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9/11, 9/20 and Gandhi's Puzzle:

Fighting Postmodern Terror/
Modern Warfare
with Peaceful Alternatives*


Chaiwat Satha-Anand

Thai Peace Information Centre, Foundation for Democracy and
Development Studies, Bangkok

TFF associate

 March1, 2002

A paper prepared for the International Conference on "Gandhian Alternatives
to Terrorism and War"
Organized by the Gandhi Smriti & Darshan Samiti,
Kerala, South India, February 7-9, 2002

Introduction: Tears in a mosque and a T-shirt at the American Embassy

Shortly after September 11, 2001, I attended a juma-at (Friday) prayer at a local mosque in Bangkok. At this mosque the Imam (prayers/mosque' s leader) would give kutbah (sermon) in three languages: Arabic, Thai and English, because there are a large number of foreign Muslims at the service. After the Friday prayer, the Imam invited the attendees to perform a special prayer asking God's blessing for World Peace and for the truth about the cruel event of September 11 to come out. While praying, a man who stood next to me began to weep. After the prayer, I turned to him and asked in English: "Where do you come from?" "Kashmir," was the soft answer and I understood right then and there the reasons for his tears. It is not difficult to imagine the worrying sadness felt by those with loved ones and homes in that area covered with dark clouds of violence and the threat of war. (1)

Not long after, there was a protest in front of the American Embassy in Bangkok. Activists from the now famous Forum of the Poor led some farmers in their protest against an American scientist's research on genetic modification of jasmine rice grown in Thailand. The farmers were afraid, rightly or wrongly, that the American research would adversely effect both the genetic configuration and the market of Thai rice in the future. One of activists conspicuously put on an Osama Bin Laden t-shirt. What then is the connection between the rice protest, the 9/11 terror and the American attack against Afghanistan on October 7, 2001?

It could be argued that, presently the portrait of Osama Bin Laden, a most dangerous person in the American perception, has already assumed a symbolic significance in the eyes of many in the world struggling against American hegemony. Some pointed out that Bin Laden has become "a modern-day David against the American Goliath" (2). The problem, however, is: in appropriating Bin Laden as a symbol of struggle against the world's only super power's hegemony, would it also mean an acceptance of his method of fighting the might of the super power, and therefore a legitimation of the use of violence against existing injustice in the world?

This paper is an attempt to understand the conditions of the world as different peoples and states turn more to the prospects of violence as evident in Afghanistan, Palestine, Philippines, Nepal or India/Pakistan, among others, and a way out of this tyranny of violence. I will begin with an analysis of the difference between the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor in Hawai'i six decades ago which helped legitimize the American entrance into World War II and the terror of September 11 which brought about the American-led response with the war in Afghanistan. The characters of September 11 as a postmodern terror will be discussed. Then a part of President George W. Bush's speech to the Congress and the world on September 20, 2001 (9/20) will be analyzed to suggest that it was indeed a declaration of modern warfare cloaked in religious language. The clash of postmodern terror and modern warfare, considered "personal" by some, using by and large religious discourse, I would argue, eclipses the world more and more in its tyranny of violence. Finally, relying on Gandhi's puzzle of "blindness" as a result of violence, peaceful alternatives as a global corrective process at a time when the spectre of violence is haunting the world into hopelessness will be advanced.


From December 7, 1941 to September 11, 2001 through August 6 and 9, 1945

On the morning of December 7, 1941 at 8.00 a.m., Japanese fighter planes conducted a "sneak attack" on the US air base at Pearl Harbor, Honolulu in Hawai'i. Eight American combat-status battleships were destroyed, four of them sunk into the Pacific. Two aircraft carriers were spared because high sea prevented them from arriving at Pearl Harbor by that fateful morning. The USS Arizona sank to the ocean floor within 10 minutes after a bomb hit on an ammunition magazine. It took with it 1,177 crewmen trapped in its decks. Some 3,000 American lives were lost in this incident. (3) The "sneak attack" destroyed the American Navy's capability in the Pacific and turned itself into an invitation for the US to enter World War II. It could be said that the December 7, 1941 "sneak attack" was vindicated with the Japanese's unconditional surrender on August 15, 1945. The USS Arizona memorial was declared open 17 years later at Pearl Harbor, perhaps, to continue to remind Americans and the world of past violence done to the US as well as her citizens' heroism.

When the terror of September 11 (9/11) occurred in the year that marked the 60th anniversary of the "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor, it is almost natural for many, including President George W. Bush, to connect the two incidents. Such a connection understandably created a dissension among present-day Japanese who were saddened because the attack on Pearl Harbor took place six decades ago. In addition, many Japanese felt that their country has been cordial and friendly to the US all these years. Yet, it seems that the wound between the two countries has not really been healed. (4)

Ten years ago, on the 50th anniversary of the December 7 attack, Zenji Abe went to Honolulu to participate in the commemorative event. As he looked at the oil coming up from the wreckage of USS Arizona, sunk five decades ago, he remembered those who died on that day and suddenly understood why the official collaborative plan to commemorate the event together between the US and Japan had to be cancelled. He began to realize the profound nature of anger and distrust that some Americans had against the Japanese. He is now 85 years old and the Pearl Harbor attack was individually important to him because he was there sixty years ago. He was one of the pilots on the bomber plane from the aircraft carrier Akagi.

