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Investigating Tragedy

In the wake of the September 11 attacks and the responses they have instigated, we tried to read and learn as much as possible about the events that occurred and what they caused: herein are links to the information we found helpful.

In the wake of the September 11 attacks and the responses they have instigated, we have tried to read and learn as much as possible about the events that occurred and what they have caused: this feature contains links to the information that we have found helpful. We do not agree nor do we disagree with any opinions contained within these links, nor have we assigned our fact-checkers to scan for fallacies. We don’t have any fact-checkers.

This feature is a work-in-progress. We will update it as we learn more. We would like to thank the websites, newspapers, television programs, and individuals who have helped us find this information. The victims of this tragedy are in our thoughts.

Art During War

‘Auden on Bin Laden’
Eric McHenry | 09/20/01 |

Tragedy sends people to poetry. ‘Suffering is exact,’ Philip Larkin wrote, but the vocabulary of consolation is loaded with abstraction and cliché, as anyone who has tried to write a sympathy note in the past week knows. Naturally, there’s a certain comfort in pillowy, familiar phrases—’This too shall pass,’ ‘Our hearts are with you’—but living through a day like Sept. 11, and listening to all the subsequent cant from public figures and TV personalities, can leave people craving language that’s as precise as their pain.

‘Debating Design’
Monica Moses | 09/18/01 | The Poynter Institute

Across the country, however, there was lots of consensus about headlines and images: They needed to be big to tell the shocking story of the terrorist attacks. ‘Even the most diehard ‘word’ people felt that pictures, graphics, and display typography could tell the story with more impact than a lot of narrative,’ for Wednesday’s paper, said executive news editor Jeff Glick of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

‘Writing in the Dark’
Rick Moody | 09/18/01 | Salon

I was in a room full of writers, too, during the night when the Iraqis began raining Scud missiles on Tel Aviv, and I learned then that writers react to calamity just like everyone else, except that they are a little quieter. On Tuesday, during the Attack, it took a while for the writers to begin to inquire into these webs of narrative that are our diagram of calamity, our strategy for survival: How did the hijackers get the knives onto the plane? Did they use or other online services in order to select the flights they’d use? If this was such a large-scale operation, why did it require no more than knives and watches? Was the plane in Pennsylvania shot down? What’s the insurance angle on all this? What were the exact contents of the white clouds of the WTC building collapses: sheet rock? Plaster? Asbestos? Paper? Who were the lost and how did they live?


‘Penetrating Terrorist Networks’
David Ignatius | 09/16/01 | The Washington Post

To understand the challenge facing America’s spymasters in coming months, it’s useful to recall the CIA’s most successful operation ever against terrorists—its penetration of the Palestine Liberation Organization during the 1970s.

‘Commission Warned Bush’
Jake Tapper | 09/12/01 | Salon

In its Jan. 31 report, seven Democrats and seven Republicans unanimously approved 50 recommendations. Many of them addressed the point that, in the words of the commission’s executive summary, ‘the combination of unconventional weapons proliferation with the persistence of international terrorism will end the relative invulnerability of the U.S. homeland to catastrophic attack.’

‘The Lessons of Blowback’
Chalmers Johnson | 09/30/01 | Los Angeles Times

The overreaction doesn’t necessarily have to alienate only domestic ‘masses.’ If we inflict great misery on innocent people in the Middle East, there will almost certainly be what the CIA refers to as ‘blowback’—unintended negative consequences of our actions. Vacillating supporters of the terrorists might be drawn into committing terrorist acts. Moderate governments throughout the Islamic world, especially in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, would almost certainly face growing internal dissent and could even be overthrown. Perhaps the prime example of terrorism succeeding is the Philippeville massacre of Aug. 20, 1955, in which Algerian revolutionaries killed 123 French colonials. A conscious act of terrorism carried out by revolutionaries who until then had enjoyed only slight popular backing, the Philippeville massacre led to a massive and bloody retaliation by the French. It also converted a leading French reformer (Jacques Soustelle, then governor-general of Algeria) into an advocate of suppression. The French crackdown eliminated most of the moderates on the Muslim side and caused influential French citizens back home to turn against their country’s policies. This chain of events ultimately provoked a French army mutiny, brought Gen. Charles de Gaulle back to power as the savior of the nation and caused a French withdrawal from Algeria. Franco-Algerian relations are still strained today.

