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War on Terror — Global Issues

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This page last updated

It was with disbelief and shock that people around the world saw footage of the terrorist attacks in the US on on September 11, 2001 when the planes-turned-missiles slammed into the World Trade Center towers and damaged the Pentagon.

This ultimately resulted in the US declaring and waging a war on terror. Osama Bin Laden was eventually tracked down and killed some 10 years later. But the way the war on terror has been conducted has led to many voicing concerns about the impact on civil liberties, the cost of the additional security focused changes, the implications of the invasions and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more.

Reaction to the September 11, 2001 events

With disbelief and shock around the world people saw the news footage of the events on September 11, 2001 when the planes-turned-missiles slammed into the World Trade Center towers and into the Pentagon. What is probably the worst terrorist attack on the United States, was totally inexcusable and roundly condemned.

Some 3000 were killed. Initial fears were that it was over 6000 A number of factors for this revised number, were said to include initial overestimates; more than one person reporting the same missing person; heroic rescue operations, etc. This lower number doesn’t in any way reduce the impact though.)

The subsequent bombing of Afghanistan to attack Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban for harboring them has also led to some 3,500 civilian deaths, according to an independent study released at the beginning of December 2001.

The ghastly terrorist attacks led to a mixture of political, social and economic reaction around the world.

Hatred and anti-Islam sentiment, (without distinguishing the despotic militants from ordinary Muslims) increased, even though most of the Muslim communities around the world condemned this act.

While visible efforts were seen by politicians to try to separate terrorists from Muslims in general, it has not been easy. On the one hand, after years of economic and geopolitical history, there are some aspects of distrust, while on the other hand, extremists in the Muslim and Christian communities are adding to the antagonisms. For example, during the height of the shock and anger to the September 11 attacks, extremist tendencies in the West resulted in beatings and even killings of Muslims. Even non-Muslims that just happened to have long beards or in some way resembled Taliban/Al Qaeda members were targeted. Others saw this as proof that Islam is inherently violent or that it is the primary threat to the rest of the world, etc. On the Muslim side, there have also been equally extreme reactions, from support of these terrorist acts to even being convinced that this was some sort of Zionist conspiracy to blame Muslims! In both cases these seem to be a minority of people with such extreme views but of course the concern is always that it will increase over time.

There was no question that there was going to be some sort of retaliation and response from the United States. One could not have expected them seriously to refrain from wanting to take revenge. Yet the fear was in what form this revenge would be and how it would be carried out as well as what the impact on ordinary Afghans would be, who have already suffered at the hands of the Taliban and outside forces for years.

In addition, some eight months after the attacks it was revealed in the mainstream press around the world that the CIA had warned George Bush of the threats weeks before September 11. This caused an uproar in many places, including the United States Congress, where members demanded more information to understand if all those deaths could have been prevented.

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Resulting War on Terror

The terrible events of September 11 saw the considerable quieting of what was until then growing domestic and international criticism of the Bush Administration. The September 11 events resulted in a war on terror which saw support for Bush and his popularity soar at the time.

Up to September 11, 2001, the Bush administration was being criticized around the world for its stances on various issues domestically and internationally. Even European and other allies were very critical of positions on numerous global issues.

But even before the Bush Administration, throughout the world, many nations and groups of people had expressed their frustrations at how U.S. foreign policies had affected them on all sorts of issues, ranging from economic/globalization issues that have deepened poverty and/or inequality for most people around the world; geopolitics/arms/missile defense; environmental issues and so on. Protests either directly, or indirectly at U.S. policies have occurred all around the world—especially on globalization issues—as mentioned on this web site. (See the section on global protests for more on that, for example).

Yet that cannot be an excuse for the atrocity of September 11 as it killed many innocent people. At the same time, people have correctly pointed out that when other regions around the world have faced similar terrorist attacks, the outpouring of concern and condemnation has not been as much. The Washington Post (September 12, 2001) even dared to admit this at such a sensitive time shortly after the attacks. (Their article is no longer online.)

However, behind the unity of the American people in the shock of September 11, a heightened sense of security resulted with concerns reverberating throughout the world. Many were concerned about the resulting crackdown of freedoms and civil liberties in various nations. Many worried that various countries around the world would also use this war on terror as an excuse to pursue more aggressive options on their own citizens.

For example, consider the concerns Amnesty International raised in October 2001, shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks: In the name of fighting international terrorism, governments have rushed to introduce draconian new measures that threaten the human rights of their own citizens, immigrants and refugees…. Governments have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their citizens, but measures taken must not undermine fundamental human rights standards. It appears that some of the initiatives currently being discussed or implemented may be used to curb basic human rights and to suppress internal opposition. Some of the definitions of terrorism under discussion are so broad that they could be used to criminalize anyone out of favor with those in power and criminalize legitimate peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression and association. They could also put at risk the right to privacy and threaten the rights of minorities and asylum-seekers.

