Best Post of the Day Ever
This common identification of 9-11 as an act of war arises from a deeper unquestioned assumption — an assumption made both by Chomsky and his followers on one hand and Hanson and National Review on the other — and, indeed, by almost everyone in between. The assumption is this: An act of violence on the magnitude of 9-11 can only have been intended to further some kind of political objective. What this political objective might be, or whether it is worthwhile — these are all secondary considerations; but surely people do not commit such acts unless they are trying to achieve some kind of recognizably political purpose.Behind this shared assumption stands the figure of Clausewitz and his famous definition of war as politics carried out by other means.
I would like to pursue a line suggested by a remark by the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in reference to 9-11: his much-quoted comment that it was “the greatest work of art of all time.”
Despite the repellent nihilism that is at the base of Stockhausen’s ghoulish aesthetic judgment, it contains an important insight and comes closer to a genuine assessment of 9-11 than the competing interpretation of it in terms of Clausewitzian war. For Stockhausen did grasp one big truth: 9-11 was the enactment of a fantasy — not an artistic fantasy, to be sure, but a fantasy nonetheless.
What I saw as a political act was not, for my friend, any such thing. It was not aimed at altering the minds of other people or persuading them to act differently. Its whole point was what it did for him.
And what it did for him was to provide him with a fantasy — a fantasy, namely, of taking part in the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed against their oppressors. By participating in a violent anti-war demonstration, he was in no sense aiming at coercing conformity with his view — for that would still have been a political objective. Instead, he took his part in order to confirm his ideological fantasy of marching on the right side of history, of feeling himself among the elect few who stood with the angels of historical inevitability. Thus, when he lay down in front of hapless commuters on the bridges over the Potomac, he had no interest in changing the minds of these commuters, no concern over whether they became angry at the protesters or not. They were there merely as props, as so many supernumeraries in his private psychodrama. The protest for him was not politics, but theater; and the significance of his role lay not in the political ends his actions might achieve, but rather in their symbolic value as ritual. In short, he was acting out a fantasy.
For us the hijackings, like the Palestinian “suicide” bombings, are viewed merely as a modus operandi, a technique that is incidental to a larger strategic purpose, a makeshift device, a low-tech stopgap. In short, Clausewitzian war carried out by other means — in this case by suicide.
But in the fantasy ideology of radical Islam, suicide is not a means to an end but an end in itself. Seen through the distorting prism of radical Islam, the act of suicide is transformed into that of martyrdom — martyrdom in all its transcendent glory and accompanied by the panoply of magical powers that religious tradition has always assigned to martyrdom.
n the initial aftermath of 9-11, President Bush continually spoke of al Qaeda not as terrorists, but as “evildoers” — a term for which he was widely derided by those who found it offensively simple-minded and childish. Evildoers, after all, are characters out of fairy tales, not real life. Who really sets out for the deliberate purpose of doing evil, except the wicked dwarves and trolls of our childhood fantasies?
Bush’s critics — who seem unfortunately to have won the semantic battle — were both right and wrong. They were right in observing the fairy-tale provenance of the phrase “evildoer,” but they were wrong in denouncing Bush’s use of it. For, whether by instinct or by cunning, Bush struck exactly the right note. The evildoer of the fairy tale, after all, is not motivated in his conduct by his wish to change the way other people act: His objectives are not to persuade or cajole or threaten others into doing as he wishes them to do. Instead, other people exist in his eyes only as an opportunity to do evil: He doesn’t want to manipulate them for his selfish purpose; rather, his one and only purpose is to inflict evil on them — evil and nothing more.
Rather than interpreting 9-11 as if it were a Clausewitzian act of war, Bush instinctively saw it for what it was: the acting out of demented fantasy. When confronted with the enigma of he was able to avoid the temptation of trying to interpret it in terms of our own familiar categories and traditions. Instead of looking for an utterly mythical root cause for 9-119-11, or seeing it as a purposeful political act on the Clausewitzian model, he grasped its essential nature in one powerful metaphor, offering, in a sense, a kind of counter-fantasy to the American people, one that allowed them to grasp the horror of 9-11 without being misled by false analogies and misplaced metaphors. How much wiser Montezuma would have been if he had said, “I do not know who these white-skinned strangers may be, or where they come from, or what they want. But that they are here to do evil I have no doubt. So let us act accordingly.”
The essay is long but leaves you wanting more. Brilliant! Read the whole thing.