“I am absolutely confident that we have the knowledge and the means to make the twenty first century the most peaceful, prosperous, interesting time in all human history. The question is whether we have the wisdom and the will.” – Bill Clinton, 2001 (1)
wisdom n. 1. the quality of being wise, 2. the body of knowledge and experience that develops within a specified society or period. (2)
will n. 1. the faculty of conscious and deliberate choice of action, related adj.: voluntary, 2. the act or an instance of asserting a choice, 3. desire; wish 4. determined intention: where there’s a will there’s a a way (3)
Our current status in the world, and how we perceive the current status of the world, is formed upon the basis of accumulative facts that have been collated over the centuries since humankind came to understand the expression of thought. This collective data (re)presents itself to us in the grand narratives of history, religion, and culture and we are asked to unequivocally accept its entirety; it is the Truth and nothing but the Truth, from beginning to end – or at least until the present day. These grand narratives exist according to Jean-Francois Lyotard’s notion of the ‘metanarrative’, which is a system that enables the organisation of knowledge. In The Postmodern Condition, Lyotard describes the two forms of grand narratives as being the ‘speculative’ narrative and the narrative of ’emancipation’. The grand narrative of speculation pertains to the progress of humankind through its ability to resolve future issues and problems from its experience and knowledge (of previous grand narratives). The grand narrative of emancipation, on the other hand, embodies the presence of knowledge as being the foundation of human freedom. Both grand narratives ultimately serve for a human utopia of either “absolute knowledge or universal emancipation”. (4)
Hence, contemporary knowledge is a form of intertextuality where ideas, thoughts, and events are continuously borrowed from previous ‘editions’ of these grand narratives. They progressively become labelled as the ‘reality’ or the ‘real’, specific to time and societal norms. This has become the knowledge wherein the understanding of today’s society is based, which we then hold up as the Truth.
Knowledge, then, is a process of ‘becoming’. We eliminate the outcomes that seem impossible and the most rational answer becomes the Truth we seek. Truth, then, is relative to the beliefs we have already acquired through time, both consciously and unconsciously. Our versions of truth are embedded in external factors that we cannot control: these include our political or religious alignments, our cultural backgrounds and our material environments, our spiritual essences and our physical needs. We construct our personal versions of Truth, one truth amongst a thousand others, indistinguishable and blurred. We can only know that which we see, we do not have access to absolute information.
We are therefore unable to establish links between today’s truth and its origins as we are living amongst replications of replications of truth, in a simulated world where simulation “is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal”. (5) For example, Baudrillard writes that the extensive media coverage of the Gulf War (1991) between the West (6) and Iraq represented this idea of the simulacrum, whereby a ‘virtual event’ or ‘virtual reality’ had been created:
“It is a way of proving that time does not exist, and all that matters is the model and mastery of the model…a temporal vacuum in which they [United States of America] present to themselves and to the entire world the spectacle of their virtual power. They will have allowed the war to endure as long as it takes, not to win but to persuade the whole world of the infallibility of their machine”.(7)
For Baudrillard then, the function of such a reality would be to prevent exposure of the ‘real’ event. The identity and signifiers of and for the war and the ‘United States’ itself become lost, fading into obscurity whereby they lose their original source of reason and being, and in effect become an unstoppable ‘machine’. The replications of truth arise from the images broadcasted by the media and it is these replications that form Baudrillard’s notion of hyperreality. It is the “fusion of the virtual and the real into a third order of reality” (8), where the third order of reality is our inability to distinguish true reality from false reality. Even when it is the truth, “we no longer believe that the truth is true when all its veils have been removed”.(9)
Thus reality is based on truth akin to knowledge, sharing the same process of ‘becoming’. Hence, reality is submerged into the problematic science of definition: if reality is based upon truth and truth stems from the ideology(-ies) of socio-economically politicised temporalities, if this truth is problematic, our notion of reality will have been based on a lesser degree of truth. Reality has a standardising effect whereby ‘I’ as individual, and ‘we’ as community, come to terms with our existence and in understanding our surrounding environments, we have belief in a unified, solidified and secure world.
