The Conversation

Looking Back, on the Left Looking Back on 9/11

Over the weekend I returned to my bookshelves to revisit a slim volume of essays compiled by left-wing activist Jee Kim (now with the Ford Foundation) about the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. The book, Another World is Possible: Conversations in a Time of Terror, is an interesting and sometimes amusing exploration of a previously marginal political community struggling to come to terms with reality.

There are some truly great stories of survival, such as that of a Pakistani man who is helped to safety by a Hasidic Jew. But many of the recollections lurch suddenly into sloganeering, such as an essay by a rescue worker who concludes his story with an exhortation to "create a world free from imperialism in all its manifestations, one that moves us from the civil war that is capitalism to a higher form of society."

There's more to such sad silliness than ideological identification with the terrorists' anti-Americanism (and hatred of Israel--a theme that echoes in anti-Israel dogma throughout the book). What most of the activists seem to be doing is trying to fit a new struggle--radical Islam versus the West, including the left--into an old paradigm, in which the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle had drawn the political battle lines.

There is, in other words, a kind of nostalgia for simpler times. It's that same nostalgia that allowed the left to go into flights of fantasy over the candidacy of Barack Obama. His simple, and simplistic, promises of "hope" and "change" (and even unity!) evoked a romantic attachment to the past, pre-dot-bomb and pre-recount and pre-terror, a world comfortable in its own illusions, including the illusion of resistance.


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