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Imaginative Geographies

It is the case that the world truly changed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The United States swore that they would lead an all out ‘war on terror,’ soon enough they acted upon such threat to all those freedom hating, and evil people as Bush had often used in his speeches The first target of the war on terrorism is of course Afghanistan, the alleged host of Osama Bin Laden. The latter is yet to be caught and in so far as asking on what has happened to that “host”; it has been subjected to more turmoil and civilian casualties.

The second time around, President George W. Bush sought to end the regime of Saddam Hussein, which he apt to refer to as the dictator of a nation that has weapons of mass destruction. Although it may be said that Saddam Hussein was executed for the atrocities he committed against his people; there is irony in the fact that the initial agenda of finding WPM’s was not fulfilled—no such weapons were found and the US was quick to change their claim to liberating the Iraqis as their noble purpose.

There is a consensus on the fact that the attacks of 9/11 is tragic, however a lot of analysts have and still are claiming that the US government has found a silver lining. This is in the sense that the Bush administration has found a contextual justification and moral warrant to strengthen their imperialistic motives and strengthen their global hegemony. In a sense it can be seen that the US upgraded the situation to an ideological level, they were no longer talking of addressing the attack on their state, but was claiming to defend fundamental and universal values of right and wrong, good and evil, freedom and peace.

When the issue of the 9/11 attacks and what ought to be done in order to prevent any future occurrences of the same nature came into view; Washington anchored the discourse on things it believes to be intrinsic of global axiology. This goes to say in simpler terms that it imposed its system of values as superior and desirable in contrast to the terrorists. The catch is, the latter was highlighted as Muslim fundamentalists coming from the middle-east.

The result is they were able to angle the assault against terrorist to encompass locations as part and parcel of opposing ideology; one that is inferior and maligned cultural and social practices and beliefs. If we would recall chapter one of Edward Said’s book entitled Orientalism; he explicitly warns us of the divide that occurs between the west and the east. He states that in such cases, the western thought prevails as superior to that of the eastern origin.

The case may be put into context in such a way that Edward Said claims that there is danger when such a perspective is adopted by a militarily and economically dominant state/culture, (in this case, US towards Afghanistan and Iraq), it may lead to devastating outcomes. Further, the situation post-9/11 reveals the claim of Said that beneath the representations of the Orient, the Arabs specifically. This goal is the justification of colonial politics, economics, and hegemony throughout the centuries.

As we could see, by 2001 the United States was able to use the terrorist attacks especially that of the World Trade Center as proof of the uncivilized and barbaric mode of society the Orient (others) have. There was a hasty generalization that occurred, whereas the persons involved in the said attack are taken as an affirmation of the already infamous yet inaccurate reading of the Muslim culture and consequently the geographic area, the oriental, in which it is most prevalent.

Imaginative Geographies as suggested by Edward Said and furthered by other social scientist takes shape. It is the case that prior to 9/11 the Arab nations have already been analyzed from an Orientalist point of view in the academe. There is misinterpretation in the accounts that attempt to objectively give identity and representation of the middle-east as well as its belief system—practices, traditions, and norms that are anchored on Islam (this too has been misread or understood by oriental scholars).

We see the employment of such representations today by the US officials as such the boon of Orientalism is to a large extent far worse than ever before. Afghanistan and Iraq possesses descriptions that are often negative, always in equivalence with brutality, terrorism, and the harboring of tribal (viewed as primitive) armed disputes. It is seldom asserted that Iraq holds control of its own government—often it is given recognition upon the utterance of the US assisting liberation and nation building of Iraq. West versus East, is can now be seen as West (led by the US) saves East.

This clearly places the United States not only as the victim of terrorism, of which it must seek retribution but also it affirms the self-anointed authority of “global police. ”(Falk, 2005:68) Arguably perhaps is if such stance should be taken as the sincere purpose of the US. Unfortunately data would show that there is reason to believe that there is economic and strategic reason beneath the claim of nobility. Another point of reference from which we can view the construction of Afghanistan and Iraq as mere imaginative geographies is through the emphasis of the US on “homeland security”.

