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Synthesis/Regeneration 29   (Fall 2002)

War and War Hysteria

9/11: A Mass Murder Mystery

by George Caffentzis, Midnight Notes Collective

The destruction of the World Trade Center towers is a mass murder mystery, for the basic murder detective’s questions—How? Who? and Why?—are still unanswered. Or, I should say, unanswered in the minds of those people like myself who have not accepted either the Bush Administration’s or the conspiracy theorists’ narrative. I don’t know how many people like me there are, but I’m beginning to think that there are relatively few. If the Gallup polls are correct, most people in the US accept the Bush Administration’s story, while my guess is that most well-informed people in Europe and the Islamic world think that some combination of the CIA and the Mossad (the Israeli counterpart to the CIA) were involved in stage managing the attacks. I reject both approaches.

It is relatively easy to reject the Bush Administration’s tale simply because it is based on a discredited criminology. Bush tells us that the crime was planned and committed by cowardly “evil doers” like Osama bin Laden, who are driven by hatred and envy to attack and destroy the US by terrorist means and that the only way to stop them is by executing them. This is the well-known retributive narrative that has justified the death penalty for regular murders in the last few decades, applied to a mass murder. It is no surprise that George W. Bush, the most executionist politician in recent US history, has voiced this version of events.

But what is bad criminology for individual murders is even worse when applied to mass murder. No one is essentially a criminal, much less an “evil doer.” Consequently, one can hardly explain why a crime is committed by simply pointing to the criminal essence of the perpetrator. Moreover, the gesture of simply pointing to emotions like hatred and envy defers explanation because it does not explain why someone hates and envies.

…simply pointing to emotions like hatred and envy defers explanation because it does not explain why someone hates and envies.

Moreover, if we take the standard definition of terrorism as given (i.e., the use of violence or the threat of violence to influence the political decisions of civilians), then terrorism is not an ideology like fascism. The “ism” after the noun is misleading, since terrorism is a political tactic (like electoral campaigning) that can be employed by adherents of almost any political ideology and can be abandoned as well. For example, many Zionists before 1949 were terrorists. They blew up hotels and boats and slaughtered Palestinian women and children at Deir Yassin to terrorize other Palestinians enough to make them leave their homes. After 1948 many of these same terrorists like Menachem Begin became “regular” politicians and, if they practiced terrorism at all, it was of the state variety.

The Bush Administration was given the opportunity to deploy its vacuous criminology simply because no organization has taken responsibility for the September 11 crimes, nor have the hijackers (as far as we know) left a written statement voicing their demands and objectives. If they had, then we could have examined the organization’s or hijackers’ political program and determined their motivations, affiliations and justifications. In this void, the Bush Administration launched an open-ended “war against terrorism” which is not directed against any particular ideology, but against a tactic almost any ideology can employ. In effect, Bush declared war on the world, since there is no state (including the US) nor state-power-seeking organization that has not at one time or another employed terrorist tactics. (Indeed, for Thomas Hobbes the phrase “terrorist state” is tautological, since every state rules on the basis of its monopoly of violence and terror!)

…the Bush Administration launched an open-ended “war against terrorism” which is not directed against any particular ideology, but against a tactic almost any ideology can employ…

It is no surprise that in response to the Bush Administration’s tawdry tale, many have tried to “dig deeper,” only to find that the “sheriff did it!” After all, the first question any detective asks of a murder is: “Who gained from the death?” In this case, it would appear to be up until now the Bush and Sharon Administrations. Add to this the many suspicious details—ranging from the long association Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda and many other Islamic fundamentalist organizations (like Hamas) have had with either the CIA and/or Mossad to the Bush Administration’s swift transport of bin Laden family members living in the US to Saudi Arabia (without interrogation) immediately after September 11—and one breathes an atmosphere of conspiracy. Certainly many in the antiglobalization movement, who have spent the last few years demonstrating outside of buildings where the “rulers of the universe” get together and plot the course of the world’s politics and economics, have a sense of the enormous amount of conspiring that goes on in organizing a “free market globalization!” So the ground has been fertile for the seeds of conspiracy theory in the 9/11 case.

This is not the time or place to examine all the different varieties of such theories. My response is to simply point out there are two assumptions that many, if not most, 9/11 conspiracy theories share that are questionable:

As for the first assumption, it should be obvious now after seeing the events of the Second Intifada that the Arab world is filled with skillful, disciplined and resolute fighters (both men and women). The defeat of Arab armies during the colonial period and the catastrophic wars against Israel seem to have perpetuated a myth about the war-making capabilities of this once feared people. In fact, one of the main objectives for the creation of the Arab Afghanis in the 1980s was to show that Arabs, if given the proper technological backing, can defeat a modern army (the Soviet Union’s).

The second assumption leads one to conclude that it is completely futile to resist the plans of those who control the US government on any level. If recessions, military defeats, diplomatic snafus or other apparently problematic events occur, then they must have been planned by the super-Machiavellians of the CIA, NSA and other agencies with more obscure acronyms.

Not all conspiracy theories suffer from such tunnel vision, of course, but even those that do not still have not provided us with the famous smoking gun. As a result, the case is still open and the leads are getting cold.

I propose that we detectives of 9/11 take another more radical approach. Let us assume that the hijackers and the organization(s) that supported them did have some autonomy and were not the complete puppets of the Mossad and the CIA. What kind of motivation might have led them to perpetrate such a crime?

…deep divisions have developed within these ruling classes pitting pro-American governments…against a new generation of dissidents within their own ranks…

Oil, Globalization, and Islamic Fundamentalism

On a broad level, the events of September 11, 2001 can be traced back to the economic, social, and cultural crisis that has developed in North Africa, the Middle East, and West Asia in the aftermath of the Gulf War and, prior to it, the accelerating process of globalization, starting in the late 1970s. The first aspect of this crisis has been the impoverishment of urban workers and agriculturists in this area, due to Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) and import liberalization, dating back to Egypt’s “open door” policy that cost the life of Anwar Sadat and saw the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism as a new political force.

From the Cairo “bread riots” of 1976, to the uprisings in Morocco and Algeria of 1988, both crushed in blood baths, to the more recent anti-IMF riots in Jordan and Indonesia, the difficulties of merely staying alive for workers have become more and more dramatic, causing major splits within the capitalist classes as to how to deal with this rebellion from below (Midnight Notes 1992; Walton & Seedon 1994). A further element of crisis has been the situation in Palestine. This too was made more intense by the Gulf War expulsion of Palestinians from Kuwait and Israel’s response to Palestinian demands with more settlements, the attempted usurpation of Jerusalem, and escalating repression. Regardless of their actual disposition towards the Palestinians, this situation has become a cause of great embarrassment for these ruling classes, revealing, as it does, their duplicity and the shallowness of their commitment to Arab and/or Islamic solidarity.

The most important factor of crisis has been the hegemonic role of the US in the region, as exemplified by the devastation of Iraq, the US government’s proprietary relationship to the management of oil resources in the Middle East, and the building of US bases right in Saudi Arabia, Islam’s most sacred land. On all these counts, deep divisions have developed within these ruling classes pitting pro-American governments—often consisting of royal dynasties in the Arabian Peninsula—against a new generation of dissidents within their own ranks who, in the name of the Koran, have accused them of being corrupt, of squandering the region’s resources, of selling out to the US, of having betrayed Islam, all the while offering an alternative “social contract” to the working classes of North Africa, the Middle East and West Asia and using their wealth to create a multinational network of groups stretching through every continent. For we must remember that every capitalist ruling class comes to power with a divisive “deal” for some part of the working class. The Islamic fundamentalist ruling classes in waiting are no exception.

…Islamic fundamentalism has distinguished itself…for its attempt to win over the urban populations through the provision of some basic necessities…

As a social program, Islamic fundamentalism has distinguished itself, in addition to its unmitigated bolstering of patriarchal rule, for its attempt to win over the urban populations through the provision of some basic necessities such as schooling, health care, and a minimum of social assistance. These initiatives were undertaken often in response to the ending of government subsidies and programs which was dictated by the structural adjustment programs designed by the neoliberals in the World Bank and IMF. Thus, for example, it is the Islamic fundamentalist networks that organize health care and education in the Palestinian “territories,” almost functioning as an alternative government to the PLO at the grassroots level.

Islamic fundamentalism has transformed an important geological and geographical fact—approximately 70% of the approximately one trillion barrels of oil of “estimated proved reserves” (according to 1995 estimates) are under the sovereign territory of “Islamic” countries where the majority of the population is at least nominally Muslim—in its imagination into a political and theological one. The “gift of Allah” has formed the material basis of the notion of a “new caliphate” (comprising the bulk of Islamic countries from Morocco to Indonesia) that would have the power to take control of the oil resources of the planet. The ruling classes (supported by the mullahs) of this “new caliphate” could paradoxically use the surplus generated on the world market to finance a separation from the global consumer commodity market.

Over the last decade as the crisis created by globalization in the Middle East and internationally has intensified, so has the antagonism of the Islamic fundamentalist networks against the US and its domestic supporters in the different Islamic countries.

But this conflict has been stalemated in key countries. In Algeria, for example, the Islamic Salvation Front, which grew rapidly after the anti-SAP riots of 1988 and almost took state power electorally in 1991, was stopped by a military coup. For the last decade, through a horrendous civil war where 60,000 to 70,000 were killed, the Algerian Islamic fundamentalists have been decisively weakened by attrition and military repression. In Egypt, the Mubarak regime has used direct repression as well as a system of microscopic social surveillance to defeat the fundamentalist “tide.” For “the [Mubarak] government acted to stem the proliferation of private mosques and associated charitable foundations and to end their extra-governmental autonomy” (Faksh 1997: 54). The result has been a major defeat of fundamentalism in perhaps the second most important Islamic state.

…a portion of the Middle Eastern oil revenues has been used to finance assaults on symbols of the New World Order because of the divided loyalties of the Middle Eastern ruling classes…

The blockage of fundamentalist revival in the most important Islamic state, Saudi Arabia, was a less bloody affair, since it was backed by a huge treasury and the direct presence of US troops. But it has been even more effective than the rocky equilibrium in Algeria and Egypt. By 1996, the Saudi leadership was able to isolate, exile or silence the most radical Islamists. For it “has been exceptionally adept at balancing divergent social forces by manipulating tribal family loyalties (asabiyya) and religious affinities, subtly using patronage and co-optation, and playing group against group—all the while making sure to maintain the preeminent position of the royal family.” (Faksh 1997: 102)

These setbacks have not been dramatically reversed by fundamentalists seizing state power in Sudan and Afghanistan, for in both countries they inherited, and were not able to end, long-standing civil wars. The lingering civil war in Afghanistan led to the demise of the fundamentalist regime there, of course, once the US and the local powers (Russia, Iran and Pakistan) agreed on its termination and supplied the opposition with tanks (Russia) and air-support (the US). Russian-supplied tanks driven by Northern Alliance fighters, supported by US bombs, conquered Kabul in November 2001.

The Bashir regime in Sudan, unable to defeat the Southern Sudanese resistance, has been forced, in the last two years, to curtail its fundamentalist experiment. On December 12, 1999 President Bashir declared a state of emergency and dissolved the parliament. This move was directed against the ruling National Congress led by the Sudanese theorist of fundamentalism, Dr. Hassan al-Turabi. By February 2001, Bashir had arrested Turabi. After September 11 the Bashir government openly sided with the US attack on its former ally, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and has cooperated with Washington in its “terrorism” investigations.

It is important to note that Bashir’s split with the Islamic fundamentalist party that inspired and supported his regime came when Sudan finally became an exporter of petroleum in 1999 based upon the completion of a pipeline from the southern oil field to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. The pipeline was financed by Chinese, Malaysian, Argentine, Canadian and British companies and has given the Bashir regime another way of accessing the international market.

This stalemate in Islamic fundamentalism’s drive to power does not mean defeat, and there is no doubt that it continues to have an attraction within the ruling circles of the wealthiest Islamic nations. This internal contradiction has created a tangled net of consequences which are now embarrassing and endangering many people in the US government and in the governments of the Middle East. For they have financed and trained the very generation of dissidents who are now so violently turning against them. On the one side, a portion of the Middle Eastern oil revenues has been used to finance assaults on symbols of the New World Order because of the divided loyalties of the Middle Eastern ruling classes; on the other, the US government financed and trained many members of this dissident branch of the Middle Eastern ruling classes in its effort to destabilize the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

These “free floating” militants did the US’s dirty work for 20 years, but they obviously increasingly were convinced that the US had not delivered.

