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Whipping boy Bush

Five years after 9/11, philosopher Andre Glucksmann looks at the logic of the new Chicago, asking how we will face today's world of extended gang warfare.

The attack on the World Trade Center is never-ending. The horrors of September 11 still set hearts and minds aquiver. Increasing numbers of Americans (79 percent compared with 72 percent a year ago) and Europeans (66 percent, up from 58 percent in 2005) consider international terrorism a "massive threat" (according to a survey conducted by the German Marshall Fund and the Italian San Paolo society). With the end of the Cold War, humanity believed it was moving towards a global and ever more permanent peace. But in 2001, the world went off the rails, and today there is no more naive talk of the "end of history" with no major threats.

Such a radical shift in public opinion leaves the politicians guessing. The same survey shows Europeans are increasingly mistrustful of the United States, which is not to say the old continent shares one and the same pacifist ideology. On the subject of Iran, 54 percent of Americans, but also 53 percent of French people are in favour of military intervention if diplomacy fails to curb Iran. A similar dichotomy permeates everyday life. Despite the general concern, the economy, after a brief moment of abeyance, has started up again, as if nothing had happened. Even the most vulnerable industries – air traffic and worldwide tourism – are showing triumphant growth rates. Fear is a constant travel companion, but panic is not. And if, even in his private and family life, someone admits that the danger is growing, he still hopes to get through unharmed.

The unease has touched everything. In the media, the commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington often turned into an exorcism seance with George Bush as the perfect whipping boy. When attacks and threats increase, he is to blame. When terrorists here and at the other end of the world engage in unscrupulous murderers, this is his sorry legacy. When in Iraq the faith war swells, when Muslims in Morocco, Algeria, Afghanistan and Indonesia slaughter each other, when Iran builds nuclear weapons, then they don't look for those responsible, it is Bush and Bush again. It was he who backed the war in Lebanon, who instigated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and when Putin sets the Caucasus on fire, or uses gas to blackmail the Georgians or Ukrainians, then they are quite happy to believe that the Kremlin was simply responding to the "provocations" from Washington. Do you get it? The three thousand September 11 martyrs were the victims of American "arrogance". Five years down the line the victim has turned henchman.

In the past, people used to stick dolls with pins to ward off bad luck and kill evil spirits. In our day we apostrophise the supposed master of the world, accusing him of abusing his "superpowers". He is the cause of all our evils. If he disappeared, universal harmony would be re-established. Our magical behaviour wins on two counts. While our finger points to the cause of world chaos, our angelic smile assures that once the evil power has been paralysed, everything – the dove and the snake, the lion and the lamb – will coexist in harmony. Five years ago, public opinion was riveted on the mastermind of the largest terrorist attack in the history of the world. Now, however, on September 11, 2006, all eyes are on the abominable Bush and the lunatic America. The bloody instigators of the massacre fade from memory, to the point that they desperately attempt to get back into the limelight with video cassettes drawing attention to their presence, claiming the copyrights that are being stolen from them. In vain: all the good spirits conclude that Washington, with its dark designs, is keeping them out of the picture.

But let's be serious. Whatever his trials and whatever his errors, Bush did not invent the planetary extension of a terrorism that existed well before he came to power, and will continue no matter who succeeds him. The Cold War stopped with the fall of the Soviet empire, but the cold warriors have been there all along. They emancipated themselves, and extended the rule of the knife, the machete and the Kalashnikov to the four corners of the world. This rule was by no means the exclusive privilege of the Islamists. While the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) went after intellectuals and women, and massacred farmers en masse in Algeria, in Europe, the terrorism of ethnic cleansing (Milosevic) was opposing the democratic way (Vaclav Havel). The machete swingers in Liberia and Sierra Leone were delighted when the genocide of a million Tutsis moved on like the brown death to Congo, where civilians died in even greater numbers. The wars and massacres of Saddam Hussein, the bloody joys of Khomeinism, the killings in Timor, the atrocities of the Tamil Tigers, the ruins of Grozny and the hecatombs of Darfur give ample evidence for how the end of the blocs liberated not only the democracies, but also homicidal and genocidal impulses, with the blessing of diverse religious, nationalist and racist ideologies.

Regular or irregular soldiers, in civilian clothing or uniforms, t-shirts, caftans or three piece suits, the fanatic post-Cold-War warriors are cutting themselves a place in the sun with fire or metal, to gain houses, benefits, women, generals' stripes or absolute power. The colour of the flag is irrelevant, provided it legitimises the faculty for unchecked killing. In certain months, the number of Muslims killed by Iraqi terrorism outstrips all the GIs killed since beginning of the offensive against Baghdad! This is not a new Vietnam, but a new "Chicago", an ethnic-theological version of Mafia and gang war, laying claim to territories through ethnic purification. The fall of communism allows Milosevic to perpetrate his crimes against humanity, and Putin to quash Chechnya. This is not a reason to deplore the collapse of the totalitarian, European regimes with many millions of souls on their conscience. The fall of Saddam, a millionaire in terms of civilian lives, allowed bloody religious militias to flourish. This should be a reason to help the floundering American coalition, whose departure no sensible person would want to hurry.

What should we think, once we've rid ourselves of the fantasy of an all-powerful America and a satanic Bush? We must return to the principle of reality, and see the world as it is: fragile and chaotic, peopled with individuals and peoples who are prisoner to a dramatic period of transition. They can no longer follow the millenarian norms which their ancestors respected with their eyes closed; the violence of modern centuries has gone the last step in effacing their traditional bearings. But neither can they rely as we do on the rule of law, which doesn't exist in their countries (not yet, say the optimists). In this period of transition, terrorists of all stripes proclaim: "we will win because you love life, while we are not afraid of death." The fall of the Twin Towers illustrates their challenge. Who will take the day? The nihilistic combatants who practise homicide and suicide? Or the majority of honest people who aspire – as much in the slums as in the chic neighbourhoods – to live civilly? To accept, or not to accept, the law of the human bomb? That, I fear, will be the question for the children of the 21st century: the question of liberty, and of survival.


The article originally appeared in German on Perlentaucher on September 21, 2006

Andre Glucksmann
is a French philosopher who was active in the protest movement of the 1960s and opposed the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. His most recent book is "Une rage d'enfant". A German edition will be published soon by Nagel & Kimche Verlag.

Translation: lp, jab.

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