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18 November 2001 | #48

Conspiracy and Terrorism

911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground (Part 6)

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Part 6 of 911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground and protecting the Middle Way from Binary Thinking (2001)

Dangerous factoids and conspiracy theories

In a world of secret terrorist organizations, and secret counter-intelligence operations, is there not great danger that "facts" will be systematically presented, fabricated and spun according to need by all parties -- and especially those who benefit from conspiracy theories? How are genuine facts to be recognized and who is to be trusted to present them?

Who promoted the internet rumour concerning the use by CNN of video footage, supposedly from another context, of Palestinians dancing for joy at the attack? Who promoted the internet rumour that no Israelis died in the WTC attack -- because they had been warned not to go to work that morning? Who promoted the internet rumour that a group of 5 Israelis were arrested for "peculiar behaviour" -- dancing with glee -- whilst filming the burning WTC from a neighbouring building?

Why is there a widespread belief in the Middle East of Mossad involvement in the WTC attack?

Why the routine anti-Semitism of the much repeated Islamic slander that "the Jews" arranged the hits on the WTC and the Pentagon -- arguing that Muslims could not have the technological knowhow or organizational sophistication to do so? (Salman Rushdie, Guardian, 3 November 2001)

To what extent does biased media coverage, excluding alternative perspectives, inhibit balanced response to any crisis, encourage rumours and conspiracy theorists, and augment the credibility of dangerous factoids?

According to Tony Blair's spokesperson regarding successful communications from Kabul: "I think you have to treat evrything with scepticism as there can be no independent verification of anything that comes out of there. It is important that everybody is alive to the propaganda techniques that they will use. You can't trust them in any way, shape or form" (Independent, 14 October 2001). How much "independent verification" is there of the news managed pronouncements of the coalition? With how much scepticism is it appropriate to appreciate the declarations of the UK and US spokespersons -- given their concern that they are losing the propaganda war?

It is being reported that the key "Islamic" hijacker was drinking vodka before boarding the aeroplane. Another highjacker was frequenting nightclubs in Hamburg? Is this not rather unusual behaviour for "Islamic fundamentalists"?

Tracking the Put Options on United Airlines and American Airlines stock on the days preceding Sept. 11, shows an abnormal situation. Did some some U.S. intelligence agencies profit by selling these stocks short? (Mark Elsis, Questioning September 11th)

It is reported (CNN, 25 Sept 2001) that investigators in the USA have grounded all crop duster planes because of indications that they might be used for dissemination of bio-chemical products by terrorists. How are people to distinguish between genuine facts and those planted in order to reinforce public anxiety in support of restrictive governmental measures -- as has always been a tendency of military and other agencies seeking budget enlargement?

Through widespread dissemination of such factoids, to what extent is the crisis also characterized by what amounts to a massive attack of "conceptual viruses"? Combined with "spin", what does this imply for future relations between governance and public opinion?

What is the probability that CIA-trained Osama bin Laden is being used a propaganda device to polarize society and justify a military response? In whose interests? What irrefutable evidence is there that claims purporting to come from him do in fact do so -- especially given the media clampdown on his declarations?

When the psy-ops forces beam down Afghan music from overflying planes, is that to disguise the infra-sound beamed with it -- to terrorize them?

After the fall of the Taliban, what about all the evidence filmed in houses in Kabul -- just lying around -- passports, manuals and organization charts of "no interest" to the security services? Remember the criteria for proof of criminal activity : motivation, opportunity, means! It may indeed be evidence -- but how is the world to know it had indeed been planted, if it served the interests of a coalition that has claimed it is prepared to use "any means"?

If the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is seen by the Islamic world as a proxy war, fought by the west through Israel, does it not become difficult for the US-coalition to claim that its operation against Afghanistan is not against Islam -- and that it is merely another front in the war between the west and Islam? (Justin Cartwright, Guardian, 3 November 2001)

NORAD had almost an hour and half to scramble F-16 jets from Langley AFB to protect Washington DC and the Pentagon, but incredibly failed to do so. Their excuse was that they didn't have enough time. Isn't 90 minutes enough time to protect Washington D.C.? Isn't 30 minutes enough time to protect New York City? Why did they then flying at less than 1/3 of their top speed? (Mark Elsis, Questioning September 11th)

An acrimonious argument reportedly erupted during an Israeli cabinet weekly session between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Sharon is alleged to have turned toward Peres, saying "every time we do something you tell me Americans will do this and will do that. I want to tell you something very clear, don't worry about American pressure on Israel, we, the Jewish people control America, and the Americans know it." (Independent Palestinian Information Network News, 3 October 2001; also reported on Israeli radio Kol Yisrael) Do they -- and who else?

Who was responsible for the attack? Islamic radicals? Or a home-grown Dr Strangelove -- for whom the collateral damage in New York was as acceptable as that in Afghanistan?

