The Other Architect of 9/11
September 11, 2009 8:59 PM   Subscribe

While newly released images of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed have brought "the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks" back into the public eye just before their anniversary, it was his skyscraper-hating lieutenant Mohamed Atta who had trained to be an architect before becoming an airborne suicide terrorist. Slate's Daniel Brook goes on a three-part expedition in search of Atta's architectural education, from despised tourist projects in Cairo's dilapidated Islamic Quarter to utopian urban planning for an idealized "Islamic-Oriental City" like Aleppo.

The piece is also accompanied by a slideshow displaying examples of the tension between modern and traditional building that helped inflame Atta's malevolent worldview.

Bonus: Although Osama Bin Laden would later claim that he chose the Twin Towers as targets after watching the destruction of Beirut high-rises during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the World Trade Center's combination of traditional Islamic architecture and Modernism may have offended his fundamentalist sensibilities (even though the Islamic influence is not uncommon in American architecture)(previously).
posted by Doktor Zed (56 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wait. They hate our skyscrapers?
posted by Pronoiac at 9:06 PM on September 11, 2009


No, they just hate me. it's all my fault.

And yes, I'm an architect.
posted by skyscraper at 9:12 PM on September 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


I find the entire idea of this to be obscene. Atta was a monster. Trying to research him and understand what kinds of things he was thinking is like doing an analysis of Hitler's paintings before he became politically active. At best it is pointless, at worst it indications fascination with the scum.

Atta doesn't deserve this kind of adulation.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:16 PM on September 11, 2009


This a weird bit of formatting:
In 1992, he began his graduate studies in Germany and worked part-time as a draftsman at a Hamburg urban design firm. [+] In the summer of 1995, he returned to Cairo on a research fellowship to evaluate plans for historic preservation, traffic control, and tourism promotion in the city's Islamic Quarter.
Then when you mouse over the "[+]" you get
"He was ultimately fired, in 1997, when the firm began using CAD software rather than draftsmen to create its renderings."
Why would they collapse it like that? Why not just use an ordinary parenthetical?
posted by delmoi at 9:19 PM on September 11, 2009


I find the entire idea of this to be obscene. Atta was a monster. Trying to research him and understand what kinds of things he was thinking is like doing an analysis of Hitler's paintings before he became politically active.

Spare us. It's interesting. And besides, people look at and try to 'analyze' Hitler's paintings all the time. Also, almost all human activity is "pointless" Movies? Pointless. Music? Pointless. Your comment? Pointless.
posted by delmoi at 9:22 PM on September 11, 2009 [18 favorites]


They hate our skyscrapers?

Atta's Hamburg co-workers recall him singling out skyscrapers among the pernicious Western influences in Arab cities. And as Brook found, Atta was obsessed with the idea that some residents in Aleppo's traditional courtyard-oriented houses would tack on unsightly additions in order to prevent their women from being spied on by neighbors in high-rises. The fundamentalist mindset can work itself into even an honors-level graduate student's brain.
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:27 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Doesn't it seem like there's a lot more 9/11 stuff this year? Maybe without bush in office, there's less of a political import on the date that makes people, or liberals at least, more interested in talking about it.
posted by delmoi at 9:34 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Doesn't it seem like there's a lot more 9/11 stuff this year? Maybe without bush in office, there's less of a political import on the date that makes people, or liberals at least, more interested in talking about it.

Actually, Obama simply forgot to push through the Anti-Terrorist Healthcare (Freedom Bill) today.
posted by djgh at 9:41 PM on September 11, 2009


Wait. They hate our skyscrapers?

Well, it's a parsimonious explanation, I'll give you that.
posted by rokusan at 10:03 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Pointless.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:08 PM on September 11, 2009


"What's problematic for me is it really humanises the guy," Mr Brachman told AP news agency.

