Terrorism and the Survival of the Species
Terrorism is simply a violent form of political communication. The message of September 11, 2001 ran as follows: America, it is time you learned how implacably you are hated. The airplanes used were the terrorist's version of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles aimed at Americas' innocence. That innocence, the terrorists loudly declared, was a luxurious and anachronistic delusion.
A year after the attack, one is free to taste the bile of its atrocious ingenuity. It is already trite - but stringently necessary - to emphasize that such a mise en scène would have embarrassed a studio executive's storyboard or a thriller-writer's notebook ("What happened today was not credible," were the words of Tom Clancy, the author of The Sum of All Fears). And yet in broad daylight and full consciousness that outline became established reality: ten dollars worth of box-cutters produced ten million tons of rubble.
Several lines of US policy were bankrupted by the events of September 11, 2001 among them national missile defence. Someone realised that the skies of America were already teeming with missiles, each of them primed and cocked.
If the architect of this destruction was Osama bin Laden, who is a qualified engineer, then he would certainly know something about the stress equations of the World Trade Centre. He would also know something about the effects of ignited fuel: at 500C (a third of the temperature actually attained), steel loses 90% of its strength. He must have anticipated that one or both of the towers would collapse. But no visionary cinematic genius could hope to recreate the majestic abjection of that double surrender, with the scale of the buildings conferring its own slow motion. It was well understood that an edifice so demonstrably comprised of concrete and steel would also become an unforgettable metaphor. This moment was the apotheosis of the postmodern era - the era of images and perceptions.
The Pentagon is a symbol, and the WTC is, or was, a symbol, and an American passenger jet is also a symbol - of indigenous mobility and zest, and of the galaxy of glittering destinations. The bringers of September 11's terror were morally "barbaric", inexpiably so, but they brought a demented sophistication to their work. They took these great American artefacts and pestled them to gether. Nor is it at all helpful to describe the attacks as "cowardly". Terror always has its roots in hysteria and psychotic insecurity; still, we should know our enemy. The firefighters were not afraid to die for an idea. But the suicide killers belong in a different psychic category, and their battle effectiveness has, on our side, no equivalent. Clearly, they have contempt for life. Equally clearly, they have contempt for death.
Their aim was to torture tens of thousands, and to terrify hundreds of millions. In this, they have succeeded. The...