A look at the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City.


by Sohail Inayatullah 

First, the recent events should be seen in global human terms as a crime against humanity. This is not only because those in the WTC come from many nationalities [ii] but as well issues of solidarity and efficacy of response move us in that direction.. In this sense, the framework for dealing with this must be from a strengthened World Court (in the context of a reformed United Nations), just as those responsible for Rwanda and Srebrenica (as Tony Judge and others have argued,  

Second, an equation that explains terror is: perceived injustice, nationalism/religious-ism (including scientism and patriarchy), plus an asymmetrical world order.  One crucial note: explanation is analytically different from justification. These acts, as all acts of mass violence, can not be justified.  

The perceived injustice part of the equation can be handled by the USA and other OECD nations in positions of world power. This means really dealing with Israel/Palestine as well as the endless sanctions against Iraq. Until these grievances are met there can be no way forward.  It means listening to the Other and moving away from strict good/evil essentialisms.  Dualistic language only reinforces that which it seeks to dispel, continuing the language of the Crusades, with both civilizations not seeing that they mirror each other.  Indeed, we need to move to a new level of identity. As  Phil Graham of the University of Queensland writes: "We are the Other. We have become alienated from our common humanity, and  the attribute, hope, image, that might save us – is  the "globalisation" of  humanity."[iii] 

From a macrohistorical and structural perspective, the USA is a capitalist nation with military might buttressing it. Bin Laden and others are capitalists with military strength. Both are globalized, both see the world in terms of us/them, both use ideas for their position (extremists drawing on Islam; American intellectuals using linear development theory). Both are strong male. The USA builds twin towers, evoking male dominating architecture (as argued by Ivana Milojevic and Philip Daffara, of the University of the Sunshine Coast [iv]). The terrorists use the same phallic symbol – the airplane – to bring it down. Boys with toys with terrifying results for us all.  And with over 50% of Americans believing that Arab Americans should have special identity cards and Taliban legislating that Hindus wear special insignia on their clothes, these chilling similarities return us back to Europe sixty years ago.  

Still, Western leaders have called for tolerance, for openness, for respecting Islam and Muslims, for seeking terrorists, i.e. criminals, and not other categories. In contrast Bin Laden has called  for a struggle against America and Jews, resorting to tired racist and hateful rhetoric, which in the long run will  bring little solace to those suffering.  Moreover, after the struggle against America and the Jews, who then will it be, the Shias? And then? Once the politics of exclusion begins, only ever increasing dogmatic futures can result. 

But what is especially challenging to the USA is that the demands from many Muslims, including extremists,  is not for money or territory but for the West (and nations claiming to be Muslim) to change, to become less materialistic, more understanding of the plight of the poor, and more religious. The demands of the  West on Islamic nations generally has been the opposite: to become more materialistic, more growth-oriented in terms of the formal economy (but not more people) and more sensate, scientific – to develop.  From a macro-historical perspective, each distorts what it means to be human by focusing on one dimension, and in extreme forms.  From an individual view, we can see how those in the periphery develop a love-hate relationship with the center. The terrorists drinking, gambling, cavorting in strip clubs before the 11th of September shows how they had internalized what they struggled against. It also shows how Islam for them was strategic, a text that could be used to justify their own pathological worldview. 

The second part the equation is a shared responsibility, within the Islamic world especially, but essentially a dialogue of civilizations.  This means opening the gates of ijithad (independent reasoning and adaption to change) instead of blind imitation.  And here, the crucial language is a dialogue within religions, between the hard and soft side. Certainly the Taliban arguing that Muslims have a duty to fight with them in case of an attack on Afghanistan does not help matters.  The Taliban has spent the last decade fighting against Muslims with the  USA’s indirect support -  why would anyone desire to support such a state? It is the failure of the modernist statist paradigm and support of tyrannical states by the West that pushes groups in this extreme direction.

However, while the hard side is clearly defining the future, this need not be the case.  There are alternatives.  Fortunately, the hard side is becoming de-legitimized.  For example, even the right wing in the USA cringed when Pat Robertson blamed the terror attacks on God ceasing to provide protection to America because of the rise of  feminism, etc..  And Muslims everywhere, are hopefully, beginning to see that more terror will not work and is morally wrong. Unfortunately, with civil war in Pakistan looming, the prognosis for this alternative perspective is not likely. Still, the message must be: the injustices are real but non-violent global civil disobedience (against companies, nations around the world, leaders) is a far more potent method for long-term transformation.   

The third part really is what the social movements can and must continue, challenging the asymmetrical nature of the world system – the structural violence, the silent emergencies - and pushing for a new globalization (of ideas, cultures, labor and capital, while protecting local systems that are not racist/sexist/predatory on the weak).  The social movements can through their practice and image of the future, show, and create a global civil society, challenging the twin towers of capital and military.  Real transformation, as in the changes in Eastern Europe, was pushed through partly through the people's movements. This process of creating a post-globalization world must continue.   

