Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Millions take to the streets in the War against Terrorism

The War on Terrorism began in the minds of people on that September 11th.

February 1, 2002
10 min read

The dictionary tells us that a terrorist is someone that furthers his views through coercive intimidation [[“Any one who attempts to further his views by a system of coercive intimidation. One who entertains, professes, or tries to awaken or spread a feeling of terror or alarm, an alarmist, a scaremonger”. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, Complete text, 1991.]]. In simple terms it is the process of holding a nation hostage until the government comes up with the ransom demands. On September 12th millions of people in the wealthy nations quaked, truly terrified. Our televisions showed us that terrorism had taken a more global direction.

Inconsistencies in the events surrounding that Tuesday morning received little scrutiny, however. Like a lone voice in the wilderness it took the American writer Gore Vidal to launch a blistering attack on the stage in which the Bush administration played.

In July 2001, some 2 months earlier, the Bush regime was having the future outlined for them in simple terms. One briefing to the Bush administration suggested that it was believed that Mr Bin-Laden had being making plans for an attack “against US facilities or interests” that would be “spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties”. Even the rank and file of the intelligence community were vocalising their fears. Strangely though, the FBI agents that warned their supervisors “al-Qaeda was planning a kamikaze strike against New York” were threatened with the National Security Act if they went public.

The implications of the mutterings in pre-September 11th America are worrying, but the Tuesday morning itself would cast a very real shadow across the government. Military experts across the US were astounded by the events of September 11th, not because of their ferocity or barbarism, but by the unimaginable failings of the procedures protecting American people.

As soon as a plane changes direction from its flight-plan, fighter jets are immediately scrambled to find out what is going on. This is the law in the US. In fact the only point at which a presidential approval is required is when the hijacked plane is to be shot down, until that stage everything else is carved in stone.

Between 7.45 and 8.10am the planes had been hijacked and where deviating from their flight plans. No jets were scrambled. By 8.45am the first plane hit the North Tower. Still no order was given to the airforce. At 9.03 the second plane hits the South Tower and 9.05 the Chief of Staff interrupts the presidential photo opportunity with the school children. Still no fighter jets are in the sky. It was finally 9.40am when General Myers, the acting Joint Chief of Staff, started launching aircraft. By which time, all three planes had completed their missions and the President had already made a statement to the nation.

Gore Vidal reflects the sentiments of the many specialists, when he asks why did the airforce wait for so long to act on what the rest of world had already surmised. America was being attacked and for some reason, the most powerful nation on earth stood down its defences. The executive, the military and the global community stood and stared as a catastrophic media extravaganza unfolded before our eyes, a catastrophe that was allowed to happen, by incompetence or complicity [[The vast majority of the information regarding the events of 11th of September is taken from “The enemy within”, by Gore Vidal, printed in The Observer, Sunday 27th October 2002.]].

Global politics changed alongside the four passenger jets as they changed direction over American soil. As their radios’ silence crackled in the headphones of Air Traffic control and the fast response fighter jets sat solemnly, their engines cold in their hangers, political currents were moving below the surface. The thing that changed was not the will of the people, or a clear and present danger to the world’s last superpower. The change that occurred was in the political class of America winning a temporary credibility for a foreign policy they had pursued for a century.

On 10th September, the state apparatus of the USA was continuing to pursue the expansion of a brutal empire. However, the tide was turning. Huge percentages of the world’s population were questioning the cultural and military hegemony that had conquered the world. In the impoverished countries, the empire was maintained with military terror, sometimes called the big stick. Amongst the rich they walked softly, the intelligence community covertly subverting democracy.

The fundamental flaw in the imperial policy was that of critical mass. As the French, Russians and Chinese people have all discovered, much to the costs of their ruling classes, feudal regimes throughout history eventually discover the straw that breaks the camel-s back. There is a limit to what people are able to take before they snap. Snatching at their security, their health, their pride and finally their humanity will uncover the point of no return. If you keep taking, people soon have nothing left to lose.

On September 10th, swathes of people in the wealthy and poor countries were already seeing that they had more in common with their oppressed brothers and sisters than they had with their own leaders. Plantation workers were being down trodden by multinationals, environmentalists were dying fighting oil companies in Africa, European farmers were burning down fast food chains, and in certain countries entire populations were forced too take to the streets after privatisation had denied them drinking water.