Is it the case that some European intelligence experts (such as Eckehardt Werthebach, former president of Germany's domestic intelligence service, Verfassungsschutz)are now dismissing the Bush "war on terrorism" as deception and revealing the Realpolitik behind the aggression against Afghanistan? How does this relate to the arguments of Andreas von Bülow (who served on the parliamentary commission which oversees the three branches of the German secret service while a member of the Bundestag from 1969 to 1994), and wrote a book titled Im Namen des Staates on the criminal activities of secret services, including the CIA? Do those at the "planning level" within the intelligence agencies use corrupt "guns for hire" to organize terror attacks using dedicated people, for example Palestinian and Arab "freedom fighters"? Are the "working level" terrorists who actually commit the crimes, such as the 19 Arabs who allegedly hijacked the planes on September 11, simply part of the deception? (Christopher Bollyn, American Free Press)

The 'conspiracy theories' Bush is referring to similarly have three basic premises and many divergent subsets. The first is that the attack was known about (and possibly, planned) by various elements of the U.S. government before 9/11 and was allowed to take place in order to bring about certain conditions, including the suspension of our guaranteed civil liberties. The second premise is that even if bin Laden and the al Queda network based in Afghanistan were immediately responsible for the attack that those supporting, funding and protecting them are not for the most part based in Afghanistan but are in fact closely connected to the Bush administration and to the allies President Bush has taken such efforts to rally to our side. The third premise is that a U.S. built oil pipeline through Afghanistan which has been in the planning stages for more than a decade is the real goal of the war and that a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was in the works long before September 11th. (Robert Lederman, 23 November 2001) What makes these alternative viewpoints, 'conspiracy theories' -- if it certainly is not for lack of evidence?

The combined passenger lists for the 4 flights on September 11 totals 264 dead. Yet when you count the passenger names on their own published lists, the flights are missing 6, 8, 9 and 12 passengers. Somehow, 35 people are mysteriously missing, including every one of the 19 alleged hijackers. How could this possibly be? (Mark Elsis, Questioning September 11th)

[For more links on unresolved questions, see for example: A]


Why is it that the declaration of war by the USA came just at the time when it was recognized that the US economy was moving into recession?

Is it possible that the escalating popular opposition to globalization prior to the attacks had reinforced to a critical threshold legitimate doubts concerning the sustainability of the global economic system? Has the response to the attacks been opportunistically designed to disguise the failure of that system -- most notably in the case of the airline industry as exemplifying "globalization"?

In recent years, prior to the crisis, commentators noted the challenge for the USA, and especially its military forces, in the absence of any enemy to match its superpower status. Many recognized the need for an enemy. Is it not curious that a new "enemy" has been evoked as a worthy challenge to its omnipotence?

If Osama bin Laden had not existed, would Americans have had to invent him -- which is effectively what they did through training him from 1979, as was the case with Noriega in Panama. Is it not more curious that he corresponds to the American mythological need for a "bad man in the bad lands" to be hunted by heroes -- and frequently created by Hollywood?

Why is it that the recent Bush appointee as US Ambassador to the UN, has such a questionable human rights record (according to US critics) in relation to US covert wars (and training of Contra terrorists) against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua and the FMLN rebels in El Salvador?

After failing to support important human rights initiatives of the UN Commission on Human Rights, most notably with respect to UN resolutions relating to the Middle East conflict, the USA was voted off that body on 3 May 2001 -- for the first time in its history. Does this suggest that the USA is increasingly isolated in its understanding of human rights, "democracy" and "freedom" in the rest of the world -- even though, as the "centre of western civilization", it claims to be the "home" of those universal values?

Should it be forgotten that Henry Kissinger, Nobel Prize laureate, admitted that "oil is much too important a commodity to be left in the hands of the Arabs"? (Denis halliday and Hans von Sponeck, Guardian, 29 November 2001)

What are the implications of current concern -- notably on the part of Uzbekistan -- about a new route for an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea (of which 50 percent is exploited by the Unocal consortium of 11 western oil companies) which would preferably pass through Afghanistan if that country could be stabilized under western influence?

Soon after the Taliban took Kabul in September 1996 oil industry insiders within the Unocal consortium said the dream of securing a pipeline across Afghanistan was the main reason America acquiesced in the conquest of that country and invited the Taliban to Houston to negotiate pipeline arrangements. Did US policy only begin to change when feminists and greens started campaigning against Unocal's plans and the US covert backing of Kabul? Given that the Bush administration is dominated by former oil-industry executives, would it be foolish to suppose that the original plans no longer figure in its strategic thinking? (George Monbiot, Guardian, 23 October 2001)

The population of continental USA has not experienced a direct attack since 1812 -- by the UK. How come the UK is now its principal ally?

