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Reflections on 9/11 attacks

Salman Rasheed

The writer is a Karachi-based research analyst and political consultant.

It’s been twenty years since the heinous 9/11 attacks on the United States of America.  The recent U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan has effectively ended the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) launched by the United States and its allies in response to the 9/11 attacks.  Thus, I feel this is the right time for retrospection on the GWOT.

As a Pakistani-Canadian Muslim who was working in Calgary, Alberta at the time of the 9/11 attacks, it was a frightening and uncertain period for most Muslims in non-Muslim countries.  The backlash felt by Muslim Canadians by non-Muslim Canadians might not have been at the same level relative to our Muslim brothers and sisters in the United States but it existed especially for our Muslim sisters who wear the hijab in public.

My employer was understanding and let me leave work early and so my brother and myself took the public transit home as per our usual routine but those 30 minutes from downtown Calgary to our home were nail-biting as we didn’t know if we would reach safely or face a backlash from other commuters on the bus.  As soon as we arrived home, I felt relieved and thanked Allah (SWT) for getting us home safe.

In the initial days after 9/11, I felt awful and afraid as the corporate media was whipping up anti-Muslim hysteria and thirsting for revenge. I had two strikes against me, one for being a Muslim and two for being a Pakistani as the focus of the media was on the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Pakistan. I had a hard time feeling any pride as a Muslim and Pakistani despite no direct involvement of any Afghan or Pakistani in the 9/11 attacks but made to feel ashamed due to guilt by association.

The 9/11 attacks forced me to question my identity, was I a Canadian, Pakistani, Muslim, or a Pakistan-Canadian Muslim? One positive fallout from these attacks made me study Islam much closer in terms of the Quran, Sunnah, and history to discover the true spirit and better understanding of Islam, not one limited from only a Pakistani culture and Hanafi school of thought perspective. 

Furthermore, the 9/11 attacks made me closer to the true essence of Pakistan as an Islamic welfare state as I re-examined the thoughts and words of Allama Iqbal and the Father of the Nation Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. I became a lifelong student and dedicated soldier of the Pakistan Movement and Quaid-e-Azam.

The constant mainstream media bashing of Islam and Pakistan as the ‘bad guys’ took a toll on my mental and physical health as I always had a sensitive nature about my love for both Islam and Pakistan. I decided in January 2004 to move to Pakistan despite living my entire life in Canada and Alhamdulillah have no regrets as Allah (SWT) has been kind and merciful to me by enriching me both spiritually and materially. 

The Global War on Terrorism initiated after the 9/11 attacks exposed the hypocrisy of Western democracies.  However, I also admit that hypocrisy also exists among Muslims and Muslim countries. The West loves to portray itself as modern, civilized, and compassionate while characterizing Islamic societies as barbaric and backward. I remind everyone that the total number of deaths in the 9/11 attacks on the US were around 3,000 but in response, the GWOT killed nearly 1 million people over two decades according to the Cost of War Project at Brown University. Is this the humanity, justice, and compassion the Western world preaches? Is this a proportionate response or satisfying bloodlust and revenge?  Most casualties were Muslims who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

The US and its allies invaded two countries based on lies that had no direct connection with the 9/11 attacks, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  If the US and the West wanted justice then why invade countries for actions done by non-state actors who were of Saudi, UAE, Lebanese, and Egyptian origin and the planning of the 9/11 attacks occurred within the US. Also, was waging war the only approach to seek justice? Why couldn’t the US and its allies apprehend the aiders and abettors of the 9/11 attackers and put them on trial instead of invading Afghanistan and Iraq that led to more destabilization in the region? It appears that the US was never interested in justice but waging forever wars to fuel the military-industrial complex. 

According to a recent report by the Institute of Policy Studies, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, it estimates the militarized foreign and domestic policies of the US government cost US$ 21 trillion over twenty years.  Of the $21 trillion, $16 trillion went to the military which includes $7.2 trillion for military contractors, proving that they were the big winners of the GWOT.

It seems that the GWOT was a cover to make war on Islam and Muslims. I already mentioned that most casualties were Muslims.

The GWOT painted nearly two billion Muslims as threats to non-Muslims and a war of civilization. The GWOT gave an excuse for every country to profile and persecute their Muslim minority populations. 

During these two decades, we see countries like the US pass draconian laws in the form of the PATRIOT Act limiting civil liberties and a rise in violence against Muslims and “Muslim-looking” groups.  Muslims around the globe also experienced increasing Islamophobia. 

Khalid A. Beydoun, an associate Professor of Law at Wayne State University in his April 2020 article for the New York University Law Review aptly writes, “Amid a geopolitical landscape where the United States pushed the War on Terror over the course of three presidential administrations, governments that viewed their Muslim minority populations as societal pariahs or obstacles to national interests were granted expanded license to impose draconian policies against them.” In November 2016, the American people elected Donald Trump as President of the United States based on slogans like “Islamic Radical Terrorism” and promising a Muslim immigration ban.

In the post-World War 2 world order, the victors have dominated international politics through the UN Security Council and become the world’s policemen with the US being the predominant superpower since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991. If the US and its allies want to be the world’s policemen then they need to do justice to Muslim causes like Palestine, Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, and Rohingyas. 

Many Muslims like myself around the world want to see justice done for Muslims facing oppression and occupation like any other people but sadly, the international community seems to brush them aside.  And when Muslims resist occupation and oppression like in Palestine and Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir, the world labels them as terrorists, why? The iconic American civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr defined peace as “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” Therefore, how can there be peace without justice?

During this entire GWOT, most of our Muslim leaders were also complicit in facilitating the U.S. and its allies for the fear of losing power and/or the threat of being carpet-bombed like Afghanistan for non-compliance.  It’s just despicable that hardly any Muslim leader during this period stood up for Muslims and spoke out against Islamophobia.  The least they could have done was to use their voice and speak up, no one is advocating to declare war on the West. Bravo to our current Prime Minister Imran Khan for being publicly vociferous opposing insulting our Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as freedom of speech and expression and Islamophobia.

If we take a final scorecard of the Global War on Terror, on the surface, the US and its allies can claim victory as they eliminated Osama bin Laden (OBL) and Al Qaeda but it came with a heavy price, $21 trillion, and nearly one million deaths.  Moreover, the evil genius of OBL goaded the West to fight him and Al Qaeda on their wicket in Afghanistan as they couldn’t invade the US. It appears that OBL knew something about the psyche of the American leadership and people that they would invade other countries and start a costly full-fledged war. The 9/11 attacks resulted in the political leadership of most Western countries destroying their democracies in the name of homeland security by passing draconian laws like the PATRIOT Act to limit civil liberties. 

The release of the Afghanistan Papers by the Washington Post in December 2019 should be a huge revelation for the American people regarding how they were deceived for twenty years by their government and military. This level of dishonesty by elected leaders usually results in a deep mistrust in democracy as the late American Senator Edward Kennedy said, “Integrity is the lifeblood of democracy. Deceit is a poison in its veins.”

I believe the 9/11 attacks teach us to be more critical and vigilant of our political and military leadership whenever they want to engage in military adventures.  Also, humanity needs to do a better job in terms of creating understanding and harmony amongst us and to ensure justice exists for everyone not for a small segment of people. In the words of the great American Muslim Malcolm X, “We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.”