“Victory is not gained by the number killed, but by the number frightened”
- Arab Proverb
The explosion that raced through the second floor apartment of the 3/11 terrorists in the waning hours of April 3rd – taking each of their lives before blasting out several dozen windows and being forever immortalized by the rolling cameras of the Spanish media – never would’ve happened if not for those damn alarm clocks.
If you’ve ever relied on an alarm clock to wake up, chances are you’ve ended up being late to wherever you were supposed to. Be it to class, work, or an appointment. Or, more accurately, because of you. As devilishly simple as they are to set, you can probably relate to the fact that one simple feature of theirs has probably, at some point, resulted in you showing up somewhere late. Since most alarm clocks on the shelves these days lack a military-time setting, when you’re setting the alarm for the next morning you’ve got to be careful to make sure you’ve toggled the AM–PM selection carefully.
Because if you screw this up, the alarm you set to go off at 7:40 in the morning will actually trigger twelve hours later – at 7:40 in the evening. Which is the exact mistake the 3/11 bombers made when they were arming the bomb they left in the El Pozo station that March morning.
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At 7:40PM, inside a blue-cloth leather-handled gym-bag buried in a pile of unclaimed belongings at the El Pozo station, and twelve hours to the minute after eleven other bombs claimed 191 lives, the Spanish police, to their hasty chagrin, uncovered the alarm attached to one last bomb. Urgently sounding its strident tone – but harmlessly – as in addition to incorrectly toggling the AM-PM function, the bomb had been faultily wired.
And so the same mistake which has probably at some point resulted in your being chewed out by a boss or teacher helped save the lives of a few dozen policemen, standing mouths open and sweat beading on their foreheads over a beeping bag in the lost-and-found bin on the morning of March 11th. Spanish police pulled out the SIM chips from the back of the cell phone attached to this bomb and from the cell phones found as components of two other bombs that failed to detonate because of faulty wiring. They were able to trace these chips to the store where the phones were purchased. Information gleaned from this store provided the first lead and led to the arrest of three of the terrorist cell members before the sun set on March 11th, but the rest of the cell managed to elude arrest.
Until a tip led police to the Madrid suburb of Leganes. Here the 3/11 cell held the police off in a stand-off that was occasionally punctuated by the spray of machine guns across the apartment courtyard and which lasted for several hours. The standoff made for incredible evening news, as every single Spanish media outlet and several international ones covered the event with cameras rolling. Then in the last moments of the evening, as special agents were executing the final steps of a dramatic raid on the apartment, the terrorists detonated what would be their last explosion – a Masada in front of rolling cameras.
A Masada for all the world to see.
In a sense the terrorist cell responsible for 3/11 carried out a two-pronged terrorist effort. The first of which was the bombings on the morning of March 11th, which were actually meant to take thousands of lives instead of less than two-hundred. The only reason they didn’t is that the morning congestion happened to cause the bomb-laden trains to be delayed in reaching the central hub at Atocha, where they’d been timed to detonate.
The terrorists of 3/11 were intimately in tune with the rhythm of Spanish society, and they timed their attach explicitly so it would have the highest possible death-count. Had the bombs detonated in concert as intended the railway station at Atocha itself would’ve collapsed, killing thousands.1 This contrasts starkly with 9/11, there the planes crashed into the Twin Towers well before they were filled with their daily allotment of employees.
This first prong of the 3/11 attack was meant to be an act of Tactical Terrorism, with some particularly alarming features. The formation and indoctrination of the cell had been “an entirely local affair, carried out through the sermons and speeches of imams from the salafists movement,” and none of the cell’s members had any direct link to al-Qaeda.2 None of them had ever been to one of al-Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan and only one of them had anything even vaguely resembling terrorist training.3 However the men saw themselves as members of al-Qaeda in the same way that many who never met Karl Marx would come to consider themselves Marxists.