On the morning of December 7, 1941, he was ordered to bomb an American aircraft carrier. But once he arrived at the scene, he could not find any such target. He decided to bomb the USS Arizona instead. Assuming that the talk between Tokyo and Washington had failed, he had absolutely no idea that his role was to be a part of one of the most infamous "sneak attack" in modern history. Although Abe felt that the Pearl Harbor attack was bold and well-executed, he believed that strategically it was a big mistake, and politically, "attacking before the declaration was delivered, and never apologizing, even through a third country, was inexcusable. It ruined our honor." (5)

While the events on 12/7 and 9/11 could be perceived as similar due to the undeclared use of violence against the US, their "surprise attacks" (6), and a demythologizing effect on American invulnerability (7), I would argue that both incidents are different on at least two important issues.

First, it goes without saying that the contexts of both incidents were different. The Pearl Harbor attack took place two years after World War II. It could be argued that the 12/7 attack was not a new war, but the opening of a new Pacific battle front, and thus, an extension of a continued war. The 9/11 attack, on the other hand, was "terrorism" at work. The notion of "terrorism", not only a crime but a specific form of political violence, could not be construed without taking into account injustices created and sustained, in parts, by existing nation-state and world systems, endowed with an enormous amount of structural violence.

Second, while the objective of the 12/7 violence was to destroy military targets, the targets of 9/11 - the two World Trade Center buildings in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C., were dominant economic and military symbols of both the US and the world. Zenji Abe, the World War II veteran, making a clear distinction between types of target attacked, categorically stated that both incidents are incomparable because "Pearl Harbor was a military target. The terrorism in the United States (9/11) was an attack on humanity itself." (8)

Defining terrorism is quite complicated, however. From 1936 to 1980s, there have been at least 109 definitions of the term. (9) A scholar who has studied terrorism for decades conceded that it is not possible to come up with a definition of the subject that could accommodate all types of terrorism that have occurred in history. (10) It is, perhaps, more fruitful, at least for the present analysis, not to ask what "terrorism" means, but to come to terms with the ways "terrorism" work. I would propose that there are three important ways in which terrorism works.

First: Terrorism works by severing the logical connection between targets of violence and reasons for violence. Without this tie or connection, the question about some 3,646 innocent lives lost on September 11, 2001 becomes irrelevant in the equation of terror. (11) In fact, from the terrorists' perspective, the innocents who are not directly related to their grievances or sufferings become their targets precisely because "targets" have to be anyone at anytime. The objective is to create terror and a sense of insecurity to members of a given political society. If the notion of "the innocents" who are not parts of any unjust system is acceptable, and that to do violence to them is morally unjustifiable, then the attacks on September 11 must be construed as an act of terror. The term "terrorism" could then be used to characterize any phenomenon where the lives and well being of the innocents are at risk, no matter how much injustice there is that has given shape and form to it. (12)

Second: Since the targets of terrorism could be anyone at any time, it effectively robs a society of any sense of humanized certitude, something most fundamental for the functioning of any political society. To undermine, or perhaps ultimately destroy, this certitude is to show that the state can no longer perform its most primary function, its raison d 'etre, which is to guarantee security in lives and properties of its own citizens by producing and sustaining a sense of normalcy in it. Terrorism, then, renders normal life in a state impossible.

Third: Terrorism transforms a society of victims of terror into victimizers through a naturalized production of collective anger. When victims of terror recover from a shocking realization of the losses they have suffered, their consciousness could turn towards collective anger which, in turn, could lead to violent responses. Such an aspiration and resulted engagement in retribution are easily conducive to the transformation of victims into avengers. Perhaps, the most problematic dynamism of terrorism lies in its frightening transformative power which turns former victims into new victimizers. In the case of 9/11, because of the global significance of the US, possibly the whole world has been affected by its transformation as well. (13)

Apart from these three ways in which terrorism work, a most significant phenomenon at the turn of the century is the changing character of terrorism which could be appreciated from different sources. For example, a journal among the "extreme environmentalist" movement is called Chaos International. Its motto as printed is: "Everything is permitted". It should be noted that the source of this motto is none other than Hassan Ibn al-Sabbah or Hassan Sibai, the founder of the infamous "Assassins" which first appeared in 11th century Persia, and later extended its influence into Syria.

