Nawal El Saadawi
11 September 2003 Portland, Maine, USA
I. What do we mean by the word "terrorism"?
Today is the eleventh of September 2003, the anniversary of the attacks
launched against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. On this day I
am at my desk on Peaks Island in Maine writing my intervention for the
conference entitled "Fighting Terrorism for Humanity." The invitation to
this conference was sent to me by the Prime Minister of Norway "Kjell
Magne." I have heard that amongst those who will attend this conference
are a number of the Heads of State including the president of the United
State "George W. Bush." I have also been told that the General Secretary
of the United Nation organization "Kofi Annan" will open the conference
on the morning of September 22, 2003.
In front of me are the morning newspapers of Portland Maine, which lies
on the northern most part of the Atlantic coast in the United States. I
came to Portland at the beginning of last January as a visiting
professor at the University of Southern Maine for one academic year.
The main headline of the Portland Press Herald says "President George
Bush declares that there is a need to extend police powers in order to
fight terrorism." This declaration was made on the occasion of the
second anniversary of the September 11 attack. He explained that Patriot
Act I issued in 2001 was insufficient to fight against "terrorism" and
that new measures were necessary, measures which would permit the
withdrawal of United States citizenship from people "suspected of having
some relationship with terrorism," to prevent the leakage of any
information concerning individuals arrested and put in prison or
suspicion without trial or legal proceedings, to allow the analysis and
registration of their DNA characteristics, help to obtain detailed
information about matters which might concern their intimate and private
life, abolish bail in proceedings as a way of legal release, and engage
in police arrests without subpoenas from the courts.
These measures envisioned as effective ways in the fight against
terrorism, are they not in themselves of a "terrorist" nature, a
reflection of a "terrorism" imposed by the State, by the rulers of the
United States in the name of their "war against terrorism"? Perhaps that
is why they are meeting with a mounting opposition from law makers in
the Republican and Democratic parties, from political and academic
institutions, from peoples organizations and associations for whom
issues related to democracy and the loss of civil liberties are becoming
a growing concern.
If the policies being implemented by the United States administration
are shot through with an increasing violence against the American people
said to be needed in order to ensure their "protection against future
terrorist attacks" and maximize "internal security" would it be
surprising if the violence exercised against other poorer, weaker
peoples in the world is reaching the proportions we are witnessing today
in the so called "war against terrorism" and the "spread of democracy"?
I keep wondering how the military intervention and occupation first of
Afghanistan, then of Iraq can further "the fight against terrorism for
humanity." How the increasing death and destruction meted out to the
Afghani and Iraqi people can quell the fires of hatred or, dissipate the
desperation which helps to fuel the loss of faith in collective,
democratic action. I wonder why the killing of Palestinian men, women,
and children by a regular technologically, nuclear, laser equipped army
continues to be qualified as self defense, why military invasion and
mass massacres by "coalition troops" are not described as "terrorism"
but as civilizing, democratizing missions meant to free our world of the
"Bin Ladens" who have arisen, and continue to arise in different parts
of the world.
Could it be that all these
forms of "violence" and "terrorist" in nature, that a more powerful
"terrorism" has helped to create a far less powerful one, that they are
locked in a struggle that nurtures and maintains both of them, and that
in order to "fight terrorism for humanity" we need to fight both of them
to expose this circle of violence? Could it be that we are and have
always been the victims of "language" and of "terms" set by the more
powerful so that a "terrorism" exercised by the state internally, or a
military invasion and occupation of another country becomes a part of
the "fight against terrorism for humanity or democracy," that only the
opponent who has recourse to more individual "terrorism," who throws
bombs, or blows himself or herself up to kill others is qualified as
That is why when I think of the crime against humanity perpetrated by
the "terrorist" attack on the world Trade Center and the Pentagon on
September 11, 2001 which led to the death of 3,000 people, I remember
that on September 11, 1973 the coup engineered by circles, certainly
known to the members of this conference, against the regime of Allende
in Chile led to the death of more than 30,000 people under Pinochet, and
ask myself why human lives should have a different value according to
where they live?