Israel and Palestine

‘Palestinians under Siege’
Edward Said | 12/14/00 | London Review of Books

‘Normal life,’ such as it was, for Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip is now impossible. Even the three hundred or so Palestinians allowed freedom of movement and other VIP privileges under the terms of the peace process have now lost these advantages, and like the rest of the three million or so people who endure the double burden of life under the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli occupation regime—to say nothing of the brutality of thousands of Israeli settlers, some of whom act as vigilantes terrorising Palestinian villages and large towns like Hebron—they are subject to the closures, encirclements and barricaded roads that have made movement impossible.

Bin Laden

‘Hunting Bin Laden’

Osama bin Laden is charged with masterminding the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, is believed to have had a role in the October 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, and now is a chief suspect in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. In FRONTLINE’s ‘Hunting bin Laden,’ a Pulitzer Prize-nominated team of New York Times reporters and FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman investigates the man who has declared holy war on the U.S.—a wealthy Saudi Arabian exile believed to be hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan with a $5 million bounty on his head.


‘Across the Divide’
William T. Vollmann | 05/15/00 | The New Yorker

In Afghanistan’s deserts, plains, and valleys live many ethnic groups—the Pashtuns, the Tajiks, the Hazaras, and others—who greet strangers with a welcoming hand on their hearts and devote themselves with equal zeal to blood feuds. The mountains stand sentinel between them, and each group tends to keep to itself. Thanks to Islam, each sex likewise keeps itself apart from the other. So Afghans live both separately and inwardly, whether they sleep in tents or wall themselves away in fortresses of baked mud.

‘The Soviet War in Afghanistan: History and Harbinger of Future War?’
General (Ret) Mohammad Yahya Nawroz, Army of Afghanistan & LTC (Ret) Lester W. Grau, U.S. Army

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a repeat of their invasion of Czechoslovakia. For months after the invasion, hardly a political or military expert in the world doubted that Afghanistan was now forever incorporated as a part of the Soviet Empire and that nothing short of a large-scale global war could alter the status quo. And global war was most unlikely as both super powers intended to avoid it.

‘Amnesty International Annual Report 2000: Afghanistan’
Amnesty International

Human rights abuses by the warring factions against members of rival ethnic groups occurred throughout 1999. Taleban forces burned homes, destroyed orchards, wheat fields and irrigation systems and forcibly displaced more than 100,000 mainly Tajik people.

‘An Afghan-American Speaks’
Tamim Ansary | 09/14/01 | Salon

The Taliban and bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They’re not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think bin Laden, think Hitler.

Opinions: America and War

‘The algebra of infinite justice’
Arundhati Roy | 09/29/01 | The Guardian

But who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase that. What is Osama bin Laden? He’s America’s family secret. He is the American president’s dark doppelgÉnger. The savage twin of all that purports to be beautiful and civilised. He has been sculpted from the spare rib of a world laid to waste by America’s foreign policy: its gunboat diplomacy, its nuclear arsenal, its vulgarly stated policy of ‘full-spectrum dominance,’ its chilling disregard for non-American lives, its barbarous military interventions, its support for despotic and dictatorial regimes, its merciless economic agenda that has munched through the economies of poor countries like a cloud of locusts. Its marauding multinationals who are taking over the air we breathe, the ground we stand on, the water we drink, the thoughts we think. Now that the family secret has been spilled, the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable. Their guns, bombs, money and drugs have been going around in the loop for a while. (The Stinger missiles that will greet U.S. helicopters were supplied by the CIA. The heroin used by America’s drug addicts comes from Afghanistan. The Bush administration recently gave Afghanistan a $43m subsidy for a ‘war on drugs.’…)

‘Them Against Fire’
Ambrose Beers | 10/30/00 | Suck

War is politics by other means, and terrorism is nothing more interesting than war by other means; it falls at a different point on the same line that everybody else walks. It wasn’t an accident that Osama bin Laden called CNN and let them know that he was formally declaring war on the United States.

