When events of the magnitude of September 11 are perpetrated against the overwhelming majority of the international community, equally profound responses are sure to follow. A cursory glance at a world map showing the origins of the foreign victims of this tragedy demonstrates the breadth and impact one terrorist act has on the global community.
Osama bin Laden appears to be a prime suspect behind the catastrophes in Pennsylvania, Washington DC and New York City. In a bid to make a point, bin Laden has effectively clouded all sense of rationale behind his mission. What was his point in exacting such a massive toll in human life? If he tried to create havoc, misery and anguish, he was supremely successful. Attempting to destroy the economic engine of the United States by causing investor uncertainty, bin Laden may have indeed induced a short-term slump. Airlines have laid off thousands of workers or ceased operations altogether as a direct result of the attacks. The auto industry, tourism, insurance companies, banks... all have taken a hit to some degree.
But as far as toppling the 'evil' government and way of life, bin Laden and other terrorists are supremely naive by assuming their brutality will overtake the collective will of much of the world's citizens.
If he was trying to bring the United States to its knees by weakening its morale, he failed miserably. By anyone's accounting, the exact opposite has occurred as demonstrated by the patriotic roar which exploded in response to the first plane crash. Make no mistake; bin Laden is an intelligent man and this trait makes his strategies even more mysterious. How could bin Laden not have foreseen the response such actions would have created? How could he have imagined it would have advanced his cause in even the slightest manner?
The sheer number of casualties is staggering and almost inconceivable... the lives of the victims' families and friends have been shaken to the very core. It would be an oversimplification to state only the lives of those who personally knew the victims were affected... the lives of every American were touched by these heinous crimes. Indeed, the lives of all who support a democratic, capitalistic, peace-seeking or self-determining society were assaulted... and that pretty much includes most of the world, free or not.
No doubt bin Laden's life is nearing an end and quite possibly he may be already preparing himself for what he sees as martyrdom. What he may not realize is his stature as a martyr will be recognized by a miniscule fraction of the world's population and history may portray him as an extremely dangerous cult figure. His followers who've bought into his rhetoric with the hopes that Allah will be pleased they're capable of mass murder may find that callous regard for human life is neither honourable nor Holy. The distinction of a 'Holy' War is lost when innocent bystanders are killed for no other reason than to make a statement. War is war and there's nothing glorious, noble or 'Holy' about it.
Disasters such as this have a way of erasing borders and ignoring ethnicity, wealth and cultural identity. A 757 departing Heathrow could have just as easily been commandeered and directed into the British Parliament buildings. Under similar circumstances, a fully loaded 767 crashed in the heart of Tokyo during a business day would create appalling carnage. Biological weapons of war introduced in a metropolis the size of Mexico City would create a loss of life the likes of which the world has never seen. A DC-10 slamming in a stadium while a European soccer championship is being played out has the potential of taking out tens of thousands of people in one horrific act. This is a reality for any nation which is the target of terrorism.
What then, does bin Laden and his ilk specifically want? What would placate the apparent 'religious' fervour which compels them to resort to such crimes against humanity? Are the customs of the Western world so threatening to certain cultures that annihilation is the only acceptable recourse? Can any semi-rational position expect that this would be even remotely plausible?
Prior to the arrival of the first European settlers with their Bibles, the people of the First Nations practiced a spiritual existence minus the framework of an organized religion. It was (and to a large degree, still is) a way of living one's daily life according to beliefs, traditions and very much in concert with the natural world surrounding themselves. Far from being some sort of romanticized Utopia, many of these First Nations fought ferocious and brutal wars with neighbouring Nations. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy was created under such circumstances after the futility of chronic aggression was realized.
The image of the 'noble' Indian may have more observation than fact, but the pride, determination and commitment to a Nation's cause might have played into the minds of the earlier European explorers. The idea of indiscriminate mass slaughter of the elderly and children under the guise of 'religion' must have seemed particularly troubling to our ancestors. The preaching of the Blackrobes exhorting the Godless Ones to live a life of goodness and salvation according to a Holy Book while the newcomers practiced the opposite must have done more than simply confuse. Hypocrisy may have been one of the first characteristics associated with these new 'religions'.
Throughout time immemorial, religious convictions have sparked conflict and death. One might think that after centuries of destruction, literally practicing what's being preached would take hold. Instead, under the name of one religion or another, wars still rage on and exact their inexorable toll in human lives of all ages. The clash of theological ideologies coupled with political agendas consistently make front page news.
Aboriginal People are fully aware of the importance of determination and convictions. Without either, it's quite probable some of the First Nations existing today might have faded away many decades ago.
By itself, sacrificing one's own life for a cause or country may or may not be seen as the ultimate commitment of dedication and resolve. Taking other people with them in this decision, however, is another matter entirely. The sheer disregard of human lives is sickening and regardless of intent, the cheapening of these lives can only indicate the level of barbarity of the conspirators. There is no 'religion' which endorses murdering innocent people.
If Osama bin Laden is in fact the main force behind the attacks, should any attempt be made to capture him alive and have him be granted due process? Despite the dubious possibility of this happening, should he be given the same opportunity of a trial as any other international criminal? Or has the enormity of the crime coupled with the court of public opinion already convicted and passed sentence on him? Even the worst serial killers are tried before conviction and sentencing has been pronounced. Perhaps at this point it would be impossible for bin Laden to get any sort of a fair trial and, especially in the United States, the sentence upon conviction would doubtfully be anything less than execution. Many people might feel compelled to offer him the same consideration that was shown to the estimated 5,000 who met with a brutal death. It may only be conjecture as an individual as cunningly malicious as bin Laden may commit suicide before taken prisoner... which would be the final and ultimate flip of the finger to the world in general.
Few can seriously believe eliminating Osama bin Laden would end terrorism as we know it. The man might be gone, but the mandate would still remain. This may become a war with no end and no clear victory.
Rarely has the level of American patriotism reached this crescendo. The collective will of the United States in conjunction with the vast majority of the rest of the nations will no doubt make terrorist tactics less effective than they've been to this point in history. There will always be factions which advocate indiscriminant force on civilians with the promise of martyrdom as it's own reward. Perhaps if these 'martyrs' consistently fail in their missions and only succeed in killing themselves will the futility of their acts become apparent to others seeking similar immortality.
In the meantime, vigilance, determination and solidarity against the deranged actions of fanatics is essential.
Finally, lest the victims take on the same qualities of their attackers, it's critical not to lash out in a fit of frustration and racism. The sporadic violence... and even murder... caused by racial profiling is a very dangerous path to take. It reduces those who commit these hate crimes to the level of animals which are incapable of rational thought processes. Regardless of motivation or emotion, a civilized society does not allow itself to sink to a mob mentality where mere supposition and innuendo are allowed to become judge, jury and executioner.
There's a difficult task facing the international community.
How that task is accomplished will define what values and priorities we hold as citizens of the world.