Never could I have imagined that the first subject I would write about upon returning from holiday would be a series of devastating terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The airplane hijackings and subsequent crashes into key US political and financial edifices are likely to result in a death toll that will run into thousands, each tragic victim a casualty of causes in which they had no hand.
The full horror and audacity of the attacks is evident in the targets selected by the perpetrators. The World Trade Center, in which some of the world’s best known transnational companies have offices and the target of an earlier terrorist attack in 1993; the Pentagon, headquarters of US military might and of its international hegemony; the US State Department and the Camp David presidential retreat, although the plane crashed before reaching this last destination — are among the most important symbols of US power and prestige.
The ability to hijack several planes simultaneously, to overpower their crews and then crash the airliners into public or federal buildings, with no concern for the thousands of innocent lives that would inevitably be lost, points not only to an exploding volcano of anger and frustration but to the existence of a highly organised network with the capacity to plan, finance and mount assaults from inside the US. This has led some to suggest that the attacks were carried out by a covert cell of some intelligence agency, and thus rule out Osama Bin Laden’s organisation as a possible suspect.
Over the past few weeks several signs had indicated that the world was facing a potentially incendiary autumn and that anger and frustration at Washington’s foreign policies was not confined to the Middle East or, more accurately, to Arab and Islamic peoples. That it extends to many other parts of the world has been amply demonstrated by protest demonstrations against the US at a series of international conferences, the latest being the World Conference against Racism in South Africa, at which protesters lashed out at the US and Israel.
This tragedy compels us, first and foremost, to feel compassion for its victims. It forces us, too, to contemplate its implications with regard to the US’s international stature. In spite of its overwhelming might the US has proved itself incapable of preserving its own peace and security. Indeed, it has managed to turn the love and admiration that peoples around the world once felt for the US as a champion of liberty, democracy and self-determination, into universal suspicion and mistrust, a transformation that is the result of Washington’s misuse of power and abuse of the moral foundations upon which it built its civilisation.
And the danger of this tragedy, which has already cost innumerable lives, is that it may be just one link in a far longer chain of attacks against US interests. Equally disastrous would be for the White House to unleash its wrath in a spate of retaliatory operations, or for a nation such as Israel, which has been waiting for the opportunity, to manipulate the tragedy for its own ends. In America’s case, a loss of patience at this critical time would invariably entail a loss of sound judgment.