II. Is resistance to foreign occupation considered "terrorism"?
What I have said brings me to another point. I come from the Arab
region, from Egypt. For over half a century I have lived with the
nightmare of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Israel for years has
waged a war against the Palestinian people. It has been a war waged by a
regular army equipped with the most sophisticated weapons, with the help
mainly of the United States, including an uncounted number of nuclear or
hydrogen bombs, against a people with no army, and no weapons to speak
of, against a people whose children and youth fight tanks and rockets
and Apache helicopters and Phantom planes with stones. As a result
"terrorist" responses have grown in the struggle waged by the
Palestinian people for a land of their own, for what is left of a land
which was once their own. This is a struggle for a place in which to
live, for life against death or a living death.
On the one hand we have Israeli occupiers demolishing homes, uprooting
olive trees, building an apartheid prison wall, establishing settlements
on land which is not theirs, killing, maiming, destroying. On the other
a helpless people many a time driven to desperation, fighting to
liberate themselves from foreign occupation. On the one hand we have
military aggression, on the other self-defense, a right recognized by
the international and national law, the right to defend life, means of
sustenance, water, home. How under such circumstances can I equate the
Israeli soldier who harasses, and hunts, and shoots, and destroys at
every moment to take over what is not his, with a young man, or a young
woman who humiliated, and hungry, and hopeless is brought to end her
life by blowing herself up in order to kill those whom she perceives as
the source of her misery and as the occupier.
I have always been, and
continue to be against "violence" against "terrorism" in all its forms.
But I must understand what is going on around me, what motivates people
to act as they do, what interests are involved. If I want to "fight
terrorism" for humanity I cannot equate the occupier with the occupied,
the aggressor with the aggressed, the oppressor with the oppressed. I
cannot forget the powerful multinational oil interests that were an
important reasons for the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, nor the
capitalist fundamentalist interests behind Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/
Wolfwotiz's "War on Terror," nor the radical ruling class fundamentalist
Wahhabite Seoundi interest behind Bin Laden and his "Quaida"
organization after his alliance with the United States broke down when
the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was over. Where as the
young Palestinian girl Ayab Al Akhrass blew herself up at an Israeli
checkpoint in the struggle against the occupiers of her land, and the
daily humiliation suffered at their hands. Knowing that men and women
can sometimes just in defense of their human dignity prefer suicide
rather than surrender.
Fleeing survivors of military occupation or terrorism usually look
upwards at the sky for help. The sky is always silent and passive. It
drives them towards individual action.
Suicide bombers are looked upon as terrorist or fanatic religious
people. However, they are in most cases products of state military and
police terrorism, whether Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus or others.
They are people that suffered extreme grievances and violence which
culminate in suicide bombing, as a sign of complete desperation, and
loss of hope for any just solutions to their sufferings.
In any case the American and Israeli military occupation forces do not
have any moral or human highground over suicide bombers in Palestine,
Iraq, Afghanistan or other countries.
III. Why Terrorism in our age?
"Terrorism" is not a new development. It has existed throughout the
ages, has been bred and nurtured by injustice and oppression, and is
linked to extremism, whether racial, sexual, political or religious.
Often it is a combination of more than one extremism.
However, the most common form of "terrorism" visible in our recent
modern and post-modern times is that related to religious fundamentalism
entrenching itself in different parts of the world including Asia, the
Arab countries, Israel, the United States etc.
The question which here arisen is why at the end of the twentieth
century and the beginning of the twenty first century there should be
this wave of religious fundamentalism accompanied by anti-democratic
"terrorist" extremism and violence? Why in this age of technological
progress (linked especially to information and communication) and the
tremendous possibilities it offers to the humankind should there be this
retrograde movement towards religious (and racial) fundamentalism
accompanied by "terrorist" activities.
Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the fact that despite the
progress attained on many fronts in this so called "age of
globalization" technological progress not only has failed to solve the
difficulties faced by the vast majority of people in the world, but that
during the past decades they have tended to grow more serious. With the
falling rate of profit in the real economy and under the pressure of
technological competition the multi-national companies in control of the
world economy have launched an offensive. Only one third of the world
economy is related to the real, that productive economy. The other two
thirds are involved in paper investments, in speculations and financial
operations. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing. Where if
poverty has decreased in some parts of the so-called South it is still
widespread and rampant. Unemployment is on the rise (800 million
according to ILO figures) social security is shrinking, social services
where they exist are becoming more expensive, currency values are
dropping in mot countries as a result of inflation. The social,
economic, educational, health and cultural conditions of people in the
world are witnessing a steady deterioration. The hopes of people in the
countries of the South have been dashed to the ground after they
attained a fictitious independence in which their economy remained
subservient to the multi-nationals controlling the "Free Market" and
"Free Trade". They are riddled in debt and "foreign investment" or
"structural adjustment" operating across their boundaries has pumped
money out rather than in through "Free Trade" (which is not free).
