and realised in the attacks of September 11
2001, we can investigate therelationship between the two, and shed light on both.
The Complaint: Modernity and its Enlightenment values
While celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center, Osama bin Ladenreferred to his target as “those awesome symbolic towers that speak of liberty, human rights,and humanity.”
If the emblematic target reveals the motives behind the attack, the scale of the attack, which killed thousands of innocent civilians, seems to reveal the strength of Islamist hatred for modern western society and everything it stands for. In essence, theterrorist attacks of 9/11 were a form of “reactionary modernist rage.”
And yet “modernist” isa word that we would also attribute to Georges Sorel. In 1906, Sorel viewed the state of hisworld in a similar way: modernization had led to the dominance of the bourgeoisie in society,and decadence and corruption had followed. For Sorel, this “frivolous society,” whichsacrificed morals for money, necessitated “an irrevocable overthrow”
.While many 19
century critics of modernity could acknowledge both its positive andits negative aspects – the infinite possibilities that the sweeping away of tradition implied,along with the hollowness of values that it left in its wake – Sorel held a view more commonin the 20
Modernity is either embraced with a blind and uncritical enthusiasm, or else condemned with aneo-Olympian remoteness and contempt; in either case, it is conceived as a closed monolith,incapable of being shaped or changed by modern men.
Just as Sorel did not believe that the monolith could be shaped or changed from within thecorrupted modern system, and thus advocated its overthrow, Islamic fundamentalists are
Osama Bin Laden in interview with Tayseer Alouni of al-Jazeera television network in October 2001. Cited in:Boroumand, Ladan; Boroumand, Roya: “Terror, Islam and Democracy”
Journal of Democracy
, Vol. 13, No. 2,April 2002, pp.13.
Herf, Jeffrey: “What is Old an What is New in the Terrorism of Islamic Fundamentalism?”
,Vol. LXIX, No. 1, 2002. pp. 29
Reflections on Violence
. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1999. pp. 281
All That is Solid Melts Into Air
. Verso, New York, 1983. pp. 24