This entry comprises of your responses to John Wojdylo’s piece in Terror unlike movies.
Contributors are: Anna Greenep, Steve, Julie Green and David Davis. I also publish a piece recommended by David, a contributor to Webdiary since it began in July last year.
Readers recommend the following sites:
1. J Nalbandian: “Another perspective from the usual CNN, ABC, NBC American perspective news reporting. The views of a journalist (Robert Fisk) who has lived in the area and does not hypothesize why, who etc without putting his foot in these so called middle eastern countries which people in the west are having difficulty understanding.” http://www.independent.co.uk/story.jsp?story=94254
2. Amiel Rosario: I do not agree with your views on refugees. But your Webdiary is very interesting reading. Here’s a report by the Kennedy School of Government (part of Harvard) which you and other readers may also find interesting.”
Anna Greenep, an Australian in London
How does a person make sense of the the recent events in the United States, which have brought many global issues into focus? For me, with great difficulty. However, due to the informative writing of John Wojdyloin Terror unlike movies I have a much better understanding of the issues at hand.
I stopped watching the TV reports for two reasons. Firstly, they keep going over and over the same old ground without really providing any new information (a person can only watch a plane fly into a building and explode so many times before they become immune to the seriousness of the action). The second is that all the reports were making me uncomfortable.
I was uncomfortable with how TV was, in my opinion, manipulating the information and creating a feeling of fear and unjustly treating various sections of the global community. The fear was being incited by the one dimensional way in which the events were being reported.
Increasing my fear was the fact that our world leaders really weren’t doing any leading or assisting in providing information which would give the global community (and themselves I might add) the tools necessary to move forward and make the sound, logical decisions that were required (although Colin Powell has been a reasonably cool head).
As the visual media wasn’t really providing me with the answers I sought, I stopped watching. Instead I turned to the internet and I started to read. The Sydney Morning Herald was my first port of call. I’d always thought it was a good newspaper however, until now I hadn’t truly realised just how good. I clicked into the “Opinion” section and read with interest the opinions expressed there. It was the corner stone in my quest to gain an understanding of current issues facing not only Australia but the global community and how these issues inter-relate.
Mr Wojdylo’s item was a riveting, insightful and informative read. As I read my mind became less clouded and the events over the past week and the reasons for them came sharply into focus. In all the hype, I’ve yet to see a journalist or political figure step back, analyse the situation and provide a theory to the reasons behind the attack and the type of behaviour we may be forced to confront in the future.
In its quest for information and its need to seek out the guilty party, the world’s media generalise some very important points when it really needed to be very specific in the message it was sending out to the world. Mr Wojdylo specified the difference between fanatic radicals and the moderate sections of society. He also effectively highlighted that fanatic radicals are not just confined to Islam. Christianity has its fair share of fanatics and radicals too.
Most importantly though was Mr Wojdylo’s description the Arab world, insight and theory into the possible master plan of Osama bin Laden. I was unaware that Osama bin Laden’s daughter is married to the supreme ruler of the Taliban. With that piece of information I instantly gained an understanding of the Afghani stance in this affair.
He also clearly and logically identified the differences between fanatic/radical muslims and moderate muslims and provided some logical insight into how the West could improve its relations with moderate muslims countries to effectively stymie fanatic radicals such as Osama bin Laden.
It was a very well written and informative piece, without prejudice or
opinion, by a person who took the time to seek the answers that weren’t
being provided by normal means. I’m glad that I stumbled across the item as
it decreased my fears and brought an understanding to the situation that I
hadn’t had before.
As an Australian living in London surrounded by newspapers who’s integrity can be sometimes questionable, it is a joy to be able to access a newspaper that still provides a platform for people to express their views in an informative and, as I have found so far, fairly unbiased manner.
“The grains of truth in their claim explode in their minds into hatred and obliterate all reason.” Please.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but earnest writing like this only ends up trivialising what it is discussing. I’m sorry, but I just wanted to laugh when I read it.
The problem with this analysis of the “Arab situation” is that it assumes (as our culture always assumes) that there is a “they” out there (Muslims) as opposed to just a myriad of individuals, all different.
I was greatly moved by the Herald’s gallery of photos of Afghans travelling to the border. No doubt many of them would be describable as “people waiting to become tools (!) of ambitious, evil, self-aggrandising con-men”. Yet all I saw were common people, each bearing the mystery of his or her humanity, uncounted rationalities not at all captured by this analysis (in its own way, a “self-aggrandising con”).
