Friday marked the fourteenth anniversary of the terrorist attack known as 9/11. It was a day in which almost 3,000 people died due to the actions of a foreign man none of them knew. It was the Harbinger of the fate of the most powerful nation in the world. While many say that the Fall of the Berlin Wall was the end of the Cold War, one could make the point that the 9/11 attacks officially brought the world out of that era. A new world was borne out of the attacks, one in which a superpower’s archrival wasn’t another superpower but a small group of poorly armed men living in caves. A group which the mighty US military could wipe off the face of the Earth in a second if it didn’t care for ethics. It was an attack which created a region which seems to now be in a perpetual state of war. An attack that would destroy nations, start genocides, end economies and increase tensions between nations that weren’t even involved in the attacks themselves. Fourteen years on, The Update asks the question, how has 9/11 changed the world?
The 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by Osama Bin Laden. The son of a wealthy Saudi construction mogul, Bin Laden had moved to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight against the Soviet Union during its invasion of the country. During his time in Afghanistan, Bin Laden became increasingly radicalized, holding more fundamental beliefs. After the Soviet Invasion ended, many American soldiers stayed behind. This infuriated Bin Laden, who created his own terrorist group he called “The Base”, or, al-Qaeda. He started with only one goal, getting American troops out of the Middle East. He sent an ultimatum to the USA asking for this. He was declined. Bin Laden responded with bombing American Embassies in Africa and the World Trade Center in New York. When these attacks failed to produce the reaction Bin Laden had hoped for, he planned another attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the White House. This was the attack which would become 9/11.
In the aftermath of the attack, then US President George W. Bush announced a war on the al-Qaeda ally Taliban-controlled Afghan government. Afghanistan was believed to be hiding Bin Laden. George Bush then also announced a global War on Terror, meaning the US government would do its best to fight global terrorism of all kinds, though it mainly focused on ending Islamic Extremist Terrorism.
By then, Bin Laden had created new goals for al-Qaeda, including creating a new Caliphate throughout the entire MENA Muslim world. To do this, he started terror groups all over the Middle East and Africa. Some subsidiary groups include the predecessors of al-Shabaab, certain wings of Boko Haram, al-Qaeda in Yemen and the original form of ISIS.
Bin Laden held huge sway over the Islamic Extremist world in his anti-Western sentiment, despite his love of many Western things and people such as Whitney Houston, (whom he is believed to have fallen in love with) pornography and Arsenal FC (he attended many matches)
Osama Bin Laden was officially killed in a compound in Abbottabad, just outside of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, on May 2 2011 (“Officially” is used in honour of Pulitzer-Prize winner Seymour Hersh claiming Bin Laden was killed under different circumstances). This signaled a change for the group, as the charismatic leader was replaced with Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri oversaw the splintering of al-Qaeda as many subsidiary groups started to either leave, or become too radical to be kept under the command of al-Qaeda. al-Qaeda was once the face of terrorism. Now, the face is more of a collage of groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, the 969 Movement, the Taliban and many more.
After the announcement of the War on Terror, America started the far less popular Invasion of Iraq, claiming the then leader Saddam Hussein had WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction). This invasion very quickly led to the execution of Hussein and the toppling of the Ba’athist regime. However, the new American appointed government, despite being less oppressive than Hussein’s government, was far less popular, and Iraq very quickly descended into a state of unrest in what can only be called a civil war with no clear goals. This destabilization of the region changed the world’s perception of America, from the Defender of Freedom it was viewed as in the Cold War to an Imperialist Warmonger. This change of face created tensions between the superpower and the successor to its old rival, the Russian Federation, which slowly started to build its power to perhaps its Cold War levels. It is doing this utilizing anti-American rhetoric which it was only able to achieve through America’s actions in the Middle East. In turn, Russia’s growth has frightened many Eastern European nations and the EU, which is growing fearful that it may lose its status to Russia.
The spending that America and its allies made towards the War on Terror is believed to have facilitated the current economic crisis that consumes the world. Because of massive spending on military operations, (among other reasons) the American economy very suddenly crashed in 2008, which in turn caused the EU’s economy to crash. This caused countries like Greece, Spain, Italy and Ireland amongst others to suddenly be plunged into national debt and austerity measures.
The various Middle Eastern wars are also one of the reasons (amongst, again, many others) that caused the Arab Spring crisis, which were a series of revolutions in different Arab nations that created widespread unrest and kickstarted the Syrian civil war. This environment of conflict has birthed many other terror groups which may have never grown to the levels they are at now under other circumstances.
