A terrifying response to 9/11 and terrorism

Sharon Fawcett - Getting it right (Shane Magee/AQ)

They call them machay, meaning “wasps.” The locals know danger is near when they hear buzzing overhead. Though people try to take cover, no one can outrun the unmanned aerial vehicles— “drones”—that launch missiles and hunt “militants” in Pakistan.

The mourners who’d gathered for funeral prayers were unable to escape the three drone missiles fired on them by the American C.I.A. on June 23, 2009 in Makeen, a small town in Pakistan’s South Waziristan.

One report identified two to six of the dead as “militants,” four as elderly tribal leaders and 10 as children. Up to 86 other civilians were killed in the attack.

Before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., someone said to me, “There should be a memorial service for all the innocent people who’ve been killed by armies of UN states in the ‘war on terror.’”

He had a point.

Not wishing to minimise the deaths of the 2,977 victims of 9/11, I resisted writing this column earlier.

But comments made by President Barack Obama during a Sept. 11 speech in Washington a couple weeks ago convinced me that the issue of retributive terror needs to be addressed.

Obama stood before the audience, in his dark suit and greying hair and stated: “These past 10 years have shown that America does not give in to fear.”

If not fear, then what causes national leaders to defy laws made by rational men and women before them, and to violate human rights?

In their “war on terror,” why have the U.S. and allies engaged in arbitrary arrests and detention, failure to offer due process of law, privacy violations, racial profiling, inhumane and degrading treatment, sexual violence toward detainees, the use of unlawful combatants, torture and targeted assassination?

Scholar Noam Chomsky pointed out the hypocrisy in responses to terror when he stated: “If an action is right (or wrong) for others, it is right (or wrong) for us.”

So, if killing innocent civilians is wrong on a September morning in New York, it’s also wrong on a June afternoon in Pakistan.

If airplane attacks on civilians in America led the nation’s leaders to sanction the violation of national laws, international laws and human rights, should anyone doubt that drone attacks killing civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Yemen may cause their people to reciprocate with similar violations?

Should we be surprised that the manner in which the U.S. and other nations have reacted to terrorism serves as a recruitment tool for extremist groups and creates more terrorists—like the Pakistani-American who attempted to blow up a truck in Times Square in May 2010?

Responding to terrorism with retributive terror makes victimised nations, like the U.S., even more vulnerable to violence.

In his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Barack Obama stated, “Even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight…We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend.

And we honour those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.”

With a response to terrorism that’s been both terrified and terrifying, the U.S. has proven that it’s far easier to speak about ideals than to live by them.