for a fast-track to this dominance rather than a “prolonged one”; and (3) the perfect consistency between this policy, what happened on 9/11, and what happened afterwards through the 9/11 Wars on Afghanistan and Iraq (cited by Manwell).
Husting and Orr in a recent sociological analysis write, in a “culture of fear” new mechanisms of social control emerge to deflect distrust, anxiety and threat. Their findings suggest that the label “conspiracy theorist” is one such mechanism which is used by authors as,
(1) a routinized strategy of exclusion; (2) a reframing mechanism that deflects questions or concerns about power, corruption, and motive; and (3) an attack upon the personhood and competence of the questioner. . . . The mechanism allows those who use it to sidestep sound scholarly and journalistic practice, avoiding the examination of evidence, often in favor of one of the most important errors in logic and rhetoric—the ad hominem attack. While contest, claim, and counterclaim are vital to public discourse, we must recognize that “democracy is a fragile and delicate thing” (Denzin, 2004) and mechanisms that define the limits of the sayable must continually be challenged (cited by Manwell, italics her’s).
Social truth and justice movements and reform initiatives must repeatedly, says Manwell, present alternative accounts in the public sphere, must encourage citizens to do their own research and to pass on their findings to others.
They must recruit people into civic discussions of social responsibility.
Perspectives on 9/11 in Bangladesh
Was “Crusade, Jehad o Sreni Shongram” (Crusade, Jihad and Class Struggle), a discussion organised by the group, Ahmed Sofa Rashtroshobha – formed in memory of Ahmed Sofa, the radical Bangladeshi thinker (June 1943 - July 2001) – nearly seven weeks after the invasion of Afghanistan by US-led forces, one such initiative?
Most definitely. Small letters above the title on the cover says (see photo), Afghanistaney Poshchima agrashon o amader kortobbo (Western aggression in Afghanistan and our responsibility).
Farhad Mazhar, Marxist intellectual, had delivered the keynote paper, “Crusade, jehad o sreni shongram”, at Dhaka University’s packed IBA auditorium; I was one of the scheduled discussants, two others were professors Salimullah Khan (law) and Ahmed Abdul Kader (Ideal College), a leader of the Islami Oikya Jote; there were others but they had not turned up, possibly because of the inclusion of professor Kader (objecting to his political party affiliation). Fourteen members of the audience (teachers, writers, students, left activists) took part in the discussion after the floor was opened up, many of the questions and comments centred around one of Mazhar’s propositions, that, an exchange and sharing of ideas, of working together with anti-imperialist Islamic forces
– could be possibly be envisioned politically. The discussion was lively, at times, tense; some of the heated arguments conducted within the conference hall and later, over cups of tea, centred largely around the issue of the possibility of forming an alliance between ‘fundamentalist’ and left forces, some of it later found its way into national newspapers.
But I will not discuss this issue here; it merits separate and exclusive attention and would be a digression as far as the purpose of the present article is concerned.
In the context of the recency of the Twin Tower attacks, the global media blitz which accompanied it (CNN World, BBC World, thanks to cable TV), the horror felt generally in Bangladesh over the loss of lives, and president Bush’s rhetoric of the ‘terrorists have attacked us because they hate our freedom, our way of life’ -- Mazhar’s paper was important in many respects.
He strongly argued that the invasion of Afghanistan was an imperialist war, that the war was all about oil (and gas pipelines), that the 9/11 attacks had provided a cover, that fossil fuels were essential to maintain the western way of life, that we should be critical of Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis because,
Is the civilisation which we deem to be civilised really civilised? If so, then what is our idea of a developed society? A civilisation which cannot exist without [conducting] wars, [inflicting] death and the burden of a huge armanents industry, a civilisation religiously devoted not only to profit-making but to [creating the conditions which lead to] hunger, epidemics, [which] corrodes the minimum conditions required to survive, on what grounds do we accept day in and day out its [right to exist]?...Was it Muslims who made nuclear armaments, was it they who dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is Saddam Hussein the only one to possess biological weapons... When Madeleine Albright, [president] Clinton’s secretary of state was asked to respond to the death of 500,000 Iraqi children as a result of US-imposed sanctions... she said...we think the price is worth it...It is useless to argue who is a terrorist and who is not...George Bush’s [You’re either with us or against us in the war on terror] us and them...means if you do not accept our domination...you will be destroyed...Oil is at the heart of the present world civilisation, hence [Huntington’s] ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis has to be interpreted as a clash over oil.
