A Few Comments on the War on Terror and...Globalisation and Civil Rights

A direct result of the Sept.11 attacks has been the introduction and proclamation of anti-terrorist laws. They appeared under different names in different countries and appeared to have a common target: terrorism. This was correct; that is they did have a common target, but that target quickly proved to be less obvious and less clear than what was first claimed, then proclaimed. It sounded so logical: there are terrorists about, they are threatening the so-called Free World, there must be laws against them. But one look only closer at the laws and it appeared that civil rights were as much a target as terrorism was. And it was as if we had neither the time nor the right to ask why it had happened (supposedly, it was a clear-cut case of Good versus Evil); worse, if you forgot to rally immediately to the side of those who were screaming for the blood of Arabs – specifically those who had committed the attacks and more vaguely, Arabs in general, why waste this perfectly good opportunity of letting latent racism rise, among other things ? – you were seen as condoning terrorism or failing to show respect for the dead of Sept.11, or both.

So, before I go back to anti-terrorist laws, I’d like to say a few words about those who dared take time to say “Why did this happen” and “We should have seen it coming”. It was far from being a sort of approval of what had happened, and it certainly did not show a lack of respect for those who had met with such a tragic death on that day. People who criticise the US and its allies (whether the G7 countries, NATO countries or governments of poorer countries which support the US in return for trade “favours”, such as the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act or NAFTA, or simply because there are powerful economic lobbies within those nations who have everything to gain through these policies) are not pro-terrorism; they are usually people who are in favour of human rights and who condemn senseless killings, perpetrated whether by terrorists or “democratically elected governments”. Maybe that’s what was seen as a problem by some, that those who would not be outright “against” or “with” the US and allies, condemn all acts of terror, and include bombings by a “legal” government in acts of terrorism. As already mentioned, the Sept.11 attacks brought about anti-terrorist laws which are a direct infringement on human and civil rights. I cannot speak in the name of everyone who fights for human rights, but I will say this, it is obvious that those who do fight for human rights could not, (in addition to condemning the attacks simply because there was a terrible loss of human lives), approve of acts which led (predictably) directly to attacks on the same human rights.

So, back to these laws. I see post Sept.11 anti-terrorist laws mainly as part of already existing repressive laws aiming at killing any economic and political opposition to WTO, IMF, World Bank policies, usually supported or started by the US and its G7 friends, and again by their allies in poorer countries. After the protests at Genoa and its infamous Red Zone, after it became clear that a large section of the people of different countries refused to remain silent, I had been wondering what those governments would come up with to justify further attacks on civil rights. Sept.11 provided the ideal excuse. I’m not saying that these laws are the sole attacks on human rights and that terrorists aren’t mentioned in them, nor am I saying that Genoa was the trigger of these laws. I’m saying it’s part of repressive laws aiming at making people shut up about human rights and to let IMF and friends have an easier time applying their policies. Trade agreements do have a part to play in all this: for example, the US have included a clause in the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act to force signatory countries to align themselves with US foreign policy, or else the US markets will be closed to them. My own country (Mauritius) is a signatory of this agreement and being eager to sell its products has meekly agreed to pass anti-terrorist laws. I should say meekly and somewhat willingly. These laws might give the US the right to declare whomever it pleases a terrorist, but they can also act as a sort of Damocles Sword against activists in the country where they are in force. The definition of ‘terrorist’ is so vague that you now have to think not twice, but several times over, before say, joining or organising protests.

As for terrorism, it is already well covered in terms of law. Terrorism is unfortunately nothing new. All countries likely to be under terrorist attacks have already passed tough anti-terrorist laws. In the UK, for example, there was the 1973 Prevention of Terrorism Act, replaced by the draconian 2000 Terrorism Act. Previous anti-terrorist laws in different countries did not prevent terrorist attacks anywhere, whether by the IRA in Great-Britain, ETA in Spain, various terrorist groups in Corsica (France) or in India. It is obvious that terrorist laws containing clauses not specifically aimed at terrorists, are unlikely to prevent terrorists from acting, since the latter are not like average citizens and human rights activists trying to achieve their aims through legal means. The previous laws had already been denounced in their times as representing serious dangers to civil rights. Criticisms against post Sept.11 anti-terrorist laws are of the same nature in all countries ; whether in the United States, Great-Britain, France, Australia, India or here in Mauritius, civil right groups pointed to the worrying and wider definition of terrorism, to how protests generally or against international organisations (are governments trying to stifle criticisms and protests against say, the IMF or G7 summits) could be described as terrorist acts, to how support for movements or groups opposed to certain governments could be declared illegal (You don’t even have to be a terrorist, you just have to say you have a right to have an opinion about resistance in some countries. And here, let’s not forget that in 1987, when the United Nations were in the process of voting a resolution against terrorism, the United States along with Israel and Honduras refused to go along with it, simply because it was also to be stated that the rights of peoples of the world to resist colonialism or military occupation should not be forgotten. Terrorism is not so much who’s doing what, but who’s resisting who.), to the increasing and arbitrary powers given to police forces, already accused everywhere of police brutality.
The list of attacks against civil rights is much longer than that, but what it shows is that the new anti-terrorist laws are not solely aimed at terrorism. Sept.11 provided repressive laws with a sort of seemingly moral license, which was badly lacking after the increasing number of political protests against national and international policies in various countries. They reflect increasing (but not new) attempts to make such LEGAL protests and criticisms become illegal. Some people said « We should have seen it coming » when talking of the Sept.11 attacks, they could also have predicted the ensuing attacks on civil rights. In fact, I’m sure some people did, and were probably described as hysterical, pro-terrorism, insensitive, unpatriotic etc. As are those who now question anti-terrorist laws and worry about what they represent for civil rights.

The Sept.11 attacks were truly horrifying. Those who failed to condemn the attacks in the strongest terms in their eagerness to show that US and Western policies in general might have had a part to play in the attacks were themselves condemned as insensitive and disrespecful. But there are those who used these same events to create and justify yet more repression and injustice. ‘America’s New War’: a misleading phrase, the war on terror is neither a new nor a holy war, it is part of economic and political events which started a long while ago. The Sept.11 attacks unleashed so much horror in one single day that we could not help but sit up and take notice. But that war started long ago and it is not about to stop tomorrow, whether we keep taking notice or not.

Pirya, from Mauritius (small island of the coast of Madagascar)
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Submited in May of 2002 by Pirya
This work from gives a bit of a look from how some of the issues of Sept 11 look from oversea's: Mauritius