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do you believe in magic?
killing the message while sparing the messenger
by sigbjørn lund olsen

Of all the days I have lived and will live, I already know that I will vividly remember the 11th of September. On a global level, we all will remember that day as the day when four aeroplanes were hijacked in the United States and then subsequently used to ram the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and, well, the ground in Pennsylvania. On a personal level, it was the day when I found my way to Cardiff to buy a duvet and a pillow, and the day when first year induction at Atlantic College started.

After having enjoyed a bumpy busride in an old bus that felt like it'd disintegrate if it crashed with a pigeon, I arrived in Cardiff. Somehow, I found a map of Cardiff, and some blind alleys later I got my sorry feet into a department store. I bought a duvet. I found another department store - one that sold duvets for about one third of the prices in the first one. This annoyed me. A lot.

Trotting back towards the bus station some hours later and (too) many pounds poorer, I found an Internet café. Having practically nothing to do this day, I went online and connected to IRC. As I entered the chatrooms I frequent, someone said something like "Is anyone else watching what's happening in the US?" and another one replied "Yes, it's just totally ... unreal." Some lines later, realization crept into me - something significant had happened. www.cnn.com was overloaded. Something very significant had happened.

I loaded a Norwegian news site into my browser window, and had a picture of a smoke-covered Manhattan Skyline thrown in my face. Something very significant had happened. This was real!

Today, on the 26th of September, the Atlantic College community had a "College Meeting" regarding the terrorist attacks. Beth, an American, had a comment I want to share with you, that so totally crystallizes the difference of United World Colleges that I wrote about in my last column: "New bombings in Palestine - it's on the news here. Okay. Oh, wait, hey! My roommate comes from Palestine. Is she okay?"

My roommate is from New York. Is he okay?

I sent a message to my brother whether he thought the terrorists today were less capable than those of the 70s. He replied with a word that is, well, untranslatable. I quickly headed back to the college, and found people gathered around radios. The multitude of voices I met the 10th was gone.

It was unreal.

In this environment, trouble halfway around the globe is very very close. And being a "school for bright children" discussion would ensue. We have people here that are American, and people that come from societies and cultures where one would not readily feel sympathetic towards the US.

Propaganda has filled the news, and especially the US news. But here we get the Arab Times as well as the New York Times - you cannot avoid getting all sides of the story. So here are some questions to provoke your thoughts, which a teacher at my college, Kai Arste, posted on the noticeboard:

  • What is it that the United States has done over the past 50 years that people, many of them ordinary decent folk, in some other parts of the world celebrate in the streets when 7000 fellow human beings are killed in terrorist attacks in the US?

  • How does the suffering when 7000 people have died compare to the suffering of 50 years of most of a nation being displaced, people being kept in unfreedom, families being separated, many individuals getting killed for putting a resistance?

  • Why is the injustice of an action by a person or a few people so much easier to recognize than the injustice of a system, especially a system from which you yourself are benefiting? Are we as human beings just not bright enough, or is society not yet advanced enough, to understand and deal with the more complicated underlying issues?

For those who believe that the United States is an innocent victim of vile and barbaric terrorists, consider the first two bullet points. Is the US, in fact, innocent, or are they in some way guilty of provoking the terrorist acts (that regardless are vile and barbaric) against them? I won't answer those questions. You will.

Are we not bright enough to notice that the cause does not equal the symptom? Are we not bright enough to realize that attacking a problem is not equal to solving a problem? Well, I would like to respond to those questions with a few recitals from the College Meeting today, where I, for once in my life, experienced international understanding. Differing opinions. Differing viewpoints. Mutual respect. Mutual understanding. I really really think it is important that we all take a pause and think, and think hard and long about the situation we have now and what created it, and how to solve it in the long term.

"On the September 12th newspapers' front pages there were titles like 'The Day The World Changed.' But the world hasn't changed. The world won't change even if the US retaliates. It will change if it doesn't, and instead sits down and contemplates the alternative."

"Take your neighbors' hands and close your eyes. Can you tell me what skin color they have? Can you tell me their nationalities? Can you tell me what religion they belong to?"


Sigbjørn still maintains that he is going to be somebody ... carefully neglecting the fact that all the ninety-year olds still singing into their combs in front of their mirrors, they too knew that they were going to be somebody. It is slowly dawning on him that his shot at being a star kid actor may very well have passed, so as a backup plan, he's currently attending university in Trondheim, Norway, studying film.