Even if Osama bin Laden had been involved in the attacks, said Mazhar, he did not represent the Afghan state, he was not even an Afghan citizen, hence, attacking Afghanistan under Article 51 (which allows defensive force until the Security Council acts, implying that the state need not resort to armed force by itself) and Nato’s exercise of the Principle of Collective Defence -- decisions that were rushed through -- had precluded the possibility of bringing the terrorists to justice in the International Criminal Court, which had been proposed by the former Irish president Mary Robinson, who, in 2001, was the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Mazhar drew our attention to a photo published in The Economist on November 3, 2001 (which later graced the cover of the Jehad, Crusade o Sreni Shongram booklet), captioned “A heart-rending but necessary war.” It is clear what this means, we will have to kill children to defend our interests, we may feel sorry for this, but ‘there is no going back.’
Uniting the common people against imperialist wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere, conducted under the leadership of the US -- the boss of the world capitalist system -- is a historical necessity; we must learn to discover unity as capitalism divides the oppressed on the basis of gender, ethnicity and nationality. It “creates enmities among us.”.
Professor Abdul Kader welcomed the initiative, it was the first attempt to bring together the so-called ‘fundamentalists’ – who were fighting US imperialism –with those who belonged to the left. The US represents arrogance, conceit and domination; the Quran teaches us that the oppressed must resist and fight such forces. The September 11 attacks have created a new problem, local struggles for independence, whether in Bosnia, India or Palestine, will be labelled as “terrorist” from now on. This is most unfortunate, we must create awareness about this among the common people, we must attempt to forge unity against the imperial powers inspite of our ideological differences.
Islam is not monolithic or unchanging, I said. We must not forget the history of 1971, in the act of remembering we must remember not particular fragments -- the much hated and reviled rajakars belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islami, who had collaborated with the Pakistan government’s genocidal onslaught on the people of East Pakistan -- but remember as well the US administration’s role, the presence of the Seventh Fleet in the Bay of Bengal. Second, an exclusive emphasis on class struggle distracts our attention from the gendered nature of the invasion; the oppression of women by the Taliban has been cleverly used to justify the imperial war. To contest western cultural hegemony, we need to know more about gender relations in western societies: the ideology of companionate marriage, the visibility of wives (Laura Bush, Cherie Blair) in public spaces as they enhance male authority.
Endorsing Mazhar’s argument that class struggle had manifested as jihad, professor Salimullah Khan provided instances of revolt by Muslim peasants (Syed Ahmed Barelvi, Titumir, the Wahabi and Faraizi movements) from Indian colonial history which modern, progressive and secular historians and authors have treated with disdain, for being “sectarian.” This intellectual trend continues, and he went on to say,
[Not only have] America and England [but] the whole western world has colluded in invading Afghanistan. What prevents us from opposing this invasion? Is it because we are powerless? No, there are other reasons. We are afraid of being slandered that we support the Taliban -- in other words [we are fearful of] Islam. We have a history of being afraid of Islam. Is this the reason why we support imperialism or, do we dance to imperialism’s tune because we are afraid of Islam? We must raise this question today. Bangladesh’s bhodro shomaj (genteel) has dragged their feet in lending support to the struggle against imperialism and it is time we judged [the matter]...
What I have presented above is very partial, aimed at giving a sketchy idea of some of the major issues discussed, but also, the different perspectives from which we had grappled with and interpreted the meaning of the 9/11 attacks, and the tasks that we felt lay ahead of us.
However, it was professor Ahmed Kamal (historian, Dhaka University), who saw with tremendous clarity where the contest ultimately lay. He had presided over the event, toward the end of his address he uttered these prophetic words,
With the September 11 attack on America, people have lost their right to discover the truth. Truth now belongs to institutions. From now on, the TV, the newspapers, the government, the [political] party will tell us what is true. After September 11, we lost the freedom and independence which we had earlier enjoyed to discover the truth unhindered. Our struggle, therefore, must include the freedom to discover the truth, actually, our struggle must be about protecting our right to discover the truth (my translation, my emphasis; Crusade, Jihad o Sreni Shongram, 2002).
Studiously ignoring the implications for Bangladesh
Nearly 11 years have passed since the Twin Tower attacks, has the intellectual community in Bangladesh, struggled to “discover the truth”? To protect “our right to discover the truth” of what happened on that momentous day which, since, has set the US establishment and its western allies on a path of unending and ever expanding war? Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Syria...Iran (next?). Drone attacks in Somalia, Yemen. Civilians killed, collateral damage. Guantanamo, still. Torture legalised.
Legal changes effected to America as well, no habeas corpus, arbitrary detention and release, TSA body scans for all airplane passengers at US airports, icreased and extensive internal surveillance, harassing citizens’ groups, Obama as assassin-in-chief ticking off death lists, an executive order recently signed which gives the president the power to institute martial law...a slowly spreading gulag-isation of the world, economic and political power getting concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The 1%.
