Published  02/10/2001

Comment on September 11

Comment on September 11

Some happenings are so extraordinary that they outweigh, at least for the present, their ramifications. No apocalyptic event before September was enacted in full view of almost the whole world. Billions of people watched on television as one of the hijacked planes flew straight into one of the World Trade Centre towers. Even if for most this was a recording, they felt that it was happening at that very moment. It is worth stressing the shock since any consideration of the consequences must be overwhelmed by the appalling crease that these images have left on the minds of all who have witnessed them. More terrible things have been done in the history of mankind, but none worse has been seen to be done by so many.

It is still too early to judge what the post-September 11 world will be like. Immediately we have ‘The War Against Terrorism’, already proving to be unfair, murderous and self-propelling. Every terrorist destroyed will be succeeded by two seeking revenge. There is talk of a Clash of Cultures; more dreadful is the loss of faith in the only universal religion – Market Capitalism. Those who have deplored the triumphalism of Western values that followed the collapse of Communism must now consider what to believe in. Egalitarian politics, whether called Socialism or the Third Way, might have humbled the almighty stockmarket eventually by means of new legislation and alterations in world trade practice. But, Capitalism has become vulnerable to any fanatic who hates it, if only because a relatively open society is essential to its operation. There is no real defence against terrorism: only retaliation is possible. This is largely due to technology. The Romans could wipe out terrorist threats by sending armies to destroy whole lands, but today the most powerful empire is as vulnerable as the meanest state. Punishment, or the threat of it, has ceased to be deterrents. We, who have hoped, rather naively, that Capitalism might be conquered, must now acknowledge that everything we cherish may be lost in its collapse.

It seems to me, therefore, that we should cease trying to make our world safe. We must learn to live with jeopardy and fight Nihilism with a firmer belief in our own decency. This might seem impossibly idealist, but what else can be done? A return to the principles of fairness, a rejuvenation of egalitarianism, and an acceptance of limits in aspiration to riches, should be our programme. Many observers have emphasised that huge disparities in wealth around the world have given terrorism the right soil to grow in. The self-immolating impulses of religious fanatics have little appeal to the well off; the desperately poor are their territory. Religion of whatever kind should be content with the inevitability of each human life ending in death, and so curb its apocalyptic fantasies. Lastly, I hope that artists will modify their perverse love of irrationality and violence, and recognise that music, painting and literature work best when most responsible.

Peter Porter, October 2001


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