10 September 2002

Pre-Emptive Strike

This was written a year ago tomorrow. The first rush of thoughts. Tomorrow will be a nice little rant about my thoughts now a year later.

The boss is out of town. I've just cleared up a problem with clients and am trying to settle down to coding the new website update. New arrivals have just walked in the door. They are babbling about a plane that has just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I hear it peripherally, dismiss it as an accident, recommence trying to concentrate in my makeshift office. A second plane crashes into the World Trade Center, this time into the other tower. It doesn't register at first but even so I am jumping down the stairs from the loft. CNN is blaring on the satellite TV. I grow quickly impatient. Then the reply of the video footage.

oh my god.

Words to a being I haven't believed in since I was 14. oh my god oh my god oh my god running through my head a litany still ingrained despite all proof to the contrary.

A fire has broken out at the Pentagon.

oh my god oh my god oh my god

Nothing is for sure. Nothing is confirmed. I watch with my jaw unhinged. My arms loose at my sides. A litany singing in my head.

A group of people, of travellers has gathered. The news can't come fast enough. I can feel the collective will of the group trying to suck more news, more information, more meaning from the gleaming cathode ray.

oh my god oh my god oh my god

It is a litany without surprise.

Reports of other renegade planes racing towards unknown targets begin to pour in . Nothing is certain. A fourth plane is down. Nothing is certain. Another explosion on Capitol Hill. Nothing is certain. The second tower hit collapses. This is certain. The mass of ash and debris billowing billowing more shock ripples through our bones. The remaining tower falls, more chilling than the first in its eerily (perfectly?) vertical decent.

The litany has stopped.

A few people are trying to get through to friends, relatives, anybody. My cell phone ringing with people asking if I'm okay, if I knew anyone there, if my family is okay. I reassure them, safe in the knowledge my friends and family are far away. The confusion on the Tv continues its reign. Like the others, I watch transfixed. I watch their upturned faces. They are shocked, blank, silent. Questions are whispered, breathless, monotone. The litany that had been in my head now perches on their lips, glasses over their eyes, stills their bodies. I watch them, a new whisper in my head, very small, echoing. With a crik in my neck I walk out the door and head home.

The streets are eerily quiet. Even the noise of the traffic seems to tread on tiptoe. You can swim through the air. The TV is on at home. Analysis begins without all the facts. Fingers start pointing without any clues. Fear tinges words, intonations. The word 'war' finds its way into the discussions, tentatively at first, then makes bolder and more frequent incursions. It tries to mask the fear. Echoing in my head, the whisper watches with me and chuckles mirthlessly

"What did we expect?"

You could see this coming. A faint speck looming on the horizon. The only thing you couldn't see was how big the speck would actually be close up and how fast its approach.

Despite playing big brother and imposing our will through sanctions and force, we had somehow managed to keep the speck at bay. Clinton had a knack for keeping the speck at bay. Knock him all you want but he was liked by many over here in Europe and this reflected onto the general American populace as a whole. We were still imposing sanctions, still forcing our will onto smaller countries, still viewed as an arrogant blindered people. But his skill in dealing with others, his charisma, his tact, whatever you want to call it, made it less grating to the skins of public opinion. Billy was a subtle bully.

The world laughed at us during the election debacle, and rightfully so. The self righteous big brother of the world had just gotten his nose rubbed in his own dirt, tasted a bit of humility. Bush was decreed the winner. Immediately he proved that subtlety was not his forte. Strong words for North Korea. More publicity on air strikes in Iraq. Openly funding opposition in Iraq. Rescinding US participation in the Kyoto agreement. Kicking out Russian and Chinese spies. Conditional apologies for the spy plane in China. Declaring US military support of Taiwan if necessary. Ongoing support of Israel and condemnation of Arafat. I have watched the pendulum of popular opinion here towards America swing back towards resentment these past months. It is an uncomfortable thing to watch the speck on the horizon growing bigger, advancing at an ever increasing rate.

Intelligence agencies in other countries are claiming to have heard rumors three weeks ago and they are incredulous that the US intelligence knew nothing. I too find this hard to believe, but I'll leave the conspiracy theories to others. I'll also leave the discussion of popular opinion and media influence for another time. I do not condone these attacks. But the fact remains that America is pissing off too many people. As ye sow, so ye shall reap.

It is time to start taking a good hard look at what our vaunted politicos are doing in the name of 'democracy'. Fingers are pointing at bin Laden, the Palestinians, the Middle East in general. Pointing without solid proof nor knowledge of exactly what the US has been doing in the Middle East. There is a fascinating speech given at MIT by Norm Chomsky transcribed at http://www.media.mit.edu/~nitin/mideast/chomsky_lecture.html . If you are going to start pointing fingers, you had better know why their fingers are pointing right back at us.

I despise blanket statements like "It's time to turn the Middle East into a sheet of glass." Yes, find the perpetrators and punish them. But also realise that we have committed our own atrocities and by pulling out of the UN racism conference, we are essentially refusing to make reparations or even acknowledge that we have denied rights to others; rights that we take for granted. Food. Medicine. Freedom of Movement. People denied their rights eventually fight back and they fight with all their souls. What difference does it make to die fighting for your rights if you are already starving? You want to know why the Palestinians are celebrating? They consider us their oppressor. With just cause.

Call me a towelhead sympathiser. Call me anti-Semitic. Call me what you will. I am none of these things. Call the Middle East a nest of religious crazies. Call them barbaric. Call them camel jockies. They too are none of these things. They have a fascinating culture dating back aeons and it is far more intricate and civilized than you would imagine or than I have experienced. If you refuse to learn and experience and question, as far as I'm concerned you can keep your generalizations and your knee-jerk reactions. Just don't be surprised when the repercussions backfire onto you.

The images of the attacks is something that will stay with me for always. As a devastating reminder of what happens when you try to bully someone in order to further your own best interests while ignoring their best interests and basic rights.

What did we expect?

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