Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 09, 2011 4:17 pm 
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As a symbolic event


The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard called the Gulf War a "non-event." But in his essay "The Art of Terrorism," published in Le Monde shortly after September 11, he went in the opposite direction. He deemed the destruction of the Twin Towers to have such enormous symbolic value as to be called "the 'mother' of all events." And 9/11, ten years later, remains a symbolic "'mother' of all events." It still seems extraordinary, almost unbelievable, this "'mother' of all events," this hijacking planes and flying them nearly simultaneously into the tallest buildings in New York City. It seems fairy-tale-like that a small band of Arabs plotting in mountains and caves with a bearded Saudi leader in robes called Osama bin Laden devised an attack that indeed struck terror into all Americans. They had driven a symbolic stake into the heart of Wall Street, lunged at and wounded the Pentagon, and barely missed heading for the White House but crashed in Pennsylvania, all in several hours, on a bright, beautiful day in autumn.

So much tragedy and destruction, so much terror, brought about by so few in such a short time. What mattered was how the blows were struck. The deaths of 3,000, and the illnesses and deaths of many thousands since from collateral environmental causes, are indeed tragic, a collective wound that will never heal. But note that in historical and global terms these events are only a tiny blip. It is the symbolism that counts; also the skillful exploitation of fear and hubris done by men who, unlike us, have no fear of death, because they care nothing for their lives--as Baudrillard explained. Americans believe themselves, their government, their way of life, their very lives, to be very special. They like to call themselves the "leaders of the free world." They are used to attacking, not being attacked; to seeing their wars fought on other soil, not at home. This was different.

As a pretext


President Bush answered the symbolic events of September 11th with a symbolic War on Terror. September 11th became the immediate symbolic pretext for a new series of endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, while the War on Terror itself has never existed. It's abstract; it cannot be won, and it can be used as an excuse for anything. Bush and his allies and cronies waged these first wars, and the even more dangerous wars at home on freedoms and constitutional rights in America, all under the handy and relatively new (or at least newly dramatized) umbrella of the War on Terror. These wars were clumsy and self-destructive compared to the strike of Al Qaida, feeble efforts to "bring democracy" to the Muslims (while taking it away from Americans), marked by manifold misjudgments and overkill, as has been the style of the USA, the most overarmed and superrich of nations, throughout its history. So these actions were new and different but also more of the same.

In essence they were also foreordained-- envisioned in the neocons' pre-Bush "Project for a New American Century", which came to light when people began to look into the falsity of the pretexts for the bombing and invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was also obvious that the attack on Afghanistan was senseless, and futile. The best thing to do would have been to pursue Al Qaida silently, and nothing else. But wars are very public rituals that have the function of feeding power. And the symbolic "'mother' of all events" that is September 11, 2011 has served the US and the other western powers well as a pretext for feeding power for a decade, and is still going strong.

9/11 was neither unexpected nor new, nor was its aftermath. For America and for the world, of course, September 11, 2011 was an event that changed things. It was an immensely disturbing day that required everyone to rethink their lives, to greater or lesser degrees. Apart from the individual suffering, the event showed America as no longer impervious. But the big mistake was to say that 9/11 changed "everything." Unfortunately when we look at the enormous inroads on civil liberties and the wars fought in our names, indeed we see that the powers that be have tried to change everything--everything that matters, anyway. But if these changes are allowed to stand, nothing will matter anymore. Meanwhile America is still the strongest and richest nation, but perhaps at the cost of its soul.

When we review 9/11, we need look at how much everything was the same. One has only to view some American films to see that Arabs were already long treated as satanic brutes. The prison-industrial complex was already well under way. Civil liberties have always been under threat. American presidents had already long carried out arbitrary bombings and wars of choice. The destruction of the Twin Towers just provided a great symbolic arena on which to stage the American dramas of paranoia and repression. "Terrorism" in the 2000's replaced the "Communism' of the 1950's. The "threat" of terrorism is miniscule compared to all that has been done to Americans and the rest of the world in the name of the War on Terror. And September 11 is the justification for the extremism of that "War."

The present and the future

When we see the new administration headed by Barack Obama, we find how indelible the mark of the Twin Towers, and Bush's use of them, have been. The promises about doing away with torture, rendition, and Guantanamo have turned out to be unreliable. The US has its outsourced super-Guantanamo at Bagram in Afghanistan, and who is to say that rendition has not been used under Obama and so, torture? Obama doesn't say openly "I'm a wartime president," like Bush, but he has stepped up the killing for which the War on Terror is the most reliable justification.

Against this background of failure and deception, Americans unfortunately have been weak. There is a lot of political activity but no mass labor movement or mass anti-war action, and not the needed movement to get the bums out of Washington--because the Congress has become dysfunctional and broken and a new lunatic fringe Tea Party tail funded by billionaires is wagging the Republican dog. There's some hope at the moment. Obama's joint congress "jobs" speech was stronger than expected, and might shame the right into considering actual practical moves to create jobs nationwide. Otherwise, however, the country remains on a dire economic course and Depression-era cluelessness still reigns.

Against the War on Terror and its culture of fear and repression, the most hopeful thing is the Arab Spring. If Arabs, and Islamists too, are actively involved in politics and are bringing down the governments that have oppressed them for decades, then Al Qaida, which fed on desperation at home, has no fertile ground anymore. That's the hope, anyway. We'll see how it plays out in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, and all the rest.

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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