On 11 September 2001, the terms 'secular', 'profane' and 'sacred' assumed a certain fluidity. For the suicide bombers, the profane signs were the World Trade Center (sign of US commercial might) and the Pentagon (sign of US military might). Their sacred object, that from which they derived sacrovalence or sacred value, was their interpretation of jihad in the hope of Paradise, a jihad physically articulated in the form of four airliner suicide missions.
For the USA, and most (but not all) of a horrified world, the profane sign was, to deploy the Eliadean term, the catastrophic degradation of the sacred, the attack upon the twin 'secular-sacred' shrines of the WTC and the Pentagon, erected to honour Mammon and Mars respectively.
The three Eliadean motifs of the sacred, the degradation of the spiritual and death and resurrection assume a vibrant poignancy when applied to 11 September:
• A sacred space (Ground Zero) was created by both sides, the one willingly, the other forced.
• A sacred time (11 September 2001) was created for all time to rank beside St Bartholomew's Eve, the Glencoe Massacre and other memorial dates, but on a far grander scale.
• The spiritual Islamic concept of jihad, whose twin aspects involve a fight against inner sinful tendencies (the greater jihad) as well as a fight in defence of Islam against her external enemies (the lesser jihad), was degraded in the eyes of many moderate Muslims.
• The nature of man was sacralised through death in the eyes of both perpetrators and victims. The purificatory rituals of the bombers contrast with the heroism, and multiple deaths, of the many New York rescuers, especially among the city's fire fighters.
• The post-9/ii cosmos was sacralised and sanctified in the eyes of many in the US government by the initiation of a purificatory war on terrorism and terror.
And while the degradation of the spiritual did indeed harvest a monstrous crop in the deaths of thousands, New York rose again, as Eliade would have noted, even though much unease remained.592
Was this article helpful?