18 November 2001 | #48

Ways of Thinking, Perception and Analysis

911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground (Part 3)

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Binary thinking

According to Colin Powell (16th September 2001), the response required of other governments is "yes or no". It is "binary" he asserts -- reflecting the "excluded middle" pattern that characterizes the poverty of western conceptualization in comparison with others. Do the intellectual elites of the USA genuinely believe that using this highly restricted conceptual framework is adequate to address cultures notably characterized by the higher dimensionality of three- and four-fold logics?

Tony Blair asserts (3 October 2001) that: "It is to be a battle with only one outcome -- our victory, not theirs". Constrained by the binary thinking of the coalition, is he willfully ignorant of the other "outcomes" of previous conflicts undertaken with such enthusiasm -- such as World War I and the Gulf War (from which the CIA estimated that a million civilians subsequently died, and without removing Saddam Hussein)? What will be the equivalent of the other unforeseen outcomes in the case of the "war against terror"? Was the derogation of vital clauses in human rights treaties and legislation a foreseen outcome?

Gerhard Schröder made no secret of the fact that it was Blair's energetic promise of a "Third Way" between heartless capitalism and artery-clogging socialism that he had made the cornerstone of his own electoral campaign. In June 1999, Schröder and Blair expressed this determination in a joint release of a formal statement by Blair's Labour Party and Schröder's Social Democrats (SPD) entitled "Europe: The Third Way". Is the single outcome predicted by Tony Blair for the Afghanistan campaign evidence that this "Third Way" is effectively another uni-dimensional approach, rather than a shift beyond the binary approach? How is "three" distinguished from "one" in binary counting?

In setting our their objectives prior to the attack on Afghanistan, the USA and the UK stressed a three-pronged approach: military, diplomatic, and humanitarian -- to which it was understood that equal weight would be given, and so ensured the coalition support for the initiative. Given the emphasis on binary thinking, is it difficult to understand why it proved impossible to manage this ternary objective as envisaged, or why it degraded into a binary approach with minimal humanitarian sensitivity?

If "those who are not with us must necessarily be considered against us" (Hillary Clinton, 12th September 2001), to what extent will those who fail to associate themselves whole-heartedly with acts of retribution themselves be subject to some form of punitive sanction?

Decoded, is it really that "if you are not for US", then "you must be against USA"?

On the day of the attack against Afghanistan, bin Laden released a video that used the same binary language -- separating the world into Islamic believers and infidels attacking Islam. Does binary thinking necessarily evoke binary thinking?

The "terrorists" adopted binary thinking long ago -- recognizing that those who were not for the causes they upheld (their understanding of justice, equality, etc) were necessarily against them. By responding in binary mode, has western civilization walked into a trap that it effectively designed for itself by such insensitivity -- and, in so doing, has collapsed its rich ecology of human values into an ugly stunted pattern?

If visitors to the USA or the UK are not "with us" does that mean that they are necessarily to be treated as suspect as "terrorist fellow-travellers"? Will this not further aggravate the challenges of the tourist industry?

All member countries of the United Nations have condemned "terrorism". But assuming that only some 10-20 countries are part of the loosely articulated US-led "global" coalition "against terrorism", does this mean that over 150 countries are effectively "for terrorism" or to be suspected of supporting or condoning it? What percentage of the world population is thus defined as condoning terrorism in some way? How many such people really need to be "rooted out" by the coalition? What we will be done with them?

Oddly some translations of Osama bin Laden's statement at the time of the coalition riposte were rendered as the world now being split into the camp of "belief" and the camp of "disbelief". Is this a fruitful way of viewing humanity's responses at this time to spirituality, to meaningful significance, to confidence in the future, to hope, and to the merits of the coalition riposte itself?

Is religion at the root of binary thinking and its reinforcement -- with the constant focus on "good" and "evil" and little capacity to give form to the worlds between, and beyond, in which most people are obliged to learn to live their communal lives?

"All the religious wars that have caused blood to be shed for centuries arise from passionate feelings and facile counter-positions, such as Us and Them, good and bad, white and black." Does the strength and richness of western culture not lie in its efforts to "dissolve" harmful simplifications through inquiry and the critical mind? (Umberto Eco, Guardian, 13 October 2001)

If only 80-90 percent of Americans support the Bush administration's war policies, does this imply -- according to the "with us / against us" binary logic -- that those against them are to be considered necessarily as supporting terrorism? Do 10-20 percent of Americans therefore support terrorism? Should they be "rooted out"? Or should such dissenters be required to wear distinctive armbands?

If 74 percent of Britons support the bombing of Afghanistan (Guardian, 12 October 2001) in response to the coalition's perception of "terror", does this mean that 74 percent would accept the logic of being bombed by others who perceive key coalition states to have been engaged in "terrorism", supporting it, or condoning it on the part of their allies? Would they see this as just retribution?

If over 50% of Americans believing that Arab-Americans should have special identity cards, whilst the Taliban legislate that Hindus wear special insignia on their clothes -- do these chilling similarities return us back to Europe sixty years ago? Would it not be ironic if the Israelis imposed such identification on their Arab citizens and on Palestinians working in Israel?

If there is only to be a single outcome according to Tony Blair, why is the House of Saud so worried about the possibility of "secondary effects" in Saudi Arabia (4th October 2001)?

What inhibits intellectual capacity in politicians and leaders -- even encouraging them to aspire to reduce binary thinking to single-factor explanations? Why, by contrast, do engineers aspire to develop engines from single stroke, through two-stroke, to V-8 and multi-cylinder variants?

One of the significant dangers to life on the planet is unforeseen combinations of seemingly innocuous factors. The military exploitation of this takes the form of "binary weapons" -- notably innocuous chemicals which when mixed have explosive or toxic effects. To what extent is collective intelligence, operating according to binary logic, able to detect such unforeseeable destabilizing effects on society?

In responding to crises, does the tendency to reduce the focus to a single individual, or an organization, or some other single causative factor, blind collective intelligence to wider systemic patterns? Does the pursuit of "local" closure reflect a lack of open-mindness to "global" systemic ills?

Given the highly courageous role performed -- with their own sacrifices -- by the emergency services at the time of the disaster, has the strategic danger been of projecting that necessary "fix it" binary logic (appropriate in a given context and culture) onto the wider challenge of responding to the message behind the attack as a symptom of global societal malaise?

The Mayor of New York, in addressing the UN General Assembly (1 October 2001) stated: "I ask you to look in your hearts and recognize that there is no room for neutrality on the issue of terrorism. You're either with civilization or with terrorists...We are right and they are wrong". Does that mean that anyone who dares to disagree with him is with the terrorists and subject to arrest when visiting the UN in New York? What scope is there for genuine international meetings there?

How can policy-makers, politicians and their constituencies learn to count beyond two? How does their failure to do so undermine capacity to build complex enduring coalitions, articulate complex sustainable strategies, comprehend subtler patterns of coherence in the governance of society, engage in richer forms of dialogue amongst widely different belief systems, and move beyond obsession with "winning" and "losing" in relation to those with whom they dialogue?

To what extent does the intervention in Afghanistan based on "bombardment plus humanitarian aid" depend upon insights gained in the more severe forms of interrogation of prisoners -- alternating between ""good cop" and "bad cop" to disorient as part of a brainwashing and dependency-creating process? Like the terrified prisoners, how traumatized is the Afghan population scheduled to become in trying to anticipate whether an overflying plane will drop bombs or food? Or bombs disguised as food?

How many civilians will be killed by food aid dropped from a great height?

If binary thinking is to be the policy modality of the future, then surely those who are not in favour of peace must be in favour of war? Those whose are not against environmental pollution must be in favour of it? Those who are not in favour of protecting endangered species must be in favour of endangering them further? Those who are not in favour of assistance to the vulnerable must surely be in favour of their exploitation?

"September 11, we are told, demands a new kind of war against a highly elusive enemy. But terror and elusive enemies were not invented on that day. Around the world, proliferating weapons (sold by the US-coalition members) and deep-seated anger are fuelling conflicts that cannot be adequately understood, or combatted, as the struggle between two teams, let alone between good and evil. Ultimately, will the only defence be to defuse the underlying anger? (David Keen, Guardian, 7 November 2001)

How will binary thinking be successfully applied to the challenge of nation building in Afghanistan -- especially in the light of the multiple shifting alliances amongst the various ethnic groups, and the number of countries bordering on Afghanistan? Is that why the USA is avoiding the challenge after dropping its bombs?

Robert Zoellick, US trade representative, to the WTO talks argues that "by promoting the WTO's agenda, these 142 nations can counter the revulsive destructionism of terrorism". Open markets, he claimed, are "an antidote" to the "terrorists' violent rejectionism". Is the conduct of WTO trade negotiation by the western world to be "bundled" (Microsoft-style) inside the with-us-or-against-us logic of the war on terrorism? (Naomi Klein, Guardian, 8 November 2001)

"An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind" - said Mahatma Gandhi. New logics have to be integrated in the process of new learning, both in a theoretical and in a practical way. Is it so difficult to see that binary thinking is precisely the favored ground of terrorists? Is it so difficult to see that violence always engenders violence in the absence of a new logic? (Basarab Nicolescu, 16 October 2001)

Symbolism and other metaphors

What do the outer symbols of the crisis offer as learnings? What can be learnt from the shock and suffering of these events? What is the higher purpose of this crisis in human evolution?

Is USA strategy trapped in the logic of cowboy movies: the heroic "federal marshall", getting together a "posse", travelling into the "bad lands", tracking down the "bad guy" for "however long it takes" -- and "wanted: dead or alive"? Is this extended into a search for a "silver bullet" on which Osama bin Laden's name can be carved?

Has George Bush become so inspired by the cowboy mythology of his home state that his response to crisis is that explored in many frontier movies "beyond the rule of law": big landowner taking the law into his own hands, intimidation of residents into membership of a posse, lynch mob justice ("because we all know he did it")? Is the current "terrorist crisis" to be judged like a low budget, poorly cast, movie with a simplistic plot? Historically, in Bush's home state, how did it become possible to curtail the self-interested exploitation of their power by large landowners?

Is the nature of the Bush-administration response patterned on the classic cowboy movie bar-room scene in which the local bully seeks any excuse to challenge the foreigner, even: "I don't like the way you're looking at me stranger"? Or is it legitimated through a variant on the classic Clint Eastwood detective movies in which, as heroic police officer, he brushes aside legal procedure and takes out the bad guy with his personal "non-regulation cannon" -- and because "he knows who he is"?

America's military and political establishment has a long history of confusing fact with film. For example, on taking office in January 1981, Ronald Reagan expressed deep disappointment during his first tour of the White House when it was explained that there was no "war room" to see -- and that this only existed in the movie Dr Strangelove. And yet his inability to distinguish between the "reel" world and reality had major positive repercussions -- notably in framing his encounter with Gorbachev. Is this one of the reasons why the Pentagon is consulting the movie industry for inspiration in the "war against terrorism"? (Tome Dewe Mathews, Guardian, 14 November 2001)

Is it the case that whilst western intelligence services have developed the capacity to "listen" to almost any conversation anywhere, they are effectively "deaf" in their incapacity to "hear" and comprehend the nature of what is being said about the desperate condition in which proud peoples find themselves?

Some people are always open to temptation by products and services deplored by their own culture. Is it comprehensible that the "freedom" to install an American hamburger chain in Mecca may be as abhorred by some of Islamic culture as would be any effort to install a brothel in the White House?

Will the "war against terrorism" in Afghanistan be finally terminated to American satisfaction when the first McDonald's is opened in Kabul with triumphant media coverage?

If we are to truly resolve the hatred and violence, we need to understand that in their eyes, they see themselves as a tiny, heroic David fighting against a huge, monstrous Goliath who seeks to kill them and their way of life. We certainly need not agree with their views, but we must understand them if we ever hope to achieve a lasting peace and not a world that is locked down and bereft of all the civil rights and freedoms we cherish so highly. (Greg Nees, Former US Marine, Letter to the President, 13 September 2001) What body within the US-led coalition is charged with such understanding? Are its conclusions heard?

Is there not a terrible irony in the fact that Osama bin Laden dresses and looks like many contemporary western portrayals of Jesus in both religious iconography and Hollywood movies -- and has a life story and lifestyle that may in future be portrayed has having some parallels with the youth of the Buddha? What psychic confusions will this create in western society -- Jesus returning with a Kalashnivov -- especially in the USA where citizens have a constitutional right to bear arms?

Is there a danger of the "war against terror" being transformed into a form of media soap opera within the western world, and especially the USA? Will Osama bin Laden be treated as a media phenomenon like O J Simpson, or Obi-Wan Kenobe -- "OBL" instead of "OJS" T-shirts?

Will the American covert attempts to pay large amounts to any Afghan refugee that can reveal the location of bin Laden, effectively set up a myth in which bin Laden may well be betrayed for the modern equivalent of "30 peices of silver"? Will this reinforce the resemblances between the Roman Empire and the "American Empire"? Will it be a Christian who is cast into the role of "Pontius Pilate" in Muslim eyes?

"Infinite justice" is an attribute that Muslims see as reserved for Allah alone. The initial naming of the US-led response as "Operation Infinite Justice" was therefore, wittingly or unwittingly, offensive to Islam and potential Arab allies. Does this confirm that those responsible were effectively declaring a holy war of religious significance -- or is it merely a mark of the limitations of American strategic perceptions and cultural insensitivities?

Is George Bush, in the light of his religious beliefs, reactivating the unfortunate historical pattern of the Crusades (a term he explicitly used, 18 September)) in response to a Jihad? Is it CEOs of multinational corporations, the CIA, or the US Special Forces that are best cast in the role of Knights Templar on the final battleground between "good" and "evil"?

Given the contemporary significance to the Islamic world of the Christian Crusades, what contemporary resemblance might the commercial and military incursions onto Islamic soil by westerners have to such historically traumatic events?

In using "rooting out" as a means of providing strategic focus to the response to international terrorism, is there not a danger in focusing on the eminently feasible agricultural connotations of "weeding" and the like -- when the challenge may more closely resemble a tenacious cancer that has metastasized? Have things gone too far in neglecting the billions in despair? Will surgery be possible without killing the patient -- namely civilization?

Military historian Professor Sir Michael Howard (30 Octobr 2001) compared the bombardment of Afghanistan to "trying to eradicate cancer cells with a blow torch". Has this placed the al-Qaida network in a "win-win" situation that could escalate into an ongoing confrontation that would shatter western multicultural societies?

How is rage against perceived injustice to be "rooted out"?

Osama bin Laden has become a cult figure around which the dispossessed -- and those frustrated with the west's self-absorption -- can coalesce. As the result of international incitement against one person, if he is killed he will become a martyr and a symbol, whose death would have to be gruesomely avenged; if he survives he will become a stronger symbol, presumably wreaking further murderous havoc. To capture and put bin Laden on trial would enable him to articulate his fundamentalist cause, create a focus for Islamist anger, and to further inflate his legend. Does the west lose either way? (Editorial, Independent, 11 November 2001)

By his actions, will the President of the USA consecrate Osama bin Laden as the Che Guevara of the 21st Century?

How has George Bush trapped himself, and American culture, into creating a hero -- "dead" or "alive" -- a voice for the voiceless, a face for the faceless?

Will Osama bin Laden be recognized by history as the second "face that launched a thousand ships"?

If the World Trade Center was built to last 10,000 years, how long will American power and society really last?

Might it be more instructive to rename any "security council" as an "insecurity council", and a "defence department" as a "defensiveness department", and so on?

David Blunkett, UK Home Secretary, in arguing in support of his anti-terrorist legislation, dismissed "airy-fairy civil liberties" and the people who support them. (Hugo Young, Guardian, 15 November 2001) Does this imply that countries such as the USA and the UK, which have been so closely identified with human rights for many decades, have in fact been in some way disguising themselves in "frilly skirts" -- cross-dressing?

In a newly released film The Last Castle the good guys (criminals in a US military prison) fly a helicopter into one of the guard towers manned by the bad guys (the US army). Robert Redford says of this film, "But that is what makes America great. That's how we became a free country". What are the cultural messages that America wishes to communicate? Is it signalling that it's own spiritual renewal necessitates destruction of the military and political guard towers of it's society? Might Islamic fundamentalists see themselves as the "good" guys freeing America from it's own corrupt non spiritual government? (Diana James)

The indigenous southern and central American cultures, replaced by western conquistadores in pursuit of gold, depended on mass human sacrifices -- on massive pyramids -- to ensure their stability. Has western society developed equivalent dependence on "pyramid selling" -- sacrificing the well-being of the masses -- to sustain its global economic system? Was the World Trade Center attack the revenge of the sacrificed?

One of Christianity's founding myths is the action of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem in response to the "money changers". Is it not comprehensible that the poverty and suffering of millions may inspire some to attack what they perceive as the "money changers" in charge of trillions of dollars in what some in western civilization consider their "temple"? Why is this perceived as justified by some and completely unjustified by others?

George Lakoff, as a specialist in metaphor, points out that the WTC -- like any building -- can be understood as a head. The attack was then viewed like a bullet going through a head. What unconscious effects are there on a society that senses that it has been shot through the temple -- especially if the building then falls to the ground?

How does the west expect the Islamic world, especially its fundamentalists, to appreciate the news that thousands of British reserve troops against Afghanistan were provided with morale-boosting entertainment on the day prior to the attack (6th October 2001) by a British stripper on the Arabian peninsula?

Given the vulnerability of the twin towers of the World Trade Center -- previously perceived as massive symbols of the robustness of the western commercial system -- does this not suggest that this system is itself dangerously vulnerable to instant collapse and far from being as robust as is widely argued, notably by those promoting globalization? What kind of thinking gave rise to such systems of illusory impregnability?

How has it come about that America's role as the world's "policeman" is now being transformed into a "parental" role -- in both cases able to "punish" others for naughty behaviour (cf sanctions against Pakistan for its nuclear testing)? Is it appropriate to seek to "punish" the Taliban with this framework -- at a time when it is America that has endeavoured to persuade the world that corporal punishment is distinctly unhelpful to the upbringing of those in their formative years?

A vital aspect of the American spirit is captured by the much cited phrase from Star Trek: "to boldly go where no one has gone before". It carries vital connotations of the meaning of "freedom" within American culture. To what extent does it nurture the American pilots in their bombing raids on Afghanistan? Is it being perverted and extended, through American foreign policy, to signify the freedom "to boldly go and freely bomb along the way" -- in defiance of other sensitivities and the rule of law? In Star Trek terms, when does this infringe the "prime directive"?

Will history compare the repeated bombing of Afghanistan (GNP/capita $400; GNP $8,542m; Human Development Index 0.161) by the USA (GNP/capita $29,080; GNP $7,968,734m; HDI 0.966) to the repeated pounding of a baby (4.0 kg) by a sumo wrestler (290.8 kg)? Or perhaps to the consequences of an elephant (7,968 kg) stamping on a jackal (8.5 kg) for several weeks, or an adult human (80 kg) stamping on a rat (0.085 kg)? Why did neither the baby, nor the jackal, nor the rat give up? How bloodied does the sumo wrestler want the baby to be?

What next if the cannon fails to kill the sparrow? (Syed Amar Ali Shah, Guardian, 30 October 2001)

On hearing of protest by the starving at the gates of Versailles, Queen Marie Antoinette is reported to have said "Let them eat cake"? Would the response of the western world to those lacking water be: "Let them drink coke"?

In bombing Afghanistan, is the west charging around like a bear trying to kill a wasp -- and in the process stirring up a whole nest? (Chris Davies, Independent, l November 2001)

In seeking to eliminate the Taliban (meaning "student"), has the USA undertaken the first full scale war against students? Does this signal some unconscious resistance of the USA to learning -- especially from others?

Having acted in this way in Vietnam, in Cambodia and in Iraq, is carpet bombing the best that the USA can do -- when it sends a searingly certain message to the watching world? Does President Bush have any idea how proportionately to attain his ends or even what they might be? Does it not signify to many an act of desperation prompted by a failure of imagination? (Guardian, 3 November 2001)

A number of countries of the coalition have experienced severe flooding in recent years. The response has been to focus on protection of buildings against future flooding. How does the strategic response to "flooding" compare to the strategic response to "terrorism"? Why, in both cases, is there a prime focus on "security"? What can be learnt of the careful avoidance of explanations as to why buildings should suddenly be vulnerable to flooding, whether "global warming", "damage to waterways", "construction in flood plains" or "rising groundwater levels" ? What proportion of the very large sums devoted to the "security" aspects of the "terrorist" crisis have been allocated to re-examining the underlying reasons for its emergence and addressing those reasons -- rather than their "downstream" consequences? Or is more "terrorism" to be considered just as likely as more "flooding"? Does "flooding" offer insights into the nature of rising popular unrest?

What does "daisy cutter" say about the attitude to human life of those who use it -- why not "people mangler"? Is it not curious that that bomb was first used in Afghanistan just when UK politicians, including Tony Blair, engaged in their annual November display of buttonhole poppies in celebration of the war dead? Would "poppy cutter" not be a more appropriate name for the bomb -- especially given the growth of poppies in Afghanistan? When they have won, perhaps the UK could oblige the Afghans to disport a poppy in November to commemorate their own war dead?

Having developed the scenarios that prefigured many of the elements of the attack -- both for the terrorists and for the panicked American public -- Hollywood movie directors have been convened by the Bush administration (November 2001) to develop imaginative scenarios for new forms of attack that need to be anticipated. Additionally the Hollywood directors are being encouraged to develop scenarios to "show the heroism of American armed forces (Duncan Campbell, Guardian, 9 November 2001) -- in their risk-free slaughter of the Afghans from on high? Is this a reframing of the early initiative of the US Army's film series entitled Why We Fight (1942-45) -- itself a response to the long-banned pro-Nazi film Triumph of the Will (1935) directed by Leni Riefensthal? Will this brief require that future variations on Star Trek legitimate blatant violations of the "prime directive" and promote cultural hegemonization? And no imaginative exploration of more fruitful alternatives?

Will movie scenarios in future endeavour to protray "terrorists" of any kind -- including Osama bin Laden -- as more demonic than the "terrorists" perceive the leaders of the west to be? To what extent will it be possible for movies to explore both the legitimacy, and the existential doubts, of change agents of any kind in protesting the iniquities of the status quo? Are political and commercial pressures already obliging creative artists to reinforce the political line -- as in Nazi and Communist societies?

Has the US-coalition acquired a perverse association with "carpets" through its destructive carpet bombing demonstration in a part of the world renowned for production of the highest quality carpets? Do its oil-pipeline and other economic priorities extend this to "carpetbagging" -- defined as an outsider seeking power or success presumptuously, as exemplified in the USA by the post-Civil War carpetbaggers from the north who tried to take over the south, and more pejoratively recognized as a travelling huckster? And what of the truths that have been deliberately swept under the carpet in the process?

Does one of the fundamental constraints on evoking creative alternative approaches to any crisis derive from the fact that the relevant policy advisers are all housed in "think tanks"? Are these as armoured against alternative perspectives as their military equivalents? Although in principle free to trundle over all terrains like their military equivalents, do they also have "no go" areas in which they can become seriously bogged down or can they be faced with chasms they are unable to cross? Are they also handicapped by dependence on one big cannon?

The capacity of human beings to forget is certainly infinite, but it can't act on symbols. And it is precisely a symbol that was aimed at by the cold and implacable brain of an esoterico-technological engineer who conceived the act of staging the castration of the economic and financial power thought of, till now, as untouchable. Is it merely accidental that the new century begins with an act of horror that marks for ever the imagination of our generation and of those to come? (Basarab Nicolescu, 16 October 2001)

Projection and denial

American media, and the movie industry, have sustained and cultivated a vast appetite for violence and "evil" in the form of horror and bloodshed of every kind. This extends to sympathetic interviews with perpetrators of crimes such as rape, serial killing, cannibalism, and the like -- even to "snuff" videos. How is it that American culture is unable to relate more effectively to the "evil" represented by "terrorists" and is obliged to demonize them to a much higher degree?

How is it that the country that has had the least exposure to international conflict on its own soil is renowned for the level of violence within that society and for its production of horror movies of every kind? Does it need to engender terror for its citizenry? Has is its current exposure to "terror" been evoked as an extension of that pattern?

According to John Flynn (1944): "The enemy aggresor is always pursuing a course of larceny, murder, rapine and barbarism. We are always moving forward with high mission, a destiny imposed by the Deity to regenerate our victims while incidentally capturing their markets, to civilize savage and senile and paranoidal peoples while blundering accidentally into their oil wells". When will civilization graduate beyond such cynical manipulation of public opinion?

Is it not understandable that many people in non-western cultures will perceive Osama bin Laden as a more consistently principled warrior against "injustice" (as he sees it) than those who want to bring him to "justice" (as they see it)? Given the focus on prayer by his network, will they not be perceived as having a higher spiritual motivation than the secular forces crusading against them?

What psychological factors enter into play in the current crisis, when it was George Bush's father who dispatched American troops to Saudi Arabia -- radicalizing Osama bin Laden -- and it was also his father who was CIA director responsible for training mujahideen -- and Osama bin Laden -- in the Afghan resistance to the Russians?

Most of the "terrorist camps" in Afghanistan were built with CIA assistance when bin Laden and his colleagues were the good guys. What does US bombing of them signify? Is the USA endeavouring to wipe out evidence of its own past?

If Islam should acknowledge how it creates bin Ladens, should the west not also acknowledge its capacity to engender Hitlers, Unabombers and McVeighs?

One of the few to interview bin Laden, BBC journalist Peter Jouvenal described him as cold -- "like a banker" -- someone who knew how to use others. Is it not curious that he should resemble those against whom he allegedly directed the attack?

Jack Straw, UK Minister of Foreign Affairs, described Osama bin Laden as "obviously psychotic" on the basis of almost no evidence (Guardian, 6 November 2001). Does this suggest that the coalition leaders are failing to understand their enemies and their motivation? Does such convenient labelling justify war and negate all other possible ways of resolving the Middle East crisis? (Dr Raj Persaud, Guardian, 7 November 2001).

The Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al Faisal, claimed that US inaction in the Middle East "makes a sane man mad" (8 November 2001). Would this be the nature of the "madness" of Osama bin Laden?

The attempt by Jack Straw (Guardian, 6 November 2001) to label Osama bin Laden as psychotic is mistaken if it is based on his assertion that "a key characteristic of people who are psychotic and paranoid is the sense of complete detachment from the suffering of others". Is this not however an appropriate description of a politician who casually maligns those who do genuinely suffer from such disorders? (Richard Bentall, Guardian, 7 November 2001). How might such a diagnosis apply to the leaders of western society who so significantly neglect in practice the suffering of those in other cultures?

Jack Straw's labelling of Osama bin Laden as "psychotic" (Guardian, 6 November 2001) indicates a confusion with a "psychopathic" person who may indeed suffer from a "sense of complete detachment from the suffering of others". Psychotic people have often been driven into their psychosis by their extreme sensitivity to the sufferings of others. In this cruel world, does not remaining "sane" necessitate a considerable degree of insensitivity to the suffering of others? (Dr Dorothy Rowe, Guardian, 7 November 2001) How should the mental condition of those ordering or dropping "carpet bombs" be described?

In facing the greatest "challenge to civilization" through a "war on terror", is it not vital to remember whose "terror" it is? It is not the terrorists who are "terrified" -- they only cause terror through the manner in which people become fearful. People in "western civilization", and in America in particular, are being forced to confront their greatest fears. Is it not against these fears and insecurities that people are effectively fighting?

Could the "war on terror" be more fruitfully understood as a "war on fear" -- our own personal or collective fears? In depth psychology terms, is western civilization about to engage in a war against its own shadow? Could international terrorism be better cast as the shadow of global society?

The Mayor of New York, in addressing the UN General Assembly (1 October 2001) concluded: "We don't let fear make our decisions for us. We choose to live in freedom". Does this include the freedom not to be afraid to question his expressed conviction that he is absolutely "right" and the terrorists are absolutely "wrong"?

Could all the worldwide anger towards the US institutions symbolized by the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have provided the inner energy for these attacks to take place?

Propaganda in past wars focused on portraying the Japanese as "brutish" and to be extrerminated, the Tutsis were described as "cockroaches", Saddam was described as a "butcher" with his soldiers tossing babies out of incubators. Solderies in all wars of the 20th century became aware of the discrepancy between the demonised pictures they had been shown of their foe and those they encountered in battle (Joanna Bourke, Independent, 14 October 2001) Why does propaganda warfare necessarily involve the dehumanization and demonization of the enemy -- paralleled by undue appreciation of selected "heroes"?

American culture has long extolled the lonely hero faced with immeasurable obstacles. Is it not strange that the mightiest nation is now confronted by a "cave-dweller" who is responding creatively to immeasurable obstacles?

Is the world engaged in a long-running dialogue of the deaf, now become a shouting match conducted with eyes closed and thought suspended? What victims have we all become of our mutual ignorance, prejudice, selfishness and forfeited respect?

In the American search for metaphors to describe the necessary response to bin Laden and the Taliban, why has "purging" emerged as appropriate? Does this derive from consultations with those familiar with "purges" in the former Soviet Union? Are the Special Forces to act as a "purgative"? Given the recognized need of American society for a new "enemy", is there perhaps some more fundamental confusion with the need for an "enema" -- for its own health?

Images of fully "covered" Afghanistan women are repeatedly presented by the media as evidence of visible oppression of women in Islamic culture. To what extent does this conveniently ignore the manner in which women (and non-male thinking) in western civilization are invisibly "covered" and subject to equivalent behavioural constraints -- but without such obvious visual cues?

Great media stress is placed on the fact that some Islamic women are covered. How is it that the practice in the west of covering women to a high degree -- as with Christian nuns until recent years -- is never mentioned in that context? How is it that so little is done in NATO countries about "closed houses" operated by international criminal networks for the pleasure of men?

If George Bush, as a born-again Christian, had sought to provide himself, and his culture, with an optimal learning experience in the reality of the world, could he have conjured up a better challenge than Osama bin Laden -- or vice versa?

Following his strong criticism of Bill Clinton on the matter, who would have predicted George Bush's congenial response to Vladimir Putin when they met for the first time face-to-face -- as with Reagan and Gorbachev? What is the possibility that his encounter with bin Laden -- two men of prayer -- would surprise both of them?

The Gulf War for the first time permitted the principal enemy of western civilization to appear worldwide on CNN -- but this was subject to western propaganda to frame his perspective to western advantage. In the "war against terror", the enemy of western civilization appears on the independent Al-Jazeera channel. How is it that the western coalition is deeply concerned at the possibility that their citzenry encounter their "enemy" in this way -- rather than as those promoting the conflict would prefer to demonize him? Are citizens so immature as to make their own assessment? Should they not be judged equally incompetent to make their own assessment of George Bush and Tony Blair -- as leaders of democratic societies?

A web site "endorsed by radio and T.V. stations around America" is devoted to the sale of "Osama bin Laden toilet paper" made in the USA. Each roll features pictures of him with slogans such as: "Wipe out bin Laden!" Is it understandable that media companies, potentially associated with such endorsements, might be the victim of anthrax attacks?

Would a child be able to distinguish between representations of Jesus and pictures of Osama bin Laden? For those of Christian upbringing, to what profound psycho-spiritual confusion is this liable to lead as a result of American media promotion of the Osama bin Laden toilet paper?

For Christopher Geist (Bowling Green State University in Ohio), using caricature to ridicule bin Laden is part of a long-established American pattern. He cites the targeting of Kaiser Wilhelm II during World War I, Tojo and Hitler in World War II and Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. "We bedevil our biggest enemy. We demonize him. Then we dehumanize him, as a dog or an animal. It's all part of the process. It helps pull us together, galvanizing us and focusing our anger." (IHT, 13 October 2001) Whilst this may be equivalent to the effigy-burning of George Bush favoured in Arab countries, is there a better way of handling the stress of an encounter with an enemy?

Whose terror is it -- that terrorists engender? Is not the "war against terror" (the continuing CNN banner line) a war against being frightened by fear -- our own fear? Is it helpful to believe that "terror" is elsewhere and only susceptible to being attacked there? Is this not a special form of denial? Are its roots not, above all, within ourselves? Is it a case of: "there is nothing to fear but fear itself"?

How to defeat terrorism? Don't be terrorized. Don't let fear rule your life -- even if you are scared (Salman Rushdie, living under a fatwa against his life since 1989)

Is it effectively the case that Americans are at war with their own fears -- and seeking the assistance of others? Why is it assumed that war has its roots as far away as possible from the USA and the "American way of life" -- when the origins of terror are as close as possible to those who experience it?

