I vividly remember the events of September 11th. I was at my high school’s library, on one of the computers when I came across the news on a news site, and over the course of the afternoon, we learned that it was no accident, but a deliberate attack against the country. I remember being concerned that we didn’t know who did it, until the news began to shift over the next couple of days to the Middle East. In my 10th grade history class, we listened to the radio. The road was dead silent as the commentators spoke about the event. That day has defined the existence of my generation, in every single facet of life, as we’ve watched the towers tumble into two wars across the world, while our domestic society has undergone major shifts and changes that we’ve gone along with in the name of security and safety. One man changed the world, and he’s now dead.

I’m not sure what I felt while listening to NPR late at night, when the rumors that Bin Laden was killed by US Special Forces in Pakistan. There’s a certain amount of relief, given the significance of the actions, but quite a bit of emptiness at the news. Bin Laden is now gone, and as the head of a terrorist group that’s killed thousands of people, I’m happy to see that he won’t be able to contribute to the overall direction and leadership, which will undoubtedly save lives in the future. At the same time, his death won’t bring back all those who’ve been killed across the world, and it won’t stop the momentum on the movement that he started.

Major political events have a certain momentum that keeps them going, and the death of Bin Laden ultimately won’t stop because their leader has been killed. It’s a setback, to be sure, just as when any organization loses their leader, they lose their particular guidance and leadership. Undoubtedly, there is some form of contingency plan on the part of Al Qaida to shift power around, and hopefully, it’s not well thought out or planned to any good degree, so that the transfer of power will be inefficient and slow down whatever plans they have coming up. That being said, Al Qaida certainly does have a population of people who support their goals and the means that they use to bring about their intended ends, and for that reason, it’s clear that the fight against terrorist activities will continue.

Hopefully, though, his death will help to further delegitimize Al Qaida as a credible entity in the eyes of those who are sympathetic to their ends. The uprisings across the Middle East have demonstrated – in part – that peaceful protest can help to gain what the people want, that violence doesn’t always have to happen. There’s no direct comparison between the efforts used to attack the US and to overthrow some of the Northern African – Arabic leaders, but there’s certainly the demonstration of alternatives. That being said, some of his supporters have already vowed violence in revenge: we’re not out of the woods yet.

Undoubtedly, we’ll see a couple of dramatic narratives on the events of the 1st, covering the planning that went into the raid that took Bin Laden’s life: I’ll be interested in seeing everything that happened leading up to it. I’ve already read a number of fascinating accounts between the White House and the military, in a real intelligence story that involved a lot of moving parts and elements. I’m rather surprised to see some of the news point to Guantanamo Bay as a source for some of the information that helped lead to the raid. It’ll be interesting to see the aftermath in the years, and that despite the stigma that the place represented to the outside world, some parts of it proved to be useful to the security of the country. It’s hard to remember at times that there are elements that we don’t see, and it’ll be interesting to see the final cost vs. the benefit that we attained from it.

The wars in Afghanistan will continue on as well, although with the death of Bin Laden, I’m guessing that there will be a bit less support for the conflict, and its impact on global affairs will be interesting to see. The people who supported Bin Laden’s world view of a strict non-secular state ruled by his strict (and flawed) interpretation of Islam are still around and seeking to implement their views in various points around the world. Afghanistan is one place, where the country’s government allowed an attack on the United States from Bin Laden. However, the US presence in Afghanistan, and the United States’ role in world affairs should be reexamined to determine where force should be used. The core mission in Afghanistan was to depress the abilities of Al Qaida to the point where it is no longer a threat to the United States: that would seem to be further along today, but it’s far from over. Our efforts against the insurgency in Afghanistan should be evaluated, to determine whether they are a threat to the country, or to consider whether we’re changing the core mission to something far more different, which has grave consequences and implications for our stance in the world.

This feels less like a victory, and more like a stepping stone in what has turned into a long and terrible struggle. At points, it feels like we’ve lost our way, our focus and sight of what we’re out to do, but hopefully, this incident will remind us of the reasons why this happened in the first place. I for one, don’t want to think of the last ten years that helped to define the world as something of a wasted opportunity to learn and improve upon our future. If anything, hopefully the death of one evil individual will help to bring about a brighter tomorrow.

The Ground Zero Mosque

There has been controversy over the Islamic community center and mosque that has been approved in downtown Manhattan, near where the World Trade Centers once stood. Given the events that have transpired there almost a decade ago, it's certainly a project that was expected to gain a bit of attention. However, the conduct of elected, or otherwise public officials has been inexcusable, intolerant and misinformed as to the very nature of the war that the United States is currently engaged in.

People have been urged to protest and resist the introduction of the mosque and center because it represents an unnecessary provocation, and an insult to the survivors and families of those who have perished there, which is utter nonsense, and only highlights the ignorance of said officials and those willing to blindly follow them. The war abroad was most certainly begun by radical Islamic militants, acting in the interests of a foreign organization, which does elevate this conflict to a war, when two parties attempt to seek out some sort of political and practical gains by entering into hostilities. At the same time, such sentiments lump together the entirety of a global religion, of which these radical elements are only a small part.

As of 2009, it was believed that almost 23% of the global population identified themselves as Muslims, or about 1.57 billion people, across the globe, with a fifth living in countries where the religion is not a dominant one. Given the fairly localized nature of the fighting, with occasional strikes towards the western societies and the nature of the fighting, it's fairly clear that there is far more that characterizes this war than simply a lot of religious people getting really angry. The global war on terror is an incredibly complicated act against a specific number of political groups, who use their faith to guide them and provide some set of misguided reasoning to support their political beliefs.