They assassinated both the European crusaders and the Muslims for their own reasons. They believed that the most powerful political weapon in creating terror was a highly disciplined small group of people who were well organized, well prepared, and willing to sacrifice themselves for their killing works. They oftentimes chose to attack their targets in the afternoon at a mosque on a Friday because their terror must be clearly seen in public. After their victims were attacked, they themselves were usually apprehended or even killed on the spots. It is said that besides killing their enemies, the choices of place, time, method of killing as well as their own deaths were orchestrated to reflect their power of punishing others who stood in their ways, normally considered monopoly of the state, and also their willingness to die. These people were called "fida'in" (or fedayeen), "suicide commando". (14)

Some scholars maintain that contemporary terrorism is postmodern because of the fact that the motto born and used by the "assassins" in the pre-modern world has come to be accepted by some in the new social movements at the end of the last century (15), consciously or otherwise.

But the "postmodern" quality of terrorism does not only lie in the temporal mixing of a motto born in one era and used in another. I would argue that 9/11 is an astonishing case of postmodern terror because of its two strange features. First, while those in the field of contemporary counter-terrorism tend to concentrate on the danger of weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) which consists of CBRN or chemical-biological-radioactive-nuclear weapons (16) , the particular act of terror on 9/11 did not use any of those war or sophisticated weapons. Instead, the terrorists on September 11 used commercial planes, objects normally appreciated and utilized in the normal functioning of life in modern society, as deadly weapons.

Second, although the US has consistently claimed that Bin Laden is the master terrorist behind the 9/11 terror, as I write these words, there is yet someone to come out and claim responsibility for this frightening, incredible destruction of lives and property, using so limited material resources. This absence renders the 9/11 incident into an awesome spectacle of terror without any grand narrative. While the first "postmodern" feature of 9/11 opens the Pandora box of almost unlimited possibility by turning non-weapons into instruments of violence aiming at both symbolic and human targets, the second feature, the absence of a grand narrative associated with the terror, creates a space which could be furnished by different kinds of narratives from those victimized and marginalised by the working of the existing global conditions.

In a world made poorer by the day with the depletion of natural resources resulted from mainstream development strategies, among other things, with 1.2 billion people earning less than $1 a day amidst glaring disparity (17) and more than 14 million refugees who are victims of violent conflicts around the world (18), I am convinced that narratives of tragedy would not be that difficult to find. Most frightening, perhaps, is the fact that at a time of the absence of grand narrative and presence of so many other narratives of tragedy, violence itself could become the message with its own plots and stories.

It could be said that the presence of violence with its blinding effect creates an absence of other things. Take the symbolic presence of the USS Arizona Memorial as an example. It was constructed to remember the painful past of the attack on Pearl Harbor on 12/7. But it also helps create a myth of war that, in turn, legitimizes war between states as well as a state's right or its power in dictating citizens' lives.

On the one hand, the Memorial affirms a sense of identity for the American people. On the other, it simultaneously creates "the other" for "us" to be identified against. (19) Every time the Memorial is seen or visited, the event of 12/7 will be remembered. Questions and answers about who was responsible for the shameful attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941 and the losses of so many American lives will again and again be reproduced. With this reproduction of selective memory, the violence of 12/7 successfully conceals "other realities" which happened to "other" people such as those events which took place on August 6 (8/06), in Hiroshima and August 9 (8/09), 1945 in Nagasaki. These events are in some ways tragic and yet concealed consequences of the memory of Pearl Harbor violence on December 7, 1941.

One way to create a space for other "realities" which could defy the blinding effect of violence in this war is to listen to stories told by Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims of Atomic bombs which were dropped on their cities on August 6 and 9, 1945.

After the second Atomic bomb exploded in Nagasaki, a Japanese woman called Kimiko Tanaka wrote about her own destiny and those of her family members as followed.

"…(My son) was alive; but his body was covered with burns and cuts, and the back of his head was virtually smashed in. Only two years old ... (I)n about two weeks the back of his head was a mass of rotting flesh, bone fragments, and pus. Frantic, I went to Oita Prefecture to ask for help from my relatives. They turned a deaf ear to my entreaties when they learned that I was short of money …. (M)y husband, an army surgeon, visited me. I was bald, and the burns I had suffered had made my mouth look like a pig snout. My appearance must have shocked him greatly. Though he promised to return for me soon, I never saw or heard from him again. Not only did the accursed bomb kill, it also severed bonds among the living.

"My son's condition grew steadily worse. Pain forced him to call out to me for relief. I was helpless. I could not even provide good things for him to eat. Food was too scarce. Often I longed to take his sufferings upon myself. I contemplated holding him in my arms and jumping in front of an oncoming train. But always a little spark of hope for his recovery prevented my doing anything drastic. But my hope was to be betrayed. On February 14, 1946, as I begged him to forgive my inability to do anything for him, my son died.

"That same year, my mother died. My sister lived on for another fifteen years.