The unrest in Syria is what started the massive influx of refugees into Europe. This Refugee Crisis may not have reached the latter part of its name if it weren’t for the previously mentioned economic crisis in Europe, which prevented early rescue operations being funded in 2014 which, it is believed, would’ve slowed the rate of migration.
The strength of terror groups like al-Qaeda made America get scared. Once again, the nation was faced with tough decisions, this time regarding freedom and ethics. America was afraid of another attack of 9/11’s scale, and was convinced it could stop another attack if the nation simply had more power and resources. As part of the War on Terror, America passed the PATRIOT ACT and allowed “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” to be used in “Black Sites” (regions belonging to America that don’t adhere to its Constitution) such as Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and “The Salt Mine”. Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, which include Waterboarding, Rectal Hydration, Forced Feeding and Sleep Deprivation amongst others, have widely been called forms of torture, an international crime that the USA has sworn against using. It is exclusively used on prisoners suspected to be linked to international terror groups. However, many links to terrorism have been claimed to be frivolous and not concrete enough. One tragic case of mistaken identity resulted in a man with no links to terrorism whatsoever being subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to extract information he did not hold. He later died as a result of the severity of the techniques.
The effectiveness of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques have also been questioned. Many reports claim that the techniques only managed to stop two terror plots, despite the fact that these suspected terrorists are believed to be involved in many more. Republican Senator John McCain, himself a victim of torture, has led the charge on ending the techniques.
The PATRIOT ACT, on the other hand, was a bill put forth by George Bush to extend the powers of the federal government. They allowed it to wiretap citizens without permission being granted. It also facilitated the creation of programs like the NSA’s PRISM, which granted the NSA the power to collect and store all online data in America. The extent of PRISM’s power was exposed by whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The PATRIOT ACT also made the US start to spy on its own allies, which included wiretapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private phone. The Act allowed the US government to detain and try anyone in the country’s borders secretly and without charge. It also allowed Intelligence powers to be extended without Congress’ or even the President’s permission or knowledge. It essentially made the CIA, FBI and NSA self-governing organizations, able to give themselves unchecked powers and even the ability to act against the American government if it constituted defense of national security. The PATRIOT ACT gave the various American Intelligence Agencies powers that they had only ever held during the height of the Cold War. Back then, those powers were to fight against the Soviet Union, a world nuclear superpower. Now these powers are to fight against a small group of men with no weapons of their own.
The PATRIOT ACT made many question again America’s reputation. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, George Bush said the reason why al-Qaeda had attacked America was because “[W]e love freedom, and they hate freedom”. Yet, in response to those same attacks, America has given up many freedoms all in the name of national security. It has made the USA question how to balance collective security and personal freedom, and whether or not the two can coexist.
In just 14 years, 9/11 has changed the world in ways that weren’t even imaginable at the time. Before, the fate of the Earth was decided by the choices of powerful nations. Now, the fate of the Earth is decided by the choices of old men hiding in caves. During the Cold War, both America and the Soviet Union saw an end to the “unbloody conflict”, either the destruction of Capitalism or Communism. However, no nation today can see the end of the War on Terror, as it will only end once global terrorism ends. But terrorism is a very vague concept. A terrorist to some can be seen as a freedom fighter by others. Terrorism will most assuredly exist for a very long time. It is almost impossible to defeat a belief, and a person’s will to fight for that belief. Starting a War to end all Terrorism is about as feasible as starting a war to end all nations. Perhaps that may be the outcome of the War on Terror.
9/11 has significantly both weakened and strengthened the power of nations, and weakened and strengthened the power of people. 9/11 has ended nation-states and started quasi-states. It has changed the idea of what a government is and what kind of powers one can hold. It has brought the world to its knees financially and militarily. It has created wars between nations that had no prior knowledge of the attacks to begin with. It has raised tensions between others. Many historians call the First World War the Seminal Catastrophe of the 20th Century. If so, then the 9/11 attacks should be called the Seminal Horror of the 21st Century. The attacks have drastically changed the world we live in, to the point that nobody can predict what the future holds. Fourteen years on, 9/11 is the biggest event of our lifetime, and probably will be until we die.
Sources include The Discovery Network, The New York Times, Seymour Hersh, The Daily Show, The HBO Network, Dan Carlin’s Common Sense and the 9/11 Memorial Site.