Depending on which wartime theorist that you subscribe to, warfare is generally a political act on the behalf of one group against another, and from everything that I have seen over the past couple of years, that is exactly what some of the larger and more well known groups are doing, from Al Qaeda to the Taliban to Hezbollah. Even more worrisome is their ability to convince young Muslims, who come from a poorer, disenfranchised area of the world, to blow themselves up. It's a hell of a way to vent some misguided frustration and anger. It demonstrates incredibly poor government and leadership in those areas, where problems are directed elsewhere, and not addressed at their source.

The source of the World Trade Center destruction was Al Qaeda, not the people who want to build a community. I suspect that Palin's words are deliberately inflammatory, designed to gain as much attention as possible, for the political beliefs of her own personal self, and that of her party, seeking to gain approval from the anger of those who don't comprehend the differences between political terrorism and a religious community. To be sure, this religious community does harbor some very bad people, some angry people, and people looking for direction, which makes it prime for recruiting for overseas terrorist groups. But, one must also take into account the real anger and violence that boils up elsewhere, either singularly or in larger groups. There have been several attacks against federal authorities over the past year from angry people, but there is a discrepancy between the reactions taken in each case.

The real anger and action for the 9-11 attacks must be taken against those responsible, while we must all take the time to fully understand the nature of the conflict that is brewing around us, rather than blindly following misguided chatter from those who seek power, on both sides.

Fighting in the Future

Earlier this week, the Russian metro system was hit with two suicide bombers, who detonated their explosives in the midst of rush hour, killing 39 people. It is a tragedy, and a reminder that it is not just the United States that is under threat from fundamental forces, but any large organization that has displeased factions around them. It also helps to underscore the ridiculous nature of any sort of 'War on Terror', the American brand or otherwise, because this is a type of warfare that will remain with people for a long time to come. In the future, there will be war, conflict and any number of atrocities committed against people.

Terrorism is an act of warfare, and as such, is a calculated political statement that is designed to attract the maximum amount of attention as a way to promote their cause, and to show that they feel that they have had no other way to legitimately protest their actions against whomever they are fighting against. I was surprised when the Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov took over a day to announce his participation in the bombings, to either preempt any sort of group attempting to take advantage of the atrocity, and to establish their anger against the Russian government.

The science fiction world pushes into the future, often using warfare as a backdrop for a number of different stories. Very rarely, however, is the nature of warfare really discussed within these definitions, where war is a political entity. Terrorist-centric warfare, with attacks against civilians (who in turn, represent a larger organization or government), is something that has not really taken to the speculative fiction genre, but it will undoubtedly influence future works, as World War II influenced classic books during the Golden Age of Science Fiction. The major battles fought in the Pacific Ocean, mainland Europe or in the sands of the Sahara Desert provided fantastical and dramatic backdrops in which larger stories could be told or adapted for what might come for the future. Certainly the Second World War provided a number of elements that were almost unthought-of of by the average person on the streets. Massive bombing forces to lay waste to a country, soldiers dropped in by aircraft, submarines that could paralyze an entire navy, unstoppable bombs that could reach countries in a very short amount of time and the splitting of the atom. Still, with all technology aside, World War II proved to be an advanced war in how these technologies were implemented into the major strategy and tactics of the day, a departure from the prior major war.

Reading over the first couple of chapters in Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars recently, I was struck at how similar the opening was to some elements of real life, where one of the main characters, astronaut and colonist John Boone was assassinated by fundamentalist agents under another character, Frank Chalmers. In a way, this is an exceptionally similar event, with a number of parallels to the modern day: a political entity, frustrated by the actions of a legitimate government, acted out using violence as a way to demonstrate a political point. The innocence of those targeted does not matter, in events like this: they become an object, and that's what has happened in this regard.

Frank Herbert's Dune is another book in which militant fighting is demonstrated as a way for groups to illustrate their issues with a larger established authority. Following the Arakis takeover by House Harkonnen, the survivors of the family ally themselves with the Fremen, a nomadic group in the desert. As they regard him as a prophesied messiah, he uses their power as a fighting force to take on the Harkonnens. This aspect of the Dune story has a number of other connections to modern day events, where religious extremism and political philosophy blend together to the point where they are inseparable. In this modern day, the global Jihadist movement isn't so much of a religious statement; it's a political statement on the part of a radical/religious government, which uses the beliefs of its followers to enact terrible acts. The suicide bombings in Moscow or Iraq aren't religiously motivated: they are conducted on the behalf of people seeking to institute some sort of political change, using religious rhetoric to get their base fired up. In a way, these are the tactics of any major political party, even here in the United States, especially during campaign season, when there is a lot of misinformation and statements. Fortunately, people don't go and blow themselves up in support of any candidates.

Fundamentalist warfare is not at the heart of military thought and theory, but the tactics and motivations are generally the same as any larger authority going to war with another nation, and in rare occasions, this sort of mentality and plotting is really looked at and used by a speculative fiction novel or other project. Red Mars and Dune exemplify the issues surrounding war-like conflicts and actions, where a number of other books really look at other, elements of warfare - the effects of combat on soldiers, morals, and so on, as well as the technology that is used as the main point of these sorts of novels.

The clear lesson of military science fiction of this sort shouldn't be what types of technology we should be looking for. There are no good inherent lessons in that realm of thinking. Technology and tactics are dependent upon the environment in which they are created and subsequently used against an enemy. The tactics of airborne soldiers during the Second World War would have been elements of science fiction to ancient Roman generals, but it represents not only the technology but the tactical and strategic thinking behind it. No, the lessons that should be learned (if one is looking for lessons) are the fundamental underpinnings of what brings two political entities against one another in violence. It's not the technology; it's the people behind it.