For many Americans, comfortably situated at the heart of the empire, September 11th was a rude awakening, and not just in the most obvious way; to those who took the time to really consider the harrowing events of that day ten years ago, that panicked scene of death and destruction added shades of grey to their worldviews, their ideas about the United States’ role in the global landscape.
Before that day, it was at least easier to see the “Land of the Free” as a force for good, spreading democracy and offering an example in freedom and openness for those backward lands in the “undeveloped” world. And for all too many, 9/11 confirmed the “America as beacon of hope” narrative so exuberantly nurtured by the political class and their mouthpieces in the corporate media.
Another, far smaller group, however, perhaps more pensive than their counterparts, saw something striking — and unnerving — in the smoldering rubble and piles of corpses. For them, although the barbarous, sadistic terrorists were “bad guys” of the first order, that didn’t seem to mean that the U.S. was a “good guy.”
For them, there were no “good guys,” no knights in shining armor, just competing malefactors whose misdeeds were aggregating to make life miserable for the rest of us. Instead of the random, unprovoked onslaught that the attacks seemed to be to so many, a few saw them as — while altogether a moral atrocity — very much a consequence of something we as Americans aren’t supposed to be aware of.
We’re supposed to think of the spread of democracy and global capitalism as good things, and of the United States as a righteous instrument in their service. And assuming that the versions of democracy and global capitalism advanced by the United States matched the pretty and elaborate PR campaigns in their favor, they would be good things.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when the unapologetic quest for empire was itself a thing to be revered, when even the word “empire” was openly, shamelessly embraced. The British, for example, would boast that the sun never set on their empire, and the addition of new colonies was a source of pride.
Today, though, since “colonialism” and “imperialism” are terms employed by statesmen only in a negative treatment, their substance is packaged in new, more innocuous language. Thus has globalization taken the place of colonization.
Because global economic interconnectedness has so successfully been wrapped in the phraseology of free enterprise, it’s easy to overlook how completely it relies on coercive state intervention. Indeed, the corporate economic model that now obtains throughout the world is completely dependent upon and inextricable from robust military imperialism.
However unjustified, however unwarranted they were, the attacks of September 11th were a direct result of the equally unwarranted — but far more widespread — violence inflicted on the Arab world by the United States. For long, nightmarish years before the talking heads ever bleated of “radical Islam” or “the terrorist threat,” areas from Turkey to Kuwait and beyond were dotted with American military bases.
The people who lived in these regions saw themselves as occupied by a foreign power, and accurately so. They saw the quid pro quo relationships — exchanging billions in military aid for access and influence — as crippling to their sovereignty and independence. They saw the meddling and the bloodshed and understood something about the American Empire that patriotism and nationalism too often blind Americans themselves to.
Still, rather than assessing the deplorable mass-murder of September 11th as an opportunity for genuine reflection and critical analysis, the political class tricked Americans into an even more pronounced jingoism. After the unspeakable horror of that day, the prevailing attitudes made discussing the causal link between imperialism and terrorism verboten.
As Glenn Greenwald rightly observes, the post-9/11 “mentality … is perfectly designed (even if unintentionally) to ensure that Terrorist attacks on the U.S. not only continue but escalate forever.” September 11th, then, has provided the Washington ruling class with the ideal tool for perpetuating war without end.
Market anarchists are not apologists for terrorism. Quite the opposite, by subjecting the state to the same moral scrutiny as the 9/11 hijackers, we find the United States too to be a terrorist organization, standing against peaceful trade and cooperation.
The great majority of people around the world are caught between various instances of arbitrary coercion. All states are, like Al Qaeda is, fundamentally criminal. Market anarchism is another option, one that maintains the undesirability and immorality of the state’s monopoly on violence. This 9/11, it’s worth remembering that the state is institutionalized terrorism, the very thing it professes to fight.