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The attack was meant as an homage to bin Ladin, “both honor and emulation – to him and his ideas.”4 The cell had been spurred into action by bin Ladin’s broadcast call to jihad the previous fall. On the day after they heard his message they began planning their attack. Claim for the attack was almost immediately made to London’s largest Arabic daily newspaper, al-Quds al-Arabi – which, it should come as no surprise, translates as “Arab Jerusalem” – by a group named “Al-Qaeda in Spain,” a name that must’ve caused a bit of confusion among bin Ladin’s inner circle. In this claim the group directly invoked the events of 9/11, pointing out their attacks had been carried out exactly two-and-a-half years after that date.
Joining al-Qaeda in the case of the 3/11 cell had nothing to do with meeting bin Ladin, training under his supervision, or even receiving a blessing for an attack. For them, joining al-Qaeda meant living their lives in sync with ideology of the group. Which finally led to the second prong of the cell’s terrorism.
Cornered in their second-story apartment and facing sure incarceration, the cell made the best – in terms of dramatic impact and theatre – of their situation. To ensure, as they saw it, their membership in al-Qaeda the remaining members of the cell created a spectacle demonstrating their resolve and commitment to the cause in inarguable terms. Attempting to take as many Spanish police with them as they could, they detonated their remaining hashish-purchased Goma-2 plastic explosives and sealed their membership in al-Qaeda with a massive blast of mortar and glass.
A blast they intended and knew would be seen by the entire world via the media’s ever-rolling television cameras, an unmistakable act of Symbolic Terrorism. Because they were aware the entire world was watching, and wanted to demonstrate to all their commitment to the cause. Their mass-suicide was meant and has been used as a piece of propaganda to rally the forces of Al-Qaeda, and was meant to factor into one of the possible formulas of terrorism. But exactly which formula they were intending to invoke requires a return to the events of previous years.
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As one century melded into the next, a different sort of terrorism began to stir in the core of the world’s great power.
Like others before, it was rooted in protest against the oppressive policies of what it saw as an immoral and corrupt government. A government that was seen by many as having no right to be exercising any influence over the lives of a people and occupying its lands. A government that hadn’t been legitimately elected by its people and was seen by many as serving the interests of a wealthy elite while ignoring the moral and social degeneration going on inside the nation.
The group sought to buck this illegitimate authority and bring a new form of rule to its people, one which would better ensure their prosperity. For too long the group had watched as this oppressive government dominated its lands and acted for its own benefit, not taking into account the effect its decisions had on the local populace. Corruption seeped into their affairs. Resources were exploited. Women and children suffered. The terrorists were determined to enact change – however, this group was faced with a critical problem.
It seemed nearly impossible to rally the masses, the popular Street, to action. Generations of authoritarian militaristic rule had caused them to be filled with “apathy and alienation.” Any sort of democratic reform seemed impossible, as any move towards it was met with a heavy and lethal hand.
To fight this illegitimate and exploitive rule, the group had to find some way to break the Street out of its hellish shell of hopelessness and oppression – solving this dilemma was their first problem. And in the response to this problem lay this terrorist group’s novelty: they resorted to “daring and dramatic acts of violence designed to attract attention to the group and its cause.” So the terrorists chose targets which they felt embodied the symbolic value of their oppressors, targets which they believed would be most apt to awaken the Street from its apathy and despair. And finally, after having taken “extraordinary measures to ensure the success of this attempt,” they acted.
The attack was coordinated, well planned, and involved four separate, stunning explosions – each carried out by a group of volunteers who proved they were willing to die for their cause. The success of the attack caused the full wrath of the state they had attacked to rain down on the heads of the terrorists, who quickly saw their remote safe-houses and hide-outs swarmed by the government they’d assaulted.
On the first day of March in 1881, the Narodnaya Volya assassinated Tsar Alexander II by bombing his sleigh as it was traveling along the snowy late-spring Russian roads – one-hundred and twenty years before al-Qaeda carried out its own spectacular attack on the morning of September 11th. And, after the sun set on that cold Russian winter’s day, the world would – once again – never be the same.
