Theorizing the 9/11 atrocity: Its ubiquitous persistence

Theorizing the 9/11 atrocity: Its ubiquitous persistence

The Sept. 11 terrorist behavior persists if we see it through two sets of social functions: a micro social function and a popular culture villain. The former takes place at the scale of everyday life. The latter refers to media as the producers of the Sept. 11 culture villains.

This view is important because even though the Sept. 11 disaster has passed away from us, this catastrophe can still have real influences. This is not to say that the Sept. 11 terror is inherently acceptable, but rather to try to explain how terrorism benefits a social system as a whole or why terrorism among us persists; this is apart from judging that the Sept. 11 behavior can be both positive and negative.

The micro social function is a way of dealing with actual or perceived (imagined) threats to physical safety; for example, threats from people who look like Arabs or whose names sound Arabic. Such people are burdened with the stigma of being perceived as cultural threats.

For example, my former academic adviser Prof. Bruce B. Lawrence at Duke said that a Duke Muslim undergraduate student, whose name is Arabic and who is an Arab Muslim (Abdullah al-Arian) was working as a White House intern in June 2001. He was rejected from a meeting about faith-based and community initiatives chaired by President George W. Bush.

The reason he was given was because it was due to a technical error in security clearance. Clearly, it masked an evident fear of an Arab Muslim.

Two other examples are my sister and me. I called my sister in Indonesia when I was in the United States. She said her son was now wearing a beard. Imagining Osama bin Laden's beard on the one hand and the unemployment crisis on the other, she had become worried.

What if her son could not get a job in an international company in Indonesia because of his beard? When I studied in the United States and returned to Indonesia for a while, my friends often asked me a joking question: "Did any police come to see you?" (They asked me this question because my middle and last names, "Abdul Matin", resemble an Indonesian Bali bomber's name, "Dul Matin".)

Another function that keeps terrorism persistent is supplying popular cultural villains. This function is the degree to which the media as the producers of culture reinforce terror by showing crime news and action movies. This could be through radio, television, novels, books and newspapers. These media are agents through which individuals internalize specific ideas and ideologies of the dominant groups.

As a victim of the Sept. 11 hijackers, the United States condemns terrorism resulting in a "stop terror" campaign. This thinking dominates leading U.S. groups; for instance, the media owners endorse this idea so their staff fill their media with terror of Muslims. Some examples are discernible in the following media published in the U.S.

The Economist (Sept. 11, 2003) published Peter David's Survey: Islam and the West (In the name of Islam), and Arnold Toynbee's Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, (2002: 494-500). Both writers regarded Sept. 11 as an individual trouble or personal trouble because they claimed that Sept. 11 was a product of the hijackers' religious beliefs of jihad (holy war against the infidels). Two other examples would be Time and a novel.

Time magazine (Jan. 26, 2004) presented a picture showing a person holding the Koran in his right hand and a bomb in his left hand with the title The Rise of the Jihadists. This article quoted an Iraqi warrior who said he would make regular attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq (Jan. 26, 2004, pp. 31-32).

Cantrell and Vaughan wrote a novel titled: Saddam: The Face of Evil with Saddam's picture. On the cover page, they mention "... inside the horrific mind of the Butcher of Baghdad" (June 2003, cover page). Lately, a Danish cartoon depicted the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban, as does Geert Wilder's Fitna video. In addition, we often see people wearing t-shirts with a picture of Osama bin Laden, even though they wear it for fun.

The media satisfies the audience's demands for revenge against terrorism after Sept. 11. Meanwhile, consciously or unconsciously, these media have played a long-term role in supplying popular U.S. culture with villains.

Therefore, we can say that the stigmatized Sept. 11 atrocities persist because they are useful in a variety of ways to the people who are not terrorists.

In addition, the influence of Sept. 11 remains because even though the actual rate of terror is going down, we can predict that the fear of the reader of news magazines will increase, which will have an important consequence. For instance, people will purchase guns for safety.

In conclusion, the Sept. 11 attack is still ongoing in light of the functionalist-oriented paradigm. It is evidently useful for the culture producers; they use it for entertainment and fun, as well as for expressing revenge against the Sept. 11 terrorists. Using this paradigm, we should be aware of the culture producers due to Sept. 11; they could be us, people surrounding us or institutions such as the media.

Otherwise, we will be trapped in the personal troubles of the Sept. 11 terrorists.

The writer obtained his MA degree in Islamic Studies from Leiden University in Holland and another from Duke University in the United States. He is a lecturer in the Faculty of Literature and Humanities of UIN Jakarta, and can be reached at