Ten years ago, just knowing the name “bin Laden” qualified you as moderately well-informed. Ten years ago, that name was still part of the background noise of far-away violence and instablity that faded into a low hum by the time it reached most Australian living rooms. Wars and occupation, terrorist attacks and military retaliation, all blurred together into televisual wallpaper of distant trouble. The Cold War was over, and political science tutorials debated whether Francis Fukuyama or Samual Huntington was the more accurate political oracle. The End of History or The Clash of Civilizations?
Ten years go, Australia was still processing “Hansonism” and the aliens in our suburbs were “Asians”. But Hanson, I told myself, belonged to the past. A last stuttering gasp of the White Australia policy. The future belonged to people like me, “half-castes”, “mongrels”, “mixed-race”, whatever you want to call it.
And then. Hijacked planes, disaster in New York and Washington. Shock, grieving, and the name “bin Laden”.
Not the end of history, then.
But not the clash of civilisations, either, I wanted to scream. Not Samuel Huntington. Not a war between Islam and the West, nothing so reductive, so simplisitic, so us-versus-them. Not when so much of the world’s population is neither us nor them – and when so many others, myself included, are both us and them.
Friends and collegues viewing the footage of the smoking ruins in New York in disbelief – But I’ve been there.
I hadn’t. O course the towers were familiar from stock footage of the city, from the opening credits of NYPD Blue, from other people’s holiday shots. But I’d never been there are now I never would – or not to the city as it had been before the words nine-eleven became turning point in a chronology. Pre-and-post New York and Washington.
And since then, of course, Bali and Madrid and London and Iraq and Afghanistan. Many Australians have exclaimed but I’ve been there, while others exclaimed I was born there and my family are still trapped there.
Centuries and decades are usually defined according to events rather than calenders, and unless another catastrophe occurs in the next 48 hours, the post-9/11 decade will probably be remembered as having ended earlier this year with the death of bin Laden. We’ve undertaken a bout of rememberence and analysis and attempted to look ahead. Are we “post” the “post-9/11 era”?
Decades do not have clear-cut beginnings and ends, and civilisations do not have tidy boundaries. If this has been a clash between civilisations, then the clash has taken place within nations, communities, families, and individual souls. There has been too much bloodshed, too many casualties.
And yet those of us who are neither us nor them, neither one thing nor the other – we still exist. We’re still standing. We have not allowed civilisational boundaries as defined by Samuel Huntington become barricades in our socieities, our suburbs, or our selves.
Neither the end of history, nor the clash of civilisations.