Like everyone else I guess, I’ve spent a lot of the past week or so trying to take some sort of stock of the last five years, so I looked up something which I posted in a largely British and American web community on the 12th September 2001. I remember it as being incisive and insightful, but re-reading it now, I find that it was over-punctuated and over-blown. However, it did contain some interesting analysis.
It is useful to have even 5:5 hindsight, so here are the main points, annotated, re-punctuated and mildly paraphrased:
The cry goes out “how can these evil people kill innocent victims?” but Muslims everywhere are being threatened and attacked in response, and those angry responses show us how come innocent people get killed. I am not a Muslim …but I do remember events like Tripoli, and the innocent people killed there. As a direct result, NYC and DC have been attacked, and MORE innocent people are killed. … the dead of yesterday were not the first, and neither will they be the last. (Statement, not threat).
Hardly prescience, but even so I’m astonished and shocked by the estimate of 72,265 dead as a direct result of 9/11, which has been reported in The Independent.
The next section discussed some unsympathetic reactions from Brits who were referring to our long history of Northern Irish terrorism, and it is curious how irrelevant these comparisons now seem. The most interesting part of it reads:
MORE TERRORISED THAN THOU
… The other thing that Ireland and the shift from Imperialism since 1945, has done to us is made us aware that we are not inevitably and inviolably correct just because we are British…
That is a lesson that the current American regime, and I suspect a majority of the American people, have yet to learn about themselves. Ach, there are only so many apocalyptic visions I can manage in one evening, particularly when I’m comparing those of five years ago with those I have now; please feel free to insert your own here.
The next section is worryingly prescient:
WAKE UP CALL
There is a difference between saying … “the US has been arrogant, and responsible for … atrocities…” and saying “the US deserved to to be attacked in retaliation for those atrocities”. Some people are hearing the former, when often what is being said is the latter…
It feels like fewer and fewer people are hearing words clearly, which is increasingly worrying considering the laws designed to monitor and control us which have been introduced since 2001.
One thing which concerns me in particular these days is the danger involved in using the word “understand” in the context of young radicalised Muslims being sickened by the war in Iraq. “Understand” means “comprehend”, but it is often assumed to mean “endorse”. I absolutely can understand the reasons why young Muslim men become radicalised – the mechanisms are fairly straightforward and could probably be replicated in a lab if one could still conduct unethical psychological experiments on students for $25 a day. They are broadly the same mechanisms which produced the inrush of foreigners to fight in the Spanish Civil War. I do not endorse the terrorists’ actions, but I do think it is vital we learn to comprehend them. The only way to deal with terrorism in the long-term is to make it irrelevant, and you cannot do that if you refuse to understand it.
The next section commented on double standards and perspectives but could not find any conclusions:
… The old joke about learning languages says: I am a freedom fighter, you are a member of the resistance, he is a terrorist. Let us be clear: the US has given … unofficial support to groups who have been considered terrorists…
The final section was the most important at the time, but the least coherent. It paraphrases down to:
[What the terrorists have done is taken the initiative, so that the only thing the American psyche is capable of is reacting to events; it is the terrorists' game and the Americans are now playing by their rules.]
The best response would be to do something outside the world view of their attackers. Usually one only gets outside a world view by being outside the times: this is … ‘the historical perspective’ and it is easy to be wise after the event. But we are IN these events…. and … the only thing that will work is something the terrorists do not expect, but I do not believe that the US is capable of doing that.
So… five years on, my opinions have not really changed other than finding that Northern Irish terrorism has become irrelevant.
I am trying to assess whether or not the events of the last five years have been better or worse than I expected. There is a rule of thumb, though I forget who it is credited to, which says that we tend to over-estimate the short-term effects of a technology, and under-estimate the long-term effects. I think I fell into that trap. The final line of the piece I wrote five years ago presupposes a tactical nuclear response by the US, which was clearly an exaggerated prediction. But in the long-term our prospects are worse than even I thought, and the long-term has just begun.
I find the estimate of 72,265 casualties shocking in both senses; I’d have guessed the figure at 10,000 or so. It is clear that the West’s young Muslims are becoming radicalised even faster than they can blow themselves up, and I am disgusted by the exploitative cynicism of a leadership and a priesthood which can manipulate young men into committing suicide in that way, while the leaders and the priests carry on regardless. That is something which I find hard to understand.
What leaves me sick with fear is that we are still only a dozen yards or so down this particular Cresta Run, but there really is no way to slow down or stop. All this, and global warming too.