an area of the map for world news.
March 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 3)
The Birth of the New World
Jeambar, LExpress (centrist newsmagazine), Paris,
France, Dec. 20, 2001
Each year, as
the final curtain falls at the end of December, there comes
a time for taking stock, as though history could be divided
into slices. And so, 2001 will forever remain the year of the
twin towers and international terrorism.
The consequences of the New York tragedy of Sept. 11 are considerable.
The two planes, commandeered at a distance by Osama bin Laden,
changed both how the world works and its balance of power.
One photograph symbolizes this shake-up: the meeting in Shanghai
of three new mandarins of the planet: the U.S. president, George
W. Bush, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the Chinese
president, Jiang Zemin. This was an unprecedented meeting, recalling
the one in Yalta, which, in February 1945, defined the international
order for almost half a century.
But, while history is overturned in the wake of symbolic events,
it also remains a continuum. Thus, about 10 years of transition
were needed to piece together a geopolitical arrangement to
replace the one that had disappeared in the autumn of 1989 in
the ruins of the Berlin Wall. It was a carefree and awesome
decade that came to an end on Sept. 11. That decade celebrated
the end of history, the return of growth, the joys of globalization,
the high-tech revolution, but all the while the tragedies kept
piling up: the Gulf War, the war in the former Yugoslavia, the
war in Rwanda, the war in Chechnya, the war in the Middle East
despite the hopes for peace that had been born in Oslo.
The truth is, the shock of New York rousted the Western democracies
out of their comforting illusions and their deceptions. Stricken
at the very heart of their civilization, they discovered the
fragility of their control, the disparities of wealth, the limits
of progress so inadequately shared, and especially the real
challenges of a complex world.
Gone are the days of the Cold War, when the enemy was communism
and the only objective was to contain it. The threat has become
multifaceted and more difficult to delineate. It finds its nesting
place in international terrorism, but also in the rogue states,
in the major organized-crime networks, and in the various regional
conflicts that flare up, here and there, with the violence of
volcanoes too long dormant. The shackles of the major ideologies
of the 20th century, as they fell away, set loose ethnic grievances
that were all the more strident because they had been hemmed
in and stifled for so long.
The live images of the Sept. 11 attacks showed television viewers
petrified with horror at how far blind fanaticism can go. Hate
has forced itself into our lives, conveyed by the eye of cameras
that are always watching. The world itself no longer sleeps
or slumbers. The instant and continuous flow of information
has become the worlds lifeblood and the underlying cause
of its heart attacks.
The spectacle of violence, previously confined to TV news broadcasts
or fiction, is now permanent, immediate, and pervasive. Even
a remote village like Brive-la-Gaillarde lives on Paris time,
but also on New York, Moscow, Beijing, Jerusalem, Belgrade,
or Kabul time.
Each citizen is transformed into both victim and perpetrator
through the medium of that small screen. There is no way to
escape its grip. The globalization of images marches in lockstep
with economic internationalization, and even the most minor
conflict becomes planetary in its scope. Every war is the equivalent
of a deadly neighborhood quarrel.
From now on, no one can feel sheltered from the threats that
bubble up here and there. News events have become the daily
bread of television viewers, the pattern of the drama and fabric
of their everyday lives.
Osama bin Laden was diabolical in his use of these new codes
of the Information Age. Already the spokesman and armed leader
of Islamic insurgents, he wanted to make himself a prophet and
a martyr in a war of a new kind, one that combines savagery
with the symbolic force of images. He may have succeeded only
in part. The classic American response has shown that, in this
maelstrom of the new millennium, the nation-state, with its
traditional weaponsforce and diplomacyremains a
key factor in the world political system.
While America fumbled in electing its president a year ago,
offering the whole world the spectacle of democracy as a slapstick
comedy, the leader of Al-Qaeda has put George W. Bush back in
the saddle and on center stage. To be sure, Bush still has a
lot to prove, but in three months of conflict in Afghanistan
he has brought back prestige to the notion of the state and
has proved that democracy is not synonymous with cowardice,
while launching a new strategic organization of the world. That
is huge. It is also proof that 2001 is truly a year that will
mark a turning point in history.