Terrorism With Emphasis on 9/11, Essay Example
Few events have carried for Americans the impact of the September 11, 2001, attacks by Al Qaeda. The only parallel in terms of actual proportion, in fact, was the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, for both occasions marked scenarios virtually unthinkable to the nation: direct and violent assaults of it, and violating all precepts of accepted conduct in warfare. Rendering 9/11 different is the more pronounced ideological and cultural component, reminiscent of religious wars waged in Europe’s 16th century. From the militant Muslim perspective, a massive and dangerous threat to civilization warranted such extreme action; for the West, an unconscionable and unmerited act of terrorism demanded an equally severe response, and this duality of view lies at the heart of terrorism discourse. In plain terms, and as stunning as the attacks of 9/11 irrefutably were, the reality is that these views reflect an aspect of religious terrorism inherent in the history of it. This aspect is necessarily more expansive than that of any culture, and goes to a fundamental truth typically ignored. By means of noting historical events, and then through the circumstances surrounding 9/11, this truth will be manifest. Religious terrorism is an intrinsically subjective term, as the perpetrators of it, in any circumstances, do not perceive themselves to be “terrorist” at all.
That a core of subjectivity defines perceptions of terrorism, particularly when triggered by religious concerns, may be easily assessed from even the most cursory examination of Western history. In simple terms, and certainly dating from the force and gradual dissolution of the Roman Empire, extreme acts of violence against one culture as deemed ethical and essential by another are typical occurrences. Terrorism fueled by religious objectives was most certainly in place when, in the 16th century, Philip of Spain conducted a brutal and consistent series of assaults on his territories of the Netherlands. Calvinism had taken root there, the citizens were nonetheless willing to accept Spanish rule, but Philip demanded adherence to orthodox Catholicism. By 1567, when the Duke of Alva instituted the aptly named Council of Blood in the name of Spanish dominance, violent suppression was the order of the day (Peters 151). If terrorism as a term was not specifically employed, the tortures, executions, and destruction of entire towns more than supplied meaning.
Other critical events in Western history reveal the interpretative forces going to acts of overt brutality and terrorism in the name of religion. In one of history’s most extraordinary episodes, tens of thousands of Huguenots, or Protestants, were slaughtered in Paris and surrounding provinces on St. Bartholomew’s Day, in 1572. Modern historians question the complicity of the reigning regent, Catherine de Medici, in prompting the massacre; while evidence suggests that she triggered the first killings of Protestant nobles because she believed a plot threatened the Catholic dynasty in place, there remains the problem of her repeated attempts over decades to support religious toleration for all in France (Gonzalez 128). Nonetheless, what transpired was a three-day murder spree, all ostensibly fueled by French Catholic fears of a Protestant rising. Equally importantly, these fears were firmly rooted in religious convictions perceiving the Protestants as inherently evil, and determined to overthrow the power of the “true” religion. In both cases, then, it is inescapably evident that the perpetrators of the terrorism believed themselves to be acting in a completely moral, and religiously correct, fashion.
It may be argued that the “duel” of ideologies most reminiscent of the 16th century conflicts noted, and which emphatically supports how nationalist subjectivity influences definitions of terrorism, is that which occurred between President Bush and Osama bin Laden. As noted, any examination of this conflict requires a distanced perspective, and one necessarily removed from Western or Muslim agendas or cultural influences. That in place, however, it may be clearly seen that, in broad terms, each party concerned most definitely viewed itself as aggrieved, and justified in taking extreme action to address gross injustices. This is, in fact, the “symmetric dualism” defined by Bruce Lincoln. In bin Laden’s world, American arrogance and political machinations were subverting the freedoms and potentials of his people; as expressed by Bush and in accord with American ideology, an invalid, non-Christian, and inherently evil power sought to destroy the progress and “goodness” of the West. In such an extraordinary circumstance, interpretation of reality creates reality, because the magnitudes of the arenas enables the impact.
