Talk given by Denis J. Halliday (former UN Assistant
Secretary- General)on 16 November 2001 at
the Temple of
the CONGREGATION B'NAI YISRAEL, Armonk, New
evening. I am pleased and yet
challenged to be here. I feel somewhat reluctant to speak publicly on Iraq, the
Middle-East, Afghanistan or Terrorism
since 11 September. I sense many Americans are not ready for a discussion. Not
ready for views that may differ from the mass. I sense instead an atmosphere of
'dead or alive' justice, intolerance, endangered civil liberties, the unhealthy
influence of Christian fundamentalism, militarism, even jingoism. But I also sense a new feeling of American VULNERABILITY
and thus I am here tonight! And I was encouraged to do so by your Rabbi Douglas
who is a risk-taker!
On 11 September, I was in London en
route to Damascus and
thereafter to Baghdad. Like
everyone here I imagine - I watched the TV in horror and disbelief as the Twin Towers were
struck and then collapsed. Shock led to deep sympathy for the families, the
children, who had lost loved ones. And I still feel that way.
And I still feel that way for the families of Iraq, Israel, Palestine and now
have lost and continue to lose loved ones everyday.
I was in London on 11
September because I am still involved - there is no choice - with the innocent
children of Iraq. I
was to travel on 12 September. My companions were to have been former President Ben Bella of Algeria and a
Canadian oil man - all three of us intending to convince the Government of Iraq
to better communicate.
We had hoped to have Baghdad appreciate the
importance of public opinion around the world, and to explain its position and
extend flexibility in order to find an urgent solution via dialogue to the
deadly UN embargo and impasse it represents, sustained for more than 11 years
by the US and Britain.
The plan collapsed and instead I flew back to my
Irish home on 12 September.
Meantime in Iraq, the
deadly UN embargo continues - imposed and sustained on the people of that
country by America and Britain - for
reasons unrelated to Kuwait.
Instead for reasons of vested self- interest, control of oil supplies, double standards, stability not democracy (do the people
of our Saudi and Kuwaiti allies
enjoy democracy?), or is it just simply due to fear with respect to an old
friend and former ally in Baghdad, so helpful against Iran, when it suited us,
that we punish the innocent? We strengthen Baghdad; we
diminish any prospects for positive change.
But I can hear some of you saying - surely
what's-his-name is at fault! It's not us! Well - despite the huge
responsibility Baghdad must
accept for the invasion of Kuwait, past
and current human rights abuses, and antagonistic relations with the Iraqi Kurds
of the north, there is no civilized justification for killing the children of Iraq. And that
is what the UN embargo does. As you know, sanctions are designed to target
civilians, destroy lives so that those who remain will rise up and overthrow
the offending regime!
How simplistic and naive! And the UN overseas this killing in our
Weekly bombing by America reinforces the
terror that the embargo sustains.
This is exploitation of the most vulnerable to
punish actions for which they were never responsible. Sanctions have become a
genocidal tool in the hands of the Security Council. The UN embargo operates in
breech of the Geneva Conventions intended to protect civilians - and rejects
international law without regard for the fundamental human rights of its victims. Some
will tell you that the Iraqi people are being punished by Baghdad, if
true, why do we punish them further? What does that achieve ?
apart from underlining and reinforcing their
vulnerability, and their sense of hopelessness.
In Iraq, our
victims are the younger brothers and sisters of the children who suffered from
obesity under the Baghdad Ba'athist social welfare
system of the 1980s. A comprehensive programme of
constructing civilian infrastructure, health care, free education, urbanization, housing,
employment and social and cultural opportunities. And sadly - a period of vast
military expenditure - of buying weapons (now known by the same suppliers
as weapons of mass destruction) from the
manufacturers and eager arms dealers of Europe, Britain and
the United States. What
a waste of resources! What a calamity for the Iraqi people.
warfare of UN sanctions on the people of Iraq
continues with appalling results. We tend to forget about it. The headlines
dwell elsewhere. The media tends to focus on the latest form of terror, but the
children of Iraq as
reported by UNICEF are still dying at the rate of some 5000 every month. And
that number only includes children up to the age of 5 years! Many families in Iraq have
to face everyday -
the terror that we discovered for the first time here in New
York City on 11 September. Iraqi families
feel the pain of loss just as American families do. We are all the same –
We are all the same. And suddenly we all are
paying the price for policies, for foreign policy ambitions that, if consulted, we would be
unlikely to endorse. And this is equally and tragically true for the Israeli
mother and the Palestinian family -
regardless of right or wrong - who see their loved ones die needlessly. It may
be new to many here in New York, but
elsewhere many live with fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability each and everyday
day. And now, we have added the innocent of Afghanistan
- swept up in an illegal war, not
of their making, and when "won" is just about guaranteed to lead to additional
terrorism! How short-term self interest can blind us. Do we never learn?
