Sunday, 8 April 2007

A look back to a moment in history: 9/11

Did political change result from the terrorists, or from the American politicians? After the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks (9/11), Americans defied the terrorists, at least in the way the government wanted, by showing their patriotism — or what the Bush administration defined as 'patriotism' — and continuing their American way of life.

The media followed along, so a virtual political monopoly was instigated. Both major political parties looking to the White House, declaring their unity and support for America, and the fight against the perpetrators of 9/11. After all, the terrorists attacked because they were angry at the US's freedom, right? As soon as the Bush White House noted how easily people could be controlled and manipulated for political capital, the guise of a war on terror was put up.

There’s no vast conspiracy, but the Bush administration did use 9/11 as an excuse for its many following endeavors in fronts in its global war on terrorism (GWOT). The effects of the fire paradox of insurgent terrorism have been around forever, but the policies of the war on terror, which feed into the paradox even more, have not. The so-called war on terror was the result of 9/11.

So what other effects did 9/11 produce? Juan Cole, an expert on Iraq and terrorism, wrote some intriguing ideas in an article entitled "Think Again: 9/11". Cole says 9/11 did not change everything, and "For all their visibility and drama, the 9/11 attacks left untouched many of the underlying forces and persistent tensions that shape international politics."

He says 9/11 was less of a clash of civilizations, and more of a 'clash over policy'. Cole insists, and cites numerous studies, Muslims are fine with the West, with democracy, with the western way of life. In fact, the only lifestyle area where the Muslim world is less fine with is things like homosexuality and liberal sexual lifestyles — the same things American conservatives and evangelicals scorn.

Autonomy and national independence appear to be part of what Muslims mean by “democracy,” and they consider Western interventions in Muslim affairs a betrayal of democratic ideals. September 11 and the American response to it have deepened the rift over policy, but they haven’t created a clash of civilizations.

When asked on whether 'the war on terror has no end', Cole replies "that's the plan":
The Bush administration has defined the struggle vaguely precisely so that it can’t end; George W. Bush clearly enjoys the prerogatives of being a war president. So, the administration has expanded the goals and targets of this war from one group or geographical area to another.

After 9/11, the Bush administration transformed the losers in those conflicts [Iraq and Afghanistan] into winners. But the civil wars continue, with the unseated groups now playing the role of insurgents.

Cole concludes: "Al Qaeda may not have fundamentally changed the world on 9/11, but that is no reason to give it a second chance."

Hopefully when or if the next 9/11 comes, the US government will be less haphazard in its foreign policy in response to terrorism, will learn about and — instead of just making it worse — try to get around the fire paradox using alternative methods to fighting terrorism. In addition, hopefully the American people, and, in fact, the people extremists claim to represent, won’t get fooled again.

Juan Cole, by the way, is an expert on Iraq and the Middle East, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, and a blogger. His Iraq- and Mid-East-focused blog is called Informed Comment.

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