Nous Sommes Tous Américains (We Are All Americans)

Certainly everyone alive and old enough to form memories recalls that soul-searing day ten years ago. Certainly every American over the age of fifteen relives it over and over again with any exposure at all to the daily news.

Yes, we knew that life would never be the same. And we were right.

The unimaginable suffering that rained down on the world because of a single act of terrorism snaked through every household in the United States and in many other countries. The snake of hate has never stopped, even though we managed –  after nearly ten years – to cut off the snake’s head when Osama bin Laden fell dead in a mansion in Pakistan.

In a searing editorial, published the day after the new day that will forever live in infamy, French writer, Jean-Marie Colomboni played the role of Cassandra.

Ten years later, in spite of wars draining our life blood literally and figuratively, we still are gnashing our teeth, trying to come to grips with a world wrought in the aftermath of that taste of hell.

But we must remember that there is hope fermenting. The “Arab Spring” may bring positive changes, allowing the people of the world to look at one another with clear eyes and see, instead of an odious “Other,” strangers who could become friends, who will sit down together at a table laden with food, replete with hospitable acceptance and mutual respect, as the snake of hate slinks back  into its hole to wither away.

Photo credit: Michel Azéma, Funimag

Jean-Marie Colombani, Le Monde, Paris, France, Sept. 12, 2001.

In this tragic moment, when words seem so inadequate to express the shock people feel, the first thing that comes to mind is this: We are all Americans! We are all New Yorkers, just as surely as John F. Kennedy declared himself to be a Berliner in 1962 when he visited Berlin. Indeed, just as in the gravest moments of our own history, how can we not feel profound solidarity with those people, that country, the United States, to whom we are so close and to whom we owe our freedom, and therefore our solidarity? How can we not be struck at the same time by this observation: The new century has come a long way.

Sept. 11, 2001, marks the ushering in of a new age that seems so far from the promise of another historic day, Nov. 9, 1989 [the breaking of the Berlin Wall], and a somewhat euphoric year, 2000, which we thought would bring peace to the Middle East.

And so a new century moves ahead, with powerful technology, as shown by the sophistication of the war operation that struck America’s symbols: those of its enormous economic power in the heart of Manhattan [and] of its military might at the Pentagon. The beginnings of this century defy understanding unless you promptly and indiscriminately subscribe to the cliché that is already the most widespread: the triggering of a war of the South against the North. But to say this would be to credit the perpetrators of this murderous madness with “good intentions,” or with some plan, whereby the oppressed peoples would be avenged against their sole oppressor, America. That would have allowed them to claim “poverty” as their authority, thus committing an affront to it! What monstrous hypocrisy! None of those who had a hand in this operation can claim they intend the good of humanity. Actually, they have no interest in a better world. They simply want to wipe ours off the face of the Earth.

The reality is more certainly that of a world with no counterbalance, physically destabilized, and thus more dangerous since there is no multipolar balance. AndAmerica, in the solitude of its power, in its status as the sole superpower, now in the absence of a Soviet counter-model, has ceased to draw other nations to itself; or more precisely, in certain parts of the globe, it seems to draw nothing but hate. In the regulated world of the Cold War, where the various kinds of terrorism were more or less aided by Moscow, a certain degree of control was still possible, and the dialogue between Moscow and Washington never stopped. In today’s monopolistic world, it is a new barbarism, apparently with no control, which seems to want to set itself up as a counter-power. Perhaps, even in Europe, from the Gulf War to the use of F-16s by the Israeli army against the Palestinians, we have underestimated the intensity of the hate, which, from the outskirts of Jakarta to those of Durban, among the rejoicing crowds in Nablus and Cairo, is focused against theUnited States.

But the reality is perhaps also that of an America whose own cynicism has caught up with. If Bin Laden, as the American authorities seem to think, really is the one who ordered the Sept. 11 attacks, how can we fail to recall that he was in fact trained by the CIA and that he was an element of a policy, directed against the Soviets, that the Americans considered to be wise? Might it not then have been America itself that created this demon?

Be that as it may, America is going to change. Profoundly. America is like a large ocean liner, sailing for a long time on the same course. When the course is changed, it is changed for a long time. And, even though the expression may be overworked, the United States has suffered an unprecedented shock. Pearl Harbormarked the end of isolationism, so deeply rooted that it was not even moved by Hitler’s barbarity. After Pearl Harbor, everything changed. And America accepted it all, from the Marshall Plan to sending GIs to every point of the globe. Then came the Vietnam debacle, which led to a new doctrine, that of the rare but massive use of force, accompanied by the dogma of “zero casualties” for the United States, as illustrated during the Gulf War. All of that has now been swept away. There is no doubt that every means will be employed against enemies who, up to now, have remained elusive.

The new hand that has begun to be dealt out in blood, at this stage, will bring with it at least two foreseeable consequences. Both have to do with alliances: It is certainly the end of an entire strategy conceived in opposition to Russia, the Soviet Union at the time. Russia, at least in its non-Islamic areas, is going to become the main ally of the United States. Perhaps it is also the end of an alliance that the United States had traced out in the 1930s and soundly established in the 1950s with Sunni Muslim fundamentalism, such as it is defended particularly in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In the eyes of American public opinion and its leadership, Islamic fundamentalism, in all its forms, risks being designated as the new enemy. Indeed, the anti-Islamic reflex, immediately after the attack on a federal building in Oklahoma City, resulted in statements that were ridiculous, if not downright odious.

Beyond their obvious murderous madness, these latest attacks nonetheless follow a certain logic.

Obviously it is a barbarous logic, marked by a new nihilism that is repugnant to the great majority of those who believe in Islam, which, as a religion, does not condone suicide any more than Christianity does, and certainly not suicide coupled with the massacre of innocent people. But it is a political logic, which, by going to extremes, seeks to force Muslim opinion to “choose sides” against those who are currently designated as “the Great Satan.” By doing this, their objective might well be to spread and deepen an unprecedented crisis in the Arab world.

In the long term, this attitude is obviously suicidal, because it attracts lightning. And it might attract a bolt of lightning that does not discriminate. This situation requires our leaders to rise to the occasion. They must act so that the peoples whom these warmongers are seeking to win over and are counting on will not fall in step behind them in their suicidal logic. This we can say with some dread: Modern technology allows them to go even further. Madness, even under the pretext of despair, is never a force that can regenerate the world. That is why today we are all Americans.

Photo credit: Stefano J. Attardi

2 thoughts on “Nous Sommes Tous Américains (We Are All Americans)

  1. Kitty, good to hear from you. The editorial struck a chord with me, because now we have all this hindsight, which no one had at that time, but people could sense what was to come. I hope we continue moving forward to living in peace in the world.

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