Curiously the 11th Sepember is the anniversary of the overthrow of the popularly elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973 -- with US Navy ships on alert offshore, and beneath a US-piloted airborne communications control system, US-trained extremists in the Chilean military assassinated Allende and several cabinet members as part of the war against the "international communist conspiracy". Under the military junta headed by General Augusto Pinochet, torture of dissidents becomes routine. More than 3,000 people were killed during Chile's years of military government from 1973 to 1990; the bodies of more than 1,000 have yet to be found. Allende's "threat", in the eyes of the US, was neither military nor economic, but purely ideological -- a "threat of a good example" of a democratically-elected socialist continuing to honour its own constitution. As national security adviser, Henry Kissinger had declared in 1970 in rsponse to Richard Nixon's attempt to provoke a military coup: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people." Are there to be echoes of the same pattern in response to the "international terrorist conspiracy"?

Why is it that Henry Kissinger, awarded the Nobel peace prize for his role in bringing the Vietnam war to an end, is only now under increased judicial scrutiny (notably by Chileans) for his leading role in a number of controversial US covert actions abroad, including the bombing of Cambodia and Washington's support for authoritarian rightwing governments such as General Pinochet's?

Is the attack of 11th September a means of reversing the course of history occasioned by the defeat of the Turkish Muslim army (by a Christian league formed by King John III of Poland) during the decisive battle at the gates of Vienna on 12 September 1683 -- finally halting the Turkish advance over the previous three centuries that had been the most serious threat to Christendom in central Europe?

Whilst it is curious that 28 years separate the overthrow of Allende on 11th September 1973 from the attacks of 11th September 2001, is it not more curious that a further 28 years separate 1th September 1973 from 11th September 1945, the day on which the preceding World War was formally named World War II ? [United States, Department of State, Bulletin (Government Printing Office, Washington, 1945), XIII, 427-428.]

How is it that in the months prior to the declaration of "war", the USA disassociated itself from a significant number of international treaties that it no longer found to be in its strategic interest -- including those relating to landmines, climate change, law of the sea, and the creation of an international criminal court? What is its strategic interest? From what other treaties will it dissociate itself in the execution of that "war" and in its aftermath?

How is it that just prior to the declaration of "war", the USA and Israel were alone in walking out of the UN Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance at which their position was highly criticized -- especially by ethnic groups now profiled as terrorist suspects?

How is it that the western world locates what it considers most abhorrent in places most distant from its own territory -- apartheid, communism, drug production, and terrorist nests? Does this reflect a pattern of avoidance of the roots of such problems in its own culture -- racism, manipulative belief systems, existential alienation, and injustice?

How is it that these events were so closely related in time to new initiatives by the USA to establish a "Star Wars" Anti-Missile Defense System in response to its belief in its own insecurity?

Is it not curious that George Bush and Tony Blair are unique among their western contemporaries in advocating controversial faith-based social programmes -- and now find themselves as the principal instigators of a controversial faith-based war?

In the Arab world people marvel that westerners do not recall the destructive colonial legacy their forbears bequeathed them. Why do westerners not understand the damage that dysfunctional relationship still does now?

How is it that an estimate of the reconstruction, insurance and other costs associated with the destruction of the towers has been estimated at $40 billion, and the allocation of funds by the US government for the war against terrorism is estimated at $40 billion?

How is it that prior to the crisis the Republicans in the USA were endeavouring by every means to obtain access to the funds reserved for social security (in the social security "lock-box") and that this "social security" crisis will now discredit any arguments by Democrats preventing them from doing so? What are the implications of meeting immediate security needs from funds deliberately set aside for long-term security needs, notably of the retired?

As a result of the CIA's covert operation in Afghanistan against the Russians, hundreds of heroin laboratories were set up there; the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland became the biggest producer of heroin in the world, and the single biggest source of the heroin on American streets. Annual profits, reportedly between $100bn and $200bn, were ploughed back into training and arming militants (now mobilizing against the US-led coalition). Was this drug connection a repeat of the pattern of CIA involvement in the East Asian Golden Triangle during the Vietnam war period? Is the current Taliban control of heroin production an underlying issue?

A major election commitment when Tony Blair's government first came to power was "freedom of information" -- as an exemplication of "freedom" and "democracy" in the UK. How is it that well into the second term, in October 2001, efforts are being made by the UK government to delay for a further three years the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, approved a year previously? (Guardian, 26 October 2001)

Why is it that the USA so recently refused to associate itself with the new International Criminal Court which could well be the most appropriate arena in which to try those master-minding international terrorist networks? In the light of its new strategic proposals (in which "all options" are under consideration) in response to such networks, is it understandable why the USA did not want to run the risk of its citizens coming under the jurisdiction of such a Court?

How is it that the last time precision-guided cruise missiles were used against Afghanistan under Bill Clinton, one of them hit a mosque?

Have the shocking events associated with anti-globalization demonstrations at recent intergovernmental conferences (Seattle, Washington, Quebec, Genoa) partially determined the response to "terrorism" -- especially in the light of efforts to associate such demonstrations with terrorism?

