Beyond the Blasts

As the dust literally begins to settle after the worst terrorist attack in US history, offers this guide to undercovered news, commentary and resources to help put the horror into context. Updated throughout the day.

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Sept 14, 2001

Why we were in Afghanistan — The Nation
A detailed analysis of how and why the US and its allies armed and supported Afghanistan’s mujaheddeen fighters against the Soviet Union in the 1980s — and how that effort helped make Usama bin Ladin into the world’s pre-eminent terrorist leader.

Defense Intelligence vet: Go nuclear — Washington Times
For those who thought conservative rhetoric couldn’t get any more bellicose, Thomas Woodrow, a 22-year veteran of the Defense Intelligence Agency, makes the case for nuking Afghanistan. “If we, as a nation, show the willingness to use the ultimate weapon in the current situation, there can be no doubt anywhere on the globe that the United States will make good on its past pledges to defend its sovereign territory with such weapons,” explains Woodrow. And it’s not as extreme as all that, he assures readers: “A series of low-level, tactical nuclear strikes in the Afghanistan desert would pose no risk to large population centers and would carry little risk of fallout spreading to populated areas.”

Invitation to disaster — Seattle Times
“Aides to Seattle Mayor Paul Schell were stunned yesterday when they opened an envelope containing an invitation from New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani …. to a conference next month on disaster preparedness (including) sessions on terrorism … and ‘major building collapses,'” reports the Times. “The location: 7 World Trade Center, a 47-story building that collapsed Tuesday under the falling debris of the center’s twin towers.”

Australian Anti-Islamism — The Independent
The US isn’t the only country seeing anti-Muslim harassment in the wake of the twin terror attacks: In Australia yesterday, a school bus full of Muslim children was stoned, and vandals tried to burn down a Lebanese church. At least three Australians were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, and 85 more are still missing.

Usama bin Ladin for beginners — Various
Just who is the man now officially named America’s number one enemy, and what does he want? The Smoking Gun has helpfully posted the CIA’s official fact-sheet on Usama bin Ladin, and Slate offers a concise summary of what drives him. Bin Ladin’s top grievance, according to CNN’s Peter Bergen, author of a forthcoming book on the man, is the American military presence in Saudi Arabia, Islam’s Holy Land. Slate‘s David Plotz unhappily concludes: “Bin Ladin and his followers are alarming because they don’t want anything from us. They don’t want our sympathy. They want no material thing we can offer them. … They are motivated by religion, not politics. They answer to no one but their god, so they certainly won’t answer to us.”

Crash coverage costs media millions — Los Angeles Times
Add television networks to the list of industries — airlines, insurance companies — that stand to lose staggering sums as an indirect result of Tuesday’s terror attacks. Analysts estimate that dropping virtually all regular programming and most commercials to free up space for round-the-clock crisis coverage is losing television broadcasters nearly $100 million a day in local and national advertising.

Sept 13, 2001

Losing civil liberties won’t make us safer — The New Republic
“Galvanizing acts of terrorism tend to provoke sweeping increases in domestic surveillance that change the character of civic life without deterring or preventing future terrorist attacks,” warns Jeffrey Rosen. London, for instance, has created a network of spy cameras to photograph every driver who enters and leaves the city, but the system hasn’t caught a single terrorist; it’s mainly been used to round up traffic offenders and petty criminals.

The official guide to Usama — US State Department
The federal government’s most recent rundown of terrorist groups worldwide, including Usama bin Laden’s al-Qaida.

Economic impact 101 — The Guardian
A handy set of basic questions and their disturbing answers about the economic fallout of the twin terror attacks. Sample highlight: “Credit Suisse First Boston, an investment bank, suggests that the US economy could contract by 0.8 percent in both the third and fourth quarters of this year simply as result of declining air travel and the slowing of the local economies in New York City and Washington. The five boroughs that make up New York account for more than 6 percent of America’s gross domestic product.”

