The latest album by Instra:Mental is called Resolution 653. And boy is it good. The British duo is primarily known for their drum and bass productions, a genre of electronic which is not quite my cup of tea. In recent years they have shifted to dubstep. But to put a genre label on this album is almost impossible, it is a mix of drum and bass, and dubstep, mixed with classic Juan Atkins-style Detroit techno and Marcel Dettman minimal. Let’s just call it very creative and innovative electronic music. These are my favorites from the album:
Yesterday, I expressed the hope that with the demise of Osama bin Laden, America could return to being the constitutional democracy with the rule of law that it was before 9/11.
Luckily (and of course), I’m not the only one who sees this as possibly the most important aspect of yesterday’s operation. Here’s probably the best commentary that I’ve read so far in the wake of Bin Laden’s death, by Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast. Beinart argues that now the figurehead of the 9/11 attacks is gone, it’s time to call an end to the so-called ‘war’ on terror. This doesn’t mean that counterterrorism policies should come to a halt! On the contrary, in the coming time period they should probably be increased to prevent retaliation. But it does mean that the ‘war’ on terrorism should cease to be the primary paradigm through which US (and Western) foreign policy operates.
Because let’s face it: the threat of radical islamist terrorism is not the biggest policy problem the West faces. It isn’t now, and it wasn’t after 9/11. If I’d to point at anything, I’d had to choose between the rise of China or the long-term budgetary and financial problems the US and the West are facing. But certainly not the threat of a bunch of medieval rag tag terrorists who, admittedly, can do short-term symbolic (and personal) damage, but do not pose any fundamental threat to the existence of our society in this form.
The terrorist incidents of 9/11 and those after that can, however, present long-term problems when executive powers choose to overreact, and thereby aim to fundamentally transform the structures of constitutional democracy and the rule of law. This is what happened in America under Bush-Cheney, where an emergency became the pretext for a global, unending, infinite ‘war’ on terror in which anything was allowed. That’s when you got ‘enemy combatants’, indefinite detention, torture and a Gulag archipel of ’black sites’ and Guantánamo Bay. By and large, this ‘legal architecture’ for combating terrorism – with the exception of torture – has been retained by Obama, who added drone attacks and the targeting of American citizens abroad of his own.
When a state of emergency ceases to be the exception and starts to be the norm, then you have a problem. Either it expands (and turns on citizens), or it becomes the baseline on which to build yet other ‘emergency’ measures. So let’s say the state of emergency started on 9/11 (I don’t agree, but let’s say it did); can we then now say that with the demise of Osama bin Laden, who apparently was so important that streets are filled with chanting people, the state of emergency has ended? Can we please do away with renditions, indefinite detention, Guantánamo Bay, illegal wiretapping, and so forth?
[We] have more to be grateful for than this one villain’s demise. We must give thanks for something broader: The war on terror is over. I don’t mean that there is no threat of further jihadist attack. In the short term, the threat may even rise. I don’t mean that we should abandon all efforts at tracking terrorist cells. Of course not. But the war on terror was a way of seeing the world, explicitly modeled on World War II and the Cold War. It suggested that the struggle against “radical Islam” or “Islamofascism” or “Islamic terrorism” should be the overarching goal of American foreign policy, the prism through which we see the world.
I remember how seductive that vision was in the aftermath of 9/11. It imposed order on the world and gave purpose to American power. But it was a mistake from the start. Even the Cold War was a dangerously overblown vision, which blinded American policymakers to the fact that much of what happened in, say, Vietnam or Angola, had little to do with Moscow or communism. But the war on terror was worse. It made East Asia an afterthought during a critical period in China’s rise; it allowed all manner of dictators to sell their repression in Washington, just as they had during the Cold War; it facilitated America’s descent into torture; it wildly exaggerated the ideological appeal of a jihadist-Salafist movement whose vision of society most Muslims find revolting.
Even before the U.S. killed bin Laden, the Arab Spring had already rendered him irrelevant. President Obama now has his best chance since taking office to acknowledge some simple, long-overdue truths. Terrorism does not represent the greatest threat to American security; debt does, and our anti-terror efforts are exacerbating the problem. We do not face, as we did in the 1930s, a totalitarian foe with global ideological appeal. We face competitors who, in varying ways, have imported aspects of our democratic capitalist ideology, and are beating us at our own game.
