latin america ...
Conflicting Powers' Politics"
Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira, Economics, Getulio
about Terrorism in Colombia"
Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín, Researcher, Universidad de Colombia
Overview of the Impact of September 11 on Latin America"
Monica Hirst, Fundación Centro de Estudos Brasileiros,
Security After September 11"
Farid Kahhat, Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas,
Ideas in New Discourses: 'The War Against Terrorism' and Collective
Memory in Uruguay and Argentina"
Aldo Marchesi, Centro de Estudios Interdisciplinarios Latinoamericanos,
and Freedom: An Outside View"
Luis Rubio, Political Economy, Center for Research for Development,
After Sept. 11
essays on additional topics and views from other regions
home page for SSRC Program on Latin America and the Caribbean
Terrorism and Freedom: An
Rubio, General Director, Center for Research for Development
(CIDAC), Mexico City
Nothing is more
telling about the recent terrorist attacks in the United States
than the nature of their targets. The Twin Towers in New York City
represented the future, modernity, America's optimistic outlook
of the world and, more recently, of globalization. The terrorist
attacks constitute a direct hit against those values, which is the
main reason why the whole Western world immediately rallied in
support. But that's not the whole story. Many people around the
world outside the traditionally defined Western nations showed
profound consternation, but others clearly did not. Many citizens
of Third World nations did not jump out in solidarity with America
and most of those governments, even when outwardly supportive,
were less than wholeheartedly committed to their words.
The purpose of this essay is
to look into the rationale that lies in the minds of many of those
peoples and governments. The idea is to create a framework that
may help the reader understand another perspective on the events
of September eleven. This approach does not attempt to diminish
the gravity of the attacks or in any way to justify them, but
rather to analyze the nature of those responses and explore their
Not having been directly
affected by the attacks, all other nations around had to take a
position on these. Some, like the Canadians, did not even blink;
if anything, their complaints had to do with being taken for
granted for something they were already doing anyway. Others
reacted ably or less so, but largely paying lip service to the
cause against a common international enemy, without giving too
much weight to their response inside their societies. In some
cases, social responses, for or against supporting the United
States, forced their respective governments into action. Either
way, the intellectual, political and academic debate in many of
those societies concentrated on three issues: the culprits, the
more profound causes of the events, and the theories and
hypothesis that attempt to explain the complexity of present world
reality, as well as to propose alternative future scenarios.
The first thing
that was noticeable in the attacks was the symbolism of the chosen
targets. Although the terrorists did not directly claim
responsibility for their acts, their actions speak for themselves:
they are against heresy, against what they see as godless in the
way that modern society (the archetype of which is undoubtedly the
United States) has come about. The favorite targets of terrorists
in the Middle East have not been religious schools, synagogues or,
what would be far more symbolic, settlements in the occupied
territories, but shopping malls, discos and fast food outlets like
McDonald's and Sbarros. There could hardly be any doubt that it
is disbelievers, in a very twisted religious definition, or
modernity, in a narrower sense, that were attacked.
The latter notwithstanding,
the debate in many intellectual and political circles around the
world took a different slant. Seen from afar, many observers
thought that the attacks, as bloody and heinous as they might be,
were justified. Their views ranged from the specific to the
abstract, but all coincided in at least one factor: they evidenced
a profound resentment, if not hatred, against the United States.
Some thought that the Americans had earned the attacks because of
their support of Israel (or their indifference towards the plight
of the Palestinians); others explained it in terms of the abuse
that they believe globalization represents in the world, in the
form of destruction of traditional ways of living or exploitation
of the poor by the wealthy; another approach was that America
sustains illegitimate regimes in power. What these observations
have in common is that they show a deep misunderstanding
of the United States, as well as resentment against it.
It is needless to
argue that those positions immediately led to a very peculiar form
of moral relativism. Terrorism is to be condemned, many of them
said, but sometimes it may be justified.
The peculiarity of
the charges against the United States is that they don't match
with either the way America normally behaves or much less so with
the way Americans see themselves. As any sample of books written
by American academics will immediately reveal, there can hardly be
any question that the United States has often been an arrogant
power, sometimes hypocritical and frequently unwise. Also, there's
no question that those and other features of American behavior and
example sometimes cause envy and resentment. As The Economist
argued, "America defends its interests, sometimes skillfully,
sometimes clumsily, just as others countries do. Since power, like
nature, abhors a vacuum, it stems into places where disorder
reigns. On the whole, it should do so more, not less often"
(September 22nd, 2001).
