New World Order: New Barbarians

Michel Valentin

Nun ist die Luft von solchem Spuk so voll,
Dass niemand weiss, wie er ihr meiden soll.

(So many haunting shapes now fill the air
That nobody really knows how to escape.)

What happened Tuesday, September 11th, in New York and Washington, corresponds to what Robert Kaplan in The Coming Anarchy predicts./2/ The Berlin Wall's fall, the "Evil Empire's" collapse, and the victory of the market economy conjugated with high-tech apotheosis quickly became convenient markers for a West eager to witness the end of modern history (class-struggle). The belief was that post-modernity would finally usher in peace and prosperity for all and bring the whole world into a 21st century governed by a consensual triumph of Western values and the so-called free market philosophy./3/ To further seduce us, an unprecedented economic boom lulled many of us into a slumber party of materialism and self-absorbed, narcissistic passivity. Ten years later, History awoke us with an ominous thunderclap. It found us painfully haggard and dumbfounded. The reasonable reality fantasized for ourselves gave birth to a nightmare. Violence that we thought evacuated from the scene of History and hurled onto the Hollywoodian screen (nowhere since America does not take its Unconscious seriously), boomeranged on us, out of the space of oblivion or fantasy. The terrorists' attack did more than shatter post Cold War capitalistic dreams. It put a check on the very concept of mondialisation--globalization./4/ It jerked us out of our environment of integral receptivity, middle-class repose, and new age satisfaction. It put a damper on the hope for smoother relationships between civilizations. After that tragic day, nothing would be the same. Although it is too soon to envisage what overall effects the terrorist attack will have upon the American psyche since the event has not receded enough in history's rearview mirror to afford a meaningful hindsight, we can still assume that American sensibilities will significantly change over the long term. When the horror, as an uninvited guest, jumped out of TV screens and invaded living rooms with surreal pictures of bodies jumping from towering floors, gigantic collapse, dust and roar, we knew that our semiotic landscape and psychic geography was going to be thoroughly transformed. Of course, there were forerunning signs abroad--even at home, in our own schools. But they were not taken seriously.

First it must be recognized that we already live in post-apocalyptic times. We cohabit with social abnormality, unbearable conditions of inhumanity, criminal indifference, corruption, laziness and ignorance./5/ We have more or less agreed that the world of economic development dictates the way we live. We seem to accept the fact that the central role of government, and ultimately democracy, is to provide the largest possible umbrella to protect and foster business all over the world. Willy-nilly, we are all accomplices in what is going on in the world./6/ We have already been irradiated and contaminated, but not by what we feared./7/ The dreaded explosion happened, but it revealed itself to be an implosion--an inward collapse of things upon themselves. We are irradiated by a constant flow of images, messages, ads, signals, information, programs, and codes that changed in a catastrophic, monstrous, and hurried mode the way we were./8/ Nobody knows what we will become.

This irradiation, perhaps more pernicious than atomic radioactivity, is the result of the conjugated effect of images, signs, and codes united by the law of the dollar sign ($), that even erodes what should underwrite it, "In God we Trust." Everything is turned into a commodity. Everything is made commutable. Everything is for sale in this grand re-ordering of things. Traditional politics, as the end-product and mover of a world governed by dialectics, liberation theories, and the positive sense of a belief in a history of cumulative, linear progress and universal improvements, have all but disappeared. They were replaced by what Jean Baudrillard calls "trans-political" forms. "Politics" revolved around the threat and hope of "revolution." Trans-politics revolve around the threat, expectation, and fascination of the catastrophe: i.e., the only thing that threatens the market. The reign of politics meant the bi-polar balance of terror between the West and the East (USSR) and a provisional status quo that preempted all other forms of resistance, resentment, and oppositions. Today, trans-politics are synonymous with the diffused and all-encompassing rise of terrorism, the return of quasi-primary fears, and the proliferation of all forms of disjoined and disjointed oppositions. The great "isms" that used to ground and govern our lives have vanished or changed their meaningful resonances in our language to such a degree that we do not recognize them any longer./9/ This state of social and trans-political existence, typical of 21st century America, is called postmodernism,/10/ the "ism" that represents the demise of all other "isms" and poses as the first truly universal conduit.

Second, as the world renowned media sociologist Jean Baudrillard forewarned, we live in the society of spectacle,/11/ in which socio-political crises (particularly ecological and "unusual" catastrophes) take on a déjà-vu appearance--a quasi-hallucinatory dimension:

Another remarkable aspect of a happening like this is that it is in some way expected. We all collude in the anticipation of a fatal outcome, even if we are emotionally affected or shaken when it occurs./12/