Suicidal logic — Foreign Policy
Israeli terrorism expert Ehud Sprinzak offers up a magisterial overview of the history and various current manifestations of suicidal terror attacks, from Israel to Sri Lanka. Fanatical as their actions may seem, there are perfectly sound reasons for terrorist groups to use self-destructing human weapons: they’re simple and cheap to deploy, they can cause enormous damage, they can’t be caught and interrogated afterwards, and they get guaranteed media exposure. As a Palestinian Islamic Jihad official puts it, “Our enemy possesses the most sophisticated weapons in the world … We have nothing with which to repel killing and thuggery against us except the weapon of martyrdom. It is easy and costs us only our lives …. human bombs cannot be defeated, not even by nuclear bombs.” As for the human bombs themselves, their mindset is likely no different from those of Tibetan self-immolators or Irish political prisoners ready to die in a hunger strike.

Sept 12, 2001

Why the CIA didn’t see it coming — The Atlantic
A nine-year veteran of the CIA’s Middle Eastern division calls the US counter-terrorism operations in the region “a myth.” The CIA’s operatives are almost all obvious Westerners who stand out like giraffes on “the cinder-block, mud-brick side of the Muslim world” that is home to most of bin Ladin’s followers, writes Reuel Marc Gerecht. “The CIA probably doesn’t have a single truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle Eastern background who can play a believable Muslim fundamentalist who would volunteer to spend years of his life with shitty food and no women in the mountains of Afghanistan,” Gerecht quotes fellow former senior Middle East operative as saying.

Iraq hails attacks — BBC
Even habitual America-bashers Libya and Iran have condemned Tuesday’s terrorist attacks. But Iraq’s official newspaper declares that “the American cowboys are reaping the fruit of their crimes against humanity.”

Gasoline gouging — CNN
Gasoline prices more than doubled in some parts of the US Tuesday as rumors of fuel shortages flew following the twin terror attacks. A gasoline industry spokesman, however, says there is plenty of fuel in the country and the price hikes were simply caused by gas stations putting the squeeze on frightened consumers.

Backlash beginning against Arab-Americans? — Los Angeles Times
Arab-American, Muslim and Sikh leaders have begun reporting sporadic vandalism and assaults against their communities. Someone shot out a mosque’s windows in Texas, a New York man was arrested for an alleged anti-Arab threat, and anti-Muslim slurs sparked a prison fight in Washington state. Mosques have received threats even in famously tolerant San Francisco.

How the CIA helped create bin Ladin — MSNBC
We don’t know yet whether Usama bin Ladin was responsible for yesterday’s devastating terror attacks, but we do know that the US bears some responsibility for his current place on the world stage. According to columnist Michael Moran, the CIA helped arm and encourage bin Ladin’s original Islamic fighting force in Afghanistan back in the 1980’s when he was our ally of convenience against the Soviets.

Feds push Internet surveillance in wake of blasts — Wired News
The FBI has reportedly begun installing electronic eavesdropping systems in several Web-based e-mail firms and network providers in the apparent belief that those services are being used by terrorists to quietly communicate with each other. Federal agents allegedly began visiting several companies within hours of the airborne terror attacks in Washington, D.C. and New York, asking permission to install the controversial Carnivore spy system (recently renamed DCS1000), a specially configured computer that monitors and stores selected electronic communications on an Internet provider’s network. “I know that they are getting a lot of ‘OKs’,” says an engineer at one such company.

Russians were preparing for attack by US — Village Voice
“In the minutes after yesterday’s attacks on New York City and Washington, it appears that the Russian military went on heightened alert, then later called off ‘preparations for war,'” reports James Ridgeway. According to the Russian newspaper Vremya Novostei, the US’ placing of its troops on full alert in the wake of the plane crashes forced Russia to boost the alert status of its own armed forces — including calling additional personnel into strategic missile command posts. For the hour or so before the Russians called off their preparations for war, “any provocation, especially on the line where ‘responsibility areas of the Russian Army and the US Army with its NATO allies intersect, was fraught with the risk of further uncontrollable escalation of the conflict.”

All about Arab-Americans — The Detroit Free Press
One of the two dailies covering the city with the United States’ most concentrated Arab-American population offers this extensive set of FAQs covering everything from demographics to common stereotypes and background on religious practices.

Compiled by Brooke Shelby Biggs, Andye Friedman, Emily Huber, Amos Kenigsberg, Jamie McCallum, and Vince Beiser.


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