"My own existence became one of continual trial. My hair had all fallen out, my gums bled, and I lost so much weight that I looked like a living skeleton. Still, I survived. What made me cling to life? A sense of mission to inform all the peoples of the world of the horrors caused by the atomic bomb. This is the only way I can take revenge against both the war and the bomb for wrecking my life and for taking the lives of my son, my mother, my brother, and my sister." (20)


From 9/20 to 10/7

Has the world really changed after 9/11? In early January 2002, I went to a conference in Geneva assessing the impacts of 9/11 on human rights works around the world. There a Unesco official catalogued a list of problems, poverty and lack of education among a large segment of world population, to show that "the world" has not changed that much. But then on the other hand, there are indeed signs that indicate that it has changed, for example: the economic impacts of 9/11 on travel industry and related activities, bankruptcies of airline companies and resulting unemployment, the flourishing of weapons and security industries, the time lost, inconveniences felt in daily communication/transportation, and rights of people curtailed.

Most of all, the terror of 9/11 has changed the life of people in the world because in some ways it has changed the ways in which the world could be perceived. As a result, preparations for and solutions to many problems facing the world , human rights related or humanitarian, as well as to relate to others who are different from "us", especially in the ways "we" feel about "them", have changed.

Here I would discuss significant changes that have recently transpired in Japan, Germany and the US to substantiate that the world has indeed changed. These three societies are chosen because of their global politico-economic significance as well as their historical connections. Japan and Germany were defeated in World War II. But like the mythical phoenix, both countries have risen from the ashes of ruin to lives of economic prosperity. The US, the world's only super power, was highly regarded as the hero in the past. But in some corners of contemporary public imagination, that image has also changed.


After World War II, Japanese military capability was institutionally curtailed in its own postwar constitution. In the 1991 Gulf War when the US-led allies fought Iraq in its invasion of Kuwait, the Japanese government financially supported the endeavor without sending any personnel. Some took this as a serious diplomatic blunder.

In the present war in Afghanistan, the Japanese parliament passed a law on October 29, 2001, making it possible for Japan to contribute to the war in terms of medical and logistic supports outside of combat zones. On November 25, 2001, three Japanese battle ships sailed into the Indian Ocean to provide non-military assistance to the American army and its allies in this war. After World War II, this was the very first time for the Japanese military to participate in a military operation, in some forms, in a foreign land. (21)

It should also be noted that the Japanese self defense force, with its 240,000 personnel and a US $50 billion military budgets a year, is superior to that of Great Britain in terms of figures. (22)


The Allensbach Institute of Public Opinion Research conducted an opinion survey on 2,000 Germans for the Frankfurtur Allgemeine Zeitung after the 9/11 incident. Several unusual findings resulted. For example, when asked if there is a need to strengthen the German army, two-third of the respondents answered in the affirmative. When asked if they thought of Islam as a dangerous religion, one-fourth believed so while 65% did not blame religion as the source of the problem. While 41% of Germans felt that there are lots of Muslims in the country, and there were those who were afraid that some of these Muslims might turn out to be terrorists, about 49% felt that conflict between them and Muslims in Germany would eventually take place.

One of the most important questions which has always been asked in all of these surveys conducted periodically since the end of World War II is: when looking into the future, next year, how would one's feeling be characterized: by hope or by fear? This was the very first time when 33% of the respondents answered "fear", compared with only 15% in the past. (23)

A chemistry of fear, lack of trust, and aspiration to strengthen military capability is not conducive to the future of sustainable peace.


The US and 9/20

In November 2001, President George W. Bush put into use an "emergency legal system" using military tribunals in cases related to terrorism. The use of military tribunal in American society is not something unheard of, nor a novel social invention. It was used in 1847 during the Mexican-American war. Then during the American civil war from 1861-1865, there were 5,000 of these military tribunals trying cases involving 13,000 civilians and soldiers. It was used in trying 8 persons accused of conspiracy in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The tribunal, all of them military people, with 7 generals and 2 colonels, spent 50 days deliberating on the case. The verdict was that all the 8 accused were guilty as charged, 4 were executed and the other 4 faced long incarceration. Among those who went to prison were a carpenter who looked after the assassin's horse and a landlady in whose house some conspirators spent some nights.

What is at issue in terms of justice compromised are things like these: all the members of the tribunal are military; the court could be held anywhere at any time; the tribunal serves simultaneously as judges and jury; and unlike the normal American court where the jury's verdict, reaching "beyond reasonable doubt" after extensive discussion, must be unanimous, the military tribunal's judgment needs not be so.

Furthermore, only two thirds of the members of the tribunal in agreement is sufficient to pass a verdict. The history of military tribunal suggested that it has been swift in passing judgments, with less freedom to the accused, a strong tendency to find them guilty and served them with more severe punishments. (24) Perhaps, American society has indeed changed, especially in terms of the delicate balance between preserving the importance of freedom both to its own citizens and the world and maintaining national security under the threat of terrorism.

