9/11 - The First Anniversary - A Meditation
By Australian poet, Dan Byrnes
This article is complimentary with Oil, Religion and Fascism, also in this month's edition. .
WHEN I was boy, my father, who grew up on a farm, gave me some advice.
"Never disturb an animal when it's feeding, it might bite you."
That wasn't philosophy, or politics, or theology, or anything high-falutin' - it was just sensible advice, really, meant to keep inquisitive little me from harm.
Since the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York on 11 September 2001 - what the US now calls 9/11 - there has been considerable sympathy for the victims of the attack expressed around the world, in the humanistic sense, outrage and horror.
But particularly in old-political-left circles, veiled or outspoken views have circulated, that somehow, the US had it coming. Or, it had something coming. Isn't this a blame-the-victim response? Relatively few of the victims were US government officials, they were civilians.
Also in particular, we have seen commentators suggesting that amid the carnage, and while the US decides what to do about the reasons for the attack, what the US is also really after is relatively unrestricted access to oil supplies found near the Caspian Sea area, plus a way to place pipelines from there, maybe across Afghanistan, maybe east right across India to South Sea Asia - "the access-to-oil theory".
Thus, it might be helpful if the US had a puppet government in Afghanistan, to help facilitate this project. Post 9/11, a new government beholden to the US and its allies now exists in Afghanistan, led by Hamid Karzai.
But there have been many other conspiracies theories, too, about the reasons how and why two fully-fuelled commercial passenger jets were hijacked and slammed into the World Trade Centre, amazingly, to bring down the two towers in as little as 90 minutes The access-to-oil theory is but one.
The night it happened, (Australian Eastern Standard Time) my diary tells me that the first theory given on reasons for the attack was "due to Islamic militants of some kind". It was first broadcast that "a Palestinian organization" had claimed responsibility. With remarkable speed, since international communications were involved, this claim was officially denied by one or more "Palestinian organization", named at the time, by 12.21am. (Both towers had fallen by 12.27am, my diary says). A great many things were then happening, horribly quickly.
So, the theory that the attacks were due to Islamic aggression of some kind was then the first theory given to the public. And of course, Osama bin-Laden - leader of the Al-Qa'ida network, guest of the Taliban in Afghanistan - was soon blamed. This theory has been contradicted, especially on the Internet, but it has been greatly adhered to by the US Government, and much commented.
The "Islamic aggression theory" invokes questions of Middle Eastern history, the history of the use of Middle Eastern oil, questions of the sensitivity of US foreign policy, and broad historical theories were soon invoked to sketch the broad motivations that might have been in play.
It might be more responsible here, to talk of the Osama bin-Laden theory, rather than "the Islamic aggression theory", since as we know, many Moslems disapprove of bin-Laden's activities, whatever his activities are.
By itself, the access-to-oil theory is merely materialist. It cannot explain the astonishing array of symbolisms the attack invoked. I thought myself, that everything about the attack was highly symbolic, including the specificity of the New York target, the World Trade Centre, subject of an earlier attack in 1993.
It was reassuring in its way, to see a university chancellor comment on the highly symbolic aspects of the attack in a letter to a Sydney newspaper. And after all, more New Yorkers might have been killed if a jet had slammed into the Three Mile Island nuclear power station. It did seem as if the destruction of the towers, as symbols of US economic power, was a particular kind of comment on America by its now-declared enemies, intended to limit deaths rather than expand the count in such a populous city.
An added problem with the materialist, access-to-oil theory is that it can't cope with the symbolisms of the attack. I also wish the access-to-oil theorists would give us more history of any oil industry problems the US thinks it has, and if they risk oil reserves running out; it would be better if we were told, where, when, etc., regardless of post-9/11 problems. This would give us a timeframe to look into, for one thing, even if it was a materialistic, economic, also scientifically-derived sort of timeframe.
When I look into the symbolisms invoked by the attack, and the theory about Islamic activism, of whatever kind, for whatever motives, I see trouble ahead for a long time, for many reasons. So let's look at some of the symbolisms. For one thing, in cinematic terms, in terms of sheer spectacle, the attack out-Hollywooded Hollywood, blew disaster-movie imagination straight out the window. This, one of the the greatest disaster movies ever shown, was for real. What were New Yorkers in the street saying? "Unbelievable".
And it was, unbelievable. But it happened. So why, along with everything else, would anyone want to out-Hollywood Hollywood?
To attack the American cultural soul from within, is why. Otherwise, what 9/11 did was disturb a huge animal, the World Trade Centre, while it was feeding as usual on the wealth of the world.
