13 years ago today, on a day that was supposed to be just another ordinary Tuesday in September ended up transforming into a day that changed America forever, and perhaps the entire world, when two hijacked airliners crashed into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York city, resulting in the collapse of the towers. It took nearly four years to fully construct the Twin towers, which were powerful symbols of American capitalism and western prosperity (due mainly to their location), but they both collapsed within two hours. The images of fire and smoke billowing out of the towers will haunt the minds of Americans and will leave a horrible stain upon the Bush presidency and the entire government forever. What many forget about when remembering the attacks is the attack on the Pentagon, in which a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, leading to the partial destruction of its western side. Almost 3,000 people died in the attacks, whereas 2,400 Americans (mostly navy men) died in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. 9/11 was the worst terrorist attack on the U.S. It was an event that dramatically changed every American’s life, and the lives of so many others. Since 9/11, we have become a very different country in our foreign policy and how we operate in the homeland.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 was a terrible defeat for security and intelligence agencies. It was an embarrassment not only for the U.S. government, but for the entire nation that a band of terrorists could easily hijack four airliners and slip through the defenses of what is supposed to be the most powerful country in the world. This prompted congress to call for for heightened security measures and proposals to increase the national defense budget. The department of Homeland Security, a cabinet department that is considered vital to domestic security with seven agencies and nine divisions, was created in response to the attacks. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is perhaps the most well known of the department’s agencies. The TSA itself was actually established a whole year before the department, and added to DHS only two months after the attacks, which displays how eager we were to tighten airport security. Airport security, what used to be a necessary yet much simpler process, is now a very laborious one, in which travelers routinely walk through full body scans, strip off their shoes and belts, empty their pockets, and power on their electronic devices to prove they are not bombs. If you’re lucky enough (or you’re a male of a minority group), you might even get selected for a very personal pat-down. All this comes before you even get to your flight. To ensure travel security on board, cockpit doors are now reinforced or bulletproof, far more air marshals have been placed on flights, pilots are now allowed to carry firearms on board, and can monitor cabin activity with security cameras. Because of all these safety precautions and regulations, travelers are being monitored and inspected throughout their entire travel experience, limiting their personal privacy. However, this reality of being constantly watched goes far beyond transportation security, thanks to whistle blowers like Edward Snowden, we now know infringement upon our privacy and violation of the fourth amendment is a constant exercise of security and intelligence agencies such as the NSA, FBI, CIA, and many other three-letter acronyms. Conservatives who hate big government should regard these agencies as their worst fears and greatest enemies. They truly are instruments of the governmental bureaucracy that limit our individual freedom. Fortunately, we can have freedom of speech and are allowed to express our opinions online, but we aren’t guaranteed that our online messages won’t be intercepted by the NSA. We aren’t informed that we’re put on watch lists either, yet this doesn’t restrict them from committing these acts. Our government’s big brother behavior reminds me of an old Soviet joke: “In Soviet Russia, they claim we have freedom of speech. In America, they have freedom after they speak. That’s a nice little feature”. It seems that in the government’s attempt to protect us from terrorism, we are beginning to lose this “nice little feature”. One may argue that it isn’t wrong for the NSA to follow the posts of individuals when they are shared publicly because they are simply accessing information that everyone has access to. This maybe true, but the wiretapping, reading of personal emails before they are even sent, and recording of private conversations are certainly condemnable actions which directly violate our privacy rights and are unconstitutional. Yet the bureaucrats of these agencies and the conservatives who usually oppose big government strongly support this spying as long as it prevents terrorism. I thought that the main purpose of expanding security would be to protect us from the terrorists, but it seems that the gov pursue their own people as if they are the terrorists they’ve sworn to defeat. Our common fear of terrorism has turned us against each other. Issues like NSA spying will likely open up the discussion on how state security programs can be instituted that don’t infringe upon our rights, but it brings up an interesting question. Should we, as Americans, sacrifice our civil liberties if it means protecting ourselves from terrorists?
