Tuesday, September 6, 2011

9/11: A 'babble of idiots'? History has been the judge of that

The Guardian's comment editor at the time of 9/11 on a savage response to those who foresaw the reality of a war on terror

Seumas Milne
guardian.co.uk, Monday 5 September 2011

"By the time the second plane hit the World Trade Centre, the battle to define the 9/11 attacks had already begun, on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US President Bush made the fateful call for a war on terror, as the media rallied to the flag. In Britain Tony Blair and his cheerleaders enthusiastically fell into line. Inevitably, they faced a bit more opposition to the absurd claim that the atrocities had come out of a clear blue sky, and the country must follow wherever the wounded hyperpower led.

But not a lot. Political and media reaction to anyone who linked what had happened in New York and Washington to US and western intervention in the Muslim world, or challenged the drive to war, was savage.

From September 11 2001 onwards, the Guardian (almost uniquely in the British press) nevertheless ensured that those voices would be unmistakably heard in a full-spectrum debate about why the attacks had taken place and how the US and wider western world should respond.
The backlash verged on the deranged. Bizarre as it seems a decade on, the fact that the Guardian allowed writers to connect the attacks with US policy in the rest of the world was treated as treasonous in its supposed "anti-Americanism".....

The most heartening response to the breadth of Guardian commentary after 9/11 came from the US itself, where debate about what had happened, and why, was as good as shut down in the mainstream media in the wake of the attacks. One byproduct of that official public silence was a dramatic increase in US readership of the Guardian's website, as millions of Americans looked for a perspective and range of views they weren't getting at home.

Traffic on the Guardian's website doubled in the months after 9/11, driven from the US. Articles from the Guardian were taped in bookshop windows from Brooklyn to San Francisco. As Emily Bell, then editor of Guardian Unlimited and now digital director at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, puts it, the post-9/11 debate was "totally transformative" for the Guardian, turning it into one of the two fastest growing news sites in the US – and creating the springboard for a US readership now larger by some measures than in Britain.

Which only goes to show how those who accused us of "anti-Americanism" in 2001 so utterly misjudged the society they claimed to champion."

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