Resolving the equation of terror then must be both very specific - crimes against humanity cannot be tolerated – and must transform perceived injustices, the isms, and the structure of the world system. Of course, there are as well bio-psychological hormonal factors (testosterone and chakra imbalance) [v] but they do not always lead to such massive horrendous actions unless there is a historical and structural context.  Thus, terrorist as sociopath is an understandable description but there are deeper levels of analysis. 

Scenarios of the Future

 Here are five scenarios for the near and long-term future. These are written to map the future, to understand what is likely ahead, as well to create spaces for transformation. 

  1. Back to Normal. After successful surgical strikes against Bin Laden and others, the USA returns to some normalcy. While trauma associated with air travel remains, these are seen as costs associated with a modern lifestyle, ie just as with cancer, heart disease and car accidents. The West continues to ascend, focused on economic renewal through bio-technologies and possibly emergent nano-technologies. More money, of course, goes to the military and intelligence agencies. The Right reigns throughout the World. Conflicts remain local and silent.  Over time, the world economy prospers once again and poorer nations move up the ranks just as the Pacific Rim nations have. La vie est Belle.
  1. Fortress USA/OECD. Australia, for example, has already chosen that route, with basically a prison lock down ahead, especially to newcomers (who desire to enter the Fantasy island of the Virtual West escaping sanctions and feudal systems). The costs for the elites will be very high given globalized world capitalism, and with aging as one the major long term issues for OECD. The Fortress scenario will lead to general impoverishment and the loss of the immigration innovation factor.  In the short run, it will give the appearance of security, but in the longer run, poverty will result, not to mention sham democracies with real power with the right wing aligned with the military/police complex.  Increasing airport security is a must but without root issues being resolved, terror will find other vehicles of expression. After all, fortresses are remembered, in history, for being overrun, not for successful defense against "others."

The response from the Islamic world will be a Fortress Islam, closing civilizational doors, becoming even more feudal and mullahist, and forcing individuals to choose: are you with us or against us, denying the multiplicity of selves that we are becoming. The economy – oil – will remain linked but other associations will continue to drift away.  

       3.  Cowboy War - vengeance forever. Bush has already evoked the Wild West, and the Wanted – Dead or Alive image, indeed, even calling for a "crusade" against the terrorists. We have seen what that leads to all over the world, and the consequences are too clear for most of us. Endless escalation in war that will look like the USA has won but overtime will only speed up the process of decline. They will remember the latest round, and the counter-response will be far more terrifying, with new sorts of weapons. In any case, with the USA military, especially the marines rapidly increasing its percent of its members who are Muslim (through conversion and demographic growth rates)[vi], cowboy war will start to eat at the inner center. And once state terror begins, (or shall we say continues) there is no end in sight. Bush has already stated the assassination clause does not apply to Bin Laden and others since the USA is acting in self-defense. Cowboy war, again, will work in the short run. Crowds will chant USA, USA, until the next hit. The CIA can get back to business, and continue to make enemies everywhere. Most likely, this will lead to an endless global “Vietnam”, well, in fact, an endless Afghanistan. [vii]     However, there are signs that Bush and others are listening to their soft sides and seeking to focus on the action of terror and not on Islam or any other wider category.[viii]  They could use the sympathy from the rest of the world to “eliminate” terrorism (just as piracy in the high-seas was ended earlier) and, hopefully, in the longer run, seek solidarity with all victims of violence. The trauma from the bombing could lead Americans to genuinely understand the traumas other face in their day to day existence, to a shared transcendence, or it could lead to creating even more traumas. We can hope he – and all of us – keep on listening and learning.   

If not, in this future, there will be no real change to the world system. Once the terrorists are caught – well actually the perpetrators are already dead -  no changes in international politics or international capital will occur,  OECD states simply become stronger, while individuals become more fearful and anxiety prone.  A depression of multiple varieties is likely to occur (economic and psychological).  The depression will likely lead to anti-globalization revolts throughout the world, either leading to states to bunker themselves in for the long run, or possibly - transform. Most likely, we will see a slow but inevitable movement toward global fascism – the soft hegemony of the carnivore culture (and anti-ecological in terms of land use) of McDonalds’s with the hard side of Stealth bombers.   

4.      Deep Divide 

“Fortress” in the long run will be difficult, as the globalization forces have already been unleashed and the anti-thesis in a variety of forms has emerged (the socialist revolt, decolonization movements, and even, terrorism). “Cowboy war” will likely only exacerbate the deep cleavages in the World Economy (that the richest 350 or so own the same as nearly 3 billion individuals). Indeed, a case can be made that this is the Bin Laden preferred scenario. Bush attacks lead to destabilization in the Arab world, with the possibility of a nuclear accident and leading to extremists in Islamic nations rising up against modernists.  Will Bin Laden escape to China? Over time, there may be a transition in who plays the central role in the world system, and is among the reasons the attacks have led to global anxiety – world system shifts are not pretty events or processes.  The periphery tends to see its future through the lenses of the Center; if the Center can be bombed, what future is there for the impoverished periphery? 

The deep divide cannot be resolved, however, merely by the “hearts and minds” strategy for this involves making traditionalists modernist, i.e. from loving land and God to loving money and scientific rationality. Rather, it involves moving from tradition to a trans-modernity, which is inclusive of multiple but layered realities (the vertical gaze of ethics), moving toward an integrated planetary system (loving the  planet and moving away from exclusivist identities but transcending historical traumas). But can this transition occur? Can there be a Gaian polity? This is the fifth scenario. 

5.      Gaian Bifurcation. A Gaia of civilizations (each civilization being incomplete in itself and needing the other) plus a system of international justice focused not only on direct injustices but structural and cultural.  This would not only focus on Israel/Palestine (internationalizing the conflict with peace keepers and creating a shared Jerusalem) as well as ending the endless sanctions in Iraq, but highlighting injustices by third world governments toward their own people (and the list here is endless, Burma, Malaysia’s Mahathir, India/Pakistan/Kashmir). The first phase would be far more legalistic, developing a world rule of law system with the context would be a new equity based multicultural globalization. The second phase would be values driver, with the USA moving to authentically understand the periphery, seeking to become smaller, globally democratic. This means transforming the world system, focusing on a post-globalization vision of the future, and moving to world governance. Specifically, this means:  

It means moving away from the modernist self and the traditional self, and creating a transmodern self (spiritual, integrating multiplicities and future-generations oriented). 

 In terms of epistemology, this means moving from the strategic discourse, which has defined us for hundreds of years, to the emergent healing discourse (within, toward others, toward the planet, and for future generations).   Healing means seeing the earth as an evolving body. What is the best way to heal then, through enhancing the immune system, listening to the body, or through massive injection of drugs?  

In workshops I have run around the world, Islamic, Western and East Asian nations, for example, this alternative future emerges as a desired future. Muslim leaders in a March 1996 seminar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on the Ummah in 2025  desired a future that was based on: 

This perspective appears to be generally shared by  the cultural creatives, an emerging demographic category in the West ( In the Non-West as well there is a desire to move away from feudal structures but retain spiritual heritage, to be “modern” but in a different way. 


To move toward this direction, ultimately means far more of a Mandela approach, what Johan Galtung is doing via the transcend ( network, than the traditional short term Americanist approach. 

This 3rd scenario is the global civil/spiritual society vision, and one that stands in strong opposition to the declared nation-statist position and the extremist groups all over the world. 

The first scenario continues the present; the second is a return to the imagined past; the third the likely future; and the fourth our current reality. The fifth, for me, is the aspirational .  This means moving beyond both the capitalist West and the feudalized, ossified non-West (and modernized fragmented versions of it) and toward an Integrated Planetary Civilization. I can see this civilization desperately trying to emerge at rational and post-rational levels, indeed, crystal clear at the mythic spiritual level, and I can clearly see the huge stumbling blocks – perceived injustices, the isms, the asymmetrical world order, and national leaders unwilling to give up their "god-given" right to define identity and allegiance. 

Do we have the courage to create this emergent future? I am convinced it will emerge, I hope it will emerge through ahimsa (non-violence) and not versions of endless terror. We need to choose life.

[i] Professor, Tamkang University, Taiwan; Sunshine Coast University, Maroochydore; and Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.  Co-editor, Journal of Futures Studies, Associate Editor, New Renaissance ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Inayatullah was born in Pakistan and raised in Indiana, New York, Geneva, Islamabad, Kuala Lumpur, and Honolulu. 

[ii] Around 500-700 Pakistanis are presumed to be missing, as based on data from SBS Television Australia and Pakistan's The News. It is not only Americans that is being attacked by certainly Muslims (possibly around 900 or so in the WTC and  some in the Pentagon, perhaps, not to mention attacks of terror toward Muslims in the last 15 years from all sources) as well. As of September 23, the figure is 200 pakistanis.

[iii] Personal comments. September 18, 2001.

[iv] Personal comments. September 16, 2001.

[v] In the Indian health system, there are seven chakras. When the chakras are imbalanced, then negative emotions and behaviors can result. Yoga, meditation and diet are ways to balance the bodies hormonal system.

[vi] Ayeda Husain Naqvi writes in "The Rise of the Muslim Marine" (NewsLine, July 1996, 75-77) that while

 hate crimes against Muslims rise all over the world, surprising the US military is one of the safest places to be a Muslim. Indeed, Qasem Ali Uda forecasts that in 20 years, 25% of all US marines will be Muslim. Given the incredible influence that that former military personnel have on US policies (ie a look at Who's Who in America shows that military background and law school education are the two common denominators on the resumes of America's most influential people), inclusion is the wisest policy.

[vii] I am indebted to Mike Marien, of the World Future Society for this insight.

[viii] As the conflict matures, Colin Powell and others have understood that surgical strikes as well as seeing the other in far less essentialized terms (the many Islams, the many Afghanistans) is crucial for strategy and success. Bush entering a mosque, without shoes, and publicly stating that this is a war against terrorists and not Muslims are all excellent steps forward. In addition, protection of minorities in the USA against direct violence is as well to be lauded. Even his willingness to change the title of the American Infinite Justice operation to Enduring Freedom confirms that he is getting some good advise, or rapidly growing up.

[ix] Prama means inner and outer balance.  For more on this, see, Sohail Inayatullah, Sitatuing Sarkar. Maleny, Gurukul Publications, 1999.