The “War on Terror,” which former President George W. Bush officially launched in late-September 2001, and which President Obama officially rebranded as “The Series of Persistent Targeted Efforts to Dismantle Specific Networks of Violent Extremists That Threaten America” in May 2013, has, at this point (i.e. fifteen years into it), become our official consensus reality … or in other words, “just the way things are.” An entire generation has come of age during the “National State of Emergency With Respect to Certain Terrorist Attacks,” which President Obama recently extended. For most of this unfortunate generation (which some are calling “Generation Homeland”), the sight of soldiers in body armor, rifles held in the sling-ready position, patrolling the streets of their towns or cities, the absurd “security procedures” at the airport, the hysteria pumped out by the mainstream media, the sanctimonious memorialization of anything even remotely connected to the “Certain Terrorist Attacks” in question, and all the rest of it, is entirely normal, the way their world has always been.
Of course, this is also the first generation for whom the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 are nothing but hazy childhood memories, or historical events they learned about in school, or on television, or the Internet. Odds are, what they learned about them was that “America” was attacked that day by a group of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, for no apparent logical reason, other than that “they hate our freedom.” Chances are they also learned that the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the bombing and destabilizing of numerous other countries (i.e. Libya, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, and any others I’ve forgotten to mention), the indefinite detentions, the assassinations, the torture, the illegal mass surveillance, the militarization of society generally, and all the other familiar features of the “state of emergency” that has been in effect for as long as anyone their age can remember … that all of this has something to do with “protecting Americans” or “America’s interests.”
My heart goes out to this generation … or at least to all those in their early twenties who have been bombarded with this official narrative since more or less the day they were born and yet somehow have managed to maintain their sanity (and who continue to struggle on a daily basis to recognize, analyze, deconstruct, and otherwise fend off the relentless barrage of ideological bullshit aimed at their heads). Resisting the force of the official narrative is exhausting, and usually unrewarding, at least in professional and financial terms (unless, of course, one enjoys being marginalized). It’s so much easier to do like the king in The Parable of the King and the Poisoned Well, drink the Kool-Aid, and embrace the madness. Never mind that the official narrative doesn’t actually make much sense, or have anything to do with … well … history … or facts, or other stuff like that.
According to this official narrative, these Islamic terrorists who hate our freedom are waging some kind of fanatical holy war, the aim of which is to destroy the West, seize control of the entire world, and impose Sharia law on everyone. They launched this war on 9/11. They did this by dispatching a group of fifteen Saudi Arabian terrorists (and four others from Egypt, the Emirates and Lebanon) to hijack airplanes with three-dollar box cutters and fly them into iconic buildings, murdering as many people as possible. These attacks were meant to provoke “America,” and presumably the rest of the infidel West, into bombing the Middle East into oblivion, and rounding up Muslims throughout the world, which would trigger some kind of global Jihad that would wipe out Western Civilization, at which point the terrorists would pour out of their hidey holes and take over everything.
According to this same official narrative, these Islamic terrorists who hate our freedom magically appeared, more or less fully-formed, out of nowhere, just prior to 2001. The entire modern history of the Middle East, the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire, Western colonialism, two world wars, the Cold War chess game, and the end thereof, not to mention the now unimpeded spread of global Capitalism throughout the world … none of this has anything to do with anything. No, according to our official narrative, these terrorists materialized out of the ether. They took a look around, spotted America sitting there peacefully minding its business, and enjoying its cherished values, and so on, were overcome with fanatical hatred, and started strapping on their suicide vests.
The only way to stop these terrorists (most of whom were Saudis, remember) from taking over the entire world was to accidentally invade Iraq, which didn’t have anything to do with anything, and kill and torture a lot of Iraqis, and decommission its entire military, so they could go form terrorist groups that would terrorize the entire region, and France, and help destabilize Syria, which at that point we could also bomb. Also, we needed to invade Afghanistan, because the terrorists had their hidey holes there, so we could sort of half-way justify that one. Oh, and Libya. We needed to bomb Libya too, to do away with the evil Gaddafi, because … uh … I don’t quite remember. Something to do with the Arab Spring, which had something to with Al Qaeda, or ISIS … or whatever … I think you get the idea.
Now, before my conspiracy theorist friends get all excited about where I’m going with this, I’m not suggesting that the 9/11 attacks were some kind of US government plot, or extraterrestrial reptilian plot, or that any of the terrorist attacks that have followed — the actual terrorist attacks, that is, not the ones by deranged individuals who swore allegiance to ISIS on Facebook — have not occurred more or less as reported. (Frankly, it doesn’t really matter if they didn’t. The overall effect remains the same.) What I’m calling into question, or examining, or ridiculing, is the ideological narrative surrounding these attacks, and Terrorism, and the War on Terror, or whatever it is we’re calling it this week, and the sanctimony surrounding this narrative, which the “Homeland Generation” has grown up with.