A ‘secure’ world is based on an overarching and overall belief system to which everyone conforms, for example, law and order. One of these many systems is the rhetoric of religion, which gives us an understanding of the concept of the ‘beginning’ of time and thus arranges reality, and in turn, arranges society. Hence, we can infer that religion is fundamental to the creation of belief systems. For example, the Western (solar) calender begins from the birth of Christ, and has only been in force since 1752 (in the United Kingdom) when there was initially a time-lag of eleven days with Europe. The United Kingdom was thus brought into ‘real’ time by simply changing 3 September to 14 September. Several parts of the world have conformed to this present notion of reality, as late as the turn of the twentieth century, with Greece as recently as 1923. (10)
A second example or idea of time reality is that of the Islamic (lunar) calendar which was composed seven years after Muhammad’s death by the second caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khataab. It begins from Muhammad’s emigration from Mecca to Medina in 622CE to avoid the persecution from the dominant pagans in Mecca.(11) The notion of ‘time’ then, allows for the beginning of civilisation at a historical point orientated towards the religious calendar. Today’s ‘real’ date is therefore not ‘real’, it is part of a simulation where the Christian calendar does not allow for the years before Christ, just as the Muslim calendar does not allow for the years before Muhammad’s emigration.
We can therefore recognise that the ‘real’ or reality, is a way of life for an individual person based on apprehensions and values dependent on the type of environment to which the individual has been exposed. This implies that there is a potentially different reality for each person, a total of 5.5 billion different realities whereby one reality is equal to one person in the total global population. But we have of course, developed a systematic categorisation of reality which ranges from global to individual issues, whereby there is a continual and constant shift in the daily realities faced by any given person at any given moment in time. We find that we are able to expose this network of beliefs, the idea of reality, to be dependent upon variables beyond our control. In today’s society, the main variable is a combination of media and politics, which is thus divided into x amount of subsets, where x is an unlimited figure. For example, the information we receive is not limited to a single source, it encompasses materials as television, newspapers, magazines, social networks, advertisements, art, literature, and so forth.
The dispute between true or false reality thus arises when we attempt to recognise a single reality that is applicable to all. We readily absorb the events presented to us, accepting the information as truth. We would have no reason to disbelieve the reality we are given, or to think that the reality in which we live in is false; it entirely envelops and surrounds us with the effect of Baudrillard’s ‘temporal vacuum’. If we attempted to conceive another real, we would claim that as the truth, hence further perpetuating the cycle of true/false reality.
The conflict is further antagonised when an attempt is made to displace and replace the existing reality. It is argued that the collapse of the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September 2001, was the attempt to displace globalisation and cultural hegemony and replace it with the rhetoric of Islam.(12) However, factors that are fundamental to this event should disclosed and discussed, in order to provide a clearer understanding as to the chain of events that led up to the crisis in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Hence, the different realities present in the world will in some part, have to be acknowledged.
One version of reality is attainable through religious discourse; hence, a religious knowledge of our surroundings would prescrive our way of life. Take for example the influential role of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s government in Iran (1979-89). Their policies centred on ‘literal’ readings of the Islamic Holy Book, the Qur’an (13), where criminal punishments such as “decapitation, stoning to death and hand amputation are applicable”. (14) The Iranian government believes that by retaining Islamic Law, it will resolve the disillusions and dysfunctions of capitalism in the First World, and produce human freedom through the promotion of Islamic knowledge (see Appendix 1). The organisation of knowledge in Iran, or metanarrative in terms of Lyotard’s philosophy, was an attempt to marry together the two grand narratives of speculation and emancipation. Lyotard suggests that the human utopia would encompass either absolute knowledge or universal emancipation, and herein lay the problem for Iran. The attempt to combine the two grand narratives resulted in the (Western labelled) rhetoric of ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’, (15) continuing the repression of the Developing (Muslim) World. (16) The Islamic revolution that took place here, may well have produced the Taliban’s radical attitude and view of religion. Osama Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network are also definitive examples, as they (may) understand and interpret the world through a similar radical view of Islam, despising all that they perceive as being un-Islamic.
