" Universal Community of Friends - The Algebra of Infinite Justice by Arundhati Roy

The Algebra of Infinite Justice

Arundhati Roy
Friday September 28 2001
The Guardian

In the aftermath of the unconscionable September 11
suicide attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade
Centre, an American newscaster said: "Good and evil
rarely manifest themselves as clearly as they did last
Tuesday. People who we don't know massacred people who we do. And they did so with contemptuous glee." Then
he broke down and wept.

Here's the rub: America is at war against people it
doesn't know, because they don't appear much on TV.
Before it has properly identified or even begun to
comprehend the nature of its enemy, the US government
has, in a rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric,
cobbled together an "international coalition
against terror", mobilised its army, its air force,
its navy and its media, and committed them to battle.

The trouble is that once Amer ica goes off to war, it
can't very well return without having fought one. If
it doesn't find its enemy, for the sake of the enraged
folks back home, it will have to manufacture one. Once
war begins, it will develop a momentum, a logic
and a justification of its own, and we'll lose sight
of why it's being fought in the first place.

What we're witnessing here is the spectacle of the
world's most powerful country reaching reflexively,
angrily, for an old instinct to fight a new kind of
war. Suddenly, when it comes to defending itself,
America's streamlined warships, cruise missiles and
F-16 jets look like obsolete, lumbering things. As
deterrence, its arsenal of nuclear bombs is no longer
worth its weight in scrap. Box-cutters, penknives, and
cold anger are the weapons with which the wars of the
new century will be waged. Anger is the lock pick. It
slips through customs unnoticed. Doesn't show up in
baggage checks.

Who is America fighting? On September 20, the FBI said
that it had doubts about the identities of some of the
hijackers. On the same day President George Bush said,
"We know exactly whothese people are and which
governments are supporting them." It sounds as though
the president knows something that the FBI and the
American public don't.

In his September 20 address to the US Congress,
President Bush called the enemies of America "enemies
of freedom". "Americans are asking, 'Why do they hate
us?' " he said. "They hate our freedoms - our freedom
of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to
vote and assemble and disagree with each other."
People are being asked to make two leaps of faith
here. First, to assume that The Enemy is who the US
government says it is,even though it has no
substantial evidence to support that claim. And
second, to assume that The Enemy's motives are what
the US government says they are, and there's nothing
to support that either.

For strategic, military and economic reasons, it is
vital for the US government to persuade its public
that their commitment to freedom and democracy and the
American Way of Life is underattack. In the current
atmosphere of grief, outrage and anger, it's an
easy notion to peddle. However, if that were true,
it's reasonable to wonder why the symbols of America's
economic and military dominance - the World Trade
Centre and the Pentagon - were chosen as the targets
of the attacks. Why not the Statue of Liberty? Could
it be that the stygian anger that led to the attacks
has its taproot not in American freedom and democracy,
but in the US government's record of commitment and
support to exactly the opposite things - to military
and economic terrorism, insurgency, military
dictatorship, religious bigotry and unimaginable
genocide (outside America)?

It must be hard for ordinary Americans, so recently
bereaved, tolook up at the world with their eyes full
of tears and encounter what might appear to them to be
indifference. It isn't indifference. It's just augury.
An absence of surprise. The tired wisdom of knowing
that what goes around eventually comes around.
American people ought to know that it is not them but
their government's policies that are so hated. They
can't possibly doubt that they themselves,their
extraordinary musicians, their writers, their actors,
their spectacular sportsmen and their cinema, are
universally welcomed. All of us have been moved by the courage and grace shown by firefighters, rescue workers and ordinary office staff in the days since the attacks.

America's grief at what happened has been immense and
immensely public. It would be grotesque to expect it
to calibrate or modulate its anguish. However, it will be
a pity if, instead of using this as an opportunity to
try to understand why September 11 happened, Americans use it as an opportunity to usurp the whole world's sorrow to mourn and avenge only their own. Because then it falls to the rest of us to ask the hard questions and say the harsh things. And for our pains, for our bad timing, we will be disliked, ignored and perhaps eventually silenced.

The world will probably never know what motivated
those particular hijackers who flew planes into those
particular American buildings. They were not glory
boys. They left no suicide notes, no political
messages; no organisation has claimed credit for the
attacks. All we know is that their belief in what they were doing outstripped thenatural human instinct for survival, or
any desire to be remembered. It's almost as though
they could not scale down the enormity of their rage
to anything smaller than their deeds. And what
they did has blown a hole in the world as we knew it.
In the absence of information, politicians, political
commentators and writers (like myself) will invest the
act with their own politics, with their own
interpretations. This speculation, this analysis of
the political climate in which the attacks took place, can
only be a good thing.

