[Being observations prompted by the 10th anniversary or just relevant links I've found of interest. I may update the post during the day with new entries.]
> 1. Some previously unpublished photos by James Nachtwey of that infamous crime and terrible day.
> 2. '9/11 was a crime, not an act of war' - so says the Guardian this weekend, echoing Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller (£). Here's a different point of view: the assault on America that day might have been a crime and an act of war. This is conceptually possible, for it was a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute definition of that offence; and for an organization to prepare a mass attack on the citizens under one country's jurisdiction from the territory of another country, while enjoying the freedom to train its operatives there and prepare such attacks, may certainly be regarded as an act of war. It is permissible, of course, to believe that war (in the shape of the invasion of Afghanistan) wasn't the wisest of responses to 9/11. But this doesn't vindicate the claim that 9/11 wasn't an act of war.
> 3. Pankaj Mishra: 'though al-Qaida murdered many people on 9/11 and undermined American self-esteem, the capacity of a few homicidal fanatics to seriously harm a large and powerful country such as the US was always limited'. You may judge for yourself the degree of moral perspicacity in thinking that turning part of Manhattan into a mass graveyard and apocalyptic ruin doesn't count as serious enough harm. It's the discourse (isn't it?) of the less-than-mortal threat to the nation; as if a country's leaders don't also have a duty to protect its citizens against the threat of mass murder, as well as protecting the existence of the country itself. The implication, too, is that no further serious harm would have been done to, and in, the US had successive administrations not responded by military means in Afghanistan.
> 4. And what this implication is, is the act of helping oneself to an alternative hypothetical histories. Here's one, from Gary Younge: 'A combination of diplomatic pressure, targeted intelligence-led operations and a more enlightened foreign policy was what would have been... most successful.' He just knows, presumably, that diplomatic pressure on the Taliban and these other measures would have sufficed to restrain and defeat Al Qaida. How does he know this? He assumes.
> 5. Here's more hypothetical history, this time from the New Statesman: 'In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, it felt to many as if we were entering a period of darkness, as the US and its allies, principally the United Kingdom, prepared their response. What is often forgotten all these years later is that there was a sense, too, that this crisis offered an unrivalled opportunity to transform the world for the better, that it was a time of despair but also one of hope and solidarity between peoples... It could have been so different. The appalling September 2001 attacks did fleetingly create the conditions in which a new world order could have emerged, one founded on the principles of international law, with nations operating not unilaterally but more effectively and transparently through supranational organisations...' Yes, this might have worked, straight off the bat, to deal with the threat posed by Al Qaida; but it also might not have. Help yourself anyway to the view that it would have.
> 6. The Times, by contrast, emphasizes the effectiveness - despite serious setbacks - of military means (£): 'Yet we have shown the will to conduct a relentless campaign against this enemy and our successes have been more notable than our failures. The recent operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden was not just important because it ended the threat from a dangerous murderer, but because it showed that terrorists could expect to be tracked down and brought to account even many years after their crimes.'
> 7. Apropos, here's Peter Bergen writing in last week's Sunday Times (£) about the the weakening of Al Qaida: 'In Pakistan the group's leadership has been decimated under the pressure of an American drone campaign... [P]erhaps the most dangerous job in the world is occupying one of the top slots in Al-Qaeda... These men are hard to replace.' Military force, to put it differently, might actually have played a vital part.
> 8. Then there's also this from Jason Burke in today's Observer: 'The tension between local identities and global ideologies is most clearly seen with reactions to terrorist violence in the Islamic world over the last decade. Condoning bombings a long way away is much easier than supporting someone planting IEDs on your street.'
