The hottest spots in Hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crises, maintain their neutrality.
We will never be free from war – from killing, from death, from fear.
And it’s becoming increasingly clear that our story is simply a matter of history horribly replaying itself on a world stage that is not growing more organized, but entropying into a clamor of fearful and increasingly disparate voices. Much has been made of the changing nature of warfare, as if something about the way organized groups of people have assembled to kill other groups of people has changed.
Studying the evolution of warfare, or of terrorism, without examining the way the societies it haunts have grown ever more complex – simultaneously farther from their past and yet more tied to each other – misses the point entirely. The killing occurring or being plotted in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, or Europe is not some new permutation of warfare’s awful visage.
All of it has happened before, what has changed isn’t the war – but the societies it’s happening within.
None of what can be alternately described as war or terrorism is new, it’s simply the natural progression of organized violence finding novel niches to seep into as they’ve opened up within advancing societies. The violence isn’t new, the precise construction and interrelationships of the societies harboring it are.
To the Muslim world, 9/11 symbolized something entirely different than it did for us. It was a theatrical spectacle with an entirely different appeal and effect. It empowered bin Ladin and granted him an air of legitimacy and authority that can only be expressed by tens of thousands of sons being named after you and T-shirts with your face on them flying off the shelves from Marrakesh to Manila. Homages that are only made after you appeal to a deep-seated sense of justice, after proving you’re willing to sacrifice everything you have to Right the worst Wrongs.
Not only was bin Ladin’s violence dramatic, it spoke to the Muslim world with the legitimacy of inarguable truth. Then, just as Gideon’s commando violence granted him authority which centuries later caused those seeking to spread Christian ideology to borrow his name, bin Ladin’s ideology became both physically manifest and imbued with influence after the commando violence he ordered into action had such dramatic results. [ARAB SPRING LINK?]
The follow-up to 9/11 seemed comparatively muted, lives crumbled but no more buildings did, because the impact of that act of Symbolic Terror was greater than bin Ladin ever could’ve hoped, and it sent into motion the forces he’d hoped it would. Islam was forced to question its own identity, and bin Laden was, for a time, thrust to the forefront of candidates to carry the Prophet’s banner. It sparked al-Qaeda’s birth as a fiery ideology, provoked America to further invade Islam’s homelands, and captured the attention of every human left alive.
But what it didn’t do was ignite Political Terrorism within America herself. Because Political Terrorism must be cocooned within a society, and feed off social injustice and internal oppression as perceived from within. Outsiders can think we’re bringing these to Muslims on the global stage, but it hardly seems like we’re bringing them against Muslims who live within our borders. And yet that’s not to say there’s no injustice or oppression being carried out within our borders at all. The men who intend to kickstart cycles of Political Terrorism and the means they use to do it always share an eerie similarity, no matter how much time separates them. Wherever and whenever a man perceives rampant social injustice and oppression there is always the possibility, no matter how crazy he’s perceived to be in his time, that he’ll be able to bring about a cycle of Political Terrorism. And even if his plans don’t go exactly as planned, in the end the changes he’d hoped to accomplish may still occur.
Symbolic Terror was at its sinister finest on 9/11, never before performing on so grand a global stage. But that has yet to prove to be the grandest act of Symbolic Terror on a stage that was solely American. That distinction yet belongs in our past. To a group of men who also sought martyrdom, who were also led by someone who was seen as a religious fanatic willing to sacrifice thousands of lives to accomplish his ideological goals.
It’s not just that Osama bin Ladin, in terms of American history, is an amateur and a hack. It’s that he has never been, and will never be, a true leader of men. American history has always been written by men who don’t only strongly believe their ideals, they must be willing to fight for them.
And to die for them. After all, “the people will not be free when they are educated, but educated when they are freed.”
i i i
No one becomes freed by ideas – deeds must be done to liberate their bodies, and only then can their minds truly be set free. Or, at least, that’s what one brave American set out to prove after he spent his whole life watching his fellow man held – both body and spirit – in shackles, and decided to do something about it.
War and terrorism are inextricably linked, terrorism’s ultimate goal is to make the targeted society feel as if they’re in the middle of a war without there really being one. So to understand the development of modern terrorism, and to see where it is headed, you must understand the history and development of modern warfare. And because World War II marked the first time warfare occurred on a modern world stage that was transversed with international shipping lanes, and transcontinental air-travel, allowing instantaneous communication and the global shuffling of massive amounts of manpower and material – it also marked the emergence of a new application of an old sort of warfare. It appeared to those it was used against to be a novel sort of terrorism, but we celebrate those or implemented it as heroes.
For good reason, on both accounts.
What the Allied forces perfected during WWII – an idea started a generation before by a man who dreamed his dreams with open eyes – was both a new stage in asymmetric warfare, and the template for terrorism’s most potent ends. Political Terror took fresh new breathes in the midst of WWII, and the strategy that brought the Allied forces back from the brink of defeat also holds the prospect of our own society’s unraveling. Groups of terrorists and soldiers alike must be burning bright with the bonds of kinship and familiarity that allow them to unite together and sometimes die together in their struggle to serve a greater good.
But neither violence nor theater alone is not enough to create the most potent confluence of Terror, to begin the horrible cycle of violence which nothing can control and which seemingly will carry on indefinitely by its own acquired momentum. Once this cycle begins, Political Terrorism can unflinchingly tear apart the fabric of society – sparing nothing and no one as it furiously shreds lives and institutions alike. No social phenomenon is more terrifying or more powerful. And yet, it too can only occur within the right circumstances.
Political Terrorism cannot draw what it needs from a people unless they already live in fear. The particular fear that comes from the cruelty of oppression, injustice, and subjugation. It doesn’t create fear and horror so much as take the fear and horror that’s already there and spin it into a weapon to be used by the people instead of against them. Where there truly is freedom and justice for all, Political Terrorism cannot emerge.
It is a miasma that depends on thick currents of hatred and fear to already exist within a population. And so when freedom and justice are choked behind walls we created and continue to allow to exist, and which we refuse to look behind or even admit are really there at all, a terrible possibility arises. Currents of rage and desperation can be summoned from behind those walls after the generations of lives crushed by their existence inevitably begin to move together, gaining organization and strength.
And when it happens in places whose existence we refuse to acknowledge, it’s almost impossible to see coming.