Africana Plus

No47 October 2001.5

September 11, 2001
Reflections on the Occasion of an Act of terrorism

The attack of 11 September 2001 on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, symbol of the money and power of the United States, was an unspeakable tragedy and a shock from which it will take the world a long time to recover. Why these thousands of victims? To what, and for what, were they sacrificed?

All decent human beings are filled with sadness and a sense of desolation before such suffering, and all feel compassion for these families broken beyond repair. We can only hope that they will find some small consolation in the support and prayers of their fellow-human beings all over the globe. But the question remains: why did such a frightful thing happen?

We cannot avoid one harsh answer. Behind this madness lies in part the harsh capitalism of our Western countries, and of the United States of America in particular, whose selfish and inward-looking policies have generated hatred in the poor parts of the world. During recent years, the United States has chosen to play the part of a country apart. All policy has been determined solely by American self-interest. One might thing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, or the 1997 Kyoto agreement on global warming. On the other hand, the unquestioning support given to Israel has served only to inflame Arab passions.

One should not imagine that it is possible to impose a cruel and soulless policy on helpless people without producing a reaction of hatred and despair. There can of course be no possible excuse for the barbarous acts which were perpetrated on 11 September. Nevertheless one can understand that there will be a violent reaction on the part of the millions of poor people who are subjected to a process of globalization which only benefits the well-off. No doubt, we have seen mass demonstrations during meetings of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, Quebec and Rome by different groups, some of them composed of philanthropists and some of anarchists. But what about the millions of voiceless poor who are the victims of the injustices perpetrated by our governments? Is there any real sharing of wealth in the aid which we offer to the developing world?

In addition to this undoubtedly oppressive hegemony of Western governments, there are also powerful and rich men from the poor world itself who increase the misery of their people by telling them that it is all due to the wicked people from elsewhere. They are bitterly anti-American, but at the same time they are themselves accomplices in the process of globalization which they exploit for their own selfish enrichment. It seems very probable that these were the men who took up the weapons of war and organized the attacks on New York and Washington. Should we say that it was the act of a handful of men anxious to satisfy their power-lust?

It is clear that we cannot reflect on the fearsome events of recent days without asking how far we were ourselves to blame. Canada is active enough on the international scene, but, with a contribution of 0.27% of its Gross National Product to help the poor, it cannot be regarded as one of the most generous nations. In January 2000 the leaders of the Churches of Canada spoke of world poverty and issued an appeal to the Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien: "We are disturbed to learn that our official aid to overseas development has declined by 40% since 1991 and is now at 0.27% of the Gross National Product, when the government target was 7%. We would offer our support to the Canadian Council for International Co-operation if it proposed 2005 or 2006 as the deadline for raising our aid to a minimum of 0.35% of the Gross National Product. We believe that our overseas development aid should be orientated more directly towards the reduction of levels of poverty. Such a policy cannot be reconciled with the promotion of Canada’s commercial interests, and for that reason we believe that the government should be positively committed to a policy of helping poor countries with no strings attached. Only in this way can our aid hope to make a real impact on world poverty."

If we look a little more closely at the impact of a capitalist policy which exhausts the resources of the planet for the benefit of imperialistic régimes, we shall perhaps understand a little better the frustrations of the populations at the receiving end. An effort was made in an earlier number of this Letter to analyze these frustrations and to expose how the resources of the world are distributed. An extract from this Letter is attached as an appendix to this issue.*

The World Trade Centre was a symbol of the scandalous thirst for profit on the part of the Western countries, which practise a one-way commercial traffic. It was attacked by terrorists who wished to humiliate the Financial Monster, the leader of the modern world. Whatever the background, this attack deserved of course the strongest condemnation. Shortly after it took place, President Bush spoke of revenge, of reprisals, of punishment, in terms which recalled the ancient law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Yet we have to recognize that this deplorable act of aggression may have been, at least in part, an act of revenge on the part of desperate and humiliated people, crushed by the weight of the economic oppression practiced by the peoples of the West. So we enter the vicious circle of violence, in which people forget about their responsibilities and say that they are only claiming their rights. We demonize the enemy without making any effort to understand his point of view and deliver ourselves up to mindless violence. "Let us kill them all, that will solve the problem!" Or we may sink into a no less mindless indifference and say, "Just leave me in peace." This latter attitude was that of the United States during the recent conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa.

How can conflicts ever be resolved when such attitudes prevail? There has to be a minimum of good will and a real desire for mutual understanding, while a determination to exclude violence must be the precondition of all negotiations. It is so easy simply to lose one’s head, to give vent to all our frustrations, our disgust, our revolt. It is so easy to express our agony in cries and acts of violence. We may say that this is a release, that it makes us feel better, and it is of course true that when the storm has passed the air is fresher. But the damage which has done does not pass and we have to seek to repair it, if possible. Otherwise we may find that we have started a war from which we can no longer extricate ourselves. We have to try and recognize that the best kind of strength is the discipline which we exercise on ourselves.

