It’s hard to believe that fifteen years have already passed since that terrible day in September 2001. How much has happened in those fifteen years, both on the personal level and at the macro, national and international level.
Five years ago I wrote a post “9/11 Ten years on” and it is depressing to realize how much worse the world situation is now compared to 2011. The war in Iraq has surged even as democracy tried to take a foothold, the Arab Spring sprung and shrank, and then mutated into the ongoing civil wars and sectarian wars (not the same thing) in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and beyond. Europe is flooded with Middle Eastern refugees and is reacting by turning in on itself. The European right is strengthened, Britain has Brexited, and looks like it will be followed by other European countries. Iran is empowered, Russia is on the rise, and America is badly weakened – and a lot of it is thanks to President Obama’s inaction and inertia in the Syrian crisis.
My opinion is backed up by Ben Lynfield’s Jerusalem Post analysis that the ill-fated “War on Terror” has taken the region from bad to worse:
“Things are worse,” says Gabriel Ben-Dor, a Middle East specialist at the University of Haifa. “ISIS is far worse than al-Qaida. And there has been a process of degeneration of the political culture in the region.
“We’ve seen the collapse of regimes, endemic civil wars, lack of stability, lack of trust in leadership, and lack of a stable political culture needed to sustain the kind of states needed in the modern world. The terrorism part is a symptom of this general process of degeneration.”
If one looks just at the results, clearly things have gone wrong in the struggle against radicalism. And although not all of the above can be traced back to Washington’s response to 9/11, including the ill-fated invasion of Iraq, critics of US decision- making over the last 15 years say that US policy misperceptions and miscalculations and the lack of a coherent strategy have plagued the region.
“The invasion of Iraq, despite the horrors of the Saddam regime, unleashed a range of destructive forces that have played out in escalating fashion ever since whether it be the fueling of sectarian confrontation, state failure or broader regional war of the Saudis versus the Iranians,” said Barnes-Dacey. “All of these can be traced back to the 2003 invasion, and that in turn is directly linked to 9/11 in terms of how the Bush administration chose to respond.”
Hindsight is easy, but it is now abundantly clear that not enough forethought was given to the consequences of creating a vacuum by removing Saddam Hussein’s rule, or the fallout from unleashing Iraq’s sectarian animosities and marginalizing the country’s Sunni population.
The failure of the Iraq intervention, in turn, has had fateful implications for the conflict in neighboring Syria, causing the US to be unwilling to risk even a more limited intervention there despite the enormous and unrelenting death toll, which the UN put at 400,000 in April.
The US “lacks the resolve, the determination, the willingness to pay the price of engaging and in a sense they are also indifferent,” says Ben-Dor.
“They don’t really care enough to commit the necessary resources.Syria is a good example of this.”
“I don’t necessarily mean sending hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground, but the US should have been more assertive in restraining Assad from doing what he’s doing, in retaliating in response to the use of chemical weapons, and in engineering a lasting settlement by supporting the democratic and liberal forces in a more meaningful way,” he said, adding that perhaps a US air campaign against regime military targets should have been launched.
We have also seen antisemitism rearing its ugly head with greater strength throughout the world, most notably in Europe (particularly the British Labour Party) and – unbelievably – on American campuses.
Yaakov Lappin in the Jerusalem Post tells how Jihadist terrorism is entering a new stage 15 years after 9/11:
Jihadist terrorism is first and foremost an idea, and like a virus, the idea spreads, infecting minds, while thriving under certain conditions.
In 2006, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) was formed, and it launched a series of brutal attacks on Iraqi Shi’ites and moderate Sunnis who did not share its goal of creating a jihadist state.
Meanwhile, isolated yet devastating mass-casualty attacks rocked Madrid and London. In 2011, the Arab world experienced an earthquake of instability, setting off a domino-like collapse of states. ISI forces began spilling into the imploded Syrian state, filling a power vacuum, and joining the civil war.
ISI became the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – the infamous ISIS. It split off from al-Qaida, and in 2014, it began a new stage, forming a “caliphate.”
The vision of a radical dystopian jihadist dictatorship became a reality. ISIS turned into a hybrid entity: a regime with its own army and international terrorist network.
Now, a new stage appears to be looming.
ISIS will soon lose most, if not all of its territory in Iraq and Syria. It looks set to turn into an international network, much like al-Qaida was after the fall of the Taliban, but one that is far more menacing.
Those brainwashed by its ideology in Western cities may be more likely to attack at home, setting the stage for an increase in terrorism. In the Middle East, the chaotic and violent conditions that now characterize so many areas mean that ISIS’s ideology will continue to have receptive ears. Its leaders will seek to regain a territorial base, while doing their best to destabilize the Arab regimes they seek to replace.
The new and approaching stage does not, unfortunately, represent a victory over the threat.
Some words of comfort are necessary at this point to counter the depressing and alarming forecast above.
The Times of Israel describes how 9/11 is seared into New York’s memory:
In the last 15 years, New York has sought to craft a balance between remembering the victims and the carnage, and doing what it does best: endless regenerating, rebuilding and looking toward the future.Downtown Manhattan is today one of the most fashionable parts of New York, packed with luxury hotels, boutiques and smart restaurants.
The World Trade Center site has been totally rebuilt, home to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, the world’s most expensive train station, a performing arts center and offices.
“People come to this site from all over the world. It is something that now is a symbol to people around the world of resilience,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The jewel in its crown is World Trade Center One, or Freedom Tower, which at 1,776 feet (the year of US independence), or 541 meters, is the tallest building in the Western hemisphere, its lights visible for miles.
Like Israel who suffers untold terror attacks on an almost daily basis, and like other western democracies, New York has finally emerged, bloodied but unbowed from those horrific attacks.
The Coffee Shop Rabbi has a comforting memorial post from a Jewish perspective:
Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget! – Deuteronomy 25: 17-19.
This is the teaching we will soon read as part of our weekly Torah reading. Amalek was the ancient enemy of the Israelites, and we are commanded both to “blot out the memory of Amalek” and “not forget.”
We succeed in keeping these twin commandments when we refuse to allow the pain of the past to transform us into those who have done evil to us. We must not allow ourselves to be infected by the hatred that drives a terrorist, by the racism that drove the Nazis. Those senseless hatreds are what we must blot out forever. At the same time we must strive to remember what it is to suffer, to remember what terrorism and genocide really look like.
When we manage both to blot out evil and yet to remember, we persist in lives of Torah, which means caring for our own needs as well as caring for the well-being of the stranger among us. Only when and if that stranger proves to be an enemy may we treat him or her as such.
Remember? Forget? We must do both. It is not easy, but the memories of all the dead deserve no less.
May the memories of the dead be for a blessing and may the injured and sick have a refuah shlema.
Five years ago I concluded my post with the words “let’s hope and pray for better days ahead, but be prepared for worse.” I had no clue it would be so much worse.
On today’s anniversary I intensify my prayers for better times ahead.