Before I attempt a rough classification of intellectuals in Bangladesh -- nearly all of whom belong to the bhodro shomaj -- I would like to stress that the categories are not hard and fast but overlap: those who are allied to political parties; those conscripted by NGOs/NGO-ised; left/left-leaning, and the individual political opportunists. Independent, free thinking ones are rare.
Traditional left parties including the CPB (Communist Party of Bangladesh), view “imperialism” not as being systemic, but, as being a “conspiracy.” For those who hold such a position, I am not sure what sense they make if/when they encounter 9/11 dissident voices which insist that the official account of 9/11 is a “conspiracy theory.” This, however is not equally true for newer left groups, headed by a younger generation of leaders. When I asked Anu Muhammad -- Marxist economist, and leader of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports -- about 9/11 and the ‘war on terror’, he replied, well, after two blocks in the Bay of Bengal were awarded to US energy giant ConocoPhillips (pressurised by the American ambassador, WikiLeaks disclosure) we have been keeping a close watch, there are reports that the US military has developed a “strategic” interest in the Bay of Bengal. Farhad Mazhar, who does not belong to any of the organised left parties, has, in the intervening years written extensively on the global ‘war on terror’, but for reasons unknown to me, he has not engaged with the subsequent literature on bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the detailed investigations and whistleblower evidence which insist that Osama bin Laden was a CIA asset till the end, which point to the role of western intelligence agencies in the creation and expansion of al-Qaeda. As professor Michel Chossudovsky puts it, wherever there is counter-insurgency, there are “al-Qaeda affiliated organisations (Global Research, October 11, 2011). But despite US-Nato’s support of al-Qaeda in Libya, and now, reportedly, in Syria, Laden and al-Qaeda remain authentic
Islamic militant/group – even in Mazhar’s recent writings – exactly as they had been portrayed in “Jehad, Crusade o Sreni Shongram.”
Would any of the universities in Bangladesh be able to organise an event as the one held at McMaster, “The Responsibility of the Academy to Illuminate the Truths and Lies of 9/11” – an important question because universities, as institutions of higher learning are devoted to the pursuit of intellectual inquiry free of constraints. My answer is, at some public universities, yes, despite their disastrous condition – most have been near-wrecked by teacher groupings along political party allegiances and the ruling student party’s thuggery and extortionism. True, it would depend on the organising faculty member’s scholarship, strength of convictions, position within the department/ university etc., etc. Private universities? A resounding no.
I say this despite having spoken recently at one such university about the strong evidence which indicates that the official account of 9/11 is a coverup. Professor Salimullah Khan, who joined ULab several months ago, invited me to deliver a public lecture in their Thursday Talk series; the vice-chancellor was kind enough to call me later to confirm it. I titled my lecture “Reclaiming Life and Death in Times of Terror”; toward the end of my lecture, I turned to the issue of 9/11 (showed the Building7 Ad). Since the lecture, I have developed niggling feelings that the university authorities have possibly felt they got more than they bargained for (July 12, 2012; published in New Age, July 16-19, 2012).
Or maybe, I say a ‘resounding no’ because I went there, I spoke there.
Before launching into the 9/11 coverup, I spoke of Brac’s development activities in militarily-occupied Afghanistan. Of how Brac’s presence there contradicts its official claims of “catalys[ing] lasting change[s]...which [will give] the poor...the chance to seize control of their lives.” Our experience of 1971 tells us that one of the enabling conditions for the poor to seize control of their lives (only one, but important nevertheless) is to get rid of the foreign occupiers and fight hard to assert national sovereignty in this globalised world where transnational forces have larger budgets than many nations on earth, where they override the sovereignty of many nation-states (even the richer ones, which some analysts now refer to, as “corporate states”). The US government has poured money into the pockets of warlords, for, as former Afghan member of parliament Malalai Joya tells us, “no democratic-minded and progressive group will betray Afghans by supporting the devastating U.S. policies in Afghanistan.” By choosing to work in occupied Afghanistan Brac has, I said, not only lent its support to the occupation, it has also perforce remained silent about a host of atrocities (from American soldiers urinating on the Quran to collecting body parts of dead freedom fighters as trophies), thereby lending its silent support to war crimes (use of depleted uranium weapons).
I had expected that Bangladeshis teaching at US universities, or doctoral candidates there, would help me push my thoughts further. Questions to do with the tie-up of development with militarism, what it says for the field of development studies etc. But no, ‘safe’ ones instead, focusing exclusively on birangona (raped war heroines), on the women’s movement in Bangladesh.
I would have been happy if I’d been challenged on 9/11, although I admit it would have been difficult because I had quoted members of the western ruling establishment at length (dissenting voices), ones who had long years of insider experience (Michael Meacher, former environment minister UK; former Italian president Francesco Cossiga, who had taken part in setting up the false flag operation, Gladio; and, Andreas von Bulow, former German defence minister).
