Tuesday the 11th of September 2001 started off as just any ordinary working day, personally and for the vast majority of the rest of the world, notably, that ever-numinous idea – the ‘Western World’. By 2 pm GMT, though, there had been a mammoth, irreversible tectonic shift in the global political landscape. I speak, of course, of the 9/11 attacks. Ten years on from that fateful day, I take a look at the wider effect the attacks have had on politics and relationships between peoples.
I remember returning home from school that day and putting on MTV to see some nubile, young girls gyrating to their over-produced schlock, a vainglorious bastard essentially masturbating over his swimming pool, home cinema and expensive array of cars. Or some such shit. But even the shallow self-absorption of MTV recognised the enormity of the harrowing events taking place, which were undeniably more real than the fluff it was peddling, with bulletins at the bottom of the screen and once or twice I think even interrupting some bint dancing to show footage of the attacks. At this stage in my life (just gone 13), I was far too interested in collecting Pokemon and gawping at Britney Spears to be interested in such ‘boring’ matters as current affairs and politics. But even I could gather that this was kind of state of the nation stuff going down, if not state of the world, if you will, which it has turned out to be.
As explained, I was distinctly indifferent to and uninformed about serious matters before the 9/11 attacks, and for a good while after too. I can, however, say with a fair deal of confidence that relations between different nations, religions, races and classes – so inherently ambiguous and debatable – were significantly less strained than they are now. Arguably, this seeming relative peace and co-operation, in fact, merely stemmed from people viewing their countries and communities as distinct entities, with causes and effects nearly exclusively self-contained.
9/11 was a dagger to the heart of this. Relations between countries and religions were always problematic (and have always been), but 9/11, so intensely broadcasted, blogged and brandished across front pages, thrust pressing issues inexorably into mainstream consciousness and the forefronts of peoples’ minds. The attacks were such an unavoidably ‘real’ attack on, if not actual home turf, then at least metaphorical home turf, as the twin towers represented, or at least came torepresent, all that the Western World stood for (this is largely why I focus on Western politics here). Therefore, the anger, and for some – pain, was very visceral, even personal. No longer could many people live happily in their particular communities, largely unknowing and uncaring to issues elsewhere in the world. Their issues have increasingly become our issues, and our issues have increasingly become their issues. Not that I realised this at the time, but my first hearing of 9/11 was extremely apposite in a way; woken up to the brutal realities of this world from my cocoon of escapist MTV. And, indeed, fitting in the sense I was part of what caused the attacks; the supposedly vacuous, materialist, Western ‘ills’ of pop culture in part fuelling the attackers’ deep contempt of the Western World, particularly America.
The political climate we inhabit today is one in which we are increasingly perceiving issues as global ones. Although many – typically on the left – believe we still do not do this enough, we now consider impacts of actions and potential actions not just to the organisations or countries directly affected but to those other companies and countries indirectly affected. Where once we saw countries as somewhat absolute, independent, self-affecting entities, we are coming to see the earth as inter-connected, fragile whole subject to very complex webs of causes and effects, with the former view merely caused by rather arbitrary division. This is largely because of the incidence of pressing global issues not directly related to 9/11 – such as global warming and the recent global recession – but the suggestion that this has somewhat been caused by the increased global awareness engendered by 9/11 is a persuasive one.
Simmering, or just non-existent, social tensions have now erupted like a hitherto dormant volcano. In the Western World, the latter half of the 20th century history – and before and elsewhere, of course – included many harsh, brittle, authoritarian political systems and environments: General Franco’s regime in Spain; the Cold War waged between an America ruled by Nixon and others and Soviet Russia; and Thatcher’s premiership of Britain. By the end of the century, though, it seemed that the Western World was making significant – or at least well-intentioned – steps towards peace and prosperity. 9/11 has proved a dagger to the heart of this collective effort to build unified societies and a unified world.
The outrage was such that many began to distrust or disdain Muslims (often through rash misconceptions of the religion), and many people called for or employed reactionary measures, such as far harsher policy on immigration and even a vengeful war on a nebulousthem. Whatever the actual reasons for the Iraq War, George Bush (or, perhaps, rather his spin doctors) ruthlessly played on this fragile, EDGY political environment. 9/11 confirmed in the head’s of those in Bush’s premiership that they were in a ‘war on terror’. This zeitgeist was then ruthlessly manipulated by the US goverment, with the conflict painted as largely black (again, the nebulous them) and white (U…S…A!!), over political, religious and ethical lines. Republican spin-machine masquerading as news channel, Fox News, was instrumental in this. And, indeed, is to this day, ‘terror’ having become a buzzword, if you will, largely due to Roger Ailes and his reactionary hold of so much of the American media, most notably Fox News.
This spin, even ‘propaganda’, proved a vital basis upon which the U.S. could justify the invasion of Iraq (and, to an extent, in other countries, too). The idea that there was a sizeable, significant enemy played very well into the illiberal, patriotic/nationalistic forthrightness of many Americans, particularly in the Mid-West where Christian Manichean thought prevails. Generally speaking, while the aggressive imperialism of the ‘war on terror’ succeeded in unifying such people against a common enemy, it had the opposite effect on many through alienating them from the supposedly short-sighted, power- (and oil-)hungry, war-mongers.
Since the turn of the century, extreme far-right groups, notable for their tough laws on immigration or ‘racist’ views depending on your opinion, have prospered across the West. Neofascist groups have gained momentum in both Germany and Britain, whilst right-wing politics has become, ashamedly, more commonplace, with groups such as the BNP (GB), Front Nationale (France) and the Tea Party (USA) having found sympathisers. That this rise is happening in the wake of 9/11 (and incidents such as the 7/7 bombings) is no coincidence. Leaders of these parties/movements (/‘angry mobs’?) passionately proffer the idea that theyunjustly come over to their country and take their jobs, yet stubbornly refuse to buy into their culture (the desired culture is always homogenous) and just generally don’t give back to the country which has freelygiven them so much. Particularly in areas where racial violence is rife, some groups/strands thereof even imply or explicitly call for the physical protection their country and communities (the consensus in such cases is usually that these groups mix up cause and effect). Carefully selected local news and isolated tragedies such as 9/11 and 7/7 bombings are now increasingly seen to support this purported image of most foreigners being ungratefully insular, even thieves, especially so when conveyed to the public with rousing rhetoric by party leaders. Though such groups are still on the fringes of political thought, they are definitely gaining support and sympathy.
It is still hard to conclusively gauge how much and how irrevocably the world has changed in the wake of 9/11 – that will be left to history and posterity – because we are still dealing with so much of the direct and indirect fallout of the catastrophic, world-changing event. But what is clear is that is that the world has changed. A lot. Not even Paul the Psychic octopus could predict what the next ten years have in store; but what we can be sure of is that whatever this decade (and a bit) does throw up will be of vital importance…