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The Narodnaya Volya, or People’s Will, set that standard that al-Qaeda sought to emulate. Their actions against the Cossack-guarded Tsar were fueled by the first true manifestation of the theory “propaganda by deed.”
This theory, elucidated by the Italian extremist Carlo Pisacane, states that violence is necessary to both draw attention to a revolutionary cause as well as rally the disaffected masses behind it. Every terrorist act has an instructive purpose as well as a fomenting one. Pisacane argued, and many revolutionaries who listened to him have agreed, that violence was needed “not only to draw attention to, or generate publicity for, a cause, but to inform, educate and ultimately rally the masses behind the revolution.”4 This latter purpose of dramatic violence, the instructional and educational one, could never be accomplished through pamphlets, posters, or rallies.
The Italian theorist saw every act of Symbolic Terror as a “chimera,” due to the paradoxical belief that “the people will not be free when they are educated but educated when they are free.” In simpler parlance: violent acts are necessary to first free the People from their manacling to false social assumptions both in terms of what is possible and what is Right. Violence opens their minds to new revolutionary ideas.
Minds that otherwise would remain locked by the bars of what is socially acceptable. Minds aren’t changed by ideas, but are changed after actions open them up to the possibility of new ideas. Actions, then, are what rewires minds and makes them capable of accepting, forming, and eventually implementing new ideas.
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The terrorist attacks of September 11th weren’t the maniacal actions of an apocalyptic sect madly bent on the annihilation of America and its people, nor were they fueled by hatred and an irrational predilection with death and mayhem. Neither death nor mayhem were even main goals of al-Qaeda. They did not seek to kill as many innocents as possible, but to dramatically attack buildings which served as the most vivid symbols of America’s economic dominance and control over the world. The people inside the buildings were invisible to the attackers, and so were largely incidental.
And their attacks were meant not to cause mayhem per say, but a coordinated and documentable violence that would be broadcast to the entire world. Violence that would show their people, the audience was not only the American public but Muslims across the world, and the message was that American hegemony was not invincible and could be successfully assaulted.
It is almost universally assumed that 9/11 was aimed at the American public. We interpret it in terms of how many lives were lost, in what it meant to us, in how it affected us, and it resulted in us asking the question Why Do They Hate Us? It is assumed that 9/11 wrought a destructive toll – in terms of fathers and friends and loved-ones lost, billions of dollars of damage done, airline revenues turning into debt, even a destruction of our own national innocence. But if you really look at it, 9/11 very clearly wasn’t about killing innocents, unlike Yousef’s attack on the same structures, which was aimed solely at killing innocents. Nor was the destruction it did cause a result of the efficacy of the terrorists or even really a sensible place to try and tactically damage America.
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Earlier it was stated that there are two main purposes of terrorism: to both gain followers for the group which uses terrorism and to coerce whatever society is targeted by that terrorism. From this duality, each terrorist attack can be placed somewhere on the spectrum between Symbolic Terrorism and Tactical Terror. With the former being an act of political theater aimed at gaining attention and attracting new members into the group, and the latter being an act intended not to be dramatic but instead efficient and lethal – to destroy the target’s vital assets and to take enough lives to frighten those who remain into submission or inaction.
The distinction between the Tactical and the Symbolic is not perfect, every act of terrorism inevitably possess elements of both since the two terms label ends of a balance and not an exclusive duality. It’s not a matter of only one or the other, but how much of each. But most every act ends up tipping closer to one side of the balance or the other, and so can be labeled either Tactical or Symbolic.