On Tuesday, September 11th, it was as if images of destruction and terror had slipped straight out of a B-movie/13/ or a zany cartoon. The fatal jet planes tear out of the daily functionality of a beautiful sky as if erupting out of nowhere, like the crows and seagulls of The Birds./14/ But no Superman came to the rescue. No King-Kong, perched on top of the North Tower, grabbed the incoming jets. On that fateful day, reality erupted to let out the total confirmation of our repressed fears as fantasized by Hollywood, aka Independence Day meets King Kong. Instant replays of the Academic Awards film The Towering Inferno/15/ were reenacted--complete and replete with the same cast of heroism./16/ Already the images of September 11's hijack have become engraved in the collective psyche as the most spectacular ever attempted. This status of events corresponds to what Baudrillard calls the precession of the simulacrum, or model, when the reality/fiction coupling inverts its order of influence and appearance. Fiction, then, not only becomes truer than reality but reality takes a posteriori, its truth-effect, its real dimension, from fiction itself. Fiction, in turn, becomes validated a posteriori by reality. They are both caught in the same loop of effects and affects, creating a situation which increases the viewer's anxiety as it becomes impossible for him/her to distinguish one from the other. S/he hangs in there, in suspended inaction between reality and hyper-reality, a prisoner in the tower of dreams. All this is the spin-off of the postmodernist reign of the imaginary that taints all our symbolic systems. Death, in this case, becomes the more absurd, tragic, and grotesque, since (contrary to a cartoon or a Hollywood movie) it is actual, "for real." The image of "what used to be for fun" takes on a new uncanny presence, as if springing out of another dimension, like a jack-in-the-box. This is why many witnesses in Manhattan spoke of watching these terrible "happenings" as if they were watching a Hollywood disaster movie. Reality caught up with the impossible, sensationalist special effects of a Hollywood apocalyptic scenario (with its Manichean manipulation of symbols) and turned them, a posteriori, into tragically premonitory hallucinations. This is why our emotional responses first oscillated between tragedy and pathos, terror and overexcitation, rage and vehement fervor, before elevating us to an exalted state heralding patriotic exultation. This wavering is but one of the indexes of the supreme collapse of our ability to evaluate what is real, what makes sense from what does not--what really matters from what is not important. This is why our short-term goals obfuscate what should be a long-term vision. We cannot see beyond the limited confines of our petit-bourgeois horizon, of our comfortable sphere of passivity and complacency, of our convenient tolerance (an empty form of indifference). As such, terrorist violence is but an aggravated form of the same indifference: "an intolerant reaction to the hypertolerance of our societies, the way rape is an intolerance to our limitless sexual tolerance."/17/

When reality is ignored it has the tendency to come back unexpectedly via the bad side of things and draw strength from death. Utopia slips into dystopia. As Baudrillard writes, "Occurrences of this kind represent a sudden crystallization of latent violence. They are not confrontations between hostile forces, not a clash between antagonistic passions, but the product of listless and indifferent forces (among them television's inert audience)"./18/ In postmodernism, characterized by the supreme reign of instant images, reality and fiction have become but two avatars of the same causal effects. Under the univocal glare of the society of spectacle, they tend to obey the same ideological laws of re-production. For instance, the postmodern ideology of "total media" falsified the psychological condition, which is the mere result of an altered state of consciousness brought about by catastrophes (where people feel more alive and "human"), by turning it into a radical transformation of consciousness./19/ The excited state of aliveness caused by the loss of the familiar ego state when the self is confronted by terror and horrific aggression cannot be equated to quasi-miraculous, noetic changes in human mentality. Americans have not suddenly become "better" human beings following the terrorist aggressions, contrary to what the media claimed right and left, though the nation-state ideology uses foreign aggression as the pretext to reach an impossible climax of unison and homogeneity./20/ Postmodern media brought this impossibility to new heights for instance, reporting the imaginary feeling that Americans now have reached a state of transcendence where all class, racial, social, power and income differences have been sublimated. This is exemplified by the new public service announcement produced for the Ad Council which shows a series of diverse people proclaiming to the camera, "I am an American." Each individual pronouncement bears the stamp of his/her specific cultural origins, illustrating the famous "e pluribus unum." This newer state of transcendence does not work as the traditional "melting pot" that used to obliterate differences through metaphoric transport of WASP denomination. This new fusion reaches transcendence by systematically cultivating metonymic differences. By rejecting rhetorical and iconic restraint, the media and the establishment want to transmute the temporary, illusory togetherness brought about by havoc, pain, and empathy, into ideological unity. Witness the re-opening of Wall-Street, the world market, the Monday after September 11, when delegates from the New York firefighters and police forces (our heroes), Republican and Democratic politicians,/21/ traders and brokers united together to preside over and celebrate the return of "trading as usual." After a heart wrenching rendition of "God Bless America" by a famous female pop singer, a short-sleeved, muscular fireman rang the opening bell and flexed his naked biceps, à la Rambo, for the whole world to see. It was a scene out of a surrealist movie that Bunuel himself/22/ would not have disdained. The only representatives missing were prelates and a bishop.

It seems that this terrorist attack, coming "out of the blue," arrived at the right time to buffer the political state and national government, whose powers have been ridiculed, battered, circumscribed, and reduced by the new global, de-centered, and international capitalism. The terrorist aggression was the perfect catalyst to induce a miraculous rebirth of the state's historical idealism, generally produced in wartime by the aggression of another nation. These new forms of foreign terrorism are the transmutation of war under a pure, hard, uncompromising form of violence ("pure evil" as President Bush declares continuously). To the ideal violence of terrorism corresponds the ideal form of a nation-state that had been short-circuited by consumerism, the new economy, and the compromises enacted between business practices and the government. This new, total form of terrorism gives the power elites, the media, the collective screen, and Washington what is necessary to revive patriotism and rekindle respect for the institutions that are constantly gnawed at by neo-capitalism.

