Nineteen years ago there was no Ground Zero in the Wall Street district. Five years ago, I saw children on cell phones sobbing in school libraries that were turned into crisis management centers in a matter of minutes, as the television stations carried live the horror in broad daylight on Wall Street.
Every time I cruise by New Jersey’s West New York and glance across Hudson River where the Twin Towers once adorned the skyline, I would see billowing smoke meandering across the cityscape of Frank Sinatra’s serenade – of the city that never sleeps. New York of 24/7.
I asked myself – is this the work of human beings? Which God would permit such a hideous crime against humanity? I recalled Jean Jacques Rousseau’s famous maxim “Everything is good in the hands of the Author of Things. Everything degenerates in the hands of Man”. I had some answers to my question on good and evil. I needed more questions on how the world was constructed and have culminated since the rise of America as the sole empire of the post-Cold War period. This America – that has also become part of me. The America of Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau.
For months, the Armageddon on Wall Street became a reminder of what happened after 9/11 and what happens next, and how much has changed in the world many “Gala-consciousness” activists would call “Spaceship Earth”.
America of the common Man was fed with a steady supply of soundbites from the corporate media; the producers of truth educating its consumers on what the word “jihad” means and how closely tied it is with “globalisation.” Americans were made to believe that it was an “attack on democracy”.
Months after that I found myself discussing with my students of political science Ben Barber’s now classic piece “Jihad versus McWorld” to understand what was going on. The work of Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Zygmunt Bauman, Michel Foucault, Ward Churchill, and Noam Chomsky became popular amongst American academics trying to understand the complex phenomena that led to the collapse of the towers.
America saw its enlightened citizens reading voraciously about Islam. America began to read a steady series of conspiracy theories on why the towers fell. Filmmaker Michael Moore began to produce his “Fahrenheit 9/11” and many other independent producers were crafting urban narratives of the tragedy, culminating in the latest one called “Loose Change.”
America of the common Man from the “blue state” was ready to learn what his government has been doing for centuries.
In writing this essay for Malaysians, I thought of the numbers “1511”, “7/11”, and “9/11”. All of them are symbols of disasters.
1511 and 7/11
1511 – the magic number of the fall of the kingdom of Malacca in ancient Malaya and the end of days of the Malay sultans.What was that all about? It was the advent of European mercantilism and the expansion of colonies. While Malacca fell in the hands of the Portuguese amidst the struggle for wealth and power of the greedy and warring Malay sultans, New York was being colonised by the Dutch, with names like New Amsterdam and “The Bronx” in New York City and Bergen County in New Jersey being installed.
New York City became the haven for “corporate pirates” of that era, a place wherein bootleggers and smugglers reigned. A gamblers’ den of a globalised proportion it was; a den that further transformed itself into this iconoclastic- emblematic-semiotic capital of Western free enterprise in the name “Wall Street.”
And I am also thinking of the chain store 7/11, a McDonaldised symbol of corporate America, installed through a form of democracy patrolled by nuclear submarines.
What is it about?
It is about the challenges we face as humanity continues to progress, amongst those are:
Nationally we continue to live in a political system that is based not only on the deformed and degenerating politics of race and economic greed that favors the rich and members of political dynasties but also a system that is threatened with a continuing disregard for human rights; fundamental principles of liberties that ought to protect minorities in a religiously pluralistic and complex state.
Nationally we continue to see abandoned hopes for nations to evolve into a truly multicultural society as we witness the institutionalisation of racism not only the way we think and act daily but in the way we construct our educational, cultural, economic and political institutions. The way we conduct our dialogue on religion and race have lately reflected a clearer and uglier politics of mistrust. The War on Terrorism itself has become yet another leitmotif of hatred and irrationalism couched in the name of national and international security.
Globally, we are faced with challenges in the areas of scientific advancement, morality, economics, ethnic and religious conflicts, population and health.
Scientific advancements and control of knowledge and technology continue to be in the hands of the rich nations with the poor, “developing”, and “newly-industrializing and informationalising” ones become slaves in the global production and consumption of technologies. Our scientific world of inquiry and human imagination to solve human problems has become a world of Orwellian drama; one of despair characterized by the use of science for deadly purposes. Markets for weapons are constantly being created so that warring nations may decimate each other while arms dealers may profit as merchants of death.
In each country of the world, the pattern of ownership of the scientific and technological advances mirror the pattern of have and have-nots of the world, of the centre-periphery dependency mode of global political-economic design.
