By Phyllis Bennis
France is in mourning and in shock. We still donâ€™t know how many people were killed and injured. In fact, thereâ€™s a lot we still donâ€™t knowâ€”including who was responsible. The ISIS claim of responsibility tells us virtually nothing about who really planned or carried out the attacks; opportunist claims are an old story. But the lack of information hasnâ€™t prevented lots of assumptions about who is â€œobviouslyâ€ responsible and what should be done to them. Already the call is rising across Franceâ€”â€œthis time itâ€™s all-out war.â€
9/11 Lessons: Don’t Forget Them Now
But we do know what happens when cries of war and vengeance drown out all other voices; weâ€™ve heard them before.
A few days after the 9/11 attacks, we at IPS and some of our allies organized a public statement whose lead signatories included Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Gloria Steinem, Rosa Parks and many more. The statement reflected the deeply-rooted fear we all shared, that however horrific the attacks of September 11, it was George W. Bushâ€™s statement in response to those attacks that threatened the world. That was the moment he announced that the response to this enormous crime against humanity would be a warâ€”that he would lead the world to war â€œagainst terror.â€
Wars of vengeance wonâ€™t work for France anymore than they worked for the US.
We know how that played out. It didnâ€™t work out so well. Already weâ€™re hearing French officials and commentators and pundits calling for more of the same. â€œThis time itâ€™s all-out warâ€ is the French version of Bushâ€™s â€œyouâ€™re either with us or with the terrorists.â€
But wars of vengeance wonâ€™t work for France anymore than they worked for the US.
The public statement we issued back in 2001 was a call for â€œJustice, Not Vengeance.â€ It began:
Our hearts and prayers go out in compassion to the victims and their families who have suffered so greatly from the unspeakable acts of brutality committed on September 11, 2001.
We share the shock, anger, and grief of so many people in the U.S. and around the world and call for a response that is prompt, just, and effective. We foresee that a military response would not end the terror. Rather, it would spark a cycle of escalating violence, the loss of innocent lives, and new acts of terrorism. As citizens of this great nation, we support the efforts being made to find those behind the acts of terror. Bringing them to justice under the rule of lawâ€”not military actionâ€”is the way to end the violence.
We note that although the terrorist acts of September 11 were aimed at the United States, citizens of over 50 nations are counted among the victims. The carnage of terrorism knows no borders. Our best chance for preventing such devastating acts of terror is to act decisively and cooperatively as part of a community of nations within the framework of international law to root out terrorism and work for justice at home and abroad.
We affirm that the United States is a nation of laws, rooted in fundamental American values of democracy, justice, human rights, and respect for life. The laws that protect our civil liberties and freedoms in the United States are part of what define us as a nation. They must not be abridged; to do so would offer victory to those who wrought these vengeful acts.
But those laws, the laws rooted in â€œdemocracy, justice, human rights and respect for lifeâ€ were, of course, abridged. Worse than abridged, they were crushedâ€”by torture at Bagram and Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and by airstrikes and drone attacks that killed scores of Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani, Yemeni, Somali or other civilians for every alleged bad guy they took aim at. The laws were sidelined by racial profiling and round-ups of Muslims and Arabs and Arab-Americans, violated by NSA spying on a scale so massive as to be virtually unfathomable, ignored by craven members of congress content to allow presidents unlimited funds to wage unilateral wars.
There was another possible response, the one reflected in the French newspaper Le Monde just hours after the 9/11 attacks. â€œNous sommes tous americains maintenantâ€ the headline read. We are all Americans now. It was a sentiment reflected in candlelight vigils, in handwritten letters, in the human solidarity of crowds pouring into the streets from Tehran to Tokyo. And it was squandered by the wars that followedâ€”the wars for which Bush told the world and lied to Americans with the claim that the choice was to either go to war, or â€œlet â€˜em get away with it.â€ And since no one wanted to let â€œthemâ€ get away with such a heinous crime, a vast majority of the American people supported war. At first. But then, as a powerful anti-war movement rose, more people began to see, to understand, the costâ€”human, economic, environmental, legal, diplomatic and beyondâ€”of these wars, and their failure to achieve any of the powerful goals we were assured they would accomplish.
Terrorism Survives Wars; People Donâ€™t
Because now everyone knows the devastating wars that killed so many hundreds of thousands of ordinary people didnâ€™t work to wipe out terrorism. Terrorism survives wars; people donâ€™t. We saw the proof of that again last night in Paris, and we saw it the day before in Beirut. We were hearing sounds of victory from US war-makers. The Obama strategy was working, they said. ISIS was being pushed back from Sinjar by Kurdish militias. A US airstrike assassinated Mohammed Emwasi, known as â€œjihadi Johnâ€ from the ISIS videos. Yet the warâ€”a new version of that same â€œglobal war on terrorâ€â€”is still being waged, and clearly it still isnâ€™t working. Because you canâ€™t bomb terrorismâ€”you can only bomb people. You can bomb cities. Sometimes you might kill a terroristâ€”but that doesnâ€™t end terrorism, it only encourages more of it.
It didnâ€™t have to be that way. A day or so after the 9/11 attacks, we at IPS received a message from a colleague of ours, the great Bolivian water rights activist Oscar Olivera. â€œWe still believe another world is possible,â€ he wrote. â€œWe are with you.â€ Global solidarity with usâ€”with Americansâ€”was real. No longer, not since our government took the world to war.
It doesnâ€™t have to be that way in Paris. It isnâ€™t too late. â€œWe stand with Parisâ€ is our cry todayâ€”as â€œnous sommes tous americainesâ€ was the cry of our French comrades 15 years ago. Maybe they can get it right.Î¦
Phyllis Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.