Friday, October 15, 2004

The impossibility of 9/11 in the mind of someone living

Without wanting to get all ruminative this early in the weekend, it's funny how often writing something down seems to show up a previously unexpected pattern.

Below I wrote a bit about the Right's response, in the US, to 9/11; it has, in some ways, disappeared - not as a bloody shirt to wave, nor as a mass grave to stand on with a bullhorn, in those forms it is still around. Rather it has disappeared as an event that actually happened and ought to be a key part of our understanding of what the threat of terrorism (in the sense of attacks by things classifiable as Al Qaeda) really is. It, alongside the attacks on Bali and Madrid and elsewhere, represent the factual basis, such as it is, of the threat. Now there is of course a core of sense to the notion that it might be especially dangerous if people willing to undertake the sort of attacks we have actually seen were to get access to even more dangerous weapons, and that is something which ought to figure in our thinking seriously but also realistically.

It certainly isn't the case that we ought to think only or even primarily about threats which are merely theoretical. (If, before 9/11, defence against terrorism had primarily involved trying to prevent suicide hijackings of passenger aircraft, the events of 9/11 would never have happened. Instead, the same people would have used their old strategy of filling large trucks with explosives and parking them close to target buildings, and probably wreaked about as much havoc by doing so.)

So much about the Right's forgetting of 9/11. What about the Left's? Well, herewith a pretty distressing article from today's Guardian G2. Now, again, there is a sane core to this article. "Dirty bombs" probably wouldn't be all that dangerous, and perhaps governments could do more to emphasise this, and, maybe, they don't do so because it makes governance easier not to do so. Similarly, politicians (and journalists) often speak of al Qaeda as if it were a straightforward established institution (like the Distressed Gentlefolks' Aid Association), while the best evidence is that it is something much more insubstantial and confusing than that. But around this core of sanity we get to "can there be a decent left?" all over again.

The Guardian's article is entitled "The Making of the Terror Myth", and although it dances around the point a little, it is mainly arguing that terrorist attacks are a myth created by securocrats and Straussians and other Bad People; it explicitly compares terrorism to other risk panics like those over MMR or the Millennium Bug.

Except, for fuck's sake, there was never much evidence that MMR was harmful, and damage from the Millennium Bug was not very significant (although it might have been, if efforts had not been made to avert it), whereas thousands of people have died in attacks by in the past few years. However inchoate the groups behind those attacks are, however convenient those attacks have been to people whose politics are unappealing, however much it is often easier to allow ourselves to think about the world in ways which don't let the attacks in - they actually happened, and they are important, and we must keep ourselves in the realm of the real when we think about them, from left or right.

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