The historical events sourrounding the collapse of the Twin Towers has, by some commentators, been associated with the terrorism that the United States had previously shown against other countries. These include, but are not limited to Mexico; Hawaii; Phillippines; Indonesia; and Sudan. (17) During the 1980s, the United States attacked Nicaragua and the following may be held up as an example where the United States attempted to displace Nicaraguan reality with the American reality. The foundations of Western society, the democratic system, is thus questionable and placed in an ironic position:
“They [Nicaragua] didn’t respond by setting off bombs in Washington. They went to the World Court, which ruled in their favour, ordering the U.S. to desist and pay substantial reparations. The U.S. dismissed the court judgment with contempt, responding with an immediate escalation of the attack. So Nicaragua then went to the Security Council, which considered a resolution calling on states to observe international law. The U.S. alone vetoed it.” (18)
The United States (and Israel) vetoed this action consistently for two years, after Nicaragua also went to the General Assembly. (19) These continual dismissals, of internationally and democratically recognised resolutions, by the United States shatters laws that are meant to provide a safe and secure world for everyone. Thus, reality cannot be stabilised if the world’s superpower does not abide by the very democracy it advocates. These types of historical events can perhaps explain the ruination of the Twin Towers: if the superpower is lawless, what prevents minir continents of factions from being lawless? This displays the notion that reality harbours multi-faceted appearances, and that a true explanation perhaps is unavailable until reality is disturbed; and only then, it reluctantly gives up its secrets.
A prime example of real-time unavailable reality, is the invasion of Afghanistan by the Russian Army in December 1979 during the Cold War period. In 1993, Russian documents were declassified and released, describing ‘events’ that led up to the Afghan-Russian war. These ‘events’ were based on American propaganda strategem, causing confusion and manipulating the Russian camp into believing the political alignment of Afghanistan was pro-United States. The United States national security advisor at the time, Zbigniew Brzezinkski, disclosed these propaganda tactics openly:
“[The] secret reality is that on July 3, 1979, President Carter signed the first directive for clandestine aid to the enemies of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. On that day…I wrote a note to the President in which I explained to him that in my opinion, this aid would result in a military intervention by the Soviets…We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we consciously increased the probability that they would do so…This secret operation was an excellent idea. Its effect was to draw the Russians into the Afghan trap. You want me to regret that?” (20)
This shows the danger in displacing and attempting to sustain a single reality. The resuly of this ‘secret reality’ and the ‘Afghan camp’ was the destabilisation of the politico-economical situation of Afghanistan. The Russians fought a war against American trained Islamic ‘radicals’, who soon came into power as the Taliban ‘fundamentalists’. (21)
Thus, we can clearly perceive that our world is not unified, solidified and secure as previously suggested. Yet perhaps these notions were false to begin with, and our reality was indeed false. If reality is dependent upon ideology, or ideologies, this must pertain to the notion that each community or individual, has differing ideas of reality in the first instance. We apply our experiences and transpose them on to our perceptions of the world in order to make sense of them, in order for us to understand, in order for us to deem some meaning to our lives. Add into this cauldron of reality the multiplicity of human culture, its diversity of life and language, and we come to realise that our realities are bound to differ. Ultimately, a combination of such seemingly different narratives composing such different realities have resulted in the quandary of terrorism that we are facing on a global scale – which reality is real? Surely our goal, then, is to integrate all our differences and seek the element that is shared by us all, an element that is uninfluenced and unthreatened by external factors. “Knowledge finds validity not within itself, not in a subject that develops by actualizing its learning possibilities, but in a practical subject – humanity”. (22) Perhaps then, the uniting element we are searching for is the experience of our common humanity?
In the following chapter, we will explore the rise of Islam in terms of religious and political realities and truths, accumulating to the contemporary system of knowledge in today’s society. The struggle for power amongst the countries of the Western World, the struggle for power amongst the regions of the Middle East, and how the struggle for power between these two spheres contributes to the dilemma between humankind, religion and politics. This consequently relates to the divisions between the West and Islam, who contradict and fight each other on the battleground of humanity.