9/11 Twenty Years On

Twenty years after the world stood still and watched in horror as passenger aircraft slammed into the World Trade Center, has a new world order appeared?

9/11. Explosions in a building, caused by aircraft. Not in New York, but in La Paz, Chile, where La Moneda Presidential Palace housing Salvador Allende, Chile’s President, was bombed by the Chilean Air Force given the nod by Richard Nixon sitting in Washington DC. In 1973.

Exactly twenty-eight years later, the Twin Towers took centre stage in the world’s media theatre for weeks to come as humankind held its breath at the sheer audacity of the al-Qaeda attack against the people of the United States of America, as passenger aircraft slammed into the building (and later another one at the Pentagon). For some, David had slapped Goliath in the face wreaking revenge for the western treatment of Moslems, its turning a blind eye to Israel’s apartheid policies on lands it stole from the Palestinians. For the majority, civilians and especially women and children, can never be indiscriminate targets of any sort of violence.

The event shocked public opinion into backing the ensuing knee-jerk reaction which followed 9/11, a return to witch-hunt days and medieval Pavlovian reactions in which it was enough to say “She’s a witch” to see someone torched and lynched by the populace. After 9/11 “He’s a terrorist!” was enough to see someone snatched from his home and taken to a CIA torture camp on the land or in the air, supposedly avoiding human rights legislation as the west became synonymous with torture and concentration camps for prisoners held without due legal process.

All this for what? Has a new world order been created?

The United States of America has, since 9/11, spent around eight trillion dollars on its foreign policy in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya and in Syria. Western-style democracies have not been implemented in any single one of these places and indeed, incidents of extremist insurrection, violence, unrest and terrorism are popping up like mushrooms all over the globe. In European cities, in North Africa, in Mozambique, in the Horn of Africa, in various hotspots around South-East Asia, in Australia, in New Zealand. To a lesser extent these days, even in Moscow. Libya, once the African country with the highest Human Development Index under Gaddafy, is crawling with terrorists and slave markets, Iraq is still a failed State with high unemployment, the Syrian government, backed by the vast majority of the people, is still fighting western-backed takfiri forces.

The bottom line and the common link is that the targets of hatred are countries which represent Western interests, seen by many as being disrespectful to local customs (of Moslems) and favouring Israel’s policies against Palestinians, bulldozing cemeteries, stealing homes, destroying olive groves, shooting kids in the eyes with rubber bullets and building colonies on stolen lands.

The 9/11 attacks both followed some precepts of Carl von Clauzewitz’s Principles of War (1812), namely making a concentric attack focusing on the enemy’s weakest or most defenceless point and also constituted the first non-Clausewitzian event in world history, in which a non-State participant has the power to exact damage on and to challenge, a State player. Whichever "side" you are on, this is the discourse that we hear, correct or exaggerated.

Since 9/11, al-Qaeda has lost some leaders but the organisation remains. Other groups, such as ISIS and affiliated movements, have appeared. Hatred and terrorism are factors which today’s children grow up with, the possibility of attack anywhere at any time is a reality. The power of military intervention has been proved useless time and time again, although it should be said that the families of the military who lost their lives or livelihoods in Afghanistan for instance should draw some solace from the fact that today, Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists to launch attacks against western targets. Today, at least.

On the other hand, the human rights book has been torn up and disregarded by those who spent decades quoting from it and expounding soundbites about freedom and democracy, as the treatment of prisoners descended to Inquisition-type levels, with detainees being beaten up, urinated on, forced to eat food which their religion forbids, attacked with snakes, sodomised, smothered in faeces...

The image of 9/11 is shocking but so is the image of Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh, detainee number 18170, the Iraqi prisoner standing on a box, hooded, with his penis wired up for electric shocks.

The conclusion is that probably those responsible for such abuses today realise that this approach is wrong and cannot be repeated while those who support the victims of it almost certainly believe that they have the right to use whatever means at their disposal to press home their agenda.

So, to answer the question posed in the lead paragraph, a new boy on the block has appeared. Like Covid-19, we have to live with the spectre of international Islamist terrorism. But is there a New World Order?

The consequences

To begin with, what are the consequences of this? Firstly, we must remember that there is a difference between Islam (the peaceful religion) and Islamism (the aggressive movement). Secondly, military invention, invasions and neo-colonisation belong to yesteryear. Thirdly, development is far more effective than deployment.

But there is another factor. It’s called seeing the big picture and not only the small picture. Renaissance painters charged their work full of symbolism and five hundred years ago, those who appreciated art would spend hours poring over the paintings or sculptures and discussing the details and the implications of the focus of the work, where the hands were pointing, why, the gaze, the expression, the importance of the dog and so on. Today, we breeze around the rooms of an art gallery in half an hour. Done. Seen that. Next?

The cloisters of medieval convents contained capitals based and topped with sculptures from the Gospels, not only those we are familiar with but many other alternative gospels, or Apocryphal gospels, and other books, which contained the same stories but with minute details slightly different from those presented in the New Testament. Examples of these books are the Dead Sea Scrolls. These days we would say, “Ah look, it’s a statue... Of God, or something”.

Visitors to the cloisters knew these differences and details and would take delight in discussing which was which and the symbolism of each.

In our binary world of with us or against us, of the figures one or zero, of black and white, probably nurtured by exposure to digital platforms, we have lost the ability to see the big picture. The media helps us along this path towards ignorance. So the small picture is that NATO has been defeated, the Taliban have won. Others might say that terrorism has won.

Or indeed, that all Jews support Zionist policies, which is simply not true. Jews Against Zionism is a powerful group and there are many Israelis who volunteer in their free time to help Palestinians or Bedouin and who prosecute those responsible for abuses. This never reaches the media, of course. And so cycles of hatred go unchecked.

The big picture is that those who controlled the capital still exist and still control the capital. Those who for hundreds of years have sailed around the world looking to control trade routes and resources are still looking at Siberia and later, China. The small picture shows us that Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and set up trading stations in India. The big picture says, yeah, sure he did, but as the Portuguese wrested the spice trade away from the Venetians, who used overland routes. As someone once said, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

So the big picture tells us that until we truly come together and act as one, taking decisions in the proper forums such as the United Nations Security Council, until we increase the say at the high table from five nations with vetoes to representatives of regions with the same power to veto, until we implement mechanisms to enforce international law, until we act multilaterally, it is a case of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Today I am writing in 2021. That phrase was coined by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, in the journal Les Guépes (The Wasps), in January, 1849, 172 years ago.

If there is one key word, it is the D-word, Development and this comes with knowledge, which comes with education. Education breeds interchange of ideas, of cultures, of gastronomies, of religions, of experiences, stories, international common values which we all adhere to and the realisation that we are all brothers and sisters living around a common lake, our seas. With Education comes the honour to learn, with Education comes understanding and with understanding comes respect. With respect comes tolerance.

So in the following three decades, suppose we invest those eight trillion USD in development and education, creating opportunities and jobs, reducing ignorance, marginalisation and exclusion, the main drivers of terrorism and then in 2051, half a century after 9/11, we can perhaps draw rosier conclusions?

The crystal-clear answer to my question is that, no, there is no new world order. If you excuse my crudity, it's a case of same crap, different assholes.

I might still be here. Whether or not I say “if I am lucky” I am not sure.

The author can be contacted at [email protected]

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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey