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September tragedies: 9/11/73, 9/11/01 and Beslan

September 28, 2004

On September 11, 2004, there was the predictable outpouring of sentiment in the US; some of it genuine, and some of it, I am beginning to believe, of the faux variety, manufactured by the media. There seems to be now a ritual quality to the mourning, such as we saw when Princess Diana died: people do it because it is expected; and the US as a whole is no closer to solving the problems that created 9/11 in the first place.

I was among those touched by what appeared the end of American innocence in 2001: for a moment, we had all become Americans, as I said in my column Pearl Harbor ReduxBut three years on, the Americans have managed to comprehensively squander the goodwill the rest of the world had for them on that occasion.

For, there have been other 9/11s.

One, in 1973, when the Americans orchestrated the military coup that overthrew and assassinated Salvador Allende in Chile.

Two, America's sorrow in 2001.

And three, even though the date doesn't quite match, the events in Beslan, Russia in 2004 at the beginning of September 2004.

If 9/11/2001 was traumatic for the US, so was 9/11/1973 for Chile. More than 3,000 Chileans died in the coup, comparable to the 3,000+ people of American and other origin (Indians were among the largest groups of others) at the World Trade Centre. Allende was a Marxist, and it is well-documented that the Nixon-Kissinger duo, the CIA and various American MNCs were unhappy with him.

Reading through the fiction and non-fiction of Chile under the coup leader Auguste Pinochet terrifies me because I see the not-too-remote possibility of a mirror-image Chinese-funded left-wing coup in India, which would be equally bloody and barbaric. McCarthyites are in full cry already, which is the major achievement of the UPA government in its first 100 days.

Here's something to really look forward to. I came across a fascinating site on mass-killers of the 20th century, with Pinochet. Needless to say, the Marxist killers in the list were the most efficient, dispatching between them some 50 million people.

If you are to believe the writers, for instance Ariel Dorfman in whose novel The Last Song of Manuel Sendero babies simply refuse to be born into post-Allende Chile, Pinochet's regime traumatised the soul of that nation. Thousands of men, women and children simply 'disappeared'. It was apocalypse for them, much as the World Trade Center incident excoriated the soul of America.

When the towers fell, I certainly hoped that the US would finally understand what the rest of the world, particularly India, has undergone for years, facing terror in the streets. But I was a little sceptical even then; and three years later, it is clear that America's 'war on terror' is really not a war on terror as in the dictionary meaning of those words. This alleged 'war' is a different animal, and there are two possibilities as to what it is.

The first possibility is that 'terror' is defined as 'that which hurts American interests.' Note that this does not necessarily mean attacks on American persons except insofar as it affects grand American interests. Note also that 'American interests' are broadly defined, for example as in 'oil that lies under other countries, but that America would like to own.' But it certainly means that attacks on other countries, even on the one that for archaic reasons calls itself 'Great' Britain, do not count as 'terror.'

The other possibility is that there is no 'war' at all, but sleight-of-hand, intended to create the illusion that America is doing something to protect its people. For, it is abundantly clear that the nations most involved in terror are Saudi Arabia (financier), Pakistan (enforcer) and China (proliferator of nuclear weapons and missiles). But all three are staunch American allies. I wonder, which Houdini conjured up a 'war'?

I used to think that 'terror' meant 'attacks on white people'. When non-white people are hurt, it has never been of consequence. For example, when Air-India 182 was downed, the Americans did not consider it a terrorist attack. But when Panam 103 was blown up, the Americans forced Libya to pay reparations of $3 billion (the relatives of non-white non-Americans also got some money, amazingly enough).

But with the incident at Beslan, it is clear that the deaths of certain white people do not matter either. Nor does the torture, rape, starvation, denial of water to, and shooting in the back of, small white children matter so long as they are not Americans. Here is what the quasi-official mouthpiece of NATO, the Economist magazine, had to say about the matter (Another Siege Ends in Bloodshed, September 4, 2004).

Among other things, it says the following:

  • The Chechen issue is a local problem, not a global one
  • The separatist struggle results in part from past cruelty shown by Stalin to Chechens
  • 'Black widows', Chechen women whose relatives were killed by Russian forces, are a major part of this attack
  • The Russian security forces made a mistake, again, as they are incompetent
  • Russia should seek a 'political solution' to this problem 

Let us analyse these in turn. When a bunch of Saudis attacked the US, why is it a global problem? Isn't it merely a local problem wherein some 19 Saudis who did not like the large US presence (military and economic) in their home country decided to do something about it? Why is this anybody else's issue? Why are America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq 'global issues'? Yes, there are reasons to consider them new Christian Crusades against Muslims, but I contest the NATO perspective that when Muslim terrorists kill Russians (or Indians) it is a 'local problem' but when they kill Americans it is a 'global problem.' This is pure 'double standards' or 'hypocrisy.'

Second, the separatist struggle is quasi-justified because it is retribution for past wrongs done to Chechens. In that case, won't the past wrongs done to Palestinians by Israel (with American support) quasi-justify the World Trade Centre attack? Note that I am merely applying the Economist's flawed logic. We can always justify every act of terror anywhere by pointing to some real or imaginary grievance. That merely plays into the hands of the terrorists by legitimising their acts.

Third, there is the implication that the 'black widows' can legitimately seek revenge for the fact that their male relatives have been killed. How about the fact that these dead male relatives were quite likely not innocent spectators, but terrorists themselves? Weren't the women themselves at fault for not having told their men to cease and desist from terrorism? Why the insinuation that they deserve sympathy rather than condemnation? Why is it that there are only Chechen 'black widows', why not, for instance, Irish ones or Tibetan ones even though they have been subject to genocide?

Fourth, what exactly were the security forces supposed to do? The Chechen terrorists were starving and dehydrating little kids; and they were shooting fleeing children in the back; they were raping older boys and girls. They had wired up the school with explosives. I would like to know exactly what the FBI and MI5 would have done under the circumstances. I remember another standoff: the Waco, Texas case of David Koresh and his Branch Davidian cult some years ago. The Americans attacked these civilians with tanks and incinerated them, men, women and children included. That was a better plan of action?

Fifth, why should Russia seek a 'political solution' when America seeks a military solution? Vladimir Putin asked cuttingly, 'Why don't you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House and engage in talks, ask him what he wants and give it to him so he leaves you in peace? You find it possible to set some limitations in your dealings with these bastards, so why should we talk to people who are child-killers?'

As the old Malayalam proverb goes, it's lots of fun to watch when someone else's mother goes insane. You feel the pain only when it's your mother.

Comments welcome at For responses to reader emails, see

Part II: How to avoid 9/11s & Beslans

Rajeev Srinivasan

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Sub: September tragedies

Is it my surfer or did rediff remove the view all messages bar and old messages from the bottom of the article?

Posted by vijaya kumar

Sub: Nationalism out of control.

"Yes, there are reasons to consider them new Christian Crusades against Muslims," The Religion of the United States of America is I repeat Secular Humanism. ...

Posted by savvy

Sub: war on terror - justified

I justify America's initiative in the form of "war on terror" 1. Although, other countries suffered terrorist attacks, it clearly shows that only America is ...

Posted by Sriram Krishnamurthy

Sub: Don't lose your cool - Every dog has its day

There is a story about a Poice Inspector who was due to retire in a few months'. He wanted extension, but knew that he would ...

Posted by bp

Sub: America's make believe war on terror.

A very rare analysis of America's war on terror in black and white.I can't understand why the entire world is acting blind .The story is ...

Posted by Suresh K.


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