Is it not curious that the International Chamber of Commerce (21 Sept 2001) should argue that the crisis following the attack reinforces the case for relaunching a new round of talks on the multilateral trade agreement -- inhibited to date by the anti-globalization movement?

Were the September 11 attacks and the ensuing police action provoked or staged by the G8 / global elite as a pretext for New World Order Globalization? (Mark Elsis, Questioning September 11th)

The UK has previously undertaken unsuccsessful military operations in Afghanistan. The USA is embarked on an operation there that many competitors compare with its disastrous progessive involvement in Vietnam. Is it true of Afghanistan, perhaps more than anywhere else, that those who cannot remembhr the past are condemned to repeat it? (Justin Cartwright, Guardian, 3 November 2001)

The military industrial complex has been in the doldrums since the Gulf war. The US is facing severe economic recession. What better than a good war to revivive the economy and fivert people's minds from domestic concerns? (John Green, Guardian, 6 November 2001)

During 2001, Tony Blair has limited decision-making at the cabinet level in preference to his own coterie. In addition to the undemocratic discipline of parliamentary "whips", a new tier of ministerial supporters has been defined amongst members of parliament, limiting further the possibility of free debate. The House of Lords is to be reformed to further limit its powers of constraint over the House of Commons. Implementation of provisions of the Fredom of Information Act are to be postponed to 2005. How is it as a champion of "democracy", Tony Blair has shown a Marxist contempt for the traditional instruments of the British state? (Peter Oborne, Guardian, 9 November 2001) How is this to be distinguished from dictatorship?

How is it that one of the last smart bombs deployed in Kabul destroyed the offices of al-Jazeera -- the only truly independent station in the Arab world? (George Monbiot, Guardian, 15 November 2001) If it was a mistake -- how come that it was the only devastated building in an otherwise undamaged street? Was this revenge for its failure to sell its coverage to CNN?

On arrival in Kabul, in the midst of a media clampdown, the BBC was free to broadcast images of a room filled with abandoned papers from an al-Qa'ida cell, complete with passports and othr manuals -- all of no interest to the security services. How is that an indicative passport was also conveniently found at the World Trade Center?

Did the Bush administration begin to negotiate with the Taliban immediately after coming into power in February 2001 -- meeting with the Taliban several times in Washington, Berlin and Islamabad? Under the influence of US oil companies, did the administration of George Bush block US secret service investigations on terrorism, while it bargained with the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden in exchange for political recognition and economic aid as two French intelligence analysts claim in a recently published book, Bin Laden, la verite interdite -- revealing that the FBI's deputy director John O'Neill resigned in July 2001 in protest due to official obstruction of his investigation of terrorism?

Further details of the futures trades that netted such huge gains in the wake of the hijackings have been disclosed. To the embarrassment of investigators, it has also emerged that the firm used to buy many of the "put" options - where a trader, in effect, bets on a share price fall - on United Airlines stock was headed until 1998 by "Buzzy" Krongard, now executive director of the CIA. (Chris Blackhurst, Independent, 14 October 2001) Who else profited unexpectedly in this way?

What are the implications for the "war against terrorism" of the heavy representation of oil interests in the Bush administration: George Bush (and his father), Dick Cheyney, Condolezza Rice, and the ministers for commerce and energy? (Mark Seddon, Guardian, 18 december 2001) But then what did Vice President Al Gore -- who has deep personal and financial ties to Occidental Petroleum -- know, and when did he know it, about the sale of the Elk Hills oil reserve to that company (which tripled Occidental's domestic oil reserves overnight)?

Anthrax attacks the print and TV media just as the Bush administration warns journalists to censor TV and print news. Anthrax also attacks Senators Daschle and Feingold in their offices. Is it a coincidence that Sen. Russ Feingold was the only senator to vote against anti-terrorism bill that decimates 1st, 2nd and 4th ammendments? (Mark Elsis, Questioning September 11th)

Strange symmetries

In taking office, Bill Clinton placed considerable stress on ethics in the White House -- and then created a major ethical scandal for the country. Does George Bush's pledge to reduce government interference establish a mindset which will soon create a major scandal around government interference in the lives of private citizens?

It is curious that the fear-generating terrorists are purportedly financed by drugs required by citizens of western civilization to allay their existential fears. As with any western marketing strategy, are the terrorists seeking to increase the level of fear in order to increase the western demand for drugs?

From the perspective of the vulnerable innocents targetted for personal violence in their own neighbourhoods and institutions on a continuing daily basis throughout their lives, how should they distinguish between their fear of such violence and that of the "terrorism" defined by the US-coalition? How is it that the "war against terror" fails to recognize or address their fears?

Is it not ironic that George Bush's much-publicized direct responsibility and support for capital punishment has proved as controversial on humanitarian grounds as the strict application of executions under Islamic sharia law? Will history see him or Osama bin Laden as having been personally responsible for more deaths? Do the 300-plus executions authorized by George Bush in the light of his Christian conscience exceed in number the number of public executions authorized by the Taliban regime in the light of their Islamic conscience under sharia law?