Third, the speed at which these events unfolded is a direct product of the technological (re)production of reality. It radically modifies the nexus formed by our sensory/perceptual apparatus and our judgmental /ideological powers and collapses them into each other./23/ The impact, created by this new cognitive phenomenon, is aggravated by the fact that cellphones, amateur or "on the spot" videos, and quasi-instant media reporting annihilate the time-space distance between the happening of the event itself, its diffusion, perception of it by the public, and their reaction to it. This constitutes a new social and political dimension (de-formed, re-formed, and in-formed by high-tech)/24/ that has changed the way politics are conducted. People can literally watch "live" the unfolding of any event from their living-rooms, as if everybody in the world were watching the same catastrophic event from the same window, as in a cinema theater. Among other consequences, this "on the spot," "24 hour" tele-reporting of events modifies the state of public affairs and the way we respond. It dulls the rational, intellectual powers of the mind. It heightens the responsive emotionality of people by reducing them to a mere passively reactive mass./25/ It homogenizes mass behavior and increases hysterical reactions. It induces certain specific forms of irresponsible, anti-social, and psychotic types of behavior that would have been unthinkable before. It spreads around "bad" examples in an irresponsible way by publicizing their sensational aspects without providing, at the same time, rational and satisfying explanations. It uses deep-seated symbolism without giving any rational specifics. Primarily motivated by commercial sponsoring, newscasters address the largest, lowest, and least educated denominator of the audience. One of the worst TV channels in that regard is the Fox News Channel. Speculating specularity breeds an absence of intellectual speculation. Paradoxically, without non-stop TV coverage, the postmodern apparatus of information production and reproduction, and its white abyss of dependent consumers' passivity and voyeurism, mass-terrorism would not "work." In more ways than one, there is an uncanny complicity of cause and effect between capitalism and its foe (terrorism), the media and the spectacle it produces or what Jean Baudrillard calls a "Moebius-spiralling negativity," a causal "vertigo of interpretation":

For manipulation is a floating causality where positivity and negativity engender and overlap with one another, where there is no longer any active or passive./26/

Terrorism is a terrible postmodern by-product of our consumer society:

Today's violence, the violence produced by our hypermodernity, is terror. A simulacrum of violence, emerging less from passion than from the screen: a violence in the nature of the image. Violence exists potentially in the emptiness of the screen, in the hole the screen opens in the mental universe. So true is this that it is advisable not to be in a public space where television is operating, considering the high probability that its very presence will precipitate a violent event. The media are always on the scene in advance of terrorist violence. This is what makes terrorism a peculiarly modern form--far more modern than the "objective" causes to which we seek to attribute it: political, sociological or psychological approaches are simply not capable of accounting for such events./27/

In an odd way, think of the quasi-sexual "high," which the terrorists must have had riding the sleek, gleaming aluminum fuselage of their "silver bullets" of mass-destruction,/28/ dive-bombing in front of the whole world into the twin "phallic towers" of the World Trade Center./29/ They, too, transmuting the Occidental metaphoric ecstasy of the stratospheric glide/30/ into a death dive, must have reached an impossible ecstasy, the transfiguration of a self-inflicted martyrdom as the self-appointed scourges of God. Reducing scope, as one grinds gears, shifting from one pole of sublimity to the other, they turned the vertical horizontality of the flight into the reticular crosshairs of the World Trade Center Towers I and II. In their minds, the WTC was more than a practical, significant target, or a symbolic image. It was the aleph (the alpha and omega), the very nervous center of America, the skyscrapers where capital conjures up its liquidity by solidifying it in steel, concrete, and glass. For them, the planning, regulative ideas, and normative pragmatic concepts for implementing the dream of a global society that America has for the world, emanated from the WTC. For fundamentalist terrorism, the WTC was more than a bull's eye. It was the Beast itself.

Furthermore, consider the state of mind of the fourth hijacked plane's passengers. They learned by cellphones of their tragic destiny when their interlocutors told them about the first terrorist act just watched on the news, or the office workers and executives standing on the WTC upper floors who placed a last call to their loved ones, or the survivors buried under the tons of burning wreckage placing a cellphone call to signal their existence. It's as if they all had been contemplating their own imminent deaths, while we were watching--so to speak--like the victims in Michael Powell's Peeping Tom. Again, as in the state of high-tech war, postmodern perception is increasingly and immediately linked to erasure, loss, and ultimately death. This condition of absolute perception, where the gaze seems to loop upon itself,/31/ represents our obsession with the last moment, which everybody, or so it seems, wants more or less consciously to experience. The spectacle of the catastrophe, of death on a grand scale (Hollywood's catastrophe films), appeals to a permanent and increasing wish for self-destruction./32/ This condition reaches its apex when it culminates into catastrophic instantaneity, when it precipitates a fatal fractal of apocalyptic dimension into an implosion of our (and its) own power and concrete or metallic certitudes. For instance, the initial impacts/33/ of the two hijacked planes into the WTC were followed by the implosion of the two towers as if the phallic twins were "invaginating" themselves. In fact, the red TV and Radio broadcasting pylon atop the south skyscraper was silently swallowed on the TV screen by the imploding tower, like the mast of a foundering ship--the perfect illustration of postmodern societal violence as the deafening knock of alienated otherness on the door of imperial indifference and sublime silence:

Fundamentally, such violence is not so much an event as the explosive form assumed by an absence of events. Or rather, the implosive form: and what implodes here is the political void (rather the resentment of some particular group), the silence of history which has been repressed at the level of individual psychology, and the indifference and silence of everyone. We are dealing, therefore, not with irrational episodes in the life of our society, but instead with something that is completely in accord with that society's accelerating plunge into the void./34/

Fourth, this dimension, where the social and the individual, the private and the public are bound by the same tele-video-media encoding/recording, corresponds to what Jean Baudrillard calls the new, total obscenity of postmodern societies, where the surveillance, transmission, and video-monitoring global apparatus reaches everybody. It corresponds also to what William S. Burroughs called the Nova Mob, which runs the planet by controlling the mass media, the channels of addiction and image machinery./35/ Everything has the tendency to become transparent and mono-dimensional under the absolute gaze of the new panotptikum./36/ It spreads around an epidemic of visibility, of overexposure reaching epidemic proportions. Everybody is watched by a screen and everybody is watching a screen-and there is no space to hide (one's feelings), no escape for one's reactions from the tracking voyeurism. In fact, there is no exit since the only proof of one's humanity, of one's existence, is the screen of total representation (video and TV screen). This state of affairs creates a new state of mind and induces a different type of perception. It has, of course, far-reaching positive and negative effects. It increases the power of those who control this flow of images and information, allied to the fluxes of capital, to a magnitude never before imagined. It also re-enforces the same type of conservative, normative behavior while exacerbating the smallest deviation and difference beyond any reasonable doubt or limit. While it does protect difference within the parameters of an accepted deviance, it also impeaches the difference that does not or cannot obey these parameters. And this has the tendency to work the world over, to open it up for global business (the WTO). Postmodernism smoothes out the creases which go against the grain, preparing the coming of neo-capital: i.e., the reign of "capital supreme," or the ecstatic (or exalted) form of "capital." In its desire to unite the world under one principle (which means destroying its actual diversity), global capital knows no limits in the use of force, although it has to make it "covert" or "palatable enough" for the self-absorbed screens of Occidental consciousness. Whatever the means used, capital as spectacle and the spectacle of capital aestheticize horrific visions in order to anesthetize Occidental sensitivities--hence the impossible act of "total terrorism." In more ways than one, the ecstatic form of a levitating global capital, lifting up all restraints, calls for an equally ecstatic form of levitating, fundamentalist terrorism respecting no limits. Absolute capitalist de-territorialization is paralleled by absolute religious terrorization.

Fifth, terrorism represents what R. Kaplan calls the "new criminal anarchy," as practiced by individuals, on the loose or tied to special-interest groups defining 21st century neo-tribalism./37/ Many commentators, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair included, call them the "new barbarians." This metaphor is straight out of the Roman Empire or its Hollywood allegory (Star Wars), and betrays the besieged mentality of many in the West who think they live in a fortress of prosperity, intelligent reason, relative calm, consensus, and order, while, on the dark and savage borders of the empire, live the inhuman barbarians, the "rats," to use President Bush's metaphor./38/ living in a state of "criminal anarchy," fanatic religious ignorance, and brute servility. Nevertheless, the terrorists who struck at the heart of America's symbolic power seem "to have been middle-class, educated men, not poor refugees."/39/ Osama bin Laden may be psychotic, but he is not a fool or a primitive, illiterate barbarian. He is the product of postmodernist politics: at once the result of modern US foreign politics in the Arab world and the resurgence of more traditional Oriental forms of radical and total resistance to Christian aggression. Bin Laden has a historical precedent: the "Old Man of the Mountains." And Al Quaeda's terrorists are the new avatars of the famous and dreaded Hassissin (Assassini, or hashish-eaters) or Ismaeili sectarians./40/ With his quasi-Christic face and demeanor, soft gaze and gestures, good manners, and charisma, Osama bin Laden possesses the same charisma as "Che Guevara." He comes at the defense of the disenchanted, disenfranchised, and dispossessed Muslims of the world:/41/

Waring has told me about Hassan I Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain, who terrorized the Moslem world for years with a few hundred assassins. I pointed out that holding a single fortified position--as Hassan I Sabbah did at Alamut--is no longer possible, owing to improved weapons that I have already perfected and which will inevitably, in the course of time, fall into the hands of our prospective enemies./42/

