The Guardian (London)
September 29, 2001
The algebra of infinite justice

By Arundhati Roy
In the aftermath of the unconscionable September 11 suicide attacks on the
Pentagon and the World Trade Centre, an American newscaster said: Good and
evil rarely manifest themselves as clearly as they did last Tuesday.
People who we don't know massacred people who we do. And they did so with
contemptuous glee.' Then he broke down and wept.

Here's the rub: America is at war against people it doesn't know, because
they don't appear much on TV. Before it has properly identified or even
begun to comprehend the nature of its enemy, the US government has, in a
rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric, cobbled together an
international coalition against terror', mobilised its army, its air
force, its navy and its media, and committed them to battle.

The trouble is that once Amer ica goes off to war, it can't very well
return without having fought one. If it doesn't find its enemy, for the
sake of the enraged folks back home, it will have to manufacture one. Once
war begins, it will develop a momentum, a logic and a justification of its
own, and we'll lose sight of why it's being fought in the first place.
What we're witnessing here is the spectacle of the world's most powerful
country reaching reflexively, angrily, for an old instinct to fight a new
kind of war. Suddenly, when it comes to defending itself, America's
streamlined warships, cruise missiles and F-16 jets look like obsolete,
lumbering things. As deterrence, its arsenal of nuclear bombs is no longer
worth its weight in scrap. Box-cutters, penknives, and cold anger are the
weapons with which the wars of the new century will be waged. Anger is the
lock pick. It slips through customs unnoticed. Doesn't show up in baggage

Who is America fighting? On September 20, the FBI said that it had doubts
about the identities of some of the hijackers. On the same day President
George Bush said, We know exactly who these people are and which
governments are supporting them.' It sounds as though the president knows
something that the FBI and the American public don't.

In his September 20 address to the US Congress, President Bush called the
enemies of America enemies of freedom'. Americans are asking, Why do they
hate us?' ' he said. They hate our freedoms our freedom of religion, our
freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each
other.' People are being asked to make two leaps of faith here. First, to
assume that The Enemy is who the US government says it is, even though it
has no substantial evidence to support that claim. And second, to assume
that The Enemy's motives are what the US government says they are, and
there's nothing to support that either.

For strategic, military and economic reasons, it is vital for the US
government to persuade its public that their commitment to freedom and
democracy and the American Way of Life is under attack. In the current
atmosphere of grief, outrage and anger, it's an easy notion to peddle.
However, if that were true, it's reasonable to wonder why the symbols of
America's economic and military dominance the World Trade Centre and the
Pentagon were chosen as the targets of the attacks. Why not the Statue of
Liberty? Could it be that the stygian anger that led to the attacks has
its taproot not in American freedom and democracy, but in the US
government's record of commitment and support to exactly the opposite
things to military and economic terrorism, insurgency, military
dictatorship, religious bigotry and unimaginable genocide (outside
America)? It must be hard for ordinary Americans, so recently bereaved, to
look up at the world with their eyes full of tears and encounter what
might appear to them to be indifference. It isn't indifference. It's just
augury. An absence of surprise. The tired wisdom of knowing that what goes
around eventually comes around. American people ought to know that it is
not them but their government's policies that are so hated. They can't
possibly doubt that they themselves, their extraordinary musicians, their
writers, their actors, their spectacular sportsmen and their cinema, are
universally welcomed. All of us have been moved by the courage and grace
shown by firefighters, rescue workers and ordinary office staff in the
days since the attacks.

America's grief at what happened has been immense and immensely public. It
would be grotesque to expect it to calibrate or modulate its anguish.
However, it will be a pity if, instead of using this as an opportunity to
try to understand why September 11 happened, Americans use it as an
opportunity to usurp the whole world's sorrow to mourn and avenge only
their own. Because then it falls to the rest of us to ask the hard
questions and say the harsh things. And for our pains, for our bad timing,
we will be disliked, ignored and perhaps eventually silenced.

