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9/11 Killed It, But Twenty Years on Global Justice Movement Is Poised to Reincarnate

9/11 Killed It, But Twenty Years on Global Justice Movement Is Poised to Reincarnate
Activists protest policies of the World Bank in Washington, DC. (File Photo)

The broader demand for social justice will revive, initially behind the imperative of dealing with climate change but then with tax havens, the power of multinationals, and the obscene inequalities in the world’s wealth.

Analysis by Kalinga Seneviratne

Since the attacks on the United States by 15 Saudi Arabian Islamic fanatics on September 11, 2001 (now known as 9/11) the world has been divided by a ‘war on terror’ with any protest group defined as “terrorists”. New anti-terror laws have been introduced both in the West and elsewhere in the past 20 years and used extensively to suppress such movements in the name of “national security”.

It is interesting to note that the 9/11 attacks came at a time when a huge ‘global justice’ movement was building up across the world against the injustices of globalization. Using the internet as the medium of mobilization, they gathered in Seattle in 1999 and were successful in closing down the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting.

They opposed what they saw as large multinational corporations having unregulated political power, exercised through trade agreements and deregulated financial markets, facilitated by governments. Their main targets were the WTO, International Monetary Fund (IMF), OECD, World Bank, and international trade agreements.

The movement brought ‘civil society’ people from the North and the South together under common goals. In parallel, the ‘Jubilee 2000’ international movement led by liberal Christian and Catholic churches called for the cancellation of $90 billion of debts owed by the world’s poorest nations to banks and governments of the West.

Along with the churches, youth groups, music, and entertainment industry groups were involved. The 9/11 attacks killed these movements as ‘national security’ took precedence over ‘freedom to dissent’.

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, a former vice-president of the UN Human Rights Council and a Sri Lankan political scientist notes that when “capitalism turned neoliberal and went on the rampage” after the demise of the Soviet Union, resistance started to develop with the rise of the Zapatistas in Chiapas (Mexico) against NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and culminating in the 1999 Seattle protests using a term coined by Cuban leader Fidel Castro ‘another world is possible’.

“All that came crashing down with the Twin Towers,” he notes. “With 9/11 the Islamic-Jihadist opposition to the USA (and the war on terror) cut across and buried the progressive resistance we saw emerging in Chiapas and Seattle.”

“9/11 panicked us into the ‘war on terror’ using lethal weapons of questionable legality which inspired more terrorists. 20 years on, those same adversaries are back and we now have a fear of US perfidy—over Taiwan or ANZUS or whatever. There will be many consequences,” warns Geoffrey Robertson QC, well known British human rights campaigner, and TV personality. But, he sees some silver lining that has come out of this ‘war on terror’.

“One reasonably successful tactic developed in the war on terror was to use targeted sanctions on its sponsors. This has been developed by so-called ‘Magnitsky acts’, enabling the targeting of human rights abusers—31 democracies now have them and Australia will shortly be the 32nd. I foresee their coordination as part of the fightback—a war not on terror but state cruelty,” he told IDN.

When asked about the US’s humiliation in Afghanistan, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, founder of the International Movement for a Just World told IDN that the West needs to understand that they too need to stop funding of terror to achieve their own agendas. “The ‘war on terror’ was doomed to failure from the outset because those who initiated the war were not prepared to admit that it was their occupation and oppression that compelled others to retaliate through acts of terror.” he argues. “Popular antagonism towards the occupiers was one of the main reasons for the humiliating defeat of the US and NATO in Afghanistan,” he added.

Looking at western attempts to introduce democracy under the pretext of ‘war on terror’ and the chaos created by the ‘Arab Spring’, a youth movement driven by western-funded NGOs, Iranian born Australian Farzin Yekta who worked in Lebanon for 15 years as a community multi-media worker argues that the Arab region needs a different democracy.

“In the Middle East, the nations should aspire to a system based on social justice rather than the western democratic model. Corrupt political and economic apparatus, external interference and dysfunctional infrastructure are the main obstacles for moving towards establishing a system based on social justice,” he maintains, adding that there are signs of growing social movements being revived in the region while “resisting all kinds of attacks”.

Yekta told that while working with Palestinian refugee groups in Lebanon he has seen how peoples’ movements could be undermined by so-called ‘civil society’ NGOs (non-governmental organizations). “Alternative social movements are infested by ‘civil society’ institutions comprising primarily NGO institutions. ‘Civil society’ is effective leverage for the establishment and foreign (western) interference to pacify radical social movements. Social movements find themselves in a web of funded entities which push for ‘agendas’ drawn by funding buddies,” noted Yekta.

Looking at the failure of western forces in Afghanistan, he argues that what they did by building up ‘civil society’ was encouraging corruption and cronyism that is entangled in ethnic and tribal structures of society. “Western nation-building plan was limited to setting up a glasshouse pseudo-democratic space in the green zone part of Kabul. One just needed to go to the countryside to confront the utter poverty and lack of infrastructure,” Yekta notes. ”We need to understand that people’s struggle is occurring at places with poor or no infrastructure.”

Dr. Jayatilleka also sees positive signs of social movements beginning to raise their heads after two decades of repression. “Black Lives Matter drew in perhaps more young whites than blacks and constituted the largest ever protest movement in history. The globalized solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza, including large demonstrations in US cities, is further evidence. In Latin America, the left-populist Pink Tide 2.0 began with the victory of Lopez Obrador in Mexico and has produced the victory of Pedro Castillo in Peru. The slogan of Justice, both individual and social, is more globalized, more universalized today, than ever before in my lifetime,” he told.

There may be ample issues for peoples’ movements to take up with TPP (Transpacific Partnership) and RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) trade agreements coming into force in Asia where companies would be able to sue governments if their social policies infringe on company profits. But Dr. Jayatilleka is less optimistic of social movements rising in Asia.

“Sadly, the social justice movement is considerably more complicated in Asia than elsewhere, though one would have assumed that given the social inequities in Asian societies, the struggle for social justice would be a torrent. It is not,” he argues. The brightest recent spark in Asia, according to Dr. Jayatilleka, was the rise of the Nepali Communist Party to power through the ballot box after a protracted peoples’ war, but “sectarianism has led to the subsiding of what was the brightest hope for the social justice movement in Asia.”

Robertson feels that the time is ripe for the social movements suppressed by post 9/11 anti-terror laws to be reincarnated in a different life. “The broader demand for social justice will revive, initially behind the imperative of dealing with climate change but then with tax havens, the power of multinationals, and the obscene inequalities in the world’s wealth. So, I do not despair of social justice momentum in the future,” he says.


Kalinga Seneviratne is a journalist, radio broadcaster, television documentary maker and media analyst. He is currently the Head of Research at Asian Media Information and Communication Centre in Singapore. The article was originally published by Indepthnews.net Indonesian Diaspora Network Australia. Sindh Courier has reproduced the article with author’s consent.