The governmental and informal financial and military support of armed Islamic fundamentalists did not end with the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan in 1989. These militants played important economic, military and ideological roles that forwarded US policy against Yugoslavia (in Bosnia and Kosovo) and against Russia (in Chechnya, Dagestan, Uzbekistan) up until September 10, 2001 (cf. for Kosovo, Bodansky 2001: 298–299, 396–400.) The deal apparently was: do the dirty work of fighting and destabilizing secular communist, socialist and nationalist regimes in Eastern Europe, Caucasia and Central Asia and you will get rewarded. These “free floating” militants did the US’s dirty work for 20 years, but they obviously increasingly were convinced that the US had not delivered. They were not given their proper reward: taking power at the center of the Islamic world, the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula.

This complicity and deal-making are why, perhaps, the Bush administration is so hesitant to do what would be natural after such a massive intelligence and security failure as September 11: get rid of the incompetents. That would be difficult, for many of those who have been brought back into power in George W. Bush’s administration were the ones who were responsible, during his father’s presidency, for the training and financing of the very organizations they now hunt under the banner of “terrorism.” Therefore, the executive dynasties in both the US and Saudi Arabia must both be worried about “family members” who have been compromised by their past connections to the networks they now claim to be responsible for September 11. This goes up to the President’s family. For example, The Wall Street Journal (9/28/01) reported that the President’s father as well as other close associates of the President like former Secretary of State James Baker do work for the bin Laden family business in Saudi Arabia through the Carlyle Group, an international consulting firm.

The crude and desperate attempts by ideologists of the Bush administration to somehow connect, in ever more arcane ways, the antiglobalization movement with the Islamic fundamentalists is fueled by desire to distract public attention and hide an anxiety which is summed up in the question: when will the long list of real connections between the “terrorist network” the Bush administration is hunting and its own personnel be revealed? That is why, perhaps, President Bush harkened back to his childhood memories of “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters (with the emphasis on “dead”) when speaking of Osama bin Ladin and his associates. It is also why the military tools being used to “hunt” for bin Ladin, like the “Daisy Cutters” being dropped in the neighborhood of suspicious caves, are meant to bury the suspected criminals instead of bringing them to light. For the administration’s legitimacy would be undermined if they ever spoke the truth.

…the “Daisy Cutters” being dropped in the neighborhood of suspicious caves, are meant to bury the suspected criminals instead of bringing them to light.

This “anxiety of influence” is also a deep motivation for the emphasis on secrecy in the judicial proceedings being planned for the people certified as “terrorists” before their trials in administrative INS courts or military tribunals. The Bush administration accurately justifies this secrecy as a way to “protect” government personnel who have had questionable relations with the “terrorists” being tried. But part of what is being protected is the frequent cooperation between the Islamic fundamentalist “terrorist network” and the agents of US foreign policy over the last two decades.

Why Now and Why So Desperate?

These generalized facts concerning the hidden civil war within the oil-producing countries from Algeria to Iran serve to describe the context of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. For I am assuming that the immediate perpetrators of the attacks were committed to some branch of Islamic fundamentalism. But these facts do not help us understand why the attacks took place in September 2001 and why the resistance to the US took such a desperate form. For these attacks are symptoms of desperation, not of power, as they will likely lead to a devastating US military response with predictable results: the destruction of thousands of Islamic fundamentalist militants along with tremendous collateral damage on the people of Afghanistan and many other countries. It is also probable that many (perhaps most) people even in the most militant Islamic fundamentalist circles object to the bombings in New York and Washington DC, if not for moral, then simply for strategic reasons, knowing full well that their hard-fought-for achievements might all go up in smoke as a result of these actions.

