8 February 2015

What Do We Mean When We Say ‘This Is Our 9/11’?

FEBRUARY 5, 2015

Since the day the Twin Towers fell and a plane smacked into the side of the Pentagon, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 have become a symbol of terror, devastation, and sorrow. Synonymous with horror and subsequent fury, the attacks have bifurcated recent history into an era of before and after.

By virtue of its magnitude, 9/11 has also gained a symbolic meaning for violence that is shocking, unpredictable, and perpetrated by fanatics. Over time, 9/11 as a metaphor has been gradually stretched, and in the years since, similar attacks have been described in terms that begin and end with that day — as “our 9/11,” no matter the extent of the loss.

This week, the Islamic State gave its global audience a macabre spectacle: The horrific execution of Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, who was videotaped as he burned to death in a makeshift cage. Days before the release of that video, the group had released another showing the decapitation of Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist.

Kasasbeh’s execution, for its awful method, has dominated headlines. By contrast, Goto’s execution — and that of another Japanese ISIS prisoner, Haruna Yukawa — has evoked a defiant grief among Japanese who are comparing the tragedy to the 9/11 attacks.

“This is 9/11 for Japan,” Kunihiko Miyake, a former diplomat who has advised Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on foreign affairs, told the New York Times. “It is time for Japan to stop daydreaming that its good will and noble intentions would be enough to shield it from the dangerous world out there. Americans have faced this harsh reality, the French have faced it, and now we are, too.” In response to Goto’s beheading, Abe pledged that Japan, a country formally committed in its constitution to a pacifist policy, would avenge his killing.

These comparisons are reflective of 9/11’s symbolic role in this age of terrorism, as a marker of extreme violence, as a way to make that violence comprehensible, and to situate such violence within a framework that makes sense, the so-called “war on terror.”

Every act of terror, it seems, is now “our 9/11.”

When in 2005 a group of suicide bombers attacked three hotels in Amman, Jordan, Merissa Khurma, the press attache for the Jordanian embassy in Washington, penned an op-ed in which she described the attack, which left 60 dead, as “a shock like none other.” Her writing is shot through with a feeling that what had not seemed possible in fact was, and that this reality check was something that must be articulated and explained. Amman, she wrote, had been a relatively tranquil place, and the attack had shattered that illusion of safety. “This is our 9/11,” Khurma wrote. “For me and for many in Jordan, we feel the way many Americans felt after 9/11. Life will never be the same.”

A year after the 2002 Bali bombing, Sandra Thompson, the mother of one of the victims of that attack, described that event in similar terms.”It was a straight-out act of war on Australia – 88 Australians, 202 people had been murdered. It was definitely our 9/11,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

And a year after the 2004 bombing of the Madrid transit system, Spain’s then-ambassador to the United States made the same analogy: “This is our 9/11 because of the people involved, because of the number of killings, the willingness to kill people going to work,” Xavier Rupirez told the Voice of America.

But these more formal comparisons to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 have given way to a looser conception of what constitutes a country’s equivalent trauma. Consider, for example, the 2004 comments of Prof. Han Entzinger of Rotterdam University: “This was our 9/11. It was the moment the Netherlands lost its naivety. We always thought that we were the country of multicultural tolerance that could do no wrong.” He wasn’t talking about a mass-casualty terror attack in the Dutch capital, but the assassination of the controversial filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was killed by a gunman claiming to be acting in the name of Allah against a man he had perceived to have slighted Islam.

When Islamist gunmen once more attacked European notions of free speech, this time by attacking last month the Paris offices of the satirical weeklyCharlie Hebdo, the French media rolled out what by now should be a familiar metaphor. Le onze Septembre Francais, Le Monde’s banner headline declared the following day.

And the list goes on. In 2013, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev called an attack a year earlier on a bus that left five Israelis and a Bulgarian dead “our September 11.” In the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown at the hands of police last year, freelance writer and taxi driver Umar Lee wrote for the St. Louis American that “Ferguson is our 9/11” to describe the feeling of unity in his community after the shooting, which he felt mirrored the fleeting sense of togetherness that followed the attacks on New York and Washington.

Perhaps less plausibly, Rep. Charlie Rangel, the New York Democrat,described a Harlem building explosion last year as his community’s 9/11. That comment drew angry retorts that perhaps the attacks of Sept. 11 were in fact that New York City community’s 9/11.

So it is in this way that the meaning of the phrase “our 9/11” is being distorted and turned toward its own ends, to make comprehensible what is not. When Japan now evaluates how it will respond to the beheading of Goto, the logic and sentiment of “our 9/11” is being turned toward a political project, namely Abe’s effort to expand and strengthen his country’s military. According to areport Thursday, Abe hopes to begin the process of constitutional revision as early as next year, hoping that the fear and anger generated by Goto’s beheading can help him push through his political project.

Therein lies the danger of a metaphor.

Sloppiness isn`t a good adviser, it it is sloppiness at all. Omitting the Jewish victims at the kosher supermarket in Paris isn`t incidently, I suppose. Van Gogh was not only shot at, but his throat was cut by a muslim extremist when he was lying wounded on the ground.

And the Japanese public is quite shocked, a nation which always eyes abroad as a dangerous place to live. In searching for metaphors, for the awakening to the reality of Islamist terror, the use of 9/11 as metaphor doesn`t surprise, even when it can be used to bolster prime minister Abe`s case, even when it doesn`t fit the extend, the number of victims or other aspects of the Islamist attack on 9/11. 

If Mr. Groll is trying to point out the dangers of Japanese prime minister Abe using 9/11 metaphor to justify Japan unshackling from US-imposed constitution at the end of WWII, he is failing miserably.

Japan is a sovereign nation - it is about time that Japan comes out from under American shadow.Japan is an economic giant but a military midget. Japan needs to learn to defend its own territorial integrity and NOT rely on American protection for all time to come.

It even behooves America to encourage Japan to defend itself. Afterall it is very doubtful that US will go to defend Japan's territorial integrity if that invites Chinese nuclear attack on American homeland.

So 9/11 metaphor or not, Japan would have to shed the image of being an American protectorate sooner or later.

Japan has to encourage its own nationalism to counter Chinese and Korean nationalism.

What is more, Japan needs to have nuclear weapons to prevent any Chinese adventurism. Japan is small compared to China. China can drop 5 or 10 nuclear weapons on Japan and Japan will be destroyed. Japan has to have ability to destroy China on a similar scale to stop and Chinese attack. That means Japan's nuclear weapons arsenal has to be much bigger than that of China. 

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