President George W. Bush did not say what was in the script. One could
even write that he did not say what Americans until now believed one
should say at such a moment. He has withstood the pressure of succumbing
to the collective consciousness and if one interprets the impressions
correctly by doing so he has reinvented a piece of America. His
address will do more than bolster international solidarity with the
United States. Despite his allusions to Pearl Harbor and Franklin D.
Roosevelt, Bush's breaking the mold heralds a changed perception of
America's role. His speech shows that it is no mere phrase to call the
coming struggle a "struggle for culture." This speech could
become something like a founding document of this cultural renewal.
screenplay, this all-powerful reality script that has long been creating
reality in its image, hails from Hollywood and the literary-industrial
complexes of the past 50 years. It is engrained not just in the minds
of politicians, generals and journalists; it has been rooted in the
imagination of the entire world, including, as we have seen, in that
of the terrorists, as a globalized role model. They produced their bloody
Hollywood exactly as they found it in the American imagination. In fact,
as every detail shows, down to preparatory visits to the gym, they set
it in motion like a machine. And they believed that everything would
happen the way it is set out in Hollywood's scripts.
to the script, this is what should have happened after the attack: A
government, surrounded by bunkers real and imagined, fearfully and hastily
sets in motion a fateful mechanism that engulfs the world in flames.
It was hardly coincidence that CNN used the apocalyptic title "The
Day After" for its coverage. In Hollywood's imagination, in the
1980s and '90s the attack on the Pentagon alone would have unleashed
the big strike.
the future brings, this much is certain now: It is the U.S. government
and not, as European fantasy would have it, concerned world opinion
that is urging patience. The U.S. president is not dealing with the
crisis sitting in a bunker, as Tom Clancy and Hollywood played it, but
by visiting a mosque a few days after the assault. The United States
is not forcing conspiracy theories upon the world, taking the big powers
into a world war another stereotype instead, it is trying
to forge an alliance with Russia and China.
other words, until the destruction of the World Trade Center, that is
to say, for as long as the Islamist terrorists had the initiative, everything
was running according to a Hollywood script. But only until that point.
The Americans are putting an end to the movie. And they are also putting
an end to any form of predictability, even by the notoriously anti-American
groups in Europe. For the Islamic terrorists, nothing could be more
disruptive to strategic planning than this change of script.
will be a showdown." These words were spoken yesterday not by Bush
but by the Taleban's ambassador to Pakistan. This was the moment when
the ambassador, deliberately speaking not in any Afghan language but
in Arabic, used a piece of Wild West terminology in a renewed attempt
to focus the Arab world on the comic-book version of America, which
yesterday became history.
the Arab world becomes unable to interpret the West, it would make sense
for us to reassess our own comic-book versions of the attackers and
their leaders. Those who attacked New York were not displaced, starving,
misguided youths. The men who studied in Hamburg were all from middle-class
backgrounds. Their parents appear to be enlightened, almost secularized
citizens. The attackers were also far from ascetic. From the German
girlfriend to the drinking bout before the attack, everything points
to a type of global terrorist whose ideology consists essentially of
nothing but murdering other people.
Sept. 11, we know that in addition to this death wish, it also consists
of planning and executing mass killings of civilians. Who can seriously
doubt that such a domestic frontline will open up in Germany too? Groups
like the irrelevant Association of German Writers (to which hardly any
writers now belong) that can think of nothing better than to
warn against a rerun of the nationwide pogroms of November 1938, this
time with burning mosques are following a script of alarming
enemies of the open society know no more about that society than what
its own cultural industry throws on the world market. In Bush's speech,
they have now suffered the first powerful counterattack. They cannot
read the signs, and these children of the wealthy classes merely imitate
the showdown they know from the movies. An open society reacts differently,
with more skill, intelligence and patience.
it is also true that our society itself expected this least of all.
Its image of immediate escalation, inspired by the Cold War and still
often promoted by narrow-minded politicians and generals, no longer
applies. This does not necessarily mean the crisis will not escalate.
But it will no longer do so for the reasons laid down in the familiar
plot. There is no script.
will change. Films and books will now change as will culture
itself. For example, the idea that every undertaking by Western civilization
must end in failure. Or the idea that we have no enemies. Or the idea
that we can leave it to America to attract all the hate for the world
in which we live.