Less than a year later, from a different direction again, we find a hugely dangerous famine looming in Africa. The 9/11 attack was also a comment from somwhere on world poverty - which has also been said by many people around the world. Many other comments were implicit.
But as my father warned me, watch out if you disturb a feeding animal and it gets annoyed, or protective about its food, and bites you!
When the WTC was not just disturbed as it fed, but annihilated, it was also one of the most tremendous - and by far the quickest - slaps-in-the-face ever given to any empire in human history. And the US, make no mistake, is in its way an Imperial Power. No empire in human history would take a blow like that and not retaliate. So the first questions would be, retaliate how and when?
This is another problem with the access-to-oil theory - it overlooks the obvious fact that the US would have to retaliate. But retaliate against who, if we don't know who executed the attack?
Here's more symbolism. On its way to retaliation, the US first-named its proposed strike, "Operation Infinite Justice", which was soon changed to "Operation Enduring Freedom, as more realistic, as smacking less of hubris. Hubris is actually a spiritual sin recognised by the Ancient Greeks, excessive human pride in the face of the powers of the gods. So with the first US response and movement to retaliation, we were quickly thrust into spiritual territory. After all, nothing humans can do can be infinite in any way.
We were never out of spiritual territory. Before 9/11 it was already known that many Moslems resent US support of Israel. So, given the role of Christian fundamentalism in US politics, we are also thrust into the context of the entire history of Monotheism, and three world religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
We were also in strange psychological space. For the first 9/11 anniversary, US National Security Adviser, Dr. Condaleeza Rice, gave an interview to Australian TV journalist, Kerrie O'Brien. Amazingly, she said that the morning of 9/11 at the White House, where she was in the West Wing, everything took on a strange, dream-like quality, as though things were happening to someone else. She almost felt (while she was coping and presumably giving responsible orders, etc), she had an "out-of-body feeling". This, in the most power-filled corridors in the world!
While I was watching the 9/11 first anniversary commemoration night on TV, I rather had the feeling that the US seems to want to make more of the grief than the situation warrants. There a broad reason behind this, and it has to do with "God"... and with ideas about freedom.
Proposition: The US had no choice but to retaliate for the attack. It blamed Osama bin-Laden, a CIA-funded US ally when he was fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, who has turned feral and now hates the US and all it stands for. As a fierce (and seemingly very effective ) pro-Islamic activist, leader of the Al-Qa'isda network blamed by the US for the 9/11 attack, bin-Laden is on record as having two major goals:
- The US out of Saudi Arabia, the homeland of The Prophet, Islam and Mecca;
- Re-establishment of the Islamic Caliphate of the old Ottoman Empire, a religious matter of a theocracy of some kind.
Were any such motives at all implicit as "commentary" with the 9/11 attack? I think yes. One of the extraordinary things about the attack was that it transcended all categories, of imagination, cunning, pre-emptiveness, determination, definition of a cause worth dying for, and many other things thought to be worth fighting or living for. We seldom see anything in real life like an action of the Nietzschean Superman... but the pilots of the attack planes were Nietzschean supermen, kamikaze to boot, and all the more horrifying for it.
US folk don't like suicidals-on-a-mission, because they subvert everything American life might stand for. During World War Two, the Americans greatly feared and resented Japanese kamikaze pilots, because such pilots had gone far beyond normal rules of warfare, were completely out of control, and totally committed to self-sacrifice for their cause. In contrast, the US military, which recommends team-playing, likes to imagine that it plays by the rules, is under control, and can grade the extent of sacrifice for the cause. Given this experience, US resentment of suicide-pilots surfaced very quickly after 9/11, and joined with the urge to retaliate. Resulting in quite a set of negative emotions which are now projected through the world media.
But freedom? The US wanted to call its anti-Taliban, anti-al-Qa'ida operation in Afghanistan, "Enduring Freedom". A good deal of President G. W. Bush's rhetoric is about his enemies' hatred of American democracy, way of life, and its "freedoms". The great irony is, concerning retaliation, the US had no choice at all - it had to retaliate. Its only freedom was in deciding when and what to do - its action overall was pre-determined. Certainly, the US is not the world's first empire to be put in the position of having to respond - which is not a condition of freedom.
This in turns bears on the view that might be taken of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. As target, Iraq's regime is at least identifiable. The enemy behind 9/11 was allegedly mobile, amorphous, disguised, dispersed, spread from Africa and Europe, through the Middle East, and down into South-East Asia - would a war on terrorism be fought across such a vast spread of territory? To what end, while the US can't yet find or arrest bin-Laden?
