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Saturday, September 15, 2001

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Opinion | Prev


Passing of an era

Ranabir Ray Choudhury

ON THE day the massive -- and elegant -- World Trade Centre in New York was destroyed by terrorist activity, the EU External Relations Commissioner, Mr Chris Patten, made a pithy comment which seems to sum up in its entirety the impact of the event on th e course of world history. Among other things, he said: ``This is one of those few days in life that one can actually say will change everything''.

First, the magnitude of the event must be considered before one can assess the true value of Mr Patten's comment. Without doubt, (again quoting Mr Patten) the attack against US interests was ``the worst... since Pearl Harbour''. If it is remembered that the December 7, 1941 event led to direct US involvement in the Second World War and what that participation meant for the ultimate resolution of the conflict, the sheer magnitude of the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11 becomes quite clear . In a sense, it can be said that ``everything'' changed for the world on December 7, 1941, which, in fact, was proved beyond doubt not only by the course of the War after the event but also by the course of international relations till about the early 1 990s.

The fundamental question is: has the American era in world history ended, the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York by a determined band of terrorists being the symbolic termination of that era? Indeed, the very choice of targets by whoever m asterminded the attack (the high degree of planning and coordination has been acknowledged by everyone, not least by agencies in the US like the FBI and the CIA) appears to have been done with the objective of telling the world that US military and econo mic domination of the world was on it way out, if it has not ended already. The World Trade Centre symbolised America's economic might while, as everyone knows, the Pentagon reflected US military power, which has been so much in evidence since Korea righ t through to Iraq.

This is, of course, a debatable point, the debate being, understandably, vitiated by the play of vested interests on both sides of the divide. But the fact remains that, unlike in the case of Pearl Harbour, the US and the civilised world is up against an enemy which cannot be clearly identified and which is at the beck and call of all those who will not hesitate to blow up the world to serve their own interests (which is a bit nonsensical anyway).

This, in fact, is the kernel of the view that ``everything has changed'' since September 11. The American era was marked by clearly identifiable protagonists. Today, while the conventional view still holds good generally speaking (although the specific p layers have changed), the destruction of something as important and seemingly impregnable as the World Trade Centre suggests that there is a different sort of enemy at large whose forte is stealth and the ability to cover its tracks to the extent that (t o start with) no one really knows where it lives and grows, that is, if it does not live and grow everywhere.

Just now, retribution is in the air, which is not unusual in the least because every act of this sort must be met with a powerful response which will at least serve the purpose of making even fanatics (which the ``enemy'' certainly is) realise that the s taging of every act of sabotage will be more difficult than the previous one. The problem is that, since the enemy is elusive, the pattern and scale of retribution may in fact generate even more opposition to (in this case) the US. Who knows, this may be one of the things the ``enemy'' is waiting for.

Related links:
Face-to-face with terror
The politics of terrorism

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