Mary L. Dudziak – September 11 in History

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Mary L. Dudziak ed., September 11 in History, Duke Univ. Press, 2003.

This book begins from the assumption that the tragic event of September 11, 2001 was a watershed moment in US and world history. It focuses on the transformative power of September 11 from various perspectives: from the discursive analysis of the US ideologies to the demand for Muslim intellectual’s change. Since it was striking enough for the US citizen and the whole world to feel the sense of a sudden change in their everyday lives and political economic (material) basis as well, it seems to me that no one can deny the transformative power of September 11.

 However, while “the initial response of most commentators to September 11 was that we had witnessed a historical watershed,” Marilyn Young seems to point out that there is something unchangeable in US foreign policies, that is, ultimate desire to expand its power as global police — “Neither compassion nor spiritual renewal occurred”(11). As always already America have been fed by every kind of crisis as its fuel to maintain and expand its power, this situation of the first grand-scale attack from foreign force in time of peace generated the result of providing a chance for the US to declare war on terror, which came in effect to Invasion of Iraq. Thus, according to Young, “September 11 did not change the world; but it has enabled the Bush administration to pursue, with less opposition and greater violence, policies that might otherwise have appeared too aggressive”(18). In the end, while criticizing the US as a “universal and exceptional” empire, she is warning seriously its unteachability: “The hard unteachability of this administration is fearful. It seems unlikely its ambition can be fulfilled, but it is certain that the cost of either success or failure would be terrible”(27).

  Amy Kaplan is interested in tracing the history of three terms which appeared whether metaphorically or literally and got new meanings in public discourse and language: “ground zero,” “homeland” and “Guantanamo Bay.” “Ground zero” implies that the world (the US) was radically changed by September 11 and that “the world will never be the same”(56). And it seems to erase the historical memory of nuclear bombs and appropriate enemy’s horrible experience and memory. Considering that the term “homeland” has been enemies’ language (German fascist’s fatherland and Russian communist’s motherland), it was also appropriated into the official rhetoric of the US after 9/11 in order to evoke American nationalism. “Guantanamo” might be the strangest space ever existed in the world, “leaving it hovering in a realm that is neither domestic nor foreign” (66). According to Kaplan, all these three terms are “uncanny” since they are “haunted by all the unfamiliar yet strangely familiar foreign specters that threaten to turn it into its opposite” (63).

  While the previous scholars focus on the critical reflections on the problems of America after the event, one of the leading thinkers in Islamic law in the US, Khaled Abou El Fadl concentrates upon the problem of Muslims, because the attacks of 9/11 “ought to serve as powerful warning to Muslims and non-Muslims alike”(72). He seems to find sort of “modernistic nihilism” in Bin Laden’s attempt to change the power structure of the world and tends to demand Muslims’ reflection on the event and reinvention of the Islamic tradition. Although bin Laden’s violence to the West by itself will not change Islamic tradition, “Muslims are forced to deal with the reality” and “the role of Muslim intellectuals is to engage the various precedents set in the name of Islam and to negotiate the meaning of their religion” (78). In consequence, can we conclude from his arguments that bin Laden’s attacks on the West will not change the attitude of the West toward Muslims, but call on Islam’s fundamental transformation? 

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