Not another 9/11

I had no problem heeding the call for at least a day of silence from some bloggers in the wake of the London bombs. My brain tends to freeze up at these moments when mere words are inadequate to the task of describing the combination of shock and weary recognition that terrorist attacks evoke. The only upside of this condition is that it saves me from offering the kind of preemptive analysis of minimal facts that has become the hallmark of media coverage of large-scale tragedies.

I tried to force myself to watch CNN, where the parade of reporters, anchors, and various experts did the work of vultures -- entirely necessary but no less repulsive, though at times unnecessarily repulsive as when 9/11 survivors inn New York were encouraged to offer self-help tips for their London counterparts. The most striking aspect of the coverage -- the little that I saw of it -- was the need to somehow "own" this latest tragedy in a way that wasn't apparent during the Madrid bombings. The almost immediate assimilation of the tragedy into the 9/11 narrative perhaps reflects the fact that Britain is, for better or worse, our transatlantic twin.

The differences, however, were starkly on display during Aaron Brown's interview with Financial Times Managing Editor Lionel Barber -- from the very first question.


BROWN: Americans who were traveling outside the United States on 9/11, and we've met a lot of them over the years, sympathize with Lionel Barber, the U.S. managing editor of the "Financial Times," a very important British paper, who watched the days events unfold a long distance from home. ...
Did you wish you were home today?
LIONEL BARBER: No. My family, fortunately, was in London but had gone to the coast, so we were lucky. ...
[Can you imagine an American saying, no, he does not want to be back home during a national tragedy?]
BROWN: It struck me as odd today that you have all these world leaders gathered in Scotland and terrorism, at least formally, wasn't on the agenda at all. It is now.
BARBER: It is and you'll see something, a serious declaration, common declaration tomorrow, but what is interesting is Tony Blair has been the leader in Europe pressing Mr. Bush to take on these soft security issues, debt relief in Africa, ending poverty, global warming, some of which he thinks are part of the task of combating terrorism.
BROWN: Because you can blow up only so many of them, you can arrest only so many of them, but there is this incubator in parts of the world, in Africa, parts of Africa, the Arab world and Mr. Blair makes the argument, you need to deal aggressively with the incubator, if you will.
BARBER: Exactly. And what was interesting today, apart from President Bush suddenly repeating his slogan of the need to prosecute the war on terror, he also said you need to combat terror with an ideology of hope and compassion. Those are Blairite words.
BROWN: But it's in fact a very hard thing to execute. It's easier to say that, in truth, then to actually do that or to even know how to do that. Do you think these countries actually know how to do this?
BARBER: Well, the fact is since 9/11 I think people in Europe, including in Britain, feel that the need of the campaign against terrorism has been solely seen through one prism, which is the use of force.
BROWN: Right.
BARBER: And they are saying it is more complicated, we need a global strategy and we need to have a more balanced strategy.
BROWN: Let me ask you this. As a Brit looking at us, do you think Americans by and large that you run into, your reporters run into it, do you think Americans see it that way?
BARBER: No, I don't. And I think in a way, certainly immediately after 9/11 they have tended to follow the hard-edged pursuit of force as they way of dealing with it.
BROWN: Right after 9/11 we wanted to whack somebody as a country. That was pretty clear, but we're four years out almost. Do we have a more sophisticated view at all?
BARBER: You're just beginning to hear it. People in Washington, obviously some of the Democrats are using this kind of Blairite talk, the trouble is that when they do Karl Rove hits them on the head and says, oh are you suggesting we need therapy to deal with terrorists?
BROWN: It's a complicated matter, this terrorism business, and it needs multiple strategies. Nice to meet you.
P.S.: Just to clarify my point, I'm not saying the Brits are "better" than Americans -- surely an odd position for an Indian to take. But rather that we can learn something from the different ways that different nations deal with terrorism.

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