||September 11, 2001: Just the beginning.
A month after that blue morning when American Airlines flight No. 11, bound from Boston to Los Angeles, swerved low toward the North Tower of the World Trade Center and, about 20 minutes later, United Airlines flight No. 175, also heading for L.A. from Boston, came in low toward the South Tower, the deed still seems incomprehensible.
The dimensions of the event exceed our ability to conceptualize it. The moment that defines our generation has been reverberating within all of us for the past 30 days with all its horrifying images and all its unbearable details, without our being able to decipher it. Without our being able to clarify to ourselves its full meaning.
The first question that was aroused by the science-fiction image of passenger planes slamming into skyscrapers and setting them ablaze and finally making them implode, was: What's new here? How is this atrocity different from all its predecessors? What characterizes this particular evil, which suddenly appeared in the skies of the 21st century, and what makes it different from any past evil?
Here are three possible answers:
One: September 11 showed us all that we are living in a world which has given unrivalled power to individuals who have no appreciation of the value of human life. History has known empires of evil. However,they all rose and fell without endangering the very existence and the continued development of life-desiring humanity. There was a certain logic to the relations between the empires of evil and life-seeking humanity that ultimately brought about the eradication of the empires. Whereas, what we are now facing, is the ability and readiness of individual persons to produce spectacular killing on a mass scale.
What we are seeing is the ultimate privatization, in which individuals are afforded the power to put all of humanity at risk. This is new. And what it signifies is a strong thrust toward international entropy. The meaning of this fact is an inherent tendency to undermine the world order and replace it with blood-drenched disorder.
Two: September 11 proved that the enemies of the West have internalized the insight of the Japanese martial arts: They have developed the ability to turn the strength and weight of their rival against him.
From this point of view, when a handful of fanatics carrying knives succeeded in gaining control over the advanced flight technology of the Boeing company and hurtling it into the advanced engineering technology that built and maintained the Twin Towers, they created a vast metaphor of appalling consequence. They made it clear to everyone who still didn't get it that the story of the 21st century is going to be that of the enemies of the West using the technology of the West in order to strike at the West.
What this fact signifies is that not only individual fanatics but fanatic states and fanatic sub-cultures are liable to shatter, within only a few years, the Euro-American monopoly on power. If they are not stopped immediately, they will try to undermine the foundations of the West by using levers of force that originate in the West itself.
Three: September 11 made much clearer what we should have known before: that the cult of the shahid - martyr - and the ethos of the shuhada - martyrdom - that were cultivated in the Middle East over the past decade (and especially in the past year) are unimaginably dangerous. They threaten not only the national security of Israel but the security and welfare of every free society. This is because, ironically, the readiness of people to lose their own life deliberately endangers the peace of the world more than their readiness to take the lives of others.
Readiness to kill has always existed and always will. It is part of the given human structure, and stabilizing historical forces have a way to deal with it. However, a mass willingness for suicide, a mass willingness to choose the Samson option, is a sharp departure from the high road of humanity. It is a kind of moral mutation, which contradicts nearly all the religious and moral codes known to us and poses an unprecedented threat to every attempt to maintain a rational world and a reasonable world order. By divesting the stability equation of the dimension of deterrence and the dimension of utilitarianism and the dimension of self-interest, the mass willingness to commit suicide creates a deep and uncontrollable situation of chaos.
The meaning of this fact is that the enlightened world is today threatened not only by isolated gangs of half-crazy terrorists but also by every human society that does not consecrate the value of life of its own citizens. The world is under threat from every political culture that has a greater interest in the destruction of others than it does in its own welfare.
Those human societies and those political cultures that worship death and praise those who choose death and salute those who are about to die, are today the hothouses of the new historical evil. It is they who engendered the evil of the 21st century.
In the mid-1980s, Sting wrote a song whose lyrics have become very well-known. The song said more or less this: I hope the Russians love their children, too.
By the time the song was released, and certainly within a few years afterward, it was clear that the Russians/Soviets did in fact love their children. The fact is that even when they sustained severe strategic defeats (as in Cuba) and even when their world collapsed (with the fall of the Berlin Wall), they did not make irresponsible use of the satanic technologies they had stored up at the launch sites beyond the Urals. Their specific ideological fanaticism did not at any time turn into a total betrayal of the universal value of life."
The new and terrifying historical element that was revealed on September 11, 2001, when people leaped to their death from a hundred stories up, is the knowledge that the new enemies of Western civilization apparently do not love their children enough. When the steel melted and cracked and the Babel-like towers came crashing down in a nightmare cloud of apocalyptic smoke, the solid historical fact that emerged from the rubble is that the specific ideological fanaticism of the new enemies of the West transcends their loyalty to the universal value of life.