But war is looming large. Whatever remains to be said
must be said quickly. Before America places itself at
the helm of the "international coalition against
terror", before it invites (and coerces) countries to
actively participate in its almost godlike mission -
called Operation Infinite Justice until it was
pointed out that this could be seen as an insult to
Muslims, who believe that only Allah can mete out
infinite justice, and was renamed Operation Enduring
Freedom- it would help if some small clarifications
are made. For example, Infinite Justice/Enduring
Freedom for whom? Is this America's war against terror
in America or against terror in general? What exactly
is being avenged here? Is it the tragic loss of almost
7,000 lives, the gutting of five million square feet
of office space in Manhattan, the destruction of
asection of the Pentagon, the loss of several hundreds
of thousands of jobs, the bankruptcy of some airline
companies and the dip in the New York Stock Exchange?
Or is it more than that?

In 1996, Madeleine Albright, then the US secretary of
state, was asked on national television what she felt
about the fact that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as
a result of US economic sanctions. She replied that it
was "a very hard choice", but that, all things
considered, "we think the price is worth it". Albright
never lost her job for saying this. She continued to travel
the world representing the views and aspirations of
the US government. More pertinently, the sanctions
against Iraq remain in place. Children continue to

So here we have it. The equivocating distinction
between civilisation and savagery, between the "massacre of innocent people" or, if you like, "a clash of
civilisations" and "collateral damage".
The sophistry and fastidious algebra of infinite
justice. How many dead Iraqis will it take to make the
world a better place? How many dead Afghans for every
dead American? How many dead women and children for
every dead man? How many dead mojahedin for
each dead investment banker? As we watch mesmerised,
Operation Enduring Freedom unfolds on TV monitors
across the world. A coalition of the world's
superpowers is closing in on Afghanistan, one of the
poorest, most ravaged, war-torn countries in the
world, whose ruling Taliban government is sheltering
Osama bin Laden, the man being held responsible for
the September 11 attacks.

The only thing in Afghanistan that could possibly
count as collateral value is its citizenry. (Among
them, half a million maimedorphans.There are accounts
of hobbling stampedes that occur when artificial limbs
are airdropped into remote, inaccessible villages.)
Afghanistan's economy is in a shambles. In fact, the
problem for an invading army is that Afghanistan has
no conventional coordinates or signposts to plot on a
military map - no big cities, no highways, no
industrial complexes, no water treatment plants. Farms
have been turned into mass graves. The countryside is
littered with land mines - 10 million is the
mostrecent estimate. The American army would first
have to clear themines and build roads in order to
take its soldiers in.

Fearing an attack from America, one million citizens
have fled from their homes and arrived at the border
between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The UN estimates
that there are eight million Afghan citizens who need
emergency aid. As supplies run out - food and aid
agencies have been asked to leave - the BBC reports
that one of the worst humanitarian disasters of recent
times has begun to unfold. Witness the infinite
justice of the new century. Civilians starving to
death while they're waiting to be killed.

In America there has been rough talk of "bombing
Afghanistan back to the stone age". Someone please
break the news that Afghanistan is already there. And
if it's any consolation, America played no small part
in helping it on its way. The American people may be a
little fuzzy about where exactly Afghanistan is (we
hear reports that there's a run on maps of the
country), but the US government and Afghanistan are old friends.

In 1979, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the
CIA and Pakistan's ISI (Inter Services Intelligence)
launched the largest covert operation in the history
of the CIA. Their purpose was to harness the energy of
Afghan resistance to the Soviets and expand it into a
holy war, an Islamic jihad, which would turn Muslim
countries within the Soviet Union against the
communist regime and eventually destabilise it. When it began, it was meant to be the Soviet Union's Vietnam. It
turned out to be much more than that.

Over the years, through the ISI, the CIA funded and
recruited almost 100,000 radical mojahedin from 40
Islamic countries as soldiers for America's proxy war.
The rank and file of the mojahedin were unaware that
their jihad was actually being fought on behalf of
Uncle Sam. (The irony is that America was equally
unaware that it was financing a future war against
itself.) In 1989, after being bloodied by 10 years of
relentless conflict, the Russians withdrew, leaving
behind a civilisation reduced to rubble.

