On al-Qaida: ‘The spectacle is all’

‘The spectacle is all’ by Tariq Ali for The Guardian, September 9, 2006

Tariq Ali admires Lawrence Wright’s reconstruction of the lives of the main characters in the 9/11 horror show, The Looming Tower

Forty years ago, in a scathing and prescient manifesto against consumer capitalism and celebrity culture entitled The Society of the Spectacle, the French situationist philosopher Guy Debord described everyday life as “a permanent opium war”. Modern capitalism was an “immense accumulation of spectacles” and what was once “truly lived has become mere representation”.

This is helpful. We can better understand the impact of the sensational counter-spectacle of 9/11, described by its principal inspirer as an “America struck by Almighty Allah in its vital organs”. Vital, of course, only because of their symbolic importance. Might Allah have been reading Debord? The events transformed Osama bin Laden into a global celebrity, a sinister Darth Vader figure who is an object of fascination for friend and enemy alike. Even though al-Qaida itself is clearly in decline, the world is preoccupied by wars and occupations old and new and a new triumvirate of Muslim leaders has emerged (Ahmadinejad in Iran, Nasrallah in Lebanon and Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq), while the global publishing empires continue to produce books that take us back to the events of 9/11. Another example, perhaps, of ways in which the military-ideological-cultural dominance of the United States can provincialise the rest of the world. read more

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