Looking back at the decade that has passed since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, it is perhaps easy to forget that in the immediate aftermath of this day of horror, Europe was swept by a wave of spontaneous solidarity that was most memorably expressed in Le Monde’s much-quoted headline “Nous sommes tous Américains” – “We are all Americans.”
But while the headline became famous – and was soon marshaled to argue that America had only itself to blame for Europe’s quickly fading sympathy– few seemed to bother with the related article by Le Monde’s editor Jean-Marie Colombani, whose commentary provided a rather accurate preview of the controversies that would come to dominate the political discourse in the decade after 9/11.
Reflecting the wide-spread sense that the attacks marked an ominous turning point that ushered in a dangerous “new age”, Colombani contrasted the prevalent sense of gloom with “the promise of another historic day, Nov. 9, 1989, and a somewhat euphoric year, 2000, which we thought might conclude with peace in the Middle East.”
However, Colombani regarded the promise associated with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 as unfulfilled. The end of the Cold War had left America as the sole superpower, and in his view, the result was “a world with no counterbalance, physically destabilized, and thus more dangerous since there is no multipolar balance.”
Colombani suggested that America was by no means blameless, because as the sole superpower, the US had become an arrogant actor in global politics. Perhaps the hate that brought out “rejoicing crowds in Nablus and Cairo” was therefore not entirely undeserved? Colombani also reminded his readers that bin Laden had once been trained by the CIA to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan – was he thus not just a creation of cynical American Cold War policies? And what about the Gulf War, or the use of American F-16s by the Israeli army against the Palestinians?
While the issues and questions raised by Colombani did not necessarily add up to a well-argued editorial, in retrospect, there is no denying that he anticipated some of the major debates that would soon come to divide the West, and particularly the left. Continue reading