Looking back at the day that changed the world

Richard Neville

Fifty years ago in a single stroke, Osama bin Laden ripped the blindfold from a billion eyes. After September 11/01, many in the West looked in the mirror and saw themselves anew. We thought we’d been having a ball, they cried, but now our lives seem crazy and cruel. They stared at the window: how can we live this way, while so many others can barely live? It was the beginning of the great awakening. And the great fear. The perpetrators must be punished at once. An eye for an eye, smoke ‘em out, heads on plates. The President of the then most powerful nation on earth, a devout Christian, wanted his enemies dead, no matter who got caught in the crossfire. “Us too” chorused the West. In the East, allies were recruited with gold. TV media stars foamed at the mouth, intellectuals advocated torture. In the US, Muslims were rounded-up and incarcerated. In Britain, historic legal rights were dismissed as “airy fairy liberties” and abolished. To the oil millionaires and arms dealers who dominated the White House, their blind-folds intact, the issue was simple. Good against evil. You’re with us, or we hunt you down with cluster bombs. End of story.

But it was just the beginning, as it later turned out. A silenced minority stood dazed on the sidelines, their empathy deep for the innocent victims, their empathy deep for the fate of the down trodden, the fate of the earth. Many recalled their own visits to the World Trade Centre, all too aware that any one of the figures seen leaping from the flames could have been … them. The world mourned the dead, and rightly so. Yet the silenced minority felt alienated from the public effusions of rage - the cries for vengeance, the grandstands of fluttering flags, the recruitment of an apple pie God – and deep down, they felt a little ashamed of this alienation.

Something was wrong. Something didn’t jell.

“The response should be as simple as it is swift,” demanded a long forgotten popular columnist in the New York Post. “ Kill the bastards!” It didn’t matter how: “A gunshot between the eyes, blow them to smithereens, poison them if you have to. As for cities or countries that host these worms, bomb them into basketball courts.” This was not isolated lunacy. It was the drift of America at the dawn of the new millennium. Indeed, it became Western foreign policy. The primitive boast that this was a war of “good against evil” was widely endorsed, even though it was actually a war of the obese against the dirt eaters, a war fought with lies, massacres, barbaric technology, military courts, and the usual atrocities committed by the camera-shy agents of Goliath. It was fought with weapons long ago outlawed: cluster bombs laced with peanut butter, and the notorious “daisy cutters” igniting a mile wide furnace fuelled with uranium powder that sucked out human eyes and vaporised matter.

And all the time it was the children, countless children, lying maimed and bleeding under desert skies, achieving three seconds of sympathy on the nightly news, and then forgotten. A weird way of saving civilisation.

Yes, but what other option was open to the West? To show military restraint, investigative zeal and spiritual leadership. To get to the root of the problem that led to the terror.

A massive surveillance network lay at the disposal of Washington, supported by the CIA, the FBI and numerous covert agencies, funded to the hilt, interlinked with spies of friendly powers, including the nasties of the KGB. Detection, arrests, an open trial – the road not taken. Even back then, acts of terror – whether by the IRA, the Oklahoma bomber, or agents of Libya – were not generally resolved by indiscriminate acts of mass destruction. The exception was Israel.

Surely the toppling of the Taliban was a good thing?

It is true that Taliban leadership was vicious, that their treatment of women was abominable, that human rights were non-existent. This was also true of much of the leadership allied to the mass assault on Afghanistan, such as Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. A military dictatorship operated in Pakistan. The brutality of the Indonesian army was legendary. And as for China, forget it. If the cruelties of non-elected governments were enough to justify foreign intervention, then the world in 2001 would have been a never-ending blood bath.

What a gift it would have been to the future if the U.S had responded with magnanimity. “Of course we thirst for revenge”, it might have told the Security Council, “but we are mindful of the laws of course and effect. We will sit down with all nations that can help bring a just resolution to this villainy. We accept that the best course is a police operation assisted by the United Nations on behalf of the international community. Despite our sustained opposition to the World Court, and our rejection of a range of UN treaties aimed at benefiting humanity and its habitat, we will, from this day forth, recognise the interdependence of all peoples on earth. Everything is connected. To be a citizen of the United States is no longer a claim of moral superiority. To give reason a chance, the President will put on hold for eight weeks, all military retaliation. We urge Israel to do the same”. Alas, such a course was not contemplated. It would take another fifteen years before the West woke up to the full extent of its responsibilities towards the dispossessed, and to overcome an addiction to fossil fuels and personal money-grubbing.

Instead, something truly horrible unfolded in the first few weeks of Goliath’s rage against its former minions, the Al Quedda network, itself a mirror image of the CIA. Despite the carnage, too few Westerners asked the obvious question: how can the use of terror end terror?

Those who dared to raise doubts at the time were regarded as traitors. Either applaud the B52’s or be branded a coward, an appeaser. Early on at a Pentagon briefing, Donald Rumsfeld, then US defence secretary, was asked if America had run out of targets. "First we're going to re-hit targets," he said, "and second, we're not running out of targets, Afghanistan is ..." The briefing room erupted with laughter. Civilisation in action. ( In 2011, the World Court convicted Donald Rumsfeld of war crimes). Gradually, however, as the bombings continued, and citizens with access to alternative sources of information were able to peel away the layers of propaganda, ever more voices were raised in protest. What was then being billed as a war against terror, it later turned out, was really the first strike in a thirty-year campaign that was to have amazing consequences.

Once the guns were silenced, new conversations began. The explosion of weaponry was replaced with an explosion of ideas. This new struggle was less bloody, but incredibly significant, as it revolved around efforts to instigate a shift in the evolution of human consciousness. People of all persuasions became embroiled in a long campaign to rescue the future.

What were they thinking?: As this journal was being uploaded, news came through that a 15 year old Afghani villager Sayyid Ahmad Sanef spotted
what he thought was one of the yellow food packets. He picked it up to take a look. It blew his head off.

For more of Richard Neville's thoughts see richardneville.com.au

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Date created: 11-May-04