The pro-war media campaign is giving exposure to a "manual on terrorism" supposedly written by Osama bin Laden. Given that Osama bin Laden was trained in terrorism by US agents, how does it resemble an equivalent manual produced by the US-based School of the Americas and discussed in other media?

Is it not ironic that it is the "American way of life" that has articulated understanding of "mine" into the highest legal art in the history of civilization -- through its emphasis on exclusive property rights. Is it not curious that it is launching an attack on one of the countries whose citizens have the least personal property -- but is covered by some 10 million "mines" that have maimed hundreds of thousands, and continue to do so? Is it not also ironic that these were planted by another culture forbidding personal property?

It is curious that American culture is significantly characterized by death denial and fear of death. How can it come to terms with a culture that has a diametrically opposed intimate relationship with death -- even welcoming it as an honourable reward for holy warriors?

Media vilification of the Taliban to firm up resolution for their overthrow prior has emphasized secret video footage of women being beaten (for infringement of sharia rules) and women being publicly executed (for murder). How does the abhorrence at such sights compare with the abhorrence at the sight of secret video coverage of LAPD officers beating up Rodney King in 1991, and European abhorrence at US capital punishment and the public coverage given to it?

The US-led coalition is attacking a country many of whose citizens carry weapons supplied by the Americans (at a cost of $3 billion) to the mujahideen fighters in their war against the Russians in the 1980s. With the departure of the Russians, the Afghans are now armed with both American and Russian weapons and confronted by an American and Russian coalition -- with an earlier protagonist of British Empire days. What can all these cultures learn from the total abandonment of the Afghan peoples, the broken promises to them, and the shifting allegiances within the international community?

Citizens of western countries, such as the USA, now live in widely acknowledged fear because of a "successful" terrorist campaign. In countries, such as Afghanisan, citizens have long lived in fear in facing the daily challenge of starvation, disease, homelessness and oppression -- largely because of their abandonment by western civilizations, for which they were merely a Cold War pawn. Why is their fear not recognized?

How is it that a "terrorist" action with the aid of box-cutters has such great repercussions on public confidence around the world -- whereas a riposte with a cruise missile is so precisely targetted that, as George Bush said in criticism of Clinton's 1998 action in Afghanistan: "When I take action, I'm not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt,"

Many independent analysts of the rationale of the US-led coalition in response to the invasion of Kuwait have focused on the perceived threat to the continuing oil supplies to the west, and the power of the corporations whose resources were at stake in Kuwait. Will history establish that a major factor influencing key actors promoting the coalition against the Taliban has been the threat they constitute to the continuing supply to the west of one of Afghanistan's only major exports -- heroin? In the case of the UK, for example, Afghanistan supplies 75 percent of the heroin needs. Is the war in Afghanistan to be a 21st century variant of the Opium Wars in China?

Just as it is vital to trace high profit-making financial transactions on the stock market just prior to the attack, is it not equally vital to trace which corporations and individuals benefit exhorbitantly from the massive allocation of funds to the war effort in response to the attack? How have their "loyal pronouncements" against terrorism contributed to war-mongering and inappropriate escalation of the military response?

As a financial enterprise, who benefitted from the Gulf War? Did it "make a profit"? How is it that the German tax payer contributed 16 billion DM? Whose arms industries benefit from such activity? Who will pay for the "war against terrorism"? Whose arms and other industries will profit from it?

Vladimir Putin, a former arch-enemy of the USA, began his presidential campaign in August 1999 with a very low approval rating. Then, in mid-September, two night-time terrorist bombs decimated two large apartment buildings in Moscow, and then another detonated in Volgodonsk -- some 300 innocent residents perished in these attacks. His approval rating immediately soared and he came to power with the promise of terminating the Chechen terrorist activity within weeks. His team relied on a blitz of overwhelmingly biased news coverage on two major television channels. What credence can be given to to George Bush's promise that he will win the "war against terrorism", despite the rapid rise in his approval ratings and the dedicated coverage by CNN ?

With respect to the three principal actors in the drama, how is it possible to reconcile: Islam regards all of its men as warriors (with or without uniforms); all Israeli adult males (up to the age of 55) are automatically part of the reserve forces; and in the USA all citizens have a constitutional right to bear arms? Is it not also curious that in Afghanistan, Israel and the USA citizens all have ready access to arms -- to a much higher degree than in many other countries?

One of the most experienced commentators on Afghanistan (Robert Fisk, Independent, 7 October 2001) titled a recent contribution as "Our friends are killers, crooks and torturers", citing the setting aside of: Russian repression in Chechnya, the practices of the religious mouttawa police in Saudi Arabia, the Pakistani overthrow of a democratically elected government, total suppression of opposition in Uzbekistan, Northern Alliance commanders whose men used women as sex slaves. Given the case made against moral relativism (by such as the Mayor of New York and Salman Rushdie) in evaluating the responsibility of the attackers, is it not curious that the US-led coalition has been significantly built on what might be termed "moral debt relief" ?

