Archive for October, 2001

The Ism Spam

Monday, October 8th, 2001

Oct o8, 2001

The Ism Spam

One of the little-commented-upon but most striking aspects of the last two weeks has been the way the internet has freed the common man’s response to any big event from the shackles of “the authorised version”. Ten years ago, during the Gulf War, Joe Blow and Bharat Kumar had hardly any access to information or opinion that was not pumped out at him by CNN or other mainstream US government-influenced media. How different it is this time! All our mailboxes have been awash since September 11 with cut-and-pasted opinions from famous, obscure, alternative, leftist, rightist, anarchist, nihilist and every other -ist school of thought. Interesting takes on the events from unknown people have been forwarded in floods over the global computer networks from Vladivostok to Bukavu. Today, you need to only have a modem to know the Taliban version of events, the FBI rendition, the Flat-Earthist variation, and then try to form your opinion.

Of course, once you willingly expose yourself to this blizzard of beliefs, inferences and conclusions, developing your own viewpoint becomes that much more difficult. Which could be the best thing to happen to humankind faced with catastrophes on morally ambiguous terrain. The access to views from all across the spectrum can only be a mind-opening, humbling and tempering experience. The complexities and perspectives that this hall of opinionated mirrors reveals is a powerful toner-down of extreme and kneejerk emotional responses. Today, minority opinions of all ilk can be accessed and heard easily. You may still fall in line with the majority, but it would be a much more informed decision than some years ago. And that is good.

Operation Nomenclatura

The regularity with which the US has been changing the name of the planned military action has been bizarre, even for a soundbyte-and-gestures-obsessed country. Operation Noble Eagle had a short life of about three days, to be replaced by Infinite Justice, which has now given way to Enduring Freedom. Here’s a semiotic interpretation a friend suggests: Noble Eagle was about height, hinting at images of that majestic hunter up there in the azure; Infinite Justice denoted breadth: justice and fairplay across an endless spectrum; and Enduring Freedom is about length, the longevity of a new, safe world order. Make no mistake, there are many dimensions to this military nomenclature business.

Delusions Of Peace

I possibly have more close friends in the US than in India, and I am in touch with them more regularly than those in my own country. One of my New York friends is very involved in coordinating the activities of various left, liberal and pacifist groups who are calling for restraint and introspection and trying to convince the US government that a war will not solve anything. Being an optimist (what other sort of person would attempt this?), he told me that he was trying to get the viewpoint of the “rational, democratic, peace-loving, tolerant majority” to bear on US policy.

I fear this majority does not exist anywhere except in the minds of liberal dreamers and cynical self-servers who use this mythical majority for their own peculiar purposes. I must admit that in a life that is now fast approaching middle age, I have searched high and low and found that if this majority is alive, it is not only silent, but in pretty deep hiding. And for many of those who tout these fictitious teeming masses of kinder, gentler human beings, it’s just a ticket to international conferences, which take place in exotic holiday spots, and most of these left-liberals’ income is in dollars from the US, which is their convenient and primary hate object.

In the US right now, the majority wants, if not war, at least some clear unambiguous retribution for the senseless loss of thousands of innocent lives. The majority wants blood. So it was with some sadness that I wrote to my friend: “Let’s not delude ourselves about this kind, gentle, rational majority. If you believe in peace in the face of the rising crescendo of Operation Enduring Freedom, accept the reality that you are in a minority, perhaps a small one. And then go about your business. That is the brave and right thing to do. Anything else is delusional. And may the force be with you.”

Terrorism Of Creativity

There is obviously a flip side too to the freedom-of-flow that the internet bestows on information. Since the net is such a cheap publishing medium, every factually-challenged conspiracy theorist can put out his own twisted data and dogma. So the world is getting spammed with quatrains that Nostradamus never wrote (with July 1999 cynically changed to September 2001), the way the number 11 figures in many aspects of the terrorist attack, and Q33NY, the alleged (and incorrect) tail number of one of the planes that hit the wtc (for readers who have still not got the relevant e-mail, they can type Q33NY, change the font to Wingdings, and amuse themselves). These have some entertainment and cocktail-chatter value, but there is also the real danger of the easily impressionable taking them seriously and spreading them as God’s truth.

What is amazing is the amount of time and effort these pranksters are willing to put in to achieve their famous anonymity (because the effectiveness of the prank, in every case, depends on the ruse not being traced back to its perpetrator). A friend in Australia has just e-mailed me what purports to be a picture of a tourist on the roof of the wtc North Tower moments before the first plane hit it. Behind the smiling holidayer, you can see an American Airlines plane heading for the building under him. Apparently, the camera and film were retrieved from the rubble. I have no doubts this is a hoax, but what is interesting is that someone took the trouble of unearthing a picture of an American Airlines plane taken at the right angle (that is, from some distance above it), or alternatively, finding the right picture of any plane and then painting the American Airlines logo on it, and then using a software like Adobe Photoshop to make a cutout of the plane and merging it seamlessly into another picture of a tourist on top of the wtc (unfortunately, the tourist is dressed for peak winter, while September 11 was a bright sunny day). That’s a lot of work! To create a chilling image that will surely shock any viewer and seriously depress the more credulous ones. The ethics of this leaves me uneasy. Is this also some sort of trivial variant of terrorism?