It seems that it is the self appointed burden of the educated to always speak for the multitudes – but I fail to see how this letter has any more access to the truth than bin Laden does, preoccupied as it is with defining how “everybody” feels.
This is especially noticeable in John Wojdylo’s cosy description of Australians being greatly “afraid” because of an apparently fragmentary grasp of what is going on out there (as if the rest of the world – or German TV anyway – is privileged with a far better “view”).
Sorry – I must be living in another country. I might venture that most people seem fascinated (and some like to get agro) – but real fear only occurs when something like a redundancy non-package from Ansett turns up at your doorstep – not from existential viewings of CNN.
Thank you for printing the article by John Wojdylo. As an Australian in England, (where unfortunately the news coverage is little better than CNN) I too was attacked by the illogical fear of the future. But Mr Wojdylo has put this fear into perspective and provided a platform for seeing the way ahead.
The future is not a ‘black abyss’, but merely the effect of the basest instincts of man – whether he be muslim or not. The trick is to see through this and not treat this confrontation as a us/them conflict (with of course George W wearing white and riding Roy Rogers horse and the arabs dressed in black and hiding in the shadows.)
Despite the ‘feel good’ mentality of this action, I agree that it is the exactly what the fanatics of this world, on both sides, want. I just hope a society bred on Hollywood stereotypes can rise above that.
David Davis, our Australian in Switzerland
In today’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (the article appears below) the poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger, wrote: “The swifter the comment, the shorter-lived its relevance. Nothing against timeliness! But moments when no one knows what will happen next are precisely the times when there is good reason to attempt a distanced view.” This had particular resonance with me. He then went on to write a fascinating article on how the ancient custom of human sacrifice has “gone global”.
I read this article, thought deeply about it and decided that the time has come to offer a compliment to the dreaded media of the Western World and elsewhere for that matter. For those with the resources and know how, we are fortunate to be able to access media anywhere, anytime, with one of the few remaining barriers being language.
John Wojdylo refers again today to the intelligence and richness of the German media. He is spot on. I constantly read thought provoking stuff from German sources.
His brilliant piece yesterday in Webdiary is proof of the growing richness in media everywhere, encouraged by the technology of the internet. I liked his piece so much because it made me think and I learnt something. I’ve been harshly critical of the media in the past but rather than continue to complain, I have become an ACTIVE consumer, seeking out deeper and more interesting sources. They are out there if you are prepared to be determined and look.
If you don’t like something, be prepared to switch off and go elsewhere. In the case of television the choices are less but in print, it is global. It is global but our brains will always be that little bit local as well and that’s why I always come back to the Herald. Not that I live in Oz but a part of my thoughts are always there.
I hope I can also put in a plug for the ABC. The depth of their online resources is IMMENSE for those who like to think and be active rather than passive consumers.
I can’t believe I am defending CNN but I have to say I am surprised by people’s reaction to it. I am not sure why they expect to get something other than the “what, when and where”. If you want “why” go to a newspaper or a high brow TV or radio source. Even CNN doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it quite clearly is. They say their mission is to be “the world leader in news and information delivery”. Analysis is not a big part of it. What they have always done well is cover breaking news and fast moving events. That is their role in life and their business model. Why is it so shocking?
Another US network is Fox News. Their slogan is “We Report, You Decide”. In other words they don’t spoon feed you with endless panels of academics and other experts. If you want that, go elsewhere. They offer what, when and where, not why.
As consumers, we need to accept that the media is segmented. Go to the segment that gives you what you want.
I can’t understand WHY until I know the what, when and where. That is why to me in a crisis of this enormity, I want to know the pure “news” first before I can process the rest of it. I accept that I may be slower than many! Sorry! Quite frankly I am totally overwhelmed at the moment and am having difficulty focusing on anything.
There is an enormous richness in the American media. It covers the spectrum and there are thoughtful journals and newspapers for all. Even the underfunded Public Broadcasting Service provides some excellent programs, as does National Public Radio (NPR). In a time like this I know friends in the States are tuning to NPR for analysis and consulting one or several of the great metropolitan daily newspapers for intelligent and in depth reporting.
It is insulting to the American people to bag them and their media without looking at the complete picture. It is just as stupid as saying all Australians only watch Channel Ten News. Give the Americans SOME CREDIT for intelligence and stop this carping jealousy.
Like our Prime Minister, the American President sometimes says things which are designed to address the widest possible audience. Listen to what George Bush says and listen DEEPLY to what Colin Powell says.
