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Nothing Good Comes From Terror
Vijay Prashad, September 2001
All our emotions amount to cliché. There is little that can be said after one sees the image of the World Trade Towers crumble. We don't know, and cannot fathom, the death toll. The chaos on the streets of Manhattan was matched, yesterday, by the anguish across the world. New York is a global city, and the grief was equally global.
Families from around the world tried to reach the small island, grasping for any news of relatives who work in the area - janitors, businessfolk, security guards, and so many others. From Trinidad, India, Egypt, England, Japan - there was not a country in the world which did have its circuits to 011- busy all day, and into the night, and into today as well. This is an attack on US soil, but it is also an attack on people of all kinds, from all corners of the world.
The media and some politicians have already indicted Osama bin Laden, and taken images from the Shatila camp outside Beirut to show us that the Islamicists must be involved in this assault on the US. There is little hard evidence, but the jury seems to be out. Those arrested in Boston and Florida are only suspects we hear, but it seems that the country has moved toward a sense that the Middle East, as a disembodied place, is guilty of this heinous act. Unconfirmed reports say that people who look like Arabs have been assaulted in the New York area. A friend said that she has begun to feel very foreign as she walks the streets. By President Bush's standard, we must seek revenge rather than justice, blood rather than the collective security of all on this planet.
We don't as yet know who did this, and we should caution ourselves against a rush to judgment, one way or another. Certainly this was an act against the symbols of US imperialism, of the financial and military headquarters of neoliberal globalization. The problem with abstract domination, however, is that there is no one enemy, there is no center that can be easily identified as the hub of global woes, there is no baron's castle or even industrialist's factory to assault. Domination is silent and faceless, but its tentacles squander the dreams of most of us across the world. We don't know why those who drove the planes to such terror did what they did, but perhaps they were in search of an enemy that made them feel less than human, that pushed them to squander their own ethics.
The attacks must be condemned without reservation. But we must be certain to recognize that these are probably the work of frustrated and alienated human beings hemmed in by forces that are anonymous and that could only be embodied by these structures. The people who work in them became the "collateral damage" that we hear so much about when our cruise missiles strike the Third World. Those who died are martyrs of this government's insane policies, as well as martyrs of the insanity of neoliberal globalization.
Random acts of terror do not change anything, indeed they increase the suffering of us ordinary people. There are those thousands who died, but then there will be the others, those suspected of being terrorists only because they are Muslims or brown (and there are already several reported instances of such attacks and verbal assaults). And, in time, we can only hope that there will not be a legislative repeat of the post-Oklahoma City bombardment - the notorious 1996 anti-immigration and anti-terrorist laws. Anti-Islam is not only about Muslims, but in the United States it frequently turns into anti-immigrants of color in general.
Nothing good comes from terror. It never did and it never will.