A Reflection David Walsh November 2001 Terror, Disaster, Cinema and Reality - A Symposium Issue 17 Thank you for your invitation to reflect on the September 11 events. Rather than emphasizing – as the American media have done, for example, for their own purposes – how “everything changed” on September 11, it would be far more helpful to underline the continuities. The events of that day and the response by the great powers – as well as the reaction of the ‘entertainment industry’ – are the products of processes that have lengthy histories. There should be nothing astonishing about what has taken place. The US has long coveted the oil and natural resource reserves of the Middle East and Central Asia. This has been a central thrust of American foreign policy in recent decades under Democrats and Republicans alike. In the pursuit of its aims the US has carried out massive crimes against the peoples of the region, either directly (the Persian Gulf War and sanctions against Iraq, bombing of Sudan, invasion of Somalia, etc.) or through its proxies (Israel) and allies (Saudi Arabia). It is seen as an oppressor by tens of millions. In Afghanistan in the 1980s, Washington deliberately fomented (and financed and armed) Islamic fundamentalism, one of the most right-wing ideologies on the face of the earth, as a weapon against the Soviet Union. Carter and Reagan thereby set in motion a political process two decades ago that produced the September 11 atrocity. There was nothing progressive or legitimate about the mass murder at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. It was carried out (apparently, for no proof has been presented) by fundamentalist forces, the sworn enemies of progress. Nonetheless, that should not blind us to the reality that imperialist policy has created fertile soil for the recruitment of Islamic terrorists. After the Gulf and Balkan wars, during which American forces suffered virtually no casualties, it was inevitable that someone would hit upon a method of inflicting a blow on the US. The pontificating about “evildoers” needs to be rejected as reactionary nonsense. Now American ruling circles are using the September 11 attack in an attempt to implement a long-standing agenda: attacks on democratic rights and civil liberties in the US and the reorganization of Central Asia in their geopolitical interests. More shocks lie in store. The response of Hollywood, the music business and entertainment figures in general has been predictable: on the whole, abject surrender to Bush and his administration. These types are stumbling over themselves to conform and toe the line. So be it. There are people around who have good memories. Mostly this process will clear away a lot of dead wood, discrediting a crowd of mediocre directors and actors that no one will care about in two years’ time. September 11 ought to impress upon filmmakers, as well as others, the seriousness of the present world situation, its genuine dangers, and the need to address in a far more serious fashion than hitherto the great social and political questions of our day, none of which can be grasped without an understanding of the critical events of the 20th century. Post-modern ‘playfulness’ is inappropriate, but so has it been all along. There is nothing in the cinema condition as such, in my view, that prepares us for anything. Films are either truthful, substantial and aesthetically pleasing or they are not.