Ten long years have passed since September 11th 2001. At the time, I was a student at Uppsala University, Sweden, and was standing at the parking lot of IKEA, helping a friend to buy a bed for his student apartment. Suddenly my friend’s phone rang and his face turned to stone. When he’d hung up he just said that World War III had come upon us. We went home to my student dorm and turned on the TV. Repeatedly we watched as those planes hit the towers where I’d been standing on top of one of them and gazed over Manhattan as a tourist some one and a half years earlier.
In a way we understood that a new era in world politics would begin. The post cold war age as we knew it would thus be short. The ten years from 1991 to 2001 were characterized by one remaining superpower and a wave of freedom and democracy that reached all around the world. But it was also a time of horrific ethnic conflict that led to several bloody civil wars in Africa as well as in Europe. Furthermore, it was an era of failure of the United Nations. Since the fall of theSoviet Unionthe organization had been released from its chains of apathy and therefore expected to regain its handling power. These hopes were tragically scattered and I believe one million murdered Rwandans would concure.
In the US, the new conservative government that took office in 2001 nearly coincided with the terror attacks, and already at the time of Bush’s questionable victory at the end of 2000 acreeping sense of anxiety washed over us; we somehow knew that bad things were about to afflict the world. When those planes had finally rammed into the towers, the critical response certainly didn’t come as a surprise. We already knew about the dark forces surrounding the president, and now these would hungrily step forward and sprinkle their deadly right-wing poison over the Muslim world.
And we, the moderate bystanders, were forced to watch the upcoming slaughter through our TV screens. In Iraq and Afghanistan hundreds of thousands of people, the vast majority being completely innocent civilians, would be imprisoned, tortured, humiliated or killed in the most savage ways. As if that wasn’t enough the dead would then be belittled through propaganda, lies andindifference, all orchestrated by the ultra-conservative members of theUS government and cheered on by large elements of theUSpopulation.
Certainly, the terror attacks in New York and Washington was nothing but a mass murder of a horrendous scale that led to the death of almost 3000 innocent people. Hundreds must have been burned to death already in the collision into Pentagon and World Trade Center. The rest were pulvarized as the scrapers fell like houses of cards after being trapped like rats in the giant labyrinths, helplessly awaiting an inevitable death. Those who jumped out into the air hundreds of meters above the ground must have had to make a horrific choice of either burn to death or crash againt the pavement below.
My student years were strongly influenced by the new world order that thus far mostly came down to the post cold war period. My social science studies were thus marked by the following wave of global democracy, the ethnic conflicts in Africa and Eastern Europe, the consequenses of globalization and a paralyzed UN despite the sudden end to superpower rivalry.
From the morning of September 11th 2001 the focus would change completely to the new expression “war on terror”, which would develop into two full-scale wars in the Muslim world, extended intelligence cooperation between the Western democracies and the brutal dictatorships of the third world, restrictions of civil rights in the Western democracies, and increased antagonism between the citizens of the rich countries and their Muslim minotities.
The discussions in my student dorm were many and intensive during that fall of 2001. They mostly dealt with theUS’ right of self defence, for and against the war in Afghanistan and later Iraq, and all the other issues related to the terror attacks and the reactions they set off.
When the smoke screen around the lively discussions had dispersed I could conclude that a state certainly must have the right to defend itself against terrorism and then bring the guilty to justice. However, the attacks against Pentagon and World Trade Center made it difficult for the US administration to choose how to respond, since the perpetrators belonged to a giant criminal network rather than another state. But at the same time the deeds were of such a huge magnitude that theUScould not define them as anything but pure acts of war. And these two facts didn’t really add up.
When the Afghan regime then refused to crack down on Al Qaeda and hand over Osama Bin Laden, a more distinct enemy had taken shape. Thus, few sensible debaters could declare that the invasion of Afghanistan was immoral or unproportionate. It was impossible to defend the mass murderers who carried out the terror attacks or the talibans’ cruelty, repression against women or their harbouring of the 9/11 mastermind. But the crimes committed by the governments, military and foot soldiers of theUS and Great Britain during the Afghanistan war can never be overlooked. If real peace or real justice is ever to be achieved, the crimes must be acknowledged and the guilty must somehow be prosecuted.
One can and should critizise the unlawful, immoral, cruel and uncivilized manners with which the UN-sponsored war in Afghainstan was – and still is – conducted. One must critizise the lies which led to the incredibly bloody Iraq war and the cynicism and disregard of civilian populations that the ultra-conservative Washington hawks have shown in both wars.
While one must never belittle the 9/11 terror attacks or its victims, one can conclude that the consequences of 9/11 have been catastrophic for hundreds of thousands of people, foremost in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also, the events affected the citizens of the democratic world when our civil rights were disregarded. The global achievements have surely stopped new attacks and consequently saved the lives of many people in our parts of the world. But these have been conducted in such immoral and unlawful ways that the goals can hardly justify the means. The struggle against terrorism should have been fought with methods that better suit the civilized norms of the democratic nations of the world. Then we could look ourselves in the mirror and be proud of our developed nations without shame. But most importantly, we would then be in a safer place.
Filip Ericsson September 11th 2011