Our Enemy Is at Home

Against the Current, No. 96, January/February 2002

Malik Miah

America has a message for the nations of the world.  If you harbor terrorists, you are terrorists.  If you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist.  If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you’re a terrorist, and you will be held accountable by the United States and our friends.”
—President Bush speaking to soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the day before Thanksgiving, November 21

TO MAKE CRYSTAL clear what the new Bush Doctrine of permanent war on terrorists is, the president emphasized to the receptive audience of the Screaming Eagles unit which has troops deployed in Pakistan:

Afghanistan is just the beginning on the war against terror.  There are other terrorists who threaten America and our friends, and there are other nations willing to sponsor them. We will not be secure as a nation until all of these threats are defeated.  Across the world, and across the years, we will fight these evil ones, and we will win.

September 11 Changes World Politics

September 11 marked a change in U.S. and world politics.  The U.S. rulers made a decision that the act of terrorism that destroyed the World Trade Center Towers and part of the Pentagon was a golden opportunity to advance their historic objective of world domination—the “American Century” they had predicted at the close of World War II.

Bush and his top lieutenants have made clear over and over again that the “war on terrorism” is not a one-time operation.  It is a long-term policy and will not be over for years, if ever.

Unfortunately, most liberals have capitulated to the New World Anti-Terrorism Order without a fight.  They fear being tarred as soft on terrorism or unfeeling and disloyal patriots for those who perished on September 11.

Confusion on the Left

The confusion on the socialist left is represented by those who correctly argue that the bombing is wrong and should be stopped, which is why an antiwar movement is urgently needed, yet also argue that the fall of the Taliban and bin Laden is a step forward even if U.S. carpet-bombing accomplished it.

The right of national sovereignty and self-determination by an oppressed country faced with direct imperialist domination, it is argued, is secondary.

This position is indefensible.  It lets the U.S. ruling elite and their allies off the hook for being the greatest danger to humanity with nuclear weapons and massive weaponry.

In a conflict between a Third World country and an imperialist-led alliance, socialists must defend the right of self-determination by the oppressed country independent of its current leadership in that war.

Otherwise, the door is open for a superpower to use its military might to dictate to all countries it declares are “harboring terrorists.” And it will not always be regimes that are as detestable as the Taliban.

Socialists and supporters of Third World freedom must aggressively fight the imperialist war on terrorism and stand firmly on the side of its first target: the Afghan people’s right to self-determination.  The brutal victory by the United States is a blow to working people worldwide; and the repercussions will be far-reaching.

This stance is not equal to giving political support to the Taliban and its reactionary program for a repressive Islamic state.  The U.S. military intervention turned the decade-long civil war between various Afghan warlords and the Taliban into an imperialist war against an oppressed country.  Socialists are for the military defeat of the imperialist invaders.

During the Japanese occupation of China socialists (Trotskyists) supported a united front with the reactionary Chiang Kai-Shek and the Chinese Communist Party leadership under Mao.

The position for a united front alliance to defeat the occupiers while maintaining independent organization was the only policy to protect the national rights of the Chinese people.  The socialists, however, never gave political support to their enemies and opponents in the Chinese nationalist struggle.

This is not an academic discussion.  Nor does it matter that socialists in the United States are too weak to have a major influence on U.S. policy.  The issue affects how we act as political people and function in the ongoing movement against the ravages of globalization.

The terrorist actions of September 11 gave Bush and his gang the green light.  It’s why Bush said what he did to the soldiers in Kentucky, and why he’s already taking extraordinary steps to violate the U.S. Constitution, even though he could easily get congressional approval for his decisions.

The order signed by Bush establishing military tribunals, so he can as “commander-in-chief” carry out secret trials and possible executions of suspects without due process, is the most extreme example.

U.S. Policy in Central Asia

Central Asia represents a new source of oil and natural gas for U.S. corporations, vast untapped reserves that world capitalism could not farm during the Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 opened that door.

The United States wants to expand its power in the region, and Afghanistan sits in a strategic location.

(Journalist Ahmed Rashid discusses this in detail in his book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia.  Published last year, it refers to the competing powers—United States, Russia and its client states, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran among others—as “The New Great Game.”)