What separates the United States from all previous major powers in
history is that it is the least territorial and the most
idealistic of them all. Americans see themselves as a benign power
and are often embarrassed by the use of power, and much more so of
force; hardly the behavior that was the trademark of the Greek,
Roman, British or Soviet empires in their times. In stark contrast
with those hegemons, Americans like to be loved as they project
their power. There's no question Americans have an uphill
selling job to do.
Lukewarm, when not negative,
reactions in many places around the world are not difficult to
fathom. For good or ill, American foreign policy has not always
been all that successful, particularly in winning the hearts and
minds of people at large. Also, expediency, particularly during
the years of the Cold War, often meant supporting, and often
sustaining, unpopular, illegitimate governments in power. It is
easy to see this as a cause for resentment, as millions of Asians,
Africans and Latin Americans endlessly exhibit. But what these
terrorist strikes show is that some people go well beyond
resentment. While many Latin Americans or Asians responded to the
attacks by paying lip service to the United States and then going
back to their business of criticizing it, the hatred shown in the
attacks themselves is another story.
The main difference
among those that resent the United States and those that attacked
it seems to involve the religious component. The growing
politicization of Islam, particularly against the United States,
is nothing new. Many Muslim and Arab governments, usually of a
semi-authoritarian nature have often become promoters of a
negative view of America in order to survive. Hence, they have
allowed for all of America's ills to become the only image those
societies receive. Inevitably, not only the image, but also
perceptions of the United States end up being distorted.
Furthermore, there has long been a noticeable split between
moderate political leaders and radical citizens in several nations
of that region. Fundamentalist Islamic groups have plagued key
countries for years and their governments have catered to them.
Needless to argue, in this context, the United States cannot
be perceived as an honest broker in the Middle East peace
negotiations or as a liberal society when it is seen as sustaining
an illegitimate government. In accommodating its opposition, the
regime that has been sustained by
Washington ends up biting the hand of its benefactor.
Many have tried to explain
these dynamics in a broad context. Over the past decade two
American academics put forth their grand views of the future. In
an article titled The End of History, published in 1989,
Francis Fukuyama argued that the American victory over the Soviet
Union would end all disputes and, thus, open up the world for a
different kind of development. The end of history was meant
to be a metaphor for the beginning of an era free of major
conflict, where the values of democracy and capitalism would
reign. Around the same time, taking a different approach, but
equally ambitious, Samuel Huntington wrote The Clash of Civilizations. Implicitly
rejecting Fukuyama's benign take, Huntington's main argument
was that the future would no longer be characterized by conflict
among nations but among civilizations, ideas and cultures. Over
the years, many observers thought that Huntington had won the
intellectual argument and the recent terrorist attacks seemed to
confirm that view.
thesis is extremely powerful and attractive and, at first sight,
would in fact seem to be confirmed. Despite appearances, however,
the events of September eleven tend to weaken his argument. The
nature of those attacks and the multiplicity of reactions that
they have produced around the world suggest that the clash and
confrontation is less among civilizations than within
them. Just as there are profound differences in the West, the
Islamic world is besieged by conflict about the past and about the
future. Although the specifics might be different, including the
language, the disputes in the Muslim world, as in Europe or Latin
America, are about the same things: about capitalism and
globalization, the environment and industry, democracy and
freedom, regulation and free markets. The contrasts and
contradictions between a modern and progressive vision and a
medieval one are not a privilege of the West.
here for an interview with Huntington in The New York Times on October 20, 2001.
See also essays on this site by Steve Smith, Tariq Modood, and
addressing the Huntington thesis.
restatement of Huntington's thesis change the debate? In a way
it does. Fukuyama's thesis was both very simplistic at first
sight, while more sophisticated if one delved into it carefully.
If one accepts the hypothesis that most societies are split into
different cultures (using Huntington's terminology), then
Fukuyama may ultimately be right: after all, the core of his
argument was that liberal society would win out. In this sense, he
could easily argue that in many Muslim nations there's a modern,
liberal society in the making that will ultimately win out.
Whichever it may be, the fact remains that the causes and culprits
of these events are more complex than it would appear at first
sight and expose deep historical roots.
In light of the attacks,
there are two ways to see the future. One, the one that accepts
the thesis of the clash of civilizations, would look for an
all-out assault against the alleged culprits and the nations that
harbor them. The other, one that recognizes the complexity of the
phenomenon and its inherent shades of gray, would take a far more
parsimonious view of the future. While military action may be
necessary, the concerns of those that espouse a more complex
reading of the events point to the damage that might occur to
the values that inspire American democracy - freedom
and due process of law - and to the rights of the innocent
civilians that could suffer from a reprisal. In fact, history has
shown that one of the strongest root-causes of terrorism lies in
the abuse, torture and violation of rights that innocent people
suffer, which then turn them into blind fanatics or radicals
seeking revenge. One way to guarantee future terrorist attacks
lies in creating and multiplying its seeds by abusing innocent
The demand for retribution
and revenge is easy to explain and justify. Americans have every
right to feel attacked, violated and abused. And they have been.
Punishment of the culprits should be exemplary. But that
punishment should not be, ought not to be, at the expense of the
values that are the mainstay of the West and of the United States
in particular, such as liberty, the rule of law and democracy. The
reason for this is not only moral, but also essentially practical.
The best way to nurture the hatred and the nihilism that
were shown in these events is by responding with more hatred in
the form of unjustifiable destruction, violation of the dignity
and rights of innocent people and the abandonment of the basic
features of the rule of law, which is what differentiates an
autocracy from a democracy, of which the United States is the
world's prime example.
Terrorism has as
its prime objective not only to destroy and demoralize, but also
to foster a sense of chaos. It seeks to destroy the spine of a
society by undermining its values and generating forces willing to
sacrifice its very democratic nature in order to confront the
common enemy. In this sense, as bin Laden's statements
exemplify, the terrorists' main aim is political: they use
terror to advance a cause. In this, counter to conventional
wisdom, terrorists are absolutely rational: they know what the
want and have found a way to advance their interests. What these
terrorists may not have counted on is that their own front is not
unanimous about their cause. The deep social divisions that are
obvious in places such as Algeria, but also in Egypt, are at least
as profound as those in Western nations. Given this, it is
critical to fight terrorism with weapons that could ultimately
defeat it, rather than running the risk of further nurturing it
with the wrong measures.
Not all societies
have developed and consolidated a democratic and liberal culture,
such as that of the United States or many European nations. Few
have placed citizenship and rights as the raison d'être
of democracy and development. Although this may be seen as a
Eurocentric perspective, anyone who has observed the dynamics of
conflict in societies as varied and different as China, Egypt,
Mexico, Argentina or Indonesia, would end up recognizing that no
society has unanimity of views about the future. Not all Saudis
share the same values or outlook, just as not all Americans do.
There are significant philosophical and cultural cleavages in
every society. The question, from a liberal perspective (in a
classical sense) is how to help strengthen those parts of each
society that are liberal and Western in outlook and skew the odds
of their success - but with the weapons of a liberal society.
See also the essay on this site by David Held addressing
international institutions of justice.
The problems of open and
democratic societies are not new. Decades ago, an eminent
philosopher, Karl Popper, wrote an exceptional essay about the
unique difficulties that liberal societies confront. In The
Open Society and its Enemies, Popper argued that in liberal
societies there are always remnants of the tribalism from which
they come and that the shock of transition to modern society
frequently creates reactionary movements that attempt to return to
their origins. Modernity
and tribalism thus enter into conflict, each trying to have its
way. The fanaticism that motivates the terrorist may be explained
by these tensions. But what September eleven proves is that these
fights can be extremely bloody and violent.
The issue of
response and retribution is as complex as the root causes of the
conflict. The easy response is to attack in an indiscriminate
fashion everything and everybody that looks like a terrorist or
that fits some profile or country of origin. History is plagued
with examples of perfectly innocent people ending giving up all
hope after being ruthlessly tortured or attacked. The problem with
liberal societies is that, in order to remain liberal, they have
to act within the framework of the rule of law above and beyond
the expedient use of authority of firepower. Power has its uses,
and it must be employed when it is warranted and in a way that
sustains the broader issue of sustaining the liberal democratic
values. The battle against terrorism has to be won with the
appropriate weapons, those that will produce a better place to
live in. To paraphrase John Womack of Harvard:
democracy does not produce, by itself, a decent way of
living; rather, it is decent ways of living that make democracy
here for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Karl