Is 21st century civilization now faced with a widening net of fearfulness, in which Europe, America and the different regions of the Middle East and south Asia are equally enmeshed? Under such circumstances, when people tend to concentrate on their own fears and demand that others choose to be "either with us or against us", is it only by taking into account the fearfulness of others, and the reasons why it takes such different forms from our own, that security can be regained? (Martin Woollacott, Guardian, 19 October 2001)

Is the increasing preoccupation in American culture with being "positive" associated with an inordinate fear of that which is "not" what can be readily understood as positive -- a form of conceptual xeonophobia as a fear of the "other"? Would Shakespeare's words -- and modern culture -- benefit from being stripped of any "negatives"? Does this derive from a twisted existential interpretation of the Biblical injunction "Fear not for I am with thee" (Isaiah 41:1-13)?

Sa'id Asgharzadeh (Tose'eh, Iran, 6 October 2001) compares the WTC twin towers to the windmills attacked by Don Quixote, of which there are two variants in literature -- that of Cervantes he compares to bin Laden seeking to stop the Renaissance and restore medieval chivalry, with Sancho (his companion) on a donkey like Mullah Omar encouraging Don Quixote to pursue his dreams and illusions. Graham Greene's modern Don Quixote, and like George Bush, is to be addressed as his excellency, pursues the path to absolute good and is in a constant struggle against evil, but is thwarted in his aims by his fantasies and illusions. His Sancho is a bankrupt capitalist -- in this case Tony Blair. For the commentator: "Both are examples of the tragedy of human life. Both are prepared to sacrifice themselves for humanity, have companions, and insist on pursuing their chosen paths though they realize they are the object of universal ridicule....We should wait and see if the countries of the region and the world face a fate shaped by emotions or thought. If a choice is inevitable, do people prefer a tragic or a comical ending?"

Is it the case that the major "wars" in which society has recently been engaged -- drugs, crime, terrorism, and religion -- all have their origin in subtle patterns of personal belief, inadequacy, denial and unfulfillment? Are these fundamental wars against constraining self-images?

Before casting the next stone, is there not a case for each and everyone of us to first take a good look in the mirror?

From the perspective of individual psychology, an equivalent savage attack by an alienated infant on an adult (or by a pet on its owner), is normally subject to reams of understanding discourse. What is to be learnt from the situation in which an alienated group from a culture of despair so savagely seeks access to those who pride themselves on their degree of control over the world system?

John McCain, US Republican senator: "We did not cause this war. Our enemies did, and they are to blame for the deprivation and difficulties it occasions. They are to blame for the loss of innocent life. They are to blame for the geopolitical problems confronting our friends and us (Guardian, 30 October 2001). How is it that many subscribe to another perspective? To what extent are such wounded-innocence arguments analogous to those presented in any American divorce court?

In threatening to bomb any country harbouring terrorists, how is President Bush going to deal with the emerging possibility that those disseminating anthrax in the USA are in fact citizens of the USA? Is American culture engendering a situation in which it recognizes that the principal target for its ire is itself -- "We have seen the enemy and they is us"?

Muslims are perceived by many Americans as intolerant, backward and violent; Muslims in the Arab world perceive Americans as materialistic, degenerate and selfish. Is there not a strong case for Americans and the Islamic world to recognize the nature of the negative projections through which they perceive each other and to explore ways to move beyond entrapment in those projections?

In placing such stress on "evil" in relation to "terrorism", to what extent is George Bush denying the "evil" so specifically acknowledged by the born-again Christians of which he is part -- and with which he was formerly so closely associated as a binge drinker? How would he have expected "evil-doers" to be treated at that time?

American movies have on many occasions explored the theme of "rogue groups" within the intelligence agencies of the USA -- explicitly citing involvement of the CIA in terrorist operations in Latin America that have resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands. Given the current government interest in using the creativity of movie directors to anticipate novel threats, is it also recognized that by fictionalizing American responsibility in terrorist activities, it assists in the process of formally denying its reality?

Quality of discourse vs propaganda

In whose interest is it to simplify and polarize the discourse in response to this strategically symbolic attack -- notably in support of strategically primitive retribution attacks?

Why is the quality of media discourse about such an attack lacking in any acknowledgement of the perspective of those with some understanding of the attackers - thus exemplifying the reasons for which they presumably undertook the attack?

Why is there such "a disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators" (Susan Sontag)? Why do "the voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public" (Susan Sontag)?

What credence can be given to public opinion polls claiming that from 80-90 percent of Americans are in favour of Bush's war policies?

Is public discourse already constrained by provisions for media freedom in time of war, and its role in war propaganda and the manufacture of consensus?

How are the consensus-manufacturing and coalition-building initiatives of the US-led coalition to be distinguished from war-mongering and incitement to war?

According to Susan Sontag: "The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy." How can citizens be engaged in higher quality discourse appropriate to post-modern challenges?

In emphasizing "either you are with us or you are against us" (21 September 2001), is George Bush aware that it was one of the standard phrases used by the Communist Party in the Soviet Union?

Is there a danger that politics -- the politics of a democracy entailing disagreement -- will degrade into psychotherapy?

How will the different parties, those of cultures of privilege and those of cultures of despair, be enabled to enter a heart-felt honourable dialogue that is not a mockery of their radically different existential realities?

For years citizens of Arab countries -- like those of the Communist bloc -- have learnt to distrust their leaders. So why should they now believe them and their new western friends? (Chris Blackhurst, Independent, 14 October 2001) Given the constraints of war propaganda, who should citizens of western countries believe?

Given the acknowledgement that the war on terrorism is likely to continue for a long time, will any opposition to it be treated as supporting a terrorist position? Is opposition to government policies to be considered as support for terrorism?

How is it that what passes for debate has gradually been reduced, since the first shots were fired on 7 October, to an ultra-simplistic contest between "good" and "evil" or, worse still, "bombers" versus "wobblers"? (Editorial, Guardian, 16 November 2001)

How is a "loyal opposition" in parliament to be distinguished and permitted -- and what of any other opposition?

George Bush threatened the less-steadfast coalition allies, stating (6 November 2001): "It's going to be important for nations to know they will be held accountable for inactivity. You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror". Is this an effort to distract from the indifference of the USA to other issues voiced by the majority of the rest of the world? Should the USA not recieve a similar message with respect to issues that others perceive to be more urgent?

Is it now acceptable that the rest of the world should apply "either you are with us or you are against us" to the USA itself -- with respect to issues of global warming and environment (cf Kyoto), small arms, genetically modified organisms, and other matters, on which the USA is self-righteously indifferent to the views of the rest of the world?

There are different kinds of discourse in response to the challenges faced by millions in poverty. Each may be judged as completely inappropriate according to other criteria. Each may nevertheless have its strengths and weaknesses. Should the attack be considered as one such response by desperate people of limited means -- just as the subsequent response by a people of unlimited means could be considered in terms of whether it improves the quality of discourse about the tragedy of life for many in modern civilization?

