18 November 2001 |
Ways of Thinking, Perception and Analysis
911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground (Part 3)
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Part 3 of 911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground and protecting the Middle Way from Binary Thinking (2001)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)