Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
Jean René Bendix Thierry, 28, lives in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was born in the western suburb of Brøndby. This compassionate and globally minded activist is studying economics at the University of Copenhagen (in the suburb of Hvidovre). His interests include Green politics and music, especially the Roskilde Festival. Jean has traveled to Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, France, England, Scotland, Finland, Slovakia, Austria, Italy and Cyprus. Jean, like most Danes, is a member of the Protestant Folkekirken (the Peoples Church of Denmark). It was early afternoon in Copenhagen when terrorists struck America, and Jean was at the library. He wrote his essay Oct. 14.
I was early for work the 11th of September 2001. I had some things to do at the Town Hall and at the main public library (we have them all over) in the suburban municipal where I have been living in a students’ house for almost five years until recently. I left home at about midday. When I came to the nearby cooperative supermarket/warehouse, there was still some time to sit, eat and relax in the backroom before I had to start working. My favorite intermediate boss in customer service, Katja Kjær Rask (the last names mean “dear” and “healthy,” therefore mentioned), came walking in. Something seemed wrong. Normally she is open, happy, integrating and full of jokes – actually, quite American in the good sense.
She looked very down and even her light blonde hair, which normally shoots straight up from her head, was flat (just like in the comics where you can see Dilbert’s mood on his tie). I asked her if something was wrong, and she told me two planes had flown into the high-rise blocks of the World Trade Center. At the time, she didn’t know the details, but she began to worry about traveling by plane the next weekend. Plus, her teacher was a New Yorker. At first, I couldn’t believe it. It seemed so improbable. It seemed it should be one of her jokes. It wasn’t.
But, I still didn’t really believe it until later that day, when some customers were talking about it. And then, when I came home that evening and watched TV, it looked like a movie. Indeed, it was a satanic masterpiece (a phrase originally used about money by the Danish singer/songwriter C.V. Jørgensen). But it wasn’t a James Bond movie; it was real life and lots of people had died. However, the good side in the bad was visible. The main feature on Danish television stations was the thousands of people, flowers and lights outside the US embassy in Copenhagen. Also, pictures of rescue workers digging people out of the ruins in New York showed the positive side.
I think it takes some time to understand that a thing like this has really happened. The day after, kids were asking their mothers about it in the bus; in schools, it was the main issue. This was debated; didn’t the kids have the right to avoid it? I think it is part of the “celebration” of violence – especially in media – in Denmark, even though we are one of the most peaceful countries in the world.
The national trade union (covering 85% of workers) declared one minute of silence the day before the EU (European Union) declared minutes of silence. Everybody participated in both. A UN conference on the fact more than 30,000 children die each day around the world for reasons that could easily be avoided (hunger, disease…) was cancelled in respect of the 6,000 dead in New York. The Danish UN official who was supposed to lead the conference was pretty angry. Some people saw this as lesser value being placed on Third World children compared to one of the “masters” of the world. And at the same time, an arms trade fair in London the very same week was not cancelled. Unfortunately, very few people knew, but I was furious.
At least fund raising is helping the 1.5 million Afghan refugees trying to get out of the country to avoid bombings and renewed war.
Soon after the 11th of September, politicians in power started claiming the WTC attack showed the EU should have more power in the fields of justice and law enforcement, and Denmark should give up our derogations against them. But that’s what they say about every event.
The extreme right wing used the WTC attack to sharpen and prove their anti-Muslim and xenophobic agenda – and jumped from 8 to 11% in the opinion polls. Even more frightening, the leader and prime minister candidate of the more moderate right wing used his speech at the opening of the parliament to mainly talk about immigrants and Muslims in a negative way. There have been a few attacks on Muslims, but nothing lethal.
The local branches of the US American Hells Angels (that have actually killed people in Denmark) and Bandidos haven’t been mentioned by the politicians wanting to ban self-declared Muslim fundamentalist organizations in Denmark, since they are seen as potentially violent.
We should remember two things (at least) when talking about war between religions: The terrorists are not Muslims, as Muslims are not allowed to kill innocent people. They are only allowed to fight, kill and die fighting in pure self-defence. The bloodthirsty politicians wanting revenge are not Christians, since it is not Christian to take revenge.
Many people in Denmark were more afraid of the reactions of the non-elected (but selected) President Bush than of new terrorist attacks. Bush said, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” just like the old bipolarity of the USA and the USSR. But since both are wrong, it is a fake choice. You always have another choice. But, the Danish prime minister didn’t choose that. He chose unconditional support for Bush, as he said on CNN. The leftwing is scared, but all other politicians put their trust in The White House.
Some Danish intellectuals have claimed the WTC attack was the USA’s own fault. But that is heartless and poor-focused, because the thousands of people who died in New York that day and afterward in the ruins have not made the world hegemony of USA, and they have not decided the way to use it – the way that kills people everyday and creates an unjust, corrupt and empoisoned world. The U.S. government, Congress and the military industrial corporate and intelligence service complex created that. The USA was created by Europeans killing the native population and taking their land. But that doesn’t give anyone the right to kill innocent people. Nothing does.