On September 11th, the entire world watched, and re-watched, and re-watched again several thousand people die. And, quite rightly, the world was disgusted and horrified. People stood and stared blankly at television screens, their hands covering their mouths. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night the images were repeated. In Britain children had to be given counselling in schools.

Meanwhile in Iraq, children were being mowed down by a political epidemic. The sanctions that had no effect on the stability of the Hussein government succeeded, alongside conventional warfare, in doubling the mortality rate of children under the age of five. It is estimated that the UN containment policy killed, in total, somewhere in the region of 1 million people between 1990-1998[[“Voices in the Wilderness, Myths and Realities Regarding Iraq and Sanctions”, in Iraq Under Siege, ed. Anthony Arnove, p67]]. Denis Halliday, the former UN humanitarian co-ordinator to Iraq is quoted as estimating the death toll of children under the age of five at close on 600,000 between 1990-98[[“Voices in the Wilderness, Myths and Realities Regarding Iraq and Sanctions”, in Iraq Under Siege, ed. Anthony Arnove.]]. In fact, so moved was Denis Halliday he would resign over the Iraq policy, as did his successor. The UN’s own staff was falling like dominoes.

This containment policy pursued by the US and UK decimated Iraq, and its once proud people. According to the United Nations own estimates more children had died every month for 12 years than died in the World Trade Centre that crisp September morning.

To suggest that sanctions and war are the sign to the Iraqis to overthrow their brutal dictator is to hold a nation hostage for a political ransom. George Bush’s state of the Union speech reached out to the Iraqi people, and made a veiled declaration of terrorist intent. With US troops massing in their thousands on Iraqi borders and the secretary of defence discussing the potential for nuclear deployment, the President of the USA said to the people of Iraq, “Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country”.

Like a Kennedy assassination for the new millennium, celebrities tell us where they were, when they watched the desperation of those jumping from the windows of the twin towers. Until now, few told us where they were when they discovered their own government had systematically, month on month for an entire decade, pursued a genocidal foreign policy against Iraq’s children.

All this was to change. The weekend of February 14th 2003 will be remembered for a long time. The gulf that lies between the elected and the electorate has been discussed ad nauseam. It has been used to explain the supposed political apathy of people in free market democracies. However, in Britain and around the entire world, the opening stages of what can only be described as a popular uprising occurred. Hundreds of thousands of people across Britain took to the streets for the first time in their lives.

This wasn’t apathy, this was the British people reminding the Westminster village that they are invited by the British people to hold office, and should act with due courtesy. Unsurprisingly the largest contingent of police was reserved for the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. Two rows of British police, separated by one hundred yards, stood anxiously facing their own families and friends.

The polls preceding the Valentine-s weekend estimated between 50% and 80% of the population was opposed to war. The march passed by the police peacefully, the marchers recognising that beneath the uniforms were other poll respondents. Solidarity was palpable in the air surrounding the march. The crowds had no clearly defined demographic, because it was the British people and not the usual suspects.

In Westminster and Washington, policy officials, big business and cold warriors will be discussing where it all went wrong. Each in turn dancing their pantomime, whilst in their hearts recognising their families and friends on the streets. US embassies all over the world were surrounded and Washington was reminded of the historical precedents of the impossibility of achieving global empire.

The fact that evades the leaderships is that although political power is almost without question tied to financial power, no group maintains an intellectual monopoly. The more hearts and minds work together, the quicker societies- truths are reached. The political, economic and intellectual arguments may be open to debate amongst the Oxbridge educated. But, the moral stance of Britain can only come from society en masse. If the British people say we will not go to war, then Britain won’t go to war. The British Prime Minister may be legally allowed to order it, but it will take the British police, the British military and the British workers to move Britain to war.

In short, the question facing Tony Blair now is whether to bring about a constitutional crisis that displays the flaws in our supposed democracy. With the Royal prerogative he can order the British people to go to war. The Queen won’t be going to Iraq; the Prime Minister and the cabinet won’t be fighting. It will be the men and women of Britain who die. It will be the men and women of Britain who mourn the loss of their loved ones. It will be the upwards of a million people that marched this time, and the countless millions more that will march if the government ignores the will of the people. In Britain as in the rest of the world, it is now our chance to reclaim our planet as a true democracy.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi