IF the attacks on America have their source in the Islamic world, who can really be surprised?
Two days earlier, eight people were killed in southern Iraq when British and American planes bombed civilian areas. To my knowledge, not a word appeared in the mainstream media in Britain. An estimated 200,000 Iraqis, according to the Health Education Trust in London, died during and in the immediate aftermath of the slaughter known as the Gulf War. This was never news that touched public consciousness in the west.
At least a million civilians, half of them children, have since died in Iraq as a result of a medieval embargo imposed by the United States and Britain. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Mujadeen, which gave birth to the fanatical Taliban, was largely the creation of the CIA. The terrorist training camps where Osama bin Laden, now "America's most wanted man", allegedly planned his attacks, were built with American money and backing.
In Palestine, the enduring illegal occupation by Israel would have collapsed long ago were it not for US backing. Far from being the terrorists of the world, the Islamic peoples have been its victims - principally the victims of US fundamentalism, whose power, in all its forms, military, strategic and economic, is the greatest source of terrorism on earth. This fact is censored from the Western media, whose "coverage" at best minimizes the culpability of imperial powers. Richard Falk, professor of international relations at Princeton, put it this way: "Western foreign policies presented almost exclusively through a self-righteous, one-way legal/moral screen (with) positive images of Western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political violence."
That Tony Blair (whose government sells lethal weapons to Israel and has sprayed Iraq and Yugoslavia with cluster bombs and depleted uranium and was the greatest arms supplier to the genocidists in Indonesia) can be taken seriously when he now speaks about the "shame" of the "new evil of mass terrorism" says much about the censorship of our collective sense of how the world is managed. One of Blair's favourite words - "fatuous" - comes to mind. Alas, it is no comfort to the families of thousands of ordinary Americans who have died so terribly that the perpetrators of their suffering may be the product of Western policies. Did the American establishment believe that it could bankroll and manipulate events in the Middle East without cost to itself, or rather its own innocent people?
The attacks on Tuesday come at the end of a long history of betrayal of the Islamic and Arab peoples: the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the foundation of the state of Israel, four Arab-Israeli wars and 34 years of Israel's brutal occupation of an Arab nation: all, it seems, obliterated within hours by Tuesday's acts of awesome cruelty by those who say they represent the victims of the West's intervention in their homelands.
"America, which has never known modern war, now has her own terrible league table: perhaps as many as 20,000 victims." As Robert Fisk points out, in the Middle East, people will grieve the loss of innocent life, but they will ask if the newspapers and television networks of the west ever devoted a fraction of the present coverage to the half-a-million dead children of Iraq, and the 17,500 civilians killed in Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The answer is no.
There are deeper roots to the atrocities in the US, which made them almost inevitable. It is not only the rage and grievance in the Middle East and south Asia. Since the end of the cold war, the US and its sidekicks, principally Britain, have exercised, flaunted, and abused their wealth and power while the divisions imposed on human beings by them and their agents have grown as never before.
An elite group of less than a billion people now take more than 80 per cent of the world's wealth. In defense of this power and privilege, known by the euphemisms "free market" and "free trade", the injustices are legion: from the illegal blockade of Cuba,to the murderous arms trade, dominated by the US, to its trashing of basic environmental decencies, to the assault on fragile economies by institutions such as the World Trade Organization that are little more than agents of the US Treasury and the European central banks, and the demands of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in forcing the poorest nations to repay unrepayable debts; to a new US "Vietnam" in Colombia and the sabotage of peace talks between North and South Korea (in order to shore up North Korea's "rogue nation" status).
Western terror is part of the recent history of imperialism, a word that journalists dare not speak or write. The expulsion of the population of Diego Darcia in the 1960s by the Wilson government received almost no press coverage. Their homeland is now an American nuclear arms dump and base from which US bombers patrol the Middle East. In Indonesia, in 1965/6, a million people were killed with the complicity of the US and British governments: the Americans supplying General Suharto with assassination lists, then ticking off names as people were killed. "Getting British companies and the World Bank back in there was part of the deal", says Roland Challis, who was the BBC's south east Asia correspondent.
British behaviour in Malaya was no different from the American record in Vietnam, for which it proved inspirational: the withholding of food, villages turned into concentration camps and more than half a million people forcibly dispossessed. In Vietnam, the dispossession, maiming and poisoning of an entire nation was apocalyptic, yet diminished in our memory by Hollywood movies and by what Edward Said rightly calls cultural imperialism. In Operation Phoenix, in Vietnam, the CIA arranged the homicide of around 50,000 people. As official documents now reveal, this was the model for the terror in Chile that climaxed with the murder of the democratically elected leader Salvador Allende, and within 10 years, the crushing of Nicaragua. All of it was lawless. The list is too long for this piece.
Now imperialism is being rehabilitated. American forces currently operate with impunity from bases in 50 countries. "Full spectrum dominance" is Washington's clearly stated aim. Read the documents of the US Space Command, which leaves us in no doubt. In this country, the eager Blair government has embarked on four violent adventures, in pursuit of "British interests" (dressed up as "peacekeeping"), and which have little or no basis in international law: a record matched by no other British government for half a century.
What has this to do with this week's atrocities in America? If you travel among the impoverished majority of humanity, you understand that it has everything to do with it. People are neither still, nor stupid. They see their independence compromised, their resources and land and the lives of their children taken away, and their accusing fingers increasingly point north: to the great enclaves of plunder and privilege. Inevitably, terror breeds terror and more fanaticism.
But how patient the oppressed have been. It is only a few years ago that the Islamic fundamentalist groups, willing to blow themselves up in Israel and New York, were formed, and only after Israel and the US had rejected outright the hope of a Palestinian state, and justice for a people scarred by imperialism. Their distant voices of rage are now heard; the daily horrors in faraway brutalized places have at last come home.
John Pilger is an award-winning, campaigning journalist. Sept 13th