On the morning of the eleventh day of September 2001 a plane crashed into the North tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. No one understood how it could happen; what a strange accident. Fifteen stunned minutes later another plane hit the second tower, and it became horrifyingly obvious that it wasn’t an accident at all, but a deliberate attack.
Five years has already passed since one of the defining moments of our century: the terrorist attacks which we have become accustomed to calling 9/11. It’s hard to believe it happened so long ago; perhaps this is a good time to reflect on what happened and how the world has changed in those few years.
I stayed glued to the TV that day, watching the events unfold and sharing the reactions of others. I distinctly recall the two initial questions, asked over and over: “Who?” and “Why?” Why would someone want to destroy symbols of way trade is conducted around the world? Answers were found quickly, because nobody really bothered to think about the questions. The first was answered with the obvious truism: terrorists. And why? Because they are evil. Trying to answer this question in any other way – trying to understand the motives behind the attacks – quickly came to mean that you were “unpatriotic” (if you happened to be American) or “anti-american” (if not), or that you were sympathetic to the terrorists’ cause.
The buildings under attack, the center of World Trade and the Military pentagon-shaped HQ, were not to be symbols of America’s aggressive pursuit of global capitalism but of “our way of life”. Thus we arrived at today’s familiar slogan: “Evil terrorists want to destroy our way of life”. This use of kindergarten logic was subsequently forged into a mighty sword, which has been wielded extensively over the last five years.
On September 12th, 2001, the whole world stood united. We were all New Yorkers; we were all shocked and ready to help. On that one day it didn’t matter if you were an American or an Arab, if you were European, Persian or Asian; every country was ready to support the USA in what they would do next.
It was also clear that the giant empire was badly embarrassed. The most phallic of the symbols of its power had been penetrated and felled. A revenge attack was called for, but picking the right target was somewhat tricky. The terrorists were citizens of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both strategic allies of the US. Eventually Afghanistan was picked, and no-one really questioned why. The bombing of this country was swift and relatively moderate. The repressive Taliban regime was displaced and replaced by someone more friendly, and the troops were called home. The moment they left, the new Afghanistan collapsed like a house of cards, but that’s a different story.
The world, recovering somewhat from the initial shock and still united, strong and resolute, waited for America’s next move. This was perhaps the most opportune moment for good to be done, but it was placed in the wrong hands. With the world uniquely united, the US could have attempted to lead the quest to bring peace to the Middle East; instead, they chose to bring war.
How could peace have been achieved? Certainly it would not have been easy, but with the equivalent of the resources spent on the Iraqi adventure, it would have stood a fair chance. I’m referring, of course, to the biggest thorn in the Muslim side: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we had devoted the past four years to this cause, the world would still have its old respect for the USA; many more countries (including Arabic ones) would consider themselves allies and supported the USA’s initiatives; nations would still be united. If all the American blood and money spilled in Iraq were used here instead, then perhaps two nations would now be on their way to becoming two countries.
As it happened, a more imperial doctrine of ‘divide and conquer’ was pursued. The world certainly is divided, and George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden have become unlikely bedfellows Each recruits the most fanatical supporters to the other’s cause. Whenever Osama reemerges, Bush’s ratings go up; whenever Bush publicly pushes his aggressive agenda, more people become angry and more become “radicalized”.
Meanwhile, the US is stuck in Iraq fighting the “War on Terror” over there, so they don’t have to fight it in Madrid or London. This “War” has grown into a tool serving the same purpose that the Cold War once served. It is not real. The war in Iraq is real, but the one “on Terror” is just an emotionally-charged misrepresentation and oversimplification of the world’s geopolitical reality. As propaganda, it’s useful as an excuse to attack anyone anywhere – Iraq, Lebanon, Chechnya, perhaps Iran.
Staging military attacks in the name of the War on Terror is now an excuse given by a power wanting to occupy and control another country or region. If you really wanted to fight terrorism, you would send in spies, not soldiers; you would destroy their organizations, not bridges and power plants; and you wouldn’t be doing it primarily “there”, but here in your own country.
It is useful to note that the latest terror plots – the Madrid metro bombings, the London transport bombings, the plot to destroy US-bound planes and the failed German plot to bomb trains – were all planned by Spanish, British and German nationals. The War on Terror has itself begotten terror. Young, disaffected Europeans (usually Muslims of Arabic descent, but this may turn out to be a non-essential component) have a new, fashionable, radical ideology to pursue. Terrorism is becoming a way to express their Weltschmerz, teenage angst and other emotions which we have, as yet, only German names for…
So now what? Where can we go from here? The way I see things, we could either continue to delve ever deeper into the world of Orwell’s 1984 with an everlasting war and constant fear, or we must change the nature of our global conversation. We must leave terror to the terrorists and the police. We must focus our attention on something else instead. We should take a look around; see what the real problems of the world are. An issue like global warming could be one worth combating. Let us come together to save our mother Gaya… Let us believe in something that can unite us.
Whatever the uniting issue should be, it had better come fast, because a whole generation is growing up now believing that “evil terrorists” are lurking around every corner. This could be a dangerous, self-fulfilling prophecy if the Neocon’s short-sighted propaganda strategy solidifies into a global framework of stereotypes used to make sense of the world.