Is it not curious that whilst the bombers of the USA are turning rubble into dust with targeted precision in Afghanistan, the population of the USA is being exposed to a major crisis in relation to anthrax powder distributed with targeted precision?

Is it not curious that the world population is being exposed to images of women under the Taliban regime covered head-to-toe with a burkha, whilst also being exposed to bio-terrorist emergency workers in the USA covered head-to-toe with protective clothing? Are the Taliban as afraid of the effects of one kind of contamination as US citizens are of another?

Is it not curious that the USA builds twin towers -- evoking male dominating architecture -- whilst the terrorists use the same phallic symbol - the airplane - to bring them down? (Sohail Inayatullah)

Although in process of termination by "mutual consent" (October 2001), who would have thought that the family of Osama bin Laden, through the Saudi Binladin Group, had close financial relationships with the Carlyle Group, the US investment group backed by George Bush Snr (former President of the USA), and John Major (former Prime Minister of the UK)?

Should former President Bush immediately resign from the Carlyle Group because of an obvious conflict of interest? How much money is the Bush family making off the undeclared war on Afghanistan? (Mark Elsis, Questioning September 11th)

For many religions, especially Christians (Matthew 5.38-41): "You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles". No traditional Muslim, and even a fundamentalist, would say that it is ever legitimate, even in a legitimate war, to kill civilians. The killing of innocents is a sin. How is it that a nation led by a born-again Christian can so significantly fail to take account of the Christian injunction? And how is it that Islamic radicals appear to have no qualms about violating sacred Islamic law?

Cluster bombs in use in Afghanistan consist of some 200 "bomblets" designed to scatter themselves over a large area, targeting troop concentrations and military vehicles. Many may lie unexploded. They are shaped like a soft drink can. The food aid packages that are being dropped, known as Humanitarian Daily Rations, are square and covered in plastic. Why are they both covered in yellow, have been dropped in the same areas, and require broadcast warning messages to help Afghans to distinguish between them? Was this confusion deliberate -- or merely a very high order of incompetence by the world's only superpower? Is this a symptom of what has been described as an "intelligence vacuum"? Has the ability of young American children to distinguish between two such yellow products been evaluated under similar circumstances -- perhaps as a learning game in American schools? What proportion were "killed"?

How is it that the Taliban appear to be enthusiastically awaiting the day when the US-coalition commits ground troops to face-to-face conflict -- whereas their opponents are so reluctant to enter the fray? Is it because it offers Islamic militants the possibility of a direct ticket to heaven -- whereas their opponents are only offered the possibility of a ticket home in a body bag?

Is support for continued bombing as complete as opposition to terrorism -- except that just as there is no universal consensus on the operational definition of "terrorism", there is little consensus on what to bomb, and in what way?

Whilst Tony Blair was attempting vigorously to shore up the fraying US-led international coalition against the Taliban, Cherie Booth (the Prime Minister's wife) was promoting a domestic challenge of responding to bullies in schools (Observer, 4 November 2001). Personal compensation for the international bullying of Afghanistan? Are there patterns of similarity between the two forms of bullying -- and the bullying of women by the Taliban?

Can the arguments in favour of globalization win over those against it -- if most of the world is living in poverty? Will the deliberate efforts to present anti-globalization movements as pro-terrorist movements evoke a corresponding over-simplistic association of pro-globalization arguments with those aspects of globalization that are identified as the root causes of terrorism?

Has the status and function of George Bush, as spokesman of the world's only superpower leading the peoples of western civilization, effectively evoked the status and function of Osama bin Laden as "spokesman" of those disadvantaged by the western hegemony? Is this indeed leading to an archeytpal confrontation across the gap that both have helped to dramatize?

As military advisors, on our behalf, the well-paid western special forces will follow behind the impoverished fighters of their Northern Alliance allies -- some of them pre-adolescent children obliged to venture into landmined combat zones. When the advisors return as be-medalled combat veterans to their home countries they will be followed as heroic role models -- notably by pre-adolescent children. Similarly, again on our behalf, is it the young of the Third World who are leading the way into a dangerous future, trailed by highly paid western experts avoiding any risk to themselves -- but who are in turn acclaimed as role models and fonts of wisdom in the west?

How is it that whilst the USA focuses on what the world has most recently inflicted upon it, others focus on what the USA has inflicted upon them in the past -- but when others plead for assistance in response to their most immediate needs, the USA focuses on their need to repay accumulated debts to the USA over past decades?