Huh? He is a human. He did something repulsive. Welcome to earth. Should we photoshop some devil horns on him? Until we get free from this "monster" nonsense (as Pickle did above) we're not going to break past these stupid divisions that allow us to murder each other.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:13 PM on September 11, 2009 [11 favorites]


FBI Informant Says Agents Missed Chance to Stop 9/11 Ringleader Mohammed Atta
posted by homunculus at 10:14 PM on September 11, 2009


They hate us for our freedomsstanding structures.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:19 PM on September 11, 2009


Atta doesn't deserve this kind of adulation.

I see what the problem is, now. You don't understand what the word "adulation" means in a sentence.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:23 PM on September 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


There is no such thing as 'evil'.

Some humans are just sick, and other sick humans often follow them. It's a delusion, a folie à plusieurs suffered by millions throughout history.

Demonizing people like Atta, or Hitler, or whoever the monster of the month is, as Chocolate Pickle does above, does not help us understand this madness, this sickness, and helps it proliferate, because we will never get to the root causes, find out what causes these symptoms.

That's right, Pickle, even people like Hitler were just sick, not evil. Own it. Recognize it for what it is. There is no such thing as objective evil, just sick people, who trap other sick people into their madness, harming others. This is part of what it is to be human, has been since prehistory.

Examining the life of Atta or Hitler is not 'adulation'. That is asinine. It is about (or should be about) understanding what causes this sickness.

On the contrary, making the study of such people verboten is really a form of adulation, a wall of separation like that around an untouchable caste, enforcing its existence for generations, a sort of negative iconography.

In short: grow up.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 10:24 PM on September 11, 2009 [13 favorites]


I can kind of see why people want to avoid this sort of thing. They don't need celebrity status. This is like talking about Hitler's paintings while Naziism was a major threat and getting lots of recruits. Wait until the main threat is gone before you start making a pop culture icon out of them. Until then they should be treated as if so foul that saying their name alone makes you want to wash your mouth.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:34 PM on September 11, 2009


Until then they should be treated as if so foul that saying their name alone makes you want to wash your mouth.

For one, it's rather supercilious to compare recruitment into Al-Qaeda-type groups with the rise of Nazism in Germany. Secondly, for those individuals who are already disaffected, any kind of demonizing may in fact simply draw then in. Skewing reality is always a costly game. Most people live their whole lives skewed, which is sad. Just be honest and try to make honest reckoning of motivations of criminals rather than creating a glib, false narrative.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:39 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Burhanistan: For one, it's rather supercilious to compare recruitment into Al-Qaeda-type groups with the rise of Nazism in Germany. Secondly, for those individuals who are already disaffected, any kind of demonizing may in fact simply draw then in.

I don't know about that. If you mention Hitler in any kind of positive tone in western society, people will act like you've just rubbed a handful of shit in their face. Islamic society needs to have a similar thing going on with the 9-11 hijackers (and terrorists in general) - you might disagree with the west, but if these guys are on your side you are undeniably and irrevocably evil, and the mainstream of society (even your society) will never do anything but hate you.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:46 PM on September 11, 2009


Ah, sophistry.
posted by boo_radley at 10:50 PM on September 11, 2009


Islamic society needs to have a similar thing going on with the 9-11 hijackers (and terrorists in general)

I don't know how many Muslims you know but the majority of them despise what happened on 9/11. Atta is dead. Trying to deconstruct his motivations and fitting them in a larger context is far more preferable to anyone who isn't propagating a war on either side.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:52 PM on September 11, 2009


Burhanistan: I don't know how many Muslims you know but the majority of them despise what happened on 9/11.

Here? Absolutely. Worldwide? Hard to say. In some places? No so much.

The main problem, IMO, is the lack of second-order disapproval. Yes, most of them do despite what happened, but a large number of them don't despise the people who don't despise what happened. It's not like us with say, neo-nazis.

A good analogy would be police. Most of them aren't corrupt, but because the non-corrupt ones back up the corrupt ones, corruption is much worse than it otherwise must be.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:04 PM on September 11, 2009


Here's one reasonably standard definition of "adulation", for example:
adulation |ˌajəˈlā sh ən|
n. obsequious flattery; excessive admiration or praise
There is nothing in the Slate piece which praises or admires Atta. Indeed, the very opposite is true; counterexamples abound:
"Atta's attempts to shield Aleppo from the market forces of the West are also more a function of his fears than of the city's history."
Or:
"While it may not be surprising that Atta's interpretation of Aleppo's history is deeply colored by ideology, the way in which he misinterprets the neighborhood's history gives us insight into how Atta saw the world."
One take-home lesson from 9/11/2001 is that it should never cease to astound anyone the depths to which the right-wing element in this country (let alone Internet forums) have and will continue to reinvent the meanings of words in the English language, all done in pursuit of some pressing desire that modern conservatives have to destroy the notions of equality, fairness, and humanity that the United States were founded on.

Whether it is falsehoods like the "PATRIOT Act", "Mission Accomplished", "freedom fries", "death panels", or even "adulation" of terrorists, language becomes a tool to lie, chisel and cheat — to make the ends justify the means — to make our country a workbench of torture, misery and death for sick profit — to bully people into small-minded obedience and conformity.
"Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." - G. Orwell, Politics and the English Language
Breaking the English language wasn't enough. Distrust in any kind of causal analysis of 9/11 is only one hallmark of the larger conservative agenda of anti-intellectualism. We have to kill these monsters! Turn off your brain!
Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering's fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play ("When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun") to the frequent use of such expressions as "degenerate intellectuals," "eggheads," "effete snobs," and "universities are nests of reds." - U. Eco, Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:11 PM on September 11, 2009 [19 favorites]


Also, don't get me wrong, I don't think we shouldn't research these guys. Just that we should be careful about fetishizing them in the media. Research being like what shows up in the journals, and fetishizing being what Family Guy does with Hitler (which is ok given the age, etc.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:31 PM on September 11, 2009


"At best it is pointless, at worst it indications fascination with the scum."

"By perceiving your opponents mental condition, you will always gain victory." - Musashi

"Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril." - Sun Tzu

"For whoever habitually suppresses the truth in the interests of tact will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought." - Liddel-Hart

"War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will. To accomplish the purpose of war, then, we must know both our own will and how to compel our enemy."- Clausewitz

"You son of a bitch, I've read your book" - Patton

What's critical, especially now, is to engage Islamic - and especially fundamental Islamic thought as it pertains to the creation of terrorists.
To anticipate an enemy's thinking, you have to understand his foundational texts. In strategy this is critical, but it counterterrorism it is not enough to merely understand and defeat one's opponent. One must address the conditions which give rise to the creation of the terrorist AND the conditions which do not as it relates to those foundational concepts so one can defuse the seminal experiences and perspectives before it begins.

A hard point to understand, but it is one step further than Sun Tzu's "Attack the enemy's strategy."
In such a case, force is already considered deployed. In counterterrorism, which is non-military in nature (despite asshat's actions to the contrary) because the targets and goals of a terrorist are different than the targets and goals of a military unit, the terrorist does not act against, or in, force, but in inference of force, in order to cause terror.

So - while one can argue studying the Nazis, or Hitler's paintings, etc. to gain some insight into their mindsets are useless and anachronistic, and may serve only morbid interest - which is to some degree true - one must also understand that radical Islam is governed by different rules of war.
Not to at all slight Islam itself, but jihadists and terrorists use the same war sunna that main forces take as doctrine. This has been true for hundreds of years. The emphasis on mobility in desert warfare is a tactical necessity. The predication of political deception as a tool of warfare (Taqiyya), or the deliberate targeting of non-combatants (as long as they're infidels) is doctrinal back to Muhammad. This is not to say The Base and other outfits interpret this material radically differently than mainstream Islam - e.g. Taqiyya means something very different to Joe Islam than it would to someone like Atta. But we're talking about the latter's thinking - according to The Al Qaeda Reader deception is more important than courage.

Atta is not the product of a chaotic set of rude events that led him to strike out but a coherent set of values and concepts that are rational (in their own way) albeit ruthless and inhuman.

It's getting better, but it's still almost a black/white/red trichotomy in academia where you take a Middle East studies course and you get either this simplistic demonization or lectures on the evils of colonialism or tangential topics like gender studies.