So now what? Legally speaking, there are two broad lessons to derive from the Obama administration’s latest salvo in the war on terror. One is that it shows the need to continue operating outside legal norms indefinitely. The other is that it allows us to declare a symbolic victory over terrorism and return once more to the pre-9/11 regime in which the rule of law is inviolate.
About all we can say with certainty is this: We tortured. We live in a world in which we must contend with information obtained by torture. We now need to decide whether we want to continue to live that way. Writers from ideological backgrounds as diverse as Matt Yglesias and Ross Douthat argue that it is time to return to the paradigm abandoned after 9/11. Let’s put the 9/11 attacks and the existential threat it created behind us. With Bin Laden’s death, let’s simply agree that the objectives of the Bush administration’s massive anti-terror campaign have finally been achieved, and that the time for extra-legal, extra-judicial government programs—from torture, to illegal surveillance, to indefinite detention, to secret trials, to nontrials, to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay—has now passed. There will be no better marker for the end of this era. There will be no better time to inform the world that our flirtation with a system of shadow-laws was merely situational and that the situation now is over.
But for those who would argue for a continuation of the lawlessness of the post-9/11 legal era, the question is now this: When does it end? If the death of Bin Laden doesn’t signal the end of the 9/11 legal regime, what does? Do we continue to avail ourselves of these illegal methods until every last enemy of America is dead? If torture produced information about the men hiding Bin Laden, does that give America license to torture anyone, anywhere? If the prison camp at Guantanamo is the only reason we were able to obtain intelligence about Bin Laden’s protectors, shouldn’t Guantanamo be expanded and kept open forever? Shouldn’t we start shipping Americans there?
The “war on terror” language was always metaphorical, I realize, but it unloosed a very real Pandora’s box of injustice on a nation that prides itself on its notions of fairness. That makes the highly symbolic death of Bin Laden an apt time—perhaps the last apt time—to ask whether this state of affairs is to be temporary or permanent. If President Obama truly believes, as he said last night, that justice has finally been done, he should use this opportunity to restore the central role of the rule of law in achieving justice in the future.
De zeldzame keren dat ik nog televisie kijk, moet er ook wel iets goeds op zijn. Gisteravond was dat het geval: op Nederland 2 werd de briljante documentaire Zwarte Soldatenvan Joost Seelen (53), over Nederlanders die zich vrijwillig aanmeldden bij de Waffen-SS, uitgezonden.
Van tevoren stond er een enigszins kritisch interview in de Volkskrant met twee researchers, Cees Kleijn (29) en Stijn Reurs (25), bij wier onderzoek deze documentaire begonnen was, maar die zich nu distantieerden van het eindproduct. Volgens hen wordt er in Zwarte Soldaten nog teveel een zwart-wit beeld geschetst van de oud-SS’ers, en wordt de jodenvervolging er te vaak bij gehaald. Hun intentie was juist geweest een van morele oordelen losstaand beeld te schetsen van deze mensen.
Ik moet zeggen dat ik het met die kritische noten allemaal nogal mee vond vallen. De oud-SS’ers komen uitgebreid aan het woord, zonder geïnterrumpeerd te worden. Ja, er wordt afgewisseld met nare beelden en dreigende muziek, maar come on: de Tweede Wereldoorlog was ook geen pretje. Wat bovenal uitstak, en wat deze documentaire zo fascinerend en meeslepend maakte (ik heb een uur gekluisterd aan de buis gezeten), is het verhaal dat deze mensen vertellen.
Elke opa die aan het woord komt had een eigen motivatie om zich bij de Waffen-SS aan te melden. Waar de één het mooi vond om in uniformpjes rond te lopen en zingend over straat te marcheren, werd de ander daadwerkelijk gemotiveerd door de rassenleer. Nog een ander was meer een soort mislukkeling die ook niet wist waar hij terecht was gekomen. Een uitzondering hierop kan gemaakt worden voor één, of eigenlijk twee geïnterviewden, die je zonder omwegen kunt kwalificeren als ‘totaal gestoord’. Een daarvan vertelt – nog steeds – vol trots hoe hij met een ‘ploertendoder’ joden in elkaar sloeg. “Want ja, ik had gewoon een hekel aan joden, zo werkte dat.” Voor deze man moet een speciaal plekje in de hel gereserveerd zijn.
Dat brengt dan ook gelijk bij wat mogelijk op de achtergrond van het conflict tussen de twee jonge researchers en de oudere documentairemaker speelt: een generatieverschil in het beoordelen van de Tweede Wereldoorlog en de vervolging van onder meer de joden. Als we Bert Brussen moeten geloven, speelt dit stuk geschiedenis bij de huidige generatie geen rol meer als moreel ijkpunt. Bij de vijftigers en zestigers van nu nog wel, en uit het interview met Joost Seelen blijkt ook dat een intentie van hem was het ‘ultieme kwaad’ in beeld te brengen.
Ik moet zeggen dat ik dat, als lid van de jongere generatie, niet per se verkeerd vind. Ja, de Tweede Wereldoorlog is lang geleden, maar het is niet zó lang geleden. De mensen die in deze documentaire aan het woord komen leefden in een wereld die voor het grootste deel vergelijkbaar is met de huidige. Ze hadden een keuze, en ze hebben bewust een foute keuze gemaakt. De een is daarbij naïever geweest dan de ander. Maar sommigen van deze geïnterviewden zijn zonder berouw, staan zelfs nog achter hun misdaden. Het wordt dan moeilijk een moreel grijs gebied aan te houden.
Enfin, kijk zelf naar deze superinteressante documentaire:
David Sirota has a good piece up on Salon.com about the reactions in the United States yesterday on hearing the news of Osama bin Laden’s killing.
I must say he voices the same slightly uncomfortable feelings I involuntarily got from watching partying crowds outside the White House and in New York. I guess one should empathize with such outbursts, but I couldn’t help but think about partying crowds in the Gaza Strip when 9/11 occurred (even though I want to stress that killing Osama bin Laden is in no way comparable to the attack on the Twin Towers). Basically people are celebrating death. Now I share relief when a mass murderer, in the case of some people responsible for the death of loved ones, is gone, but the whole gung-ho, “America, fuck yeah!” vibe surrounding that…
I don’t know, I thought it was a less pretty face of America.
There is ample reason to feel relief that Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to the world, and I say that not just because I was among the many congressional staffers told to flee the U.S. Capitol on 9/11. I say that because he was clearly an evil person who celebrated violence against all whom he deemed “enemies” — and the world needs less of such zealotry, not more.
However, somber relief was not the dominant emotion presented to America when bin Laden’s death was announced. Instead, the Washington press corps — helped by a wild-eyed throng outside the White House — insisted that unbridled euphoria is the appropriate response. And in this we see bin Laden’s more enduring victory — a victory that will unfortunately last far beyond his passing.
For decades, we have held in contempt those who actively celebrate death. When we’ve seen video footage of foreigners cheering terrorist attacks against America, we have ignored their insistence that they are celebrating merely because we have occupied their nations and killed their people. Instead, we have been rightly disgusted — not only because they are lauding the death of our innocents, but because, more fundamentally, they are celebrating death itself. That latter part had been anathema to a nation built on the presumption that life is an “unalienable right.”
But in the years since 9/11, we have begun vaguely mimicking those we say we despise, sometimes celebrating bloodshed against those we see as Bad Guys just as vigorously as our enemies celebrate bloodshed against innocent Americans they (wrongly) deem as Bad Guys. Indeed, an America that once carefully refrained from flaunting gruesome pictures of our victims for fear of engaging in ugly death euphoria now ogles pictures of Uday and Qusay’s corpses, rejoices over images of Saddam Hussein’s hanging and throws a party at news that bin Laden was shot in the head.
This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory: He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history — the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed.
Again, this isn’t in any way to equate Americans who cheer on bin Laden’s death with, say, those who cheered after 9/11. Bin Laden was a mass murderer who had punishment coming to him, while the 9/11 victims were innocent civilians whose deaths are an unspeakable tragedy. Likewise, this isn’t to say that we should feel nothing at bin Laden’s neutralization, or that the announcement last night isn’t cause for any positive feeling at all — it most certainly is.
But it is to say that our reaction to the news last night should be the kind often exhibited by victims’ families at a perpetrator’s lethal injection — a reaction typically marked by both muted relief but also by sadness over the fact that the perpetrators’ innocent victims are gone forever, the fact that the perpetrator’s death cannot change the past, and the fact that our world continues to produce such monstrous perpetrators in the first place.
When we lose the sadness part — when all we do is happily scream “USA! USA! USA!” at news of yet more killing in a now unending back-and-forth war — it’s a sign we may be inadvertently letting the monsters win.