Maybe, the US has not quite worked out how it feels after its first exercise at retaliation. There is a lot of unfinished business - world wide. Will US efforts to try to control situations, including the Israeli-Palestinian situation, result in US capability being over-stretched?
Is Osama bin-Laden (or, al-Qa'ida) a reincarnation of The Old Man of the Mountains? I've asked this question myself, and find there is a lot of it on the Net! Just look at it!
The Assassins: http://www.silent-arrows.com/
See also Iraq Daily: http://www.iraqdaily.com
Iraq Net: http://www.iraq.net
Psychology of Assassins:
Osama bin-Laden compared to Sabbah -
THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAINS
In an article by GEORGE GALLOWAY on a website named ORIENT, an independent specialist news service and magazine focusing on events and current affairs in the Orient. - warning Western leaders of the consequences of their policies towards Afghanistan...
"When the 'old man of the mountains', Rashid al Din Sinan, the leader of the hashashin (from which comes the English term assassins) wanted to impress visiting potentates he would simply order two of his followers to climb to the top of the nearby cliffs and leap to their certain deaths.
"For nearly two centuries during the early middle ages this heretical Muslim sect [which had successive leadership] terrorised both the Oriental and Occidental world [including Western Crusaders and especially its own enemies within Islam].
"Marco Polo wrote a profile of him. The 'old man' lived in mountains north west of the present-day Iranian capital, Tehran, in which he described the hashashin's love of the daytime 'spectacular' ; brazenly public massacres devised to strike terror into the hearts of enemies - Muslim or Crusader. And of how the 'old man' promised his young killers that 'my angels will transport you to paradise' if they died on their mission.
"The spiritual descendant of that old man of the mountains - Osama bin-Laden - is in fact neither old nor from the mountains. He is 44 and the 26th of 52 children of the mega-rich Bin-Laden construction empire in Saudi Arabia, one of the most influential families in the oil-rich, pro-western kingdom.....
"And - in the absence of any other revolutionary force worth its salt - they prefer bin-Laden. For them he is a Moslem Che Guevara, ready to sacrifice himself - and many others - for his ideals. Of course for us his obscurantist mediaevilism cannot be compared to the universalist progressivism of Che. But that universalist socialist, or even nationalist creed is not currently on offer in the Moslem world though once it was.
Galloway continues on the Net... "We will discover I fear that bin-Laden, the prophet slain, will prove even more dangerous dead than alive..."
Which is quite right... it no longer matters if bin-Laden is dead or alive. A major point has been made, one we find hard to deal with. If bin-Laden was ever captured, that might just muddy the waters further. Martyrs are always safer, dead; they can't say anything further.
And from another website on the bin-Laden similarity to the Old Man of the Mountains...
Assassins: While the methods and weapons used by such groups may be new, their spiritual heritage.stretches back at least to the days of the murderous Persian, Hasan ibn-al-Sabbah [Sayyidna Hasan bin Sabbah or] Al-Hasan b. Al-Sabbah, commonly known as Hasan-i-Sabbah, First Grand Master of the Order of Assassins,. who came from obscure origins. He was born of lower-middle-class parents at Rayy, an old city a few kilometers to the south of modern Teheran. Hassan Ben Sabbah was. a dedicated member of the Ishmaili sect, which venerated the Imams, religious leaders descended from Ali,ii, son-in-law of the the Prophet Mohammed. Ishmailis had broken away from the larger Muslim Shia sect owing to differences over the accession of an Imam.
From a high mountain fortress, ibn-al-Sabbah directed a ruthless campaign against the overlords of other sects in Persia, Iraq, and Syria. Northwest of Qazwin. atop the Elburz Mountains, on a lonely ridge 6000 feet above the sea,.stood the castle of Alamut (eagle's nest)... Commanding a royal view of the valley below, accessible only by a single, almost vertical pathway, the remote fortress was an ideal hideout and headquarters. Hasan took Alamut, and it was later called the Abode of Fortune. The position of Alamut.caused its prince to receive the title of Sheikh al Jebal (i.e. Sheikh, or Prince of the Mountains); and the double sense of the word Sheikh, which means both prince and old man, led the historians of the Crusades, and later Marco Polo, to call him the "Old Man of the Mountain."
His feared organization's sinister name came from its member's ritual use
of the drug hashish, and the popular Arabic name for hashish smokers [hashs sh
n, hashishin, hashishiyyin, ashishin, hashishyum, hashisham, hashshishoun,
haschishin, haschischin, hashschin, or hashshishin] became roots of our word,
(The Crusaders who battled the Muslims for control of the Holy Land, used the word "assassin" to mean politically-motivated murder.)