The world will probably never know what motivated those particular
hijackers who flew planes into those particular American buildings. They
were not glory boys. They left no suicide notes, no political messages; no
organisation has claimed credit for the attacks. All we know is that their
belief in what they were doing outstripped the natural human instinct for
survival, or any desire to be remembered. It's almost as though they could
not scale down the enormity of their rage to anything smaller than their
deeds. And what they did has blown a hole in the world as we knew it. In
the absence of information, politicians, political commentators and
writers (like myself) will invest the act with their own politics, with
their own interpretations. This speculation, this analysis of the
political climate in which the attacks took place, can only be a good
thing. But war is looming large. Whatever remains to be said must be said
quickly. Before America places itself at the helm of the international
coalition against terror', before it invites (and coerces) countries to
actively participate in its almost godlike mission called Operation
Infinite Justice until it was pointed out that this could be seen as an
insult to Muslims, who believe that only Allah can mete out infinite
justice, and was renamed Operation Enduring Freedom it would help if some
small clarifications are made. For example, Infinite Justice/Enduring
Freedom for whom? Is this America's war against terror in America or
against terror in general? What exactly is being avenged here? Is it the
tragic loss of almost 7,000 lives, the gutting of five million square feet
of office space in Manhattan, the destruction of a section of the
Pentagon, the loss of several hundreds of thousands of jobs, the
bankruptcy of some airline companies and the dip in the New York Stock
Exchange? Or is it more than that? In 1996, Madeleine Albright, then the
US secretary of state, was asked on national television what she felt
about the fact that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of US
economic sanctions. She replied that it was a very hard choice', but that,
all things considered, we think the price is worth it'. Albright never
lost her job for saying this. She continued to travel the world
representing the views and aspirations of the US government. More
pertinently, the sanctions against Iraq remain in place. Children continue
to die.

So here we have it. The equivocating distinction between civilisation and
savagery, between the massacre of innocent people' or, if you like, a
clash of civilisations' and collateral damage'. The sophistry and
fastidious algebra of infinite justice. How many dead Iraqis will it take
to make the world a better place? How many dead Afghans for every dead
American? How many dead women and children for every dead man? How many
dead mojahedin for each dead investment banker? As we watch mesmerised,
Operation Enduring Freedom unfolds on TV monitors across the world. A
coalition of the world's superpowers is closing in on Afghanistan, one of
the poorest, most ravaged, war-torn countries in the world, whose ruling
Taliban government is sheltering Osama bin Laden, the man being held
responsible for the September 11 attacks. The only thing in Afghanistan
that could possibly count as collateral value is its citizenry. (Among
them, half a million maimed orphans.There are accounts of hobbling
stampedes that occur when artificial limbs are airdropped into remote,
inaccessible villages.) Afghanistan's economy is in a shambles. In fact,
the problem for an invading army is that Afghanistan has no conventional
coordinates or signposts to plot on a military map no big cities, no
highways, no industrial complexes, no water treatment plants. Farms have
been turned into mass graves. The countryside is littered with land mines
10 million is the most recent estimate. The American army would first have
to clear the mines and build roads in order to take its soldiers in.
Fearing an attack from America, one million citizens have fled from their
homes and arrived at the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The UN
estimates that there are eight million Afghan citizens who need emergency
aid. As supplies run out food and aid agencies have been asked to leave
the BBC reports that one of the worst humanitarian disasters of recent
times has begun to unfold. Witness the infinite justice of the new
century. Civilians starving to death while they're waiting to be killed.

In America there has been rough talk of bombing Afghanistan back to the
stone age'. Someone please break the news that Afghanistan is already
there. And if it's any consolation, America played no small part in
helping it on its way. The American people may be a little fuzzy about
where exactly Afghanistan is (we hear reports that there's a run on maps
of the country), but the US government and Afghanistan are old friends.

In 1979, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA and Pakistan's
ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) launched the largest covert operation in
the history of the CIA. Their purpose was to harness the energy of Afghan
resistance to the Soviets and expand it into a holy war, an Islamic jihad,
which would turn Muslim countries within the Soviet Union against the
communist regime and eventually destabilise it. When it began, it was
meant to be the Soviet Union's Vietnam. It turned out to be much more than
that. Over the years, through the ISI, the CIA funded and recruited almost
100,000 radical mojahedin from 40 Islamic countries as soldiers for
America's proxy war. The rank and file of the mojahedin were unaware that
their jihad was actually being fought on behalf of Uncle Sam. (The irony
is that America was equally unaware that it was financing a future war
against itself.)

In 1989, after being bloodied by 10 years of relentless conflict, the
Russians withdrew, leaving behind a civilisation reduced to rubble.

