Ten Years after 9/11
TEN YEARS AFTER 9/11
Professor Stuart Croft, Department of Politics and International Studies
This article was originally published in September 2011
America is still coming to terms with the terrible events of September 11 2001. But the consequences of the subsequent 'War on Terror' have been complex and far-reaching. Consider the actions of the Bush Administration at Guantanamo Bay and the global rise of the far right. On the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Professor Stuart Croft reflected on a decade of conflict and asked if we are finally entering a new era.
The tenth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington DC by Al Qaeda is a poignant one; for those who lost loved ones amongst the 2,986 killed that day; for those who have lost loved ones in related attacks that followed – in Madrid, Istanbul, London and Bali; for those who have lost loved ones in the wars that followed – in Iraq, and in Afghanistan; also for those many people in other parts of the world where violence by terrorists, and through armies, related to the ‘War on Terror’, have changed lives forever.
Newspapers are prone to build issues up: 9/11 has been portrayed as the day that changed the world, or the day that changed America; or just as the day that changed New York. All of this is, however, in this case, true. The world has been dramatically changed by those events, perhaps more profoundly than even the architects of the attacks could have imagined.
The Bush Administration exported its global war on terror around the planet – not just into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but into conflicts that had been long-running in countries and regions such as Indonesia and the Philippines, in the Caucasus, in east Africa. Militant and violent Islamism, inspired by Al Qaeda, grew exponentially, justifying the increase in military effort. But that military effort undoubtedly helped to grow the appeal of Al Qaeda. America became seen not as the land of the free but as the bully that could imprison without charge in Guantanamo Bay, torture in Abu Ghraib, and transfer people in secret to be tortured by its allies in what was euphemistically called ‘extraordinary rendition.’ George Bush admitted that he personally authorised torture – of Abu Zubaydah, for example – stands in such contrast to the basis of the country: as the Declaration of Independence stated:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
America has been profoundly changed by the events of 9/11. In the passing of the Patriot Act, the Bush Administration affected the rights of individuals in ways that worried liberals and conservatives, and provided material for America’s own extreme – its far right and militia movements – to support their anti-government agenda. The impact of 9/11 permeated all aspects of society; newspapers and news reports, but more broadly, in film, in television, in popular novels. America’s bookstores were weighed down with tomes imagining a future Al Qaeda threat. My favourite, Monday Night Jihad, contains the following lines:
"… Riley Covington is living his dream as a professional linebacker when he comes face-to- face with a radical terrorist group on his own home turf. Drawn into the nightmare around him, Riley returns to his former life as a member of a special ops team … it soon becomes apparent that the terrorists are on the verge of achieving their goal—to strike at the very heart of America."
New York still lives with the agonies of 9/11. On each anniversary, the names of the dead are read out. Freedom Tower, being built on the site of the Twin Towers, remains two years from completion. The Freedom Towers website tells us that ‘smoke clogged the air for many weeks after September 11, and the rubble burned for months. New Yorkers, and America, will never be the same.’ Indeed so – New York’s famous tolerance for different ethnicities and religions has been challenged by the opposition to the building of an Islamic Centre in the City – which on 9/11’s ninth anniversary led to unseemly demonstrations.
What of Britain? A country that suffered a major terrorist attack in 2005; that lost military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. A country riven over how to treat unconvicted terrorist suspects – should they be forced to leave London during the Olympics? Above all, a country divided about the role of Islam. Can someone be British and Muslim? Of course, for the vast majority of British Muslims, such a combined identity is not a problem. But for others, it is. The English Defence League has grown in the last few years, originating in reaction to hostility to returning soldiers in Luton. Blogs – and YouTube – are filled with fears of the ‘Islamification of Britain.’ For those interested in statistics, the Muslim population of the United Kingdom is estimated by the Pew Forum at 2,869,000, which is 4.6 per cent of the population.
What of the future? The Iraq war is over, and plans are in place for the withdrawals from Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is still more a brand than a functioning global military organisation. When 9/11 happened, many rushed to say that this defined a whole era: like ‘Cold War’, or ‘inter-war period’, we were deemed to be entering a new age. Are we exiting it? Possibly. But perhaps, more likely, it is taking a different form. Far right groups have grown in Europe across the ten years since 9/11. Some believers – as in Norway – have committed acts of terrorism. The far right, and Al Qaeda sympathisers, have begun to feed off one another in their efforts to generate new support. Of course, the threat of Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism is still with us. But to it has been added the threat of far right terrorism. The legacy of the events of September 11 2001, and reaction to it, still continues …
Professor Stuart Croft joined the department of Politics and International Studies (PAIS) at Warwick in January 2007 as Professor of International Security. He is Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research (Arts and Social Sciences). His work is in the field of security studies, and his last book was Culture, Crisis and America's War on Terror (Cambridge University Press, 2006). The book was shortlisted for the ISA's International Security Section book award for 2007.
Image by Barry Yanowitz (via Flickr)
Culture, Crisis and America's War on Terror by Stuart Croft. Cambridge University Press (2006)
ISBN (Paperback edition) 978-0521687331
Sullivan-Taylor, Bridgette and Wilson, David C. (David Charles), 1951- (2009) Managing the threat of terrorism in British travel and leisure organizations. Organization Studies, Vol.30 (No.2-3). pp. 251-276. ISSN 0170-8406
Brassett, James (2008) Cosmopolitanism vs. terrorism? Discourses of ethical possibility before, and after 7/7. Working Paper. University of Warwick. Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation, Coventry.