13 September 2006

The 5th anniversary of the Misappropriation of September 11th

Title blatantly stolen from Jon Stewart, who used it to introduce his September 12th show. Frankly I didn't bother posting on Monday (and even yesterday) because I couldn't bring myself to write something positive about the events, and couldn't bear to say anything that wasn't positive on what ws surely an emotional moment for many people.

Now I'm back from my 48 hour vacation from thinking, and ready to say some not-so-nice things.

The world hasn't changed.

It's probably true that September 11th was the most deadly and spectacular terrorist attack ever. But that's just a matter of degree, like the biggest Christmas tree or the juiciest orange. Or maybe more like comparing the works of various serial killers. The point is that this wasn't the first or the last. Actually I think it's important to recall that up until the WTC attacks, the deadliest terrorist attack in American history was the Oklahoma City bombings, which killed over 300, and which were carried out by Americans.

I think it's also worthwhile comparing the horrific events of September 11th to some other unpleasant experiences. Every month Americans kill a September 11th worth of other Americans with guns. Every month. That means that since the actual September 11, about sixty times as many Americans have been killed by Americans as were killed by terrorists. Close to half a million people die annually of preventable cardio-vascular disease. That's one September 11th every two-and-a-half days. As many children have died in backyard pool accidents in the time since as died that day in the towers. There is no war on non-swimmers, $2 billion a day has yet to be allocated to fighting heart disease, and gun control is virtually a non-starter.

That's why I was profoundly disturbed when I heard GWB repeat this phrase in his September 11th address. If you've read Huntington's book, you will appreciate why. GWB has now acknowledged that he is fighting exactly the war the terrorists were looking for. And I don't say that like he does where he says 'they're evil and hate freedom.' I mean it on a very practical level, which is that a small band of criminals can never hope to seriously damage a superpower, but that an entire mass of nations, backed into a corner, can slow, stop, and finally drag down a superpower. The USA has invaded two nations since the attacks and the plans for the third are way beyond the drawing board stage. But more importantly, the president has now confirmed what many Arabs and Muslims believed was true - that the so-called "war on Terror" is actually a crusade against Arabs and Muslims; yet another in a series of historical attacks and occupations by the west.

The world has changed.
Of course you would be entirely correct if you called me a loonie for saying nothing had changed. But the real damage wasn't on the ground, it was psychological. What has changed is the way Americans see themselves (vulnerable) and their place in the world (besieged). The fact that these perceptions are utterly false seems to be irrelevant, since they are politically useful to the ruling class. Where vulnerable, people are willing to take extreme steps to increase their perceived safety, and since September 11th America has largely played the role of sleeping giant who was awakened by a poke in the eye. Only the closest inspection would reveal the physical damage, but for five years the giant has been bellowing and flailing, causing far more destruction in waking than he ever sustained while sleeping.

In Iraq, there have been ten September 11ths since the invasion, more or less. We should therefore expect the Iraqi people to harbour a deep-seated and absolutely understandable hatred of their American 'liberators', just as Americans have developed a powerful and irrational hatred of 'terrorists.' This situation gets worse by the day, and there is no prospect - none whatsoever - of reversing this decline.

The only solution is for America to return home and declare war on its domestic problems, rather than its foreign ones. George McGovern co-authored an extremely interesting and detailed blueprint for this withdrawal in the most recent Harper's Magazine and I commend it to everyone. Since America will clearly not take the steps outlined, I suggest we plagiarize heavily in order to resolve our own dirty war in Afghanistan.

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