In May 2003, Amnesty International charged, The war on terror, far from making the world a safer place, has made it more dangerous by curtailing human rights, undermining the rule of international law and shielding governments from scrutiny. It has deepened divisions among people of different faiths and origins, sowing the seeds for more conflict. The overwhelming impact of all this is genuine fear—among the affluent as well as the poor.

Even in the U.S. some of the resulting policies on how suspects will be treated, on how access to personal information will be made available for security concerns and so on, led to debates at all levels on what is considered an attack on civil liberties, and what is reasonable for security. On the foreign policy arena, there was increasing concern that the U.S. would be able to use the war on terror to pursue aggressive policies that were previously criticized by many other people. This can range from economic, to political and even military policies. The Iraq war was one such example, where among other things, the concern of terrorism was used to justify a war against Iraq, even though the terrorism links were not real.

Also of importance, with its loose definition of terror, there is concern that the war on terror , will also affect all those working honestly for peace and social justice for all, as even they will come under scrutiny for perhaps appropriately criticizing policies of any number of nations and organizations around the world, including those from the West.

The war on terror has in some respects, led to what has been described as a war on freedom.

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Mainstream Media

While citizens everywhere, especially Americans, were rightly outraged at the attacks, the mainstream media has largely concentrated on the effects, the various aftermaths and impacts, and reporting what political leaders are doing, saying or not doing, or not saying, etc. They have also reported immense detail on some of the aspects of the actual bombing in Afghanistan, etc. As with most other conflicts in recent history though, while enormous in quantity, media reporting appears comparatively lacking in depth, historical context, and investigative analysis on the causes that fuel such outrageous militant extremism and terrorism.

The so-called range of discourse then, is quite narrow, but within it, coverage is quite detailed. The reporting of some aspects is indeed very moving and very good. There is, however, appropriate criticism of some extremism creeping into some aspects of the mainstream media as well, in certain circumstances. Importantly though, our range of perspectives is also affected by the range of discourse. This is especially relevant now, as citizens seek answers on how and why such a terrible atrocity could be committed. (For more on the coverage of the media, with analysis and critique of the mainstream media itself, see this web site’s section: War on Terror Mainstream Media and Propaganda)

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Will violence lead to more violence?

With all the vivid imagery, we can only now begin to imagine how other people and societies around the world have suffered in other situations. With often worse results, albeit not so sudden and shocking, entire cities/regions have been leveled and/or enormous amount of life has been lost in places like Kosovo, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor, Hiroshima/Nagasaki, all over Europe during the World Wars, and too many other places to be able to list here.

With the US-led bombing campaign on Afghanistan, there has always been more and more concern about civilians being caught in the middle. Indeed, by early December 2001, some 3,500 Afghan civilians were believed to have been killed by U.S. bombing. Furthermore, many aid agencies criticized the food drops for not delivering much actual aid and being a token gesture, rather than an effective one.

Perhaps one of the biggest fears, voiced before the retaliation started, is that retaliated violence could result in more retaliated violence and we risk tit-for-tat violence that looks hard to get out of. In all this, civilians on all sides will always be affected. We only need remind ourselves of that shuddering speech by Osama Bin Laden on his threats of retaliation against civilians and of various hawkish politicians in the West asking for the equivalent of no mercy. Martin Luther King is worth quoting:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it… Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate…. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; Only love can do that.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yet, how does one get out of this vicious circle? Of course it is not easy, and even a lot of the peace movement struggle on this answer, but perhaps if more voice was given in the media to these broader views, then alternative thoughts could be considered. True, more on peace-related alternatives are discussed in TV forums and debates, but when it comes to the actual reporting and one-on-one discussion and analysis, the context is limited to the current actions and options. The discussions are therefore within those confines, mostly.

On the foreign policy front, even recent history of the last 50 years or so has been questionable by both Western leaders and Middle Eastern leaders. For example, the support by the west of brutal leaders in the middle east has contributed to an extremist backlash. In their fight to get the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden himself, as well as other jihadists, were supported by the US, encouraging the training of jihadists and the rise of miltantism to galvanize opposition to the communists. As the article in the previous link implies, while it seems that the lesser of two evils was supported, perhaps the long term consequences were not fully explored and it does seem that violence and fear breeds more violence and fear.

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President Bush losing the war on terror

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On numerous fronts there are many, many things going on which readers have asked me to write on. It is difficult to keep up with all the angles with the view to write on all of them. As a result, for now, until I am able to catch up, included below, under this section on the war on terrorism are articles reposted from other web sites and authors from around the world that offer a variety of deeper and wider perspectives and views. They are broadly categorized into the sections listed below, although many articles can easily fit other categories too.

Also, in the More Information page is a growing collection of links and sources to other web sites that offer deeper perspectives.

I do not necessarily agree with all of the views of all the links and sources provided, and by no means are they a comprehensive list, rather an example.

Some of the more mainstream sources concentrate much more on the effects and aftermaths, while some of the other sources also offer deeper analysis on causes as well as ramifications around the world. These sites have more links that you can follow to other web sites. More sites will be added as time goes on.

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13 articles on “War on Terror”: