An interesting thing happened over the summer: Police in New Jersey foiled a plot by three teenage boys to stage a military-style assault on their high school. The teens were arrested en route to the building with enough guns and ammunition to kill more people than at Columbine High School in 1999.
Why is this interesting? This is a prime example of a pre-Sept. 11, 2001, form of terrorism intruding into the post-Sept. 11 American psyche. It provides a reminder that al-Qaida isn’t our only worry.
Unfortunately, the story barely registered a public response. It was lost amid coverage of escalating violence in Iraq and the floundering job market, and the American public lost yet another valuable opportunity to consider the real nature of terrorism.
The question I’d like to pose is this: Were the Sept. 11 hijackers really all that different from the three kids arrested in New Jersey? Or, for that matter, is any form of terrorism truly different from any other?
Think about it. Take any act of terrorism on U.S. soil in the last 10 years: Sept. 11, the Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine, Waco, Ruby Ridge; or take something closer to home, such as animal-rights activists vandalizing a multimillion-dollar research facility or environmentalist freaks trying to burn down a genetics lab at the University.
There is a common element to all of these events: They are all characterized by the acting out of political or ideological fantasies.
Timothy McVeigh believed that the government had planted a computer chip in his brain and that blowing up the Murrah Federal Building would touch off a right-wing revolution in America. The Columbine killers wanted to create a kind of “jock apocalypse” and tried to blow up their school with homemade bombs that did not even work. And David Koresh – well, that guy was just a fruitcake.
But with Sept. 11, the story becomes more complicated – or so it would seem. Everyone knows that the Sept. 11 hijackers had clear political objectives in attacking us, which is to say, they attacked us because of what the United States does to Arab countries.
Or did they?
Consider this: The Sept. 11 hijackers became converts to radical Islam, not in poor Arab countries but rather in affluent suburbs of major Western cities. They were, by and large, educated men – educated in Western universities – who spent much of their adult lives away from the Middle East.
They didn’t become jihadis because of what they saw going on in their home countries. They became jihadis because they came to the Western world, lived as lonely and alienated men, and remade themselves as crusaders in the war against the Great Satan.
Thrown into this light, the conservative take on Sept. 11 – the “clash of civilizations” theory – doesn’t hold much water. Nor, for that matter, does liberals’ Islamic-Terrorists-as-avengers-of-the-Third-World-Lumpenproletariat babble.
After Sept. 11, there was no list of demands presented for America to fulfill. Al-Qaida was and is not waging a Clausewitzian war (which is determined when certain political objectives are met, as the Algerian nationalists did to the French in the 1960s) against us.
The terrorists hate America, but not for the same reasons that Noam Chomsky and Jean Baudrillard do. Their hatred is more akin to Timothy McVeigh’s hatred of the government or the Columbine killers’ hatred of their vacuous suburban adolescence.
Why did everyone automatically assume that the Sept. 11 terrorists were any different from McVeigh or the Columbine shooters? The answer is fairly simple: because of the color of their skin.
If nothing else, Sept. 11 has proven that the left is subject to the same latent racism that fuels the right’s anti-Islam propaganda.
When the terrorists come from a different culture, everything is cut and dry – they hate us because we deserve it, unlike white terrorists who are just plain wackos.
The Islamic brand of terrorism has conveniently distracted us with a cartoonish arch-enemy who is utterly opposed to us. If and when this enemy is defeated, we will discover, or rather re-discover, that terrorism is a much broader and more troubling phenomenon, and is less about politics than about postmodernism.
Nick Busse is a University student. He welcomes comments at [email protected]