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adam kraemer
10.10.01 @ 10:26a

There is never any excuse for specifically targeting civilians. Period.

roger striffler
10.10.01 @ 11:09a

These two things need to be separated
1) we need to examine ourselves, our actions, and our policies to understand how others view us and why someone would want to do this.
2) terrorist acts, especially against civilians, absolutely cannot be tolerated, anywhere in the world

matt morin
10.10.01 @ 5:09p

While I think you're completely valid and these questions really need to be examined and answered, now may not be the time to do it.

Like I told someone with a similar viewpoint a few weeks ago, "You don't go to someone's funeral and tell everyone what an a**hole he was."

mike julianelle
10.10.01 @ 5:37p

Matt: Thank you for that. I was afraid to write anything fearing my emotions might get the better of me. That quote sums it up perfectly.

roger striffler
10.10.01 @ 6:05p

Thanks, Matt - I'm glad I'm valid [grin]

Seriously though, good point.

adam kraemer
10.11.01 @ 10:39a

I'd like to use that quote except I don't know how to pronounce asterisks.

Just kidding; I think Matt's completely right. Or as Kevin Smith once commented in a post on his web site: "You don't walk into a man's kitchen and piss in his chowder."

joe procopio
10.11.01 @ 10:51a

The reason why Americans aren't en-masse asking these questions is that the answers are moot. Any Muslim not of the Taliban will tell you that the attack was not only unjustifiable, but could never be justified, regardless of the level of alleged or real oppression. The time for reflection has, painfully, passed. Add to this the fact that it was carried out strictly in the name of power, disguised as a strike against oppression, and you have pure evil. You don't determine the cause in that situation, you eradicate to keep from being eradicated.

jael mchenry
10.11.01 @ 12:26p

While I think everyone's right that asking what could have been done to prevent what happened a month ago is moot... asking what could happen differently to keep it from being repeated is not. I'm not interested in dissecting our past foreign policy. But there's a place for thinking about how we can take foreign policy actions in the future.

I, for one, was happy to see Bush's efforts to build an international coalition and strategize for the long term, rather than an immediate retaliatory strike. I think that's part of what Sigbjorn's getting at, and that's the part of the argument I think is useful.

adam kraemer
10.11.01 @ 12:46p

I think people have been tiptoeing around the Israel situation because it's currently a Bin Laden smoke screen, but I have to address the obvious questions about the Arab/Israeli conflict in Sigbjorn's column.
Yes, the US is pro-Israel, but had it not been for us, the state of Israel would probably not exist at all. I can't imagine someone's arguing for allowing the other Mideastern nations to drive the current state of Israel into the sea.
I agree that an agreement needs to be reached, especially over Jerusalem, but for the US to stop backing Israel is not an option, either realistically or politically. To be blunt, there are too many powerful Jews in the US for the politicians to risk alienating all of them.

mike julianelle
10.11.01 @ 12:54p

Why do guys like you and me know what a duvet is?

adam kraemer
10.11.01 @ 12:54p

Furthermore, a few facts:
a) Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in Tanach, the Jewish Holy Scriptures. Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran.
b) For over 3,300 years, Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital Jerusalem
> has
> >never been the capital of any Arab or Muslim entity. Even when the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem, they never sought to make it their capital, and Arab leaders did not come to visit.
c) In 1948 the Arab refugees were encouraged to leave Israel by Arab leaders promising to purge the land of Jews. Sixty-eight percent left without ever seeing an Israeli soldier.
d) Arab refugees were INTENTIONALLY not absorbed or integrated into the
Arab lands to which they fled, despite the vast Arab territory. Out of
the 100,000,000 refugees since World War II, theirs is the only refugee group in the world that has never been absorbed or integrated into their own peoples' lands. Jewish refugees were completely absorbed into Israel, a co

adam kraemer
10.11.01 @ 12:55p

Jewish refugees were completely absorbed into Israel, a country no larger than the state of New Jersey.
e) The Arab - Israeli Conflict; The Arabs are represented by twenty separate nations, not including the Palestinians. There is only one Jewish nation. The Arab nations initiated all five wars and lost.

So there you go. There's more to that list if anyone wants to send me an e-mail.

joe procopio
10.11.01 @ 1:01p

Just want to reiterate and clarify. It is my firm belief that the attacks on our soil had absolutely nothing to do with oppression or retaliation. They were the result of madness, a hunger for power, blind devotion, manipulation, and religious trickery.

matt morin
10.11.01 @ 1:28p

Yes, but Joe, that hunger for power came from the feeling of powerlessness. And when someone's been so oppressed for so long, they've got nothing to lose and everything to gain by striking back.

So while yes, Bin Laden used that blind devotion, manipulation and religious trickery to get his minions to do his dirty work, none of them would have been predisposed to do something like that had that feeling of helplessness not been there already.