Sixth, the "barbarian" metaphor is not, all things considered, a poor choice of words if one thinks about the Roman Empire's devenir. Barbarians hated Rome the way fundamentalist Arab terrorists hate America. American (and Western) elites are perhaps as incompetent, narcissistic, mendacious, and ultimately corrupt as Roman elites used to be. Terrorists live among us as barbarians did in Rome. Terrorists participate in American culture, eat at MacDonald's, watch Hollywood flicks (which give them ideas), and listen to pop music...some even bought the services of a prostitute the day before their last trip. The terrorist, like the barbarian, is nomadic. S/he lives in and out of the Empire, on a lawless frontier/43/ of "alternative societies, parallel markets, clandestine work, alternative pleasures"/44/ as well as in mainstream society, short-circuiting both. S/he, at once, belongs and is an expatriate. S/he is a foreigner, an alien. His/her exiled condition can even induce a strange exultation in the psyche. The modern barbarian as terrorist moves in and out of technology, in and out of the Occident, in and out of her/himself, since s/he belongs everywhere and nowhere. While living in synchrony with his/her time, the postmodern barbarian-terrorist also lives in a state of asynchrony--and even diachrony, since s/he wants to precipitate the return to an antecedent, or retrograde, state of society. As the Vietcong used to tunnel under American field positions in Vietnam, contemporary terrorists tunnel in and out of Western society./45/ But their invisibility represents a different regime of disguise and subversion. At the first level, they function in the open by appearing as middle-class as anyone else and simulating social and economic adhesion. At the second level, they operate secretly, espousing the most oppositional ideology. The barbarian-terrorist is an enemy without coordinates./46/ His/her mere presence/absence problematizes the notions of border (inside versus outside), state, homogeneity, and distance./47/ America's psyche and fortitude is especially vulnerable to terrorism since it is a hologram-like projection of the mega island-fortress sanctuary of the Empire protected by two vast oceans, a quasi-militarized border to the South, and a cold, empty vastness/48/ to the North. Postmodern capital is busy reconfiguring a human geography of conflicts, borders, places, ethnic groups, and peoples along new lines, whose raison d'être first obeys the necessity to liberate the fluxes of energy required by the insatiable machine of capital. Here again, the terrorist-barbarian is the by-product of the postmodern environment, created by global capital with a certain (cruel) irony./49/ But these terrorists are also split in the middle, right through what the French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari call the "molar lines"--these same psychological lines along which religious, racial, ethnic, or sexual identities inscribe themselves. In a way, these terrorist-barbarians are schizophrenic, the way many of us are, the way postmodern culture is. Empires, smaller countries, and the heart of human fantasies are traversed by the same fragile absurd madness:

...everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate. He literally drives himself into a blind obliviousness with social games, psychological tricks, personal preoccupations so far removed from the reality of his situation that they are forms of madness--agreed madness, shared madness, disguised and dignified madness, but madness all the same./50/

Global capitalism, through consumerism, mass advertising, pop culture, and high-tech, works on people's minds in more ways than one, and especially in such a way that consumer society unhinges humans from the old value systems and attachments by subverting the traditional social and cultural guard-rails. This is to make room for capital by mobilizing the very same psychic forces that used to be invested in/by traditional culture. It mobilizes the being by forging new paradigms at the expense of the old values and psychological beliefs. It displaces traditional ideologies and replaces them with free-market ones. Part of the problem is that (a) the capitalist process is unfair because while aiming at unifying humanity by molding a consumer to adopt the same type of behavior commanded by certain parameters, it also divides humanity by exacerbating social differences and immensely increasing wealth inequalities, and that (b) the global process has now accelerated the speed of its transformative power to such a degree that it exerts extreme violence on world populations. It is presently radically increasing contradictions in human beings caught between two or more worlds. Within many postmodern human beings, several hostile identities and ideological adhesions may exist in a constant state of tension and conflict.

All this heightens paranoia and narcissism, dislocation and distrust, confusion and megalomania: sentiments already perversely cultivated in humans by capitalist mass culture. The first economy and world-power is projecting its power through global capitalism and technology all over the world./51/ That is to say, at this point, capitalism and military superiority work hand in hand. This is why the fundamentalist terrorists hijacked symbols of Western capitalism and high-tech vectors to use against the West itself, or its epitome--America. They detoured commercial jets and turned them into missiles to hit the symbolic and strategic centers of capitalism (WTC) and military world order (the Pentagon):

The high degree to which AIDS, terrorism, crack cocaine or computer viruses mobilize the popular imagination should tell us that they are more than anecdotal occurrences in an irrational world. The fact is that they contain within them the whole logic of our system: these events are merely the spectacular expression of that system./52/

In more ways than one, President Bush was right when he asserted that it was an attack on "our way of life." The question to ask ourselves is the following: "is our economic system and way of life innocent, fair, and good for the whole world?" Obviously, not everyone thinks so. Tuesday, September 11, was a cruel, tragic and horrific indirect reminder of what we take for granted or would like to forget--and what the marginalized, disenfranchised, forgotten, poor masses of the world will not let us forget--directly or indirectly./53/ Let's not delude ourselves. If impoverished masses all over the world do not support terrorist violence, they do not also support the fate and Occidental violence imposed on them on a daily basis via the International Monetary Fund's dictates, the new world order, global capitalism, the looting and exhaustion of the developing world's natural resources for the sole benefit and comfort of the West.