In a sense Symbolic Terror is easier to create because symbols are usually easier to identify than tactical weaknesses, and the symbols that someone outside a society identifies with that society are usually shared by those who live in that society. Symbolic Terror does not require a deep understanding of your target society in the way that Tactical Terror does, as the inherent nature of symbols makes them easy to identify and accessible to everyone. Tactical weakness are often either hidden or fortified, and at the very least require an understanding of the innerworkings of a society.
But, again, the line is always blurred, the balance tilts along an infinite spectrum of angles – there’s never a concrete and absolute distinction between its two ends. For example, assassinating a leader can have both the Tactical impact of removing a crucial strategist and the Symbolic one of killing a figure-head of the state. And yet because Symbolic Terror is a sort of theater, and relies on creating an impression within a target society, it is the more complicated to understand and analyze. Within Part I, most of the terrorism recounted was more Tactical in nature.
Operation Bojinka would’ve been invisible to everyone except those it killed and was meant simply to take lives. The Hezbollah bombings were aimed at a tactical military target and didn’t seek to summon the media, although they did leave ruins which were recorded by the media. Gideon was aiming only to win a tactical military battle against one military force and not to terrorize all of Midinite society. Yousef used an explosion that was underground and out of sight against twin targets chosen because they contained tens of thousands of lives and were targeted in retribution for an act of war. There was to be some Symbolic significance in all of these attacks, but that wasn’t their main goal.
Only the largely ineffectual attacks on the African Embassies can be considered Symbolic Terror, but there analysis of the attacks isn’t useful since they were so ineffectual. Because those bombings hardly managed to damage their targets – they didn’t even take a dozen American lives, and since few Americans associate any American Embassy in Africa with their idea of America herself.
You’d be hard-pressed to find many Americans who would even have the first idea of what either Embassy, or any American Embassy abroad for that matter, looks like – so it can hardly be argued that they serve as symbols of America for your average American citizen. However to the terrorists the Embassies served as large and obvious symbols of American power, so from their perspective they were appropriate targets for Symbolic Terror even through to the average American they held little symbolic resonance.
9/11 was by far the most effective and successful act of Symbolic Terror ever achieved. The most subtle indication of this is that it’s the only date the modern American language has preserved as symbols. Numbers are, after all, symbols used to portray a physical concept. However there’s much more to this argument than a linguistic point.
Symbolic Terror is almost by definition a sociological phenomenon. Societies are what must agree en masse which concrete objects serve as symbols, and it is a society in full that serves as the target audience of the violent and destructive theater that Symbolic Terror seeks to perform. So to best understand Symbolic Terror, one key sociological term that has been used to explain the behavior of everything from monkeys vying for alpha-male status to nation-states at war proves useful.
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A Positive Illusion is manifest when an action intends to lead to the impression that “force is more powerful than is apparent.”5 Positive Illusions, like any illusion, are founded firmly in the concept of deception. They can consist of anything from aggressive military posturing to pre-fight gamesmanship by a boxer. What is most important about them is that “it is the fact (and style) of attack that would serve as the mechanism by which Positive Illusions lead to deception.”6 It’s not just what the terrorist attacks, but how he attacks it.
In socio-anthropology a Positive Illusion is simply any mechanism used by an individual or group to project an inflated image of their own power. Positive Illusions are what keeps troops of primates stable, the Alpha Male – so long as he is healthy and youthful – presents an image that is indifferent to any threat and utterly at-ease. Even as he grows old, an Alpha Male will pretend to ignore the threat of rival males, hoping his Positive Illusion will cause a posturing and charging male to pull up short. It’s this Positive Illusion that allows aged Alpha Males to retain power long after their rivals could, in reality, physically overthrow their rule.
In the next evolutionary step up from troops of primates, athletic teams, Positive Illusions are what allows teams to establish winning streaks and seem unbeatable. Mohammad Ali defeated many of his opponents long before they stepped into the ring with him. The image he willfully groomed in the media was one of arrogant invincibility, and it served him well for scores and scores of bouts.
