Remembering Sept. 11 attacks and its cost on humanity

On the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the Taliban is back in power and the United States has to negotiate and trust the same people with whom she was at war. The United States is licking its wounds of defeat at the hands of rag clad, barefooted Taliban. This September 11, 2021, we know what has been lost. Humanity!

Mushtaque Rahamat |

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This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the most horrific terror incident of the contemporary world. Twenty years ago on September 11, terrorists rammed an airplane full of innocent men, women and children into the Twin Towers in the United States killing all passengers and people working in the tower.

Soon afterwards, the United States along with its NATO allies launched an aerial attack on Afghanistan driving out the Taliban – an ultra-conservative Islamists who had come to power after marshaling over other fighting groups and warlords except for Northern Alliance. In this way, America’s nation-building and the war on terror started.

The ensuing war on terror and nation-building saw two long and seemingly unjust wars. The one in Afghanistan, a medieval country by most standards and Iraq, relatively safer and peaceful though under the ironclad rule of a dictator.

Osama bin Laden and his band of zealots had long held the US responsible for the all ills afflicting Muslim countries especially Middle Eastern countries because of its almost unconditional support to kingdoms and dictatorship. Predicaments of Palestinians at the hands of Israel, which Al Qaeda regarded as an illegal state established solely because of unquestionable support of the US, was another issue very dear to Osama and his bloodthirsty terrorists. He and his organization Al- Qaeda used religion to upend the global orders and establish a new geopolitical set-up for the Muslim Ummah united by a border-less singular vision of Islam.

He and his co-conspirators envisaged the truncated role of the US in the lands of Muslims especially the Middle East and would have liked the US to stop its support to kingdoms and dictators gradually by tormenting American interests. The slew of bombings, before September 2001, of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and in 2000, ramming of a small boat filled with explosives into the USS Cole as it was refueling in the port of Aden, Yemen, were all targeted with the same objectives in mind.

Soon after driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan, the United States trained its guns at Iraq which had played no role in September 11 attacks. Saddam Hussain, a dictator had kept the radicalised Muslims under check and didn’t allow any room for an organization like Al Qaeda to prosper. This ill-fated war on Iraq opened a new can of worms for the world to manage. A relatively peaceful country turned into a killing field for sectarian conflicts, fed into regional instability, and gave birth to ISIS and largely radicalized the disillusioned population of Iraq.

Human, economic and social cost
According to the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs (Brown University), the war on terror since 2001 has resulted in more than 801,000 deaths directly. This does not take into account the deaths that occurred later due to the complications directly or indirectly, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen. The US, its allies and contractors took almost 8000 body bags home.

According to the same report, millions of people living in the war zones have also been displaced by war. The U.S. post-9/11 wars have forcibly displaced at least 38 million people in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria. This number exceeds the total displaced by every war since 1900, except World War II.

Wars are costly economic decisions and exact steep prices on the countries going for war and in the process wars annihilate the economies of the countries on whom it is imposed.

According to Watson Institute, through the Fiscal Year 2022, the United States federal government has spent and obligated 8 trillion dollars on the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. This does not take into account the opportunity cost of this capital had these been deployed somewhere else. Since this spending has mostly been financed through borrowing its interest payment will also run into billions for many years to come.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan counted 80,000 dead and $150 billion loss to Pakistan’s economy due to the spillover effect of the war in Afghanistan.

Post 9/11 saw the encroachment of basic human rights across the world. Countries enacted laws to curb social rights, freedom, and increased surveillance and thereby throwing privacy out of the window.

The United States operated black sites; an illegal place to keep arrested individuals suspected of terrorism charges. These included Abu Gharib prison, Bagram Air Base and Guantanamo Bay. The liberal democracies that propagated personal liberty, freedom and justice detained individuals, in most cases illegally and kept them indefinitely without trial.

Loss of ideals
Immediately after the assault on Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda was incapacitated and never were able to muster support and acquire the capability to inflict damage to the US and its allies, although its progeny ISIS did cause some significant loss of human lives in some western countries notably in France. Al Qaeda, as a result of the US and its allies ‘war on terror,’ lost the moral grounds which it used to enjoy earlier in the Middle Eastern countries especially. Its raison d’etre of using violence to achieve its political objectives evaporated. The cause of Palestinians and Kashmiris, which Bin Laden espoused, was forever reduced to terrorism instead of armed struggle for self-determination. The world public opinion sharply turned against all armed struggles leaving some of the genuine struggles without moral support. This was the real loss to organisations like Al Qaeda as they no longer could garner public support. The whole concept of boundary-less Ummah evaporated and left them vulnerable to redefine their fights, methods of struggle and keep themselves away from the tag of terrorism.

As Michelle Goldberg said in her opinion piece (New York Times, 9 September 2021), “The danger jihadist terrorism posed to our country, while serious, was never truly existential; Al Qaeda fell apart shortly after its greatest triumph. Yet the damage Sept. 11 did to the United States was more profound than even many pessimists anticipated. The attacks, and our response to them, catalyzed a period of decline that helped turn the United States into the debased, half-crazed fading power we are today. America launched a bad-faith global crusade to instil democracy in the Muslim world and ended up with our own democracy in tatters.”

The American dream of nation-building lies in tatters today in contrast with hubris, triumphalism, and super expanded ego of September 2001.

She further captures the reality as “but this epoch of aggressive jingoism, ethnic profiling, escalating paranoia, torture, secret prisons, broken soldiers, dead civilians and dashed imperial dreams have left freedom in retreat both globally and here at home.”

With $8 trillion spent, around 8000 US and Allied forces and more than 801,000 people dead, the sheer loss is too big to miss. Al Qaeda had pulled off unprecedented hitherto unheard mass murder on the soil of the US. The traumatized US egged by politicians, intellectuals, and the general public launched an unprecedented war on an enemy, which was not of its stature, without realising the long-lasting impact it is going to have.

Bin Laden is dead for almost a decade now. But Al Qaeda is thriving, in 2001, there were a few hundred Al Qaeda members. Today the number is in thousands and spread over in more countries than it existed before.

On the twentieth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the Taliban is back in power and the United States has to negotiate and trust the same people with whom she was at war. The United States is licking its wounds of defeat at the hands of rag clad, barefooted Taliban. This September 11, 2021, we know what has been lost. Humanity!


Mushtaque Rahamat has a post-graduation in History (1991-1993) from Aligarh Muslim University, India. He is currently based in Australia. He tweets at @MushtaueR