CHALLENGES TO CIVILIZATION
Is the real challenge for civilization one of exacting punitive
the perpetrators of a crime or is it one of recognizing and correcting the
patterns of our individual and collective behaviour that engendered that
How can the horror of the millions of innocent people who die
around the world (or who live horrendous daily lives of degrading
impoverishment and injustice) be adequately recognized in the face of the
legitimate media focus on the horror of the recent suicidal attacks causing
the deaths of thousands of innocent people?
To what degree was the call upon the international community
the tragic death of thousands a regrettable insult to the far greater
numbers whose tragic deaths in recent years have gone uncommemorated and
unremembered? Where are the international memorials to the killing fields
of Cambodia, Rwanda and Srebrenica, and the disappearances in Latin
How can a civilized world reconcile the worldviews of the innocent
who inadvertently exacerbate lifestyle impoverishment with those of people
who cold-bloodedly attack the symbols of what they perceive to be
instrumental in the suffering of millions of innocents?
Who sympathizes with the condition of those in distant countries
whose suffering goes unbroadcast by the media?
One American commentator asserted that the "World Trade
Center was the
center of western civilization" (James Rubin, Former US Assistant Secretary
of State, BBC, 11 September 2001). If this is how western civilization is
to be characterized, is it beyond belief that some groups might consider
this a mark of an ungodly civilization lacking any core spiritual values --
other than those associated with material profit?
Why did the same commentator then go on to claim that the rest
of the world
was "uncivilized"? Is it not then worth recalling Mahatma Gandhi's
classic response to the journalist who asked him his views of "western
civilization" -- and was answered that "it would be a good idea"?
In seeking to label the horrendous attacks as "evil"
acts against "western
civilization" and "freedom", does this not further obscure the larger evil
of the failure of modern civilization to effectively address the conditions
of millions of people in the world -- and the fact that it is significantly
dependent, for what it offers to the few, on the continuing deprivation of
UBIQUITY OF "TERRORISM"
Is it not the tragedy of modern civilization that no fundamental
transformation of socio-political reality =96 including the independence of
USA, Israel and many developing countries -- has been achieved in history
without attacks that have been labelled by those in power as "terrorism"
How many modern states have been headed by people who could
described as having engaged in terrorist activity? What then is the nature
of the "entire western world" of which "terrorists" are the "enemies" (Tony
Blair, 14 September 2001)
How many modern states have sanctioned or supported terrorism
in one form
or another -- at least in the eyes of others?
Is it not the case that any group that feels excluded will
find a way to
punish those who have left it behind? For those with no other options, is
terrorism not one of the few acts in which they can engage in a hostile
modern civilization -- especially when they have nothing to lose but their
Efforts are being made to frame the horrendous attacks as attacks
"freedom" and "democracy" within civilization as a whole. To what extent
does this constitute an exclusive appropriation of the values of freedom
and democracy by a "western civilization" that is perceived by the
attackers as opposing other peoples and cultures in their legitimate
aspirations to "freedom" and "democracy" as they understand it?
The President of the USA assumes that "God" is necessarily
the side of the American people (and the right-minded of the world) in
their response to the "evil" nature of the attackers. The cultures with
some sympathy for the attackers, and especially suicide bombers, assume
that "Allah" is on their side in opposing the "evil" impact on their
communities that they associate with aspects of American policy and
"western civilization" -- they label the USA and Israel as "Big Satan" and
"Little Satan" respectively. Are there more fruitful ways to understand
such a situation and what resources are devoted to this?
Does "western civilization", or the preferred religion
of the current
president of the USA have an absolute monopoly on the definition of "good"
and "evil"? How is provision made for perspectives that are radically
different from those he defines as "good"?
There is an extraordinary parallel between the unusual exclusivist
perception of America as "God's own country", and of Israel as a gift by
God to a "chosen people". Why have these perceptions justified encroachment
on the lands of others, the displacement and death of indigenous
populations, their restrictions to "reservations", and the development of a
strategic framework for the expansion of "western civilization" into the
spaces of other cultures?
What strategic dangers for the future of civilization are likely
from an alliance between two countries that perceive themselves to be
blessed by a unique God-given innocence that justifies their
self-righteousness under all foreseeable circumstances?
If the US-led coalition is to act, as proposed, without distinction
both terrorists, and the governments and bodies who tacitly or actively
provide "haven, support, information, financial and other assets" (Colin
Powell, 14th September 2001) to them, how will it respond to the support of
"terrorism" in Northern Ireland by groups within the USA -- or to US
support for activities in Latin America labelled there as "terrorist" or to
its purported support of the Taliban as part of the war against drugs?
How is it possible to comprehend the stigmatization of the
an "enemy waging a war by stealth" (14th September 2001) by the president
of the country that is the proud inventor of "stealth technology" for use
in a "Stealth" Bomber? To what degree was the bombing of Hiroshima an act
How is it that a "peace-loving country", acclaimed
as the "home of freedom
and democracy", is so well-served by the conflicts around the world -- that
it happily exacerbates through massive arms sales to its own commercial
"Since what is good for business is good for America",
to what degree is
the pursuit of "freedom" equated indistinguishably with "freedom for US
business interests" to implant themselves in any country whether or not
this constrains the populations degrees of freedom ?
How is it that the "home of freedom and democracy"
(George Bush, 13th
September 2001) trains people for activities perceived elsewhere as
"terrorism", has a reputation for political assassination, openly
manufactures instruments of torture for profit, and prides itself on its
arms industry -- and yet is astounded at some of the "irrational" reactions
and hatred that this evokes?
How is the high-minded defence of freedom to be reconciled
suppression of information on the nature of the accidents that befell the
attackers in the fourth plane? Was the plane, with its innocent passengers,
indeed shot down by an American fighter? What other relevant information
has been unnecessarily withheld?
MISAPPROPRIATION OF INSIGHTS
What questionable initiatives can be disguised by strategies
undertaken in response to "terrorism"?
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?
To what extent does a hasty, vengeful response best serve the
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
Is there a fundamental danger that American society will henceforth
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 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?
COMPREHENSION OF ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVES
How is it that at the acclaimed center of western civilization
apparently no comprehension whatsoever of what honourable and meaningful
causes can drive people to commit suicide in such
horrendous attacks on innocents?
Rabbi Tony Bayfield (Guardian, 15 Sept 2001) states that "I
with rage at anyone who dares suggest that, in any way, such acts are even
explicable, let alone justifiable". Could he at least understand that some
people are seething with rage that others (controlling trillions of dollars
daily) dare to suggest that their negligence of the suffering millions of
people is explicable, let alone justifiable?
Whether the views of the attackers can be framed as misguided
is not comprehension a preferable basis for seeking a permanent cure rather
than the denial of the realities of the perpetrators of such acts -- and of
the honour in which they may be held in some deprived cultures?
What civilized cause is served by labelling the unknown perpetrators
such acts as having "no regard for the sanctity or value of human life"
(Tony Blair, 14th September 2001) -- when it may be precisely because of
the value they attach to the lives of their compatriots in misery that they
have engaged in such acts?
If by any chance it was finally discovered that the attack
responsibility of those associated with the militant right wing in the USA
(cf as in the case of the Oklahoma bombing) =96 how would this change the
nature of the retribution sought? Given that this might indeed have been
the case, what learnings would that offer?
Is it wise to assume that there is absolutely nothing of value
civilization to be learnt from those who challenge the assumptions of
western civilization and engage in such horrendous attacks in support of
Is western civilization so insecure and immature that it is
learning from cultures with a radically different perspective -- whilst
stripping them of their cultural treasures?
In a complex society of different perspectives, does not failure
recognize the coherence and priorities of alternative truths for some
condemn their opponents to falsehood and denial?
DISSIDENCE AND CIVILIZATION
How are the values of the US-led coalition to be distinguished
universal values, from the traditional values of western coalition, and
from American values? How can space be created for dissidence in modern
Is there a fundamental danger to civilized discourse of its
dominated by processes reminiscent of the witch-hunts of the McCarthy era
against "un-American activity" -- during which dissent of any kind could be
readily reframed as subversive of western civilization?
To what degree will the future response of western civilization
who disagree, in any form, with the views of its major leaders, deteriorate
into suppression of alternative and dissident perspectives of any kind?
What have been the consequences of recent historical examples of such
Is active disagreement and dissent of any kind to be tolerated
world society dominated by "western civilization" and promulgation of the
"American way of life" as an ideal?
How will permissible dissent be distinguished from inadmissible
support for what some may label as terrorist initiatives? Who will
authorize "admissible" dissent from views upheld as intrinsic to the
"American way of life"?
Rather than signalling the need for expenditure of resources
on a campaign
of retribution to bring a few people to justice, should not these
horrendous attacks primarily signal the need for expenditure on more
fruitful approaches to disagreement between civilizations and value systems
-- as implied by the theme of the current United Nations Year of Dialogue
CONSEQUENCES FOR CIVILIZATION
What will the measures of retribution envisaged do to the quality
western civilization and the significance of the values it claims to
In adopting a vengeful, self-righteous mindset, infused with
of those groups who habitually act in this mode, to what extent will
western civilization become irredeemably tainted by values and qualities
from which it has long struggled to distance itself?
What constraints are there on the proposed use of political
and the secretive strategy of "targeted killings", as a means of removing
all those who express any opposition to the dominant American view of
civilization? Will those opposing this strategy in any way also be
considered legitimate targets?
Does labelling those who act in this way as "faceless
cowards" obscure a
reality that needs to be understood -- making a mockery of their anonymous
military counterparts who release bombs and missiles from a secure
distance? And what of the faceless corporate executives who deprive
families of lands and livelihoods that they have had for generations?
If the Nazi headquarters -- or the Kremlin at the height of
the Cold War --
had been located in a building like the World Trade Center, would a
similarly successful attack on it be labelled as "cowardly", "evil" and
Rather than characterizing the attack as an act of evil, I
see it as a
terrible last act of desperation by people who believed they had no other
way to make themselves heard than to resort to violence and mayhem. It is
absolutely critical that we see not only their willingness to use horrible,
illegal means, but that we also hear their desperation which makes them
view such means as the highest form of heroism including the sacrifice of
their very lives. (Greg Nees, Former US Marine, Letter to the President,
13 September 2001)
How are the "heroes" and "cowards" to be
identified and distinguished in
response to the suffering of millions around the world?
Deepak Chopra (14 Sept 2001) asks: Why he and others did not
equivalent anguish at previous horrors to which innocents have been
exposed? What was the root cause of this evil? Can any military response
make the slightest difference to this underlying cause? Is there not a deep
wound at the heart of humanity? Who gave birth to the satanic technologies
now being turned against us? If all of us are wounded, will revenge work?
If you or I are having a single thought of hatred against anyone in the
world, are we not contributing to the wounding of the world?
To what extent do the attacked appreciate that the "American
way of life"
is perceived by many to have been achieved at the cost of ways of life in
other cultures? Retribution may serve only to impoverish the ways of life
in all cultures -- especially if it escalates uncontrolably into widespread
If "terrorist" acts are to be treated as acts of
"war" -- providing legal
justification for responses under conditions of "war" -- does this
transform the legal status of such "terrorists" in the light of the Geneva
Convention? Or are such terrorists to be considered as unworthy of the
human rights accorded to Nazis? Or perhaps this treaty is also to be set
How will it be possible to ensure that the treatment of the
does not simply transform them into martyrs -- empowering an even more
savage and dangerous escalation of terrorism?
To what extent will any retribution be justified by hard and
incontrovertible evidence rather than by evidence that some might have
reason to consider questionable =96 as in the case of the US attack on the
Khartoum pharmaceutical factory after the East African bombings of US
Does the mindset identifying civilization's "Public Enemy
No. 1" constitute
a displacement of blame to a safely distant, personified target of
abhorrence -- thereby completely avoiding, through a scapegoating process,
any uncomfortable questions and learnings about the weaknesses of modern
society and its leadership?
Why were those with access to the best intelligence resources,
not alert to
the fact that the core of the western financial system was so vulnerable?
What other assumptions of this quality have been made by them? What level
of irresponsibility does this imply in the strategies they advocate?
What do the military successes of such attacks suggest about
the quality of
the strategic thinking associated with the "Star Wars" initiative?
If a single individual with a paltry $300 million resources
is the prime
suspect as the cause of such havoc, what potential threats to civilized
society should be suspected of the limited number of people in the world
with billions of dollars of resources at their disposal?
Given the total inability of strategic intelligence services
the attack, what is the probability that the nature and quality of the
response will primarily serve the cause of the original attacker?
Beyond the mass of information, accusation and allegation,
from this attack?
Does presenting this event as a coarse "revenge attack",
or a mindless
thoughtless act of barbarity, deny the underlying political advantage that
is the true purpose and justification for some as yet unidentified group?
In adopting strategies of retribution normally condemned as
to a civilized state, at what point do states acquire characteristics of
the "rogue states" that they seek to eliminate?
Given the highly symbolic nature of the attacks, is it possible
any riposte that would be equally symbolic in nature =96 reframing the
challenge for both sides in a more fruitful manner?
"WAR" AND OTHER METAPHORS
Modern societies have failed significantly, after many years
effort, in their strategy of "war against drugs" and have been forced to
question the value of the "war" metaphor in this connection. What does this
imply for the success of the proposed sustained "war against terrorism" --
which has already been underway for many years?
In the "war on drugs" the pattern of denial fails
to address the question
of why people in "western civilization" (and in the "home of freedom and
democracy") are so desperately dependent on drugs. Is there a similar
pattern of denial that inhibits any recognition of why some people struggle
for meaning in other cultures in ways that are beyond the comprehension of
people in western cultures?
Like the "war against drugs", does the "war
against communism" provide
inappropriate preset mental templates for the "war against terrorism"?
Is the "war" metaphor necessary to the stability
of American and Israeli
societies dependent on an external enemy to provide a measure of
reconciliation between their own internal contradictions?
Will the "war against terrorism" by the coalition
of the western world
provide some faceless people in power with a new license to assassinate
wherever consider they it to be appropriate?
Is it the case that whilst western intelligence services have
capacity to "listen" to almost any conversation anywhere, they are
effectively deaf in their incapacity to "hear" and comprehend the nature of
what is being said about the desperate condition in which proud peoples
Some people are always open to temptation by products and services
by their own culture. Is it comprehensible that the "freedom" to install an
American hamburger chain in Mecca may be as abhorred by some of Islamic
culture as would be any effort to install a brothel in the White House?
If we are to truly resolve the hatred and violence, we need
that in their eyes, they see themselves as a tiny, heroic David fighting
against a huge, monstrous Goliath who seeks to kill them and their way of
life. We certainly need not agree with their views, but we must understand
them if we ever hope to achieve a lasting peace and not a world that is
locked down and bereft of all the civil rights and freedoms we cherish so
highly. (Greg Nees, Former US Marine, Letter to the President, 13
One of Christianity's founding myths is the action of Jesus
in the Temple
of Jerusalem in response to the "money changers". Is it not comprehensible
that the poverty and suffering of millions may inspire some to attack what
they perceive as the "money changers" in charge of trillions of dollars in
the "temple" of western civilization? It might be asked why this is
perceived as justified by some and completely unjustified by others?
To what extent does the insidious nature of international networks
terrorism parallel the insidious nature of international networks of
unrestrained greed? Both have their hidden cells and faceless leaders. Will
equivalent resources be allocated to rooting out the latter networks --
given the way they provoke the development of the former?
QUALITY OF DISCOURSE
In whose interest is it to simplify and polarize the discourse
to this strategically symbolic attack -- notably in support of
strategically primitive retribution attacks?
Why is the quality of media discourse about such an attack
lacking in any
acknowledgement of the perspective of those with some understanding of the
attackers =96 thus exemplifying the reasons for which they presumably
undertook the attack?
If "those who are not with us must necessarily be considered
(Hillary Clinton, 12th September 2001), to what extent will those who fail
to associate themselves whole-heartedly with acts of retribution themselves
be subject to some form of punitive sanction?
There are different kinds of discourse in response to the challenges
by millions in poverty. Each may be judged as completely inappropriate
according to other criteria. Each may nevertheless have its strengths and
weaknesses. Should the attack be considered as one such response by
desperate people of limited means -- just as the subsequent response by a
people of unlimited means could be considered in terms of whether it
improves the quality of discourse about the tragedy of life for many in
What kind of civilization would respond to such attacks by
immense resources of its "intelligence networks" to empower networks of
people and groups everywhere to act more effectively in response to the
sufferings of the world -- rather than to protect structures of privilege
from the terrorist networks engendered and supported by such suffering?
In a time of increasing "democratic deficit", what
intelligence has been
devoted to alternative democratic processes to reduce the incidence of such
desperate measures? To what extent is any significant attention accorded
to recommendations to this end?
Why is it that any initiative to discover new ways of framing
differences is itself condemned and marginalized? Should this not be
recognized as the ultimate evil?
What pattern of denial encourages some to seek to stampede
particular beliefs from a moral highground that they define and occupy
Does not the ultimate tragedy for civilization not lie in the
polarization of disagreement -- there can be "no more excuses; it is time
to choose sides" (Bush, 14 September 2001)?
FOR THE FUTURE
How much more human sacrifice is required to ensure the further
How can we reorganize ourselves and find a design of a higher
that will prevent such violence from occurring again -- or are we forced to
accept that in time of neglect, violence, albeit unwelcome, must
necessarily have its place?
Any more questions?