By Mohamed Harees –
Sixteen years ago, on that fateful day in September, most of those who watched the passenger planes crashing into the World Trade Centre twin towers and the Pentagon may not have known that the world was about to change. And it has. It became “the day that virtually changed everything”, the 21st century’s defining moment, the watershed by which we would forever divide world history: before, and after, 9/11. If the hope of a terror–free world was born in 1945, it virtually died on 9/11. From that point on, the everyday lives and daily comings and goings of not just Americans, but of all the people around the globe were forever altered by what one scholar calls a historical “game changer” akin to that of the attack on Pearl Harbour.
This attack (regardless of who planned and carried them out as there are some conspiracy theories as well!) was indeed a despicable and a barbaric act which killed about 3000 innocent people, shattered lifestyles of millions of people, changed the way we travel, the way we are governed, and the way we view and experience life, and how governments confront the terrorist threat. The 9/11 attacks shattered more than lives and property. The attacks, and the US government’s response, also shattered the boundaries between war and peace. By definition, a “war on terror” can have no clear boundaries in time or space, and no clear boundaries between combatants and civilians. In the post-9/11 era, Americans can no longer define the battlefield or the enemy with any clarity. According to author and York University politics professor James Laxer, ‘what 9/11 did was end a brief “borderless world” of sorts that had emerged following the fall of Soviet communism and the end of the Cold War.
However, the question is being asked: which of the many changes are genuine consequences of 9/11? Although Bush Jnr. arrived in the White House in January 2001, with plans of “regime change” in the Arab-Muslim world, it could not carry out those plans without a pretext. The 9/11 attacks provided the needed pretext. Wilfried Gerhard in his book on ‘American Exceptionalism and the War in Iraq’ says, ‘Upon digging deeper it becomes evident that there was a huge effort underway to redesign not only Iraq, but the entire Arab world’. Regime change in Iraq seemed the only way out and at the same time was considered a hopeful undertaking because of the anticipated spill-over effects for the whole region’
There is thus overwhelming evidence that the US policies of pre-emptive strike and regime change started not with the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001 but with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Beneficiaries of war dividends, that is, the military-industrial-security complex, were alarmed by the demise of the Soviet Union,by the end of the “communist threat” as the ready-made justifier of continued escalation of the Pentagon budget, and by the demands for “peace dividends.” Major post-Cold War US military strategies such as regime change were formulated not after the 9/11 attacks, or under President Bush Jr., but under President Bush Sr., that is, soon after the demise of the Soviet Union. According to many critics, including some distinguished figures like Noam Chomsky,, the evidence thus clearly shows that, contrary to the popular claims, 9/11 served more as an excuse, or bogeyman, than a “trap” laid by Osama bin Laden in order to bleed and disgrace the US by prompting it to wage war and military aggression against the Arab-Muslim world.
Anatol Lieven of King’s College London’s department of war studies, says “that the Bush administration would have tried to invade and occupy Iraq anyway. Much of what has happened since would obviously have happened anyway”. The extreme anger of the Muslim world, the blow to US military prestige, the rise of Iran – all of that would have happened.” Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, feels it is questionable whether the US hawks would have won the day on Iraq without the “extreme shock” of 9/11. But he notes that much else in the broader world picture would have happened regardless.
According to Phyllis Bennis writing in Al Jazeera 10 years after the attack, it wasn’t however the crime of September 11 that threatened US’s survival, that destroyed its’ democracy, it wasn’t September 11 that expanded the devastating impact of those attacks far beyond those already directly affected. It was the events of September 12, when the Bush administration made the decision to take the world to war, that changed the world, and that continued to threaten the world’s security and shred US democracy. In the post 9/11 period, we witnessed this so-called war on terror launched by the so-called ‘holier than thou’ developed nations led by US ,turning to a war of terror. In the rush to punish terrorists, the tried and tested principles of democracy and the rule of law were thrown to the winds, and contrary to its principles, international law was used asymmetrically, to favour only dominant countries.
Bush proceeded to initiate two military invasions in which thousands of American soldiers died and probably millions of civilians died too, without even UN approval along with his faithful ally Blair. One war, was waged in Afghanistan, and US bombed that under-developed country back to stone age. The other war was in Iraq and, as we all know, was manufactured out of lies and hubris; the Bush’ White House thus used 9/11 to advance a geopolitical chess game barely anyone else in the world wanted to join. It was a war that unprecedentedly had protesters in the streets before it had even begun, looting the national wealth of Iraq leaving a much shattered land to its’ people. Perhaps, the greatest promise made after Sept. 11 by Bush and Blair,(to cover up their dubious military/economic plans) was that the West would no longer tolerate failed and failing states or extremism. Today ,there are more failed states than ever From Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya to Syria and extremism in all forms. The creation of that monster ISIS clothed in Islamic garb, which has become a global threat too could be traced back to the military and economic strategies of the West.