Does the ultimate tragedy for civilization lie in the total polarization of disagreement -- there can be "no more excuses; it is time to choose sides" (George Bush, 14 September 2001)? How many sides are permissible -- or desirable -- in a multi-cultural world?

Will action in response to the attack divide the world, and America, into avengers of the "wrong-doing" and questioners about future "right-doing"? Will the avengers learn anything to enable them to reduce the hatred they evoke? Will the questioners develop any fruitful insights into the way forward?

Is the only choice offered to Muslims between backing western imperialism or backing Islamic fundamentalism? Has the damage to world civilization already been done -- though willfully confusing anti-war with anti-American, context with cause, and explanation with justification, in order to polarize debate and deride dissent? (Gary Younge, Guardian, 15 October 2001)

The US and UK governments expressed extreme concern that Osama bin Laden and the Taliban were "winning the propaganda war" notably for the "hearts and minds" of the Arab world. Media were requested to restrict coverage of opposing perspectives. "Spin doctor" have been deployed to ensure rapid rebuttal of "Taliban lies" (Guardian, 10 November 2001). How does such a high degree of news management ensure the credibility of information reaching citizens of the world? How are they to know that they are not simply being exposed to a set of "coalition lies" in the propaganda war? Or is it that the US and UK governments always tell their citizens the truth -- despite employing expensive "spin doctors"?

According to Colin Powell: "We're selling a product. The product we are selling is democracy, it's the free enterprise system, the American value system". What value does the US-coalition attach to the quality of discourse when the revamped propaganda campaign to achieve this is headed by a person "drafted into government from the world of Uncle Ben's Rice and Head and Shoulders shampoo" by the Bush administration? (Jo Dillon and Andrew Gumbel, Independent, 11 November 2001) Will this indeed reflect the united front of western civilization? Is this kind of democracy a finished "product" -- what happened to the democratic "process"?

Is it possible that Islam and the west might have something to learn from each other -- especially given the significance attributed to Islam over 1500 years? If both sides believe that there is nothing of positive value to learnt from the other, ten is there any hope of resolution of the cultural divide that separates them? Having put large amounts into military and political responses to terrorism, should hot commensurate amounts be put into finding mechanisms to engage each other where it most counts -- in the cultural arena? (Jeremy Rifkin, Guardian, 13 November 2001)

Leaders on both sides use the same psychologically polarizing terminology (couched in faith-based religious assumptions instead of self-evident truths) to gain emotional supporters for their specific objectives. Has public discourse in the USA come to equate "terrorism" with coded terms like malevolence, satanic, hatred and evil -- with "war", as waged by the USA and its allies, seen there as holy, benevolent and just, with positive motivations? Is it surprising that a similar polarity -- jihad versus terrorism -- exists in much of the Muslim world, with the positive term jihad (their holy struggle) opposed to terrorism (our attacks on them)? (Paul Von Ward)

Should people everywhere be encouraged to protest against unscrupulous policies and against the appalling disinformation put out about Iraq by those who know better -- but are willing to argue falsely and maliciously even though this will cost lives? (Denis halliday and Hans von Sponeck, Guardian, 29 November 2001)

Is the refusal of the Iraqi government to allow entry to weapons inspectors a legitimate excuse for militzry intervention, when UN Resolution 1284 can be construed as having been designed to be unacceptable to any sovereign country? Do the UK and the USA find it more useful that there are no inspections? (Fay Dowker, Guardian, 28 November 2001)

In which Christian communities have practices existed similar to those enforced by the Taliban in the light of their interpretation of the precepts of sharialaw -- and for which the Taliban were vilified? How do they resemble those applied against the Puritans against their womenfolk in New England? When was this last the case? Are there Chrsitian communities where analogous practices are still enforced against women?

Before all this crowing and gloating mutates into instant revisionist history, a few salient facts about the Afghan conflict are worth recalling. Having made Osama bin Laden his main objective, how is it that George Bush rejected any dialogue with those who could most have helped -- effectively outlawing the Taliban and directly provoking a nation-wide conflict? (Editorial, Guardian, 16 November 2001)

Why do so many letters and articles by those who apparently never had any doubts about the war in Afghanistan show an almost Taliban-like intolerance and contempt towards those who did? (K L Hall, Guardian, 16 November 2001)

Has winning the peace now been simply defined as a news management challenge of suppressing any suggestion that peace has not been won?

News stories made much of a school in Jalalabad at which children were also taught how to use weapons (Harry Burton, Independent, 18 November 2001). How should such a story be assessed in a country in which a significant proportion of adults carry guns and perceive them both as a status symbol and necessary to their defence? How should such a school be understood from an American perspective -- given that many in the USA carry guns for similar reasons -- and may also seek to ensure their children are taught to use them? How should cadet training in weapons use be perceived in this light?

Has the dimensionality of civilized discourse been deliberately reduced to the binary limitations of "Them-or-Us" logic -- even for the best and the brightest, from whom more might have been expected? I it possible that this strategy has been deliberately adopted by some in order to simplify the challenges of controlling a complex society -- widely acknowledged to be ungovernable?

A typical response to Otherness, avoiding proximity, is exemplified by the carpet bombing strategy favoured by the Americans in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistian -- there is no alternative if dangerous contamination by the Other is to be avoided. How many Americans have met a Taliban face-to-face or endeavoured to engage with them?

In response to the demoralization of USA citizens, and its tarnished image in other countries, Hollywood film producers were encouraged by the US administration to produce a 3-minute movie The Spirit of America composed of clips from 110 famous American movies -- starting and ending with extracts from The Searchers (1956) starring John Wayne. It was released in December 2001 (Duncan Campbell, Guardian, 18 December 2001). How are those outside the USA, whose civil lberties are now being constrained by the "John Waynes" of the security forces, going to respond to such a propganda effort? Is the content and intention of the film not part of the problem with which Americans must eventually deal?

Comprehension of alternative perspectives

How is it that at the acclaimed center of western civilization there is apparently no comprehension whatsoever of what honourable and meaningful causes can drive people to commit suicide in such horrendous attacks on innocents?

Rabbi Tony Bayfield (Guardian, 15 Sept 2001) states that "I am seething with rage at anyone who dares suggest that, in any way, such acts are even explicable, let alone justifiable". Could he at least understand that some people are seething with rage that others (controlling trillions of dollars daily) dare to suggest that their negligence of the suffering millions of people is explicable, let alone justifiable?

Is it so difficult to understand the dismay of the Arab world confronted by the long-term, systematic American support of Israeli policies against Palestinians -- as articulated by American representatives (who in many cases have a right to acquire Israeli passports)?

