On Nov. 5, 2001, I had the privilege of running in the New York Marathon. The city was shaken by the terrible events it had just suffered. Something smelled different. Giuliani thanked us for having come, under the circumstances. That Sept. 11, the United States had experienced the brutal reality of terrorism. The world — we knew, after seeing pictures of the towers — had changed forever. The “dream” country was no longer as safe. The causes of the attacks existed long before the attacks occurred. What is interesting, however, is not only that, but the consequences and manner in which Americans tried to confront the new threat, both within and outside their territory.
States exist because as human beings we have seen them to be good tools for ensuring our freedoms and security; thus, we grant them power. Throughout their history, however, Americans have sacrificed part of their liberties for security. The day of the marathon, the Patriot Act received accelerated approval. Excessive power, espionage on its own citizens, excessive monitoring, mistreatment of foreigners and a violation of constitutional rights are just a few of the accusations aimed at this hasty legislation.
Certainly, terrorism is no common crime, but the situation can be made worse. According to Vogt (2004), following the attacks of 9/11, there was a significant increase in “hate crimes.” This, says the author, comes about as a result of a feeling of loss of power. When people feel they have no control over their environment, fear increases. This uncertainty can cause hatred and violence. Perhaps it could be asked if that doesn’t explain the aggressive attitude of the U.S. now — no longer toward its interior — but toward the exterior world, in pursuit of lost security.
There was a need to put a face, given name and specific surname to the threat of a faceless enemy. The superpower was slow to realize that the world had changed, not only because it was no longer a traditional state with borders, facing clearly defined armies. Now the threat came from a different entity that, therefore, had to be fought in a non-traditional way. That wasn’t understood.
The response was reduced to the two categories that the most sophisticated Bushian logic could invent: the good and the bad. Inside, amid the collective hysteria, ran the idea that everything that looked like a Muslim was comparable to the axis of evil. On the outside, the neoconservative group in power could justify pre-emptive attacks and increases in the military budget. All citizens had to walk in the same rhythm. The symbols flooded the streets. The armies marched toward the other side of the world, in search of the certainty that one day they would be misplaced.
Nine years have passed. Iraq had to be abandoned through the back door, with hundreds of thousands dead in the balance. Afghanistan cannot be controlled, experts say, without a further increase in the number of troops. Bin Laden was never captured. Al Qaida is weakened, but its transformation into various decentralized cells remains an imminent danger.
Largely impacted by the fight against terrorism, the superpower is unable to escape the economic crisis. The lost sense of security never reappeared. Without it, categorical thinking — from a clash of civilizations, unable to differentiate — continues to look for culprits in Islam.
Yesterday, the discussion was about super-espionage, excessive legislation or the monstrous size of the Department of Homeland Security. Today, the controversy is about the construction of a mosque adjacent to ground zero. The feeling of loss of power has not been cured.
For some, the hatred endures. Neoconservatism sought the New American Century, an era that would return to power its glory and global leadership. They appear not to have succeeded. Their ideas have come with unacceptable costs for the entire planet, despite Obama's efforts to catch the debris. Nine years later, it is time we begin to understand the real meaning of Sept. 11.