Tomorrow is Tuesday, Sept. 11, which of course is a reminder of the horrific Tuesday of the terrorist attacks 11 years ago. The anniversary is a time to reflect on how the world has changed.
Increased security at airports and the war in Afghanistan are changes that may come first to mind. And there are other changes as well, some that are important but may not be as recognized.
Right after the attacks, three features stood out about the terrorist hijackers. They were criminals, they were associated with Saudi Arabia and they were involved with Islamic fanaticism.
But U.S. President George W. Bush, along with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, almost immediately reframed how we were to see the terrorist attacks.
First, weren’t the hijackers criminals? The appropriate response seemed to be the way western European countries had dealt with their domestic terrorists.
Over the past several decades, European governments had responded with police-type operations directed at their specific problem. Best known was probably the U.K. and the Irish Republican Army. And there were other examples, including Spain and the Basque ETA, Germany and the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, Italy and the Red Brigades. So the U.S. could similarly target al-Qaida. Bush, however, soon called for a very different response: a war on terror.
Those emotional words were designed to fire up enthusiasm, quell any dissent and prepare the public for the wide scope of future action. (Such as invading Iraq, although Iraq was not even connected to Sept. 11.)
The war on terror was to be very different from previous wars. For one, this new war would go on indefinitely, as "terror" was not an enemy that could be identified and defeated.
This new war would be like the War on Drugs: massive costs, but perhaps little or no real success.
Also, the American public would not be asked to make any sacrifice — like actually paying the costs. The U.S. government would simply borrow the money. Indeed, taxes were cut. After Sept. 11, 2001, Bush told the American people that the best way for them to fight terrorism was to resume their regular lives. This was widely understood to mean "go shopping."
When future historians describe the decline (and even collapse) of the U.S., a key date will be Sept. 11. For the U.S. may never recover from the subsequent military overreach and debt in which it has become entangled.
Next, what about Saudi Arabia?
After all, that is where Osama bin Laden and most of the hijackers came from. But any mention of Saudi Arabia was quickly dismissed by Bush and Blair.
The reason, of course, was oil. To ease the flow of oil (exemplified by business ties between the Bush and bin Laden families), Saudi Arabia got a convenient pass.
Finally, what about Islamic fanaticism?
Belief in Islam (or at least an interpretation of it) was central to the terrorists. But Bush and Blair moved quickly to shift the discussion from religion. The two leaders both visited mosques soon after Sept. 11. And Bush and Blair heaped praise on Islam and called it a religion of peace.
Avoiding criticism of religion fit the overall Bush/Blair agenda. This included deflecting attention away from Saudi Arabia and the radical, militant brand of Islam that the Saudis were funding worldwide. Also, as deeply religious men, Bush and Blair were perhaps afraid to look too closely at the link between religion and Sept. 11. Looking at that link could kick start a more critical look at religion in general. And that is exactly what happened.
The role of religion in 9/11 prompted a new wave of criticism of not just Islam, but of all religions.
In particular, four bestselling books emerged from the Sept. 11, 2001, experience. The first book was in 2004, "The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror And The Future Of Reason," by neuroscientist Sam Harris. That was followed in 2006 with "The God Delusion" by biologist Richard Dawkins and "Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon" by philosopher Daniel Dennett. Then, in 2007, "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by journalist and public intellectual Christopher Hitchens was released.
Together, these four authors became known as the "New Atheists."
So now we are 11 years on. A decline of the United States, a growing importance of Saudi Arabia along with its extremist version of Islam and a new conversation about religion. The changing world, post-9/11.
» David McConkey is an active citizen. Contact him and read previous columns at davidmcconkey.com.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 10, 2012