You can't rationally evaluate and understand something without examining it critically and honestly and there is most definitely - despite what left wing asshats have to say - a connection between Islamic doctrine and the methods of Islamic terrorism.

So too, to have a reasoned look at the topic, one can't - despite what right wing asshats have to say - that terrorism is somehow ingrained in the doctrine or endemic to Islam.

One needs to examine the individuals who commit acts like this as well as the people who guide and train them.
The simple fact is that Atta, and men and women like him are most definitely human. They had mothers and fathers like everyone else. They had formative experiences in their youth and perhaps transformative experiences as adults.
If we fail to recognize that what we're fighting are not these people but these experiences - these concepts, these connections, then we're never going to stop making more and more bullets and more and more weapons of war in the delusional belief that "oh, if we just kill THESE GUYS - these BAD GUYS - life will be perfect."

You can't make enough bullets. You can't kill enough people. Believe me, I've been there. It will never happen. So we either engage and understand and take measures to remedy and prevent or we keep trying to fight ghosts with hardware and in the process become exactly the monsters we're trying to fight. Because men are straw but ideas are oars.

What most people fear, I think, is that their ideas/ideals will fail in the clash. If they do, so be it. Change is good. The world would be a better place if, say, Fred Hampton wasn't drugged and gunned down in his bed.
The cops who did that killed his body. Now? There's playgrounds named after him. People celebrate Fred Hampton day in Chicago (this weekend there's a Fred Hampton scholarship fund celebration).
Tell me his ghost isn't stalking the Earth 10xs larger than the man himself ever was.

But his ideas were different. They were radical, but they weren't terrorists (and even if they were - wrong way to handle domestic terrorists).
Atta - we should know where he came from. We should bring our ideas of truth and liberty and religious freedom to stand in the harsh light against that background and question ourselves as to whether it is that we fear our ideas will fail or whether we fear that we only pay lip service to them and we fear that it is us that will fail.
Walking it the way you talk it is a small price to pay for not having to kill anyone.
And what we talk, the constitution, freedom, sure as hell worth dying for.
So there's not a damn thing to fear. Make the son of a bitch get up and walk around. Parade every aspect of his life out in the open, I want to see it.
Exorcism is good to get rid of those kinds of spirits. As long as our faith is strong, we can survive it.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:04 AM on September 12, 2009 [22 favorites]


Fifty questions on 9/11
posted by telstar at 12:48 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


So this guy is the Prince Charles of Radical Islam? MI5 need to get the Prince of Wales under continual surveillance as a matter of some urgency.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:05 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, they just hate me. it's all my fault.

And yes, I'm an architect.


No, they don't hate you. They hate what our governments do and that is to prop up the most pernicious, ugly dictatorships such as Mubarek, Abdullah Aziz, Sadam (until he became an embarrassment) Pahlavi- and the weeping sore that is the Israeli/Palestinian status quo.

They don't hate your freedoms, they envy them. And their biggest mistake was allowing the US to claim victim status.
posted by mattoxic at 2:17 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mattoxic, you're reciting things that anger you. These are not necessarily the things that motivate a radical Moslem. For instance, Osama bin Laden wants to reconquer Granada. In Spain. Surrendered to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492.

You simply cannot treat radical Islamic goals and objectives as if they were secular grievances. It is very likely - almost certain - that supporters of Al Qaeda would be happier with a "pernicious, ugly dictatorship" run along Sharia lines than with a secular, Western democracy.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:24 AM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mattoxic, you're reciting things that anger you. These are not necessarily the things that motivate a radical Moslem. For instance, Osama bin Laden wants to reconquer Granada. In Spain. Surrendered to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492.


Bin Laden is using language that panders to his audience - the radicalised or dispossessed young men and women of the mulsim world. His message is not for us, and therefore you think it outlandish.

He knows that a caliphate is about as ambit as its gets, but to the uneducated and angry boy it represents hope- and probably makes perfect sense. To a western audience it's of course ridiculous.

