Saturday, September 15, 2001
The Second Coming
The Age of bin Laden
by Clinton Fein
Turning and turning in the widening gyre|
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
- The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats - 1921
There were signs. The simmering anger in the aftermath of the failed Conference on Racism in South Africa was unsettling. Watered down resolutions that nobody intended to follow anyway, raised the stakes higher than they have been raised in ages. America's arrogant display -- turning its back on a conference designed to address racism -- was just another step toward the isolationist hegemony America had come to represent on the geopolitical stage. The rise of anti-Semitism was obvious and Israel's departure did little to stem it. Recent and increasingly violent concerns over globalization from Seattle to Genoa amplified a sinister global uneasiness.
America was tuned out. Big time. Back home in Libertyland, only a few were yearning for some answers. Who was really doing the puppeteering?
Dick Cheney's plastic heart was focused on sidelining a General Accounting Office probe into who had paid how much to whom to formulate an energy policy to desecrate Alaska. The White House was reeling from his disastrous request to have the Navy pay for Lynne Cheney's candescently lit donor dinner parties whilst touting conservation. Presidential henchmen Karl Rove and Andrew Card were closing rank and distancing the Baby in Chief from the once-cherished bionic VP.
The Brat was taking a well-earned, quick, month-long vacation - Home in the Heartland - to feel the nagging signs of the recession and to connect with the recently laid off dot com millionaires. Repudiating multilateral treaties from the Kyoto accord on global warming to those governing anti-ballistic missiles and biological weapons is, after all, exhausting.
A recently emerged and bearded, Kyoto-be-damned Al Gore, was boringly teasing the uninspired with a possible return to the presidential ring.
Florida, The Sequel starring Janet and Jeb began to pepper the Gary Condit saturated coverage. The dismal failure of the Durban conference was not a hot enough story to focus on and the mainstream media unapologetically ignored the nagging and uneasy questions it had raised.
Did Colin Powell really choose to walk away from the conference in solidarity over Israel on his own accord, or was Defense Secretary Rumsfeld worried that Reparations might threaten America's worldwide-anger-provoking Missile Defense Shield strategies? Where did Condi Rice's loyalties lie? The tensions among Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell were sizzling enough to knock Kidman and Cruise off the front pages of the tabloids had the media been watching or America been interested.
The morning of Tuesday September 11, 2001, began typically enough. Yawningly irreverent New York radio host Don Imus, (whose show is simulcast on MSNBC), was angrily denouncing MSNBC for allowing nauseatingly saccharine hosts Chris Jansing and Gregg Jarrett to knock him off the air anytime there was breaking news, rather than let him break it. Seemingly unaware of the high premium MSNBC places on youth. Clearly oblivious to the fact that a vast majority of Americans don't want some bitter, wrinkled, dried-up, ex-cokehead, surrounded by spineless yes men, wheezing breaking news between hits on his oxygen mask.
And then terror struck. Big time. In the worst terrorist attack in history, suicidal fanatics attacked the United States by smashing hijacked commercial planes into the World Trade Center towers, Pentagon (and potentially other targets, were they not foiled by passengers). America and indeed most of the world were numbed to the core by the horror and magnitude of such destruction.
Throughout the day -- and ever since -- repeated images of the horror looped and looped on every TV channel in every language interspersed with hundreds of heartstring tugging stories that reduce the most hardened of men to tears.
As the dust settles, literally and figuratively, we may well emerge from this a changed nation. Although not with the overnight hyperbole reflected by trite headlines stating as much before we had even had a chance to absorb what we were hit with.
Some things remain horribly the same.
While most American's were reeling, stunned into a shocked and disbelieving silence, the impenetrable roaches of humanity's refuse at its worst and ugliest came crawling out fast and furious, vomiting their hate and their anger like festering pus on gaping wounds.
Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson shattered their own decaying credibility by fanatically blaming the attack on abortionists, liberals, online pornographers and civil liberties groups, declaring that Americans got what they deserved. This, of course, while their fellow Americans - and a host of other nationalities -- lay dead, suffering and smoldering under heaps of shattered concrete and melting mangled metal.
Intellectually barren columnist, Ann Coulter, in a tribute to talk show partisan Barbara Olson that was about as sensitively timed and welcome as an untreated yeast infection on Prom night, suggested that America bomb the fuck out of whatever country was responsible. Children and innocent civilians be damned! And convert them all to Christianity. No doubt her perverted brand of Christianity that deems bombing babies nobler than oral sex.
'War is Stupid and People are Stupid,' Boy George once sang frivolously.
The governments waging them may be damn stupid too, but they are not that stupid, and not as stupid as we are, it seems. War allows governments to get away with things that are not possible in peacetime, where cooler heads and reason prevail. Using the word 'war' to describe something that is not a war, (like America's "War on Drugs" which has been about as successful as the Vietnam War was, if one is to compare it to a real war) diminishes the notion of what a war is and trivializes and mocks genuine patriotism. It threatens the very tenets of freedom. It allows for States of Emergency with unparalleled government powers from eavesdropping, surveillance and ex-parte motions to detention without trial.
'This is War!" screamed the headlines, TV networks and cable channels, and while we -- vulnerable in our pain, grief, fear and shattered sense of security -- wept over round-the-clock heart-wrenching vignettes of the fallen and their families played to the tune of the national anthem everywhere we turned.
While we mourned and watched and read and listened and cried, an anti-terrorism bill was drafted that rivals South Africa's most draconian at the height of Apartheid. Within just one week of the attacks. Not to mention an almost unanimous vote by both chambers of Congress (save one brave voice of Congresswoman Barbara Lee) to give Bush full authority to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against terrorists linked to the attacks and against those that sponsor them as well as a unanimous $40 billion anti-terrorism package.
