Friday, 30 September 2011

9/11 was not 9/11: Facilitating ‘Democracy Limited Inc’ in the West

Dr Dibyesh Anand, Security and IR Programme.

For those searching for conspiracy theories about the spectacular attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York in September 2011, I’ll disappoint you. Please go and listen to the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad or search on google to satisfy your appetite. I have no interest in that.

9/11 was certainly not 9/11 for those of us living outside the United States at least. It was actually 11/9. But the fact that 9/11 has become an easily recognizable term tells a lot about the fetishization of events as if that violence was singularly spectacular at the moment the planes collided and buildings collapsed. It also shows how the popularity of the narratives about specific events are intimately connected to those who have the power to shape agendas. Much of the world accepted the American version -- that the events were uniquely violent and evil.

Surely more poor children would have died needlessly due to easily preventable and treatable diseases in Asia and Africa than those killed in this terrorist attack even within the couple of hours of actual incident? While the entire international media, governments, as well as publics (including myself), were glued to the screen watching the drama unfold, there were deaths taking place primarily due to a disease that is most lethal of all -- poverty. I am not talking about relative poverty here (say, I am poor because I only have one car in comparison to you who has five cars). I am talking of poverty that starves, that forces children to work, that compels parents to sell their mind, body and everything else to try to get one meal for their family, that leaves a mother helpless as the baby dies of malnutrition, that leaves a father mute as he sees his wife die during childbirth. And those deaths continue unabated.

11/9 that is known as 9/11 (and I too will indulge in this for the sake of comprehension) was spectacular but surely it pales in comparison to many other kinds of violence (including the wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq that were justified as a response to 9/11) when it comes to lethality. But then those of us in the field of International Relations are not particularly known for our concern with issues affecting human beings inhabiting the majority world (third world if you prefer that term). IR remains, with some exception, a dehumanised discipline in terms of the subject matter.

9/11, was of course vital in shifting discourses, especially in the West, the focus of my writing here. A shift from a politics of hope to a politics of anxiety. A politics of anxiety that was (mis)used by political and corporate interests to sell a new package to the public. Let me call that package ‘Democracy Limited Inc’.

All kinds of restrictions and reduction of freedoms and rights that make us democracy were shoved down the public’s throats in the name of security. While democracy was on backfoot, the corporatisation of life -- attacks on welfare state -- continued unabated. Securitisation encouraged by the state speeded up the corporatisation agenda that had started much earlier in the 1980s. As the public attention was captured by a dance of violence (of which 9/11 was only a single act in a multi-act long play), privatisation of every aspect of life in the West continued. The military-industry complex against which President Eisenhower had warned many decades ago became more powerful than ever. In fact, the democratically elected leaders acted as the representatives or PR men (and women) as they waged wars using the fig-leaf of 9/11.

Misery of people is a big business. Let me talk of the developed world here, the West. The state, that has long given up its role as the defender of the public against vested interests, fought against a non-state network of radical Islamists while it surrendered completely to, and became an agent of, the non-state network of radical market forces. That a significant number of people were being impoverished in relative terms while speculative financiers were having a bonanza, that a considerable number of Westerners were witnessing a relative decline in standard of living while the state was busy cavorting with the global capital, that until the economic crisis of 2008 no one paid attention to the ongoing disaster -- 9/11 and the securitization obsession it spawned played an important role in distracting Westerners from all of this. While our eyes were glued to the screen watching the 24 hour post 9/11 show (9/11, Afghanistan war, Iraq war, the so-called war on terror), our houses were being robbed. The state, that ought to be a defender of the public, connived with the thief (the market fundamentalists) to distract our attention by showing a drama populated by brown bearded men, a few crying brown women, and good old brave white (and occasionally black) men and women.

Let me not even go on to talk about the impoverishment and violence ushered in the majority world, often in the name of fighting against ‘terror’. Believe me, the terror of knowing that you baby is going to starve to death is no less life-sapping than the terror of gunmen opening fire or unmanned drones showering bombs.

The economic crisis since 2008 is awakening us from this addiction to security. The Arab spring, which the state-security-corporate nexus (and its media houses) are trying to erroneously represent as a victory of their agenda of democracy promotion, is anything but that. Make no mistaken. We (the Western states) were on the side of the dictators. We were promoting authoritarianism. And while we may succeed in fooling out own people that we are on the side of democracy, we won’t fool the protesters who risked their lives and limbs and livelihood in the Arab towns. And from what we see with the protests in Greece and Spain, and most interestingly in the ongoing occupation of the Wall Street (largely ignored by the mainstream media), we are possibly failing in our efforts to keep the public mesmerised and anxious. The addiction that stemmed from 9/11 is possibly fading away. It is the Americans who are occupying the Wall Street who are the true heroes, the defenders of liberty and freedom, and not the political class and the fanatic rightwingers who attack the state but love the corporatised military and militarised corporations.

Le Monde’s ‘We are all Americans’ of 12 September was an America that was a proud empire under attack from a vicious ideology. It is now, as I witness the brave Americans occupying and protesting against the rapacious Wall Street (and the fundamentalist ideology it represents), that I say ‘We are all Americans’. This America is a country where some people are realising that their corporate and political rulers have taken them for a ride in the same of security; and they refuse to be resigned. They resist.
Are we with them or against them?


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