Vinoth Ramachandra

From 11/9 to 9/11

Posted on: August 28, 2021

The closing decade of the last millennium saw a flood of books announcing the dawn of a new “global village” as the speed of transportation and information flows compressed space and time and gathered the peoples of the world into one happy family under the arch of liberal democracy and global capitalism.

“The world is flat”, intoned Thomas Friedman, the New York Times guru, as he jet-hopped from one luxury hotel to another, canvassing the tastes of local cultural elites.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 (11/9 in American style) was possibly the first live global media event. Glued to their TV sets, millions shared the emotions of a continent liberated from brutal oppression by a popular tsunami of non-military resistance. For political pundits like Francis Fukuyama, a Rand corporation protégé who became an overnight celebrity on the US lecture circuit, the imploding of Soviet communism ushered in an age of international integration. In a now infamous comment, he proclaimed:

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such- that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and universalization of Western Liberal Democracy as the final form of human government.” (National Interest, Summer 1989)

Since the whole world-or the world that really mattered- had now embraced free-market capitalism and liberal democracy, ideological conflict was now a thing of the past. Of course there would be those awkward “trouble-spots” around the world (the “Iraqs and Ruritanias”, as Fukuyama put it in a later essay) which refused to accept the New World Order, and critical intellectuals everywhere who still indulged in Canute-like gestures to fend off the tidal waves of change. But they could be consigned to the scrapheap of history.

For those of us consigned to live in the “Iraqs and Ruritanias”, the world looks rather different.

If decisions in Wall Street can affect the lives of those in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan, then decisions made in the latter can affect Wall Street. Americans woke up to the reality of the dark face of globalization on that fateful morning of 11 September 2001. The collapse of the Twin Towers was, unlike the collapse of the Berlin Wall, an act of unspeakable horror. We were again glued to our TV sets and laptop screens, voyeurs of suffering, exposed to endless re-runs of what was to become the defining “media moment” for the next decade.

9/11 was media-packaged as an epochal “Event”, not simply another day in the long history of human brutality and suffering.

It was immediately located within a mythic narrative of “unprovoked terror” and the loss of American innocence (“They hated us for what we are”). For multitudes ignorant of their own history, let alone the history of other nations, the new normal of random, meaningless terror stalking their streets and airspace was enough to support their government’s shredding of liberal democracy’s constitutional safeguards against the abuses of power. National Security became the new god. The Patriot Act, torture, and the dragnet surveillance of entire communities became acceptable overnight. Terror was to be fought with terror.

The subsequent military adventures  by US and UK governments left over a million Iraqis (who had nothing at all to do with 9/11) killed and the region awash in advanced weapons that fell into the hands of new militias of which ISIL was the most dangerous. Indeed, ISIL could be called George W. Bush’s baby. The latter’s post-9/11 “war on terror” was the perfect global recruiting program for new waves of Islamist terrorists.

I wrote in a Blog post on 16 June 2013: “In the United States, the massive surveillance apparatus built up since 9/11 is the domestic companion of the overseas drone killings. It spells the degradation of the liberal state. Unaccountable government is at one end of that spectrum of degradation, and an unaccountable financial sector at the other. Iraq has already been forgotten by the American and British public, and so will Afghanistan. Bush and Blair have retreated to their private havens and lecture circuits, while the people of Iraq continue to suffer the aftermath of their destructive and illegal political actions.”

Globalization – not to mention global warming- has transformed our understanding of who our neighbour is. It is not spatial proximity that defines neighbourliness now. We are indeed our “brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9 ) in way that was unimaginable in previous ages. In the words of Jonathan Sacks, the late Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, “The scope of our interconnectedness defines the radius of responsibility and concern.”(Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, London and New York: Continuum, 2002)

Despite its overwhelming military superiority, far greater than any previous imperial power, the US has not won a single major conflict since 1945. It has sought to fight communism and terrorism by making alliances with corrupt, despotic regimes and even “outsourcing” its engagement to shady US companies and military contractors.

Is it naïve to believe that the $6 trillion poured into Afghanistan over the past twenty years could have been better spent addressing global hunger, healthcare and education? Poverty does not lead to terrorism. But terrorists prey on the fears and anger of the socially excluded.

Liberal political institutions are fragile, especially in countries where large numbers go hungry and employment depends on the whims of politicians. We forget that in the West it took centuries to establish and, as recent events have shown, although Western democracies are unlikely to turn into tyrannies they can easily slip into illiberal forms of democracy as economies shrink and acts of local terrorism increase.

Moreover, many of the foundational ideas behind liberal democracy have largely Christian theological roots. And there is a body of historical evidence that those non-Western nations that have been most exposed to Protestant forms of Christianity have been more hospitable to liberal/constitutional democracy. As those historical roots are forgotten, and moral sensibilities overridden by Western governments in the interest of realpolitik  and purely “market-driven” policies, promoting it globally by means of aggressive top-down “regime change” is bound to fail. If the majority of people are indifferent to freedom or prefer a type of society in which it is subordinated to other values, no rules or legal procedures can prevent democratic versions of tyranny from sprouting.

1 Response to "From 11/9 to 9/11"

I’m so glad we have intellectual rigorous Christians engaging in these issues, Vinoth. Another stimulating piece.

“…But terrorists prey on the fears and anger of the socially excluded…”-Unfortunately, as do opportunistic politicians of all stripes, epitomised by current hostile migration discourse and policy; very pertinent to the discussion about the aftermath of Western military interventions. This also leads to my next point in reference to the claim that western democracies are unlikely to turn into tyrannies. Maybe on the home front but for those on the wrong end of their foreign policies (including migration policy), might beg to differ.

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August 2021
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