And Jo, I have to disagree. Their grievances are very much secular, albeit expressed in the language of religion. Sharia law represents certainty- it's god's law after all- and would certainly (in the minds of) offer a far better alternative to the pervasive fear and corruption of a secular dictatorship.

The reasons for the attack have to be discussed, they didn't just attack because they hate American people- that's simplistic and dangerous.
posted by mattoxic at 5:41 AM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was always more personally affected by 911 from an architectural and urban point of view than a human one, i.e.: I didn't know any of the people who died there, but I did know and love the towers. It's weird to think that Atta might have been driven by a comparable, if opposite, feeling.
posted by signal at 6:03 AM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you mention Hitler in any kind of positive tone in western society, people will act like you've just rubbed a handful of shit in their face.

Or, they'll give you a lucrative career as a respected conservative pundit.
posted by EarBucket at 6:30 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Atta was a monster.

Was he a vampire? A werewolf? Or was he a psychotic mass murderer who, nonetheless, had (just like every other human) motives for doing what he did, regardless of how sick and twisted they were?

The idea that we shouldn't try to understand why evil people do what they do, if only so that we can try to prevent others from doing the same thing, is nuts.
posted by EarBucket at 6:33 AM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


The respected, realist Foreign Policy magazine on what the leak of friendly photos of KSM mean in terms of the struggle for hearts & minds.
posted by noway at 7:11 AM on September 12, 2009


I'm all but certain we call people like this 'monster' to reassure ourselves we could not do something so horrible as they. This is a fallacy; there are / were simply people. We all have the capacity for atrocity. To deny this is to begin the same path as the 'monsters'.
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:34 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's put Smedlyman in charge.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:53 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Burhanistan: I don't know how many Muslims you know but the majority of them despise what happened on 9/11.

Mitrovarr: Here? Absolutely. Worldwide? Hard to say. In some places? No so much
.

Do you truly think that it is "hard to say" if 501 million of the the 1 billion(!) worldwide Muslims despise what happened on 9/11? If so, I suggest the answer is more analysis of the human beings who perpetrated the act, not less. Because that's ten times the population of Germany in WW II. Maybe we should take it very very seriously indeed that they might, just, have some sort of resonance in real people who are not crazy, and figure out why.
posted by Rumple at 8:54 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I find it interesting that Hilter also did a stint as a draftsman early in his career. I'm in the profession and come to think of it, I've worked with some real nutjobs with strange & absolute viewpoints.
posted by tfmm at 9:12 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


So this guy is the Prince Charles of Radical Islam?

Or perhaps the Ian Fleming of terrorism.
posted by acb at 9:13 AM on September 12, 2009


I did a stint as a draftsman as well. My nearest coworker was a proselytizing, religious fundamentalist who once expressed to me his serious misgivings about the fact that I was cohabiting (platonically) with a member of the opposite sex.
I wonder which of us will turn out to be the terrorist.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:32 AM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Turn off your brain!
posted by oaf at 10:47 AM on September 12, 2009


Let's put Smedlyman in charge.

Already tried that, didn't we?
posted by synaesthetichaze at 11:00 AM on September 12, 2009


Let's put Smedleyman in charge.

We tried that in '33. He said no.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 11:07 AM on September 12, 2009


Curse you, synaesthetichaze...
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 11:08 AM on September 12, 2009


I'm curious about the garbage on the roofs. Looks like demolition work left unfinished- but clearly a good deal has been removed - so is it just a half assed job? A job in midstream? And how widespread is this sort of demolition? Do new accretions arise from the dust and lumber? If so, what do they look like? Are we talking unfinished dreams? Vandalism?

Anyone with insight to it, I'd love to hear more.

(By the way, further inquiry got me to this site, which some of you might find interesting.)
posted by IndigoJones at 12:01 PM on September 12, 2009


We all have the capacity for atrocity. To deny this is to begin the same path as the 'monsters'.

But let's not forget who actually knocked down the fucking twin towers and flew a fucking plane into the Pentagon and tried to take one into DC. And they would do it again if they had the chance, or slit any one of our throats.

