21 years ago, On September 11, 2001, various assailants boarded four domestic flights at three airports on the East Coast. They disabled the crew shortly after takeoff; some of them may have been stabbed with the box cutters the hijackers were hiding. The hijackers then took control of the huge, fuel-loaded aeroplanes that were all en route to the West Coast. After taking out from Boston, the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, slammed into the World Trade Center’s north tower in New York City. United Airlines flight 175 from Boston crashed into the south tower seventeen minutes later.
Each building was extensively damaged by the hit, which caused it to catch fire. In order to avoid facing the fires that were now blazing within the towers, some trapped office workers who were above the impact areas jumped to their deaths. The third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, slammed into the Pentagon’s southwest side and started a fire there as it took off from Dulles Airport outside of Washington, D.C. After being informed of the situation through cell phone and ordering a global ground halt minutes later, the passengers of United Airlines flight 93 from Newark, New Jersey, sought to fight off their attackers and the plane crashed within an hour near Shanksville in rural Pennsylvania.
29 minutes after the badly damaged south tower of the World Trade Center fell, the north tower did as well. Rescue operations began almost immediately as the country and the rest of the globe struggled to absorb the magnitude of the casualties. All 19 terrorists, 2,750 victims in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 in Pennsylvania totaled close to 3,000 fatalities. Among the overall fatalities in New York City were more than 400 police officers and firefighters who died while responding to the incident and inside the buildings.
Following the September 11 attacks, the United States’ allies mobilised to help. For a candlelight vigil, thousands gathered in the Iranian capital of Tehran. The 9/11 attacks had a tremendous spillover that affected people all around the world for a very long time. Nobody expected the shock and pain in the USA to generate a force field that would transcend national borders.
The War on Terror
In response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an international counterterrorism campaign led by the United States was started. The fight against terrorism was an all-encompassing, multifaceted effort. Major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, clandestine operations in Yemen and other countries, extensive military support programmes for friendly regimes, and significant increases in military spending were all part of its military character.
Most governments were quickly persuaded by American evidence that al-Qaeda, an Islamic terrorist organisation, was behind the attacks. The group had been linked to earlier terrorist attacks against Americans, and bin Laden had expressed his dislike of the United States frequently. Al-Qaeda’s headquarters were in Afghanistan, where it had developed a tight relationship with the Taliban militia that ruled that nation. As a result, the Taliban militia rejected American requests to extradite bin Laden and to stop al-Qaeda operations there. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) used Article 5 for the first time in its history, empowering its members to act jointly in self-defense, and on October 7 the military forces of the United States and its allies attacked Afghanistan.
Fast forward to 2021, NATO troops withdrew from Afghanistan after the Doha agreement. Kabul eventually fell under Taliban control. The country is back to square one, with the same government and policies, while the international community and the USA are also back to debating the same human rights abuses by the Taliban that were supposed to be eliminated while the USA was in Afghanistan, making it appear that the net outcome of the Afghanistan war is zero. The Afghan war cost the USA over $2.313 trillion. As of 2021, the conflict had claimed the lives of 2,448 American service members, 3,846 American contractors, 66,000 members of the Afghan national military and police, 1,144 members of NATO, 444 relief workers, and 72 journalists. In addition, since 2001, 243,000 individuals have died in the warzone between Afghanistan and Pakistan, of which more than 70,000 were civilians.
U.S. forces overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq in 2003, but American war planners underestimated the challenges of creating a functioning government from scratch and failed to take into account how this effort could be complicated by Iraq’s sectarian tensions, which had been restrained by Saddam’s oppressive regime but were let loose by his removal. Iraq was clearly descending into anarchy and civil conflict by late 2004; estimates of the number of Iraqi citizens killed during the height of the violence—roughly 2004 to 2007—vary widely but typically surpass 200,000. Americans lost much more soldiers during this time than they did during the original invasion in 2003.
The American counterterrorism campaign had more failures than triumphs. The bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq strengthened anti-Americanism among the world’s Muslims, amplifying the message of militant Islam and bringing diverse organisations together in a common cause. The conflict in Afghanistan had effectively dispersed the al-Qaeda network, making it much tougher to combat. Many contend that the war on terrorism was an artificial smokescreen used by the United States to further its geopolitical objectives, which included gaining control of the world’s oil reserves, raising defence spending, increasing the country’s military presence abroad, and fending off the strategic challenges posed by various regional powers.
Currently, the situation in Afghanistan, which the Taliban currently govern, is still developing, and its future is still uncertain. It goes without saying that the local population has endured enough suffering and deserves the world’s support during this difficult period.
An era of executive overreach and numerous government abuses, including racial profiling, warrantless surveillance, illegal detentions, and covert deportations, were brought on by the anti-Muslim backlash that emerged in the wake of 9/11. However, a far-right anti-Muslim movement that was motivated by prejudice and the heightened nativist discourse that followed the attacks also emerged from the ashes of 9/11. Activists who promoted dark conspiracy theories about Islamist radicals surreptitiously infiltrating the government and the American legal system being under attack by Sharia law served as the movement’s leaders, portraying Muslims in general as possible terrorists.
Read More: Analyzing UN resolution on Islamophobia
Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice are nothing new in the US. But compared to other forms of hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, there was never much of an organised movement before 9/11. All of that altered in the years following 9/11, when a cottage industry of disinformation sellers was essentially created from scratch. Its aim was to sour any discussion of Islam and paint Muslims as inherently hostile to Americans, led by extremists like Robert Spencer. A Lebanese Christian who became a citizen of the United States named Brigitte Gabriel founded ACT for America in 2006; it now has chapters all over the nation. It criticises Islam and pushes for Islamophobic legislation at the local and federal levels, earning it the SPLC’s designation as a hate group.
The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) established a reporting system on potential anti-Islamic reactions in the 15 EU Member States in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. The report’s results revealed that following the terrorist attacks on September 11, Islamic communities and other vulnerable groups have come under heightened attack. An increase in generalised anxiety has worsened prejudicial attitudes already in place and encouraged acts of assault and harassment in numerous European Member States. At the same time, efforts to assuage worries occasionally sparked fresh interest in Islamic tradition and useful interfaith projects. Many Muslims, especially those who are minorities, have grown up in the aftermath of 9/11. Numerous people have experienced hostility, monitoring, mistrust, suspicion, and questioning about their Muslim faith and objectives.
The events of 9/11 and their aftermath, thus, continue to haunt the world to this day. The 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks honours the sacrifice of the millions of individuals who lost their lives as a result of the attacks, as well as those who continue to lose loved ones, homes, and fair treatment.
The author is a Research Associate at Global Village Space. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.