Five years on, I talked to Afshin Rattansi who worked on the Al Jazeera strand that first identified the 9/11 plot. His novel, The Dream of the Decade, deals with the issues of finance, terrorism and the media.
What do you think about the conspiracy theories that linger about 9/11?
“‘I don’t want to get into the conspiracy theories that maintain that 2,752 people died because of deliberate action by U.S. federal authorities. Those theories, along with scores of websites that catalogue seeming inconsistencies about the attacks, are believed, however, by hundreds of millions of people around the world. That is because the U.S. is so little trusted when it comes to truths in the developed world. Worse is that the perception that the U.S. administration invariably lies to its citizens and the people of the world catalysing hatred for the U.S. and perhaps catalysing far worse attacks in the future.”
What was it like to work with people who had met the masterminds of 9/11?
“When I heard that bin Laden’s people told my boss at Al Jazeera that it was the rich Saudi who vetoed a strike on U.S. nuclear facilities using passenger planes, I felt a shiver for what may yet happen if U.S. foreign policy continues to inspire those ranged against United States.”
And what do you think of the U.S. response to 9/11?
“Obviously, the biggest threat as far as premature death to U.S. citizens is not terrorism. It’s poverty. If the Annie E. Casey Foundation is to be believed, 24 million U.S. children are living in households with adults without full-time employment. Massive cuts in welfare by the Clinton administration were compounded by President Bush. You have worsening economic indicators, greater power exerted by private equity firms – Business Week had a great piece about “The Merchants of Red Ink” –
“Tom Herz and the the liberal think tank, Center for American Progress (CAP), have shown,
a child born into a poor family, defined as the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, has an one-in-a-hundred chance of making it into the top five percent income level. Poverty is generational and very dependent on race but it’s not that different for those who think they’ll make it rich through hard work. Children born in the middle quintile, that’s to parents whose incomes is between $42,000 and $54,300 also have only a 1.8 percent chance of reaching the top five percent, a likelihood not much higher than in poor families. We know that millions of Americans – men, women and children – are dying because of something far more dangerous than Al Qaeda.”
But that is surely a long term goal – to end poverty?
“Given that according to UNICEF, it would only take an estimated $40 billion a year to achieve and maintain universal access to basic education for all people in the world, basic health care for all, reproductive health care for all women, adequate food for all, and clean water and safe sewers, the response to the real killer of most Americas is pretty obvious, not least when you realise that $40 billion is less than 4% of the combined wealth of the 225 richest people in the world.”
But combatting terrorism has been the main task that the Bush administration have set themselves. How have they done?
“Hundreds of thousands have died because of U.S. military adventures since 9/11, all sanctioned by democratically accountable U.S. institutions, on the basis of lies.
“Obviously, during the UK investigation into the death of the source used by my programme at the BBC, Dr. David Kelly, it was painfully obvious how the so-called establishment would go to the ends of the earth to believe every statement made by Prime Minister Tony Blair. Given the number of deaths in Iraq, it makes one shudder to realise that populations should not seek information from their elected officials, nor their media. Uranium from Niger, the outing of CIA officials, notes copied from the internet..everything showed the parlous state of modern journalism and how close journalists have got to power. It is left to comedians, now, people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to tell the truth to power and to people.”
But what about the internet?
“It gets harder to find things. But, certainly, United States TV is streets ahead of the UK when it comes to television news. Channel 4 News in London and the BBC’s Newsnight TV programmes in the UK are so boring that it is not surprising no one watches them. If I was Tony Blair, I would thank my stars (or his holistic healers) for the fact that the UK has no show like Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now, daily news programme, broadcast from New York. Even Fox News which is blatant about its partisanship, often gives a better more rounded international picture of events in the world than the UK now receives, thanks to its boring selection of Reuters and Associated Press round-up wires.”
But there has been harsh criticism of policy on Iraq in the press?
“Since Iraq, liberal newspapers and broadcasters have steadily moved to the far right when it comes to economic policy. As for foreign policy, criticism of the Iraq war, both in the UK and the U.S. seems often enough to be based on partisan politics. But I’m not sure Al Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. Here in the UK, it is left to the Conservative Daily Telegraph to regularly lambast the Blair government. But I’m absolutely sure that a Conservative government would have acted just as Blair’s did. The only anomaly is why trade unions that back Tony Blair’s Labour Party, should so readily support the wanton destruction of countries such as Lebanon and Iraq, thus aiding the 7/7 plotters that killed 52 in London’s worst ever terrorist attack.”
So if it is the global economy that is killing so many more than the terrorists, how is that going to perform?
“Luckily, for those with credit cards and properties, debt financing of the UK and U.S. economies have saved a lot of people from the abyss. This triumph of optimism over economic theory has succeeded in keeping things ticking over for decades. Alan Greenspan – the Fed Reserve Chairman who helped send South East Asia into an economic tailspin and nearly destroyed the world economy famously said that theory and not kept up.”
To conclude, what should one think, five years after the attacks on New York and Washington?
“Well, worse crimes are committed every day. And that the zero sum game of the world’ superpower’s need for Middle East Oil and its backing of the main recruiting sergeant for Al Qaeds (Israel) needs to be solved.”
And are we closer to a solution?
“I can currently see no progress on either of these two axiomatic plates upon which the political techtonics of the world rest. As the IMF and the World Bank and the UN grind away, an ever connected world allows the disgruntled to continue their deadly theatrical events. Let’s hope that next time, they don’t use the nuclear option.”