It is, ironically, easier to note the similarities between Bush and bin Laden than it is to identify differences, and these similarities support the subjectivity of their actions and responses, in terms of religious terrorism, because of Lincoln’s noted “symmetry.” To begin with, and crucially, each man was placed to command and influence vast numbers of followers. Bush, as elected leader of the U.S., could rely on a relatively unilateral support structure based on governmental processes, but he could also rely upon the ideological backing which prompted those processes. Then, and not insignificantly, no president can hope to rise to the office without drawing upon great personal wealth, which invariably connects him to others of enormous means. Conversely, removed from republican ideals of government, bin Laden held sway by virtue of a fanaticism of faith combined with virtually immeasurable financial resources, much of it ironically generated through Western commerce (Lincoln 60). When approached in a certain way, then, there is a striking correlation here between the two leaders, in that each ultimately enjoyed immense power because of money, followings largely created through the consequences of such money, and because each appealed to the ideologies maintained within their own cultures. With regard to differences, the answer is blatant and relatively simple. Bush adamantly reflected the American ideals of commerce, expansion, national pride, and a pervasive Christianity; bin Laden was equally defined by a radical Muslim agenda, one by definition violently opposed to all that composed the Bush persona and agenda. The bin Laden perspectives were necessarily in direct opposition to those of Bush but, as perspectives, retained a validity completely as intact. The dualism then exists only because of contrast, which factor must be removed from judgments of intrinsic worth.
The component of genuine worth or value, of course, is created only within each culture supporting the leader, just as the leader draws upon it to gain authority. Here, then, dual symmetry is as apparent as that between the two men concerned, for each reflected the cultural base. No greater similarity, in fact, may be assessed as evident between Bush and bin Laden than that of the ethical/religious element underscoring their reigns of power. For one to assert control in his arena, the other must be irrevocably “bad”: “Both men constructed a Manichean struggle, where Sons of Light confront Sons of Darkness” (Lincoln 20). Once the initial conflict was in place, what was demanded was a mutual reinforcement of these perceptions, to foster cultural and national unity. It is interesting to note that extreme polarities of opinion took on virtually identical characteristics, as presented by the leaders: “The orienting binaries of this structure – good/evil, hero/villain, threat, threatened – are much the same” (Lincoln 20). The difference, of course, lies in that critical component of region and arena, where the thinking promulgates the specific victim and oppressor statuses.
For Americans, it remains difficult to comprehend the militantly Muslim view of the U.S., despite a history of information gained regarding its international image. Certainly, the United States has long been keenly aware of a global disdain for its presence. To that end, overseas bases are located in virtually every region wherein conflict precipitated by this sort of nationalist or cultural feeling may explode. In a 2005 report, the Overseas Basing Commission described these arenas, ranging from the Andean region of South America to the Middle East, and continuing on to the Philippines, as locales exemplified by failed governments and internal ethnic conflicts. More importantly, the other commonality cited by the report is that of an: “antipathy and hatred toward the West in general, and the United States in particular” (Johnson 147). This is a disturbing reality of which many Americans are aware, yet it is not easily digested by them, nor is it acceptable. For that to be the case, Americans would be in essential opposition to their own creeds and ideologies. Nonetheless, it cannot be refuted that, from his Muslim point of view and reflecting significant Muslim feeling, bin Laden exemplified a not uncommon contempt for American supremacy as a dominating force, and one in defiance of true religion.
Remarkably, the Bush response to bin Laden and 9/11 was very much as religiously fueled as the motivations precipitating the attacks. As Lincoln effectively notes, there is a strikingly deliberate association with the word, “terrorism,” and one going distinctly to Bush’s agenda and advantage. Terrorism translates to the popular mind as an action removed from the state itself (21). It does not evoke ideas of military activity, or even of warfare, because the word itself indicates a kind of mindlessness, and violence perpetrated for its own sake. Such an indefinite state of meaning, then, allows “terrorism” to be described in terms that firmly attach religious and ethical associations to it, and this is a reality that was fully exploited by Bush. This is evident in the many, and certainly carefully selected, choices of phrase reminiscent of Biblical events and/or import heard in the Bush discourse of these years. Employing language such as, “killers of innocents,” and referring to bin Laden allies as those that,” will take that lonely path at their own peril,” blatantly invested the presidential rhetoric with a significance transcending political ideologies (Lincoln 31). This was speech crafted to resonate with Western culture in a Judeo-Christian appeal. If the effects were intended as subtle, they nonetheless existed to clearly emphasize America’s religious “rightness” in striking back at an evil enemy.