Unquestionably there is Western oppression of the other countries of the world. We keep speaking of economic partnership, of a more just world economic order. How many times have we not heard pleas to cancel the debt of the countries of the Third World? How often have we not demanded the dismantling of economic barriers, the abolition of selfish protectionism, the reform of an industrialized agricultural system which lowers prices and ruins the small producers in poor countries? There has been no shortage of demands either for genuine aid to poor countries. Instead of a condescending charity, so triumphantly boasted of in the media, let us have rather fair and just prices for raw materials which, it is hardly an exaggeration to say, are often practically stolen from poor countries.

All this background does not of course excuse for a moment what happened on 11 September in New York and Washington; but it goes some way to explaining it. What we must ask now is, What next? Are we to embark on a crusade, in the name of justice, and perpetuate the cycle of violence? No doubt, justice, real justice, is a goal worthy of our pursuit, and without justice there can be no peace. But there must be no humiliating people who have already been crushed enough. Such retaliation would only appear to legitimize those pretended champions of the poor who manipulate them for their own ends. To declare war on terrorism is reaction rather than action. What is needed to put a stop to terrorism is genuine action for more sharing and greater solidarity. Otherwise wars will only follow each other in an endless succession. The only path to follow seems to be the path of forgiveness and reconciliation, in the context of a united world which is more human and fraternal. Those who are powerful must take the lead in this campaign for justice and equity and for alleviating the lot of the poor, the stronger must help the weaker.

What can we do to establish peace among ourselves? We need in the first place strength and courage. As Gandhi recognized, strength wisely used is the only weapon against blind violence. It is not that we have to sit down and do nothing. We must rather have the greater courage to look again at our commercial behavior and to work for an equitable distribution of the goods of the earth.

Violence is the fruit of anger and hatred, it is itself injustice, active destruction, mindless as a lead bullet. Far from solving the problems of world poverty it can only make them worse, for it is the little ones of the earth, the poor, the insignificant, who are the first to suffer from any escalation of violence; whereas the ones who profit from war are the rich and powerful, the spoiled children of earth, whether they come from the North or the South of the planet. Real strength is not violence but dignity of mind and heart, the fruit of wisdom and of a love which goes as far as the gift of oneself. It was violence which erected the Cross of Jesus Christ, but it was His strength which changed its meaning, for did He not say, "No one takes my life away from me, I give it away myself"? The Cross of Jesus is the eternal sign of the conquest of true strength over violence, the locus of a peace always threatened by human folly and sinfulness.

Michel Fortin, M. Afr.


* If our world were a village of one thousand inhabitants, it would contain: 564 Asians, 210 Europeans, 86 Africans, 80 South Americans and 60 North Americans. Numerically it would be overwhelmingly Third World, 730 against 270. One might be tempted to draw the conclusion that the Third World is overpopulated, which explains why so many people die of hunger. Such a conclusion however would be false. One has only to consider the relative density of populations. Europe, for example, is more densely populated than the Third World, but the people there live in abundance. Overpopulation is in fact an illusion, obscuring the real problems which are not demographic but economic and social. People do not necessarily eat less because they are more numerous. There is abundance in an overpopulated Europe and famine in an under-populated Africa. The imbalance between a population and the available resources comes from the type of production and the distribution of wealth within the society concerned.

To return to our village of one thousand people, sixty of them consume one-half of its resources. Five hundred suffer from hunger, six hundred are slum-dwellers, and seven hundred are illiterate. There is of course inequality of wealth, but there is also economic dependence of the poor on the rich. The workers of the Third World, for example, may be themselves under-nourished, but it is often they who provide the food for the people in industrial countries. They have abandoned their subsistence life, in which they could feed themselves, and embraced the single-crop agriculture imposed on them by the West: cotton, coffee, groundnuts, cocoa, sisal.

It is therefore the interference of the West in the economies of the Third World which has produced the underdevelopment which it was supposed to be curing. Poverty, famines, epidemics, are now people’s daily lot in many Third World countries. What is needed is the development of projects which fit the human condition and the real needs of local populations. After all, in spite of their rudimentary technology, people of earlier times rarely suffered from chronic under-nourishment.

Development agencies are becoming increasingly aware that multinational companies are siphoning off the wealth of poor countries. It is for this reason that before a project is initiated, the population is now often consulted in order to identify their own felt needs.

(Pour un monde meilleur, idem, Novalis, pp. 13-14)


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