‘The bloody Jordan river now flows through America’
Gary Kamiya | 09/17/01 | Salon

It is difficult for Americans, thousands of miles away from a conflict for which they feel no responsibility, to realize how people in the Middle East—indeed, in much of the Third World—view us. For many, perhaps most Arabs—including those in the moderate states, as well as that vast majority of the Arab world that is well disposed to the American people—America is virtually indistinguishable from Israel. The bitter joke in the region is that Israel isn’t a client state of the United States—the United States is a client state of Israel.

‘Judgment Day in Mystery Babylon?’
Anthony C. LoBaido | 09/13/01 | WorldNetDaily

So are we all innocent here in New York? Are we innocent with our porno, drugs, filthy Jay Leno monologues, our idolatry, materialism and consumerism? Innocent when Republican Gov. George Pataki stands next to the blood-stained dictator of Communist China as he rings the opening bell for the stock market on Wall Street?

‘Cut The Flag-Waving’
Michael Goldberg | 09/14/01 | Neumu

We, the United States, are not always good. In fact, we have done some very evil things too. Slavery was evil. Placing Japanese-Americans in camps following the bombing of Pearl Harbor was evil. Our Iran-Contra dealings under Ronald Reagan were evil. Our support of dictators who serve our ends is evil.

‘They can’t see why they are hated’
Seamas Milne | 09/13/01 | The Guardian

Shock, rage and grief there has been aplenty. But any glimmer of recognition of why people might have been driven to carry out such atrocities, sacrificing their own lives in the process—or why the United States is hated with such bitterness, not only in Arab and Muslim countries, but across the developing world—seems almost entirely absent. Perhaps it is too much to hope that, as rescue workers struggle to pull firefighters from the rubble, any but a small minority might make the connection between what has been visited upon them and what their government has visited upon large parts of the world.

‘Self-critical foreign policies could enhance our security’
James Ron | 09/24/01 | The Baltimore Sun

North Americans ignored Iraq’s civilian suffering, but the Arab world watched with horror—similar to our feelings for the Sept. 11 attacks, but in slow motion, over many years. Some also recalled America’s early support for Iraq in the 1980s, when that country conducted genocide against its northern Kurds.

‘How can the U.S. bomb this tragic people?’
Robert Fisk | 09/23/01 | Independent

Instead of helping Afghanistan, instead of pouring our aid into that country 10 years ago, rebuilding its cities and culture and creating a new political centre that would go beyond tribalism, we left it to rot. Sarajevo would be rebuilt. Not Kabul. Democracy, of a kind, could be set up in Bosnia. Not in Afghanistan. Schools could be reopened in Tuzla and Travnik. Not in Jaladabad. When the Taliban arrived, stringing up every opponent, chopping off the arms of thieves, stoning women for adultery, the United States regarded this dreadful outfit as a force for stability after the years of anarchy.

‘Include Afghans in Fight Against Taliban’
Ahmed Rashid | 09/23/01 | Los Angeles Times

Americans, angry at the mounting casualties caused by the attacks on New York and Washington, want instant and overwhelming retaliation against the terrorists. They may also be angry at the enormous wave of anti-Americanism now sweeping through the Muslim world. That can only change if the American people insist that their government remain engaged in the region to build a real peace in Afghanistan, which would put the United States on the side of the people who now protest its very existence.

Interview: Noam Chomsky on the September 11th Attacks
Svetlana Vukovic and Svetlana Lukic | 09/19/01 | Radio B92, Belgrade

It is correct to say that this is a novel event in world history, not because of the scale of the atrocity—regrettably—but because of the target. How the West chooses to react is a matter of supreme importance. If the rich and powerful choose to keep to their traditions of hundreds of years and resort to extreme violence, they will contribute to the escalation of a cycle of violence, in a familiar dynamic, with long-term consequences that could be awesome. Of course, that is by no means inevitable. An aroused public within the more free and democratic societies can direct policies towards a much more humane and honorable course.