Seventh, the terrorist's aim is the postmodern megalopolis, in the same way, perhaps, that the antique barbarian's destructive goal and desire was the Roman city with its order, prosperity, wealth, slaves, foreigners, water fountains, pleasures, vices, inequalities, and decadence. The postmodern city, like the antique city, is a place where accumulation starts and ends, where it is ordered, commandeered and obeyed. It is the place of invention of capitalism--even in a postmodern world where production and decision-making posts are not supposed to be centralized. The New York City of Mayor Giuliani, with its lunatic obsession with money, law and order, and quaint, if not burlesque, turn-of-the-millennium "grossness," is the new Babylon, at once showcase of capital and world capital of globalization. Among the WTC terrorist attack's victims are citizens of 50 countries. As such, it commands a special attention in the terrorist mind. It represents the archetypal port of entry for the envy (love and hatred mixed up) that the nomad has always felt for the settled./54/

Last but not least, madness and crime do not come out of nowhere, or out of "evil," contrary to what the media so ignorantly broadcast as if moved by a guilty refusal to look at the role played by America. If, following Jean Baudrillard as regards terrorism, we want to face responsibility and find significant causes for this extreme and paroxysmal phenomenon, we will have first to examine our behavior. We, as Americans (and Occidentals), do our part to create this "monster," this "mad, criminal" world. We impose our synthetic and simulated values all over. We exude unbearable arrogance and ignorance. When hurt, we scream "foul" and implacably retaliate. When the others bleed badly, we send them some of the surplus of our "bursting at the seams" warehouses and conveniently look away. We load the dice of economic development and competition in our favor, force the bets, and declare when "rien ne va plus." Third World madness and crime secretly simmer, slowly nurtured by injustice and inequality allied to Occidental indifference. All this feeds the fertile soil upon which postmodern terrorism grows.

We were forewarned on our own soil, though. If we had only known how to listen to our own youth, when they, in their ingenuous, spontaneous, and ill-guided energy, screamed in our ears that, we, as a society, are "screwed up." Punk rock bands or heavy metal bands such as Rage Against the Machine, Saliva, Megadeth, Mettalica (...) have all been rocking the message past our ears, deaf with onanist satisfaction. After all, the Columbine tragedy amounts to what is, somehow, a postmodern terrorist act against adult, conformist, "self-righteous," WASP America, via its youth. The question to ask is actually, "why is it that America the free, America the beautiful has created so much hatred in the world, that individuals would not hesitate to sacrifice themselves and others?" Were the seeds of destruction planted by our governmental elites--alias our business-high-tech-military establishment? In the process, did this new privileged class lock the world's destiny within the regime of its own ambition?

These "insane" terrorist reactions have a logic of their own. They are the direct/indirect by-products of the multipolar negative reactions to US/Western global capitalism, mass consumption, and culture. They are the symptoms of an alarming and intolerable dissymmetry between the unprecedented, astronomical accumulation of wealth and power in the West (and Japan), and the abysmal poverty of the rest of the world. It is too simplistic to explain fundamentalist Muslim terrorism by evoking Third World jealousy for American opulence, the Arab lack of bourgeois democratic institutions and relative freedom. But before accusing the Third World of jealousy, it should be noted that the global system of capitalist propaganda and world TV advertising have rendered inequities more unbearable than ever. The entire market's economy is based on mimetic desire, which is a source of deep resentment and envy when this desire is not satisfied by the very system that generates it in the first place. Also, opulence and its exhibitionist spectacle represent a threat for spiritual and poor populations, especially when Western, high-tech culture is provocatively and arrogantly present everywhere in Muslim cities all over the world. But there is more than mere existential hatred in Third World's resentment of Occidental culture. The projected spectacle of opulence is perceived by many as obscene in view of the dismal poverty of Muslim masses,/55/ especially when this spectacle conjures up a reality of exploitation, hopelessness, and cultural alienation. Since the modern Marxist and socialist discourses and practices that proposed alternatives to "capitalism or nothing" have all but disappeared, the world has witnessed a re-emergence, together with their radical transformation, of religious discourses and practices as the third solution to the "Western capitalism or nothing" dilemma. The absence of hard ideologies and radical philosophies known as "radical thinking" has cleared the ground for a "total(itarian) terrorism of resentment," what Eqbal Ahmad calls a "victim terrorism":

Absence of revolutionary ideology is central to victim terrorism. Revolutionaries do not commit unthinking terror. Those of you who are familiar with revolutionary theory know the debates, the disputes, the quarrels, the fights within revolutionary groups of Europe, the fight between anarchists and Marxists, for example. But the Marxists have always argued that revolutionary terror, if ever engaged in, must be sociologically and psychologically selective so the absence of revolutionary ideology that begins more or less in the post-World War II period has been central to this phenomenon./56/

To wrap up these few points of reflection, we will end by stating that ethnic, religious, and tribal conflicts in the Third World, criminality, youth delinquency, pollution, and unemployment in the First World, and a tragic breakdown of trust and communication between the First and the Third, are the fatal contradictions that define the new world order. They are indicators of the way things are in our post-apocalyptic, neo-capitalist order, led, symbolized, and epitomized by the USA--or better, America, the country and culture that neo-capital/57/ uses to project its dominion all over the world. As Edward Said writes, "...immense military and economic power are no guarantee of wisdom or moral vision."/58/ Postmodern terrorism is horrible testimony to the tragic failure and hypocrisy of US foreign policy vis-à-vis the developing world:

A superpower cannot promote terrorism in one place and reasonably expect to discourage terrorism in another place. It won't work in this shrunken world. Do not condone the terror of your allies. Condemn them. Fight them. Punish them. Avoid covert operations and low intensity warfare. These are breeding grounds of terror and drugs. Violence and drugs are bred there./59/

Postmodern terrorism is the fatal strategy aroused by a desperate analysis of power relations, originating in the disappearance of politics. Terrorists act out the masses' resentment of incarceration in capitalist objectification, of their disappearance from the horizon of history embodied by a triumphant Occidental subjectivity./60/ It incarnates the absolute liberty of effects that escape Western obsession of control. At the existential level, it represents the paroxysmal objective cynical irony of a moral ecstasy exploding into special effects. Whatever bin Laden's politics may be, it is a fact that international terrorism sees capitalist violence as all-inclusive and all-powerful. It considers capitalism to be a primary mortal threat which exerts unlimited terror without any recourse or appeal except through the very practice of a counter-terror. Capitalism and technology have won over communism and socialism, but in the process have produced what Prime Minister Blair and President Bush call the "new barbarians" who are going to haunt us and our descendants for decades to come. We are in dire need of new vistas, of a new, fresher air, for "the time is out of joint."

(after Horace)

Shorten sail, no matter the wind:
master of the wild hills no longer,
each day may be the last,
and we are but dust and shadow.

Think, in this haunted, congested age,
how few acres are left for the plow
by the great sprawl of housing,
and how the corporate temples tower.

It is the century's end. No Caesar
for us, not yet, only the bickering
public men--an idle circus,
the state come to a thrifty standstill.

When the preacher mounts the pulpit
the poet flees, resigns his office.
But if the poet fails to speak,
becomes a tenured puppet--what then?

Then make the buildings taller, for when
they fall we'll not fail to hear them.
Long in the empire's aftermath
they too will be dust and shadow.

I think of my house in a far woodland,
the gate locked, the mailbox fallen;
of a country school, its classroom silent
closed now to all but the darkness.

No moon, and the wine bottle empty.
On the stripped hills and vacant fields
A cold wind scatters the leaves.
--John Haines (1999)


  1. Goethe. Faust. Part II, Act V, Scene V.[Back]

  2. Published in 2000 by Random House.[Back]

  3. Since hegemony is necessary for the ever-expanding production/reproduction sphere.[Back]

  4. Jean Baudrillard, "L'esprit du terrorisme," Le Monde, 02/11/01.[Back]

  5. Five centuries before Hollywood, Hieronymus Bosch had already represented the end of the world via our boredom, pleasures, and luxuries (Garden of Delights).[Back]

  6. As Julien Benda's La trahison des clercs (1927), and Régis Debray's Le Scribe demonstrate.[Back]

  7. The Chernobyl example will not disprove this point, since it happened in a Second World, a modern (and not postmodern) society, where irradiation could not simulate itself. In a modern society, there are too many "real effects" that are denied and negated: these "real effects" return through what Jacques Lacan calls the Real. A postmodern society does not negate but tries to empty "the real" out of society by simulating it. This is why this "real" returns into the imaginary. Atomic radiations are not perhaps the "real" radiations to be feared.[Back]

  8. i.e., perceived ourselves.[Back]

  9. For instance, Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and Samuel P. Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations.[Back]

  10. See F. Jameson's The Postmodern Condition. Jean Baudrillard gives the following definition: "Postmodernism is the simultaneity of the destruction of previous values and their reconstruction. It is a restoration in distortion." "The Anorexic Ruins," in Looking Back on the End of the World. Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Series. (New York, 1989), 41.[Back]

  11. Guy Debord, The Society of Spectacle.[Back]

  12. Jean Baudrillard, "The Mirror of Terrorism," in The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena (London: Verso Press, 1993), 76.[Back]

  13. As for instance, in the different catastrophe movies where planes are hijacked and made to dive into a city, or aliens attack and destroy the White House (Emmerich's Independence Day).[Back]

  14. A. Hitchcock, 1963.[Back]

  15. By J. Guillermin and I. Allen, 1974.[Back]

  16. NYPD cops and New York firemen.[Back]

  17. Baudrillard, Cool Memories 1980-1985 (Paris: Galilée, 1987), 118 (translation by the author of this article).[Back]

  18. Ibid., 76.[Back]

  19. i.e., what would amount to a alienation process of our dire human condition, which takes a lot of hard mental, linguistic, intellectual, and spiritual work.[Back]

  20. "One Nation, Indivisible" reads Time's title (24 September 2001 special issue).[Back]

  21. Even Hillary Clinton was present.[Back]

  22. Such as L'Age d'Or 'The Golden Age' made in 1932 by Bunuel.[Back]

  23. See the theoretical work done on the cognitive and ideological consequences of speed by the French ex-military analyst Paul Virilio.[Back]

  24. As successive analysts such as Mac Luhan, or Avital Ronell (The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech) have rightly pointed out.[Back]

  25. This is why Baudrillard writes that terrorism is abreactive.[Back]

  26. Simulations. Semiotext(e). (New York, 1983), 30.[Back]

  27. Jean Baudrillard, "The Mirror of Terrorism," op. cit., 75,76. [note 12][Back]

  28. "Winged juggernauts" wrote Edward Said in The Observer (Sunday, 16 September 2001).[Back]

  29. The elation of destruction these terrorists-pilots must have felt is certainly reminiscent of Major Kong's sexual apotheosis when riding the atomic missile plummeting to its target and doom, in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).[Back]

