the time that 9-11 stung America, I had been working
on a book that would look into the question of Qur'anic
reasoning; it would explore the different modes
of reasoning that this Book employs to convey its
mes-sage. I was pursuing this project primarily
as a social scientist, to contest the claim - made
by a long and distinguished line of Eurocentric
thinkers - that the West possesses reasoning to
a degree not found in other civili-zations: and
this is the essence of Europe's superiority over
the nineteen hijackers struck all hell broke lose.
The hijackers had 'changed the world for ever.'
Instantly, the United States declared a war on terrorism.
Most Muslims suspected that this was a cover for
a war against them. Many in the United States also
claimed that the "clash of civilizations"
they had predicted was at hand. The United States
was now fighting World War III or IV - take your
pick - and this was going to be war to the finish.
At the end of it, the Islamic countries would be
de-feated and democratized - the way Germany, Italy
and Japan had been.
the rhetoric on the clash of civilizations also
reached fever pitch. A variety of charges were being
recycled against Islam and Islamic countries: that
one or both are opposed to modernization; that Islam
is incompatible with democracy; that the Qur'an
denies women any rights comparable to what they
enjoy in the West; that the Qur'an preaches ha-tred
and war against Infidels; that Islamic countries
have contributed nothing to human civilization over
the past thousand years. In short, Is-lam was an
aberration that had to be fixed.
resounding rhetoric also changed my plans. Now I
set aside my work on Qur'anic reasoning. I decided
to enter the domain of public dis-course in order
to argue against the "clash:" to argue
that 9-11 or the war on terrorism did not herald
a clash of civilizations. They had to be exam-ined
in the context of the global capitalist system,
divided between a rich and dominant Center and a
poor or mostly poor and subordinate Periph-ery.
I have since argued that 9-11 was a riposte from
a particular segment of the Periphery - the Arab-Islamic
segment - where the weight of the Center in recent
decades had been more crushing than elsewhere. And
this for two reasons, primarily: they had oil and
they faced Israel, a new, expansionist colonial-settler
positions were considered 'radical' by America's
mainstream media: and they shut me out. This wasn't
the first time that I had tested free speech in
America. My earlier foray into the domain of free
speech, in 1990, had also been firmly repulsed.
I was luckier this time. Now there was the internet.
In particular, there was Counterpunch, which
gave me a small entry into the public discourse
on the 'clash' of civilizations.
was thankful for the space opened up by the left
and Islamic media on the internet. However, even
this limited room for the exercise of free speech
did not come without a cost. Over the past three
years, some Americans have sought to silence me
in a variety of ways that has in-cluded hate e-mails,
spoofed e-mails that sent out scurrilous anti-Semitic
screeds claiming to originate from me, massive spams,
and, not least, pressures on Northeastern University
to fire me. I have weathered these attacks, and
survived the last - thanks in large measure to that
wonderful institution that still works, academic
attacks were resumed starting December 30, 2004,
after several hate websites began posting selected
paragraphs from an article, "Amer-ica and Islam,
Seeking Parallels," that had appeared on Counterpunch
and Dissidentvoice over the previous days.
 The article made
several points. Indeed, much of it was dedicated
to castigating Muslims for their political failure
to resist, in their own countries, the surrogate
tyrannies that have mangled their lives. Indeed,
in rhetorical flourish, I blamed the attacks of
9-11 on this Muslim failure. That should have made
many right-wing Americans happy; but this did not
interest the attackers. In-stead, they focused on
my description of 9-11 as part of a global Islamic
insurgency against imperialism, and, hence, its
similarity with the American war of independence.
This is what appears to have 'provoked' their orchestrated
attacks - many of them death threats - against me.
In addition, I gather from the e-mails cc'd to me
that the attackers have also been calling on Northeastern
to have me fired.
have since been wondering why my suggestion that
al-Qaida - like the American colonists before them
- was leading an insurgency has provoked such a
storm of vicious attacks. Are there no parallels
between the two insurgencies? I point out that "the
parallels are not exact. The colonists did not deliberately
target civilians; the nineteen hijackers did."
But this cannot obscure the fact that both were
insurgencies, even though al-Qaida for now uses
different methods. I might add, more abhorrent methods.