‘The Clinton Administration’s Security Legacy’
Andrew Sullivan | 09/30/01 | Sunday Times

In the initial shock of the September 11 Massacre, one small notion lodged itself into the mass psyche. It’s perhaps best summed up by the phrase, ‘Who could have seen that coming?’ Because of the sheer audacity of the attack, its novel use of kamikaze-style airplanes, its uniquely horrendous death-toll, most of us tended to exculpate the leaders of the United States for any responsibility for the lax security and failure of intelligence and foreign policy it represented. We put the blame—rightly—on the terrorists who bear sole responsibility for the massacre. But more than two weeks later, as the sheer extent of America’s unpreparedness and vulnerability comes into better focus, one other conclusion is inescapable. The September 11 massacre resulted from a fantastic failure on the part of the United States government to protect its citizens from an act of war. This failure is now staring us in the face, and if we are to be successful in rectifying the errors, it’s essential we acknowledge as plainly as possible what went wrong.

Opinions: Islam

‘The Roots of Muslim Rage’
Bernard Lewis | 09/90 | The Atlantic Monthly

Islam is one of the world’s great religions. Let me be explicit about what I, as a historian of Islam who is not a Muslim, mean by that. Islam has brought comfort and peace of mind to countless millions of men and women. It has given dignity and meaning to drab and impoverished lives. It has taught people of different races to live in brotherhood and people of different creeds to live side by side in reasonable tolerance. It inspired a great civilization in which others besides Muslims lived creative and useful lives and which, by its achievement, enriched the whole world. But Islam, like other religions, has also known periods when it inspired in some of its followers a mood of hatred and violence. It is our misfortune that part, though by no means all or even most, of the Muslim world is now going through such a period, and that much, though again not all, of that hatred is directed against us.

‘What Became of Tolerance in Islam?’
Khaled Abou El Fadl | 09/14/01 | Los Angeles Times

As a Muslim, I feel that the horror of recent terrorist attacks demands a serious, conscientious pause. Terrorism is an aberration, but most often it is of a particular type, an extreme manifestation of underlying social and ideological currents prevalent in a particular culture. Terrorism is not a virus that suddenly infects the brain of a person; rather, it is the result of long-standing and cumulative cultural and rhetorical dynamics.

‘Let’s not get too liberal’
Christopher Hitchens | 09/21/01 | The Guardian

But the bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and there’s no point in any euphemism about it. What they abominate about ‘the west,’ to put it in a phrase, is not what western liberals don’t like and can’t defend about their own system, but what they do like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state. Loose talk about chickens coming home to roost is the moral equivalent of the hateful garbage emitted by Falwell and Robertson, and exhibits about the same intellectual content. Indiscriminate murder is not a judgment, even obliquely, on the victims or their way of life, or ours. Any observant follower of the prophet Mohammed could have been on one of those planes, or in one of those buildings—yes, even in the Pentagon.

‘Such a facile response to terrorism’
Eva Hoffman | 09/27/01 | Independent

In our eagerness to distance ourselves from a wholesale anti-Muslim sentiment (as we of course should), we forget that for fundamentalist leaders it is much easier to scapegoat the Great Satan than to address problems caused by their own repressive regimes. We seem to have unlearned all the lessons about dictatorships and their ruthlessness in exploiting their own populations. We forget that there is such a thing as populist fascism, easily incited among the disaffected by rhetorically extremist demagogues. We underestimate the extent to which the linchpin (or at least propagandist raison d’etre) of traditionalist mullahs’ policy is a titanic struggle between putative good and evil, victims and oppressors, Islam and the West.

‘How terrorists hijacked Islam’
Jessica Stern | 10/01/01 | USA Today

Education and economic assistance must be part of our arsenal. Pakistan’s inadequate public-education system, for example, encourages poor families to send their children to extremist religious schools, where they are taught to view fighting in Afghanistan as a religious duty. And by financing and training the Afghan mujahedin during its war with the Soviet Union, the United States ended up leaving the region awash with guns, drugs and mujahedin, who are still seeking new jihads to fight. It is in our interest to help give these young men real alternatives in this world—not just the next.