Saudi Arabia (the key Arab U.S. ally) and Pakistan backed the Taliban’s rise to power in 1996.  They were previously the main supporters of the Mujaheddin forces that fought the Soviet occupation from 1979-89.  These warlords of the Mujaheddin who took power in 1992 (now mostly in the Northern Alliance, except for the Pashtun warlords in the south) were Islamic fundamentalists and terrorized the populations.

The rise of the Taliban was in reaction to this terror, and the new regime was, at first, widely supported.  Supporters included women who were raped and brutalized by the warlords.  That changed when the Taliban began enforcing its interpretation of the reactionary Wahabi version of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia.

The United States and the oil giant, Unocal, praised the stability the Taliban imposed in the country.  The CIA were assured by their friends in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan and Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, who for thirty years (until he was dismissed in August 31, 2001) headed Saudi’s intelligence services, that the Taliban clerics were safe, and could protect their interests.

The U.S. government was opposed to any deals allowing pipelines running through Iran (the logical and cheapest route), which is still listed as a country supporting “terrorism.” Washington thus was not overly concerned about the Taliban’s fundamentalism or its ties to militant Islamic groups.

Sudden Conversion

The bombings of the U.S. embassies in 1998 by Al Qaeda agents changed that attitude.  President Clinton sent missiles Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan and the Sudan.  The aim even then was not to overthrow the Taliban.  Clinton urged Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to get the Taliban to arrest or force bin Laden out of Afghanistan.

Up until September 11 the Bush administration continued the Clinton policy.  The United Nations and the U.S. government praised the Taliban for its efforts to reduce opium production and to bring stability to the country.

Issues of democratic rights, women’s rights (despite the hypocrisy of Laura Bush) and fundamentalism were not factors for the policymakers in Washington.

Before September 11 the U.S. government never anticipated that bin Laden or other anti-U.S. militants inspired by him would “dare” use four commercial aircrafts to attack civilians in New York and Washington.

Program of Al Qaeda

Bin Laden and the World Jihad don’t hide their objectives.  They aim to establish Islamic states and to destroy the enemies of Islam.  Enemy number one is the Great Infidel, the USA.

The World Jihad is an international program.  The training camps in Afghanistan include supporters of Islamic revolution from various regions of the world.  Many of these individuals and groups have fought their own governments for years.

When bin Laden and Aiman al-Zawahari, the leader of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad, united various Islamic groups in February 1998 under the single name of “The Global Islamic Front Against the Jews and the Crusaders,” they made clear the political objectives in their fatwa (a decree of Islamic law).

They proclaimed the United States as enemy number one: “To kill Americans and their allies, civilian or military, is an obligation for every Muslim capable of doing so, wherever possible.”

After the October 7 bombing began, bin Laden defended the right of Muslims to attack all Americans.  He repeated this view again in a November 9 interview with Hamid Mir, the editor of the Pakistani English-language daily Dawn.

“America and its allies,” bin Laden said, “are massacring us in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir and Iraq. The Muslims have the right to attack America in reprisal.” He continued, “The September 11 attacks were not targeted at women and children.  The real targets were America’s icons of military and economic power.”

The Al Qaeda leaders’ use of terrorism reflects this aim to establish religious dictatorships over the Muslim people they claim to defend.  They have an elitist vision of the world, and expect the masses of Muslims to follow the new caliph.

Of course world imperialism isn’t concerned about democracy and freedom either.  That’s why they can support the pro-U.S. dictatorship of the Saudi royal family, which holds an identical view of Islam to the Taliban’s.

Bin Laden’s and the Al Qaeda leaders’ conflict with the Saudi royal family and other Arab rulers, such as Egypt, is because the regimes are accommodating too much to the United States and the Western powers.  Bin Laden says their policies are weakening Islam.

The use of terrorist methods is to spark the masses into action; to terrorize the enemy so it represses the population who will then rise up in revolt.

The aim of September 11, whoever organized it (no group claimed responsibility), was to send a message to the “Great Infidel” that its property and civilians are fair game. What better military targets than Wall Street and the Pentagon!

It’s why bin Laden doesn’t really care if he’s blamed for the attack or not. All terrorists whether of the left or right, religious or atheistic, share this false belief that acts of terror will pave the way for fundamental change.