Civil war in Afghanistan raged on. The jihad spread to Chechnya, Kosovo
and eventually to Kashmir. The CIA continued to pour in money and military
equipment, but the overheads had become immense, and more money was
needed. The mojahedin ordered farmers to plant opium as a revolutionary
tax'. The ISI set up hundreds of heroin laboratories across Afghanistan.
Within two years of the CIA's arrival, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland
had become the biggest producer of heroin in the world, and the single
biggest source of the heroin on American streets. The annual profits, said
to be between Dollars 100bn and Dollars 200bn, were ploughed back into
training and arming militants.

In 1995, the Taliban then a marginal sect of dangerous, hardline
fundamentalists fought its way to power in Afghanistan. It was funded by
the ISI, that old cohort of the CIA, and supported by many political
parties in Pakistan. The Taliban unleashed a regime of terror. Its first
victims were its own people, particularly women. It closed down girls'
schools, dismissed women from government jobs, and enforced sharia laws
under which women deemed to be immoral' are stoned to death, and widows
guilty of being adulterous are buried alive. Given the Taliban
government's human rights track record, it seems unlikely that it will in
any way be intimidated or swerved from its purpose by the prospect of war,
or the threat to the lives of its civilians.

After all that has happened, can there be anything more ironic than Russia
and America joining hands to re-destroy Afghanistan? The question is, can
you destroy destruction? Dropping more bombs on Afghanistan will only
shuffle the rubble, scramble some old graves and disturb the dead.

The desolate landscape of Afghanistan was the burial ground of Soviet
communism and the springboard of a unipolar world dominated by America. It
made the space for neocapitalism and corporate globalisation, again
dominated by America. And now Afghanistan is poised to become the
graveyard for the unlikely soldiers who fought and won this war for

And what of America's trusted ally? Pakistan too has suffered enormously.
The US government has not been shy of supporting military dictators who
have blocked the idea of democracy from taking root in the country. Before
the CIA arrived, there was a small rural market for opium in Pakistan.
Between 1979 and 1985, the number of heroin addicts grew from zero to
one-and-a-half million. Even before September 11, there were three million
Afghan refugees living in tented camps along the border. Pakistan's
economy is crumbling. Sectarian violence, globalisation's structural
adjustment programmes and drug lords are tearing the country to pieces.
Set up to fight the Soviets, the terrorist training centres and madrasahs,
sown like dragon's teeth across the country, produced fundamentalists with
tremendous popular appeal within Pakistan itself. The Taliban, which the
Pakistan government has sup ported, funded and propped up for years, has
material and strategic alliances with Pakistan's own political parties

Now the US government is asking (asking?) Pakistan to garotte the pet it
has hand-reared in its backyard for so many years. President Musharraf,
having pledged his support to the US, could well find he has something
resembling civil war on his hands.

India, thanks in part to its geography, and in part to the vision of its
former leaders, has so far been fortunate enough to be left out of this
Great Game. Had it been drawn in, it's more than likely that our
democracy, such as it is, would not have survived. Today, as some of us
watch in horror, the Indian government is furiously gyrating its hips,
begging the US to set up its base in India rather than Pakistan. Having
had this ringside view of Pakistan's sordid fate, it isn't just odd, it's
unthinkable, that India should want to do this. Any third world country
with a fragile economy and a complex social base should know by now that
to invite a superpower such as America in (whether it says it's staying or
just passing through) would be like inviting a brick to drop through your

Operation Enduring Freedom is ostensibly being fought to uphold the
American Way of Life. It'll probably end up undermining it completely. It
will spawn more anger and more terror across the world. For ordinary
people in America, it will mean lives lived in a climate of sickening
uncertainty: will my child be safe in school? Will there be nerve gas in
the subway? A bomb in the cinema hall? Will my love come home tonight?
There have been warnings about the possibility of biological warfare
smallpox, bubonic plague, anthrax the deadly payload of innocuous
crop-duster aircraft. Being picked off a few at a time may end up being
worse than being annihilated all at once by a nuclear bomb.

The US government, and no doubt governments all over the world, will use
the climate of war as an excuse to curtail civil liberties, deny free
speech, lay off workers, harass ethnic and religious minorities, cut back
on public spending and divert huge amounts of money to the defence
industry. To what purpose? President Bush can no more rid the world of
evil-doers' than he can stock it with saints. It's absurd for the US
government to even toy with the notion that it can stamp out terrorism
with more violence and oppression. Terrorism is the symptom, not the
disease. Terrorism has no country. It's transnational, as global an
enterprise as Coke or Pepsi or Nike. At the first sign of trouble,
terrorists can pull up stakes and move their factories' from country to
country in search of a better deal. Just like the multi-nationals.