Certainly the developments after September 11 justified such forebodings. Within a couple of months, the Taliban rule over Afghanistan was demolished, thousands of militants were slaughtered and no fundamentalist uprising occurred in response to the US bombing of a Muslim country anywhere on the planet. If the Osama bin Laden group planned the crashes of September 11, then it surely overreached. If an even more desperate set of militants did it, then the bin Laden group is paying for a collective desperation it shared.

Clearly something very important was in process of occurring that the perpetrators of September 11 needed desperate and inherently uncertain measures to thwart. What was it? The clue is in the national composition of the hijackers. If the US Justice Department is to be believed they were all citizens of Arab nations. Fifteen were Saudi citizens, two were from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Egypt and one from Lebanon. (Associated Press Online 11/23/2001) Even though there is a paucity of information about them, they were clearly not the “wretched of the earth.” They were mostly from professional or well-to-do families in the center of the Arab world. They were literate, well-traveled and sophisticated people far from the Koran-memorizing poor boys in the madrasas of Pakistan. But they were involved in a life-and-death politics that they totally identified with. Although they did not leave a detailed manifesto behind, these facts lead me to conclude that if they were desperate, they were desperate about the politics not of Afghanistan, Chechnya or Pakistan, but of their own countries.

…they were desperate about the politics not of Afghanistan, Chechnya or Pakistan, but of their own countries.

If my hypothesis is right, then the sources of this desperation are events at the geographical center of Islam, Saudi Arabia, which echoed throughout the Islamic world.

My view is that the political factors motivating the mass murder and suicides of September 11 involved the oil industry and structural adjustment in the Arabian Peninsula. Here is the story.

Beginning in 1998 (after the collapse of oil prices due to the Asian Financial Crisis), the Saudi monarchy decided, for “strategic reasons,” to globalize its economy and society beginning with the oil sector. The oil industry had been nationalized since 1975, which means that foreign investors were allowed to participate only in “downstream” operations like refining. But in September 1998 Crown Prince Abdullah met in Washington DC with senior executives from several oil companies. According to Gawdat Bahget, “The Crown Prince asked the oil companies’ executives to submit directly to him recommendations and suggestions about the role their companies could play in the exploration and development of both existing and new oil and gas fields.” (Bahgat 2001: 5) These “recommendations and suggestions” were then submitted to a Supreme Council for Petroleum and Mineral Affairs in early 2000 (after being vetted by the Crown Prince), and, by mid 2000, the Saudi government began to cautiously respond to them, by ratifying a new foreign investment law. Under the new law, “tax holidays are abolished in favor of sweeping reductions in tax on profits payable by foreign entities, bringing them nearer to levels that apply to local companies. Wholly owned foreign businesses will have the right to own land, sponsor their own employees and benefit from concessionary loans previously available only to Saudi companies” (Bahgat 2001: 6, my emphasis) (“The right to own land” would be a red flag for anyone committed to the sacred character of the Arabian Peninsula.)

The Middle Eastern financial experts were falling over themselves in their effort to highlight the new Investment Regulation. One described it in the following words: “Keep your fingers crossed, but it looks as if Saudi Arabia is abandoning almost 70 years of restrictive, even unfriendly policy toward foreign investment.” (MacKinnon 2000) This law constituted, in effect, a NAFTA-like agreement between the Saudi monarch and the US and European oil companies.

…the Saudi monarchy decided, for “strategic reasons,” to globalize its economy and society…

At the same time as this law was being discussed, a ministerial committee announced that up to $500 billion of new investments would be deployed over the next decade to change the form of the Saudi national economy. $100 billion of this investment was already promised by foreign oil companies.

In May of 2001 the first concrete step in this stepped up globalization process was concluded when Exxon/Mobil and Royal Dutch/Shell Group led eight other foreign companies (including Conoco and Enron from the US) in taking on a $25 billion natural gas development project in Saudi Arabia. The financial press noted that the deal would not be very lucrative in itself, but “It’s part of a long-term ploy of the oil companies, [which] want ultimately to get access again to Saudi crude” (L.A. Times 5/19/2001).

