Review of 'Terrorism and War', Howard Zinn, Seven Stories Press £7.99; 'Bin Laden, Islam and America's New War on Terrorism', As'ad Abukhalil, Seven Stories Press £6.99 and 'Terrorism: Theirs and Ours', Eqbal Ahmad, Seven Stories Press £4.99
These three books may be small in size, but they deal with a big issue and offer big answers. In a series of interviews Howard Zinn offers some illuminating answers to probing questions revolving around 11 September, while As'ad Abukhalil deals predominantly with the rise of Islamophobia since those events. Eqbal Ahmad's book was a talk given at the University of Colorado in October 1998. Ahmad sadly died in May 1999. His talk, however, remains refreshing, and could quite easily be mistaken for having been written after 11 September.
All the authors agree that the abstract notion of terrorism as an act of mindless and fanatical mad men and women who hate/envy the freedom and democracy of the west is useless in offering an analysis and response to the phenomenon. Each locates terrorism in the material circumstances from which it arises. 'There is something in the core belief of these terrorists that may also be at the core belief of millions of other people in the world who are not terrorists, but who are angry at US policy,' as Zinn says.
One must understand the role of US foreign policy around the world, particularly the Middle East, to understand such acts of powerlessness. The US's political, economic and military support for Israel, its support for dictatorships in the Arab countries for oil and maintaining US military bases in those countries, its financing of and political support for the very organisations now labelled as terrorist, its principal role in the mass murder of 500,000 Iraqi children through sanctions, are in themselves state terrorist acts.
However, the remits of these books are not restricted to US foreign policy. Abukhalil takes on the notion that we are witnessing a clash of civilisations where the new monolithic blocs of the west and Islam replace those of the Cold War. Sartre once said, 'For the purpose of the anti-Semite, I am a Jew.' Abukhalil explains how when all Arabs are treated with suspicion and hundreds are detained without trial in the US, 'Living in the US makes me say, for the purpose of the anti-Arab, I am a proud Arab.'
Zinn, a Second World War bomber pilot, delves deeper into the issues to address the root causes and consequences of war. Quoting former US president Eisenhower, he explains war is economic at root and raises key questions of class division in society: 'Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.'
Ahmad raises a very important issue. The impact of Stalinism has meant 'the absence of revolutionary ideology has been central to the spread of terror in our time. You do not solve social problems by individual acts of violence. Social problems require social and political mobilisation.'
Given the build-up for another horrific imperialist attack on Iraq and the inevitable new recruits to be enlisted to terrorist groups as a consequence, these books offer information and analysis for an alternative to war, terror, and capitalism, the system that breeds such destruction.