Tag Archives: terrorism

The dawn of terrorism

Tributes lights over the skyline of Manhattan, New York on Memorial day 9-11-2014

I suppose in everyone’s life there are indelible moments, times you don’t want to forget, others you couldn’t forget if you tried, and others that mark monumental events in time. For me, one such was the Moon landing in 1969.

Another was the attack of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.

Last Wednesday marked the eighteenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Centre’s twin towers in New York city. It’s one of those iconic dates, referred to by Americans as 9/11 and I guess even we Australians accept that date means the eleventh of September, not the ninth of November.

In the early morning of 12th September I was listening to ABC radio while Pete was in the shower getting ready to go to work. I’d just been retrenched, so I was in no rush. And then I heard something disturbing about New York. When Pete appeared from the bathroom, I said, “Something terrible’s happened in New York.”

We turned on the TV and saw the awful vision of first one plane, then another, ploughing into the towers. Pete went to work while I tuned into the news, gathering everything I could. There’d been a third attack on the Pentagon, and a fourth attack ended in a field, heroically prevented by the passengers. When the TV died (they pick the BEST moments) I tuned into the radio and listened to the talking heads.

Over the days we got a new TV and watched the footage of the planes hitting, the dust and smoke, first one tower, then the other, collapsing with the precision of a controlled demolition. People walking down dark, crowded stairwells while the building burned above them. The fire fighters and police killed in the line of duty. And the people, trapped above the levels where the planes hit, jumping to their deaths. That’s the vision that haunts me.

Through it all, although so far away, I could feel the sense of disbelief that something like this could happen in America, of all places. Things like that happened in the Middle East, not in the West. Americans weren’t the only ones who were left shaken and perhaps prophetically, a lot more vulnerable.

People visit the memorial to the vistims of 9/11. Photo by Tobe Roberts from Pexels

Life goes on. The young people who weren’t born when the attack happened could be forgiven for not quite understanding the depth of feeling of those who remember the event. There has been endless speculation and conspiracy theories. And many people who weren’t killed or injured on the day have had to live with post-traumatic stress disorder. Many have died of diseases acquired because of the toxic dust that swept through the city. They were the most immediate effects. But looking back, I think it’s fair to say that this event marked the beginning of the overt war between the West and Islam, and the start of terrorism, to which we have become all too familiar.

I appreciate the first shots were fired much earlier, when Saddam Hussein tested the metal of the West by invading Kuwait. Although that battle was won, it left lingering resentment, and that, I believe, led to the attack on New York. That in turn gave George W. Bush the excuse to finish the war against Saddam Hussein which his father had started when freeing Kuwait. The result of ousting Saddam has been on-going instability in that region which Western powers cannot ‘fix’.

9 11 was also when the war in Afghanistan started, to root out the terrorist group Al Qaeda, deemed responsible for the attack on New York. The war in Afghanistan has continued since that time, beginning to rival some of the medieval European wars – the Hundred Years War between France and England, and the Thirty Years War both come to mind. Again, the West can’t ‘fix’ Afghanistan. You can’t force democracy on people. By definition, really. “Government by the people”[1] only works when the ‘people’ have a commitment to making it work. And where the powerful elites, especially the military, are also committed to making it work.

That kind of segues neatly into the recent death of Robert Mugabe, dictator of Zimbabwe. He came to power in 1980 after a protracted war with Ian Smith’s majority white government. At the time the then Rhodesia was a jewel in the African crown, a prosperous, well-run nation. It was understandable that Mugabe and other black leaders like Joshua Nkomo wanted to see their own people share that wealth, so they encouraged buy-outs by blacks of white farms. But soon enough the policy turned to eviction of white farmers, who left the country in droves. It wasn’t just the whites, though. Like so many African countries, Zimbabwe was beset with tribal conflicts. Political leaders were attacked. Here’s an example. In a public statement Mugabe said, “ZAPU and its leader, Dr. Joshua Nkomo, are like a cobra in a house. The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head.” He unleashed the Fifth Brigade upon Nkomo’s Matabeleland homeland in Operation Gukurahundi, killing up to 20,000 Ndebele civilians in an attempt to destroy ZAPU and create a one-party state. Nkomo fled the country.” [2]

Since those times Zimbabwe has become a basket case, with soaring inflation, starvation, and general unrest suppressed by Mugabe’s military. In contrast, Mugabe lived in luxury, in a twenty-five bedroom mansion, as shown in this article. Mugabe comes across as a man who was obsessed with power and keeping it. It’s just a shame that his ousting and death won’t make any difference.

Extremism seems to be here to stay

White supremacists clash with police
By Evan Nesterak – White supremacists clash with police, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61723994

I’m still shaking my head over marches in Charlottesville where one of the white supremacist thugs ran down the crowd in a car, killing one woman. That dead woman, taking part in an anti-racist protest, was not only killed, the Nazis vilified her on social media. I will not put a link to any entries. I don’t want to encourage any publicity for these despicable people. They are just as evil as the Islamist fundamentalists. Don’t forget the young Nazi who went into a church and murdered nine black people.  That’s up there with the young Muslim who blew up innocents in Manchester. And now just yesterday, sixteen people were killed in another deliberate vehicle attack in Barcelona.