It is fairly common to explain American foreign and security policies underscoring its perceived economic interests, the oil pipeline in Central Asia through Afghanistan, the protection of oil industry by securing Middle East oilfields, and the strengthening of war weapon industry. But more significant, perhaps, is the way in which the American government' s self-understanding as well as its place in the world have changed.

This crucial understanding was clearly reflected in President George W. Bush's landmark speech to the American Congress, televised around the world, on September 20, 2001 - the speech of 9/20. The part of President Bush's speech which states that "Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists….", (25) has been famously reported and widely discussed. In answering some of his critics, he later defined "terrorists" as " If anybody harbors a terrorist, they're a terrorist. If they house terrorists, they're terrorists. I mean, I can't make it any more clear to other nations around the world." (26) Since this 9/20 speech was analyzed elsewhere (27), I shall concentrate here on one single issue which gives it a highly religious character relevant to the present discussion which could shed a meaningful light on how could a country's President possibly say such a thing to the rest of the world? A discourse exercising blatant power , or over, other sovereign countries in the world must be rooted in a strange self-understanding which needs to be construed.

In the final part of this 9/20 speech, he said cryptically: "The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them." (28) This statement is both amazing and dangerous at the same time. It is dangerously amazing in its apocalyptic vision of a Manichean world characterized by the perennial battle between the forces of good and evil. The complex international system and global conditions have been effectively reduced to a simplistic religious category with America seen as the heavenly soldiers chosen to lead the world through "unknown course", yet to a "certain outcome" which will end in its victory because "God is not neutral."

When the conditions of the world is seen with such clarity, their own role clearly defined, the decision to use violence against the representation of "fear" or "cruelty" as in the war against Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 has not become that difficult. In the first week of November 2001, the US dropped bombs called "daisy cutter" onto Afghanistan. This 6,800 kg. BLU-82 bomb produces a blast like that of a small nuclear bomb and devastates an area 550 metres wide and had to be pushed out of a huge C-130 plane. About these bombs, Marine Corps General Peter Pace's said, "They make a heck of a bang when they go off and the intent is to kill people." (29) The 9/20 speech indicates that this is a moment when alternatives other than violence are all but obliterated and the solution proposed is built on mistrusts of those "others" who are different, fueled by a complex history of conflicts and violence against one another, under the leadership of a true believer in his own mission of heaven, and armed to the teeth with technology and weapons of mass destruction, the present world has thereby been pushed to the brink of violent disaster. Apart from the fact that the 9/20 speech has effectively and frighteningly reduced the complex working of the world into a simplistic religious category, it also lacks something once reminded by a great novelist.

In 1917 during World War I, Hermann Hesse, the Noble-prized author of classics such as Siddhartha and Narcissus and Goldmund wrote a letter to the German Foreign Minister, protesting against the latter's speech which argued that though the country was in favor of peace, it had to boldly go into war. Hesse thought that the speech lacked something. He wrote, "And suddenly I felt that your speech, Mr. Minister, and the speeches of your governing colleagues, …; they lack that which makes words valuable and meaningful. Your words lack love; they lack humanity…. Your eyes and ears, Mr. Minister, have been trained for years to see theoretical goals instead of reality; they are - true, it was necessary! - long since used to not seeing a great many of the things of reality, to overlook them, to deny them to yourself."

Hesse urged the Minister to see beyond the "dearth of work" and "the prices of coal" beyond "more of tonnage and of pacts, of loans and all the things which have long since become the realities for you. In their place you would see the world, our old patient world, as it lies strewn with corpses and dying, as it is torn and ruined, burnt and defiled. You would see soldiers who lie between the frontiers for days, and how they cannot chase away with their shattered hands the flies from the wounds from which they perish. You would hear the voices of the wounded, the cries of the insane, the clamor and accusations of mothers and fathers, of brides and sisters, the cry of hunger in the people."

"If you would hear all this again - what conveniently you were not permitted to hear for months and years - maybe then, with new thoughts, you would comprehend your war aims, your ideals and theories, and test them, and you would really seek to weigh their actual value against the misery of one single month of war, of one single day of war." (30)


Gandhi's Puzzle

The spectres of two kinds of violence, different but overlapping, are dangerously haunting the present world. On one side, its is the postmodern terror, open-ended without its own grand narratives but with chilling creativity in turning commercial commodities into destructive weapons, readiness to use them without considerations of the lives of the innocents, and willingness to die for their own causes.

On the other side, a former victim of this postmodern terror, the sole super power of the world with capabilities to destroy the world many times over, is using its high-tech weapons, its own military personnel and some Afghan forces opposing the Taliban in Afghanistan and other global measures elsewhere in a modern warfare legitimized by hegemonic information production, the existing structure of news, cloaked at times in apocalyptic religious language. The sights and sounds of violence are not unlike a shadow engulfing most of us in blindness that is threatening the very future of humanity.