The same goes for America’s best collegiate wrestler – Cael Sanderson – who throughout his four collegiate years never lost a single match and handily won an unprecedented four national championships. On many of the films of both Ali and Sanderson it is painfully obvious that their opponent doesn’t have the slightest belief that he might triumph. Because they’re in awe, mesmerized by the Positive Illusions that sets up camp and build up walls of invulnerability around such legendary athletes. Notably, Sanderson lost one of his first international matches after graduating from college, to a Cuban who had absolutely no idea who he was.
The trappings of royal and presidential power are the next step up the ladder of Positive Illusions. These symbols imbue the holder of office with a godly status – not to be threatened and not to be challenged. Neither a Crown nor an Oval Office actually makes someone a more apt leader nor more mentally capable to make the complex decisions of governance – but, all the same, most humans are loathe to challenge the men wielding these symbols in the flesh. Much of human society remains stable because of Positive Illusions, from the jailhouse to the schoolyard to the athletic field to the halls of Congress. When someone holds the symbols of power, when their authority is institutionalized, they gain a power that most people never question.
For the terrorist, Positive Illusions are spun when these halls and institutions are destroyed. By attacking the source of their target’s Positive Illusions the terrorist is able to usurp the power they once held and make it their own. And the more daring and spectacular the method of an attack, the more attention will be drawn to it and so the more their Positive Illusion will be able to feed.
It’s not just what the terrorist attacks, but how he attacks it.
The daring and the spectacular never fails to capture the media’s attention, and so a terrorist’s Positive Illusion can feed not only by attacking the symbolic but by the skillful and unexpected nature of any attack that captures attention through its rarity and guile.
The Unabomber well embodies this method of weaving Positive Illusions. The mail is one of the most benign elements of a modern society, it constantly arrives and never causes any more harm than a paper-cut. By hijacking the everyday package, the Unabomber found a vilely ingenious way of gaining the Positive Illusion of being able to strike anyone and anywhere. And, true to the nature of most Symbolic Terror, he sought not only to harm but to gain the distribution of an ideology – his manifesto, which was eventually published by the Washington Post after his terror had maimed or killed several scientists.
The Positive Illusion can take any number of forms, but when it finds hold it begins to weave a sense of invincibility and limitless capability for those it cloaks. And never was this more apparent then on an early September morning.
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What ultimately gave the attacks of 9/11 such resonance was not the death count but that the towers, the most vivid and inescapable symbols of America’s most vibrant city, fell – and New York’s skyline was forever altered. The Symbolic Terror.
That is what is most remembered and feared about the attacks, the gaping crater at Ground Zero, created by the collapse of a once invincible symbol, which led directly to the false perception, the Positive Illusion, that al-Qaeda possessed the wherewithal to truly threaten the existence of our society. The attacks, however, were not particularly well planned and could’ve been much more tactically effective.
Although approximately 3,000 Americans died on 9/11, the two planes that struck the Twin Towers hit at 8:46 AM and 9:04 AM, well before the towers were near their combined capacity of somewhere over 40,000. This demonstrates either a miscalculation of societal rhythm, or the fact that thousands upon thousands of fatalities was never the goal of the attacks. It makes much more sense to assume that the early hour of the attacks was chosen to ensure the planes wouldn’t be crowded and so would be the easiest to control – to ensure that the attack would occur at all.
Since each plane was below capacity by at least 150 passengers, it’s generally assumed that the terrorists chose their time because they assumed a sparsely filled plane would present the least chance of revolt against the hijackers. But this demonstrates a striking misunderstanding of the behavioral tendencies of the average American when it came to hijacking airplanes, another lapse which shines light into the shadowy Positive Illusion of deviousness cast by the attacks.