Many of us older people are wondering what happened after 2000? Everything seemed to be going so smoothly in the world, and then the wheels fell off. I think the answer has two arcs. The first is about the haves – the wealthy 1% who own more than the rest of the world combined, and the people in power wanting to return to the glory days of the past. And the second is about the forgotten people, those who can’t make ends meet, who find themselves without prospects, without hope.

History happens in cycles. I’d love to think we humans might learn from history, but we don’t. In 1920-30’s Europe,  Germans, resentful of their treatment at the end of the War to End All Wars (huh), looked around for someone to blame for the crippling debt and unemployment. A fellow called Hitler came along and told them it wasn’t their fault at all. It was those mongrel Jews. Germans were the Chosen Folk, blond-haired, blue-eyed Supermen, better than everybody else.

Over in the East, Stalin eyed the goings-on and decided to sign a treaty with Hitler, thereby giving him a chance to expand into Poland and Finland. Mussolini was anxious to emulate the Roman Empire and was happy to solicit help from the Germans. The US stood aloof. None of it was their business. China was something you bought for your dinner service – but Japan was rattling its swords, looking to expand its Empire.

And the West – particularly France and the UK – did nothing, hoping Hitler would cease his demands. As we all ought to know, he didn’t. Thus started a war that ended in a shattered, exhausted Europe divided between the Soviets and the West, and a flattened Asia – especially Japan. The world was shocked by death camps in Europe and across Asia. The UN was formed so that it wouldn’t happen again.

Now? The UN has outlived its usefulness. The security council is impotent because the five permanent members (Russia, the USA, UK, France, China) have the power of veto. We’ve seen veto exercised in resolutions regarding the situation in Syria. That fight goes on. The UN has become a pasture for retired politicians to keep living in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

We have a resurgent China making territorial demands in the South Pacific, which reminds me so much of Hitler’s demands for return of ‘German’ lands in Austria and Czechoslovakia in the 1930’s. The latter was the catalyst for the 1938 crisis where Europe teetered on the brink of war. I’m quite sure Xi Jingping is enjoying watching Kim Jong Un’s taunts at America. I can’t see him doing anything to stop that conflict any time soon.

We have a resurgent Russia with a leader who appears to be aspiring to the glory days of the USSR. Putin has already annexed Crimea, virtually annexed Georgia, and half of Ukraine. It seems Belarus is next on the agenda, and Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania are watching with concern. And all this is happening while North Korea provides covering fire.

Around the world disaffected young (mainly) men are finding themselves marginalised, jobless, and hopeless. So they turn to extremism. Islam has its fundamental Daesh cult, the Taliban, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda. Several of these groups are alive and well in the Muslim communities in Europe, and they have adherents in Australia. On the other side, Nazism and other white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan have risen from the ashes. The Islamist cults promise death to everybody who isn’t them. And the white supremacists promise death to anybody who (er) isn’t them. That’s blacks, Jews, gays, transgender people, Gypsies. For both groups women are chattels, nothing more than baby factories. Fuelled by hatred, they kill people they don’t know, and often themselves as well. I wonder if any of them really know why they’re doing this, what they hope to achieve? I ask myself that question every time I hear of a new atrocity. Why? Even more to the point, why do we try to find excuses for these people? Nazis running people down is every bit as much an act of terrorism as Islamists doing so. Man Monis declared his siege at the Lindt cafe to be for Islam. Why should we argue with him?

I’m one of the Baby Boomer generation, born in the good times after WW2. Because of the devastation of that war, we had jobs and opportunities. And as I grew up, a lot of the old prejudices of the past were slowly dismantled. Women were allowed to keep their jobs if they married. The contraceptive pill was a huge advance for women, allowing them to avoid unwanted pregnancy. In Australia, aboriginal people were given the right to vote (in a referendum where 90% of eligible voters said ‘yes’). In America, black people won freedoms even in the South. In Africa, apartheid ended. Now, the factions of the right are clawing back power. The Republicans in America have frighteningly conservative Christian policies which marginalise LGBTI people and erode the rights of women. Their policies in health care favour the people who don’t need it (rich) and make it beyond the reach of people who do. I wouldn’t want to be sick in America. Closer to home, owning a house in Australia is becoming beyond the reach of most young people. Indonesia and Malaysia, our closest neighbours, are turning increasingly to conservative Islam and Sharia law.

I’m watching what’s happening around the world with dismay. It’s like the interregnum between WW1 and WW2 all over again. The world’s divided into armed camps, while down on the ground disaffected extremist groups scuttle around, killing everybody else. We used to be able to turn up at the airport and walk into the plane just before the gates closed. Now we turn up two to three hours before to endure a security check. I don’t begrudge the process. Once you have nutters prepared to bring down several hundred innocent people simply living their lives for the sake of a belief, this sort of thing is essential. In so many respects the terrorists have already won.

Still and all, the world remains a beautiful place.

The full moon rises above the sea

A Brahmani kite at dawn

The full moon in cloud. So atmospheric.

Lake Geneva with swan