People in the fields of peace/nonviolence remember that Gandhi once said, "An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind." This Gandhi's puzzle is curiously interesting in its fusing of violence with blindness. But it is not merely blindness in the physical sense that is at issue. I could imagine four other types of much more profound and somewhat more dangerous blindness. First, violence blinds those who suffer from its effects from seeing the complexity of causes that give rise to it. Second, in the cloud of anger, violence blinds its users to the lives of the innocent which have become no longer humans, but objects. Third, violence blinds people from the possibilities of existing alternatives because oftentimes it imprisons those connected with it in a seemingly endless cycle of violence governed by its own rhetoric and logic. Fourth, violence is blinding "us" in a sense of hopelessness which effectively undermines "our" potentials in working towards a more peaceful future.

Fighting against these four types of blindness is necessary. Human wisdom from various sources should be tapped in this fight. Here I would rely on four sources to deal with blindness formulated from Gandhi's puzzle. They are: the Buddha's question, terror victims' voices, a Thai statesman's movie, and tears of the Prophet.


The Buddha's Question

In the Rohini case where the Sakyas and Koliyas clans were about to engage in a bloody war due to conflict over water resources which later escalated into a war of honor and pride between the two kingdoms, the Buddha effectively prevented this war by raising a question before these kings. True to the spirit of Buddhism, that deceptively simple question invited conflicting partners to examine the chain of causes that led to their present situation.

Through this process of collective examination, they realized that they had indeed forgotten the original cause of conflict, buried deep in new found anger and delusion. They were also provided an opportunity to assess the importance of royal blood, subjects' tears, and dispute over water. (31) Thinking through the Buddha's question, both causes of conflict and costs of impending violence were crystallized. With blindness gone, this particular conflict came to a peaceful resolution.


The Terror Victims' Voices

In the wave of angry responses to the terror attack on September 11, 2001, and opinions not only celebrating the attack of Afghanistan but also persuading the American leadership to seize "the big moment" and continue on with "phase II" of the war against terrorism which might include attacking Iraq, among others (32), other voices have been somewhat silenced. There is a need to hear more dissenting views against the acceptance of violence. But I would argue that a most significant space should be given to voices of those who themselves have been victims of this very terror. Here are some of those voices:

U.S. citizen Matthew Lasar, whose uncle Abe Zelmanowitz, died in the World Trade Center attack because he refused to abandon his wheelchair-using colleague after the first plane hit on September 11, maintains: "I mourn the death of my uncle, and I want his murderers brought to justice. But I am not making this statement to demand bloody vengeance. A senator from my state, Dianne Feinstein, said: ' U.S. must spare no effort to uncover, ferret out and destroy those who commit acts of terrorism; who provide training camps; who shelter; who finance; and who support terrorists. Whether that entity is a state or an organization, those who harbor them, arm them, train them and permit them must, in my view, be destroyed.' How does one destroy states? Through the covert subversion of their societies? Through carpet bombing? Afghanistan has more than a million homeless refugees. A U.S. military intervention could result in the starvation of tens of thousands of people. What I see coming are actions and policies that will cost many more innocent lives, and breed more terrorism, not less. I do not feel that my uncle's compassionate, heroic sacrifice will be honored by what the U.S. appears poised to do." (33)

Another letter was written by a father and a mother, Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez, whose son Greg was killed at the World Trade Center on September 11. They wrote the following letter dated September 15 to The New York: Times.

"Our son Greg is among the many missing from the World Trade Center attack….We see our hurt and anger reflected among everybody we meet. We cannot pay attention to the daily flow of news about this disaster, but we read enough of the news to sense that our government is heading in the direction of violent revenge with the prospect of sons, daughters, parents, friends in distant lands dying, suffering and nursing further grievances against us. It is not the way to go. It will not avenge our son's death. Not in our son's name." (34)

These statements and letters are both important and powerful since they were written or given by those who are both citizens of a wronged country and family members of those who died from this terror, they carry with them tremendous moral authority that could perhaps force the world to come to terms with its own blindness about the destiny of other potential victims of violence in faraway lands. To enable the world to see more of the innocents, their voices must be given more public space.


Pridi's Movie

Dr.Pridi Bhanomyong is an internationally renowned Thai personality. A revolutionary who helped change Siam into a constitutional monarchy in 1932, a prime minister, the leader of the Free Thai Movement fighting against Japanese occupation during World War II, and the founder of Thammasat University, he also wrote and produced an anti-war movie, not only for Siam but for the whole world since it was produced with dialogues in English.

