The World Now
Mark Christensen

Many questions have been asked in the light of the recent tragic events in the United States. What is the damage, what are the financial implications, how are we coping, could it have been avoided and, of course, who is responsible? But surely the most important question - and the one that should be answered before responding - is why?

In Australia, we have already experienced, to varying degrees, the day-to-day impacts of efforts designed to stop this happening again. At work, I am now expected to bear my ID card at all times, even though we all sense that it will achieve little towards the implied objective of making the World more secure. The security personnel now spend more time focussing on the cards than screening the people who enter the building.

The imposition of ineffective responses to our current challenges is now near universal. Be it drugs, crime, unemployment or youth suicide, there is a clear favouring of one-dimensional answers, which we intuitively know won't solve the problem. In the US at the moment, we have the emotive responses of jealousy, the convenience of religion and the propaganda of "pure evil" and "infinite justice". If we are to ever discover why, however, we have to understand the similarities - rather than the differences - between "us" and "them".

A common theme linked to the recent events in the US is freedom, what it means to be free and control. I think it is fair to assume that the plane hijackers were angry. Further, it is probable that a major motivating factor for them was a view that the US Government is constantly seeking to control and manipulate the affairs of others. It is thus ironic that the aggression displayed by so many Americans to what happened in New York and Washington is founded in the exact same fear. In principle, the force behind the martyrdom of the suicide bombers is no different to that motivating a patriotic response of defiance or a call-to-arms. Both are about taking refuge in the presence of an enemy, expending effort in planning their demise and attaching to the drama that this brings.

It is this need for an enemy that prevents us from revealing the truth of why this happened. The answer remains unstated because it is founded in fear itself.

Americans are strident in their defence of freedom. This begs the question of what is being given and taken, who "owns" it and what is actually being defended. The US President, Mr Bush, suggests that the national spirit is stronger than the buildings that were destroyed by the hijackers. American anger suggests otherwise. People are scared. They feel as though something has been taken away and want it replaced with more of the same.

Freedom for the US is becoming increasingly bittersweet. It cannot free itself from the need to be free. Its self-promotion as the saviour of the free World and of being blessed by God, weighs heavy on its people. As a means of coping, America has immersed itself in material substitutes and symbols of freedom - the flag, its constitution and its buildings. It is convinced that over-coming the enemy is the path to freedom. If the stock market holds-up, if we can re-build the World Trade Centre, if we can take the life of those responsible, then we will have proven our freedom to the World. All the while passing over the question of its own entrapment.

The real tragedy in all this, however, is that the enemy we need prevents us from seeing our own duplicity. Men the World-over are tacitly supporting a continuation of terror - be that hijacking planes, abusing women or driving a car - by not admitting to our fears and over-coming our dependencies. We claim to want a safer World. We promote anything but. We realise the cost of terrorism, but won't stop it happening as it allows us to unite against a common enemy and thus momentarily leave behind our own individual struggle for freedom; a freedom that is beyond the grasp of others. The drama we manufacture temporarily makes us strong enough to set aside the barriers that prevent the connection we all really crave. Things are as they should be between people (provided you are with "us"). There is trust, goodwill and a sense of perspective. But the connection is ephemeral and our strength falls away along with the mayhem. We are shunted back out of the moment and into an anxious life centred on material wealth; left waiting for the next shock of terror.

If we want to make the events of 11 September 2001 our epiphany, men must find their own answer and live it - not talk or write about its self-evidence or attempt to impose it upon another. We have to individually break the cycle of violence and retaliation, by each accepting that we have created it as a means of feeding the fears of an enemy we need to have to distract us from confronting our own insecurities. As with freedom, the true strength of a man is not something that can be given or taken. Only he can take control of the "terrorist" within himself, and realise that it is his potential to be destructive that makes him strong; it is weakness that leads him to destroy.

All this suggests that the last thing we should be doing for the United States is to burden it further with precipitate offers of antipodean patriotism. Australia is better placed than most to be a true friend by helping America see the idleness of its with-us-or-against-us proposition. Our self-deprecation and fragile confidence mean we are more likely to focus on what is common between people. Australian mateship could be the foundation of a realisation that it is not really a matter of good or bad men, just men and their fears.

But our greatest fortune is our partially preserved sense of irony, albeit laced with sarcasm. With this, we at least have the prospect of concluding that to change the World one must first accept that one has no control over it.

If you want to donate, go to
Red Cross
------------------------------- home