I like Colin Powell a lot. Long before the events of last Tuesday, which seems like an eternity ago, Colin Powell was asked about “AMERICAN POWER” in the world. In response he said “There’s a quote by Thucydides that you appreciate very much: “Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most.”
Think about that one and where we are right now.
Colin Powell is the son of poor Jamaican immigrants, born in Harlem. His parents came to America in search of a better life. The previous Secretary of State was Madeleine Allbright, a refugee from Czechoslovakia.
That’s the American Dream and no matter how much the American people and the government made up of the people end up being human and falling short of the dream, never forget them at their best and what they can be.
To some it is an uncomfortable reality, but the world needs America. I actually find it quite reassuring.
Burn me at the stake if you like.
PS: What a shame that Tampa has been shunted off to no mans land and EVEN WORSE co-opted and twisted into the global crisis. If anything the current situation should make it EVEN MORE APPARENT that people are running from Afghanistan with good reason. The spotlight is on Afghanistan and the people on the boats are not terrorists. The terrorists have BIG CASH and would come straight through Mascot. They don’t need to spend 6 months on a leaky boat. I am still utterly disgusted by it. I don’t listen to ANYTHING John Howard says anymore. That one finished me with him. Bin Laden has immense resources – his mates are NOT entering via Christmas Island. How utterly ridiculous to suggest they are.
Human Sacrifice Is a Thoroughly Modern Phenomenon
By Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 17
Born in 1929, the poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger was a member of the influential postwar literary Group 47; in 1965 he founded the journal Kursbuch, which he led until 1975. Since 1979 he has lived in Munich. Numerous books of his poetry and essays are available in English, including “Civil Wars: From L.A. to Bosnia” (1995).
The swifter the comment, the shorter-lived its relevance. Nothing against timeliness! But moments when no one knows what will happen next are precisely the times when there is good reason to attempt a distanced view.
For example, on globalization: A German academic by the name of Karl Marx analyzed this phenomenon in considerable depth as much as 150 years ago. He certainly would not have dreamed of being “for” or “against” it. In the conflicts that erupted in places like Seattle, Gothenburg and Genoa, he would have seen no more than a bout of shadow-boxing. Protesting against such a massive historical fact may be honorable, but the best it can achieve is worldwide television drama, showing that naive anti-globalization protesters are in fact themselves part of what they seek to combat.
In his day, Marx described globalization as a purely political and economic phenomenon. And in 1848, that was the only possible angle, as the expansion of the world market and the politics of the colonial powers were then the key driving forces. But since then, this irreversible process has come to affect all aspects of life. Those who look at globalization in purely economic terms have not understood it. Today, nothing is left that can remain separate from it, neither religion nor science, neither culture nor technology, not to mention consumerism and the media. Which is why its costs are counted everywhere, in every sphere.
Not only the countless economic losers are affected. Around the globe, sudden collapses, weapons, computer viruses, new types of epidemics, ecological disasters, civil wars and crimes all take their lead from the world market with its currents of money and knowledge. The belief that any society could isolate itself from these consequences is absurd. One such consequence is terrorism. And it would be a miracle if terrorism had remained the only thing not to go global.
Faced with fanaticized masses, the modern world has long clung to the view that it was dealing with the peculiarities of backward societies. Many believed that sooner or later, the unstoppable process of modernization would put an end to such atavisms, even if the occasional relapse proved inevitable.
The murderous energies of today cannot be traced back to any tradition. Neither the civil wars in the Balkans, Africa, Asia and Latin America, the dictatorships in the Middle East, nor the countless “movements” under the banner of Islam should be seen as archaic throwbacks: They are absolutely contemporary phenomena, reactions to the current state of global society. This also applies to a venerable religion such as Islam, although it, like ultra-orthodox Judaism, has not developed any productive ideas for a long time. To date, its strength has consisted in a determined negation of the modern world, to which it thus remains bound.
The immanence of terror, regardless of its source, is evident not only in the protagonists’ behavior, but also in their choice of methods, pathological copies of the enemy like those made by a retrovirus of the attacked cell. The feeling that this attack came from outside is mistaken, since no external realm of human and inhuman action exists outside the global context.
Those who carried out the attacks on New York and the Pentagon were right up to date, not only in technical terms. Inspired by the pictorial logic of Western symbolism, they staged the massacre as a media spectacle, adhering in minute detail to scenarios from disaster movies. Such an intimate understanding of American civilization hardly testifies to an anachronistic mentality.
