9/11: the anniversary and the conspiracy theories

This week is the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, if anyone hasn’t been listening to the news or watching the calendar. It’s fair to say that the day was a watershed; it has been said that the sixties ended not on the first day of 1970 but on the day in August 1969 Charles Manson’s “family” carried out their mass murders, and brought a bad reputation onto the counterculture of San Fransisco where they were based. Similarly the nineties could be said to have ended, if not with the election of George W Bush, then certainly with 9/11. The incident legitimised one of the most unpopular presidents in US political history and led to the tearing-up of post-Cold War foreign policies, notably the policy of “containment” in Iraq.

Tariq Nelson, blogging last Sunday, called Sept 10 the “the last day of normal life”:

The economy, though slowing down, was pretty good and life was (relatively speaking) pretty care free. At the very least much more light hearted. Many Muslims and Muslim organizations even supported Bush in the 2000 elections.

We went from little to no major news to so many people being killed on a daily basis that it is not even ‘news’ worthy anymore. I mean, over 1,500 people were killed in Iraq last month alone. This report says that over 62,000 people have been killed since 9/11/01.

The 1990s were a bit of a rollercoaster for me personally - the first three and a half years dominated by a miserable experience of boarding school, the middle period (1993 to 1998) at college and then university, enjoying the freedom but also battling chronic fatigue and depression, and then my conversion to Islam in July 1998 which opened up a lot of new avenues for me. They were also the years when the bitterly divided politics of the 1980s began to fade into the past, with New Labour gaining control of the Labour party and then the Government - I was at the conference in Blackpool in 1996 when New Labour’s student organisation “persuaded” the National Union of Students to drop its unrealistic demand for a return to pre-Thatcher levels of support for degree students; Labour announced days later that they intended not only not to bring back grants, but to introduce tuition fees.

Still, those of us who came of age in the 1990s and remember it as the time of “Madchester”, Blur versus Oasis, Automatic for the People and all the rest should remember that in some parts of the world the foreign policies of the 1990s were causing misery, notably in Iraq. Don’t we all remember the sanctions, which did nothing to weaken the Iraqi dictatorship but instead impoverished the people, destroying its near First World health and education systems and leaving it ill-equipped to deal with the horrific cancers and birth defects our governments insist weren’t caused by the depleted uranium munitions they’d used in the first Gulf War. It was also the age of the terrible Algerian civil war and the stop-start Palestinian peace process, as well as escalating violence from Arab “Afghans” outraged at the US presence in Saudi Arabia. People may look back fondly on that period as the “golden age” when we no longer had to worry about a Soviet threat and before the “War on Terror” made the world dangerous again, but for a lot of people the world really was a dangerous place.

A lot of Muslims out there now have grown rather impatient with people who believe conspiracy theories about 9/11, as we have seen on various blogs (like this one) and on DeenPort. This is something of a change from the climate in the years following the incident, during which a lot of the Muslims I met censured me for believing that the towers really were rammed with hijacked airliners and not sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic while remote-controlled planes were sent to do the dirty work. I had someone tell me that it’s “part of iman (faith) not to believe what the kuffar say about Muslims”. To be honest, I’ve always believed I know western civilisation better than some of them, who grew up in Egypt, and I have a more nuanced view of it. I have never believed that people would have continued to believe that the Holocaust was real, with nobody without an axe to grind challenging it, if it really had been a hoax. And I was never receptive to the “controlled explosions” or “remote-controlled planes” theories.

Fareena Alam posted a link to an article by Alexander Cockburn at Counterpunch about how the “Conspiracy Nuts” let the real culprits off the hook. The chief arguments are that the “no-planers” give the notoriously incompetent officials they implicate too much credit, and that such a conspiracy would require the collaboration of an awful lot of people who would have had to keep their mouths shut for all this time since. The fact about demolition with controlled explosions is that, before the buildings are brought down, they are gutted of all their fixtures and fittings; only the bare shell remains to be brought down by the explosive. It’s unimaginable that people would have been found willing to plant explosive charges before all this had been done. There may well be those willing to hatch such a plan, but they would surely not have the knowledge necessary to bring the building down cleanly. And stories would have circulated about people who sought knowledge about demolition but were only interested in the bit about explosives - much as the stories came out about people wanting to know how to fly, but not how to take off or land a plane.

I was more receptive to the theory that the hijackers were dupes, thinking they were working for al-Qa’ida but actually working for someone else, who may or may not have been an intelligence agency. That would have required the participation, and silence, of far fewer people. While I am less convinced of that now, the fact remains that we were under a lot of pressure to simply believe the government story - that it was Muslim terrorists working for Osama bin Laden - before much proof had emerged. I saw one blog article, posted to DeenPort and touted as an “equally brilliant piece” (to Cockburn’s), which includes this bit of circular reasoning:

That the White House balked at any inquiry into the events of 9/11, then starved it of funds and stonewalled it, was unfortunate, but since the commission didn’t find for conspiracy it’s all a non issue anyway.

OK, so the commission which may not have got to the bottom of the matter “didn’t find for conspiracy” after having been stonewalled and starved of funds … so that makes it a non-issue. This smacks of the same mentality of many of those Muslims who refuse to believe that their fellow Muslims might do such a thing. “This is the United States we’re talking about,” he reassures us. BCCI, the P2 Masonic scandal and Iran-Contra were a long time ago. Everything is just coincidence. While this may be true (and remember, agglomerations of may-have-beens don’t amount to positive proof), I suspect that there are a lot of Bush fanboys who would believe this even if the evidence for a conspiracy were stronger than it actually is. It reflects badly on their leader (and the author takes the word of these politicians at face value), much as the involvement of some Muslims involvement in terrorism reflects badly on us and is used to justify violence against us in some places. Pardon us for not believing your version of events until we actually see some proof.

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