The assassins used poison or dagger on carefully selected victims, striking terror wherever they appeared. From 1090AD to about 1256, the Assassins led their opponents, Emirs, city governors, commanders of fortresses and even religious dignitaries to wear a coat of chain mail at all times.
Nothing like Hassan Ben Sabbah's band of fearless political killers had ever been seen before. And from Sabah, so it is said, came the expression, "Nothing is true, everything is permitted"
L. Spence, Encyclopedia of Occultism. New York,
University Books, 1968.
See also: Pico Lyer, "A mysterious sect gave its name to political murder," Smithsonian, October 1986, 17.
Joseph Von Hammer-Purgstall, The History of Assassins. (Translated by Oswald Charles Wood) New York, Burt Franklin, 1835, 1968.
Peter Willey, The Castles of the Assassins. London, Harrap, 1963.
Freya Stark, The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels. Oxford, ISIS, 1936.
Bernard Lewis, The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam. New York, Octagon Books, 1980.
Robert Connell Clarke, Hashish! Los Angeles, Red Eye Press, 1998.
The Old Man of the Mountains as noted became a cross-generational role. "He" ended up being taken out by Genghis Kahn - who massacred the population of an entire region to ensure the job was done properly. Rather brutal! Presumably not possible today!
Except, is the US going to do a like job on Saddam Hussein as part of its continued retaliations? If so, this would also be a history-repeat-pattern.
The Knights Templar?
I've also thought that just maybe, as something learned from the Crusades,
if al-Qa'ida is not partly modelled on the Knights Templar? After all, the
Templars were originally self-appointed, then adopted by officialdom. They had
a highly religious rationalization for their activities and had special
spiritual and secular immunities and privileges. They were committed in
battle, were highly mobile in promoting their cause, internationally. They
became involved in money-handling, banking and finance, and could channel
considerable funding, besides receiving donations for their cause of money,
goods and lands. One of their causes was trying to fend off or discipline (at
least), their enemy - Islamic fighters. Ironically, as a website here notes...
"The Christian Order of the Knights of Templars, who came into contact with
some of Ben Sabbah's commanders during the Crusades, . were reputed to have
adopted Ben Sabbah's system of military organization."
Edgar O'Ballance, Language of Violence: The Blood Politics of Terrorism. San Rafael, CA, Presidio Press, 1979., p. 4.
We also find, as response patterns go in the Islamic world (hostage-taking, etc.), there's little new going on now, except the technology being used. Some tactics used, including the use of suicide-bombers in Israel-Palestine, are actually quite old.
With any parallels between the organizational form of al-Qa'ida and the Knights Templar, has bin-Laden simply got in first with an organizational form while he waits for the rest of the Islamic world to get into a proper jihad-Crusade mood? If so, if an extended (Islamic) crusade may be on an agenda, these troubles are going to go on for a long time, regardless of changes to US oil policy, or any review of its foreign policy the US might make.
The Crusades from the Western/French point of view were an exercise in colonization which turned out disastrous to the point of farce. Today, are "the Moslems" (which ones?) colonizing now? Well, they're moving about in UK, some Scandinavian countries, the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, etc., and they wander about in South-East Asian Moslem countries Is this colonizing? Their "Knights Templar" (some being disgruntled Saudis from the heartland of Mecca) are highly mobile and have useful travel budgets.
This kind of comparison will only get us so far though, because of the technology in use, which provides new, original and unexpected opportunities.
But "the West", or the UN, or the US, toppling Saddam would not be simple, because of the cost, as in Afghanistan, of propping up the replacement regime. In these sorts of ways, the US is filled not with understanding, but sets of negative emotions arising from their own cultural responses. This alone is just another reason to distrust current US foreign policy.
Is it the case that right around the Moslem world now, Friday prayers don't matter a hoot anymore? What we actually have now is Friday politics in the mosques. The mullahs stand to the microphone and whip up the faithful along some line, eg, anti-US, or anti-Israel, or whatever? No one is mentioning this, except to complain that sometimes a sermonizer gets too-hotheaded (as has happened in London a few times).
This also is a cultural matter and has more to do I think with traditional Islamic culture generally, and its theocracy, than Islamic views about "democracy". This point has to do with the cultural role of "power of the priests" in Islamic society.
And ask yourself, how long did it take to reduce "the power of the priests" in say, Ireland? A long time. Today, no one in the West (or the Middle East?) is seriously asking about "the power of the priests" in the Moslem world. Is this because the question might strike at too much marrow?
