9/11 and the struggle to retain perspective
Whether you like it or not, multiculturalism is here to stay. I don’t use the word in the political sense, of multiculturalism as an ideology, a doctrine or a social vision. I use it as a general descriptive term, in the absence of any other, to reflect the reality of life in the suburbs of Australia, where for every Tom, Dick and Harry there’s a Mustafa, a Tran and a Nkosana just around the corner.
In the ten years since September 11, 2001, it’s the Mustafas who have been the source of the greatest unease in countries such as ours which have been built on successive patterns of immigration.
Those us who can’t comprehend the concept of flying a plane into a building to make a political point have quite understandably rounded our contempt on those who seek to excuse or explain such murderous conduct.
From New York to Bali, to Madrid and London, Baghdad and Mumbai, there’s been an ever-increasing body count as the forces of radical Islam deliberately seek out civilians as their targets of preference in a screwy theological war.
This is the key moral difference between western values and the values of radical Islam. It is a point worth making on this 10th anniversary weekend.
When the west wages war it does so with the general conviction that civilians should not be targeted. It’s the reason that place names such as My Lai, Hiroshima and Dresden resonate to this day, and still inspire debate among people in the west. It’s also the reason we have systems within our military whereby soldiers can be investigated, court-marshalled and jailed when accused of wrongdoing against civilian populations.
Contrast this with the grim procession of images this past decade of aid workers being beheaded on You Tube video, or fanatics in the Middle East celebrating as two buildings are felled, sending Colombian chefs, Mexican cleaners, recently-married American stockbrokers and tourists from Australia, Japan and France crashing to earth. The perpetrators of these obscenities are not investigated for incompetence, as there was nothing accidental about their actions. Nor are they denounced as murderers. They are feted as heroes, deified in death.
When Osama bin Laden was captured and killed there were some voices in Australia criticising the scenes of joy on the streets of New York. Their claim that the celebrations in Manhattan were no different from the euphoria on the streets of Palestine on September 11, 2001, was a flawed analysis which failed to grasp the moral dimensions of the war against terrorism. In Palestine in 2001 we saw people celebrating because more than 3000 civilians had been killed. In New York this year we saw people celebrating because the man who masterminded the demise of more than 3000 civilians had finally been taken out of circulation. Maybe a trial would have been nice but, hey, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke.
In a country such as Australia, we know that there are people among us who think that September 11 was either explicable, defensible, or a wholly good thing. We know this because there are bookshops which sell videos celebrating the work of hijacker Mohammad Atta and his cohorts. We know this because the authorities have arrested and convicted a couple of dozen people who were planning a similar brand of violence on our soil. The thing they all share is a common belief in their radical and irrational brand of Islam.
The question is – how many of them are there? Are they representative of their broader communities? Or are they just extremists in the strict sense of the word; that is, totally out of step with the mainstream of their community and the broader community? I’d argue strongly that they fall into the latter category.
The invocation “never forget” is being used across the western media this weekend as a tagline for the coverage of the 10th anniversary. It’s a fairly obvious tag - as if we ever would forget anyway – and it’s also one which can take us into the realm of the counter-productive.
This is because it goes beyond suggesting that we should never forget what we witnessed that day, and urges us never to forget how we felt that day, to maintain the rage.
Personally, I’d be happy if I never again felt the same way as I did on September 11, 2001. I felt such a level of hatred for the perpetrators that I could feel it physically, and such a generalised contempt for Islam and anyone who would seek to explain or rationalise what motivated such conduct, that I was enthusiastically placing myself into the camp which held that the bastards who did it should be bombed back to the stone age. In its aftermath, if I found myself watching one of those SBS audience debates, where a woman in a burqa or a guy with a white gown and a bushy under-beard would talk about the abuse they were copping on the street, I would find myself sneering at the television as if to say, well that’s sad, isn’t it, but it’s probably preferable to being hit with a 747 while you’re checking your emails of a morning.
They’re understandable emotions but they’re also useless ones which will make you a less pleasant member of society, and may also give you an ulcer.
If we are going to function as a society and live without a barely sublimated sense of vengeance, it is much more productive to treat September 11 as a time to reflect, rather than reprise the emotion we all felt on that day.
September 11 was the most dramatic marketing campaign imaginable for the twisted cause of terrorism. The heartening thing in a multicultural country such as ours is how few people have responded to its call. The things which have attracted refugees and immigrants to Australia from dysfunctional Muslim nations – personal safety, job and education opportunities, the ability to earn money, religious tolerance, the absence of sectarian violence – are far more galvanising than the apocalyptic nonsense peddled by those who would destroy civilisation. We should remember that, as we also remember September 11.
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