Terrorism as a phenomenon may never go away. But if it is to be contained,
the first step is for America to at least acknowledge that it shares the
planet with other nations, with other human beings who, even if they are
not on TV, have loves and griefs and stories and songs and sorrows and,
for heaven's sake, rights. Instead, when Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence
secretary, was asked what he would call a victory in America's new war, he
said that if he could convince the world that Americans must be allowed to
continue with their way of life, he would consider it a victory.

The September 11 attacks were a monstrous calling card from a world gone
horribly wrong. The message may have been written by Bin Laden (who
knows?) and delivered by his couriers, but it could well have been signed
by the ghosts of the victims of America's old wars. The millions killed in
Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, the 17,500 killed when Israel backed by the
US invaded Lebanon in 1982, the 200,000 Iraqis killed in Operation Desert
Storm, the thousands of Palestinians who have died fighting Israel's
occupation of the West Bank. And the millions who died, in Yugoslavia,
Somalia, Haiti, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic,
Panama, at the hands of all the terrorists, dictators and genocidists whom
the American government supported, trained, bankrolled and supplied with
arms. And this is far from being a comprehensive list.

For a country involved in so much warfare and conflict, the American
people have been extremely fortunate. The strikes on September 11 were
only the second on American soil in over a century. The first was Pearl
Harbour. The reprisal for this took a long route, but ended with Hiroshima
and Nagasaki. This time the world waits with bated breath for the horrors
to come.

Someone recently said that if Osama bin Laden didn't exist, America would
have had to invent him. But, in a way, America did invent him. He was
among the jihadis who moved to Afghanistan in 1979 when the CIA commenced
its operations there. Bin Laden has the distinction of being created by
the CIA and wanted by the FBI. In the course of a fortnight he has been
promoted from suspect to prime suspect and then, despite the lack of any
real evidence, straight up the charts to being wanted dead or alive'.

From all accounts, it will be impossible to produce evidence (of the
sortthat would stand scrutiny in a court of law) to link Bin Laden to the
September 11 attacks. So far, it appears that the most incriminating piece
of evidence against him is the fact that he has not condemned them.

From what is known about the location of Bin Laden and the living
in which he operates, it's entirely possible that he did not personally
plan and carry out the attacks that he is the inspirational figure, the
CEO of the holding company'. The Taliban's response to US demands for the
extradition of Bin Laden has been uncharacteristically reasonable: produce
the evidence, then we'll hand him over. President Bush's response is that
the demand is non-negotiable'.

(While talks are on for the extradition of CEOs can India put in a side
request for the extradition of Warren Anderson of the US? He was the
chairman of Union Carbide, responsible for the Bhopal gas leak that killed
16,000 people in 1984. We have collated the necessary evidence. It's all
in the files. Could we have him, please?)

But who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase that. What is Osama bin
Laden? He's America's family secret. He is the American president's dark
doppelganger. The savage twin of all that purports to be beautiful and
civilised. He has been sculpted from the spare rib of a world laid to
waste by America's foreign policy: its gunboat diplomacy, its nuclear
arsenal, its vulgarly stated policy of full-spectrum dominance', its
chilling disregard for non-American lives, its barbarous military
interventions, its support for despotic and dictatorial regimes, its
merciless economic agenda that has munched through the economies of poor
countries like a cloud of locusts. Its marauding multinationals who are
taking over the air we breathe, the ground we stand on, the water we
drink, the thoughts we think. Now that the family secret has been spilled,
the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming
interchangeable. Their guns, bombs, money and drugs have been going around
in the loop for a while. (The Stinger missiles that will greet US
helicopters were supplied by the CIA. The heroin used by America's drug
addicts comes from Afghanistan. The Bush administration recently gave
Afghanistan a Dollars 43m subsidy for a war on drugs' . . .)

Now Bush and Bin Laden have even begun to borrow each other's rhetoric.
Each refers to the other as the head of the snake'. Both invoke God and
use the loose millenarian currency of good and evil as their terms of
reference. Both are engaged in unequivocal political crimes. Both are
dangerously armed one with the nuclear arsenal of the obscenely powerful,
the other with the incandescent, destructive power of the utterly
hopeless. The fireball and the ice pick. The bludgeon and the axe. The
important thing to keep in mind is that neither is an acceptable
alternative to the other.

President Bush's ultimatum to the people of the world If you're not with
us, you're against us' is a piece of presumptuous arrogance. It's not a
choice that people want to, need to, or should have to make.