  30. Ecstasy, because it conjures up feelings and sensations of a smooth and effortless flight and glide--detachment, calmness, superiority, transcendence (something well illustrated by Stanley Kubrick's Space Odyssey 2001).[Back]

  31. i.e., a mesmerized last gaze that incarnates the impossible gaze of death looking at itself.[Back]

  32. Typical of circus mobs' desires at the end of the Roman Empire.[Back]

  33. Comet-like impacts.[Back]

  34. Baudrillard, 76. [note 27][Back]

  35. In Naked Lunch.[Back]

  36. Concept first used by Jeremy Bentham (1776) and expanded upon by Michel Foucault.[Back]

  37. This is a cognate by the French sociologist of postmodernism, Michel Maffesoli.[Back]

  38. Bush declared on TV (Saturday, September 16) that if terrorists hide in holes, they will be smoked out.[Back]

  39. See Edward Said, loc. cit. [note 28][Back]

  40. During Medieval Crusades, violent disciples who, fanaticized by their sheikh "The Old Man of the Mountains" (a war lord and spiritual leader), used to absorb hashish before "assassinating" any Christian leaders believed to endanger Islam. The Hassissin or Assassini were also called The People of the Man of the Mountain. On September 4, 1090, Hasan-I Sabbâh captured the Alamut castle (1800 meters high in the Elbourz--Northern Iran) that became his command post. Nicknamed "The Ancient One," he founded the reformed Ishmaelien sect. Other fortresses were built eastwards as far as Afghanistan and westwards, in Syria. The enemy was the Sunnite "oppressor" and the Ishmaeliens fought for two centuries. To compensate for military inferiority (as bin Laden replicated nearly ten centuries later), the "Old Man" created an elite corps called fidâ'yin (fedayin--now name of the Palestinian terrorist-freedom fighters), who practiced ritualized political assassination and were ready to sacrifice their lives. They were introduced as servants in palaces where they laid low (like Al Quaeda's sleeper's cells) until ordered to assassinate by knife the prince of the palace. If captured alive, they went to their death smiling and never revealed any secrets--even under torture. The "Old Man" had absolute authority and right of life or death on all. He was the only representative of the dead imam, and he is said to have killed his own two sons. The Hachîchîns were annihilated in the thirteenth century by the Mongols and the Mameluks of the Egyptian Sultan.[Back]

  41. "Allah is the only superpower" reads an inscription upon a Pakistani calendar superimposed with a picture of Bin Laden and the word "America" in broken letters. Here Bin Laden directly symbolizes Allah. Many Muslim women now name their male newborns Osama.[Back]

  42. William Burroughs, Cities of the Red Night (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1981), 132.[Back]

  43. US meaning.[Back]

  44. Baudrillard, Cool Memories II (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 69-70.[Back]

  45. It is therefore appropriate for bin Laden to hide out in caves.[Back]

  46. As Leon Fourth, ex-security advisor of the Clinton Presidency, said to a reporter the second Tuesday after the tragedy.[Back]

  47. As in Orson Welles's Touch of Evil (1957).[Back]

  48. Characterized by Voltaire as "quelques arpents de neige" 'a few acres of snow.' Also, E. Said in the Observer article [note 28] writes about "the two coasts that have for so long kept the rest of the world extremely distant and virtually out of the average American's mind." A line of the patriotic hymn "God Bless America" reads: "God bless America from sea to shining sea."[Back]

  49. Especially when one remembers that the Afghan resistance against the USSR backed regime in Khabul, that wanted to stamp out feudalism and Muslim fundamentalism, and that defeated the leftist Afghan government--was a movement fed, armed, and trained by the CIA. As usual, America has created something that escapes her control and comes to haunt her later.[Back]

  50. Robert Lifton, J. Robert, and Eric Olson, Exploration in Psychohistory (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970), 27.[Back]

  51. America is "a superpower almost constantly at war, or in some sort of conflict, all over the Islamic domains." Dixit E. Said [note 28].[Back]

  52. "Prophylaxis and Virulence," in The Transparency of Evil, 67 [note 12].[Back]

  53. Compare with the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:
    From her beacon-hand glows
    world-wide welcome;
    her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor
    that twin cities frame.
    "Keep ancient lands your storied pomp!"
    cries she with silent lips.
    "Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
    --Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)[Back]

  54. Consult Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities, where in vulgar, postmodern New York, the new bourgeoisie lavishly indulge in thousand dollar bottles of wine in luxury restaurants, then withdraw to multi-million dollar apartments, while homeless people crawl into cardboard boxes for the night. Isn't that reminiscent of decadent Rome?[Back]

  55. There are two billion Muslims in the world.[Back]

  56. Terrorism and Ours, Eqbal Ahmad. "Foreboding" speech delivered at the University of Colorado-Boulder, on October 12, 1998. Text available from Alternative Radio, P.O. Box 551, Boulder CO 80306.[Back]

  57. supposing that it has a will and a teleology of its own.[Back]

  58. in The Observer [note 28].[Back]

  59. Eqbal Ahmad [note 56].[Back]

  60. America, according to Lacan, is the horizon where history reaches its limits.[Back]

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