I was in Sweden as I watched the Earth shaking events of September 11th unfold on television. I’ve always felt a deep connection with, and affection for, New York City and it’s people so those harrowing scenes left me in a state of fevered astonishment. Slackjawed. It was also a combination of luck and timing that meant I was here rather than there. My apartment is not that far from where the World Trade Center is (or was) and as I watched the intimately familiar buildings and streets of my adopted home succumb to the devastation I felt a mixture of relief, that my family were with me over here, and guilt that I wasn’t with my friends over there.
Like most people my thoughts have been with the thousands of ordinary people and the courageous emergency workers who died deaths of unimaginable terror in this catastrophe. Against that blue September sky what greater contrast could there be between acts of incomprehensible violence by some and the selfless acts of heroism by others?
But my thoughts inevitably started to drift towards another dimension of this tragedy. The mindset, perpetuated by certain politicians and media in America and the West, that the world really can be divided that neatly between good and evil. As recruitment to the US armed forces booms and record numbers of stars and stripes are handed over the counter to a population increasingly whipped up into the patriotic hysteria of war, should not the question now being asked be not ‘how’ the USA was attacked but ‘why’?
From bombing civilians in every corner of the planet from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Yugoslavia without troubling to listen to the United Nations, to maintaining chains of crippling embargoes against disobedient regimes as well as the CIA’s funding, training and arming of brutal dictators like Suddam Hussein and murderous terrorists like Osama Bin Laden, America and it’s Allies have been guilty of heinous crimes themselves over the past few decades. How many more monsters are being trained and armed behind our sleeping backs even at this moment? How many more dragon’s teeth are being sown for future generations of innocents to reap?
Violence begets violence begets violence begets violence and rather than creating ever more fertile breeding grounds of hate while bombing people ever deeper into despair and chasing them ever further into the clutches of extremists might not our best defence against this nightmare simply be a more humane foreign policy? Instead of declaring war on phantoms and shadows shouldn’t we declare war on global injustice?
It’s impossible to avoid the awful realisation that what the West has been visiting upon others for years is finally being visited upon the West. If you listen carefully you can hear the eerie sound of wings flapping as the chickens start coming home to roost.