Image Source: SND.
This post is dedicated to a friend who was under the first World Trade Center Tower as the first plane hit it on 9/11, and was engulfed in the cloud of toxic dust when the tower collapsed. May all those who were killed and who suffered that day be remembered today. Another grim anniversary today observes the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens (a picture of the aftermath in Benghazi is here) and three other Americans in Libya one year ago. Wikipedia's list of all terrorist incidents, in all countries, is here.
It is hard to absorb how completely 9/11 changed the world for the worse. We live with constant, daily reminders of its repercussions, most recently from the London beheading; the Boston bombings (graphic images of the aftermath here, here and here); the NSA's assertion that their surveillance programs have prevented 54 terrorist attacks; the sky-rocketing price of oil; and crises in Syria, Egypt, and elsewhere.
The other side of this coin is 9/11's erosion of reality. A conspiracy theorists' Web culture denies nearly everything in the news now and assumes it to be a photoshopped hoax or a false flag. This is as true in America as it is in the societies of America's allies, critics and enemies. Since 9/11, international affairs have become nightmarishly complex. But more nightmarish is the fact that 9/11 created a global Hall of Mirrors, where for most people, the truth and the difference between right and wrong have become infinitely relative.
These aspects reveal that bin Laden was successful, or nearly successful, in his two primary aims.
Firstly, he planned to bankrupt the United States by embroiling it in endless conflicts. As one non-American friend put it to some Americans who were wondering when these conflicts will stop: "They will never stop. They're going to go on and on and on." There is something to this argument: Britain fought big and small wars for nearly three hundred years, more or less constantly, from the beginning of the 18th century, through the 19th century, up to the 20th century to preserve her empire. A list of conflicts in which the UK participated is here. Whether the American revolutionary culture can acknowledge its British inheritance and imperial existence - and associated, inevitable endless conflicts - is a point of politicized debate.
Secondly, bin Laden used fear to ruin common apolitical values shared by the US and her allies. As bin Laden put it after 9/11:
"Yet with the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York, there occurred an even bigger destruction: that of the great American Dream and legend of Democracy."Much has been made of the American spirit after the attacks, and of the British spirit after the 7/7 attacks. But a glance at the post-9/11 public debate confirms that Al Qaeda delivered a devastating blow to what remained of the post-World-War-II political and social consensus once shared by the United States and her allies. The political centre emptied. In the decade that followed 9/11, the media focused on political bickering between right and left camps. It became common for people to assume that their preferred political camp had a monopoly on truth and social morality.
This polarized politicization reveals a successful use of terror to destroy general agreement about the common good in the USA and elsewhere. The result was a political culture where neither left nor right has the answers, since each camp's insistence on the 'correctness' of its relative position has degenerated into de facto nihilism.
Thus, every conventional political argument to prevent terror now ironically entrenches the impact of 9/11's terror. With 9/11, bin Laden demonstrated that fear could alter cultural, social, political and media perceptions, such that no baseline remained. And from that outcome, anyone can acquire and manipulate power. What is 'terror'? Who is a 'terrorist'? Those goalposts are now constantly, and dangerously, moving.
Image Source: Zimbio.
Second Tower. Image Source: National Geographic.
Pentagon. Image Source: National Geographic.
Image Source: Kelly Grimm.
Image Source: 40 by 40.
Image Source: Kansas City Remembers.
Image Source: James Nachtwey via Time.
Images Source: James Nachtwey via Time.
Image Source: Tomboys Don't Cry.