What impact did 9/11 have on the world?
Our panel assesses the decade of international upheaval that followed the al-Qaida attacks on the US
Mon 5 Sep 2011 12.48 BSTFirst published on Mon 5 Sep 2011 12.48 BST
‘The response to 9/11 was as Bin Laden must have dreamed’
No single figure since the second world war has made so profound an impact on world events as Osama bin Laden. Had the world responded to his 9/11 attack on America with moderation he would probably have disappeared, expelled from Afghanistan or killed by his Tajik enemies. Even the Taliban were known to have been shocked by 9/11, when almost the entire Muslim world came out in sympathy with America (including the PLO in Palestine).
It was a brief moment of American moral supremacy. Yet by launching armed aggression, first against Afghanistan and then against Iraq, America wholly squandered this gain. The aggression led to a tide of anti-Americanism and surge of support for fanatical Islamism across the Muslim world. The wars cost tens of thousands of lives and caused mass destruction. The billions of dollars expended on them was financed largely from borrowing, which in turn has destabilised the world economy.
All this was out of all proportion to the attacks on 9/11. Indeed the response to 9/11 was as Bin Laden must have dreamed. He saw widespread hostility towards the west and its aggressive behaviour in the Muslim world. Civil liberties were curbed and governments reverted to cold war paranoia. America was again the great Satan. The peace dividend so eagerly awaited at the end of the 20th century evaporated as the security industry exploited counter-terrorism and seized every chance of profit and risk aversion. Bin Laden became a role model for fanatics everywhere. The decade since 9/11 must rank among the most inept and counterproductive eras in the story of modern statesmanship.
‘9/11 may have been the high water mark for al-Qaida’
9/11 changed America fundamentally, far more so than outsiders realised at the time. For Americans it genuinely was a new Pearl Harbour, an attack on the homeland that made them feel vulnerable for the first time in 60 years. It turned an administration with quasi-isolationist tendencies into one committed to robust intervention overseas.
The outcome was a new focus on combating global terrorism, particularly al-Qaida. Huge new resources were thrown into the battle. Paradoxically, looking back, 9/11 may have been the high water mark for al-Qaida rather than the beginning of a new terrorist threat. The group has since been unable to mount so spectacular an attack again. The Arab spring has now rendered it almost irrelevant. In retrospect, perhaps the west put too much effort into the physical battle against international terrorism and not enough into addressing the grievances the extremists were able to exploit, particularly the failure to advance peace in the Middle East.
The destruction of the twin towers graphically illustrated the dark side of globalisation. Terrorists used the tools of a modern global society, the internet, open borders and hi-tech aeroplanes, to attack the west at home. Fortunately, they failed to provoke our societies into closing their borders and hunkering down at home and instead we reacted with a greater willingness to engage internationally. The attack gave birth to an unprecedented universal coalition of revulsion. That consensus fragmented over Iraq. Divisions over Afghanistan, Libya and Syria show that it has not yet been rebuilt. I hope one day it can be recaptured without a repeat of the appalling tragedy that first brought it into being.
• Jonathan Powell was chief of staff to Tony Blair 1997-2’Pakistanis realise that the trauma is far from over’
“Why do you attack innocent children,” a failed suicide bomber in Pakistan was asked in an interview last year. “Who says children are innocent?” he replied. American drones hovering over Pakistan’s northern areas are programmed to work with the same logic: guilty until proven dead.
When United States decided to outsource part of its “war of terror” to Pakistan’s military establishment, it effectively sealed the fate of democracy in the country for a decade. When George W Bush embraced General Pervez Musharraf he was doing exactly what his predecessors had done when they propped up another military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. We all know how that turned out. Taliban fighters are mujahideen’s orphaned children, and they believe that American innocence is nothing but a well-rehearsed pose. Even the Taliban’s victims concur.
In the days after 9/11 some Pakistanis had hoped that the American bombs would fall on Saudi Arabia from where the attackers came. But those bombs fell on Pakistan. And when they didn’t fall from the sky, they blew up in mosques and bazaars.
Pakistanis are too poor to go and seek treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. They also realise that the trauma is far from over. When army generals and their cheerleaders talk about Afghanistan’s end game people see a series of random slaughters across their land. There is no dearth of western academic sneering at bewildered Pakistanis and telling them that they brought it upon themselves. Try saying that to survivors of the 9/11 attacks.
• Mohammed Hanif is a novelist and special correspondent for BBC Urdu
‘Building up a global immune system to fight this disease will take more than a decade’
The good news 10 years after 9/11 is that the world has and is changing, but in ways that contradict the narrative Osama bin Laden advanced before his death.