This glossy pin-up of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: did the Red Cross bring in the make-up artist and wardrobe? I mean, he looks *great!
posted by njbradburn at 12:52 PM on September 12, 2009


While newly released images of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed have brought "the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks" back into the public eye just before their anniversary"

Golly! What a coinkydink! And right there on the telescreen.

Now I will hate that evil Goldstein. Hate, Hate, Hate!
posted by telstar at 12:55 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


But let's not forget who actually knocked down the fucking twin towers and flew a fucking plane into the Pentagon and tried to take one into DC. And they would do it again if they had the chance, or slit any one of our throats.

Bomb Iran! Torture brown people!

This glossy pin-up of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: did the Red Cross bring in the make-up artist and wardrobe? I mean, he looks *great!

Oh, for fuck's sake.
posted by dirigibleman at 2:05 PM on September 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Burhanistan: "Should we photoshop some devil horns on him?"

It comforts our American exceptionalism to believe (and to bully others into believing) that the hijackers arose in a political vacuum - motivated solely by their intrinsic personal evil.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:20 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


It comforts our American exceptionalism to believe (and to bully others into believing) that the hijackers arose in a political vacuum - motivated solely by their intrinsic personal evil.

Perhaps we look at people like Theodore Kaczynski, who's polemics were an excuse to engage in the behavior that he wanted to because he was at root a sociopath. Then we make the assumption that the same psychology must apply to suicide bombers. To some extent it may even be true, but this ignores the whole structure of support that enabled them to operate on the scale they did instead of some cafe bombing in Europe or the Middle East.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:35 PM on September 12, 2009


BrotherCaine: "Perhaps we look at people like Theodore Kaczynski, who's polemics were an excuse to engage in the behavior that he wanted to because he was at root a sociopath. Then we make the assumption that the same psychology must apply to suicide bombers."

Sociopaths are violent as children. They torture animals, for example. To my knowledge, Kaczynski - while as socially isolated as we might expect in any child of his degree of intelligence (and place on the autism spectrum) - never hurt a fly. That is, until some time after his participation in a CIA-sponsored mindfuck research project. (Did I mention that the researcher had published his speculations on Hitler's possible homosexual relationships? And isn't that really the kind of scientist you'd want conducting your behavioral study?)

We can dismiss his beliefs as mistaken and condemn his actions as immoral. But he was not a sociopath - if the term has any clinical meaning.

Likewise, to label suicide bombers as "sociopaths" is empty rhetoric. If I were a young man from a country with a proud tradition of resistance against conquerors, who had seen my family blown to bits by the empire's warplanes, facing a certain future of violence and poverty, I might consider it heroism to claim the lives of several of the oppressors (and their collaborators) at the cost of my own.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:27 PM on September 12, 2009


If I were a young man from a country with a proud tradition of resistance against conquerors, who had seen my family blown to bits by the empire's warplanes, facing a certain future of violence and poverty, I might consider it heroism to claim the lives of several of the oppressors (and their collaborators) at the cost of my own.

Maybe, but wasn't there a thread here recently about terrorist organizations recruiting the educated and affluent?

Anyway, I'm trying to speculate why "terrorists" get pigeonholed as sociopaths by Americans even when there actions are more like those of "freedom fighters". Personally, I have to agree with Smedleyman's know your enemy comment above.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:00 PM on September 12, 2009


I find the entire idea of this to be obscene. Atta was a monster. Trying to research him and understand what kinds of things he was thinking is like doing an analysis of Hitler's paintings before he became politically active. At best it is pointless, at worst it indications fascination with the scum.

Atta doesn't deserve this kind of adulation.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to update my anime blog.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:16 PM on September 11

posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:50 PM on September 12, 2009


"Sociopaths are violent as children."

Uh, no.

Sociopaths are as common as muck, it's a bog-standard personality disorder. The vast majority of them are not physically violent at all. You probably work with a couple, they often do well in competitive workplace hierarchies.

You're thinking of psychopaths, another blend of personality disorder which cohabits and crosses boundaries with sociopathy. But you're still wrong. Even most psychopaths are not violent, or torturers or animals.

