It’s been 20 years since the 9/11 attacks orchestrated by the international terrorist organization al-Qaida. The following month, the United States would invade Afghanistan to topple the Taliban-led government that was shielding al-Qaida, and would later invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in March 2003. While Hussein’s government would fall, stationing of American troops in Afghanistan would continue until last month’s withdrawal, with the Taliban rising back to power. Even now, these two conflicts, bound together as part of the war on terror, cast a large shadow over the world.
A Chain of Violence Brings a Shock to the System
This series of events was so devastating because it shook both the post-war order and the idea that nation-states were based on territory, which had been considered common sense up to that point.
Al-Qaida attacked the United States for a variety of reasons, such as its support of Israel in its conflict with Palestine, and because it saw the U.S. as the mastermind behind aggression toward Muslims by Western Europe. Rather than seeing the world divided by national borders, al-Qaida saw the world divided into two factions: Muslims and heathens. The 9/11 attacks were envisioned as part of a holy war to defend Islam.
Likewise, then-President George W. Bush likened U.S. soldiers to crusaders. Bush, who claims that through the power of faith he was born again from alcoholism, was friendly with some of America’s Christian right, who, drawing from passages in the Bible, believed war with Islam would hasten the second coming of Christ and bring about a thousand-year golden age. As such, they pushed for the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
His administration was also influenced greatly by many firebrand neoconservatives, who were ardent supporters of a preemptive strike, as they believed it was kill or be killed. While this would naturally never be allowed by the Charter of the U.N., war was waged nonetheless.
As conflicts broke out that didn’t fit the traditional nation-versus-nation framework, survival of the fittest became the norm, and blood would be spilled outside the battlefield. Specifically, in Europe. From a Muslim’s point of view, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amounted to nothing but an invasion by Western Europe, driving some young Muslims to violence.
With the fall of Iraq as a nation-state, violence grew stronger even within Islam, leading to the rise of the Sunni extremists known as Islamic State.
America’s war on terror went too far. Authoritarian governments have used it as an excuse to oppress their detractors, disgracing the rule of law that’s meant to support nations. Dissent against this type of rule culminated in late 2010 with the “Arab Spring,” which broke out when a young Tunisian man set himself on fire in protest of the violence he and others received from government officials.
In the blink of an eye, dictators fell, but before democracy could take hold, many countries were plunged into civil war. As a result, countless people fled to Europe, to the point that a wave of xenophobia, spurred on by previous terrorist attacks, swept over the continent.
Societal gaps brought upon by neoliberalism would widen, and respect for the freedom of movements was lost as movements based on ethnicity and religion grew stronger and international unity took a backseat to nationalism, such as in Donald Trump’s America.
Working Together against a Common ‘Enemy’
And so, with 9/11 and the conflicts that followed, the world was shrouded in a cloud of intolerance and antagonism. While many are fighting against it, it still hangs menacingly over our heads today. Bucking this way of thinking will be no small feat. In times of crisis, many people are bound to look for comfort and protection in things like race and religion, labeling as “enemies” those others with whom they would normally be able to coexist.
What needs to be done, then? Well, eliminating the idea of “enemy” would seem to be the path of least resistance. We all must realize that though our skin colors vary and we speak different tongues, we all feel pain in the same way.
We’re currently in the midst of battling COVID-19. Anyone, regardless of where they came from, can contract it. Therefore, as long as even one person on this planet is suffering from it, this nightmare won’t end. Dubbing anyone “enemy” will only keep us from putting this virus behind us.
Bitter pills may have blessed effects. While we all struggle with this virus together, we have the chance to rid ourselves of this malaise of bigotry that has pervaded our lives since 9/11. We can use this calamity for the benefit of our world.