As a European friend of mine has said - on 11
September around the world - we all became Americans! I wish I could say the same in regard
to ongoing killing elsewhere - we are all Iraqis, we are all Palestinians,
Israelis and Afghani's. Because we need to understand that awful sense of
vulnerability, new in the USA and that
many in America now
feel for the first time, if we are to do something positive about it! Not harassment,
not military courts, not crusades and not cluster bombs - but justice, and a real
addressing of issues. Let's turn our new vulnerability inside out!
Clearly, here in the United
States of America - away from
the misery and ugliness of much of the Third World, the
two billion who live in poverty, and the human rights violations of our allies,
and others -
VULNERABILITY is a new phenomenon for many. Not for all, as
surely many must
remember those who fled to this country from the Holocaust, and other terrors.
They must understand. But for most Americans it is hard to accept that there is
no safe corner, no where to hide from reality. Can we hope that this new vulnerability,
this need to be safe, can be translated into a realization that for Americans
to be safe, others around the world must feel safe also? That would be a huge accomplishment.
For years I worked with an American in the UN by
the name of Hank Shannon. Hank would say - "Denis - something good always
comes from something bad". Well there is no denying that here in New
York we have experienced something "bad".
My instincts and I suspect the instincts of many, like your good-selves, will be to
find something good - to find something we can learn - from this terrorist
attack of 11 September. Surely we want to move forward from this recent horror
- a more aware, a more humble, a more understanding, and a more responsive
people. That would be self-interest that serves all.
Surely that would be better for the United
States, rather than
retreat into revenge and retaliation - instincts many of us can undoubtedly understand,
but must set aside intellectually. We can understand the fear and outrage that
grew so quickly as of 11 September, but surely we must question the most
effective, even moral, even legal way to proceed - a way consistent with the
values, the democracy and even the so called "civilization", we say
that we hold to be important.
For me, this new VULNERABILITY presents a fork in
the road of our progress : - one road leads to violence - an ugly
and counterproductive route that will undoubtedly produce additional violence
and increased vulnerabilities for Americans over time ! - and the other
road that leads to greater understanding; a willingness to examine why the
terrorist attack on the Twin Towers ? why America ? And
then to begin the many and difficult tasks of change that will lessen and
someday perhaps remove the underlying factors that lead to the recent terrorism
America has experienced.
It would seem to me, that we all need to examine and
understand terrorism better. Are there any sovereign states existent today, that do not have in their history periods of violence
on behalf of independence and freedom, including this one? Is terrorism not a
response to religious persecution or ethnic cleansing, that ugly expression for an
ancient crime? Is terrorism not a cry for help - rather like suicide - from a
people who see only hopelessness and the despair of endless poverty? Is it not
a reaction to some great wrong? Is it not a response to neo-colonial ambitions
that justify application of double standards? - the kind of
ambitions that lead the West into
arrogant self-serving breech of international law? Is it not the abuse of the
United Nations and corruption of the Security Council and the Charter, the
Declaration of Human Rights?
Terrorism is all of these
things, and more.
would seem that terrorism can be a perception - one man's legitimate struggle
(as President Assad recently advised Prime Minister
Blair) is another man's terrorism. For me, however, all violence; all forms of
terrorism - state and non-state – are unacceptable, and in breech of the
rule of international law. There can be no justification for killing the thousands of civilians in the
Twin Towers - a
crime against humanity. Just as there can be no justification
for the killing of equally innocent Afghanis, Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese,
or Iraqis in the Middle
Apart from the moral and illegal aspects of
terrorism, we know it does not work - and does not produce the
results sought. State terrorism that reduces the "good" guys to the
level of the "bad" guys to obtain that perhaps might be a desirable
end - is counterproductive and only sustains the circle of violence. And throws
into question what kind of so-called "civilization" and human values
are we protecting?
In Northern Ireland,
after many years of violence and terror, the British Government was finally
persuaded that their military respone was not successful.
A way of dialogue was opened. The
results - albeit imperfect - would seem to be moving the people of the North -
Republicans and Unionists both - in the right direction of peaceful
still hope, that
we can not only ask : why America ? but begin to answer it. To say the event of 11 September was
pure evil, would seem to be simplistic and dishonest. To say
is was an attack on democracy, or even more exaggerated "our civilization, and "way
of life" is even more bizarre, although comforting for the Washington decision
Why not consider and maybe accept, that 11
September was an attack on our
neglect of poverty, despair and hopelessness; an attack on our greed for power
and natural resources; an attack on our frequent application of double
standards and the law of empire - self-serving double-think that only serves
well ourselves, and sometimes our friends of the moment.
need to consider what route is best.