Morality becomes a central issue of this millennium as we question our role as individuals that are defined by the means of subsistence/economic condition we are in. As human beings merely become “knowledge workers” and corporate executives in multinational corporations that have no national governments to answer to, they become merely one of the minute functions of the machinery of global exploitation in the virtually all spheres of human activities.
Prime Ministers and presidents of “developing”, “industrialising” or “advancing” nations are now assuming the role of chief executive officers of international oligopoly capitalists; their worth reduced merely as beneficiaries of the international owners of production. The great Indonesian poet WS Rendra’s character in Kisah Perjuangan Suku Naga (‘The Struggle of the Naga Tribe’ written circa mid-1970s) Sri Ratu caricaturize well how Third World political elite skim off percentages from internationally-backed development projects.
Coming back to the issue of morality, one can still rationalise one’s work as a scientist in nuclear weapons labs in New Mexico, in an oil drill-company in Iraq, in pesticide-making subsidiary in the Philippines, a designer sneaker-producing company in Vietnam, in a daisy-cutter bomb factory, or in a diamond-mining company in South Africa. As long as profits roll into the coffers of the parent and recipient nation and benefit the power elites, child labour and poor working conditions in the sweatshops are acceptable – in the name of democracy and development.
Global economics continue to become a centrepiece of issues we will need to understand in order to become change agents and informed citizens in this precarious world of interdependence. The role of The World Bank and International Monetary Fund as twin instruments of global domination, borne out of post-World war II Bretton Woods agreement, continue to be challenged peacefully and violently as the world continues to produce more and more impoverished nations as a consequence of policies of ideological lendings and structurally imperialistic adjustments.
Presidents of the World Bank continue to be groomed from hawks of the American ultra-conservative mould, with Paul Wolfowitz as one example. Developments in Latin America of late are pointing towards a transformation of the people’s view towards economics – governments that favour the national poor and not the international plunderers will triumph at the polls. The constant revolutions and re-evolution that happen across time and space and across all nations, as many a Maoist theoretician would contend, are testament to the thesis-antithesis notion of human evolution.
Ethnic and religious conflicts continue to splash the headlines of our global newspapers, with not only border conflicts perpetually increasing but deadly attacks of public places where the innocent work and play becoming a feature of post-Sept 11, 2001 fallout. Every nation is now threatened by the ever-growing tide and tsunamis of racial and religious violence.
“Religion of the Man”, as Jean Jacques Rousseau would say, has been transformed into “religion of the State” carrying with it the rationalisation for truncated jihads, senseless crusades, mahabharattas of blind dharmas, questionable kamikazes, globalised amuks, or any form of religious war one may culturally connote.
War over oil
The prolonged occupation in Iraq and the obvious “no-victory-in-sight” of the American forces has become a national issue in America – how long will she let her children die and how many more of the children of the American underclass must be drafted through the economic drafting ideology. The nation has become “Cindy Shehan-ized” in a country Bush-whacked by a Texan gun slinging cowboy-typed foreign policy. Currently more than 3,000 American soldiers/children of the nation have perished in a war over oil that has probably killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women, and children.
War is a crime against humanity, as one Russian diplomat L Bobrakov, once said in an article. We now have the crisis in Lebanon; a perpetual reminder of the historical-materialistic, geographic, and political-economic dimension of the ever-evolving conflictualizing Middle East.
Though the destruction of Iraq is purely economic in nature, it is also perceived as a religious war that has wide-ranging and global ideological implications. Report on Osama Bin Laden’s purportedly latest “warning against the Americans” continue to conjure the continuation of a “religious war” but in America however, this message has been overplayed.
The American fear is now centering on the institutionalising of a national wire-tapping. As Massachusetts Information Technology (MIT) linguist-peace activist Noam Chomsky would say, “fear is the weapon of the administration against the people of America” so that the military-industrial complex can continue to live and breathe its ideology. Instill fear of those “orange”, “red”, or whatever-colour alert and the people will, in the name of “fear” continue to support the war machinery that is bulldozing nations defined as “rogue/terrorist states.”
What do all these mean?
We continue to live in an Orwellian work that still does not make sense. We live in a matrix of complexities run by generalissimos in their labyrinths, as the Latin American Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marques would say. Perhaps the only sane way for one to live would be, as the neo-Marxist American thinker Frederic Jameson would say, construct a “personal cartography of oneself” so that we may know where to locate ourselves in a world wherein nature, with the aid of technology, is stolen by culture to become Das Kapital. That’s the story of Frankenstein in us.
Till then, the story of our 7/11 is this: we emerge at the eleventh hour of Creation – just to transform into Creators of 9/11s.
Let there be Peace.