On September 11, 2001, 8.45 am, an American Airlines plane with 92 passengers on board crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre in New York City. 18 minutes later, as thick smoke started rising towards the sky, the news of several simultaneous hijackings started making the rounds, as camera teams started assembling and people started fleeing from the burning building, a second plane crashed into the south tower causing a huge fireball as the approximately 40 tons of kerosene in the freshly tanked plane ignited.
The images were replayed thousands of times over the following weeks: less than two hours later the landmark of New York City and American Capitalism was no longer there, the heat – around 900?C – had caused the inner core of the buildings to melt and both towers proceeded to collapse into themselves, burying and killing over 2’800 people.
In the meantime, at 9.40 am, another plane apparently crashed into the west side of the Pentagon, also causing substantial damage and casualties, a fourth one missed its target and came down in Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board. There were news items about an explosion in the White House, and the DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine) were swiftly blamed for the outrage. Both these last two items soon disappeared from the news bulletins, and many other strange ‘details’ emerged, such as the absence of any plane debris at the Pentagon and the story of the missing black box at the WTC site – despite the ‘fact’ that the passport of one of the hijackers survived the heat and was ‘found’.
America and the world were rubbing their eyes as the dust and debris started settling and people saw themselves confronted with the task of trying to make sense of the unprecedented attack.
Unprecedented but not unimaginable: countless disaster movies seemed to have stalked this territory of imagination, and it turned out that there had been scenarios and even warnings about an attack like this. As an act of terrorism on American soil it undoubtedly dwarfed the Oklahoma City bombing, by its sheer scale and scope it reached a new quality, the number of victims, the destruction, the targets, the logistics, the shock. It worked: real terror. And it blurred the boundaries between what was an act of “terror” and what was an act of “war”.
These words were dominating the headlines for weeks. The US-administration declaring a “War on Terror”, their strategy built on the identification of the supposed perpetrators with their method. The fictional blueprints were used to split the world into two halves in true American style: Bush declared that in this war everyone had to choose sides between the United States of America or Terrorism and that the aim was to “rid the world of Evil”.
A prolonged war was proposed, the “murky enemy” (CNN) was presented as a evasive “terror network”, “masterminded” by Osama bin Laden, so evasive that it was going to be a secretive campaign, that it would be up to the authorities to determine what kind of coverage and information would be available to the public.
As Guy Debord pointed out in his ‘Commentaries on the Society of the Spectacle’ (1988) , the current system (which he calls the ‘Integreated spectacle’), creates its own enemy: Terrorism, since in comparison to it the regime will still look good, while judged on its own merits it would be largely found lacking.
As the American economy was entering a recession with profit warnings and job losses rising, and stock markets in retreat already before September 11, threatening to lead the rest of the world economy into a latent crisis becoming unchained.
As stars and stripes flags sold out across the country – with newspapers printing paper flags to satisfy the demand – the mobilisation became increasingly totalitarian, in the rationalised (but crisis-ridden), supposedly post-ideological society (behind which lurking the worst aspects of free market capitalism and christianity), people were now urged to vent their feelings in the shape of patriotism and nationalism, unifying the populace under the leadership of the administration using the traditional antidotes against discontent with capitalism.
We witnessed on both sides the coming together of clerics and military men to decide the fate of their countries and to mobilise for holy war. In Afghanisan the religious leaders of the Taliban, in the US a remarkable coalition of the leaders of the military-industrial complex, show biz and religion.
Much was made of the supposed ‘cool-headedness’ of the Bush camp. But no one was interested in the type of retaliation exercised by the Clinton administration three years earlier as a response to the embassy bombings. Not just because of the scale of the attack, but also because the world situation had considerably changed. And as CNN put it in their unimitably deep style: “The ultimate defeat of terrorism, the ultimate victory is a very difficult thing.”