Civil war in Afghanistan raged on. The jihad spread to
Chechnya, Kosovo and eventually to Kashmir. The CIA
continued to pour in money and military equipment, but
the overheads had become immense, and more money was needed. The mojahedin ordered farmers to plant opium as a "revolutionary tax". The ISI set up hundreds of
heroin laboratories across Afghanistan. Within two
years of the CIA's arrival, the Pakistan-Afghanistan
borderland had become the biggest producer of heroin in the world, and the single biggest source of the heroin on
American streets. The annual profits, said to be
between $100bn and $200bn, were ploughed back into
training and arming militants.

In 1995, the Taliban - then a marginal sect
ofdangerous, hardlinefundamentalists - fought its way
to power in Afghanistan. It was funded by the ISI,
that old cohort of the CIA, and supported by
many political parties in Pakistan. The
Talibanunleashed a regime of terror. Its first victims
were its own people, particularly women. It closed
down girls' schools, dismissed women from government
jobs, and enforced sharia laws under which women
deemed to be "immoral" are stoned to death, and widows guilty of being adulterous are buried alive. Given the Taliban government's human rights track record, it seems
unlikely that it will in any way be intimidated or
swerved from its purpose by the prospect of war, orthe
threat to the lives of its civilians.

After all that has happened, can there be anything
more ironic than Russia and America joining hands to
re-destroy Afghanistan? The question is, can you
destroy destruction? Dropping more bombs on
Afghanistan will only shuffle the rubble, scramble
some old graves and disturb the dead.

The desolate landscape of Afghanistan was the burial
ground of Soviet communism and the springboard of a
unipolar world dominated by America. It made the space
for neocapitalism and corporate globalisation, again
dominated by America. And now Afghanistan is poised to
become the graveyard for the unlikely soldiers who
fought and won this war for America.

And what of America's trusted ally? Pakistan too has
suffered enormously. The US government has not been
shy of supportingmilitary dictators who have blocked
the idea of democracy from taking root in the country.
Before the CIA arrived, there was a small rural market
for opium in Pakistan. Between 1979 and 1985, the
number of heroin addicts grew from zero to
one-and-a-half million.Even before September 11, there
were three million Afghan refugees living in tented
camps along the border. Pakistan's economy is
crumbling. Sectarian violence, globalisation's
structural adjustment programmes and drug lords are
tearing the country to pieces. Set up to fight the
Soviets, the terrorist training centres and madrasahs,
sown like dragon's teeth across the country, produced
fundamentalists with tremendous popular appeal within
Pakistan itself. The Taliban, which the Pakistan
government has supported, funded and propped up for years, has material and strategic alliances with Pakistan's own political parties.

Now the US government is asking (asking?) Pakistan to
garotte the pet it has hand-reared in its backyard for
so many years. President Musharraf, having pledged his
support to the US, could well find he has something
resembling civil war on his hands.

India, thanks in part to its geography, and in part to
the vision of its former leaders, has so far been
fortunate enough to be left out of this Great Game.
Had it been drawn in, it's more than likely that our
democracy, such as it is, would not have survived.
Today, as some of us watch in horror, the Indian
government is furiously gyrating its hips, begging the
US to set up its base in India rather than Pakistan.
Having had this ringside view of Pakistan's sordid
fate, it isn't just odd, it's unthinkable, that India
should want to do this. Any third world country with a
fragile economy and a complex social base should know
by now that to invite a superpower such as America in
(whether it says it's staying or just passing through)
would be like inviting a brick to drop through your

Operation Enduring Freedom is ostensibly being fought
to uphold the American Way of Life. It'll probably end up
undermining it completely. It will spawn more anger
and more terror across the world. For ordinary people
in America, it will mean lives lived in a climate of
sickening uncertainty: will my child be safe in
school? Will there be nerve gas in the subway? A bomb in the cinema hall? Will my love come home tonight? There
have been warnings about the possibility of biological
warfare - smallpox, bubonic plague, anthrax - the
deadly payload of innocuous crop-duster aircraft.
Being picked off a few at a time may end up being
worse than being annihilated all at once by a nuclear bomb.

The US government, and no doubt governments all over
the world, will use the climate of war as an excuse to
curtail civil liberties, deny free speech, lay off
workers, harass ethnic and religious minorities, cut
back on public spending and divert huge amounts of
money to the defence industry. To what purpose?
President Bush can no more "rid the world of evil-doers" than he can stock it with saints. It's absurd for the US
government to even toy with the notion that it can
stamp out terrorism with more violence and oppression.
Terrorism is the symptom, not the disease. Terrorism
has no country. It's transnational, as global an
enterprise as Coke or Pepsi or Nike. At the first sign
of trouble, terrorists can pull up stakes and move
their "factories" from country to country in search of
a better deal. Just like the multi-nationals.

