“Infidel, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion. In Constantinople, one who does.”
“If you believe in Judgment Day, I have to seriously question your judgment.”
“If the kind of God exists who would damn me for not working out a deal with him, then that is unfortunate. I should not care to spend eternity in the company of such a person.”
Recently I saw a movie and a review of another movie, both about 9/11. One was about the terrible day itself -- the movie about United Flight 93, the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. The other was a review of Zero Dark Thirty, which I haven’t seen.
The Flight 93 movie was about the beginning of the 9/11 tragedy, and the movie that was reviewed could be said to be about its ending, insofar as there can be one (it brought some “closure,” as therapists like to say). Al Qaeda is much weakened, and, importantly, the snake’s head has been cut off. Fini.
From the movie and the review, I can tell that you don’t have to do any thinking about the causes of 9/11, about why Osama wanted to attack us (as he’d already done). That’s because Zero Dark Thirty is about a manhunt, while the Flight 93 movie presented a story that was totally riveting, made not less but more so by its inevitability, because you knew that from the most mundane of aviation/travel beginnings (passengers stowing their carry-ons, captains chatting), a disaster will unfold, and none will survive.
“An inch ahead, total darkness.”
“Flight 93” was reconstructed from all the audio available, so the script practically wrote itself in a vivid and totally believable way. In the final scene, which is taken from actual audio that the victims’ families allowed to be released, the giant airliner careens all over the place, with people screaming in panic, as the terrorist pilot loses control but tries to keep the passengers from attacking the cockpit.
Wow. It’s a beautiful September morning, you get on a plane for a routine trip to California, and…
[Aside: The movie was made even more believable by the use of ordinary-looking, virtually unknown actors. I think I saw a guy from Boston Legal, but that’s about it. That gave you the feeling that all this was ACTUALLY happening.
I really hate the star system in Hollywood. Almost none of these people will go into heavy-makeup roles (exceptions: Paul Newman, Gary Oldman, Dustin Hoffman), lest their pretty faces be unrecognized.
Recent example: I had read several of the Jack Reacher novels and had a mental picture of what he looked like. Huge -- his 6’5” height is frequently mentioned – and so big and tough he can kill by bear-hugging/suffocating you, which he does to an equally huge Russian. He can kill you with one blow.
He most certainly does not look like 5’6’’ Tom Cruise, who plays him in the eponymous movie. Besides, I couldn’t see the character because I couldn’t get past that all-too-familiar pretty face, couldn’t help thinking, “Hey, that’s Tom Cruise acting.” My first choice would be a younger John Wayne or Jim Arness, but they’re too recognizable. So somebody like them – huge and unrecognizable.]
A meditation on torture
OK, sorry for the long aside. In Zero Dark Thirty, complex and terrifying in its own right, we see torture and what it produces. One of the Americans appears to express brief regret. That’s about it, in terms of moral ambiguity. Apparently torture got us what we wanted.
Or maybe not. Maybe a lot of it was pointless cruelty. If the movie had shown two solid hours of torture, it would be a drop in the bucket compared to what our government did in the name of protecting us – the countless abductions/renditions, the barbaric treatment of people who were brought in merely by bounty, the sadistic, lifelong injury to mind and body, completely undeserved, immoral, and kept from the American people.
How could America do all this? Aren’t we the good guys? That’s the myth. But the nation’s behavior proves otherwise. There is a violent, vengeful streak in our culture, an honor code. Attack us and there are no limits to our retaliation.
It’s difficult for a humanist who looks for facts and realities (who exactly was responsible for 9/11 and why did they do it?) to understand the tidal wave of black, free-form rage that spilled out of America after 9/11.
IMHO, it was this no-holds-barred, how-DARE-you-attack-us rage that gave us Gitmo, drones, shock and awe (bomb brown people somewhere, and brown people everywhere will take it as a lesson) and the pointless war that followed, Abu Ghraib (American atrocities in the same prison where Saddam committed them!), and the horrors of Zero Dark Thirty, including invading a sovereign nation that’s supposedly our ally.
On the personal level, that rage is easily expressed in torture. I cannot imagine who could be cruel or angry enough to waterboard someone 180 times. And the sexual humiliation. And on and on.
Torture doesn’t work, in many ways. Apparently, crucial information about Osama’s courier was obtained by traditional interrogation, while torture produced a non-existent link between Saddam and Osama, which was all the Bush/Cheney maniacs needed. They were preparing for Iraq well before 9/11, and indeed, according to their own Commission’s report, obsession with Iraq precluded any serious attention to Osama’s threats.
Laughing from Paradise?
One reviewer argued that Osama must be laughing from Paradise, which is where martyrs go, because Americans reacted just as he wanted – instead of being diplomatic nice guys, we went on an image-killing, black-rage spree and indiscriminately BOMBED BROWN PEOPLE. We taught the Muslim world to hate and fear us, just what he wanted. (But perhaps not: see below.)
There was the same rage after Pearl Harbor, which, I have no doubt, contributed, along with other powerful factors, to the decision to nuke hundreds of thousands of Japanese. Let’s flatten these mf’ers once and for all. Give ‘em cancer, too!
But after 9/11, all the criminals who committed the act were dead, and we had no nation-state to go after. The solution: kill brown people anyway.
OK, I can see Osama's supposed logic of provoking America into a monstrous rage. But where did he actually say that?
As a linguist and professional communicator, I tend to look for authenticity and credibility in information. All kind of reasons have been attributed to Osama and al-Qaeda. The hate our support for Israel. They hate our freedom. Our women dress immodestly. American Idol.
Looking for truth
I have kept my ears open over the years, looking for truth nuggets where I find them. Here’s one: the ONLY reason I have ever found attributable (several times) directly to Osama was religious: there were infidel feet on holy soil. The whole country of Saudi Arabia is apparently just one big Muslim wet-dream/theme-park/country-club. No infidels allowed.
That’s what terrorism is usually about. Weaker power tells stronger: Get off my land. It’s what the Israelis did to the Brits 50 years ago. The Jews also thought their land was holy.
September 11 was about religion, or at least one kind of it: driven by a fundamentalist vision, glorifying suicide, murder, death, and martyrdom, requiring long and deep programming in psychotic fantasy. I’m not a shrink, but I bet it attracts a certain kind of person.
In 1996, the Gore Commission wargamed several terrorist attack scenarios. They considered the hijacking/kamikaze scenario, but thought it unlikely, since it would require sustained commitment (learning to fly the planes), ending in suicide. They were wrong: there ARE people crazy enough to die for a myth – and patient enough to prepare quite elaborately for their grand opportunity.
In any event, religion was almost always there, in the background. The movie showed many scenes of the hijackers preparing themselves with prayer, murmuring prayers as the plane took off, reinforcing their conditioning for the final moment before action.
Neither prayer granted
I found it fascinating, as a neutral third party, that as the plane swerved and dived to its doom, the Christian (and probably Jewish) passengers were praying to their god too!
So do we have different prayers going to the same celestial call center? Or maybe both sides had it wrong: the Christians’ prayer will not be answered (by, say, HUMANS taking control of the plane soon enough to keep it from diving)…nor will the Muslims’ (they complete their mission and crash into the White House or the Capitol, which would have made 9/11 much worse).
No, neither side’s prayers were answered. The plane crashed. But that’s not God. That’s called physics, human chaos…and fate.