My motivation to study language and eventually translation began one winter morning in 2006. I was watching the BBC morning news at my London home while preparing to leave for university. With a cup of Nescafé in my hand and the distant whistle of a winter wind in the background, I attentively listened to the presenter announce that the security level had been raised to ‘SEVERE’ due to an increase in chatter. Despite the fear and paranoia that accompanies warnings of a potentially imminent terrorist attack, my thoughts were consumed with that one word: chatter. I assumed it referred to an increase in communication between terrorist cells through the internet and via phone calls, indicating they were discussing plans for an attack. But what really unsettled me was how a simple word had the power to justify an attitude of fear and paranoia, despite its ambiguity. I wondered if anyone else had also questioned the justification for the spread of panic on the basis of one word, a word I had yet to define.
The image that was to be routinely triggered in my mind by the word chatter is of a group of young Arab men in an untidy apartment littered with pizza boxes, sending emails and making phones calls as they prepared to stage an atrocity. I questioned the source of this imagery and was eventually able to locate it. This visualisation embedded in my memory stemmed from the Hollywood blockbuster The Siege (1998). My visual reference was one of fiction and in a sense functioned like a surrogate, filling a gap in my own personal experience to understand a set of otherwise incomprehensible propositions. In short I had tapped into a fictional narrative to give meaning to ‘real events’. Hollywood’s chaotic image of terrorists portrayed in The Siege was later reinforced by stories surrounding the 9/11 attackers, especially the FBI’s claim that Muhammad Atta frequently visited strip bars. However, a critical mind would ask: did the fictitious image of the terrorists presented in The Siege and similar films influence the description of the 9/11 attackers? Was it a case of fiction influencing reality? In fact this reference to fiction to understand reality in relation to the 9/11 attacks is not an isolated or unique occurrence. While watching the televised scenes of the 9/11 attacks many viewers made a visual reference to the film Independence Day (1996). Similarities were not just limited to the images of destruction; also present in both narratives are themes of annihilation by an inhuman and menacing enemy. It is these very themes that would become necessary components of the official 9/11 narrative and a justification for a relentless war on terror.