Terrorism as a phenomenon may never go away. But if it
is to be contained, the first step is for America to
at least acknowledge that it shares the planet with
other nations, with other human beings who, even if
they are not on TV, have loves and griefs and stories
and songs and sorrows and, for heaven's sake, rights.
Instead, when Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence
secretary, was asked what he would call a victory in America's new war, he said that if he could convince the world that Americans must be allowed to continue with their way of life, he would consider it a victory.

The September 11 attacks were a monstrous calling card
from a world gone horribly wrong. The message may have
been written by Bin Laden (who knows?) and delivered
by his couriers, but it could well have been signed by
the ghosts of the victims of America's old wars. The
millions killed in Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, the
17,500 killed when Israel - backed by the US -
invaded Lebanon in 1982, the 200,000 Iraqis killed in
Operation Desert Storm, the thousands of Palestinians
who have died fighting Israel's occupation of the West
Bank. And the millions who died, in Yugoslavia,
Somalia, Haiti, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the
Dominican Republic,Panama, at the hands of all the
terrorists,dictators and genocidists whom the American government supported, trained, bankrolled and supplied with arms. And this is far from being a comprehensive list.

For a country involved in so much warfare and
conflict, the American people have been extremely
fortunate. The strikes on September 11 were only the second on American soil in over a century. The first was Pearl Harbour. The reprisal for this took a long route, but ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This time the world waits with bated breath for the horrors to come.

Someone recently said that if Osama bin Laden didn't
exist, America would have had to invent him. But, in a
way, America did invent him. He was among the jihadis
who moved to Afghanistan in 1979 when the CIA
commenced its operations there. Bin Laden has the
distinction of being created by the CIA and wanted by
the FBI. In the course of a fortnight he has been
promoted from suspect to prime suspect and then,
despite the lack of any real evidence, straight up the charts to being "wanted dead or alive".

From all accounts, it will be impossible to produce
evidence (of the sort that would stand scrutiny in a
court of law) to link Bin Laden to the September 11
attacks. So far, it appears that the most
incriminating piece of evidence against him is the
fact that he has not condemned them.

From what is known about the location of Bin Laden and
the living conditions in which he operates, it's
entirely possible that he did not personally plan and
carry out the attacks - that he is the inspirational
figure, "the CEO of the holding company". The
Taliban's response to US demands for the extradition
of Bin Laden has been uncharacteristically reasonable: produce the evidence, then we'll hand him over. President Bush's response is that the demand is "non-negotiable."

(While talks are on for the extradition of CEOs - can
India put in a side request for the extradition of
Warren Anderson of the US? He was the chairman of
Union Carbide, responsible for the Bhopal gas leak
that killed 16,000 people in 1984. We have collated
the necessary evidence. It's all in the files. Could
we have him, please?)

But who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase
that. What is Osama bin Laden? He's America's family secret. He is the American president's dark doppelganger. The savage twin of all that purports to be beautiful and
civilised. He has been sculpted from the spare rib of
a world laid to waste by America's foreign policy: its
gunboat diplomacy, its nuclear arsenal, its vulgarly
stated policy of "full-spectrum dominance", its
chilling disregard for non-American lives, its barbarous
military interventions, its support for despotic and
dictatorial regimes, its merciless economic agenda
that has munched through the economies of poor
countries like a cloud of locusts. Its marauding
multinationals who are taking over the air we breathe, the ground we stand on, the water we drink, the thoughts we think. Now that the family secret has been spilled, the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming
interchangeable. Their guns, bombs, money and drugs
have been going around in the loop for a while. (The
Stinger missiles that will greet US helicopters were
supplied by the CIA. The heroin used by America's drug addicts comes from Afghanistan. The Bush administration recently gave Afghanistan a $43m subsidy for a "war on drugs"....)

Now Bush and Bin Laden have even begun to borrow each
other's rhetoric. Each refers to the other as "the
head of the snake". Both invoke God and use the loose
millenarian currency of good and evil as their terms
of reference.

Both are engaged in unequivocal political crimes. Both
are dangerously armed - one with the nuclear arsenal
of the obscenely powerful, the other with the
incandescent, destructive power of the utterly
hopeless. The fireball and the ice pick. The bludgeon
and the axe. The important thing to keep in mind is
that neither is an acceptable alternative to the other.

President Bush's ultimatum to the people of the world
- "If you're not with us, you're against us" - is a
piece of presumptuous arrogance. It's not a choice
that people want to, need to, or should have to make.

© Arundhati Roy 2001
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Guardian Unlimited site, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk

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