What about Pan Am flight 103? Was it also the result of terrorism rhetorics? The tragic incident over Lockerbie epitomizes, for the American public, the ultimate proof of terrorism’s extreme danger. What is altogether missing is a public appreciation of the extent to which terrorism discourse itself might have contributed decisively to the tragedy. Pan Am flight 103 was preceded by the downing, “by mistake,” of an Iranian passanger [sic.] airliner by the American warship Vincennes. Most experts and family members of the Pan Am victims remained skeptical with the official version that blamed two Libyan officers; the clues pointing to Iran were simply too obvious to ignore. In any case, what made the crew of the Vincennes commit so grave a mistake as to sacrifice with impunity the lives of 290 airline passengers? Isn’t this the reality-making force of a discourse that allows itself to act as it assumes the enemy will? In doing so it provokes as well the self-fulfilling reaction from the enemy that proves that it was the feared monster after all. Nevertheless, the incident that has turned into the paradigm of terrorism for the American public has been viewed by some terrorism experts as a type of “blood feud.” It is by forgetting the symmetry between the Iranian airliner and Pan Am flight 103, and by erasing the assumptions and justifications surrounding the Vincennes’ “error,” that terrorism discourse conceals its own self-generating logic. (J. Zulaika & W. Douglas. 1996. Terror and taboo: The follies, fable sand faces of terrorism. NY: Routledge.)
I know I have cited and discussed from this Zulaika & Douglas book before, but I try to choose these nuggets at random. Besides, I really liked this book. It was fascinating to read and that was before September 11 and our current (pre)occupation in the War on Terror (hereafter called WoT.) Some dismiss the writings before September 11 as anachronistic, but these writings are now timelier than ever as they address the exact same problem but do not reflect the trauma we are so fixated on trying to suture. The same reason doctors should not operate on their children is a reason why these writings are so valuable: we are too emotionally involved to see clearly.
There is a clear parallel to draw between the cover-up Zulaika & Douglas reference to the current WoT. This is not to say it was the US government’s doing, I do believe the al Qaeda story we are told, but there is a government dismissal of why al Qaeda did what it did. Some will dismiss, they have when others said it, what I am about to say as sympathy for the evil-doers but it is not sympathy. No matter how cruel al Qaeda thinks we have been to them and their cause it does not justify what they have done, but we should take some time to at least understand why they did what they did. Unfortunately, Bush is happy to dismiss this as hatred of America and as sympathy for them.
I contend al Qaeda is in the midst of a civil war within Islam. Unable to gain ground in this war because of the riches of it’s enemy, al Qaeda has sought out the source of it’s enemy’s wealth: the US. We prop up the Islamic modernists with our patronage of oil and our military assistance. Thus al Qaeda, like the IRA, needed one of two things to happen. If al Qaeda could convince us to remove our patronage or to get us more involved so other Muslims would then see just how involved we are then they would gain ground in this internal conflict.
Al Qaeda’s plan then needed a way to catalyze us into action. They did what we have done, attacked non-military religious targets. Fundamentalists see our western mechanism of development and trade and commerce as a direct attack upon traditional Muslim values. Al Qaeda thinks our religion is money and so they struck at what seemed to the ultimate symbol of that religion, the World Trade Center. There is a reason the only 2 foreign-born terrorist attacks on US soil targeted the same place. The towers (still) hold symbolic value and we reacted exactly in a manner they wanted. Bush says those of us that disagree with him are giving in to what they want by conceding the fight. While conceding the fight was a desirable outcome of the attack, so is what Bush is doing. His binary black/white world fails to see the world is at least tertiary (black/grey/white.) A third way should have been sought out.
I digress from Zulaika and Douglas. We can see this pattern of war fought in Saudi Arabia against the very people that become al Qaeda. Modern forces there terrorize the conservative Muslims. They do this terrorism with US made thumbscrews, with US made tanks, with US soldiers looking on, with US led sanctions against infrastructure development in Iraq. Even if we do not do all the things al Qaeda claims we do, the material conditions in those places are such that those claims have credibility. Why is that? It is this credibility, not the actual truth of the claims, that needs to be fought and countered. Yet Bush seems to have fallen the al Qaeda trick.