I imagine, also, that Moslems have zilch curiosity about "the power of the priests" in the Catholic world, or in Protestant Christianity, or even with the rabbis of Judaism.
Perhaps this should be called, "the problem of Friday prayers", which are no longer prayers-only, but opportunities to get a bit of political hotheadedness whipped up. I suspect, in the longer run, and in terms of Huntingdon's "clash of civilizations theory", that the Islamic world would rather install a bit of democracy here and there, as a sop, than give up the traditional ability of the mullas to regularly deliver some political sermonizing at Friday prayers, that is, to give up "the power of the priests".
Westerners here are ignorant and flounder.. It's a question of - where in a theocracy is the real religious authority, the real political authority? In Christendom, religious authority used to reside with the Papacy, a situation revised by the Reformation. Blame Martin Luther. Osama bin-Laden seems to have hijacked a good deal of Islamic thought and feeling in the name of his brand of religion - but who can stop him?
Do such questions only lead us deeper into Huntingdon's "clash of civilizations" theory? A journalist writing for The Independent (UK), with 25 years' experience living in the Middle East, recently said Huntingdon's theory is a load of old baloney. I don't think so. A distinct problem within the Islamic world is not just ambivalence about modern life (the US itself is getting a bit ambivalent about modern life - and they aren't as democratic as they imagine at all, as we know from the numbers who don't vote over there - A reading John Ralston Saul's book, Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West. (1992) is enough to give anyone the heebie-jeebies about the prolonged mis-management of today's USA.)
It's about the future role in the Islamic world of the traditional use of religious authority - about "the power of the priests" in an inherently theocratic religion/culture.
There are ideas of holism in Islamic life that can seem attractive, a unifyingness of material, cultural and spiritual life, but these ideas seem to sit badly with Western ways of life. If differences of outlook in various ways become inflamed by violence between the Islamic and non-Islamic world, conflict would I imagine be prolonged - maybe virtually institutionalized. One thing which would be at stake here would be - views on how people should live.
Is it not the case also in Israel that the power of the religious hard right is said to be too great? Current problems are partly a matter of interpretation of the reality and use of religious authority. (In contrast to which, the Hindus and the Buddhists don't even have an opinion, despite the fact that in India, the Hindus are well-used to dealing with Islam).
This is why Western writers are talking about "clash of Islamic vs Christian fundamentalisms". In this context, oil policy doesn't matter so much, since oil is not a question relevant to the afterlife. And no, Catholics are a little less-involved, since the papacy has mostly a helpless role in all this; it knows it lost the Crusades centuries ago. This is a fight between religious fundamentalisms - Islam vs Protestant Christianity (both of which in religious terms are a bit amorphous as to their central authority, if any).
What is the role of religion in politics? (Remember, Creationism is now said to be a big theme in Islamic education, maybe bigger than it is in the US education system).
Maybe, a possible shortage of oil for the Western World in future is behind many current US motives, and if Middle Eastern oil suppliers read such signs, there may be hell to pay on this front. There are still significant spiritual/cultural dimensions to consider.
We find from the classic English historian of The Crusades, Steven Runciman, that what The Crusades represented was a great sin committed by the Crusaders against their Moslem enemies. In Christian terms, this sin was The Sin Against The Holy Ghost, which sin can be termed, the deliberate, in this case, violent, subversion and/or destruction of the existential/spiritual bases of the ways of life of the other - conducted in ways to entirely undermine the life of the other. In Christian theology, this is the only unforgiveable sin! (I do not know if in Islam there is any equivalent of any such unforgiveable sin.)
As for 9/11 and the Israeli/Palestine conflict? The quasi-military use of suicidals - the 9/11 Islamic kamikazes - is one thing. Another matter is the cynical use of expendable shock troops as a first wave during any kind of ground war. The civilian use of suicidals as in Palestine is this other matter.
No one (or too few) are asking: what is the view of the "priests" on the use of civilian suicidals? Look at it this way - imagine that "world psychiatry" takes the mullahs aside and convinces them that the individual contemplating a suicide bombing is insane (psychotic or whatever). Therefore, not a citizen, really, but eligible to be a mental patient.
The religious duty then is really to talk people out of it and to adopt less severe methods of protest. Friday prayers can now be seen as a wonderful opportunity to promote this revised opinion.
If this happened, the militants would lose an evidently useful weapon, and the mullahs might get a new view on the relationship between religion and mental and social health. This would also mean that the mullahs, or anyone else, can no longer promise a suicide-sacrificer that they will enter paradise. What would be at stake here is "ownership of the afterlife".