Some of the western cultural repugnance that was manipulated to trigger hostility to the Taliban derived from its imposition of the burqa -- the long garment used by Muslim women to drape their body, with only a grid through which to see. How is this repugnance to be reconciled with the description by a Muslim woman: "A burqa, you know, is something a person outside sees. You are inside it. You don't see it, or think it strange. It is there to stop others from seeing you, not you from watching them. You see everything. Inside it you feel free, all alone with yourself. You don't have any impertinent eyes coming in when you want to be left alone ..." ? (Marion Molteno, A Language in Common, The Women's Press: London, 1987). How is it to be reconciled with the concerns expressed by western women at their exposure to invasive looks? How should it be reconciled by emerging legislation in Europe prohibiting any form of concealement of the face (masks, face paint) from cameras?

In seeking to portray what is most reprehensible under the Taliban regime, media have focused on the manner in which women are completely veiled (in accordance with one traditional interpretation of Islam) and limited to view of the world through a lace-work grid. In confronting the Taliban and its response to the attacks, to what extent has American culture effectively emulated such constraints by severely curtailing traditional of freedom of expression - subjecting to sanction those who oppose dominant male views? Has credibly neutralized news (CNN) become the "lace window" through which the "other" America sees the world, and is seen by it? Like the beauty of Afghan women, is such otherness something Americans are now only free to enjoy in the privacy of their own homes?

Given that face-covering is now forbidden (because it prevents effective CCTV surveillance) as part of some new anti-terrorist legislation, how are feminist and security agendas to be promoted following the continued use of the burqa by Islamic women, after the overthrow of the Taliban, notably in Kabul? If face-covering is tolerated in Islamic countries, but not in western countries, what does this suggest about the curtailment of civil liberties in the respective countries? Should such covering be permitted in western countries as a protection against sexual and other forms of harassment?

If the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were a form of rape, in psycho-social terms, has the American culture been impregnated by the Taliban mind-set -- to the extent of precluding all alternatives to the dominant view?

If the attacks were a form of rape, does the response of America correspond to that of a rape victim -- requiring eqivalent help and counselling? What of the outmoded accusations that rape is always in some measure the fault of the victim?

Following the traumatic cultural encounter with the Taliban, when will the American alternative voices be able to remove the burqua's imposed upon them by their ideological dominators?

In making a threat-backed ultimatum to other countries to support the USA against terrorism, to what extent is George Bush effectively declaring his own form of fatwa in emulation of Osama bin Laden?

Were the consequences of the attacks -- notably widespread loss of business confidence -- significantly exacerbated by hysterical and lengthy American media coverage -- too much, too soon? How is it that the military response is subject to a correspondingly high degree of media clampdown inhibiting any critical public assessment necessary in a democratically governed society -- too little, too late?

Osama bin Laden has been ridiculed for operating out of a cave in Afghanistan. How is it that the 11th September attack forced George Bush to use Air Force One to isolate himself in a bunker in Nebraska?

Is it not richly ironic that the first achievement of the "war on terrorism" has been to install in Kabul the Northern Alliance, for whom terrorism has been the entire line of business and way of life for more than 20 years? (Andrew Murray, Guardian, 16 November 2001)

The attacks have been framed as against the foundations of civilization. Is it not curious that the response against the Taliban arose from their refusal, in the light of their cultural norms regarding civilized treatment of a guest, to deliver up a guest to foreigners with peremptory demands unsupported by justification beyond suspicion?

Exploitation of crisis and commitment

What questionable initiatives can be disguised by strategies purportedly undertaken in response to "terrorism"?How will these be detected if their proponents cloak themselves in anti-terrorist fervour?

Who seeks to define "terrorism" in a manner that is primarily supportive of their own opportunistic strategic objectives -- under the guise of eradicating "evil from the world"? How is this policy to be distinguished from the excesses of the Soviet-era?

What constrains efforts by those in power to extend the operational definition of "terrorism" to include elimination of dissent and opposition of any kind?

Has western civilization become the victim of governments using jingoism and fear-mongering to exploit the horrific events for their own ends?

Have Americans been unfairly savaged by left-wing critics taking advantage of the attack to settle old scores?

To what extent does a hasty, vengeful response best serve the interests of some groups whose policies most need to be held in check in a civilized society? What assurances are there that those warning of this will be heard -- rather than subject to intimidation?

Is there a fundamental danger that American society will henceforth use its suffering from these horrendous attacks as an unquestionable justification for any future policies it chooses to follow -- following the pattern of Israel in relation to the horror of the Holocaust? What would be the consequence of other countries following this pattern? Will the suffering of the USA be used to justify inability to assist Third World countries, who should therefore blame the "terrorists"?

Are the deaths being used -- whether emotionally, or cynically -- to legitimate the infliction of yet more deaths? (Ronan Bennett, Guardian, 3 November 2001)

If Americans use the attack as an opportunity to usurp the whole world's sorrow to mourn and avenge only their own -- instead of using the attack as an opportunity to try to understand why it happened -- will it then fall to the rest of the world to ask the hard questions and say the harsh things? And, consequently, will the rest of the world be disliked, ignored and perhaps eventually silenced?