On a Sunday soon after the WTC attack, the biggest TV channel, TV2, broadcasted the US movie, “Long Kiss Goodnight.” This movie is about a bombing of the WTC, planned by the CIA to ensure funding. This was seen as blasphemous in the newspapers. However, the CIA was behind Bin Laden when he founded his groups, originally intended to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Even a more similar plot seems to have been used successfully in Russia. The Russian former KGB leader and now president, Putin, came to power by making the former KGB, now the FSB, bomb a high-rise housing block in Moscow and blamed Tchetchen terrorists, thereby enabling support to launch a new war against Tchechenia. There have been a lot of international protests against Putin’s war, his war crimes, human rights violations and media oppression, but after the WTC attack, the EU and the USA seem to accept his claim that he is only fighting terrorists.
It is the innocent people who pay the price for the power politics of “realists.” Some innocent civilians are killed in Palestine, Iraq and other places and then innocent civilians should be killed in the WTC and therefore innocent civilians should be killed in Afghanistan, and because of that, innocent civilians should be killed in … etc. The CIA trained and supplied Bin Laden and his people and taught them how to attack, but are they punished for that? No, of course not. They are given more money to protect us against him. That’s the way to make an industry work. The Pakistan intelligence service supported the Taliban. Are they punished for that? No …
Look at all the scum governments and groups the US government is supporting now because they want to support the USA in the fight against terrorism. Meanwhile, they continue to oppress and terrorise their own populations.
Everybody seems to think that more intelligence service is the solution. If intelligence service only observed and prevented, that could be true. But in reality, intelligence services are often very pro-active in creating future problems.
Henry Kissinger, the number one “realist” in the USA – and perhaps in the world – is probably a war criminal. Therefore, part of the reason the US administration doesn’t want a UN international court on war crimes and crimes against humanity is because “sometimes it is in the nation’s best interest to order and enact these crimes.” That is “realism.” And that creates the mud hole that we call the world of today.
Part of the “realistic” policies is also an attempt to create internal opposition – the perfect enemy. For instance, supporting the violent deadheads who have been ruining anti-EU and anti-globalization demonstrations. Those thugs are the perfect enemy for the EU and other undemocratic super-national organisations because they are evil and because they have no alternative. They also get all of the media attention. In my view, the sensational news criteria of the media – the core of journalism today – is actually as disastrous as the crimes themselves because it creates a false picture. The negative extremes are made very important, serious debates inside the political system are seldom considered, constructive alternatives outside are ignored, and (especially old) people are scared of the violence displayed in the media. It is very convenient for people who don’t want demonstrations to make them synonymous with violence. Like it is done today with criticism of the present world order and the role of the US administration in it.
(A leftwing parliamentarian’s interview was cut by the TV2 news so that it looked like he was sympathetic towards the terrorists, while he was actually saying the opposite. They probably wanted to make an interesting and understandable program. I have tried it myself, but luckily in a much less cruel connection.)
Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi claimed that the western civilization is superior to the Islamic one. There have been protests against that, but he is actually a great representative of western values (but not the good side). Berlusconi is a businessman; he owns the three biggest national TV channels, representing the best in western civilization by broadcasting commercials, American and homemade soaps and trash TV, and extremely manipulative news that supports his party and tries to take away support from the people fighting the mafia. His empire is made by money from the mafia and from state loans. He was sentenced to at least six years imprisonment for his crimes, including ordering murder, connections to the mafia and numerous economic crimes. But an Italian specialty is to make the case obsolete while it’s under process in court. Until now, that has saved him from prison. Berlusconi is a product of the CIA-designed postwar Italy. It is no coincidence that Italy is seen as a banana republic in Europe, but he is also a symbol of the world today.
The Iraqi state and Saddam Hussein were saved by Bush senior against a rebellion of the Iraqi people during “desert storm.” Iraqi civilians thought the Americans would help them, but democracy would be instable. So Bush chose to support Saddam, the old buddy of the West. One of my friends was part of this rebellion, and fled all the way to Denmark with his kid brother when it was clear they could get no support. The Iraqi people are still suffering. Six hundred thousand children have died; it is no wonder my friend and many Iraqi people dislike the USA just as much as they do Saddam Hussein.
Most of the time the parties fighting each other in international conflicts are like two opposing football teams or two chess players. The good guys and the bad guys are not that different – they have the same goals and the same means. The real fuel is often the desire to achieve power – to control people, to exploit, to humiliate, to conquer, but of course, for the “best and noblest reasons.”
The American “Tribute to Heroes” show was broadcast Saturday during prime time on the two main public TV channels (normal share: 70%). The nationalistic war rhetoric of a few Hollywood stars scared the people I have talked to, but the rest was quite impressive. The music performances and especially the stories of the heroes saving people from the towers or ruins – some of them being killed themselves – have really touched people here, including myself.
It looks like we need catastrophes to show courage, to think and to take care of each other. In 2000, eight young men were smashed to death during a Pearl Jam concert at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. The sentiment and peoples’ behavior after the accident and during this year’s festival was so much better than before.
I hope someday we can have a world where we don’t need big catastrophes to show the need for courage, to inspire compassion for others, to remind people how fragile we are. A world where the power mongers and fanatics cannot make people hate or fear each other. But that demands we give up “realism” and the acceptance of violence, and that we see the world we want is possible if we just believe it is possible. We must band together with this vision, rather than thinking it is hopeless because no one else dares to believe it is possible. We shouldn’t give up just because it doesn’t look like it’s going to be reality tomorrow. Not giving up the faith is, in itself, pretty brave and courageous.