When American officials talk about the lives list in New York and Washington, about New Yorkers' inalienable right to freedom of movement, about US citizens' right to safety, a voice inside the head of every Arab will echo: "True. and what about the Palestinians?" (Ahdaf Soueif, Guardian, 6 November 2001)

Could it be that the stygian anger that led to the attacks has its taproot not in envy of American "freedom" and "democracy", but in the US government's record of commitment and support to exactly the opposite things -- to military and economic terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorship, religious bigotry and unimaginable genocide (outside America)?

If a country, such as Afghanistan, loses nearly 2,000,000 people in resisting one invader -- with covert western support -- then finds itself totally abandoned once its role as a proxy has been accomplished, how might it be expected to view its erstwhile supporters?

If countries and cultures perceive themselves to be progressively invaded by others under a banner of "freedom and democracy", at what point does any violent response to such peacefully insidious encroachment cease to be appropriately framed as an "unprovoked attack" rather than a legitimate strategic riposte? Was this the pattern established with the violent response of the American Indians to the progressive encroachment on their lands by American pioneers?

How may the values of one culture be violated by the values of another? Specifically how are the values of radical Islamic fundamentalists violated by secular western values? But are not some radical Christian values also violated by secular western values?

When the privileged see individuals struggling for basic human and political rights -- from the terrible conditions of decades-long life in refugee camps -- do they really understand the suffering that drives the deprived to use the only tools they mistakenly think they have -- violent terrorism? What efforts are made to explain to them the nature of the non-violent tools available to them through the democratic process and UN resolutions? What empowering explanations are given to them when these tools prove inadequate over many years -- and when promises made to them have been repeatedly broken?

Whether the views of the attackers can be framed as misguided or deluded, is not comprehension a preferable basis for seeking a permanent cure rather than the denial of the realities of the perpetrators of such acts -- and of the honour in which they may be held in some cultures of deprivation and despair?

Can any people be truly joyful on a planet where billions are suffering? What is the quality of the joy under those circumstances?

American people ought to know that it is not them but their government's policies that are so hated. They can't possibly doubt that they themselves, their extraordinary musicians, their writers, their actors, their spectacular sportsmen and their cinema, are universally welcomed. Is it not ironic that just as the west would like to remove the Taliban as being unrepresentative of the Afghan people, many elsewhere believe that it is the US government that is unrepresentative of the genius of the American people?

If, as suggested by many conspiracy theorists, it were finally to be discovered that the attack was the responsibility of non-Islamics (such as those associated with the militant right wing in the USA, as in the case of the Oklahoma bombing) - how would this change the nature of the retribution sought? Given that this might indeed have been the case, what learnings would that offer?Would there a danger of American civilization imploding?

Why was the text of the leaflets, dropped on Afghanistan as part of the propaganda war, kept classified, (Andrew Buncombe, Independent, 14 October 2001)

Is it wise to assume that there is absolutely nothing of value to human civilization to be learnt from those who challenge the assumptions of western civilization and engage in such horrendous attacks in support of alternative perspectives?

If the US-coalition stresses the daily that the attacks on America are attacks on the whole western world, is it understandable that others may believe that attacks on the Taliban are attacks on the whole Islamic world?

Whilst the western coalition may have no grievances against Islam, have the members of that coalition asked themselves whether the Islamic world has any grievances against the West? Or have they simply been ignored and dismissed?

Is western civilization so insecure and immature that it is incapable of learning from cultures with a radically different perspective -- whilst avidly stripping them of their cultural treasures because of the value attached to them in the West?

Is it American films that have convinced many Muslim nations that America is completely corrupt and immoral, obsessed with material greed and sex -- as fat, lazy, hedonistic culture, drunk on money, wine, self absorbed eroticism and violence? Do Muslims interpret the western call for sexual equality as facilitating sexual and economic exploitation of women, removing them from the security of home and family and exposing them in the market -- naked on billboards? (Diana James)

In a complex society of different perspectives, does not failure to recognize the coherence and priorities for some of their own alternative truths condemn their opponents to falsehood and denial?

What policies and practices does the USA attempt to impose on others that would be rejected if it did not use or threaten to use its dominant economic and military force?

If the American way of life is 'non-negotiable' -- as the best, the fairest and most religiously tolerant -- how is this culturally arrogant nation going to hear or understand the Muslim world values or try to accommodate them? Why would Islamic nations, equally culturally arrogant, want to accommodate more western cultural values that they see as corrupt? (Diana James)

Will the polarization of the crisis reinforce tendencies to perceive "non-governmental" organizations as "anti-governmental" and therefore pro-terrorist? Are governmental bodies also infected with a tendency to fear anything that is not governmental? Will the opportunistic stigmatization of anti-globalization movements as having terrorist tendencies now tend to be extended to non-governmental organizations -- or to civil society bodies in general?

What have we learned from the crisis, not about Islam, but about ourselves? Do we tend not to regard realities that differ in some fundamental way from our own? Have we come to accept, at face value, that our way of life is the universal standard? Are we unable to imagine anyone not aspiring to it? Would such people either not exist for us, or would their way of thinking be so alien that we have no way of thinking about it -- and therefore to all intents and purposes they do not count? (Jeremy Rifkin, Guardian, 13 November 2001)

Many Afghans live by an austere code of conduct known as the pashtunwali. Central to pashtunwali is nang, or honor. The tribesman is taught that death is preferable to a life without honour. Wartime ultimatums served between bombs are one way of despoiling such honour -- adding insult to injury. Another tenet of pashtunwali is melmastiya, or hospitality -- which bin Laden has successfully exploited through its code of nanawati, namely providing refuge to anyone within the confines of one's home. If America's engagement in Afghanistan -- whether war or peace or nation building -- is to be productive, how is the Bush administration to develop an understanding of this code and speak to the Afghans in a symbolic and cultural language they understand? (Hasan Jafri and Lewis Dolinsky, Tuesday, San Francisco Chronicle, 16 October 2001). Would consulting gang members in American urban slums provide insights into the existential importance of an equivalent for America's own "third world" -- namely "respect"?

Richard Holbrooke, fomer US Ambassador to the UN, states of bin Laden: "Right now, he can present himself as the heroic guy in long, flowing robes. Let him be seen in regular clothes, as an ordinary human being...as a medieval, recidivist crank, which is what he is" (Jonathan Freedland, Guardian, 22 November 2001). "Regular clothes" for an Arab? Might Gandhi have been ridiculed in the same way by those equally ignorant of Indian culture? Who is ridiculed most by such statements -- by someone who will go down in hisotry as having masterminded an amazing military feat -- whether he did it or not? Is that the way to counteract strategic enemies?

DNA sampling is being undertaken of body parts recovered at Ground Zero. How does it feel to the rest of the world to see the care lavished on the parings of American bodies in death, such as no complete third world body ever receives in life? What do they think in the Indian town where 20,000 died in an earthquake earlier this year? (Anne Karpf, Guardian, 28 November 2001)


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