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RTBF, Belgium

September 11 and the Value of Having Defined Enemies


"By giving us back clear enemies, a conflict between democrats and terrorists, an 'axis of evil,' George W. Bush and the Islamists offered us in 2001 a new - and deadly - friend or foe antagonism for the entire decade. A decade that, in fact, ended in May with the 'definitive' end of bin Laden."


By François De Smet



Translated By Mary Kenney


September 5, 2011


Belgium - RTBF - Original Article (French)

A sculpture made from World Trade Center steel hangs in London's Battersea Park: Before 9-11, who would have imagined the incredible ten years that were about to unfold?


AL-JAZEERA NEWS: Frost Over the World: Ten Years After 9-11, Sept. 10, 00:47:29RealVideo

Since this is THE great week of remembrance, we'll be dining on September 11, only for it to come to an abrupt end.


Ten years. Ten years since that sunny day when 19 lunatics, armed only with box cutters and a pilot's manual turned airliners into flying bombs.


Ten years since the start of a decade that witnessed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which increased the number of civilian victims of September 11- not twofold, not tenfold - but at least a hundred fold.


This is undoubtedly time to revisit the concept, borrowed from Samuel Huntington, of a "clash of civilizations," which characterizes human history as one involving antagonistic blocs condemned to compete with one another in order to develop.


In his day, Huntington's work was greatly caricatured, as if he had painted a political but undescriptive picture. In fact, talk of civilizations appeared simplistic because there are no homogeneous civilizations. What's at work is something much simpler and more universal that transcends culture: friend or foe opposition.


In this respect, Huntington invented nothing new: in his The Concept of the Political, brilliant and sulfurous German jurist Carl Schmitt defined the antagonism between friend and foe as the basis of politics. This is a useful framework for understanding the world today.


In short: one always needs an enemy. A multipolar world never works for long. Recall the 1930s: The First World War was one of nations, and once it was over, in a fuzzy world blurred by a lack of real antagonism, ideologies became radicalized at both extremes - far left and extreme right. These were seen as reference points in a world marked by a deep economic crisis in a wounded Europe, which was soon to lead the globe into its most deadly ordeal.


Then came, for over 40 years, the frightful but simple terror of the Cold War, which was marked by two clearly identifiable camps confronting one another with strong ideologies and around which all human activity was polarized.   



On the other hand, when the world becomes vague - when there is no longer a dominant model and when identities must be created from scratch - feelings of fear are grafted onto what seems to be something homogeneous and secure, giving rise to a mechanism of withdrawal. Nature abhors a vacuum.


In the world of the 1990s, when the East-West paralysis disappeared, the end of the Cold War launched the idea that anything was possible. And what a decade: Saddam Hussein allowed himself to invade Kuwait, the Yugoslav war flared into mass murder, genocide was quietly perpetrated in the heart of the African Great Lakes, etc. And all this without the world's policeman, under the banner of the chaotic "benevolence" of a multipolar world in which anything is possible.


So by giving us back clear enemies, a conflict between democrats and terrorists, an "axis of evil," George W. Bush and the Islamists offered us in 2001 a new - and deadly - friend or foe antagonism for the entire decade. A decade that, in fact, ended in May with the "definitive" end of bin Laden.


So unpolarized moments in history, during which enemy volatility rises and "the wicked" are to be cut down, are more fragile than we may think - particularly when they come along with an economic crisis and a lack of confidence in general.




Folha, Brazil: 'Two Septembers' that Changed the World  

Global Times, China: In Post-9/11 America, Anger Overwhelmed Self-Reflection    

Iraq of Tomorrow: After 9-11, Iraq was Punished for America's Mistakes    

Iraq of Tomorrow: 'Iraqis are Not a Herd of Beasts!'  

El Heraldo, Honduras: September 11 Response Brought 'Loss of U.S. Prestige'    

Haaretz, Israel: Why a Lethal Surprise Like Sept. 11 May Happen Again

Dar Al-Hayat, Saudi Arabia: Arabs Have Paid the Highest Price for 9-11 Attack

Internet Broadcast: Bin Laden Urges 9-11 Families to Demand New Probe Into Attacks

Der Spiegel, Germany: Eight Years after 9-11: The Bloody Legacy of Cheney's Failures

Wen Wei Po, Hong Kong: How America Ended its Own Dominance


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Now we're once again in the midst of one of those moments ... When there is no structured ideological grid, identities are in retreat, and individuals have assembled to defend themselves against chaos to form smaller, highly-homogeneous and sure identities for fear of being absorbed into a larger whole. And this fear sweeps away everything in its path, promotes every extreme and brings forth new antagonisms much more quickly than one might think. Essentially, a few years beforehand, who would have foreseen the coming of the Second World War, the identity conflicts of the 1990s or the September 11 attacks?


History, if it has any meaning at all, is a balance between identities that unfold and retreat, which battle not to disappear into a homogenous blend and whose richness we all celebrate, but which nonetheless become diluted, and since the dawn of humanity have churned out and given birth to distinctive new identities. At the same time that we rejoice at the end of bin Laden and the end of some dictatorships, it is healthy to recall: today's joyous chaos may well distract our attention from the emergence of the "enemies" of tomorrow.



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[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US, Sept 10, 11:07am]

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