Socialism as practiced in the once upon a time "second world" collapsed
leaving its countries a prey to predatory mafias. In Europe and the
United States people are wondering what had happened to their
"democratic way of life," to their "democratic impact" on the future of
society. They are confused, uncertain, insecure.
In such an atmosphere many seek solace and comfort in religion, hence
the religious revival. Religion had always been used for political
purposes, and this together with the revival explains the growth of
fundamentalist forces. In India a Hindu fundamentalism rules. In the
United States a neo-conservative, neo-liberal capitalist and
fundamentalist ruling group holds the reins of power. In Asia and in the
Arab countries Islamic fundamentalist movements have grown. In Israel
Sharones likud(?) and his coalition partners in government are largely
Fundamentalism breeds "terror" whether in the state or amongst political
and social movements. It breeds "terror" and terrorist responses to
"terror". It breeds a hatred of democracy, and a love for control,
necessary to dominate and pacify the growing masses of restive people at
home, and abroad. Fundamentalism is the refuge and ally of the
corporations, for in "God they trust" to lead people blindfolded, to
make them resigned and humble towards powers they cannot control.
Fundamentalism helps them to create conflict where needed, to "divide
and rule". It is an excuse for violence, and militarism and war, since
Satan must be fought, and Satan is everywhere in Baghdad, in Pyongyang,
in Tehran and in about sixty countries where terrorism has chosen to lie
IV. How can we fight Terrorism for Humanity?
1.By fighting war. War is the central issue in the world of today. If
peace prevails, conflicts and violence and "terrorism" will cease to
grow. Slowly but surely nations and people will find it easier to learn
to live side by side, engage in dialogue, turn their attention to
solving the problems facing the world. Fundamentalist "terrorist"
ideologies will wither away, and more security will prevail. Rulers and
politicians will no longer easily find excuses to sponsor Patriot Acts,
to attack civil liberties and human rights, to restrict the democratic
participation of people in mapping and deciding the present, and the
future of their societies, of their world and where it goes. In the
absence of war invasion and occupation of other countries will no longer
be feasible and the militarization of the United States, which
buttresses its economic clout will shrink more and more. If peace
prevails economic policies can change. Instead of money spent on arms,
money will go to houses, to hospitals, to schools, to production of
goods, to wages and social benefits instead of pouring into the coffers
of multinationals working to produce arms, and into the media beating
the drums of violence and discord and war. In the absence of war
violence of all kinds against women and children, minorities and races,
will no longer be as easy as before. In the absence of war scientific
research will move away from weapons of mass destruction, from rockets
and planes and warships, to making the environment healthy, preserving
the riches of nature, to the development of welfare, and health and
knowledge. In the absence of war the democratic evolution of society
will move forward.
I say that if we really want to fight terrorism for humanity we must
begin to fight war with determination, to mobilize people for peace and
justice. And to do this we must help them to see all the economic,
political, social and cultural consequences of the policies of a ruling
minority in the world who can only maintain their power through
aggression, militarization, and war.
2. To fight war nuclear weapons should be banished completely. This view
is endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly and is enshrined in
the Non-Proliferation Treaty which was signed by 187 nations. All
countries in our region signed this treaty except Israel.
Israel continued to develop its nuclear weapons secretly, although it
was common knowledge even before Mordechai Vanum's disclosures,
published by the Sunday times on 5th October 1986.
The acquisition of nuclear weapons by one country would induce other
countries to acquire these weapons, to bring the nuclear asymmetry to an
end. The development of nuclear weapons by the United States and Israel
encourages others to follow suit, as a means of protection, against
possible attacks from them, especially after the policy of preventive
strikes have been endorsed by the Bush administration. Therefore the
only solution is to enforce nuclear disarmament on all countries without
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