The world will never be the same as it was before, people wrote 15 years ago under the emotional strain following the fall of New York’s World Trade Center towers and the attack on the Pentagon, which left nearly 3,000 dead. A year later we were already laughing at this exaggerated seriousness; 10 years later no one even remembered the perceived turning point of the moment. Life simply went on.
I Manipulate, Therefore, I Am!
Yet something substantial has changed in those 15 years. Thanks to 9/11, we know more about the world, but mainly about ourselves. The war on terror, announced by TV networks from the first moment and gladly adopted by President George W. Bush, continues, only a bit differently than had been assumed. The retaliation which Bush promised, and which came in the form of bombing Afghanistan and overthrowing Saddam Hussein – who, by the way, had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack – missed its mark.
We must put it more precisely: the “shock and awe” of unearthly military force with which America then repaid the esthetic combative power of the attack on Manhattan gave birth to further terrorist revenge in the form of the so-called Islamic State. The offensive part of the operation in Iraq went well for the Bush administration, but the moment it was supposed to switch to “peace-building,” America was just as toothless as it was during the flight of bin Laden’s planes into the World Trade Center. It was not an altogether new occurrence. After all, al-Qaida leader bin Laden was a product of mujahedeen training, which at the time was supported by the U.S. in the context of the struggle against the Soviet Union. The transformation of friend into foe, an endless chain of metamorphoses of revenge, has of course become something that has broader impact and influence since 9/11. And it has become, in a certain sense, the hallmark of the new millennium.
But 9/11 also stands at the inception of a new manner of fight, political and military. I don’t mean here merely the ostentatious violence which the Islamic State’s terrorists have adopted and wish to use to shock the entire Western world and turn its stomach. Nor do I mean hybrid warfare, in which the enemy wears no uniform and turns itself directly into a battleground. Foremost, I mean the much deeper problem of ubiquitous manipulation and propaganda, the thin margin between truth and lies, a difference which nowadays – thanks in part to the total atomization of media – determines geopolitical events, and that precisely because of this difference between truth and lies is constantly being blurred. The fabricated grounds for the assault on Iraq publicly presented by Colin Powell before the United Nations Security Council is only a symbol of that blurring and fading of truth in favor of illusion and falsehoods in ultra-modern history, at whose end politicians like Donald Trump and Czech President Miloš Zeman presently stand.
Fifteen years ago a common enemy was born, one that the world had been lacking since the end of the Cold War: Islamic terrorism. But in 15 years we’ve utterly failed to do anything about it, except perhaps only that under the influence of fear, we tend to see a terrorist in everyone who has a merely tangential relation to the Muslim faith, touches a Koran or wears a burqa. As if somebody needed the war on terror as an adequate raison d’être.
The war on terror continues. In its course, we’ve learned that thanks to struggle, vengeance and power, we’re capable of easily trampling our own ideals, limiting personal freedom, torturing; in short, of making an exception of everything we have determined as our own ethical and moral framework.
Since 9/11, Western civilization has gone about its business as usual, but it cannot altogether justify what’s so exceptional about its lifestyle that it’s worthy of preservation. If the terrorists have accomplished anything, it has been to force the Western world to behave reactively rather than creating anything whatsoever new, productive, inspirational, broadminded or positive. It knows how to react anywhere to anything, to avenge itself with violence, to liquidate anyone, but it’s much worse at creating new things.
The Western world, therefore, will indeed never be the same as it was before 9/11. But in one respect, it amazingly resembles itself after 15 years: the Western world has an incredibly stiff tendency to self-destruct, which is, as always, a tendency that it fails to recognize due to its vastly augmented external enemy.