And how it matters more than it should, by Bernard Feng

September 11th, 2001. I was at the tender age of ten on that fateful day, which would go on to define the first decade of the 21st Century. The world community gathered around in support of the United States. ‘God Bless America’ was the world’s incantation, with a writer in the French Le Monde pronouncing that ‘we are all Americans.’ No one would dare oppose America’s right to retaliate against the people responsible for murdering 3000 innocent people, American, British, Korean, Japanese, or other. I remembered hearing on the radio about a certain Osama bin Laden and how he masterminded the attack. Like everyone else, I wanted the bastard dead.

US propaganda leaflet used in Afghanistan

A decade passed and I got my wish. For some odd reason, I do not share the enthusiasm my ten-year-old self would have had. But some Americans do, and I fail to see why.

Over time, I realised that Osama bin Laden was not the new Hitler that Bush tried to paint him as, with his sweeping terminologies like ‘Axis of Evil’ and ‘War on Terror’ flooding the press. While fear of al-Qaeda striking again was very prominent during Bush’s first term, Islamic terror became less relevant as the years went by. Senior al-Qaeda members were dropping like flies, and by the time Obama was elected, to say that it was the shadow of its former self is something of an understatement. As soon as the fury of the Stars and Stripes landed on the Middle East, everything went downhill for al-Qaeda. Sure, there were several videos from the man himself threatening the West to embrace Islam or face the wrath of God. Yes, the invasion of Iraq prompted the rise of certain Islamist groups, such as the Mahdi Army, but one can easily forget that several senior al-Qaeda figures were eliminated over the past few years. Their ability to orchestrate attacks on the West, let alone their ability to defend themselves on their home turf, was greatly diminished.

Years pass, and while attacks have continued, nothing has been on the same scale as September 11th. Yes, many innocent people have died, and it would be nothing short of heartlessness to dismiss the successive attacks as no big deal. September 11th caused economic turmoil and public distress, along with an anthrax scare that would last for another month. Ever since then, people have been better at getting back on their feet. The public mood and the economy still take a beating following an attack, but the economy recovers much quicker, and people manage to shrug off the attacks much more easily than before. The terrorists have lost much of their ability to terrorise. The attacks have lost their symbolism, and thus, they have lost their power. John McCain wrote in one of his books encouraging Americans to get on their flights, hop into the subway, and get on with their business; the chances of getting caught up in a terrorist attack was as high as getting decapitated by a Frisbee.

As Bush’s presidency came to an end, so did the fear of terrorism. The Christmas bombing attempt in 2009 was a completely farce. The people who plan attacks such as September 11th do so patiently and intricately, and smearing gunpowder all over your legs is surely not the work of a clever strategist.

Osama bin Laden’s death comes at a time when his name had already faded into obscurity. Even the US-led operation in Afghanistan was less concerned with finding bin Laden than with protecting a somewhat flimsy government from a resurgent Taliban. Moreover, the man was not in Afghanistan in the first place. He was in Pakistan, a country allied with the United States, which had received three billion dollars in aid, and had lost many of its own men against Islamists.

Whether or not the report is a fake, the death of Osama bin Laden, like the September 11th attacks that prompted the manhunt for him, was a symbolic event. Perhaps Americans do have a right to be jubilant, knowing that they have defeated yet another enemy, that no crime against humanity will go unpunished.

But we would be deluding ourselves if we were to believe that things are going to be like they were before September 11th. The Homeland Security Advisory warning will stay at ‘Orange’; Muslims are still going to be scrutinised under twenty-four hour surveillance; Islamist groups will still prosecute their jihad, however marginalised their cause has now become; the Taliban will remain steadfast in their campaign to overthrow Karzai’s government. The last thing we ought to do is to let our guard down and act as if the whole ‘War on Terror’ never happened. That would only doom history to repeat itself, and too many people, whether American or Iraqi, British or Afghan, Christian or Muslim, have died in this conflict for another September 11th to happen.


Bernard Feng