What are the dangers that legitimate international agendas in response to terrorism will be perfidiously manipulated to serve as a Trojan horse to advance particular strategic objectives that are totally contrary to the declared rationale of any such coalition? Will this provide an ideal cover for settling old scores?

Which pre-attack crises will be reframed by the coalition as part of the deals done in order to create a viable coalition? How much suffering in Chechnya will now be neglected in exchange for the use of bases within the Russian sphere of influence?

Will the coalition governments, and other governments around the world, 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?

The initial response of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to the tragedy, as spokesmen of the religious right in the USA, was to use it to incite more hate and persecution of the groups to which they are opposed: feminists, secularists, abortionists, gays, lesbians. How should people of faith respond to religious fundamentalists of the same faith? How should Muslims respond to Islamic fundamentalists?

Exploiting a dominant news story as cover for the release of unpleasant information is a fact of political life that predates current use of media. The UK government has deliberately used the international crisis over terrorism to camouflage several unpopular decisions and policy reversals (including approval of a nuclear fuel processing plant). But how is it that the first thought of a senior British official (Jo Moore) on learning of the New York atrocity -- and even before its outcome -- should be the suggestion to her superior by email that the event be used to conceal embarassing government information? Why was this behaviour merely defended by Tony Blair as a misjudgement? What does this suggest about the systematic use of spin in relation to the coalition's response to the attacks?

To what degree have news announcements been manipulated since the crisis broke -- in the coalition of "democracy and freedom"?

To what extent will spurious security appeals to other countries, in the "fight against terrorism", be deliberately used to disguise advancement of American business interests to the disadvantage of their competitors in other countries?

Much of the media in the USA is now heralding a halt to civil protest, notably with respect to globalization and the environment. "September 11 has made the US remember that human life is supreme, invaluable. What activist group can now argue that a human does not hold precedence over some wetlands, or a rat that could be tested for a vaccine?" (Wall Street Journal)

Will "national security" in the "war against terror" be reframed and extended to include ensuring competitive economic advantage of American business interests -- justifying full use of the resources of government intelligence services and electronic surveillance facilities (such as Echelon) to assist them?

The crisis has proved to be a major disaster for the airline industry -- although many analysts have noted that the airlines were quick to use it to shed personnel in ways for they had no justification before the event. How is it that having sought and obtained government relief -- supposedly contrary to the principles of the Bush administration -- airlines in the USA are now facing accusations from European airlines of unfairly cutting prices on transatlantic fares?

In seeking to magnify the confusion associating anti-globalization groups with those of pro-terrorist persuasion, will some seek to extend this to nongovernmental organizations in general -- especially international NGOs? To the poorly informed, could the al-Qa'ida network, of which bin Laden is the leader, be presented as one of the many international NGO networks meriting suspicion?

Was it appropriate for the UN to close access by NGOs -- supposedly its loyal collaborators -- to its secretariats following the attack? Will it be decreasingly possible to distinguish between nongovernmental bodies and bodies that constitute a security risk -- because of a failure of categories and criteria?

To what extent is the successful pressure by the USA in September 2001, to negate EU attempts to formulate data privacy protection, justified by arguments that such legislation is "an obstruction in the fight against terrorism"? To what extent is it merely a matter of ensuring American access to potential markets?

Would the USA and UK governments lie systematically to their citizens -- if they could claim that it was in the interests of "national security"? How would this correspond to US government information to citizens during the Vietnam war?

To what extent are the "anthrax" and "nuclear" scares merely ways for the US-coalition to esclate the crisis and keep critics off balance -- ensuring unthinking adherence to the US perspective in order to provide a cover for military, political and commercial priorities which would otherwise have little chance of approval without public debate?

What is the deal between the USA and coalition members? Does the US drop the bombs -- whilst the others get billed for the cost of such ordnance? Can war be made a profitable boost for an economy entering recession?

Was the US-assisted attack by the Northern Alliance over the weekend of 11th November deliberately used as a cover for western intimidation of developing country delegations behind the scenes at the Doha meeting of the World Trade Organization -- warning them that they will have preferential trade terms rescinded unless they drop their objections to a declaration articulated without their input? Whilst the rhetoric of the west is all about the virtues of free trade, are its actions merely mercantilist? (Larry Elliott, Guardian, 12 November 2001)

When Dick Cheney, Vice-President of the USA (BBC, 16 November 2001), indicates that 40-50 countries could be targeted by the USA for diplomatic, financial or even military action ("should it be required"), to what extent is "terrorism" being used purely as a cynical excuse to destabilize countries opposed in some way to US policies -- as was the case during the Cold War?

Is terrorism best understood as the pursuit of legitimate complaints by illegitimate means -- shrouded in the world's grievances to cloak unstated ends?

Has the crisis been deliberately used to justify the rapid installation of surveillance technology of every kind: CCTV, face-recognition software, e-mail and phone surveillance, microbugs, monitoring of financial transactions, and pooling government databases? (George Monbiot, Guardian, 18 December 2001)

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