Thus, by the Summer of 2001, the Saudi monarchy cast the die and then legally, socially and economically crossed the Rubicon of globalization (but with its fingers crossed, undoubtedly). It globalized not because the Saudi Arabian debt, though large, was unmanageable (as was the case with most other countries which bent to the dictates of the IMF) but because, faced with intensifying opposition, the King and his circle realized that only with the full backing of the US and European Union could they hope to preserve their rule in the coming years. In other words, confronted with significant social problems and an insurrectional element within its own class that could not be defeated by open confrontation, since it took on the garb of Islam too, the Saudi Arabian government seems to have decided that an overhaul of its economy would defeat its dangerous opposition through attrition and would further solidify its alliance with US and European capital. The strategy was aimed at reducing the large and growing unemployment rate among its young citizens, its dependence on oil exports, and its huge foreign labor force (in 1993 there were 4.6 million foreign workers out of a total population of 14.6 million; today they are approximately 6–7 million in a population of about 22–23 million) by “getting the economy moving again.”

…the King and his circle realized that only with the full backing of the US and European Union could they hope to preserve their rule…

This required a radical departure from the clientelistic methods of social control the Saudi monarchy had used in the past to keep social peace, which was made possible until recently by its immense oil wealth. But this wealth is not infinite and indeed was declining on a per capita basis—for example, GNP per capital fell from approximately $13,000 to $8,000 from 1983 to 1993 and has since continued to fall to less than $7,000 in 1998, a very weak year for oil prices (Cordesman 1997: 64; for the GDP data of 1998, Anonymous 2000). Inevitably, this initiative would impact the economic policies of the other oil-producing governments in the region, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council states—Oman, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait.

If it works, this strategy would deal a decisive blow to the Islamic opposition, undermining its ability to recruit converts who would be employed in the upper echelons of a globalized economy and society instead of being driven to despair by political powerlessness and long periods of unemployment. But the introduction of foreign ownership of land and natural resources, backed up by large investments, and the hiring of more expatriates from Europe and the US, would force a major social change. The cat-and-mouse game that the Saudi monarchy had played with the fundamentalist dissidents (by which the King and his dynasty claimed to be even more fundamentalist than they) would end. Whatever hopes the Islamic opposition in the ruling classes of the Arabian Peninsula had ever harbored of getting their governments to send the American troops packing and turn their oil revenues into the economic engine of a resurgent Islam were facing a historic crisis in the summer of 2001. Without a major reversal, the Islamic fundamentalist opposition would have to face the prospect of a total civil war in their own countries or face extinction. Certain elements of this opposition decided that only a spectacular action could turn back the tide. Perhaps they hoped that if enough turmoil and uncertainty could be generated by the attacks in the US, they would generate a strategic US retreat from the Arabian Peninsula just as the bombing in Lebanon in 1983 led to the US pull-out there.

…one of the most important impacts of September 11 has been the Saudi monarchy’s hurry to pass control over their country’s power and water to the hands of international investors…

Certainly the Saudi monarchy has responded to September 11 with a desperation of its own, by picking up the pace of globalization in a number of vital areas. Prince Abdullah, the chairman of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, said on November 6, “We must not let terrorism, acts of violence and conflict distract us from doing our daily work and planning for the future. We are on the brink of becoming one of the most exciting markets as restructuring gathers pace...We want to allow the whole economy to be plugged into what is happening in the rest of the world.” (Middle East Economic Digest, 11/16/2001) A few days later the formation of a new regulatory body for the power sector was announced which would explicitly be concerned with the protection of potential foreign investors. These are not abstract beings, for the very international oil companies that are investing in the natural gas initiatives mentioned before, like Exxon/Mobil and Royal Dutch/Shell Group, are planning to invest heavily in new power stations (Middle East Economic Digest, 11/16/2001).

Along with this news came further details concerning the new Water Ministry which will be in charge of “liberalization of the water sector and the introduction of foreign investment in desalination” (Middle East Economic Digest, 11/09/2001). Thus, one of the most important impacts of September 11 has been the Saudi monarchy’s hurry to pass control over their country’s power and water to the hands of international investors, especially the international oil companies.

On the basis of this investigation, then, the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington DC were the “collateral damage” of a struggle over the fate of oil politics in its heartland: the Arabian Peninsula.

Who then is the real killer? Not surprisingly, the usual suspect: Capitalism.


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