On the morning of September 11th, 2001 hijacked airplanes piloted by Al Qaeda terrorists struck the World Trade Center, bringing down the Twin Tower icons that dominated the downtown New York City skyline. In total, the hijacking of four planes by Al Qaeda led to the deaths of more than 3,000 people, ushering in a “War on Terror” which two months later began with American troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
In previous articles I explored how Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine confronted the subject of terrorism from the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. By the late 1990s, terrorism as a storyline receded from the Star Trek franchise. However, in September 2001, just as the latest series Enterprise (ENT) began broadcasting, Americans faced the worst terrorist attack in the nation’s history. With the first season mapped out and an American public still reeling from the 9/11 attacks, Enterprise producers largely steered clear of plot lines dealing with terrorist attacks.
As the first season wound down, an episode called “Desert Crossing” finally tackled the issue of terrorism. In this episode Captain Archer and Chief Engineer Charles “Trip” Tucker encounter a disabled ship and its pilot which they their way back to Enterprise. After repairing the ship, the pilot, Zobral, invites Archer and Trip to visit his world as a gesture of gratitude. Zobral’s camp is located in an isolated area of his planet in the midst of a vast desert. While the captain is away, first officer T’Pol learns that officials of a city on the other side of the planet consider Zobral and his followers terrorists for their attacks on the city. Archer discusses this accusation with Zobral who claims that he is a freedom fighter struggling against oppression at the hands of those city leaders. Moreover, Archer discovers that Zobral had orchestrated the initial contact with Archer because he had heard that the Starfleet captain had earlier aided an oppressed group on another planet. When the government attacks Zobral’s village, Archer and Trip flee across the harsh desert before T’Pol, with Zobral’s help, rescues them. Despite sympathizing with Zobral’s situation, Archer tells him that he can’t intervene in this dispute.
“Desert Crossing” in many ways resembles the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where a proud and apparently persecuted people engage in terrorism to resist a government that they believe seeks to destroy them. The desert locale and Zobral’s bedouin lifestyle only encourage the reader to see this as a metaphor for a Middle Eastern conflict. Here, Zobral attempts to sway Archer and thus Starfleet to side with his people and employ the superior power of Enterprise to even the odds. Yet, like numerous past American administrations, Archer maintains that this is not Starfleet’s fight and refuses to intervene.
Part 2 is below…
By the end of season two, Star Trek producers decided to tackle 9/11 head on. In that season’s final episode, a probe from an unknown alien source unleashes a devastating assault on Earth killing millions, including Trip’s younger sister. After Captain Archer learns that the probe that attacked Earth was sent by the Xindi, a distant species who believes humans will destroy their home world in the future, he and the crew decide to go find the Xindi in a mysterious region called the Delphic Expanse in order to stop them from developing a more powerful weapon that threatens to destroy Earth. The epsisode “The Expanse” marked the beginning of year-long story arc that would focus on the Enterprise’s efforts to thwart any future Xindi attack.
The Xindi storyline was clearly informed by 9/11, when “alien terrorists” staged an unprovoked attack on the United States, producing much death and devastation. Trip and Archer mirror the desire for vengeance that dominated the American landscape in the wake of the attacks. In some ways channeling the views of the Bush Administration, Trip observes that he hopes that the Enterprise crew will not be stopped by “that non-interference crap T’Pol’s always shoving down our throats.” Archer agrees that they will do “whatever it takes” to spare Earth from annihilation by the Xindi.
The Xindi attack and the crew’s reaction were not the only parallels to post-9/11 terrorism. Rather than have Enterprise remain near Earth to protect it, Archer instead takes the battle to the Xindi homeland, just as the United States government took the war to Afghanistan in its global war on terrorism. The depiction of the Xindi homeland the Delphic Expanse in many ways mirrored descriptions of Afghanistan as a mysterious and dangerous region home to hostile ethnic groups, and where powerful groups, like the British and the Soviet Union, seemed to have lost their way and struggled to survive. The Xindi themselves, comprised of several different species, including insectoids, reptilians, and aquatics, seem to resemble the fractured Afghan society dominated by numerous powerful warlords.
While the Xindi arc was informed by the 9/11 attacks and subsequent war in Afghanistan, the numerous episodes that make up the arc don’t really explore the issue of terrorism. In a season three episode Star Trek producers tackled the relationship between terrorism and religious extremism. Like “Desert Crossing,” in “Chosen Realm” the Enterprise crew comes to the aid of a crippled alien vessel. Befriending these aliens who call themselves the Triannons, Archer learns that they are a deeply religious people who consider mysterious spheres the Enterprise discovered while in the Delphic Expanse as sacred objects. Claiming that Enterprise has desecrated these sacred spheres, the Triannon sieze control of the ship by threatening to blow up the warp core using suicide bombers. The Triannon leader D’Jamat wants to use the Enterprise to defeat a rival sect on his home world who he claims are heretics. Before he can engage in this war against heresy, Archer and his crew are able to regain control of the ship. The final scene has Archer taking the captured Triannon to their planet where they discovered that the battle between the two religious sects has completely destroyed the Triannon home world.
Part 3 is below…