Those of us who are a little older (or, all right, let’s face it, a whole lot older, and yes, I’m referring to the “baby boomers,” which generation I am technically part of, having just turned 55 last month) were indoctrinated with a different narrative. The “reality” we were born into, and that was shoved down our throats at school when we were kids, and then reinforced by virtually every aspect of our lives as adults, was Communism versus Democracy. It went a little something like this …
America, having recently saved the world from the Nazis and the Nipponese Empire, was engaged in an eternal struggle against the Commies, and the Commie sympathizers, who wanted to conquer the entire planet, and … basically, take away all our stuff. This eternal struggle, or Orwellian stand-off, was either going to go on forever or until the Commies launched their nukes, or we did, which was going to be the end of everything. Then we were going to go hang with Jesus (we Americans, that is … not the Commies). In the course of waging this eternal struggle (which former President Ronald Reagan finally ended, in 1987, by ordering Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”), America and its freedom-loving allies, and the Godless Commies and their ruthless proxies, exterminated countless millions of people, mostly in exotic, faraway places (e.g. Indochina, Korea, Viet Nam, Burma, Algeria, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Palestine … and the list goes on).
So nothing has really changed all that much, in terms of everyone exterminating everyone. What has changed, however, is our official narrative (a/k/a consensus reality). Those of us who are old enough to remember the pre-9/11 “reality” have watched this official narrative changeover more or less as Orwell’s protagonist, Winston, in 1984, watches Ingsoc make the switch from the War with Eurasia to the War with Eastasia right in the middle of that Hate Week rally … or, all right, it didn’t happen quite that abruptly. Still, it’s been pretty impressive to watch. In the fifteen years since 9/11 (which isn’t that long in historical time) the Specter of Communism has been seamlessly replaced by the Specter of Islamic Terrorism, and the Cold War supplanted by the War on Terror.
Following the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, this was inevitable. Capitalism (not “America”), having vanquished, or outlived, its one and only adversary (i.e. Despotism, not “Communism” or “Socialism”), was finally free to restructure, privatize and exploit those markets it had been denied throughout the 50-year Cold War stalemate. The global capitalist ruling classes (who have no real loyalty to any nation) were now also free to start doing away with the trappings of Socialism they had maintained in the West to keep Western workers from growing dissatisfied with working their entire lives away so that the capitalist ruling classes do not have to. This Privatization of Virtually Everything, although occurring more gradually in Western Europe (apart from the busting-out of Greece, of course), has been going gangbusters in the US and UK, which are pretty much outright plutocracies at this point. As is Russia, and the former Eastern Bloc countries, and China, and most of the rest of the world.
And then there is the Middle East … which after the end of the Cold War stalemate was just sitting there, vulnerable, swimming in oil, and radiating strategic significance, and potential markets, and investment, and so on. The only little problem was those Ba’athists in Iraq and Syria, and Gaddafi, and his brand of Arab Nationalism, and those Wahhabists the US had been supporting to resist the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and everyone else who wasn’t playing ball.
So the global capitalist ruling classes needed to get in there and restructure all that, which is what we’ve been witnessing since the end of the Cold War … but that isn’t a very good official narrative.
For one thing, it’s way too complicated, and these official narratives need to be simple. Also, there wasn’t any evil adversary, which, in the story-telling biz, is a major problem. You’ve got to have an evil adversary. How else are you going to dupe the masses into sending their kids off to fight your wars, or into swarming onto the Mall in D.C., and into Times Square, waving flags and fanatically shouting “USA, USA!,” when your Seal Teams kill some terrorist bogeyman?
Fortunately, for the global capitalist ruling classes, the Islamic terrorists stepped right up and took over the role of evil adversary. There wasn’t really anyone else to do it. With the disappearance of the Communist Threat, they (i.e. global capitalist ruling classes) had lost their last external enemy. What they needed, and got, was an internal enemy, an internal enemy that can never be defeated.
Terrorism is that enemy. In our brave new unipolar age (an age in which transnational Capitalism, and not “America,” or Russia, or China, or any other nation state, dominates the entire planet and determines what is and is not “reality”), there can be no more external enemies, because there isn’t any “outside” anymore. We’re all in here together now … in our global capitalist consensus reality, which the majority of people throughout the world are doing their best to accept and conform to.
The problem with these Islamic terrorists (and with any other religious fanatics, socialist fanatics, environmentalist fanatics, and any other type of fanatical persons holding or espousing “extremist views”) is they haven’t yet accepted this “reality.” I’m having trouble doing that myself, as I assume is fairly obvious at this point. From what I understand, though, the pharmaceutical industry offers a variety of remedies for that … or maybe it would help if I made a pilgrimage back to New York to pray at the Holy Shrine of the Martyrs of September 11, and picked up one of those souvenir hats, or NYPD water bottles, and tried to forget about all this crazy consensus reality and history stuff.
(first published in CounterPunch, September 9, 2016)
DISCLAIMER: The preceding essay is entirely the work of our self-appointed political pundit and in-house satirist, CJ Hopkins, and does not reflect the views or opinions of the Consent Factory, Inc., its management, staff, or any of its agents, subsidiaries, or assigns.