The terrorists were clearly ignorant of two key elements of the American psyche as far as hijacking airplanes goes. First is that for most Americans their only personal encounter with hijacking – Hollywood – conditions them to wait for a hijacked plane to land so that Bruce Willis or Wesley Snipes can blow through a hole in the ceiling and cap every terrorist between the eyes with an large-caliber machine gun set on fully-automatic. Although it’s impossible to get an exact statistic, it’s hardly a stretch to argue the number of passengers who had seen either Die Hard II or Passenger 157 would be large enough to get the rest of those on board to relax and follow their lead of patiently waiting for the their heroic and headstrong rescuer to arrive.
Second is the fact that during the 1960′s twenty-one American flights within the continental United States were hijacked and peacefully resolved. So any passenger who was either at least fifty-years-old or had any knowledge of that decade’s history would expect a hijacked plane to be directed to somewhere without any of the passengers being harmed. These hijackings were so prevalent that they led to American pilots flying in the southern states actually carrying maps of Havana’s Jose Martin Airport, so that they would be familiar with the airport they’d likely be forced to land in.6
If the terrorists has any knowledge of our country’s experience with hijackings, then they would have known what gave them the ability to use the planes as missiles was not few passengers, but the fact American passengers had been conditioned to wait until a hijacked plane lands.
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In reality, the results achieved were not a result of truly careful and thoughtful planning, although this is what has been endlessly argued by sources in the government and media fooled by the Positive Illusion created by the attack. The simple fact that the passengers onboard American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 were caught by surprise is what allowed the initial assault to occur at all. The plot is portrayed as brilliantly sinister and devious not because it actually was, but as the result of a Positive Illusion. The informed passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 – carrying the smallest load that morning of only 45 passengers – selflessly gave their lives after they heard from friends and relatives what had happened in New York and prevented their plane from reaching its target.
And perhaps what is most striking about the ill-conceived tactical nature of the attacks is that despite making numerous dry-runs testing what sort of weapons could be bought on board, the terrorists flying out of Logan passed through airport security only seven minutes before takeoff.7
Had the terrorists struck later in the day with fuller planes, but when the buildings were nearer full capacity, the strikes would have been terrifyingly more lethal. Additionally, the terrorists had far from the precise and extraordinary execution portrayed by the media: had they hit twice as low they would have doubled their kill count on the lightly occupied buildings since 99% below the point of impact escaped. 9/11 it seems, was neither planned to kill as many innocent citizens as possible nor did it accomplish this. Given the means, flying a fuel-laden jetliner into a building, if an NFL football stadium at full-capacity had instead been chosen there would’ve been a macabre barbeque of many tens of thousands.
But the attacks of 9/11 weren’t about ringing up as high a kill count as possible. When they’re analyzed it becomes clear that al-Qaeda’s primary goal on 9/11 wasn’t a death toll, but to ensure that each plane successfully crashed into each of the Twin Towers, creating the dramatic blaze that was digitized and disseminated by every news outlet and which fueled the spread of a monstrous Positive Illusion.
Hitting as high on the buildings as they did was done to ensure they didn’t clip any other buildings, even though this dramatically lessened their kill count it ensured the Towers would be lit on fire. The toppling of the Twin Towers, which created the most intense visual and psychological effect on the American psyche, was utter luck – they had been engineered specifically to withstand the impact of a jetliner, and would’ve done so if the fire-retardant material coating the steel girders had not been blasted off by the kinetic force of the impacts.
Short of arguing this was anticipated by al-Qaeda, when there was no engineering precedent whatsoever of the effects of such an attack, and when bin Ladin himself is clearly seen on tape saying that he did not expect the impact to topple either of the Towers, the role Positive Illusion played in projecting deception and power becomes inescapable.
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Even the attack on the Pentagon can hardly be said to have chipped America’s actual military-intelligence nervous system; there exist several much more vital – in terms of their concentration of resources and their architectural reinforcement – and in ways more crucial buildings which would’ve been better targets. Basically any building that makes up an element of that nervous system, as the Pentagon is the only one engineered as a fort and fortified as such.