America's worst enemies -- hypocrisy and its unrelenting media machinery that cripples our intelligence and goads us into thinking and acting like dazed sheep before a slaughter -- has done and will continue to do more harm to this country than Osama bin Laden or any other terrorists anywhere could ever wish to.
We cannot, as a response, simply bomb other countries with vengeance or blame people with different beliefs or ideologies. Nor should we grit out teeth through our tears and sense of helplessness and resolutely commit to revenge. A dogged pursuit for vengeance, whether framed as self-defense by ancient Defense Secretaries or resulting from a deep-rooted, visceral and all too understandable desire to punish by continuing along the very same path is explosively dangerous. All we can hope to achieve with such an approach is to add new recruits to the cause of terrorism and alienate public opinion domestically and especially internationally.
Before we embark on a war of retribution, like a frantic chicken with its head cut off running around in search of a definable enemy, we need to reflect. Big time.
What message we are sending when we impose sanctions on a country for nuclear testing one day, and then lift them so that the same country can help us attack or bomb an enemy we once befriended, trained and created ourselves the next? And to what extent might this just engender a distrust and hatred of America?
Some, more detached, have pointed out; the targets were symbols of American military might and economic prowess. The Pentagon and World Trade Center respectively represent the very essence of capitalism. Borrowing an American justification for the bombing of innocent civilians, and just as callously, some have referred to the victims as simply collateral damage. Indeed a shockingly insensitive euphemism. Why we should ask ourselves, was it so easy for us to stomach it in Baghdad or in Yugoslavia? Why then not in Oklahoma? Why not in New York?
We must question whether strategic national interests -- that have us bombing other humans to deflect scrutiny and accountability at home -- are either strategic or in our interests.
We must ask ourselves whether the multinational corporatization of culture that makes for stronger First World economies is worth the sweat and blood of children in sweatshops in the Third World.
We must reexamine the appropriateness of remaining silent while females are butchered at birth in China as Rupert Murdoch, Steve Case and their merry band of savages lay down the satellites and pipes for broadband to poison new minds with freshly sanitized, brain-anesthetizing content, and sell the population-controlled, surviving males laptops.
We need to stop for a second before bedtime channel surfing between NASCAR and Howard Stern while dripping genetically engineered McDonalds burger grease onto our GAP sweaters, only to wake up just early enough and strive just hard enough to earn just enough to replace it with one from Banana Republic instead.
We need to pause before we tap our Budweisers in tune to a lecherous Bob Dole sitting in a darkened room transparently pawning Viagra in Pepsi commercials while watching Britney Spears flaunt her underage crotch in his face. And then mindlessly tune in to a two-hour JonBenet Ramesy special and wonder who killed her. And why.
We need to find balance, where criticism of Rudy Giuliani for his horrific record on arts funding is not ignored or suddenly no longer relevant because of the incredible sense of comfort and security he has been able to inspire in the wake of the attack on New York.
We need to still be able to vigorously condemn the horrific ordeals faced by the likes of Abner Louima or Amadou Diallo at the hands of corrupt New York policemen without negating or trivializing the admirable and incredible heroism displayed by brave men and women from the same Department that continues to give credence to the phrase New York's Finest in the wake of the attack on New York.
We need to parse information being fed to us by an amateur, stammering Press Secretary Ari Fleisher, (who remember, was fainting in anxiety and threatening the media during the tense furor surrounding Jenna Bush's underage drinking escapades), with the appropriate grains of salt and respect for freedom of information.
We need to learn to not confuse extremist conduct with necessary and strong criticism of policy or appreciation of an alternative ideology. Nor refrain from critical self-analysis. We must stop oversimplifying wide ranging complexities by lumping everything into an Us v.Them paradigm that leaves too many people cornered, scapegoated or unfairly branded.
We need to realize that the declarations of war, the political rhetoric on all sides and the sweeping tide of emotion and patriotism right now are potentially the most dangerous and damaging to our civil liberties if left unchecked and unbalanced. And the threat posed by our willingness to blindly trade our freedom for a heightened perception of security cannot be underestimated.
We need to question with apprehension Attorney General John Ashcroft s draconian requests for unprecedented law enforcement powers for investigating 'suspected terrorists' (however vaguely defined) that are being fast tracked through Congress without nearly appropriate enough consideration. And how the curtailment of civil liberties during wartime translates into Rumsfeld's ominous characterization of the 'war' that reads more like his biography. "It is a much more subtle, nuanced, difficult, shadowy set of problems." With neither a beginning nor end.
Now, more than ever, we need to tune in to people around us and tune out the sappy, obsequious corporate-controlled media instilling over-produced, high-tech fear into us by simply regurgitating the government's outdated war strategies as advocated by dying blowhards who peaked in the exact same posts in President Ford's cabinet four administrations ago.
Let's smell the Starbucks and realize that the stock prices of companies like Viacom, Microsoft, AOL Time Warner, News Corporation, General Electric, Disney, Vivendi, Alcoa and Halliburton are really the only thing anyone from the White House to the Treasury to the media touting this war cares about, not humanitarian values or the value of the information or programming that is designed to keep us ignorant and petrified while we cling to our flags in tears.
Such a violent and horrific attack not only showcases our vulnerability militarily, economically, politically and ideologically, but also robs of us of our families, friends and loved ones and very joy of living.
In spite of blunderbuss rhetoric and toxic media fallout, this tragedy has resulted in people coming together and reaching out to one another in ways no one ever could have imagined. A new, more informed dialogue has begun.
The greatest honor we can bestow on the people who died so tragically on September 11, 2001, is to simply wake up and pay attention.
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