> 9. Badge of honour, mark of Seumas. Talking about condoning things (see 8), Seumas Milne claims it as an honour the way he and other like-minded folk reacted to 9/11. Diagnosing the deeper causes of the crimes of that day as rooted in American foreign policy and opposing 'the drive to war' have been shown, Milne now says, to be only good sense. One might want to dispute it, but that isn't the purpose of this note. It is merely to observe how he misses a crucial point. People were revolted by his own reaction and that of his co-thinkers neither principally because of the causal hypothesis they offered nor principally because of their immediate policy recommendations. It was, rather, the use of a causal story to put the central emphasis of blame for 9/11 - just a day or two after the event - not on those who had planned and organized the attack and those who had carried it out but on... America. Read the columns again of which Milne is now so proud. His, for example: 'why people might have been driven to carry out such atrocities, sacrificing their own lives in the process - or why the United States is hated with such bitterness'. These are the authentic tones of apologia and blame-shifting, with the direct culprits driven to what they had done and another culprit looming up behind them as the main object of opprobrium. Obscured behind it those actually done to death (not at all the same thing as US imperialism), and the fact that everything has background causes but these 'drive' very few people to mass murder.
> 10. Notable in a different way for being repellent is Gary Younge's charge of narcissism: 'But beyond mourning of the immediate victims' friends and families, there was an element of narcissism to this national grief that would play out in policy and remains evident in the tone of many of today's retrospectives. The problem, for some, was not that such a tragedy had happened but that it could have happened in America and to Americans.' Dear God (if I may be allowed the expression)! There is, it is true, a form of victimology, for want of a better word, according to which the losses and sufferings of one's own people count for more than those of other peoples. Should someone, today, an American, try to elevate the horrors of 9/11 so that all others are diminished beside them, that could fairly be said to be a kind of narcissism. But in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 Americans - to say nothing of anyone else, just ordinary human beings who had seen what they had seen on their TV screens - were entitled to grief and outrage for the victims of that day. But young Gary knows better. His, too, is a lamentable mode. The sufferings of the world are many and large, and in certain contexts we need to be reminded of this. But when some awful tragedy has struck a group of people, to insist in or about that moment that it isn't unique or even the worst thing that has ever happened is a belittling of it.
> 11. Christopher Hitchens: 'For me, this was yet another round in a long historic dispute. Briefly stated, this ongoing polemic takes place between the anti-imperialist left and the anti-totalitarian left. In one shape or another, I have been involved – on both sides of it – all my life. And, in the case of any conflict, I have increasingly resolved it on the anti-totalitarian side. (This may not seem much of a claim, but some things need to be found out by experience and not merely derived from principle.)'
> 12. Eliza Manningham-Buller, she of the unhelpfulness of the phrase 'war on terror', she of what happened on 9/11 to be treated, rather, as a crime (see 2 above), goes on to say (£): 'In the garden of the British Embassy in Washington on the day after 9/11, we had discussed the near-certainty of a war in Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaeda bases there and drive out the terrorists and their sponsors, the Taleban. We all saw that war in Afghanistan as necessary.' Hmmm, necessary in the way of regular policing, was it?
> 13. From this, by Jeffrey Goldberg, I dissent: 'Self-criticism is necessary, even indispensable, for democracy to work. But this decade-long drama began with the unprovoked murder of 3,000 people, simply because they were American, or happened to be located in proximity to Americans. It is important to get our categories straight: The profound moral failures of the age of 9/11 belong to the murderers of al Qaeda, and those (especially in certain corners of the Muslim clerisy, along with a handful of bien-pensant Western intellectuals) who abet them, and excuse their actions. The mistakes we made were sometimes terrible (and sometimes, as at Abu Ghraib and in the CIA's torture rooms, criminal) but they came about in reaction to a crime without precedent.' There are two uses of 'but' in that paragraph and each of them has a similar function to the standard 'but' of those who would draw attention away from the crime of 9/11 to its supposed originating causes; except that Goldberg for his part wants to fall back behind the mistakes made and crimes committed by 'us' putatively in reaction to 9/11 - as if this could somehow lighten the weight and seriousness of them. It's an instructive passage, all the same, and to be studied by all who plead that the discourse of earlier causes, earlier events (generally to do with Western foreign policy), is only ever explanatory, not diversionary or attempting exculpation. There is no but about Abu Ghraib, torture or extraordinary rendition. They were crimes that should not have been committed, whatever preceded them. They were 'profound moral failures' in their own right. (Via.)