It is no coincidence that at first, doubts were voiced concerning who was behind the attack. On the Internet, blame was leveled at extreme right-wing groups in the United States, while others spoke of Japanese terrorist groups or a Zionist intelligence service plot. As always in such cases, all manner of conspiracy theories immediately sprang up. Such interpretations are a measure of how infectious the culprits’ mania is. But they also contain a grain of truth, as they demonstrate how interchangeable the motives for such attacks are. The letters claiming responsibility in the wake of most attacks, full of clich�s and phrases learned by rote, resemble one another in their vacuity.
Ideological analysis tells us nothing about the origins of the psychological energy that fuels terror. Labels such as left or right, nation or sect, religion or liberation all lead to exactly the same patterns of behavior, and their only common denominator is paranoia. Just how important the Islamic motive was to last week’s mass murder in New York will have to be evaluated. Any other motive would have served just as well.
In a gray area as murky as this one, certainties are hard to come by. Yet it would be hard to overlook the one thing that practically all terrorism as we know it has in common — the extraordinary self-destructiveness of those who perpetrate it. This is true not only of the groups of conspirators and countless warlords, militias and paramilitary groups that have laid waste to large parts of Africa and Latin America, but also to so-called rogue states such as North Korea and Iraq.
Such dictatorships seem bent less on annihilating their true or imagined enemies than on ruining their own countries. The as-yet unsurpassed pioneer of such suicidal behavior was Adolf Hitler, who was able to count on the support of the vast majority of Germans. Russia took 70 years to reach a state of total collapse, while Iraq even takes pride in its own demise.
Countless “liberation movements” are pursuing similar goals. Algeria, Afghanistan, Angola, the Basque Country, Burundi, Indonesia, Cambodia, Chad, Chechnya, Colombia, Congo, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kashmir, Liberia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda — they make up an alphabet of horrors that shows no signs of ending.
The logic of self-mutilation applies to the terrorist attacks on the United States too, as their most devastating consequences will have to be borne not by the West, but rather by that part of the world in whose name they were perpetrated. The foreseeable consequences for millions of Muslims will be disastrous. Yet Islamic fundamentalists are already celebrating a war they will never win.
Nor will the suffering be confined to refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants. Beyond all sense of justice, entire peoples from Afghanistan to Palestine will have to pay an enormous political and economic price for the actions of those who claimed to be acting in their name. The expected retaliation will not spare innocents any more than did the attack that provoked it.
The West has consistently underestimated the power of this collective urge to self-mutilation or even suicide. Reflecting on one’s own past is apparently not enough to make the unfathomable any less incomprehensible. For that reason, perhaps it is time to risk a comparison with more familiar phenomena. One glance at a newspaper is proof enough of how irresistible this pleasure in one’s own demise really is, even in the so-called developed world. Although drug addicts and skinheads knowingly rob themselves of every possible opportunity life has to offer and although hardly a day goes by without some new “family tragedy” or someone going on a shooting spree, we nevertheless continue to assume that most of what we do is dictated by the survival instinct.
Every day brings new evidence to the contrary: A schoolboy lunges at his teachers and fellow pupils with a knife, someone who is HIV-positive tries to infect as many of his sexual partners as possible, a man who feels his boss has treated him unfairly climbs up a tower and shoots at anything that moves — not despite, but precisely because this massacre will bring his own end sooner.
There are certain parallels between individual death wishes like these and the motives that drove last week’s hijackers. No matter how real or imagined the endless calamity is that he believes is threatening him, the individual or collective suicide candidate invariably prefers a calamitous end to every other alternative. The only difference is in the scale. Whereas the skinhead is armed only with a baseball bat and the arsonist only with a gasoline canister, the well-trained assailant has financial backing, sophisticated logistics and state-of-the-art communications and encryption technology at his disposal. And before long he will have nuclear, biological and chemical weapons too.
For all the differences in scale, there is one thing that all these perpetrators have in common. Their aggression is directed not only at others, but rather — and above all — at themselves. If a terrorist can claim to be pursuing a higher goal, then so much the better. It does not matter which particular chimera it is. Any authority will do, any divine mission, any sacred fatherland or revolution. If necessary, the murderous self-murderer can even make do without such second-hand justifications altogether. His triumph consists in the fact that he can be neither fought nor punished, because he has already taken care of both these things himself.
Those who prefer to remain alive will have a hard time understanding this. Although the overwhelming majority of us has never felt the urge to go on a rampage, none of us stands a chance against the adherents of suicide. As there are probably hundreds of thousands of human bombs in this world, their violence is likely to accompany us throughout the 21st century. What we are witnessing now is the globalization of another of our species’ ancient customs: human sacrifice.