MALAYSIAKINI, Thursday September 20, 2001

Only justice, not revenge, can stop terrorism

Irene Fernandez

Terrorism that takes the lives of innocent people can in no way be tolerated
or condoned. There must be condemnation on such acts no matter where it
takes place. However, terrorism also takes many different forms.
Soon after the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,
one man is identified as the prime suspect, Osama bin Laden. President
George W Bush wants him "dead or alive". This reminded me of many cowboy
shows I have watched.
What also comes to my mind is the significance of Sept 11 - the day the
terror attacks took place. Exactly 28 years ago on that day, General Augusto
Pinochet toppled elected socialist President Salvador Allende in Chile in a
bloody coup with the backing of the CIA.
We know very well the 17-year reign of terror under Pinochet. Many of my
friends went missing. Later I learnt from their families that some of them
were just were pushed into the ocean from helicopters. Many fled the country
and lived in exile. One such person is the current Special Rapporteur for
Migrant Rights under the UN Human Rights Commission, Gabriela Rodriguez who
lives in Costa Rica.
In 1976, on Sept 21, a leading opponent of Pinochet, Orlando Letelier, a man
committed to democracy and building a humane world, was killed in a car bomb
blast, a few blocks away from the White House in Washington DC. This
assassination was carried out by Dina, the Chilean secret police organisation.
Operation Condor
Similar assassinations were conducted in various parts of South America. But
what is interesting is the fact that these assassinations were linked to one
of the earliest terrorist networks in the West known as Operation Condor,
which spanned across six South American countries.
Operation Condor was active in the kidnap and killing of political
opponents. South Americans will tell you of the pain, suffering and fear
that they had lived through during the 1970s and early 1980s. And the
frightening fact is that the CIA was involved in aiding and abetting in
these plots and in the killings. In short, the American intelligence agency
nurtured terrorism.
It was this same terrorist network that was used in Nicaragua where over
30,000 civilians lost their precious lives. The network, with CIA help, also
set up the death squads in El Salvador. All these terrorism was condoned as
it happened during the cold war in order to contain the Soviet influence or
the development of socialism. Under the bogey of socialism or communism,
Americans and the rest of the world remained silent and numb to torture, to
killings, to disappearances and to pain.
These realities and operations with the direct involvement of the CIA became
clear when the US government under President Bill Clinton began to
declassify documents. CBS, in its 60 minutes programme, only recently
revealed that Henry Kissinger in Sept 1970 approved the CIA plot to stop the
inauguration of Allende as the elected democratic President of Chile.
Many parallels can be drawn to the development of the terrorist network in
the Middle East and the world over. For example, America could not stand
back and watch the Soviet Union backed the government in Afghanistan. This
would mean America's weakening control of the oil rich region.
According to the CIA's 2000 Fact Book, the United States together with Saudi
Arabia and Pakistan nurtured, supplied weapons and assisted the resistance
movement, the Mujahideen, against the new government.
Of course religion was used as the motivating factor. In the process, the
strongest of the Mujahideen groups that emerged was the Taliban. This group
was the most radical and fundamentalist and today it is in control of
Afghanistan. Where were the Americans and the world when all this happened?
Sins of father
In 1995, President Clinton, through a presidential order, prohibited the CIA
from paying foreign operatives involved in torture and death squads. There
was a change in the foreign policy. But if we look back to the 1970s, the
director of CIA at that time was George Bush Sr who worked with many of
these terrorist networks.
It is quite evident that the United States is intricately involved in the
creation of terrorism. And today, Bush Jr, the Americans and all of us are
being challenged with the consequences of America's policies.
Our borders are no longer impregnable in a globalised world. Is it not time
for us to reflect to look at our role in nurturing terrorism and a world
which has become so unequal and so divided?
At the World Conference Against Racism, South African President Thabo Mbeki
in his opening address to the NGOs said, "The world today is divided into
two. The rich are the whites and the poor are blacks".
These are core issues and concerns that must be addressed. The video game is
over and the power game is not the answer. It is being accountable and
addressing the root causes that will end terrorism.
Let us stop the Islamphobia that is gripping many of us. The answers are in
love, justice and in seeking the truth of today's reality.
As Mahatma Gandhi said: "My efforts should never be to undermine another's
faith but to make him a better follower of his own faith."
IRENE FERNANDEZ is director of Tenaganita, a women's organisation which aims
to realise women's vision and potential through its collective strategies,
actions and programmes.