This may be given reference through the work of Stephen Graham, whereas he gives attention to the idea that the war on terror after 9/11 rests on the reworking of the imaginative geographies by placing emphasis on the cities of US as “homeland” and the Arab cities as “sources of terrorist threats” against US national interest (Graham, 2004:15). Graham reports how Said wrote in 2003 that: “without a well-organized sense that these people over there were not like ‘us’ and didn’t appreciate ‘our’ values — the very core of the Orientalist dogma –there would have been no war”(in Iraq). ”(Graham, 2004:23)

From this we could deduce further that 9/11 served as a point at which US has found warrant in their oriental formulation of the Arab states. Although the purpose is supposedly in “good faith” there is reason to believe that it is the case that US used 9/11 as a reason for retribution but also to secure their economic interests in the middle-east. If we would remember the speeches of President George W. Bush, he often referred to the inhabitants of the Arab cities where US military is battling in as “haters of freedom”, “we must seek to destroy the axis of evil,” they are terrorist threat” (Cainkar, 2004:2).

If this is not the case, he would most often than not use words as mentioned earlier in this essay that would make the Iraqis or Afghans appear as if they are upholding inferior values and require indoctrination of the superior and civilized value of the west. Moreover, in disseminating information regarding the Arab cities as targets, or battlegrounds, the Arab locals who suffer as a result of combat are objectified. US homeland is protected by eliminating the “targets”— there is again the ‘us’ and them divide occurring.

In fact, it may even be implied that by making this imaginative images, what becomes perceived is the mere locational and objective content. The humans involved, the constituents of these places are displaced. Whenever air bombings are aired in the media we see not the people and the dilapidated state of the cities under attack. Instead what we have is a detached sequencing of the targets on a map. The war stricken cities of Iraq and Afghanistan are dehumanized, apart from being targets, they are furthered as terrorist nests (Graham, 2004:13).

According to Derek Gregory, there are three significant imaginative geographies that have been construed post 9/11. The first one, locating, follows the line of reasoning pursued by Graham. It speaks of how Arab populated areas are represented by mere signifiers and a dot on a map, or coordinates (Gregory, 2004:32). This allows, in my point of view a warrant for retribution that is still not as grave as the terrorism the US has experienced. This is in such a way that the crashing of the planes with the WTC twin towers are viewed in the media repeatedly showing the grief that the American people have had to go through.

While on the other hand, there is certain detachment and very little showing of how Afghans and Iraqis have fallen victim to the wars which they in the first place did not want. Second type of imaginative geographies employed according to Gregory refers to “opposing. ” It is the case that this form of imaginative geography was placed into view the moment Bush declared the ‘war on terror’. He strategically instilled the idea that the war that would be occurring is a clash of essential values and barbaric ways—taking from Samuel Huntington and Gregory: A clash of Civilizations.

There is a play on emotions caused by the 9/11 attacks that gave Washington the advantage of easily stirring up the negativity of Americans and other allied states. George W. Bush was quick to issue a “you’re either with us or against us” statement. The implication of such is that a state is either for liberty or against it, automatically putting the Arabs in the losing end of hosting terrorists (which if we could see holistically, a lot of them would not agree with the fundamentals of the terrorist groups) as opposing and as such deserves ample punishment.

The last imaginative geography is that of “casting out” whereas Afghanistan and Iraq are outside the system of the modern and are thus outsiders of the dominant civilization. The 9/11 incident brought out the lines separating the West from the East with the latter strictly referring to those who would not comply with the values supposedly attacked by Muslim fundamentalists. The US as well as its allies was able to gain the ultimate justification that is, a threat from a perfect stranger; a stranger of which no one knows about except for the Orientalist views that were collaged in the past.

Such inaccuracies are now taking a dreadful turn at humanity. Due to the divide that has already existed, the differentiation, an already unfortunate occurrence is nurtured to become a bigger monster. Orientalism has aided the agenda of the US in gaining the approval of the international community to launch an all out war, not just on terror, but on what it deems inferior. Imaginative geographies turn nations and those citizens belonging to these states as mere descriptions. Once again the United States is able to elude normative responsibilities by appealing to it’s ability to look blindly at lives as if they were mere targets.

Works Cited

CAINKAR, L. (2004) The Impact of 9/11 on Muslims and Arabs in the United States. IN TIRMAN, J. (Ed. ) The Maze of Fear: Security and Migration After September 11th. New York, The New Press. FALK, R. (2005) Imperial Vibrations, 9/11, and the Ordeal of The Middle East. University of California, Santa Barbara. GRAHAM, S. (2004) Constructing ‘Homeland’ and ‘Target’: Cities in the ‘War on Terror’. Public Culture. GREGORY, D. (2004) Who’s Responsible? : Dangerous Geography. ZNet.

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