I am writing this on the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the United States. Fifteen years later, I am wondering what we have learned from 9/11; how we have changed; and what we have done to lessen the chances of future attacks. I am neither a 9/11 scholar nor a foreign policy expert, but I care deeply about finding a way out of the muddle in which we currently find ourselves.
The plan to hijack four airplanes and crashing them into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the Capitol Building was clearly an act of terrorism of the highest degree. Nearly 3000 souls perished in those attacks. According to letters and radio broadcasts, Osama bin Laden, the person officially believed to be the mastermind behind the attacks, gave the following reasons for attacking the US:
Western support for attacking Muslims in Somalia,
Supporting Russian atrocities against Muslims in Chechnya,
Supporting the Indian oppression against Muslims in Kashmir,
The Jewish aggression against Muslims in Lebanon,
The presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia,
US support of Israel, and
Sanctions against Iraq.
On the surface, bin Laden clearly cast his motivation in terms of offenses against his religion. Although not as obvious, US troops in Saudi Arabia appeared to him to interfere with access to Islam’s holy cities, Mecca and Medina. And he believed that the sanctions against Iraq after Kuwait were responsible for the deaths of millions of Muslims, especially children.
Note that most of bin Laden’s ire was not focused on direct actions that the US had taken against Muslims, but on US support for regimes that did take action against Muslims. Did the 9/11 attacks cause the US to re-evaluate its support for these regimes? Not one whit. The US actually jumped into the pool and went to war to “avenge the deaths of the 9/11 victims.” The US became actively involved in the death and destruction of Muslims and Muslim lands, adding yet another reason for bin Laden’s followers to seek to do damage to the US.
(From the beginning of the US retributional wars, there has been some effort to distinguish between “good” Muslims and “bad” Muslims. To my knowledge, there has not been a corresponding effort to identify “good” Christians and “bad” Christians,” nor “good” Jews and “bad” Jews.)
In order to avenge the deaths of the 3000 9/11 victims, nearly 6000 American service men and women have lost their lives in combat, and nearly 51,000 have suffered serious injuries. Depending on which source you check, anywhere between 1.3 million and 4 million civilian Muslims have died.
In answer to my original questions:
What have we learned from 9/11? It would seem that the US and its allies have treated the Muslim world much, much worse than bin Laden claimed. Is there really any question as to why so many young Muslims are eager to join groups that wish to cause harm to the US?
How have we changed? The US has created the huge and costly Homeland Security Administration. We have instituted increasingly intrusive search procedures at airports. Our metropolitan police forces have become highly militarized organizations, wielding powerful weapons of warfare against unarmed citizens. Islamophobia has become institutionalized in the Republican party
What have we done to lessen the chances of future attacks? Nothing. It would appear that the actions of Western nations have actually increased the level of threat, both at home and abroad.
I mourn the loss of lives of our military troops. I lament for the men and women who came back with grievously wounded bodies and minds. Many of these young people believed that it was their duty to follow orders to go into battle. But patriotism is NOT “serving your country, right or wrong.” Patriotism is demanding that your government do the right things.
Of course, asking our current government to do anything, much less the right thing, is unrealistic. I remain hopeful, however, that a large number of idealistic young men and women will get involved with politics at the local level, move into their state legislatures, and then to the federal level, building a political infrastructure to replace the barnacle encrusted system that we enjoy today.
Now, that would be a legacy of 9/11 that we could be proud of.