When you're down to your last punch, you don't throw the jab. You throw the roundhouse. And that's what Bin Laden did. A big sucker punch of a roundhouse.

jael mchenry
10.11.01 @ 1:40p

I don't think oppression and powerlessness are the issues as much as resentment and anger. Whether or not the U.S. has done anything to deserve that resentment and anger is actually not the issue. The resentment and anger exist, regardless.

joe procopio
10.11.01 @ 1:43p

Bin Laden was by no means down to his last punch. Bin Laden is using his followers like any other religious nutcase. And whether or not their oppressed state is caused by American foreign policy is sketchy at best. The fact that Bin Laden put together this oppression (and don't forget, these sects punish their followers for beard length) and scapegoated America as the great Satan is inexcusable.

If you beat a guy and tell him America did it, guess who his beef is with.

Does that mean we ask questions? Or go get the weasel who framed us.

There's nothing wrong with contemplating foriegn policy and its relative merits and costs to other cultures, but we're talking about apples (our foreign policy) and oranges (an attack on American soil on orders from Bin Laden).

alicia coleman
10.11.01 @ 1:49p

Joe and Matt, I think you're both right. The attacks had nothing to do with oppression, and that's because BL himself (although I know nothing of his cronies) is not oppressed. He, along with his several brothers, is a multi-millionaire, who, ironically enough, made his millions on the stock market. Talk about biting the hand that feeds. So, his attacks, in addition to being phenomenally animalistic and barbaric, are in no way a crazed backlash to oppression. But, I think matt's right on when he says that others, namely, the "minions," have been oppressed enough to retaliate, no matter how unjustified that retaliation may be. True, the US has, in the past, had a hand in this oppression. But positive strides in foreign policy have, fortunately, been made and will most certainly, in light of recent events, continue to be made. It's important, though, that our decisions not be made in direct reaction to what we've suffered for to do so would, according to

alicia coleman
10.11.01 @ 1:55p

Achenbach of the Washington Post, reward terrorism. And that's something we can never do.

All in all, though, no matter what harm our country has incurred abroad, the "punishment" we received can NEVER be considered justified. Plus, the only reason that the US has hurt others is because we are one of the only - and sometimes THE ONLY - countries that ever gives aid. And aid, alas, is a double-edged sword. It sometimes f***s stuff up in the process. And we, the deliverers, sometimes add to that. But, just think of how the world community would react if we, all of a sudden, stopped assisting or, as some anti-Americans call it, "meddling." We'd be targeted again. Bottom line, damned if you do, damned if you don't.

matt morin
10.11.01 @ 2:05p

Allegra, you're completely right with the "double-edged sword" comment. Other countries have to realize that we're not handing out money just for the fun of it. There are always strings attached. We're going to want something in return. It's just that sometimes I think the U.S. takes advantage of that relationship. We know we have most countries over a barrel because they need our money to survive.

That said, of course we didn't deserve what happened. There's no justification for that. Ever.

alicia coleman
10.11.01 @ 2:17p

True enough, Matt. National self interest explains why we got involved in Kosovo but stayed the heck out of Somalia. I'm not justifying the latter action (or lack thereof). But I am hopeful, albeit naively, that future aid can be given altruistically sometimes. Hell, if this crisis made a changed man out of Giuliani, then it might make our government a more "kinder, gentler" one. Okay, "might" being the key word here.

scott mcclure
10.12.01 @ 11:59p

How would Norwegians
have responded to a Nazi sympathizer who
suggested that they reflect on what they had done to bring the 1940 invasion on themselves? As I recall, Norway was particularly hard on collaborators. As for your teacher who posted this tripe, he's lucky to be in a country that has more repect for human rights that the people he's defending.

tracey kelley
10.15.01 @ 1:39a

I find it interesting Scott, that you bring up Nazi sympathizers, because I see more Hitler in Bin Laden than any "jihad". Let's not forget that Hitler promised the German people that what he was doing was all for them and the benefit of their downtrodden country.

tracey kelley
10.15.01 @ 1:54a

Another interesting fact. The Nov. issue of Air and Space details one of the final sneak attacks on the U.S. planned by the Japanese in WWII with folded-wing aircraft known as "Seiran" - meaning "storm from a clear sky." These aircraft were to be loaded into submarines, and with a release-to- flight time of only 4 minutes, initiate kamikaze attacks on key points of the Eastern U.S. coast. The planes were camouflaged to look like normal US planes. Sound familiar? Bin Laden isn't even original with his plan.

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