The depth of the feeling of being wronged harbored by the new Saladins, and the fierceness of their sense of humiliation and the tenacity of their faith in their god, have transformed them not into the enemies of capitalism and not into the enemies of globalization and not into the enemies of the Crusaders and the Jews, but into the enemies of life itself. The phenomenon of life, a thing so precious, means nothing to them.
A genuine miracle
We must always remember that it was Western man who created the capability of mass destruction. In this sense, and not only in this sense, Western man bears a heavy responsibility. However, for more than half a century, that same Western man has demonstrated an impressive ability to manage the demonic destructive ability he brought into the world.
Under his leadership, a genuine miracle has occurred in the past 30 years on this small globe: Under the umbrella of the Western ethos, not only Americans and Europeans, but Chinese and Indians and Israelis, too - even Pakistanis - have proved that they are quite mature and quite responsible, and that they have the ability to prevent the world from sliding into a man-made catastrophe.
But not so the new people. Not the anti-Crusader forces whose premiere performance on the stage of world history we have just witnessed. For the fundamentalist ethos that burst into the skies of Manhattan 30 days ago is a volatile ethos that fuses readiness to die with a passion to make others die with an unprecedented power of death. It is an ethos of total negativity, which encapsulates within it the new evil emerging from the East with the power of total destruction slowly leaking from the West.
Essentially, then, what happened on September 11 is that the 50-year miracle ended. The period of grace since Hiroshima concluded. The countdown began.
Shabtai Shavit, a former chief of the Mossad espionage agency, says that a new count began with the fall of the Twin Towers. That henceforth we will count our days like this: a month since the Twins, a year since the Twins, the seventh year since the Twins, and so on.
Indeed, there is almost no doubt that future historians will treat the Day of the Twins as the day on which the new millennium began. It won't be the trance parties of December 31, 1999, that will be remembered as the true launch of the third millennium, but the horrific spectacle of September 11, 2001.
And just as the smoking valley of death in New York came quickly to be called Ground Zero, it's very possible that this period we are now living through will be known as Year Zero. For, as Amos Oz once wrote in a different, local, context, what was will be no more. After September 11 nothing will be what it was.
For Israelis, the change is less dramatic than it is for other Western nations. In fact, it can be argued that, if in the wake of September 2000, many Israelis lost their belief that the peace process would liberate them from the Israeli condition and grant them a quasi-American way of life, the events of September 2001 made it clear to them that the way of life that the Americans are in the process of adopting has some of the parameters of the Israeli condition.
From now on, then, it is clear that not only the night clubs of Tel Aviv but the brokerage houses of Wall Street, too, become, in a certain sense, frontier outposts. And that not only the Jewish state but the entire West is perched on the brink of a true existential threat. And that the only way to keep going and to preserve sanity in such conditions is to find the right balance between the terror and the city - and between the constant knowledge that the worst is possible, and the determination to fight the worst of all and to go on living. Not to give in; to live.
Power - and fragility
Paul Goldberger, who writes about architecture in The New Yorker, says that the skyline of downtown American now projects something it never did before: In addition to power and hope and energy, there is also fragility. That in itself is not such a bad thing. For one of the basic flaws of American culture in general and in the messages of globalization in particular was that they lacked any tragic sense. By promising a linear and irreversible process of incessant growth, they broadcast superficial arrogance that tended to ignore the tragic context of human life. No longer.
The first invasion of America since the invasion of Orson Welles's little green creatures at the end of the 1930s has made America a completely different place from what it was. Its culture and its concepts will undergo a radical change. The new situation, of a war of two worlds, which will persist long after the counter-attack mounted by George W. Bush is over, will not permit America to display the old arrogance and the patronizing isolationism and the turning of its back on the world's troubles. The entire relationship between individual and community will also now be reassessed.
Without a minimum of solidarity and social justice, and without a large dose of restraint and grit, America and the West will not be able to win and thus will not survive.
We are all together now. We are all part of a battle that is unlike anything known before, to protect the value of life. As with the Gulf War 10 years ago, the terrorist assault of 2001 is not yet the thing itself. It is only a show of the potential. An illustration of a looming future. But not everything is signed and sealed yet; there is still freedom to choose.
Now, after we have seen what the third millennium holds in store, the question of whether we will let it be the last millennium depends in large measure on us, too. On all of us.