Since 9/11, we have witnessed the rise of racism of Arab and Muslim Americans. Ignorant Americans have alienated Muslims from society, judging them as savage outcasts who have been indoctrinated by a violent religion that condoles terrorism. This too, is because of the fear. Upon hearing that the attackers were likely Muslim fundamentalists, Americans began to fear all Muslims. Over night, what was once just another religious group had been transformed into army of savages by the media. The reactionary fear that Americans felt after 9/11 contributed to this tendentious image. It was the media that influenced so many to share this fear of Muslims. It was and has been the media which has molded the Muslim stereotype, and has brainwashed so many Americans into believing it. This propaganda is dispensed by your typical conservative commentators who so effectively turn fear to hatred, and thus, hatred for Muslims was built off this fear. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate.” We have witnessed this hatred for a certain minority group many times throughout American history. One of the more recent examples of this is during the Joseph McCarthy period (also known as the second red scare) during the 50s when Senator McCarthy planned to purge the government, the screen actors guild, and many other institutions and labor unions of communists. This came at a time when it was unclear who the dominant world superpower was, the United States or the Soviet Union. American propaganda films and the media displayed the Soviets as our enemies, and because they were communists, it was considered Un-American to hold such beliefs. Although most Americans didn’t know (and most still don’t know) what communism is, they rallied for the cause of McCarthy, Nixon, Eisenhower, and many other conservatives who swore to make Anti-communism an American principal. In this defense of Americanism, hundreds were accused of being communists, lost their jobs, and were blacklisted to prevent them from ever obtaining a job again. It’s no doubt that the fear many Americans had for the Soviet Union and its world influence is what caused them to have an intense anger of communists. This is very similar to what many Muslims experience America as a result of 9/11. Because of al-Qaeda and many other Islamic terrorist groups, the Muslim Americans who have come to escape this terror have been accused of embodying the same radical ideals as the terrorists (which is highly illogical). A Gallup poll shows just how wide spread Islamophobia is. It found that among western societies, the United States has the highest rates of feeling disrespect for Muslims. It was also found in this poll that those with a great deal of prejudice report the lowest academic achievement of individuals polled and are more likely to be Republicans, which is not at all surprising. Overall, these statistics show a high intolerance of Muslims among Americans. Whether this intolerance is justified or not is not easily determinable. On a positive note, there has been a growing tolerance of Islam and its followers in the U.S. just as the tolerance of gays has significantly grown throughout the years. Now when conservatives condemn ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups, they denounce them because they’re radical Muslim fundamentalists, not just because they’re Muslim.
It was decided that in order to prevent another deadly terrorist attack, the U.S. would not only increase its security at home and how one enters America, but also that we would go to the countries where al-Qaeda was most prominent and fight their terror abroad. This resulted in the United States once again becoming a nation with a strong military presence throughout the world. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, American foreign policy shifted to humanitarian issues, but for the last thirteen years, U.S foreign policy has been defined by its anti-terrorism ambitions. Afghanistan was the first country to become a battleground in the war on terror. President Bush and his associates made the case for war by accusing the Taliban, the extremist group which controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, of hosting and assisting al-Qaeda. On September 20th, Bush demanded that the Taliban deliver Osama bin Laden and destroy all al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. The Taliban stated it would comply if America showed detailed evidence that bin Laden was responsible for the attacks, which we did. The Taliban, however, was slow in its response, and thus the U.S. began airstrikes in Afghanistan, very similar to the tactics used in Iraq today on ISIS. Conflict grew between the parties, and a war that still continues to this day began. Gradually, the U.S. was dragged into several other wars in its attempt to defeat terrorism, such as the war in Iraq, North-West Pakistan, and Yemen (just to name a few). Despite promises made by Bush and other officials from his administration that these wars would be short ones in which the U.S.’s supreme military power would demolish all the terrorist militias and trample the terror-supporting regimes of the Middle East, the war on terror, especially the war in Afghanistan, still continues.
After examining the many institutions and aspects of life that have been fundamentally changed as a result of those attacks 13 years ago, it’s seems that they really have created a new country, or at least a new government. One so paranoid that its spies on its own people, constantly violates their privacy as well as their personal freedom, and reserves billions of dollars each year for defense spending. Yet perhaps all of it is worth it in order to keep us safe and maintain our domestic tranquility. However, a new threat has risen in the Middle East, one that has killed and displaced thousands of Iraqis, beheaded those who don’t accept its strict interpretations of sharia law, and exiled religious and ethnic minorities to their deaths. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria displays barbarism that is unparalleled in modern times. At a time when 43% of Americans believe the Afghan war is a mistake and even more that the Iraq war was one, most Americans now support military intervention in Iraq to counter ISIS and its deadly rampage through Iraq and Syria simply because they are informed in just how brutal ISIS is. Now, the military, and departments of defense and homeland security race to counter this rampage and protect our homeland from probably one of the most powerful Islamic terrorist groups ever. Considering all the safety precautions and advancements in defense we have instituted after 9/11 and the costs the American people have paid for it, we may be a much safer nation than we were thirteen years ago, but not necessarily a wiser one.