What you are really talking about are serial murderers, many of whom do start with the torture or dissection of animals, but not all.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 9:50 PM on September 12, 2009


If I were a young man from a country with a proud tradition of resistance against conquerors, who had seen my family blown to bits by the empire's warplanes, facing a certain future of violence and poverty, I might consider it heroism to claim the lives of several of the oppressors (and their collaborators) at the cost of my own.

And indeed we do idolize soldiers, say, who volunteer for "suicide missions", or who throw their own bodies on top of hand grenades. The difference between a suicide bomber and a US Marine is one of degree, not one of kind.
posted by Rumple at 10:31 PM on September 12, 2009



And indeed we do idolize soldiers, say, who volunteer for "suicide missions", or who throw their own bodies on top of hand grenades. The difference between a suicide bomber and a US Marine is one of degree, not one of kind.


But even you put in ironic quotation marks.

I'm guessing that if we did find a True American to infiltrate Bin Laden's cave with a vest full of Semtex and he blowed up self and BL, the general reaction would be bewilderment. Some grimly satisfied, I suppose maybe, but more than that, I think a lot of definitely head scratching, and "seeking answers". (And Lord knows I wouldn't my name on the sign off list of such a mission.)

The grenade thing is a split second spontaneous act of love of fellow soldier, not a get the enemy hate thing and not really comparable.

In any event, I definitely do see a difference in kind, not degree, between cold blooded planned suicide that I can abort at any time and a) I will definitely die in this situation so I might as well make it worthwhile (e.g. retreat from Bataan) or b) my hot blooded instincts are directing me to save others with my death.

NB also the difference in how we perceive a nation at war. 9/11 always struck me as a sucker punch.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:26 AM on September 13, 2009


"The difference between a suicide bomber and a US Marine is one of degree, not one of kind."
Slight disagreement there. The Marine that throws himself on top of a grenade is doing it to save the lives of his brothers in arms. The suicide bomber (if we're taking the stereotype) is deliberately targeting innocent civilians.

I will concede though that the 'glorious sacrifice' kind of suicide attack against the enemy has been lauded in the U.S. - examples abound. Hell, pick up a copy of Sgt. Rock.
But the difference in kind is the target.

Although I will grant that the concept of 'enemy' may differ. That is, to a radical Islamist there's no such thing as an 'innocent civilian.'
And one can argue this is a related - although with some solid differences (and I'm speaking tactically not philosophically - so those differences are concrete, not abstract) - concept to acceptable collateral damage in terms of civilian lives.

One can argue that 9/11 *is* a sucker punch - but that it is legitimate in terms of acceptable means and what is possible given what tools one has at one's disposal.
e.g. if you see a guy who keeps beating the crap out of you and your friends every day walking down the street and you belt him one from behind - one could argue that's legit because you're pretty much engaged in constant, unbroken struggle.

I would argue terrorism, as a tactic, is counterproductive. My fundamental distaste for it and cultural leanings aside it is, manifestly, self-defeating. Countless examples through history - from the Templar/assassin war to the thugees to the IRA, etc.
Terrorism vs. war is loosely equal to vengeance vs. law - given the objective is to ultimately achieve peace.
If you're not looking to win, stop the killing, or even end the violence and achieve a cessation of any kind - terrorism might be your thing. And for some folks, it is.

There are some examples of groups willing to engage in terror, but unwilling to initiate genocide, say. The Inquisition, say.
For these folks it's about orthodoxy and purity, eradicating heterodoxic thought. Death is simply the expedient tool with which to foster terror and so, orthodoxy.
And one can argue the degrees to which various organizations promote orthodoxy in thinking. The tools they use, in contrast. Obviously there's propaganda and whatnot.

Terror is unique in that regard though. It's the only method in which death (and fear of it) is a means of continuation, not an ending.
Joe Stalin, I think, said this himself in response to the Black Mariahs picking up the innocent. He said that it was important to prosecute the innocent, perhaps more than the guilty, in order to spread fear.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:36 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


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