I’ve spent the last couple of hours reading articles, essays, and comments on MetaFilter about the September attacks. I’ve now given up trying to get a well-informed opinion on the subject – there is too much out there for me to absorb, and I’m getting tired of reading “extremist” views and abusive simplifications.
So, to be clear, my opinion is reasonably ill-informed. I’m probably wrong on quite a few things. I’m probably right on quite a few others. If there is such a thing as a wrong and a right in this overly complex situation.
I’ve never held American culture in very high regard. I mean, it’s the usual song for many people around here: death penalty, lack of state-supported welfare, excess consumerism, high criminality, foreign policies…
I know that preconceptions come into line here. I know also that this is not what America comes down to, or American people. I have American friends. I deeply sympathize with all those touched by the attacks. I tend to dislike American politics, in general, as a matter of principle, one could nastily say.
So, what can I say? I’ve been asked what I thought about all this, what my position was, what people in my country thought about it. I can only speak for myself, but as far as I can say based on the brief conversations I have had with my friends and aquaintances, my views on the topic are not overly original. We tend to think along the same lines.
Honestly, wearily, I’d just like to say: “Why can’t we just live in peace, and get along with our neighbours?”—but unfortunately, matters are not as simple. In some situations, there has been so much hurt done and received by either side that it looks simply impossible to forgive and forget, or even (given the latter suggestion is totally idealistic), live in the same town without killing each other. This state of affairs can arise in a relationship between individual people, or between groups of people. Think of Israel and Palestine for an obvious example of it.
People discussing these issues seem to want to define camps: the “anti-american”, the “pacifist”, the “catch ’em and kill ’em”, and others. In this way, they can fight amongst themselves all the better. And we Europeans happen to fall in the “anti-american” camp, because we tend to quickly see how the US’s foreign policies can be linked to Islamic terrorism. Which also means, of course, that we excuse that terrorism, because we try to understand the “other side” [please note the sarcasm].
“Camps” and “sides” are practical because they paint the world in black and white. Like the Goodies and the Badies in Western movies. The world is done in shades of gray, need it be reminded. And one can hold in a single mind opinions which may seem to cancel each other out at first glance. Look further.
I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again—though perhaps a little more precisely, this time. Of course the people directly implicated in the realization and planning of the September 11 attacks should be punished. There is no question about that. But I get the impression that in some people’s minds this means that the end justifies the means.
It does not. Creating a high number of Afghan refugees on the Pakistani border for the sake of pressurizing the Taliban to give up Bin Laden (which they will not) is not an acceptable means. Thomas Nagel, in his book Mortal Questions, gives an enlightening discussion of these issues of the ends and the means in a war context. Do read it.
Now I curse myself for not having sorted out my books since I came back from India, because I cannot re-read the chapter, I cannot give you quotes, I cannot even give you the name of the chapter. But you’ll find it, if you want to.
Here are a couple of essays, opinions, articles (or whatever you will call them) that I would encourage you to read. These are articles which made me nod my head and think “that makes sense” as I read them. They are not necessarily better than others, but I think they have a point to make. Which of course, as always, does not mean I necessarily agree with every word they say.
The few brief words after each article can give you an idea of its content. They by no means summarize it adequately. And you’re lucky, I will spare you the MetaFilter comment threads…
- Arundhati Roy: The algebra of infinite justice
Once America has promised it was going to war, it cannot turn back. America’s implication in the historical causes bringing about the present situation in the Middle-East, and producing Bin Laden.
- Robert Fisk: Just who are our allies in Afghanistan?
The Northern Alliance are terrorists as much as Bin Laden’s people. The States are repeating the procedure they have used before (think Vietnam): getting local people to fight against one another, thus keeping the war “clean”.
- Michael Moore: Death, Downtown
How lax airport security is. America’s hand in terrorism far away where it doesn’t touch us. And a reminder that if the “West” is rich, it is because third-world countries are poor.
- Noam Chomsky: Reply to Hitchens
Chomsky’s reply to Hitchens‘ considerations on the present situation. Amongst others, a comment on the death toll resulting of the US bombing in Sudan in 1998. Follow the whole debate if you feel so inclined.
- Scott McConnell: Why They Hate Us
Trying to dig a bit deeper than the symptoms (September 11): what has brought about this climate of hate?