Home Becomes More Dangerous
by Ljilluna Smajlovic
NIN (independent political weekly), Belgrade,
Yugoslavia, Sept. 13, 2001
World Press Review, November 2001
Americans have a deserved reputation for neither understanding
the rest of the world very well nor having much of an interest
in it. But such J misunderstanding and lack of interest are not
due to stupidity or ignorance: The United States has a far greater
ability to affect the world than other countries have to change
the life of an ordinary American.
Up until Sept. 11, one could live very nicely in America as
if the rest of the world did not exist. If Osama bin Laden is
the architect of the mass crime committed against America on Sept.
11, then it is to his credit that Americans now know something
they could previously ignore: the real scale of hatred and resentment
that a portion of the rest of the world harbors toward the United
Situated securely between two oceans, Americans for decades
have looked at foreigners with a mixture of suspicion and superiority,
vacillating between isolationism and interventionism. Since the
fall of the Berlin Wall they have lived in an indefinite state
of global triumph, rejoicing in their role as the only surviving
superpower and enjoying a growing material prosperity. The average
American has always believed his foreign-policy elite's assurances
that the reason "they hate us" is "because they
envy us," as naive as this view may seem in Belgrade.
It was not envy, however, that fed the hatred that motivated
the suicide killers who committed the attack on America on Sept.
11. Symbols and centers of American rule over the world were attacked,
but the terrorist act committed on that horrible Tuesday had another,
deeper motive and meaning. Since the Vietnam War, Americans have
harbored an ideal that they have come very close to achieving
in recent years: realizing their strategic goals and protecting
their national interests without shedding a single drop of American
blood. This is no secret to everybody here [in Yugoslavia], who
for months listened to American bombs. Americans, meanwhile, rejoiced
at the fact that, from the safe height at which the bombing was
conducted, neither American pilots nor their aircraft were endangered.
Those who followed events in Somalia, Iraq, and Bosnia also know
of the dream of risk-free war. Americans are full of rhetoric
about good intentions and aims, but they are unprepared to die
for their ideals.
The goal in the Sept. 11 attack was to kill Americans, to
4 destroy everything American, and to undermine American values.
It is usually said that terrorism is a weapon of the weak against
the powerful. Osama bin Laden is not poor. He comes from a rich
Saudi family, with a personal inheritance of US $300 million.
But his acts of vengeance against the powerful and rich are unusually
effective, in a morbid and evil way. If he is behind this act
of terrorism, Bin Laden has committed a kind of perfect crime,
not because he has left no trail but because he has defeated American
power by means of its own airplanes.
He defeated a country that has been continually arming itself
with the most costly and potentially destructive technological
innovations. He used America's own commercial airplanes as weapons
against its symbols of power. Bin Laden did not have to invest
in expensive Tomahawk missiles; instead, he invested in Islamic
So the message the United States has received is that being
rich and in a position to afford the most expensive missile shield
in the world is meaningless. Moreover, America enjoys no protection
from its own civilian aircraft, which, "in the right hands,"
can be even more murderous than the most expensive and most sophisticated
Not only do Americans face an enemy without a face and state,
but Bin Laden has been hiding in a state (Taliban-ruled Afghanistan)
that, ironically, was indirectly created by the Americans. The
United States once backed Bin Laden as a fighter against the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan, just as they supported Saddam Hussein
when they needed him as an ally against the Iranian regime. The
ordinary American knew and cared little of this before Sept. 11.
Lacking an interest in the outside world, Americans seem unaware
that elsewhere, in another part of the world, American weapons
destroy homes and bridges and kill children and other innocent
people on behalf of Western values.
In other words, Americans are sometimes hated not because
they support Western values but for completely prosaic reasons.
One such reason, for example, is that they ~ direct foreign policy
and commit violence against foreign ,L countries and peoples in
a very tangible way and for their own interest, not always in
the name of higher values. America has reaped a whirlwind, however
cruel that sounds.
It was no coincidence that the day after the attack, the American
press quoted Leon Trotsky: "You may be not interested in
war, but war is interested in you." Those who are not the
least bit interested in foreign policy or terrorism discover now
that terrorism is interested in them. In this war, as experts
and politicians tirelessly repeat, there are no neutral observers.
This war can be neither led nor observed from a safe distance.
Americans are like all other peoples of the world: If cut,
they bleed; if attacked, they close ranks around their leader,
flag, and national history. And they call for revenge. In thousands
of American suburbs, overnight Wednesday [Sept. 12], American
flags appeared on homes. The American anthem was sung in churches.
Newspapers published politicians' comparisons to Pearl Harbor,
though the differences are obvious: Pearl Harbor was a different
historical context, where the enemy wore a uniform, and recognizable
opponents fought for territory, prestige, and influence. Yet there
are apparent similarities. Both Pearl Harbor and the World Trade
Center are symbols of American defeat that later turned into triumph.
Those among us who do not like America and believe that this
is a good moment to rejoice at its torment are mistaken. It was
right for us to demand that the United States not destroy our
bridges on behalf of humanism and treat us, instead, in accordance
with American values, Western values that we share. In a way,
it is our duty to defend Western values in our part of "the
rest of the world," even if America is the one that attacks
them. But in our world, America, though not the fortress it believed
itself to be until now, does indeed represent a bastion of cultural,
moral, and civilizational values that we share. We have no desire
to see America in a state of panic. America is naturally bitter
at having spent $30 billion for intelligence and counter-intelligence
activities that have failed to bring security and increased protection.
But despite all the criticism that we sometimes direct toward
the United States, we have no reason to be happy about a great
increase in U.S. defense spending and the likelihood of more arrogant
behavior on its part. There is no reason to be happy about a possible
recession in the world at a very difficult moment for us, when
we depend on creditors' goodwill; about possible distrust and
hostility in international relations, or about "secret operations"
of questionable legality by the United States directed at terrorist
groups. A decline in the respect for rights and freedoms in America
would bode ill for those of us who live elsewhere. Since Sept.
11, the world has become a more dangerous place to live. Not only
11th, 2001 - New York City