Further support for this religious approach, and for the Bush administration’s relying upon it, may be inferred from the non-religious remarks made by the president. In no uncertain terms, Bush was relatively candid in his address to the people immediately following the attacks. In an unprecedented statement, he informed that nation that multiple and covert operations would be undertaken, all to uncover and bring to justice bin Laden and Al Qaeda. In reality, the president’s remarks only barely reflected the actual strategy, for Bush broadly authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to conduct covert activities in over 80 countries, none requiring formal approval from the White House (Johnson 36). That the president could even allude to such authorization publicly, however, greatly reinforces the magnitude of the perception of victim status held by the nation. Simply, the president had reason to believe that American outrage, created by a direct assault on the nation and the implied assault on the nation’s Christian foundations, would eagerly accept strategies for retaliation taking on Biblical proportions.
Consequently, appraisals of how both Bush and bin Laden acted during this period reveal astonishing parallels. Each leader was prompted in a reactive fashion, despite American perceptions that 9/11 was an unprovoked assault. While there had been no overt attack on Muslim or the territories occupied by Al Qaeda, it is evident that bin Laden was responding to a threat no less enormous, as perceived by himself and his peers. Increased American domination translated to the destruction of the Muslim faith and way of life, so bin Laden’s actions were reactive. Similarly, Bush mobilized the U.S. to seek immediate and drastic retribution against a force seen as equally monstrous. Both forces, and despite the ostensible multi-faith component of the U.S., also relied extensively on a religious basis to support aggression. For bin Laden, a jihad, or holy war, was in order to preserve the Muslim state; for the U.S., traditional Christian ideologies responded in military operations engineered to exact vengeance. In both cases, religious terrorism was terrorism in the eyes of the receiving entity, and was a proper and ethical response to “evil” from the active party.
As noted by Doctor Eileen Power in 1920, in her brilliant analysis of the fall of Rome, a variety of tangible reasons may only partially explain collapse on such a scale. The greater reality is that Rome slowly fell to barbarism because the Roman state did not believe such a thing could occur. It viewed itself, not as a society or construct with a beginning, end, and position within the world, but as an element of natural forces: “They mistook entirely the very nature of civilization itself” (11). This critically encompasses another perception, that of an infallible sense of rightness in the proceedings of the civilization. In plain terms, Rome, much like the modern United States, had grown to a scope not admitting of bias within its foundation. America, with centuries of progress and international influence behind it, could perceive of itself, not as an actual nation, but as a state of being intrinsically correct, and consequently more than justified in exerting its presence elsewhere. Similarly, bin Laden and Al Qaeda perceived the Muslim state as an inviolable and essential expression of life as it is intended to be.
Inextricably linked to these perceptions are the faiths dominating each culture. United States government and law, if not the fabric of the nation itself, adheres to Christian principles, as Al Qaeda is entirely based on an infusion of Muslim faith into state and political concerns. Neither power could see itself as terrorist, because there was supreme justification for their actions, and this emphatically illustrates the inherently subject nature of “terrorism” itself. It is, simply, what the other country thinks, because the other country is misguided and holding to an invalid belief system. This dichotomy has been evident historically, most specifically in 16th century conflicts in Europe. In modern life, it exploded on a more international scale, as Al Qaeda and the U.S. both perpetrated and addressed “terrorist” activities. In all such cases, one reality dominates: it is inescapably evident that religious terrorism is a completely subjective term, as the instruments of such terrorism believe themselves to be acting in a completely moral, and religiously correct, fashion.
Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity, Vol. II: The Reformation to the Present Day. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Print.
Johnson, Chalmers. Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. New York: Macmillan, 2008. Print.
Lincoln, Bruce. Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion After 9/11. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006. Print.
Peters, Edwin. Inquisition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. Print.
Power, Eileen. Medieval People. Middlesex, UK: Echo Press, 2007. Print.
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