His movie, "The King of the White Elephant" which emphasized the evil of war and the demonization of those on the "other side" proposed that, instead of a full-scale war between countries, the two top leaders of conflicting countries should engage in a fair and public duel, the result of which determined the outcome of war. This type of proposal, in line with practices between Siamese and Burmese kings in the past, is not a nonviolent action. But it is an attempt to find an alternative that would limit the destructive consequences of war. (35) In his unyielding search to delimit violence, the commitment to find alternatives to war, and by extension to violence, was clear. His unyielding attempt to find alternatives was perhaps most significant at a time when the tyranny and logic of violence is undermining the very possibility of alternatives to violence around the world.


The Prophet's Tears

When thinking of a receding human capability to feel for others against the world gone astray in the way of violence, Prophet Muhammad's story serves well as a corrective guide against desensitization. When his young son, Ibrahim, was seriously ill, he held the boy, who recently just began to walk and learned to talk, close to his heart. The son breathed his last in his father's embrace. The Prophet's tears ran down his face. It was thought that Islam forbids Muslims to show any lamentation and visible grievances when those who are close to them passed on. Some even believed that Muslims were not allowed to show any sadness when facing deaths of their loved ones.

Seeing the Prophet's tears, one of his companions, 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn 'Awf, said," O Messenger of God, this is what thou hast forbidden. When the Muslims see thee weeping, they too will weep." The Prophet continued to weep and when he could find his voice, he said: " Not this do I forbid. These are the promptings of tenderness and mercy, and he that is not merciful, unto him shall no mercy be shown." (36)

Fighting for peace in a world blinded by violence, weapons of light are needed. These "weapons" include wisdom to unlock the complexity of causes which give rise to violence and to make sound judgments valuing life; space where voices of victims with their tremendous moral authority could be heard; courage in an unyielding search for nonviolent alternatives; and sustained capability in the hearts of common people to feel tenderness and compassion both for loved ones and humanity in general.




* This paper is a revised and translated version of my Keynote Address originally written in Thai for the closing ceremony of the centenary celebration of the birth of Dr. Pridi Bhanomyong, Thailand's senior statesman who transformed the country into constitutional monarchy in 1932 and founder of Thammasat University, at Thammasat University small auditorium, December 8, 2001.

1. After the American attack on Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, there has been an increase in tensions between India and Pakistan as well as violence between Kashmiri fighters and Indian troops. According to AFP, there were at least 34 deaths resulted from the fight in Kashmir on November 3-4, 2001. See the Bangkok Post, November 5, 2001

2. See Bruce Hoffman, "Terrorism and Counterterrorism After September 11," U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda: An Electronic Journal of the U.S. Department of State. Vol.6 No.3 (November 2001), p. 24. For the fight between David and Goliath, see Samuel 17: 32-54 in The New Jerusalem Bible. (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1985), pp. 378-379/

3. William P. Iles, In Quest of Blame: Inquiries Conducted 1941-1946 into America's Involvement in the Pacific War. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Iowa, 1978, p. 11, cited in Phyllis Turnbull, "Remembering Pearl Harbor: The Semiotics of the Arizona Memorial, " in Michael J. Shapiro and Howard R. Alker (eds.) Challenging Boundaries: Global Flows, Territorial Identities. (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), p.409. The number of casualties resulted from the December 7, 1941 attack varies. In a newspaper article, Eric Talmadge maintains that the incident on 12/7 took 2,390 lives with 1,102 drowned with the USS Arizona. But in the same page of the same daily paper, Ron Staton points out that there were 1,170 USS Arizona sailors who were killed while more than 900 were drowned in the sunken ship. See Eric Talmadge, "Japanese pilots face the past" and Ron Staton, "Site of Japanese attack little changed"__ Bangkok Post. December 2, 2001.

4. See the opinion of Takeshi Yamashina, a Mainichi's journalist, in "Terrorism and America: Five Asia Pacific Perspectives," in Asia Pacific Issues: Analysis from the East-West Center. No.55 ( October 2001), p.5.

5. Talmadge, "Japanese pilots face the past".

6. The difference between a "surprise attack" and a "sneak attack" lies in an understanding that the latter is a militarily-accepted tactical vocabulary used under some kinds of "shared rationality" used in military discourse, while the former is considered a "lawless" fight without any rule and thus situated in the domain of irrationality, both in terms of motivations and the method of fighting. "Sneak attack" connotes a sense of an "unfair" fight and therefore less dignified. See Turnbull, "Remembering Pearl Harbor," p.423.

7. Ibid.

8. Talmadge, "Japanese pilots face the past".

9. See Alex Schmid 's 1983 study cited in Anthony Clark Arend & Robert J. Beck, International Law and the Use of Force: Beyond the UN Charter Paradigm. ( London and New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 140.

10. Walter Laqueur, The Age of Terrorism. ( Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1987), p.11.

11. Bangkok Post, November 25, 2001. The number of 9/11 casualties has been markedly reduced from the 6,000 estimated in September 2001. At the time of this writing, there were 2,772 casualties which could be broken into: 443 with death certificates, 1,820 deaths without certificates, and 1,383 missing persons.