Instead of winning, the Al Qaeda leaders will likely be terminated.  They may call themselves martyrs, but the direct result of their methods is a setback for the poor and oppressed they claimed to speak for in the Islamic world.

Bin Laden and Mullah Omar

Bin Laden is clearly more sophisticated than how he’s presented to the American people by the media.  His ties to the Taliban leader Mullah Omar were formed out of necessity, after U.S. pressure forced him to leave Sudan in 1996.

Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan a few months prior to the Taliban’s takeover of most of the country.  He became close to Omar and a major supporter of the reactionary brand of Islam practiced by the Taliban.

Omar needed support from bin Laden and the Arab Afghans to fight the civil war in the north and to consolidate his control over the country.  Only after the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan in 1998 did Omar take up bin Laden’s world jihad as his own, and reject pressure from the Saudis and Pakistanis to rein in bin Laden.

Bin Laden responded by referring to Omar as the “caliph,” in line with his utopian view of creating an Islamic community of states under a new Caliphate.

The Saudi royal family never took bin Laden very seriously so long as he was based outside the country.  That’s why the Saudis could support the Taliban even though bin Laden lived in Afghanistan.  The United States was not pleased with the Saudis’ toleration toward bin Laden (who lost his citizenship after the Gulf War), especially after 1998; but broader interests prevented public criticism of the family, as remains true today.

Washington did convince the Saudis and Pakistanis, two of three countries that recognized the Taliban government until Bush’s ultimatums, to pressure the Taliban to deport bin Laden.  But Omar refused.

Although President Clinton put out a $5 million bounty on bin Laden’s head, the Taliban continued to be treated as a legitimate regime by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  Taliban officials also continued to meet with representatives of Washington, the UN and Unocal, which still wants to build a pipeline through Afghanistan.

Responsibility of Socialists

Socialists have a responsibility to outline a response to imperialism and its aims, and the wrong methods of Islamicists who use terrorist methods.

The socialist policy on war is to oppose the war efforts of our own imperialist country.  It is to advocate united fronts with those we disagree with to fight superpower domination.

The way the antiwar movement is built today is exactly along this line even though most people involved are not opposed to U.S. world domination or necessarily disagree with much of U.S. foreign policy.  Liberals and many others, as well as socialists, can join together against a particular U.S. foreign adventure such as its so-called anti-terrorist war in Afghanistan.

The socialist policy in war between an imperialist-led alliance and an impoverished country does not change because we detest the forces we may align with against the aggression of a superpower.

Neutrality is impossible.  Socialists must support and defend the right of national sovereignty of Afghanistan independent of its Taliban leadership (which in its five years of direct rule was already losing support among the people).

The task of those favoring democracy and secularism is to seek to organize an Afghan revolutionary alliance to end the rule of all the warlords and dependence on foreign powers.  Otherwise the movement can become a tool of imperialism, as we are seeing with the Northern Alliance.

What Next?

What happens next in Afghanistan is far from clear.  The Taliban says it is in a strategic retreat from the cities because of the overwhelming forces against it. No government could take the massive bombing (even if it had broad popular support) that the United States inflicted upon the country.

But the guerrilla war, and inevitable civil war among the “winning” warlords could lead to new opportunities for secular and socialist forces.  It could also lead to a reemergence of the Taliban in some form if the left is too weak to provide a viable alternative.

The bottom line is this: The challenge for the democratic secular forces in Central Asia and the Middle East is to build popular political movements that are strong enough to isolate the fundamentalists and build genuine democracies.  Islam and democracy are compatible so long as religious elements do not dominate democratic institutions.

That’s why in the long run a pro-U.S. regime in Kabul can’t resolve the problems facing the Afghan people.  The main U.S. aim is stability, not democracy.

Women in particular will not be allowed freedoms without a democratic civil society.  The warlords, including the Taliban factions, oppose it. Organizations like the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) don’t yet have a mass base.

Socialists must educate on the new world situation working people face. We must actively fight the war on terrorism by defending the national sovereignty of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran, North Korea and any other country Bush decides is “harboring terrorists.”

Malik Miah is an editor of Against the Current, and a trade union activist in the airline industry in San Francisco.

from ATC 96 (January/February 2002)