Lessons of 11 September, and how the 'war on terror' has brought only more war and more terror

Share

The "war on terror" has produced only more war and more terror. It is not a noble memorial to those who died on 11 September, and certainly not the one the rest of the world had hoped for; the better memorial is the spirit shown by the victims and their families in the face of an unprecedented atrocity - and that is the one we should honour today.

Two years is but the blinking of an eye in world history, especially in this new and fast-moving century. The events of two years ago today, however, now seem strangely distant, reminders of a past, perhaps more innocent, age.

The images of hijacked planes smashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre on a crystalline day in New York still have the power to shock. It is still hard to see a plane flying above skyscrapers anywhere without recalling the date, 11 September, when we first understood that such spectacular acts of destruction were possible. The stories of heroism and survival retain their inspirational power, as does the determination of New Yorkers to stand by their city.

Many of the assumptions and judgements made in the aftermath of what will always be known simply as 11 September, however, now seem sorely misplaced, even wrong.

Lofty conclusions

Contrary to what many believed, the world was not changed forever by these co-ordinated attacks on American power. There were terrorist atrocities before and since, though none so daring in conception and execution, or as costly in lives, as those of two years ago. What was changed was the mood of America. Optimism and confidence gave way to defensiveness and fear. Security became the watchword for all. A weak and untested President found himself immeasurably strengthened. Americans rallied to the banner of patriotism he held aloft; the world's sympathy and support flooded in.

Most of the loftier, more universal conclusions drawn from 11 September, however, have not been justified. At worst, they have proved dangerously counterproductive. The hopes expressed, among others, by Tony Blair for a more united world, in which the gap between rich and poor could be narrowed to mutual benefit, have not been fulfilled. If anything, the divisions have widened. The pictures of those hijacked planes and the wreckage at Ground Zero have not been heeded as a warning of anything except the vulnerability of the Western world. They have done nothing to raise aid budgets or divert investment to the developing world. They have done nothing to enhance understanding of the Islamic world. In the United States, at least, almost the reverse has been true.

Security vs liberty

Civil liberties have been circumscribed as at no time since the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the Cold War. The supposed requirements of Homeland Security take precedence over everything else. Other countries, Britain included, have quietly followed Washington's lead. But neither individual countries, nor the world, have become significantly safer as a result. So long as there are disaffected groups, with the means and imagination to attack, acts of terrorism are going to be a fact of life that governments must steel their countries against, while recognising - as the Israeli security fence has shown - that total prevention is an impossibility.

The 'war on terror'

Of all the conclusions drawn from 11 September, however, the "war on terror" declared by President Bush in its wake has been at once the most dangerous and the most futile. Few would dispute the designation of those attacks as terrorist acts. Whether, as Mr Bush and others determined at the time, they also constituted acts of war is a point that can be debated.

The attack on Afghanistan, launched as a massive reprisal for the attacks on New York and Washington, is defensible as an attempt to root out the bases of al-Qa'ida, the group held responsible for the 11 September attacks, as for other attacks on US interests elsewhere. President Bush prepared for the campaign cautiously and mustered a coalition. A new government was established under international auspices with international protection.

There is room for scepticism here; the dominance of the United States in the campaign and the fragility of the new government without US support, the re-encroachment of warlords and the return of the opium poppies all pose questions about how effective or worthwhile the military campaign was.

When it comes to Iraq, there is no place for even that degree of scepticism: the result is clear. Here we have a war embarked upon unilaterally, on the basis of spurious intelligence, to change a regime for which there was no tenable replacement - except an inadequate army of occupation.

Unlit beacons

This is where Mr Bush's "war on terror" has brought us. Two years on, its successes are minimal; its failings stand as monuments to US misconceptions about the world and the reach of state power. The chief villains identified by the US are all still at large. Afghanistan is far from pacified. The Taliban are regrouping. Iraqis lack basic services and law and order - even though it is the duty of the occupation forces to provide them. The Middle East is in flames and the road-map is in shreds. The beacons of democracy that were going to shine from Baghdad remain unlit.

This may be a uniquely pessimistic moment - another blinking of an eye, that will soon yield a vision of something better. Mr Bush is returning to the UN. US public opinion may be shifting away from its fearfulness. But as the attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad so graphically showed, the whole region is as much a magnet for unruly armed force as ever. The "war on terror" has produced only more war and more terror. It is not a noble memorial to those who died on 11 September, and certainly not the one the rest of the world had hoped for. The better memorial is the spirit shown by the victims and their families in the face of an unprecedented atrocity - and that is the one we should honour today.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there