So within any clash of civilzations would also be a clash of views about the afterlife. I'd not expect any of these questions to be resolved quickly, they are religious/cultural and not military or even economic questions. The facts don't matter here; what is important is what large numbers of people happen to believe.
Is now the time for a revision/reformation of the power of the Islamic "priests"?
The West has grown unused to worrying about what clergymen think. We also don't see hordes of western feminists taking up arms to protect women in Moslem countries from, eg, being stoned for adultery; they are far too genteel/middle-class for that.
But all around the fringes of the Islamic world, in Africa, Russia, the Mediterranean, across the Middle East, in Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines, we find violent Moslem separatist groups who are NOT being reined in by the Mullahs. Ergo, the Mullahs, if only by default, are urging them on. To what end?
Why is it that no one in the West is talking about the role of the Mullahs, or the role of religious authority, in the ambivalent Islamic world?
In this light, the common remark that the West is excessively materialistic and individualistic, with social life being atomised, is merely a subsidiary point. It may bear on cultural and political matters, including free-speech use of the media (unrestrained decadence, hedonism, etc, etc), but it does not bear on the role of religious authority, or on the questioning of religious authority in the West, where religious authority has been greatly neutered except in fundamentalist circles.
And in religious realpolitick, we'd find that if a discussion does arise about the exercise of religious authority, the nature of religious authority, the religious leaders in the Western World by now, across centuries, are well-trained about democratic politics, liberalism, cultural pluralism, and will back off. Whereas the Mullahs are not trained at all in how to behave, politically, in a democratic mileiu.
So by default, (and bin-Laden wants to restore the old Ottoman Empire caliphate, which was theocratic), Islam may be on a set of Crusades. Its vanguard is its own population explosion, and related unemployment. One of its complaints is lack of control over its own resources (especially oil reserves), and resentment of Israel is partly due to the fact that the US uses Israel as a westernized beachhead for its continued presence in the Middle East. (From an Islamic point of view, "the Jewish question" and the oil question merely rub two different kinds of salt into the same wound.)
And so, part of the amazingness of 9/11 is that in a (perverted) use of the name of God/Allah, an act was committed which transcends all categories, and was visually spectacular as well, to say the least. It was the opposite of Nietzsche's "God is dead" remark. It was a contrary assertion that indeed, God lives, and can help us accomplish this!
The fact that purist Moslems might say, that this is not a proper Islamic remark, it is against Islamic ideals (which it is) is neither here nor there - the point has been made that some people, at least, think that a demonstration that "God lives", made in this way, is rather excellent.
So what we have in the West is indecision because of gigantic ambivalence and a sense of risk. In the US, cultural life behaves as if God is Dead, but hypocritically, it thinks it believes that God Lives (while constitutionally, the US continues with its slogan - In God We Trust.) Whereas, the Islamic World firmly believes that God Lives, but finds that circumstances are such in the material (or Western) world, that it ought to behave as though God is Dead, or at least resting.
What this really is, is a struggle between acceptable hypocrisies to be delivered to mass populations.
And there is reduced point also in discussing/comparing WWII (totalitarian fascism vs healthy democracy), which was basically a fight to the death - or the Cold War - (Utopian Communism vs Hedonistic/Capitalism/Democracy to the point of Mutual Assured Destruction)...
This is one of the world's greatest fights ever about Convenient Religious Fictions! The truth is up for violent grabs!
The Role of "The Truth" in History:
From my reading of history, especially from reading the history of major revolutions, I think that when the chips are down, a main point is not that peoples value "The Truth" at all, philosophically or religiously. What peoples value most of all, and will fight over a great deal, is freedom of movement. (Given that access to sufficient food is seen as part of freedom of movement.)
For Christians? Pontius Pilate asked Jesus: what is truth? Unfortunately, Jesus' answer cannot be noted for clarity.
When philosophical/political questions are mixed in mass populations, of a conflict between freedom of movement, versus The Truth versus what we are allowed to know - then I'd say, current problems will go on for a long time, and be periodically violent. Anxieties about freedom of movement will be the underlying motivations.
Anxiety is what we've got all around us. Even if we don't think that 9/11 "changed history", a lot of us feel that somehow, the background of things has changed. Which is correct. The background has changed. And yes, the diabolical beauty of 9/11 was that it rose up, transcended all categories, and demonstrated all this, and imposed these questions on us all, so quickly, and so irrevocably.