At a point where economic growth went into reverse, and partly as a consequence the competition between Europe and the US (some already speak of a hidden Cold War), it was a welcome event to be able to “rally the world” (Bush) behind American Capitalism (“Good”) against Islamic Fundamentalism, aka Terrorism (“Evil”), a moral infantilism putting events beyond context and history.
Since the Soviet Union was dubbed the “Evil Empire” by Ronald Reagan, and consequently went under after preparing Russia for Capitalism, the US was lacking an enemy, which worked as long as the economy was “booming” (with deceptive speculative growth).
Bin Ladens Al-Quaeda network is exactly the sort of enemy the think tanks have been blueprinting, the whole script reads as if it had been in somebody’s drawer for years, it almost seems that if he didn’t exist, they would have to invent him.
With a UN resolution in place that’s binding for all 189 member states to collaborate in the fight against terrorism, a valid definition of terrorism is still missing, and the US campaign had to bank on amnesia to find support. Amnesia that it was the United States that had actively supported the same fundamentalists they now fight (as long as they were a useful tool against “communism”), that it was the United States that financed, trained, supported and harboured people and organisations that would qualify as terrorists by most peoples standards throughout the last decades. So everyones “solidarity” had a price tag and/or left possibilities for u-turns open.
The composer Karlheinz Stockhausen called the attack on the World Trade Centre the greatest artwork ever (to regret and retract the statement almost immediately), but most other commentators had other worries, from Hillary Clinton to Alan Greenspan they urged, begged and commanded people to keep buying consumer goods and stocks.
Tony Blair went a little further in his speech at the Labour Party conference on Oct. 2, 2001: “This is a moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken, the pieces are in flux, soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world around us and use modern science to provide prosperity for all. Science can’t make that choice for us, only the moral power of a world acting as a community can.”
In Blairs belief system (and that of the other “leaders”) it is the free market that is supposed to bring about this prosperity, a rather old propaganda lie of those few who share the power and wealth, while the budgets that the military forces in the west have at their disposal are at least a hint that “modern science” will be used to control, surveil and discipline the populations as well as the access to the raw materials (in the case of Afghanistan the oil pipelines from the Caspian Sea).
The suicide killers wreaked havoc with very low budget means (carpet knives were used to hijack the passanger planes), their strength their preparedness to die, their unquestioning dedication to the clerical-fascist cause, a cause that entails enmity towards both social revolution and capitalist pursuit of happiness.
When on the payroll of the US they bombed schools and killed teachers, now the focus of their own “evil empire” has shifted from Moscow to Washington and Tel Aviv.
The west still makes common cause with fundamentalist terrorists and drug networks when it seems to serve their plans to “reorder this world” (e.g. on the balkans).
A communist strategy doesn’t have that option, and must direct its critique against all forms of domination and exploitation, and despite the totalitarian mobilisation and the militarisation of everyday life, the “pieces of the caleidoscope” were starting to be shaken up before September 11.
When the US arrogantly called their “anti-terror” campaign ‘Infinite Justice’ they had to backtrack soon as it was “reasoned” that only God could deal out infinite justice.
Instead the campaign was then called “Enduring Freedom”, a term whose exquisite double meaning was lost on most commentators. While they probably had a lasting “freedom” trade marked by the free market in mind, it remains to be seen for how long the populations of this world will be prepared to endure this “freedom” before they propose their own.
The struggles manifested in Gothenburg, Genoa and elsewhere, where hundreds of thousands were mobilised against Capitalist globalisation, were a sure sign of rising awareness and discontent, but it’s still a wave of unclear direction, marred by confusion or worse.
The critique must therefore also be directed against those whose knee-jerk reaction was “serves them right”, smirkingly applauding, or at least “understanding”, the largest act of eliminatory anti-semitism since WW2. And naturally against the proponents of a Djihad against “crusaders and jews”, as well as the “anti-imperialist” defenders of murderous dictators and fascist religious suicide bombers.
CF, oct. 2001