September 11, 2001 – A day that almost became a synonym for terrorism.
A series of four coordinated suicide attacks on that day did not just shake the US, but the whole world. The incident proved to be a defining moment in the history of the United States of America. And what followed thereafter completely altered the dynamics of South Asia and the Middle East. The incident further put a spotlight on issues such as counter-terrorism measures, civil liberties, homeland security, multiculturalism and immigration.
The US had been on al Qaeda’s hit list earlier too. But the tactics and methods adopted to harm the United States on 9/11 left a deep scar in the minds of Americans.
The country was in shock and the leader of the world’s most powerful country had to respond. “I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,” announced the then US president George W Bush in his address to a ‘scared’ nation. It was the beginning of a ‘war on terror’. Wars, no matter how meticulously planned, have unintended consequences. And this war was no exception.
According to the "Costs of War" research project by Brown University`s Watson Institute for International Studies, the US has spent an additional USD 400 billion on security. The country has also spent USD 1.3 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it has prevented the occurrence of any terror attack on its soil.
Al Qaeda’s back broken - Is US safe now?
The world’s No 1 terrorist, Osama bin Laden, is dead. But is the world a safer place now? On May 02, US President Barack Obama hailed the death of Osama as a "good day for America”. But the then CIA director Leon Panetta cautioned that al Qaeda would "almost certainly" try to avenge the death of bin Laden. According to the US President`s chief counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, al Qaeda, though weakened, still remained a danger.
It would be imprudent to underestimate al Qaeda even after bin Laden’s death. In fact, Osama was reportedly planning an attack on the United States to coincide with the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Thanks to the US’ substantial covert capabilities, al Qaeda’s various plans to attack the country have been foiled and disrupted. But the growth of al Qaeda franchises in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq is worrisome.
The emergence of Times Square bomber, an underwear bomber, shoe bomber, Ford Hoot shooter points to the emergence of another disturbing fact. After tackling an organisation on another land, the US is grappling with another threat called `homegrown extremism`, thanks to online radicalization. The US has diminished al Qaeda’s strength, but has failed to kill ideology that motivates violence.
Legacy of 9/11
“America was targeted for attack because we`re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world,” Bush had said in 2001.
But the same country became the target of critics when the torture and degrading treatment of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay undermined its credibility as a defender of human rights. Extraordinary rendition further dented the US’ image in the world. The Patriot Act, passed in October 2001, further expanded the surveillance powers of US law enforcement agencies.
9/11 also raised questions about the integration of immigrants, especially Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent.
Ten years after the September 11 attacks, the balance between freedom and security in the United States has changed. The country now debates breach of privacy in the name of airport security. It is more of an always-on-the alert society than an open and carefree society.