It’s a more dangerous world since 9/11

By Rami G. Khouri The Daily Star Lebanon

To arrive in the United States, as I did a few days ago, one week before the 10th anniversary commemoration of the 9/11 terror attacks is to reach a land that is, remarkably, little changed from what it was on that shocking September day in 2001 when Al-Qaeda zealots attacked and killed thousands of civilians.

This classic act of terror had two dimensions, in two different spheres, all of which remain with us today as we try to understand the meaning of the act then, and its consequences today. In the first sphere of the human mind and its perceptions and reactions, the 9/11 attacks were about psychological terror and political assertion. In the second sphere of the dichotomy of people and values, the attacks were about us and them, good and evil, strength and vulnerability, Islam and the world, and America and the world.

Only by tackling these dimensions simultaneously does the terrible assault then become comprehensible in its political and criminal ways, and do we have a more realistic chance of actually taking actions that might reduce the chances that such acts might recur again, in this or any other country. I was in the Boston area on Sept. 11, 2001, when the attacks occurred, and am here again a decade later. It seems to me that very little has changed in the world, and certainly almost nothing has changed in the worlds of the principal actors in this ongoing global drama that pits, in its simplest form, Al-Qaeda versus the United States government and military.

The most basic equation of what happened on 9/11 was that a criminal gang of terrorists attacked the United States in a successful endeavor to send a terrifying political message. The zealots who followed Osama Bin Laden felt that their Islamic realm was sullied and blasphemed by un-Islamic leaderships and the American-led Western powers that supported those leaders across the Arab and Islamic world. Attacking the heart of the United States, they thought, would send a clear message that Muslims would defend themselves and cleanse their polluted lands, perhaps leading the U.S. and others in the West to change their policies in the Arab-Asian region.

The two most important things to remember about the Islamic zealots who carried out the deeds of 9/11 are that they started their careers in this business by attacking the Russians in Afghanistan a decade earlier, and that the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims rejected their tactic of attacking civilians in the West. These two central points about Al-Qaeda and the terror attacks it inflicted on the U.S. seem largely to have been ignored in the mainstream of American public analysis and discussion in the last decade.

The emphasis instead seems to have been on the awesome human spirit of sacrifice, courage and generosity among the many who responded to the 9/11 attacks, and a continuing strange combination of perplexity and perseverance in going after Al-Qaeda and other terrorists, using both military and political means.

The perplexity reflects the fact that much time is spent in the American public realm in discussing Islam, Muslims, extremism and terrorism. However, rarely is the discussion taken to the depth of nuance and specificity needed to really come to terms with why, for example, an Egyptian medical doctor like Ayman al-Zawahiri, now the leader of Al-Qaeda, would become a militant and join Al-Qaeda in the first place.

The perseverance reflects the fact that the United States and its allies have spent trillions of dollars in the past decade waging wars against the violent and aggressive phenomenon that Al-Qaeda personifies, but without conclusive successes other than preventing new attacks against the U.S. Meanwhile, terror in the Arab-Asian region and parts of Europe is more prevalent and destructive than it was a decade ago.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

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