But the silence was deafening, it seemed I hadn’t uttered a single word, neither about Brac, nor about 9/11. Strange, I thought, and after coming home sought solace in reading Edward Said,
...intellectuals who are close to policy formulation and can control patronage of the kind that gives or withholds jobs, stipends, promotions tend to watch out for individuals who do not toe the line professionally and in the eyes of their superiors gradually come to exude an air of controversy and noncooperation. Understandably of course, if you want a job done -- let us say that you and your team have to provide the State Department or Foreign Office with a policy paper on Bosnia by next week -- you need to surround yourself with people who are loyal, share the same assumptions, speak the same language. I have always felt that for an intellectual who represents the kinds of things I have been discussing in these lectures [The 1993 Reith Lectures], being in that sort of professional position, where you are principally serving and winning rewards from power, is not at all conducive to the exercise of that critical and relatively independent spirit of analysis and judgment that, from my point of view, ought to be the intellectual’s contribution. In other words, the intellectual, properly speaking, is not a functionary or an employee completely given up to the policy goals of a government or a large corporation, or even a guild of like-minded professionals. In such situations the temptations to turn off one’s moral sense, or to think entirely from within the specialty, or to curtail skepticism in favor of conformity are far too great to be trusted. Many intellectuals succumb completely to these temptations, and to some degree all of us do. No one is totally self-supporting, not even the greatest of free spirits (Representations of the Intellectual, 1994).
While it is true, I read and re-read the last line, “No one is totally self-supporting, not even the greatest of free spirits” -- to be remembered, to be used as a sounding board for oneself, continuously -- but I couldn’t help think, what about the intellectual community at large? Whose “functionaries” were they? And for God’s sake, why? How can one speak of birangonas but avoid the subject of raped Iraqi women in Abu Ghuraib (pictures of which exist but the US administration will not release)?
The chain of thoughts released by reading Said were far from providing me any solace.
The corporate-owned Bangladeshi media has worked hard to normalise the official story of 9/11 as being true, one is expected to read op-eds such as these, on “SOFA, HANA, TIFA, TICFA and US-Bangladesh relations” without blinking an eyelid,
There could be ‘win win’ for both the parties. For the USA, it is for being more closely involved in the development process of a liberal Muslim country, which has become a better brand for successful ‘blending of democracy and religion’ and to be able to export some of its’ best practices to other similar countries (Mamun Rashid, Financial Express, May 4, 2012).
No awareness of these categories “liberal”, non-liberal, being crafted by the US state department, of “blending democracy and religion” being propaganda-speak.
Or, a blog post, titled, “United States, Bangladesh explores avenues of security cooperation” (April 20, 2012) which ends by noting approvingly,
During the war against terror, Bangladesh was among the first few Muslim majority country to have lent it [sic] political and logistic support to the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Since then Bangladesh armed forces have collaborated in several joint military exercise with the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) (BangladeshWatchDog).
Disputing, dissenting, challenging, contesting, talking back to white westerners who wield authority, whether at home or abroad, do exist, but are very rare.
I provide two instances because I really want my readers to think about these things, about de-colonisation of the mind, seriously,
A mock trial called the Tribunal against Torture was recently organised by Odhikar and the European Union in Dhaka. The head of the EU delegation, William Hanna, spoke of the EU’s concerns about the violation of human rights worldwide. He delivered a message from the EU high representative, Catherine Ashton. The EU is committed to preventing, eradicating torture, it violates human rights and human dignity. No society should tolerate torture. It is prohibited under international law. It is not right that a culture of impunity should prevail either... Nurul Kabir had moderated the session and I was curious, so, what did you say? Well, I thanked the EU head for his concern, I said, yes, we too are greatly concerned about torture, but we’re also concerned about some other things. Could he please convey this message to Ms Ashton from us, the people of Bangladesh? We are deeply concerned at the violation of human rights in Afghanistan and Iraq, currently under western military occupation. Could she please look into that?
Why don’t people contest the generous advice offered by western funders when it has no bearing to reality? Politeness? Or, House Bangladeshis grovelling to the massa?
And here’s another story of ‘talking back’, told to me by Shahidul Alam (photographer, my partner): the German federal minister for foreign affairs Dr Guido Westerwelle was speaking at a global media conference in Bonn (May 2012). Education is the cure for all the world’s ills, he said. If that’s true, asked Shahidul, how can two nations with high levels of education -- the USA and Israel -- be responsible for killing huge numbers of civilian worldwide? What did he say to that? I asked. He skirted my question, mumbled for ten minutes about visiting some slum in Dhaka, seeing some grand scheme supported by the German government.
This was a long essay, but we must not surrender our right to discover the truth. Even if doing thus, involves a loss of privileges, of status, of connections. For, succumbing to these temptations, is far, far worse.
The spirits of birangonas are watching us.