Al-Qaida has been a non-factor in the Arab spring. The inspiring protest movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and elsewhere are uninterested in taking their region or their religion back in time, as Bin Laden advocated. As they push autocratic leaders to the side, they seek a political state close to democracy, certainly not a Caliphate.
The protesters, connected to the internet and the modern world, don’t define themselves as being separate. They see the gap in political, economic and social development that exists with the rest of the world and want better. They want opportunity, within a religious framework that is not yet fully defined, but open to debate, not closed by dogma.
Over the past decade, international co-operation and co-ordinated action have reduced, if not eliminated the threat. Networks that engage in or support violent extremism are under pressure, but they remain dangerous. From Yemen and Somalia to Pakistan and the Maghreb, these groups could take advantage of chaos or disillusionment if the ongoing Arab transition fails to deliver real results.
If there is a lesson to be learned from 9/11, it is persistence. It is politically tempting after Bin Laden’s demise to declare victory, but the job is not done. Building up a global immune system to fight this disease will take more than a decade. It will take a generation.
• PJ Crowley is the Omar Bradley chair at Dickinson College, Penn State University law school and the Army War College
‘The war has done great harm to our people for all sorts of reasons’
The twin towers collapsed oceans and miles away from Afghanistan – at that time a country that looked like a graveyard, whose people were still suffering from war, discrimination and humiliation. In 2001, a small battery-run radio was the only means of communication in most of the country. Many Afghans felt that the US attack may mark the beginning of the end of the horror we were experiencing. Many felt good may come from what the United States had experienced, not because they are sadistic, or take pleasure in the death of others, but simply because they thought that the world powers will only understand our suffering if they experience it themselves.
It took the US only one month to react militarily, attacking the “source” of where the 9/11 attacks were planned. Hundreds and thousands of Afghan once again had to flee their homes, as they feared being hit by US bombs. As terrorists and all who collaborated with them were targeted, the fear of B52 war planes persuaded many warlord commanders to shave or shorten their beards and dress like democrats in black suits – but as we have subsequently seen, many of them remained the same on the inside.
First bombs and then political settlements followed the events. In Bonn, Germany, most of the active Afghan actors gathered to agree on power sharing and the only two groups who felt unrepresented there later became the ones who cause most of the troubles.
Ten years on, it would be unrealistic to ignore the tremendous level of progress that Afghanistan has made thanks partly to the international community and partly to the determination of Afghans themselves, who chose to work rebuilding and recreating Afghanistan again. From paved roads to girls going to school, to historical record-breaking media development, there have been positive developments.
However, the war – never the choice of the Afghan people – has done great harm to our people for all sorts of different local, national, regional and international reasons. Widespread corruption, the massive arming of militias, the fuelling of war by neighbouring countries, the civilian losses and night raids and deterioration of security have all undermined our children’s education, out women’s ability to work, our ability to provide basic social services to the neediest part of population. Overwhelming dependency on foreign aid is still a challenge for Afghan people who would like to make their country stand on its own feet and live life peacefully.
• Orzala Ashraf Nemat is an independent human rights and civil society activist/researcher from Afghanistan
George Galloway: ‘Now scarcely anyone believes the state whatever it says’
Within an hour of the second plane striking the twin towers in New York I was filing a piece for the Guardian. What I wrote was widely criticised at the time by kneejerk, laptop warriors because, while placing the blame for the atrocity squarely on the Bin Laden-inspired Salafists (who turned out indeed to be the culprits), I argued that the planes didn’t come out of a clear blue sky but emerged from the swamp of hatred the west had sown over many years. I drew attention to our double standards and the injustice we had perpetrated and facilitated throughout the Muslim world. I identified – in the article, and in a speech a few days later when the House was recalled – our role in the Palestinian catastrophe and the propping up of the dictators who ruled almost all of the Muslim world as being the twin reasons that some enraged Muslims were being drawn to Bin Laden.
In my speeches in the House after 9/11 I argued that if we handled this atrocity the wrong way we would produce 10,000 new Bin Ladens, which we surely did. I argued that for as long as Muslim blood and freedoms were regarded more cheaply and more dispensable than the west’s own wellbeing we would face a deepening confrontation with the near 2 billion-strong Muslim world. And we have.
I underestimated the extent to which our own people would rise up against the failure of western policy towards the east, and also the damage that this and the subsequent militarised mendacity would do to the whole credibility of governance in countries such as our own and the United States.
Now scarcely anyone believes the state whatever it says, on terrorism, war, freedom of information, climate change, even when the governments are telling the truth. It is the final vindication of the great Claud Cockburn’s famous dictum “believe nothing until it has been officially denied”.
