The 9/11 Syndrome

The Return of Religious Identities

The terrorist attacks of September 2001 have left their mark on western societies: representatives of the Christian faith have become more confident and are laying claims to the values of the Enlightenment as their own. Robert Misik comments

Pedestrians on Park Row flee the area of the World Trade Center as the center's south tower collapses following the terrorist attack on the New York landmark, 11 September 2001 (photo: AP)
Deepening fissures in world politics: Like no other terrorist attack before, 9/11 has influenced global cultural relations

​​As paradox as it may sound: all was still right with the world 11 September 2001. And even the attacks by Osama bin Laden's murderous sect did not completely upset the world order.

For some time afterwards, it was still possible to agree that a new totalitarianism, "Islamism", had made the free world its target. There was no clash of the civilisations. It was a clash of liberty against the powers of anti-freedom.

Seven years later, we live with a daily petty clash of the civilisations – with all kinds of tensions, but also with attempted murder, such as the most recent knife attack on a rabbi in Frankfurt. An isolated case? Isolated cases don't come out of the blue.

Deep-seated social pathology

One can still pussy-foot around the issue, one would almost like to say. Maintain that it's simply the pathology of radical Muslims alone. But all the talk of the "civilisations", the "identities" and the "return of the religions" has long since resulted in a far deeper-seated social pathology.

Gone are the days of the post-modern ideas of patchwork identities and self-determined life stories. People, no matter how complex their lives may be, are once again rendered first and foremost the product of their religious origins. They are categorised – and categorise themselves – on the basis of cultural fractures.

Progress of civilisation against the will of the churches

Muslims are under general suspicion. The Christian churches see differentiation as their chance – and maintain in the same breath that even the Enlightenment is a result of the "Judao-Christian heritage".

That is not only abstruse, as every single element of progress in western civilisation had to be wrested from the churches, but has a fanatical subtext: "the others" just don't belong to "us".

An echo of the fanaticism that has always been a part of the great monotheisms, despite the secular guise. Even in its attempt to tame the passions, society places hope at the door of religion: there is no round table on integration policy without imams, bishops and rabbis.

That's what signifies 9/11 syndrome: the return of religious identities to public discourse.

Robert Misik

© Robert Misik 2007

Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire

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