The Post 5/1/11 World?

The Post 5/1/11 World?

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the twin towers, there was shock and horror. In the not-so-immediate aftermath, there was a lot of sweeping rhetoric about the “post-9/11 world.” These grand statements were somewhat understandable. The world, or at least America’s relationship with the world, changed after 9/11.

Ostensibly weakened by this act of terrorism, the U.S.’ status as a hegemonic power was, to some, called into question. Would American society restructure itself similarly to the way in which it did following World War II and the dawn of the nuclear age? Would America see the creation of a sort of post-postmodernism?

Whether or not any of this actually happened is debatable, but the attacks on the World Trade Center did have a significant impact on the culture. Take literature, which so often reflects the politics of its time. Jonathan Safran-Foer’s literary career launched so successfully and rapidly due largely to the way in which he represented post-9/11 themes in his novels, most notably Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Other authors, such as Joseph O’Neill, owe much of the success of their careers to their works which resulted from the painful aftermath of the attacks. Muslim-American literature (e.g. the two bestsellers and oft-chosen “reading project” novels, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist) essentially arose from the response of Muslim Americans to 9/11, and the way in which they were treated following the attacks. Many readers took comfort in the mere accuracy of representation in these novels, even if they did not actually gain closure or peace or more equal treatment from the texts.

Many non-Muslim Americans did not change the way they treated Muslim Americans whatsoever in the aftermath of the attacks. Others treated Muslims with increased compassion and concern or, conversely, with suspicion and hatred. For example, the differing ways in which young students and their families treated a Pakistani friend of mine exemplifies the polarized treatment of Muslims in America: her close friends worried for her safety when she visited Pakistan over the summer because of the dangers associated with the recently-declared war in its neighboring country, while the families of other classmates not only dis-invited her from parties, but also avoided driving by mosques and looked warily at curry chicken.

We went to war in two countries, and the military justification had much to do with the 9/11 attacks. Parents more frequently bought their kids cell phones because of concerns about safety and, specifically, the desire to be able to quickly contact their children in the event of another terrorist attack. Seemingly every aspect of society, from grand international campaigns to cultural minutia, was altered. But how will the assassination of the man who orchestrated this horrific, society-altering event affect the politics and culture of today’s world?

This event has already created an increased sense of both patriotism and nationalism in America, and in countries which hold both similar and opposing ideologies to ours. Both of these sentiments may continue to increase, and while the increase, especially in the U.S., of patriotism is both understandable and positive, the increase in nationalism which this event has inspired is more worrying. The issue of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the U.S.’ subsequent response to the events, including the choice to enter into war in Afghanistan and Iraq, is already highly polarizing. The fear that the assassination of Osama bin Laden will increase nationalistic fervor in Americans while simultaneously increasing nationalism and American opposition in countries who do not support our policies is plausible and worrying. At the same time that we, as Americans, rejoice in this ostensible victory in opposing terrorism, we are also wary of the possible backlash from those who consider us an enemy on the international stage.

We see the Navy SEALs’ assassination of Osama bin Laden as inevitable, simply because we are America. However, had we not captured him, I presume we would have also seen that as understandable. We would have rationalized it, somehow, and life would have continued on much in the way it did before May 1 (May 2, Pakistan Standard Time).

But the U.S. did assassinate Osama bin Laden, and both American politics and society have changed. While some Americans are uncomfortable with celebrating the death of a human being, even that of one who orchestrated the attacks of thousands of innocent people, for others, rejoicing in this event causes no internal conflict. Many whose faith in the geopolitical and military power of the United States was shaken after the 9/11 attacks have seen it restored because of Osama’s assassination.

This event may not have created a post-5/1/11 world, but it has likely created a post-5/1/11 America. We as Americans, and others on the geopolitical stage will have to see how this new society manifests in the weeks and months following the assassination.