BEFORE & AFTER
PARIS — It was commonplace, in the first aftershock of the terrorist strikes on New York and Washington, D.C., to assert that the world would never be the same again. As the grim year of 2001 moves into its final days, we are only beginning to grasp what that means.
The attack “upended the very logic of history and power,” says French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, “along with the terms for analyzing them.”
Sept. 11 and its aftermath have re-ordered our perception of reality — merging all of the major themes and issues likely to dominate the 21st century into a single, bewilderingly complex story.
Its subject is globalization on an unimagined scale: a maze of interrelationships that links military and diplomatic affairs, broad economic trends, international legal protocols and financial transactions, immigration, law enforcement and the labor market. Unless these linkages can be charted and understood, the new Age of Hyper-Globalization could well remain an Age of Terror.
Consider just a partial map of this maze, beginning at its most critical intersection, where armed Islamic militancy collides with the needs of modern industrial society.
The oil reserves of the Middle East and the predominantly Islamic ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia currently stand at nearly 750 billion barrels, 2 1/2 times the combined total of all of other oil-producing regions. By 2030, almost all of the world’s oil and natural gas will be produced by or piped through states that today harbor Muslim extremist movements or are immediately threatened by them.
The war on terrorism is, ipso facto, a defense of an entire lifestyle that could not exist without fossil fuels and their byproducts. It’s also, by default, a collective action by the United States and its allies to protect the operations of the multinational energy giants — with linkages encompassing the world’s stock markets, gross national products, employment rates and currency exchange values.
The sinister genius of Osama bin Laden has been to recognize the dimensions of hyper-globalization, and to expropriate its chief symbols — seizing long- distance airliners to topple the most conspicuous icons of international capital, in the key bastions of geopolitical power and global finance.
The war set in motion on Sept. 11 has raised questions in almost every realm of contemporary belief and experience, especially for Americans.
How tall should our buildings be? Is it safe to open a letter? Go to work? See a football game? Go to New York, Washington, London, Paris, Jerusalem or Cairo?
What are the limits of civil liberties? Of due process under the law? Of religious tolerance? Who are our friends? Who are our enemies?
The intersection of oil and extremism explains why Washington continues to treat Saudi Arabia with kid gloves despite the disproportionate presence of Saudis among the Sept. 11 hijackers and the Saudi origins of bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network.
It explains, too, why the Bush administration and Russian president Vladimir Putin have established a startling new bilateral alliance, with roots in the linkage between Afghanistan and Chechnya — the breakaway Russian province. Chechnya, which provided al Qaeda with many of its most implacable fighters, is itself an oil producer and the site of strategic oil and gas pipelines.
It explains why Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s appearance in Afghanistan, the first by a senior U.S. official since the war began, was combined with a trip to Azerbaijan, the nexus of Central Asian oil production and transshipment.
Central and Southeast Asia are the globe’s main sources of heroin — and undocumented immigrant workers. But drugs and clandestine labor, like oil and natural gas, have no value if they can’t be shipped to market.
A parallel set of alliances mirrors those of the anti-terrorism coalition. A partnership exists among extremist movements and the organized crime groups in Russia, Turkey, Albania, ex-Yugoslavia and Italy. These groups control the routes that bring drugs and desperate human beings west.
Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, who has reported on terrorist movements for more than 40 years, maintains, “Without the hidden face of globalization, the clandestine and criminal face, the events of Sept. 11 would not have been possible.”
In the war’s second phase, the map’s borders must expand to incorporate vast transport and money-laundering schemes. B-1 bombers, Afghan irregulars and U.S. Marine battalions must be replaced on front lines by accounting firms,
jurists and local police.
Charting the next passages in the maze will disgorge more unforeseen linkages — and a torrent of troubling questions.
“Is it fair and civilized to protect banking secrecy?” asks Italian philosopher Umberto Eco.
“A great number of people would say yes. But what if such secrecy permits terrorists to keep their funds in the City of London? Is the defense of so- called privacy a positive value or a dubious one?”