That the attacks were internationally perceived as cunning, intelligent, and thoughtful is a result not of any of the former being true, but is rather the effect of a Positive Illusion. The inevitable conclusion is that the al-Qaeda cell in America successfully morphed their blind luck into apparent power and guile. This is not to say that bin Ladin is unaware he is harnessing this phenomenon, as he and his associates “have demonstrated again and again an obsession with symbolic effects that multiply the material impact of terrorist attacks.”8
The architect of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, has said outright that al-Qaeda was looking for symbols of economic might.9 And we find in the attack which foreshadowed the 9/11, the bombing of the USS Cole in October of 2000 by a small skiff loaded with high-explosives, another act of Symbolic Terror. Although a billion-dollar naval destroyer is certainly a tactical asset, with bin Ladin saying that “the destroyer represented the capital of the West and the small boat represented Mohammad,”10 the balance becomes tipped to Symbolic Terror. The USS Cole was a roving symbol of American might, its skylined form appearing in Arab ports as a hulking reminder of American dominance and control.
With 9/11, bin Ladin – through his intentional and conscious harnessing of Positive Illusions – became the greatest modern orchestrator of Symbolic Terror. But all of this analysis is missing the most potent effect of the attack. The damage and death on that September morning seems to pull our attention away from the real goal of the attack. Which wasn’t to kill and destroy to the greatest possible extent. The primary goal had nothing to do with the death that occurred on that day, nor the altered skyline that will forever invoke one date for several generations.
The most important effect of 9/11 as far as it relates to the terrorism isn’t the one it had on the American psyche. It’s the effect it had on the way Muslims across the globe viewed Osama bin Ladin, and especially the revolutionary ideas he sculpted reality with. Both our reality, and the reality of the Muslims who’ve joined the cause of al-Qaeda.
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9/11 was never about killing innocent Americans, despite the hundreds of millions of innocent Americans who survived thinking first about those who died whenever 9/11 is invoked. It was about lighting torches. It was about empowering a disaffected and largely hopeless group, and rallying them to the vanguard and the ideas of a man who is seen by many of those who share his faith as one of the most devout and pious men alive in his time. And because of these perceptions, in addition to being the most notorious terrorist alive, he’s fast becoming one of the most influential shapers of the idea of Muslim identity.
Understanding how this could be possible is based on two rather distant predicates. The first is the fate of the Narodnaya Volya. After the Tsar’s assassination in 1881, Russia soon became a police state as the state implemented oppressive polices to try and destroy the group. Soon thousands of police forces were sent into the furthest corners of the Motherland, on the hunt against a “tiny, clandestine band that had the advantages of mobility, surprise, and relative invisibility.”11 And as anyone who spent time in American in the years following 9/11 knows, establishing a police state after a massive terrorist attack is a fairly predictable occurrence.
Although the Narodnaya Volya was soon destroyed, the propaganda of their deed lived on.
Twenty years later, anarchists inspired by the Narodnaya Volya managed to assassinate President William McKinley, with a little help from the gangrene which ultimately took his life. Soon the techniques of the Narodnaya Volya which had caused the Tsarist regime to expend resources on repression which might’ve been used to extend its stay in power, were copied across the world. Much of the violent anarchism that swept across early 20th Century Europe can arguably trace its roots back to the Narodnaya Volya and the propaganda of their deed. Bin Ladin is hijacking their fundamental manifestation of the propaganda by deed, but mixing in elements unique to our modern era.
The second concept needed to understand bin Ladin’s own take on propaganda by deed that hasn’t been explained yet requires returning back to the Middle East of the 1970s. Then, at the same time as city buses were serving as multi-ton wheeled canaries for the fumes of civil discontent, international jetliners were being directed in a different direction and on a more cosmopolitan course – although for many of the same purposes.
And, perhaps more importantly, they provide the necessary vehicles for conveying the tale of how bin Ladin began to act his dreams with open eyes.