12. To consider terrorism as a violent act against the innocents, which is quite common as I have done here, is to apply the notion of "just war" to terrorism. There are some philosophical problems, however, since to do this also means to conceptualize terrorism as a kind of war. As a result, if there are "legitimate targets" in war, what would be the same in terrorism? In addition, what constitutes "an innocent" in a world characterized by a web of complex relationships of production and legitimation? If an armed troops of the opposite side could be considered "legitimate targets", then would labor forces in weapon factories as well as those who work in a country's normal functioning economy to make it possible for their country to go to war be considered "legitimate targets"? This is a difficult and complex philosophical issue which makes the separation of "military targets" from "civilian targets" extremely difficult, if not altogether impossible. See a philosophical discussion on the subject in Paul Gilbert, Terrorism, Security & Nationality: An Introductory Study in Applied Political Philosophy. ( London and New York: Routledge, 1994), pp. 4-20.

13. See my "Understanding Terrorism is Vital," in Bangkok Post. September 18, 2001, op-ed page. See also Chaiwat Satha-Anand, "Mitigating the Success of Terrorism with the Politics of Truth and Justice". A paper presented at the special session on Terrorism, Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, supported by FNS (Germany), Manila, November 16-18, 2001.

14. See M. Hodgson, The Order of Assassins. (The Hague: Mouton, 1955); Bernard Lewis, The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam. (New York: Basic Books, 1968); Laqueur, The Age of Terrorism, p.13; and an Arab's perspective on the subject in Amin Maalouf, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. Trans. From French by Jon Rothschild (New York: Schocken Books, 1985), pp. 98-105

15. Walter Laqueur, "Postmodern Terrorism," Foreign Affairs. Vol. 75 No.5 (September/October 1996), p.33.

16. Patterns of Global Terrorism 2000. (Washington D.C.: United States Department of State, April 2001), p. 35.

17. Deepa Narayan, "Poverty is a Relationship: Poverty Everywhere is a Problem." A note prepared for an international meeting organized by the International Council of Human Rights Policy on "Global Trends and Human Rights: Before and After September 11", Geneva, January 10-12, 2002.

18. A.J.Jongman, World Conflict & Human Rights Map 2000. ( Leiden and Washington, D.C.: PIOOM for IIMCR, 2000), Table 12. (The figure was for the end of 1999.)

19. Michael J. Shapiro, "Introduction to Part VII," in Shapiro and Alker, Challenging Boundaries, pp.403-404.

20. Kimiko Tanaka, "Helpless," in Cries for Peace: Experiences of Japanese Victim of World War II. Richard L. Gage (ed.) , compiled by the Youth Division of Soka Gakkai. (Tokyo: The Japan Times,, Ltd., 1978), pp. 210-211.

21. Bangkok Post. November 26, 2001.

22. Bangkok Post. November 22, 2001.

23. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, "Germans' Opinions Changing After Sept.11 Attacks," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, November 15, 2001.

24. Joan Biskupic and Richard Willing, "Military Tribunals allow swift judgment," USA Today, November 15, 2001.

25. See President George W. Bush's address, published unabridged, in Bangkok Post, September 22, 2001, p.8.

26. Bangkok Post, November 28, 2001.

27. See Chaiwat Satha-Anand, "Mitigating the Success of Terrorism with the Politics of Truth and Justice"

28. Bangkok Post, November 22, 2001.

29. Bangkok Post, November 8, 2001. It is ironic that this general's last name means "peace" in Italian.

30. Herman Hesse, "Letter to a Minister of State," in Edward Guinan (ed.) Peace and Nonviolence. (New York: Paulist Press, 1973), p.107

31. See my "Three Prophets' Nonviolent Actions: Case Stories from the Lives of the Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad," in Chaiwat Satha-Anand and Michael True (eds.) The Frontiers of Nonviolence. (IPRA's Nonviolence Commission; Honolulu: Centre for Global Nonviolence; Bangkok: Peace Information Center, 1998), pp.89-92.

32. See, for example, the opinion of William Safire, a widely read columnist with The New York Times in Bangkok Post. November 21, 2001.

33. Lasar's statement was provided by the Institute for Public Accuracy, Washington D.C., September 27, 2001 reproduced in Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, "Report: Distortion, Deception, and Terrorism: The Bombing of Afghanistan." (East Sussex: Institute for Policy Research & Development, November 2001), p.25.

34. Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez, "Not in Our Son's Name," Human Rights Solidarity. Vol. 11 No.10/11 (October- November 2001), p.9.

35. See Suraiya (Benso) Suleiman, Pridi Bhanomyong's Nonviolence Paradigm? (Bangkok: Centenary Celebration of the Birth of Pridi Bhanomyong Commission- Private Sector, 2001). (In Thai)

36. Martin Lings, Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources. ( Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, Ltd., 1983), p.325.



© TFF & the author 2002  


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