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Exerpted from "Phantom Towers" in the Dec/Jan issue of Ms. on newsstands now

These are trying times, hard times to know where we are from one day to the next. The attack on the World Trade Center has left many kinds of damage in its wake, not the least of which is a gaping ethical and political confusion in the minds of many Americans who identify in some way as "progressive": antiracist, feminist, democratic (small "d"), antiwar. While we have a responsibility to those who died, to their loved ones, and to ourselves to mourn, it is urgent that we also think through what kind of world we are now living in and what it demands of us. And we have to do this, even while we know our understanding can only be very tentative and may well be invalidated a year, a month, or even a week from now by events we can't foresee or information now hidden from us.

So, at the risk of being completely wrong, I want to try to draw a picture of the global power dynamics as I see them at this moment, including their gender and racial dimensions. I want to ask whether there is some more humane and peaceable way out of the two unacceptable polarities now being presented to us: the permanent war machine (or permanent security state) and the regime of holy terror.

By asking whether we are facing a confrontation between global capitalism and an Islamist-fundamentalist brand of fascism, I do not mean to imply they are equivalent. Given what appears to be the strong likelihood that the attacks of September 11 were the work of bin Laden's Al Qaeda network or something related and even larger, most of you reading this are positioned in a way that gives little choice about identity. (For the Muslim Americans and Arab Americans among us, who are both opposed to terrorism and terrified to walk in our streets, the moral dilemma is much more agonizing.) As an American, a woman, a feminist, and a Jew, I have to recognize that the bin Ladens of the world would like me dead; or, if they had power over me, would make my life a living hell. I have to wish them apprehended, annulled, so I can breathe in some kind of peace. This is quite different from living at the center of global capitalism—which is more like living in a very dysfunctional family that fills you with shame and anger for its arrogance, greed, and insensitivity, but is, like it or not, your home and gives you both immense privileges and immense responsibilities.

I don't, however, succumb to the temptation of casting our dilemma in terms of cosmic Good versus Evil. Currently this comes in two opposed but mirror-image versions: the idea, put forward not only by the terrorists and their sympathizers but also by many on the left in the U.S. and around the globe, that blames U.S. cultural imperialism and economic hegemony for "chickens coming home to roost" versus the patriotic, right-wing version that casts U.S. democracy and freedom as the innocent target of Islamist madness. Both these stories erase all the complexities that we must try to factor into a more inclusive ethical and political vision. The apocalyptic rhetoric that echoed back and forth between Bush and bin Laden in the aftermath of the attacks-the pseudo-Islamic and the pseudo-Christian, the jihad and the crusade—both lie.

So while I do not see terrorist networks and global capitalism as equivalents, I do see some striking and disturbing parallels between them. I picture them as phantom Twin Towers arising in the smoke clouds of the old towers—fraternal twins, not identical, locked in a battle over wealth, imperial aggrandizement, and the meanings of masculinity. It is a battle that could well end in a stalemate, an interminable cycle of violence that neither can win because of their failure to see the other clearly. Feminist analysts and activists from many countries—whose voices have been inaudible thus far-have a lot of experience to draw from in making this double critique. Whether in the U.N. or national settings, we have been challenging the gender-biased and racist dimensions of both neoliberal capitalism and various fundamentalisms for years, trying to steer a path between their double menace. The difference now is that they parade onto the world stage in their most extreme and violent forms.

Rosalind P. Petchesky is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

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