When Osama bin Laden was executed on May 2, 2011, the biggest shock to the world was his abode. Contrary to popular belief, he was not holed up in a cave but living rather comfortably in a resort-like fortress. If we were shown an aerial view of his compound, and did not know that it was in the middle of Abbottabad, Pakistan, we would have probably assumed that it was a holiday villa of a rich—and slightly paranoid—businessman.
Perhaps what really shocked us was the fact that it revealed a little too clearly what September 11th was: capitalism at its purest. It was a testament to decentralization, well-organised planning, with maximum media impact. The fact that images of planes crashing into the Twin Towers were on continual re-run bears witness to the success of this event. Overnight, Al-Qaeda became a household name; and in that instant established brand monopoly over terrorism. The proof of their astounding success has been demonstrated in the ensuing decade: any act of terror against states will be promptly credited to Al-Qaeda until someone else claims responsibility; after which that said group will be linked to them. The icing on the cake is the fact that when one utters “September 11th”, there is never a need for the year; that particular day in 2001 seems to have swallowed every other year in history.
Political analysts worry that the killing of bin Laden would be a strategic error: a common argument is that in this manner, he would be turned into a martyr—which is what he always wanted. After which he would become a symbol around which the entire terror network can revolve.
This is where they have completely missed the point.
We are way past that already. Osama bin Laden had already become the master-signifier for terrorism as the planes crashed into the buildings; his spectre has since been haunting the world. Killing him makes absolutely no difference. In fact, his enemies probably profited from the fact that he was found lounging in a villa like resort: imagine the brand optimisation if we was actually found in a cave.
To compound matters, bin Laden’s killing only demonstrated how much Al-Qaeda was the epitome of a multi-national corporation. His succession was almost instantaneous: on June 16, Al-Qaeda issued a press release officially declaring Ayman al-Zawahiri its new leader. There was an echo of this in August 2011, when Steve Jobs resigned as head of Apple Inc. In fact, a paragraph from the Wall Street Journal—“Mr Jobs has developed a cult-like following among both employees and customers who hang on his every word at press conferences and vigorously defend the executive from those who might question his products”—could well have been a eulogy for bin Laden. The crucial fact is that in terms of operations, May 3, 2011, was like any other day: and this is the true test of a corporation—the ability to continue without its founder.
This is an instance of corporations echoing corpus at its finest: the King is dead, long live the King. It does not matter who is head: they are all manifestations of the same thing.
One can read the ascension of Barack Obama to the Presidency in a similar fashion. For, it is only the reactions of the Republicans on September 12th, and the resulting fall-out (a crashing economy, a country in massive debt, the alienation of the rest of the world) that could have set the stage for what would otherwise be unthinkable. In this sense, it is only the events of September 11th that led to the first black person becoming sovereign.
One could also consider the US and Al-Qaeda as competing corporations. Each time one side triumphs, the other has to respond accordingly. In this way, FOX News’ error on May 2, 2011, when they declared, “Obama bin Laden is dead”, turns out to be a perfect reading of the situation. In this game, everyone is perfectly exchangeable.
Which leads us to the final question: who is ahead in this game?
One could posit that the United States is winning: they voluntarily changed heads whist Al-Qaeda’s was literally missing his. However, Al-Qaeda seems to have taken a page out of HIV’s playbook: the best way to overcome opposition is not to directly fight it but to use its own defenses against itself.
And in this, they have no better ally than the Tea Party.
If, as George W. Bush claims, “these acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong,” he might never have expected that it is the “steel of American resolve” to defend “the foundation of America” that is turning against the US itself. For, as the Tea Party gains ground in American politics, there is no doubt that they will be pushing a rhetoric of not only ‘us against them’, but more essentially a return to the ‘spirit of America’ (the fact that this is a figure of speech would not trouble them unnecessarily, and would probably aid their case).
And what else is a return to the ‘roots’, ‘core values’, but fundamentalism?
It would, of course, be absurd to claim that when Al-Qaeda was planning the attacks of September 11th they had any inkling of the Tea Party. Neither did the United States. In fact, neither did Sarah Palin and gang. But the events of that fateful day certainly contributed to their rise: and one could even go further and posit that the Tea Party will finish what bin Laden started.
There is no phrase more apt to encapsulate this situation than the title of Palin’s memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life. For, this succinctly brings together the fact that both the alleged enemies of the US, the so called ‘rogue elements’, and the American way of life are basically the same. As Slavoj Žižek points out, the pictures of torture scenes in Abu Gharaib prison resembled many initiation rites of college fraternities: “the Iraqi prisoners were effectively initiated into American culture.” In some way, the torture of Abu Ghraib prisoners was a favour returned: the Sept 11th attacks were a welcome to globalization—a true flattening out where every, and any, country is open to attack.
Perhaps, this is why the enduring image of September 11th is that of the smoldering Twin Towers. Both Al-Qaeda and the US are mirror images of each other. It has just taken us a decade to realise that.
Here, we should allow FOX News’ error to resound; and play DJ by remixing it with the fixation with Obama’s middle name—Hussein. By replacing Saddam, the enemy has been displaced: it is now on the inside, and thus, the fear can, not only continue but even worse, disseminate. This opens another legacy of September 11th: the enemy that is within is also the one that cannot be seen—it is thus, both nowhere and quite possibly everywhere. In fact, American fundamentalism seems to have taken, or at least wants to take, on the mantle of unveiling enemies to the ‘American way of life’: if the hazing at Abu Ghraib is anything to go by, Al-Qaeda will have to sign up for fear-mongering lessons soon.
In fact, we should go all the way to the end and posit that Barack-Hussein-Osama is the perfect triumvirate. Not in some stupid conspiracy theory way; but as the axis of capital. And not just that they are exchangeable, but more grimly, that it really makes no difference at all.