Published on Saturday, September 29, 2001 in the
The Algebra of Infinite Justice
by Arundhati Roy
In the aftermath of the unconscionable September 11 suicide attacks on the Pentagon and the World
Trade Center, an American newscaster said: "Good and evil rarely manifest themselves as clearly as
they did last Tuesday. People who we don't know massacred people who we do. And they did so with
contemptuous glee." Then he broke down and wept.
Here's the rub: America is at war against people it doesn't know,
don't appear much on TV. Before it has properly identified or even begun to comprehend the nature of
its enemy, the US government has, in a rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric, cobbled together
an "international coalition against terror", mobilized its army, its air force, its navy and its media, and
committed them to battle.
The trouble is that once America goes off to war, it can't very well return without having fought one. If
it doesn't find its enemy, for the sake of the enraged folks back home, it will have to manufacture one.
Once war begins, it will develop a momentum, a logic and a justification of its own, and we'll lose sight
of why it's being fought in the first place.
What we're witnessing here is the spectacle of the world's most powerful country reaching reflexively,
angrily, for an old instinct to fight a new kind of war. Suddenly, when it comes to defending itself,
America's streamlined warships, cruise missiles and F-16 jets look like obsolete, lumbering things. As
deterrence, its arsenal of nuclear bombs is no longer worth its weight in scrap. Box-cutters,
penknives, and cold anger are the weapons with which the wars of the new century will be waged.
Anger is the lock pick. It slips through customs unnoticed. Doesn't show up in baggage checks.
Who is America fighting? On September 20, the FBI said that it had doubts about the identities of
some of the hijackers. On the same day President George Bush said, "We know exactly who these
people are and which governments are supporting them." It sounds as though the president knows
something that the FBI and the American public don't.
In his September 20 address to the US Congress, President Bush called the enemies of America
"enemies of freedom". "Americans are asking, 'Why do they hate us?' " he said. "They hate our
freedoms - our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and
disagree with each other." People are being asked to make two leaps of faith here. First, to assume
that The Enemy is who the US government says it is, even though it has no substantial evidence to
support that claim. And second, to assume that The Enemy's motives are what the US government
says they are, and there's nothing to support that either.
For strategic, military and economic reasons, it is vital for the US government to persuade its public