But this is not the first time that insurgents have
used such methods. The Zionists did so against the
British and more massively against the Palestinians;
several of them went on to lead Israel. So did the
Irish, the Algerians and South Africans. Nelson
Mandela, once jailed as a terrorist, is now the
greatest world statesman.
it because I describe the attacks as "in many
ways a work of daring and imagination: if one
can think objectively of such horrors."
This may have been indelicate, but, again, it would
be the course of wisdom to recognize that with daring
and imagination - but without weapons, much less
WMDs - a handful of men succeeded in inflicting
great harm on the world's greatest country. The
United States cannot choose to ignore this
only because it is disturbing.
addition, my thesis about the global Islamic insurgency
is not novel even in mainstream media. Michael Scheuer,
the head of CIA's counter-insurgency cell against
Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s, has made the
same point - and very pointedly - in two books,
Through Our Enemy's Eyes (February 2003)
and Imperial Hubris (July 2004). More recently,
since leaving the CIA, Scheuer has been articulating
this thesis with great frequency on all the news
networks. Could it be that America's rightwing has
missed all this?
is a summary of the thesis Michael Scheuer has articulated
in his books. I copy this from a review of the second
book, Imperial Hubris, by R. Hutchinson and
posted on Amazon.com:
al-Qaida is "part of and attempting to lead
a global Muslim insur-gency" and the
American war of independence was an insurgency against
the British, are we allowed to make the inference
that there are parallels - not exact parallels -
between the two insurgencies? The colo-nists fighting
the British were rebels to the British; in America's
official language, today, they might be called 'terrorists'.
The Islamic insurgents today, whether those who
led the 9-11 attacks or others fighting the American
occupation of Iraq, are terrorists in the official
lexicon of the United States.
differences too between the two insurgencies may
be worth not-ing. (a) The Americans fought not only
to free themselves from the Brit-ish but to establish
liberty in their newly founded republic. The al-Qaida
do not espouse Western ideals of democracy. (b)
The Americans did not target civilians in their
war of independence. The al-Qaida has been tar-geting
civilians; in particular, it targeted American civilians
on Septem-ber 11, 2001.
categorical are these differences? (a) Although
committed to the inalienable rights of 'man,' the
American republic did not free its black population
until 1866, and did not grant them a semblance of
civil rights until 1966. (b) In their war of independence,
the Americans may not have targeted civilians, but
they did commit atrocities, and they did inflict
col-lateral damage on civilians. Worse, the same
American colonists - be-fore, during and after their
war of independence - continued their poli-cies
of driving out the Indians from their lands, producing
a thinning of their population from perhaps 20 million
in 1800 to 250,000 in 1900.
American experiment has been a great success: in
the ways that the Western world generally recognizes
success - and in other ways too. It has been a great
economic success, having built the world's largest
economy on the foundations established in 1783.
It has been a great po-litical success, eventually
rising to stride the world like a colossus, com-manding
a military budget now that nearly rivals that of
the rest of the world. But these successes weren't
built overnight, and they weren't built from a scratch.
More importantly, these successes were built on
huge costs - to the Indians, African-Americans,
and over the past centuries, one must recognize
the baleful shadow that American power has cast
over the Periphery, including the Islamic world.
have been trained to see only their own greatness,
not the human costs that others have been made to
pay, and continue to pay, for these successes. Can
peace - for America and the world - be founded on
such greatness? One might imagine that this was
the question that the attackers of 9-11 were asking
Americans. Sadly, the United States has answered
this question with a war on terrorism. In the words
of Michael Scheuer, to establish peace, the United
States must now "proceed with relentless, brutal,
and, yes, blood-soaked offensive military actions
until we have annihilated the Islamists who threaten
part company with Michael Scheuer on this prognostication.
Perhaps that is why some elements of America's right
wing would have me packed off to gitmo, hang me
from a rope, or fry me with a J-Dam - only some
of the colorful threats I have received. On my part,
I will continue to speak for a just world - the
only firm foundation of peace - even if this displeases
those who find peace in devastating the world.
The websites that I have been able to identify include:
Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern
University. His po-litical essays are now available
in a book, Is There An Islamic Problem (Kuala Lumpur:
The Other Press, 2004). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit his website at
http://msalam.net. © M. Shahid Alam