• George Galloway is the vice president of the Stop The War coalition
‘9/11 has marked countries and political cultures neither faraway nor impoverished’
It’s tempting to think that the aftermath of September 11 was felt largely Out There: in Washington, say, or Kabul. Tempting, but wrong – because 9/11 has marked countries and political cultures neither faraway nor impoverished. Places like Norway. Or Britain.
Hours before he began his killing spree this summer Anders Behring Breivik posted a 1,500-page manifesto. He claimed to be waging war on “Islamic imperialism” and his supposed “martydom operation” was against an Islamic civilisation rolling across western soil.
Breivik and other neo-Nazis used to assert racial superiority; now they claim an existential threat from Islamic culture. For proof they point to Osama or to home-grown terrorists.
This is the argument pushed by the English Defence League, who so impressed the Norwegian gunman. As academic Matt Goodwin points out, the EDL bases its arguments not around the BNP staple of white supremacy but “the more socially acceptable issue of culture”. They don’t hate Muslims for their colour, but their beliefs – although on a dark night in Luton after a fascist march you’d struggle to discern the difference.
This view was lent legitimacy by George W Bush and (especially) Tony Blair, who framed the argument after 9/11 as a clash of values. Nowadays, former ministers to Silvio Berlusconi justify Breivik’s ideas as “in defence of western civilisation”. And in this year’s Munich speech, David Cameron attacked “Islamist extremism” and “state multiculturalism” before laying down the most blandly toxic of lines: “Let us engage groups that share our aspirations.” But who exactly does the prime minister consider “us”, and how do “our aspirations” differ from theirs?
‘The turmoil of the past 10 years emphasises the need to be vigilant about the power exercised by our governments’
The 9/11 attacks represented a patent attempt by al-Qaida to goad the United States into open warfare. All the better, after all, to convince young Muslims across the world that America was really at war with Islam and that they should heed al-Qaida’s call to come to the defence of their faith.
Osama bin Laden must have been thrilled by the wars launched against Afghanistan and Iraq, and the opportunities this presented to them. He and his recruiters were now able to point out how the world’s most vocal proponents of freedom, dignity and human rights were actually behaving towards Muslims in Guantánamo Bay, through extraordinary rendition, the copious use of waterboarding, and routine torture in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.
What the turmoil of the past 10 years have served to emphasise is the need to be vigilant about the power exercised by our governments, and to work to ensure that the human rights of all people – Muslim or otherwise – are properly safeguarded.
• Inayat Bunglawala is the founder and chair of Muslims4UK
Events since 9/11 have demonstrated a fundamental tension of the 21st century, but one that is barely admitted – and certainly not by governments. It is that between states and statelessness or, to put it another way, between states and borderless or globalised phenomena.
Al-Qaida transcended borders. It has succeeded in starting a global movement, with almost no structure, few funds and virtually no hierarchy. Groups and individuals have affiliated to it in almost all regions, and including the US and UK. There are no membership requirements, save shared belief and a willingness to kill.
Apart from this last quality, al-Qaida represents a new form of political organisation in the 21st century: stateless, self-organised, dynamic not fixed or institutionalised. Al-Qaida is a particularly nasty variant, but this kind of organisation, or rather movement, will eventually become the norm.
In response, states have tried to pretend that we still live in a world where states matter most of all, and organise the world. The US/UK invaded states – Afghanistan, then Iraq. Neither invasion has quelled terrorism. They may have exacerbated it, if the head of MI5 is to be believed.
After the horror of 9/11, it was clear that governments faced their own desperate requirement: to reassert their own usefulness and necessity, having so abjectly failed in their primary duty of protection. They launched vastly expensive wars, in money and lives.
And they have failed. We now confront a war without end, with our privacy and sense of safety permanently compromised. Governments think this is just fine: their necessity is endlessly reaffirmed; their self-given rights to invade our lives and minds reinforced. A vast new security industry has been born, with mercenary armies and secret, sometimes lawless and typically unaccountable bureaucracies. This industry has an intrinsic interest in the perpetuation of the danger.
The lesson of the last 10 years is that stateless phenomena need to be fought by stateless means. We need new movements to take on terrorism, with ideas, with argument, with engagement by a force far more powerful than any army. That force is our own compassion, wisdom and collaboration. It is us.
• Carne Ross is a former British diplomat who now runs Independent Diplomat
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- HerrEMott2627In the UK 9/11, or more correctly Tony Blair’s response to 9/11, has, as George Galloway points out, reduced public trust in their Government.The US’s Patriot Act and it’s paranoid Transport Security Agency have served to make air travel a pain in the neck for all and sundry and all but impossible for thousands who share a name with someone on a no-fly list. Share Facebook TwitterReport
- MrGreyhame3637It allowed the US and Western Europe to declare war on ‘terror’, which like the war on drugs has given the governments grounds to impinge on the rights of their civilians. Share Facebook TwitterReport
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