|By A.D. Freudenheim||
24 July 2005
About 15 minutes into the movie The World Is Not Enough, a James Bond thriller from 1999, there is an explosion at the headquarters of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as MI 6, in London. Conveniently located next to the Thames River, the explosion is followed by a typically-Bond havoc-wreaking speedboat chase through the city, that destroys shops and restaurants, not to mention a number of other boats; though only one casualty is specifically witnessed, other deaths are implied. At the completion of the scene, the movie fades to the opening credits, with the usual silhouette of nude Bond girls. This time, however, the women are dancing in a computer-generated simulation of oil, complete with the mottled, multi-hued glisten and sheen of an oil slick. A few minutes later we learn that, indeed, oil is very much at issue in the future of Western Civilization, along with the problem of terrorism: the fearless agent 007 must (among other things) uncover and foil a plan to detonate a nuclear submarines reactor in the harbor off Istanbul. This was to be a grand act of terrorism by the movies evil vixen, who is building a Central Asian oil pipeline to dominate and supersede all others.
It all sounds like something dreamed up by the current Bush administration. One can almost picture an actor saying Bush, George Bush. Yet given the terrorist attacks in London on 7 July, it was a bit unsettling to discover that the cable television network Spike TV aired this movie the following weekend in what one can only assume was a previously-made programming decision, part of their James Bond Month. Watching the cinematic fakery of this London bombing, and James Bonds Thames chase, was disturbing enough. That the film so accurately ties together the plot elements of oil (and oil pipelines), Central Asia, and terrorism that in the name of oil someone might attempt to create a radioactive explosion with devastating consequences for a massive civilian population such as Istanbuls was even worse. Sure, it is James Bond, and this is entirely normal fare for these movies; but with oil, Central Asia, and global terrorism at the center, it is difficult to watch now, a sense of its eerie prescience unavoidable. Oil and terrorism, oil-driven terrorism: our future. Only Islam gets off easy in this movie.
Another big difference between The World Is Not Enough and our world is fear: in the movie, the threat to the citizens of Istanbul is unknown to or by them. One can almost imagine their reaction; the existence of a plan to sink and explode a nuclear submarine in the harbor would probably have seemed as fanciful to most Turks as would the suggestion to most Americans that someone might consider flying fully-loaded passenger jets into the World Trade Centers twin towers and into the Pentagon. And yes, that degree of knowledge is a difference. In our post-11 September, post-Madrid world with the Iraq war still raging, with terrorism in the name of Islam taking place from crowded urbanity of Indonesia or The Netherlands to the depths of rural Russia ignorance of the possibility of terrorism is no longer an option. Like Adam and Eve after eating the apple, we are all too aware of what might happen, of the damage that can be inflicted by a well-planned terrorist attack on civilians.
Knowledge, however, is not the same thing as fear. We must work to ensure that our changed understanding of the world does not riddle us with fear, and that fear does not compel us to discard the very values that underpin our way of life for that is exactly what the terrorists want. It is our freedom, the Western and democratic liberation from pure orthodoxy and unquestioning obedience, that the terrorists themselves fear most. In attacking the West, they seek to achieve both near-term, geopolitical ends (e.g., forcing American troops to leave what might broadly be termed Arabia) and the long-term, nihilistic, mock-religious goal of Islamic domination. Islamic terrorists want us to be as fearful of gods wrath as they claim to be, for in fear rests obedience, and in obedience rests order.
Moreover, we must resist the trap of fear at both a political and a personal level. At a personal level, the trap could be at its worst yet somehow, we seem to manage the risks well; we avoid becoming paralyzed by the total unpredictability of terrorism. London appears to have resumed some workaday sense of normality as quickly as possible, as did people in New York, Madrid, and almost everywhere else. To do otherwise would allow the terrorists some greater measure of victory, but it also indicates a basic and beneficial human resilience. We must carry on.
Oddly, humans seem to manage their fear less effectively in the realm of politics; perhaps this is because politics allows us to focus on an abstract, threatening other an abstraction especially suited to exploitation by political (and religious) movements en masse. Some of the creepy, near-authoritarian measures of the USA Patriot Act are representative of the problem, and Americans must resist such false and misleading attempts at trading liberty for security. This particular fear trap is wide and deep. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if the American government shares this value with the terrorists, knowing that fear of the unknown can compel certain kinds of behavior and provide a measure of control.
This is not to say we should discard all security precautions in favor of absolute liberty; liberty also requires a measure of security in order to exist and thrive. Unfortunately, the American approach to security rests too heavily on a troubling and troublesome need for positive identification of individuals such as the various (mostly failed) schema to check the identity of airline passengers instead of improved mechanics to determine fundamental, physical threats from explosives, chemicals, and radioactive materials. When boarding a plane, which matters more: whether you are who you say you are, or whether youre armed and dangerous? The former may be problematic, but isnt the real security threat the latter?
If there is a truth in this security paradigm, it can be found in Iraq, in Guantanamo. In Iraq, numerous (suicide) bombings have taken place since the alleged end of the American war there, and issues of identity are complex and challenging. From terrorists posing as soldiers, to Sunni and Shia militias, to the fallibility of security even within the heavily-fortified Green Zone, the odds are that the identity of any Iraqi is less relevant and less revealing than whether they are carrying a gun or driving an explosives-laden car. In Guantanamo, America has rounded up several hundred alleged threats to our security, presumptive Islamic fighters whose identities we now know, kept under isolated lock-and-key, away from their society and ours in almost every sense of world. They face the harsh justice of neither the Shari'a or the America systems; but while they await their fate in Cuba, the world of terrorism continues on without them.
Contrast this with London, where four men whose identities are now known are dead from explosions they caused, killing many others in the process. Maybe advance knowledge of who they were would have indicated some threat, but probably not; fiery Islamic radicals in England have long been under watch, and these four (at minimum) escaped notice. In the days since that first London bombing two weeks ago, and then the attempted bombings there this past week, it may be difficult to continue believing that security and liberty can co-exist, that we can overcome our fear to protect our society effectively. But we must: we must continue to look at ourselves, to take the measure of our fear and our resolve, and to reaffirm our belief in liberty, and the application of justice. Our humanity demands it.
| At this moment, Vice President Dick Cheney is working on behalf of the Bush Administration to assure that those held at Guantanamo do not receive any kind of formal tribunal judgment or trial, or be released. For the Bush Administration, these people are undeserving of both justice and freedom, by default.||
Copyright 2005, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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