Wednesday, June 23, 2004

TT: Al Qaeda influenced by Hollywood

Am I the only person who, upon learning of Al Qaeda's ten-plane plot for September 11, was reminded of...Hollywood?

Think about it: Here we have a terrorist plot of blockbuster proportions, featuring the destruction of landmarks, the mass murder of tens of thousands of civilians and a final sequence in which Al Qaeda terrorist chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed hijacks a plane, murders all the male passengers and lands at an American airport, where he makes a speech to the media about the corruption of the West. It's so over the top, so image-laden and willfully spectacular that you can see the movie poster more easily than the news coverage-it makes more sense as action-adventure fantasy than the stuff of geopolitics.

Apparently, Osama bin Laden also thought so; he passed on the original plan as unrealistic, pushing for a more stripped-down attack instead. Setting aside for the moment the sheer through-the-looking-glass absurdity of any situation in which bin Laden comes off as the voice of reason, the whole thing seems like a skewed variation of a pitch meeting, with Mohammed filling the role of the overeager screenwriter ("And then, in the third act, we kill the men and alert the press"), while bin Laden stands in for the jaded studio chief.

I don't mean to make light of September 11 and its all-too-nonfiction horrors; nothing about it should ever be read as make-believe. Yet I can't help but be intrigued by this apparent confluence of Hollywood and Islamic fundamentalism, by the blurring between these two inimical cultures, if only because it indicates how interconnected our world has become.

We already know that Al Qaeda relies on the infrastructure of Western materialism to put its plans into action-cell phones, e-mail, jetliners and the electronic transfer of funds. What's striking about the Mohammed plot, though, is the degree to which it suggests that Western influences have infiltrated not just the mechanics but the aesthetics of modern terrorism. What does it tell us when an Al Qaeda chief envisions a starring role for himself in a scripted orgy of destruction, when he dreams of devastation on the scale of a film like, say, The Day After Tomorrow or Independence Day?

It's easy to dismiss this as an ambitious fantasy, but then, before September 11, I never would have believed that anyone would or could crash a plane into a skyscraper and bring it down.

So how do we parse reality from illusion? How do we know where we stand, what to hold on to? In many ways, of course, such confusion is the whole point of terrorism-to make us question our assumptions, to see the structure of society as fallible, a chimera that can't protect us.

On a more superficial level, that's also what attracts us to disaster films, an open-ended sense of negative possibility, of the catharsis in confronting the terror outside our doors, under our beds.

It's been reported that, before September 11, a US software company was working on a video game about an attack on the World Trade Center, the plans for which were subsequently scrapped.

But if Al Qaeda's ten-plane plot tells us anything, it's that this cultural confusion cuts both ways. Among the more compelling details that emerged from the 9/11 commission is that one of the hijackers, Ziad Samir Jarrah, had a taste for beer and discos; he had frosted hair and a girlfriend, yet, despite considerable misgivings, he managed to reconcile all this with the idea of martyrdom. Once again, we confront the blending of seemingly irreconcilable perspectives, made more unsettling by its implicit understanding (embrace, even) of our way of life. I can think of no more fitting metaphor for an era in which secular relativism and theocratic absolutism come bound together in an enormous Gordian knot.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home