In the post Cold War era, the world has to deal with an arrogant sole super power the US, whose sense of ‘American Exceptionalism’ has made the world a much worse place to live in, of course with the threat of consequential terrorism and their intervention in affairs of other countries in their assumed role as the ‘global policeman’. All things considered, with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States needed to rethink not only the strategy behind its foreign policy but also to consider finding a new enemy in order to justify its continuing internationalism. It is in this context that the so-called Muslim bogeyman comes into play, and US brings in the ‘Islamic threat’ into their military strategic equation, considering ‘political Islam’ as its’ prime adversary.
Thus, in this overall context, one of the worst disasters afflicting humanity specially in the Post-09/11 phase has been the exponential growth of hatred towards the ‘other’, specifically racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. As the dust settled, a new wave of nationalism swept across America and racism soon followed. Emotive hatred ran high which made fellow Americans look as aliens and enemies to many so-called patriots. In fact, “I’m going to go out and shoot some towel-heads,” were the words of a self-confessed patriot who murdered a man he mistook for a Muslim in revenge for 9/11. His victim was a Sikh named Balbir Singh Sodhi. His turban and beard made him a target. Yet, the sad irony remains that none of the nineteen hijackers they identified, had either. America and racism soon followed with racism and Islamophobia remaining intertwined. Such a mind-set saw Islamophobic attacks increase by 1,700% in 2001.
Ironically, the process of ‘otherisation’ reached its’ peak with the ascension to the US throne by the demagogue Trump on 11/09 last year , whose acrimonious election campaign was polluted with open racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic virus, just a decade and a half later after the 09/11, which prompted a journalist to comment: 11/9 is the new 9/11. Former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke also made the comparison between the dates, however he did so in a celebratory way. ‘The towers fell on 9-11. Trump rises on 11-9.,’ Duke tweeted. This miasma continues to fester crossing the borders of the United States, to Europe, and even beyond. Trumps, Gert Wilders, Le Penns and Farages of the West supported by a biased Media, have been spearheading a concerted alt-right campaign to demonize, stereotype and stigmatize the ‘Other’ especially Islam and Muslims in the West. Continuous anti-Muslim rhetoric from the political leaders as well as the Media has long being left unchecked which resultantly has bred mistrust and mutual suspicion within communities.
Logically, Islamophobia today is therefore normalization of anti-Muslim hatred that has grown exponentially since the outset of the War on Terror culture that began after the events of 9/11. During this time, intolerance, bigotry and the development of alt-right, far right, radical left and other religious extremist groups have found succour in the vacuum of dominant discourses to stabilize societies that provide opportunities, as well as outcomes, for the many, not the few. For years, Islamophobia was portrayed as a nonsense term: for some it was deemed logical and rational to fear Islam and Muslims, to portray Muslim communities as the “other”, the threat within. And then when Muslim communities and activists up and down the country demanded that more be done to tackle Islamophobia, their concerns were dismissed as nothing more than being overly sensitive to criticisms about their faith. Looking at what is happening around, no one should downplay Islamophobia or it doesn’t exist, or say Muslims just “play the victim”. This elephant in the room has been by and large ignored or subjected to double standards both by most Media and even by the governments in the Post 09/11 era. Not just in the West, but beyond as well; look at the genocidal carnage being directed at Rohingyan Muslims in Rakhine, Myanmar!
The world thought after Nazis’ genocide and the end of Eugenics mentality of those times, the scourge of racism was a thing of the past. Whether explicit or implicit, whether a matter of public policy or individual opinion, racism in whatever form is wrong, factually wrong and morally wrong. The Post 09/11 era Muslims may feel morally and psychologically exhausted, amid the horrendous nihilism of ISIS, the dull orthodoxy of self-proclaimed custodians of Islam and the culture of fear in the West which sees everything Muslim as pure evil. But, they must take heart in the fact that despite claims to the contrary, racism is still a fringe activity and not mainstream as we have seen both in actual situations as well as in social experiments. They must join hands with the peaceful mainstream majority to fight the twin evils of hatred and extremism emerging both from within and without, fighting off the defeatist mentality engulfing them. The extremists will always try to divide humanity along racial and religious lines. If we fall into their trap and play their dirty game , then one-day it will boomerang on us as Martin Nemoller finished his poem; Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me! There is wisdom in the idiom: United we Stand and Divided We Fall!