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The South Atlantic Quarterly 101.2 (2002) 403-415

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L'Esprit du Terrorisme

Jean Baudrillard

We have had our share of world events from Diana's death to the World Cup, as well as violent and real events, from wars to genocide. We have not yet had any symbolic event of such magnitude that it is not only broadcast all over the world, but holds globalization itself in check—not one. Throughout the stagnation of the nineties, in the words of the Argentinean writer Macedonio Fernandez, events were on strike. Well, the strike is off. Events are back with such an ardor that we were even confronted with the World Trade Center attacks, by the absolute event, the "mother event," the pure event that concentrates in itself all the events that never took place.

These attacks turn not only the whole play of history and power relations topsy-turvy, but also the conditions of their analysis. Here one must take one's time. As long as events were stagnating, we had to anticipate them and stay ahead of the game. But when they suddenly drive forward with such thrust, we must slow down, without letting ourselves be buried under the morass of speeches and the warmongering cloud, and keep intact the unforgettable fulguration of images. [End Page 403]

All the speeches and commentaries about September 11 betray the gigantic abreaction to the event itself and people's fascination with it. The moral condemnations, the national antiterrorism sacred union, are on par with the prodigious jubilation created by the desire to see the destruction of this global superpower, or more precisely, to watch it somehow destroy itself, commit a beautiful suicide. For it is this superpower that, through its unbearable power, is the secret cause of all the violence percolating all over the world, and consequently of the terrorist imagination, which unbeknownst to us, inhabits our psyche.

That we may have dreamed of that event, that everybody without exception, dreamed of it because no one cannot dream of the destruction of a power that has become hegemonic to such a point, is unacceptable for Western moral consciousness. However, it is a fact that can be measured against the pathetic violence shown by all the speeches and discourses that want to erase the event.

We could even go so far as to say it is they who perpetrated the attack, but it was we who wished it. If one does not take into account this fact the event loses all its symbolic dimension and becomes a mere accident, a purely arbitrary act, the murderous phantasm of a few fanatics whom it suffices to suppress. But we know better: hence, the whole production of a delirious counterphobia to exorcize evil. Because evil is everywhere, like an obscure object of desire. Without this deep complicity, the event would not have created such a big stir and in their symbolic strategy, the terrorists knew without doubt that they could count on this inadmissible complicity of evil.

It goes far beyond the hatred that the disinherited and the exploited of the world feel for the global, hegemonic superpower—those who happened to fall on the wrong side of world order. This invidious desire also resides in the very hearts of those who share in the world order's benefits. The allergy to any definitive order, to any ultimate power is happily a universal reaction and the two World Trade Center towers were the perfect embodiment of this definitive order precisely in their twin nature.

No need for a death drive, or a destruction drive, nor even perverse effects. It is that the logical and inexorable climb to power of power itself exacerbates the will to destroy this power; and power itself is accomplice with its own destruction. When the two towers collapsed, one had the impression that they were responding to the suicide of the suicide-jets with their own suicide. We heard, "Even God cannot declare war upon himself." Well, not [End Page 404] true! The West, assuming God's position (supine with divine omnipotence and...