For a long time now, the West has been psychobabbling, fantasizing, writing and joking about Nietzsche's line that God is Dead. The paradox of 9/11 is that with diabolical speed, beauty, organizational elegance, determination and skill, the contrary statement was made by Islamic activists - God Lives!
And I imagine, that when he found out about it, Osoma bin-Laden said, "God
bin-Laden is on record as saying he never thought the buildings would actually come down, they'd just be damaged.
This is the problem then, taken so seriously that the West seriously just can't believe it - pessimistic God is Dead versus optimistic God Lives and God is Great!
Of course, a lot of people say, and an Islamic commentator said it just the other night on TV, that no one seriously believes that wars are fought over religion, religion is just a screen behind which fights occur over power, control, ownership of resources, etc. But I feel that this is a question of same-difference. Suffice to say, for the combatants, the issues assume overwhelming seriousness - and propaganda to mass populations is doled out in suitable ways at suitable times, for the purpose.
If/when President G. W Bush says on TV - "either you are with us, or with the terrorists" - this is, amid all the ambivalence, a gross over-simplification. This is leadership for the simple, by the simple.
It also remains a problem that no one is questioning the religious authorities of Islam about whether their view of their role has now reached world-bothering proportions. Suitable answers to this question might tend greatly to isolate the terrorists. While it might also re-inflame those in the Islamic world who confine themselves to "protest" (merely). Meantime, US foreign policy is hardly sensitive to feeling in the Middle East.
This question of basic feeling in the Middle East is worrying, in respect of the view given above, that what people value even more than "truth" is sheer freedom of movement.
Revolutions - why they happen:
Consider: The failed revolution of the gladiator/slave Spartacus against the Romans, brave but tragic. The English/Cromwellian Revolution against Monarchy, and about religion and democracy. The American Revolution, the French, and the Russian... Such revolutions happened because finally, ordinary people developed a basic feeling that their freedom of movement had been reduced beyond bearability - so they became violent, and they won. History is littered with stories of minor, failed revolutions where the rebels also felt their freedom of movement was curtailed.
I wonder, if the US invades Iraq, regardless of moral rights and wrong, the Middle East will not simply erupt in this same sort of violence. In terms of the world history of revolutions, this might put President G. W. Bush into the position of Britain's George III in 1775!
The odd thing about 9/11 was that symbolically, it compressed just these sorts of hints about coming revolutionary violence into just one dazzling strike made at the Western World's physical, economic, symbolic and spiritual targets.
An extra hint here may have nothing to do with actual current problems - it is deeper than that. It may be a recurring problem that Empires have suffered from in history, termed Imperial Overstretch.
We may see here an added military problem for the US (and its allies, including Australia) - imperial overstretch. The US' "war on terrorism" is presumably global. But what happens with an Imperial Power when it has to stretch power so far is that it weakens and frays, and finds the economic cost of continuing too great? It's called overstretch, while internally in an empire, associated economic problems cause morale problems. The result is high stress with possible recovery later, or decline.
Is it possible that here, the US has not been led into a very old-style trap by - al-Qa'ida? The US might do better to NOT invade Iraq, not due to fear of the enemy, but simply due to fear of overstretch.
Ruin the Imperial enemy by overstretch!
Overstretch has a long, sorry career.
The Greeks did it to the Persians. The Aryans did it to the Indians (and
then imposed the religiously-rationalized caste system which let them retain
control to this day, very clever).
The Romans did it to the Carthaginians.
Attila the Hun (plus the Goths/Vandals) did it to the Romans amid a time of climate change.
The Moslems did it to the Crusaders, then formed their own Ottoman Empire, which got overstretched during WWI and then lapsed.
The Americans did it to the British from 1775.
Overstretch was why Britain abandoned Singapore in WWII; and possibly why the Russian empire gave up with so few whimpers in 1989 - after overstretching due to the space race, the arms race, plus invading Afghanistan unsuccessfully...
Quite a statement! Quite a dilemma! One year on, and after making its choiceless retaliatory strikes in Afghanistan, the US is already being accused of failing to help restructure Afghanistan, which it bombed to hell with its first retaliations, eg by not pumping in enough money. Is this moral and fiscal default perhaps because Uncle Sam is already overstretched?
We return to the question - what is freedom? Overstretch defines limits to the freedom of movement of an Imperial Power. Provocation of a US response by way of an amorphous "war on terrorism" might just have been designed to tempt and test the US' limits of movement here. After, that is, the US has been provoked into finding its lack of freedom with finding it has NO CHOICE but to retaliate after the insult of the 9/11 attacks.
For it appears by now, and maybe also beyond ordinary moral rights and wrongs, the Islamic World feels that the US has enjoyed far too much freedom of movement, and it has far too little.
This feeling about freedom of movement is not so much a conscious, intellectualized, political/democratic feeling about freedom, or any lack of a democratic view of freedom - this sort of freedom is more like a child's feeling about freedom of movement. Or also rather primitively, an animal's feeling about having the space to forage for food.
9/11 - it was so amazing, it tends to put a lot of comparisons one might make into the box usually labelled "inappropriate". There was about it, as a quasi-military strike, an odd kind of brilliance - a purely diabolical brilliance.
9/11 didn't just reassert that God Lives and is Great. It simultaneously gave us back The Devil, ie, evil. This is yet another reason we find it all so hard to cope with. The West has gotten greatly unused to theological dispute, and lost its spiritual muscles. If the US tries to flex its spiritual/military muscles here, too energetically, it then risks Imperial Overstretch. Has the US been deliberately led into an economic-military-spiritual trap?
Can Uncle Sam really afford to support a revamped Afghanistan - which is the moral price of its retaliatory strike after 9/11 - and the cost of a revamped Iraq - which would be the moral price of its safety while Uncle Sam rediscovers the limits of his freedom of movement?.
What 9/11 did, so quickly, was bind up a lot of such historical questions, and then deliver an unusually sudden, brutal answer. Too often in history, and it's quite mysterious, the brutal answer arises at the end of a dispute re religion/theology (revisit history of the Middle Ages, and the Crusades).
The 9/11 strike was so clever, it's almost as though it had all these sorts of thoughts about God, religion, culture, life and history pre-programmed into its internal logic - before it did a diabolically cruel thing. If that was the case, there is some hard wiring about "freedom" in the human brain that deserves a bit of adjustment. But the leaders of Friday prayers in the Islamic World are not the people to go to for advice about this particular problem. Nor is George W. Bush. Nor are the Christian fundamentalists of the USA.
How much freedom does the US have left? The answer is: very little choice at all. In which case, what is Uncle Sam's rhetoric about freedom worth? Very little. What then will any war be about? It will be about the US regaining its freedom of movement - which "freedom" might presumably, and also, entail continued supply of Middle Eastern oil. But if Uncle Sam is walking into an Imperial Overstretch trap, that will limit his freedom even more.
This problem of human freedom - real freedom of movement - is multidimensional, geographic, social, spiritual... few people can put the experience of the problem neatly
Though maybe, the US songwriter Paul Simon once did put it neatly with a song called Slip Slidin' Away
... "slip slidin' away, slip slidin' away,
you know the nearer my destination,
the more it's slip slidin' away"...
On the morning of 9/11, while the WTC victims died of flame, or poison gases, or were crushed, or jumped to their death, did the hijackers meanwhile ascend to heaven, as they presumably believed they would?
9/11 was one of those rare things in history that transcends all categories; physical, imaginative, economic, cultural, military, philosophical, spiritual...
It was also the Nitetzschean Superman directing his energies with extraordinary willpower - and I seriously doubt that anyone in the so-called post-modernist Western World would ever have imagined that one fine day (it was a fine day on 9/11), 19 Nietzschean Supermen with an Islamic background would drop out of the sky and cause some supreme chaos. Life is full of surprises, so is death!
In so many ways, it doesn't matter what you, I, or what anyone thinks, It has more to do with what anyone believes.
What is the truth? GOD IS DEAD Or, GOD LIVES! GOD IS GREAT!
The Western World has been fantasizing for centuries now that it doesn't need to bother about what it believes, only about what it does. Forcing The Western World to rethink what it believes was also diabolically clever; as it were, spiritually brutal. Something the Old Man of the Mountains might well have dreamed up.
That's why 9/11 will remain a problem. Its motives were old, were new, they affect the future. In the US, 9/11 hit a people with an alarmingly reduced education in cultural memory, and near-autistic with their lack of a sense of world history or geography, right in the middle of their maybe-misguided sense of future. Amid Western World luxury, complacency and advertising budgets? Amid probable climate change? Before a crisis in world oil supply? Before another African famine?
The 9/11 hijackers are dead. We might never know what they really planned, or thought, or wanted as outcome? As martyrs, I think they intended this, as part of the continued punishment of the Western World for its sins, its selfishness, greed, carelesness and thoughtlessness, . We are forced to continue to wonder... we will never know... all is paradox and pain. The land so-called of free speech and free thought may never know enough about this.
The United States of America, the home of the free, has been fireballed into spiritual unfreedom...
::::::Ends this article by Dan Byrnes - September 2002:::::::::::::::