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Larbi Sadiki
Larbi Sadiki
Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter.
The 9/11 state of mind
Ten years later, 9/11 continues to condition our thinking, being, behaviour, and identity.
Last Modified: 11 Sep 2011 11:05
In the 9/11 decade, funding for the security has been dramatically increased in many liberal democracies [Al Jazeera]

Nothing compares to 9/11 - two odd numbers that resonate endlessly. 9/11 memorialises the past, opens onto the present and oddly refracts the future. For 9/11 is now a state of mind in itself that ransoms all human beings, Middle Eastern and non-Middle Eastern alike.

How 9/11 is memorialised, filtered, and saturated with imagery continues 10 years later to condition our thinking, being, behaviour, identity and capacity for becoming better human beings.

That saturation is obvious in the Arab Middle East. 

9/11: An odd state

We are all nine-eleven-ians. A perfect state. We do not exist in such a state. It exists within us. It has no borders. It requires no membership ID cards. It rivals the success of religion in its diffusion and offers no single deity, rituals, or scripture. We are all left with the freedom to experience it individually and collectively in our own localities. 

Imagine if 9/11 were a world government: An undeclared government and an uninitiated state.

"From Bali to Timbuktu, from Exeter to Sydney, and from New York to Riyadh people think and act 9/11"

- Larbi Sadiki

From Bali to Timbuktu, from Exeter to Sydney, and from New York to Riyadh people think and act 9/11. The scenic train ride amidst the rolling hills of Devon is punctuated by the monotonous messages about vigilance for "anything suspicious". "Anything suspicious" conjures up the profiles of the 19 men who murderously slammed their planes into the twin towers on September 11, 2001. 

Regardless of whether the imagery of the profile is that of the Saudi hijackers, or of Umar Patek, thought to be the builder of the Bali bombs; the profiler and the profilee both share a field of emotive action which owes its coherence and reproduction to 9/11. It is a field populated by a discursive order that reproduces 9/11 and refuses to let it die.

Some of it is the handiwork of a breed of academics who built careers out of 9/11 during an era in which "security" is the hottest item flagged for research, debate and, consequently, funding. That funding is handsomely dispensed by the powers that be. Just think of the fine minds recruited for the memorialisation of 9/11 and for providing the intellectual muscle for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Indeed, through language, media projections, memorialisation, moralisation, securitisation, scholarship, poetry, cinema, and endless violence and counter-violence, 9/11 has become a state - a state of mind.

Whether one hates, sympathises, empathises, seeks revenge, spies, fights, packages 9/11 to the citizenry, writes poetry about it or suffers from the loss of loved ones, the mental and psychological effects of the 9/11 tragedy mark most human beings.

It is unknown how many lives exactly have been avenged on behalf of those who died in the attacks.  [GALLO/GETTY]

9/11: Memoralisation and moralisation  

Abstraction aside, 9/11 has no borders. The memorialisation and moralisation that have accompanied the tragic events for the past ten years have resulted in some of the biggest acts of manipulation and even vandalism of Middle East politics from both within and without.

The civilian memorialisation of 9/11 has nothing to do with that. It is the hijacking of private civilian grieving and converting it into an undeclared but systematic policy of avenging 9/11 under all manner of guises.

Democratically-elected and self-righteous Western leaders, such as George W Bush, Tony Blair, and John Howard, reserved for themselves the right to avenge the events of 9/11. That is why few of us remember 10/7 (the date that the invasion of Afghanistan began) or 3/20 (the start of the US-led invasion of Iraq).

This brand of memorialisation and moralisation have worked in tandem to sow death, torture, fear, espionage, and victimisation all over the world. The 9/11 decade's deaths began with the heinous crime against the citizens of New York and Washington DC, of all races and religions, but has grown exponentially since then.

This is not a number-crunching exercise. But there is no rational explanation for those who are detached from the killings. Nor are there comforting words for the Iraqi, Afghan, American, Australian, British, Palestinian, Lebanese, Spanish, Saudi, Yemeni or Pakistani people whose sons and daughters died directly or indirectly as a result of 9/11, whether as soldiers or as innocent civilians.

The close to 3,000 deaths of 9/11 may have been avenged tenfold, maybe one-hundredfold. We will never know how many Iraqis have been killed as a result of an illegal war executed on false pretences. Figures vary, but American researchers estimate the number of deaths in the range of 270,000. Add this to the number of fatalities in Afghanistan, and the figure easily surpasses 300,000.

The US: An occupier in the Middle East

The aforementioned leaders left power, but they have not vanquished the imagined or real enemy that they constructed out of 9/11. The real enemy is hatred, distrust, and misunderstanding. It is a myth to think that hard power alone defends nation-states in the modern world.

The biggest loser, even with bin Laden killed and al-Qaeda partially weakened, is the United States. In 1956 the US emerged as a beacon of hope and justice, breathing life once again into Wilsonian idealism, when then-president Dwight Eisenhower spoke out against the tripartite aggression against Egypt. Despite its lack of evenhandedness and its unfettered bankrolling and arming of Israel, the US had never so unjustifiably invaded an Arab state as it did in March 2003.

The resulting regimes of securitisation and militarisation that flowed from that invasion have not been dismantled. The Arab Gulf, where the US maintains bases, is the most securitised region in the world. This will always draw opposition, rejection and low-key forms of anti-American violence.

The US' new status as a colonial and imperialist power is aggravated by its moral failure in handling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel does not only kill with American hardware and approval, but is also implicated in the war against terror. Its fight against Hamas and Hezbollah during the 9/11 decade have surpassed all reasonable and proportionate rules of military engagement.

"Neither the violence of Hamas nor the belligerence of Hezbollah justifies the bombing and siege of Gaza"

Neither the violence of Hamas nor the belligerence of Hezbollah justifies the bombing and siege of Gaza, nor the bombing of Lebanon. The indifference of the prophets of democracy in light of the Libya revelations expose the hollow and self-interested moralism of the likes of Tony Blair.

9/11's impact on Muslim identity

The upshot is that the 9/11 decade not only killed 100 times more Middle Eastern or Muslim people than were killed on 9/11. It also cemented the ties between democratically-elected Western leaders and some of the worst ruling elites in the Arab region: Gaddafi, Ben Ali, Mubarak, Dahlan, Saif al-Islam. Fake democrats kept this great company of autocrats and demagogues in power.

Luckily, the Arab Spring tsunami came early in 2011 to sweep away the mediocrity that was Ben Ali and his peers.

The memorialisation and moralisation used to entrench and formalise realist politics, and the consequence of this armament and the arms bazaars, in consortium with Arab capitalists and dictators, has interfered with imagined communities.

Fluidity, borderlessness, and networks of self-help and mutuality have all been vandalised since the beginning of the 9/11 decade. The tradition of sadaqa, voluntary alms-giving, is now policed. The FBI regulates how this is done, and in every Arab state, sending money to loved ones has become a nightmare. Hawala, the money transfers many Muslims depend on for sending remittances, has been almost criminalised. How Muslims spend their private money, and to whom they send it, is all implicated in the 9/11 puzzle.

De-memorialisation and beyond

Click for more Al Jazeera 9/11 coverage

The tragic events of 9/11 affected Arabs in a big way. In the Arab world, the security agenda has interfered with Arab development and the creation of common markets, communities and networks of exchange. Arabs were unable to travel freely in a vast area of nearly 7 million square kilometres. 9/11 meant the closure of mosques outside prayer times. Prayer itself almost became a crime because of the constructed association with terrorism.

The Arabs must now reconcile themselves to moving beyond 9/11. The Arab Spring - not the war against terror - should be their beacon of hope and allow them to make choices according to the values of mutuality, dialogue, respect for life, and humanism. The abstract security mindset that has thus far served only to lock them into a spiral of violence and misunderstanding must be abandoned. The future of all should not be constrained by the rigid reproduction and memorialisation of 9/11.

Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratisation: Elections without Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses (Columbia University Press, 2004), and the forthcoming Hamas and the Political Process (2011).

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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Al Jazeera
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