The truth is
- that we can no longer get away with neglect and ignorance, and
our mistakenly assumed invulnerability. That has been shot down. We can no
longer use the UN as the instrument of our self-serving foreign policy! We can
no longer gobble up the worlds resources without a thought for others in
desperate need. We can no longer accept that might is right. We can no longer exploit
others and expect no reaction. For we have just witnessed the reaction.
suggest we have got to accept that this is not just about Al Qaeda and its leadership. This is much deeper. And more widespread. And just may be within us. Within our
own communities of alienation as the Anthrax scare seems to imply. A military
victory in Afghanistan is no
answer - were that to occur. We need to start a war against poverty. We need to
bomb injustice. We need to deal with ourselves and adjust. We need to adjust significantly
to how we are perceived. If our new sense of vulnerability is to lessen – we have much
work to do. We need a USA that
will participate in the world, in the United Nations, and set aside Washington
ambitions to dominate and control.
our western policies which have made this current form of Middle-
Eastern terrorism respectable; and
turned its leaders into heroes. We have offended Moslem places by our western
military presence and threatened moderate Islamic moral values by our western
laxity. We have imposed ourselves and our values, where we and they may not
belong. We have been too ready to exploit instead of collaborate; we have imposed instead
of ensuring that our values are shared. We have become blind to the dreams of
our greed for cheap gas and the good life - the good life for us alone.
Why are we surprised by 11 September? We have had lots of warning signs, but
we preferred to ignore them. We have the might; we have the right, we said to ourselves
- as we dismissed the weak. After all, as someone said -' why is our oil
under their sand?' Our arrogance and often ignorance prevailed.
I suggest we focus on the impact of our policies.
Control domestic greed that leads to overseas aggression - economic, or
otherwise! The first clearly drives
the second! Lets ask ourselves - is it our demand for oil and gas pipelines
from Central Asia to
the Indian Ocean
through Afghanistan that
drives us, or do
we care for the women, the human rights, for the people of Afghanistan
destroyed by Russia,
raped by our allies and left to suffer under a fundamentalist Islamic minority
Government we assisted to power? Let's be honest - in the absence of self-interest,
and with greater stability throughout the country, would we not have continued
to tolerate the Taliban?
After all, because it suits us, we tolerate the appalling Saudi
system - because it suits us. And we tolerate the fundamentalist Christian right in this
country? As I suggested, we have some thinking to do about many things,
including our ready application of double standards.
suggest we need to have Washington
consider a new approach – not legislation to undermine civil liberties,
and not the introduction military courts as decried in the New York Times
editorial today. And certainly not greater investment in arms and the
Pentagon. Instead - the diversion of your tax money away from the Pentagon - the $300 billion
plus - away from military
expenditures into a more productive kind of investment.
And by that I mean an investment in people - in
the people of this country and those overseas without whom we cannot survive -
surely we understand inter-dependence in a shrinking world? We have seen those
staggering world population growth rates released a few weeks ago. We need, even if
only for the most selfish of reasons, to understand that by diverting monies
into the well-being of people, we can best serve the well-being of the American people. Wake up America.
today, as does Europe, needs
a world where people are content to live in their own countries. Where travel is
for education and pleasure - not
for escape and asylum. America needs
a world that can buy wheat, consumer goods and the necessities and the good
things of life without having to beg for them. America needs
a world where globalization works for us all, not just for a few.
It seems essential that educated and worldly
people such as yourselves here in Armonk - think through and work on
domestic and foreign policy. Our new vulnerability needs to be directed at
understanding, and a resolution to deal with the blatant inequalities
throughout the world. The double standards, the exploitation and the lack of
justice must change. For America
indeed for the World to survive, we must tackle the unending poverty - the
hopelessness that drives people into the streets and into the refugee camps of
the world, where
desperation, injustice and
ultimately terrorism thrives. And while doing this, we need to look at our own
society where the divide between rich and poor remains, in which we support
state terror, where injustice is conspicuous, and where the excluded resort to
one of the few attention-grabbing tactics left to them - terror.
We have our work cut out. When the killing of the Afghan
war ends, we must not simply
refocus on the next disaster, but push Washington
preferably via the United Nations,
to begin to address the underlying causes for the terrorism that swept
us all up in the madness of 11 September.
If we want to remember those who lost their
lives here in New York, as
we surely do, then we must indeed change - and respond not with more violence, but with an attempt to
understand and respond to the real driving forces behind the tragedy –
that terrorism represents for us all.
Denis J. Halliday