The world we live in today is a twisted, blighted one
Twenty years after September 2001, it is only natural that we sit back and reflect on how life has changed for all of us in all this time. We have been told over and over again that it was a war on terror we, as inhabitants of the planet, were engaged in.
In hindsight, we realize today, that the war on terror, so loudly proclaimed by George W Bush and his successors, at a point dwindled into a war of terror. It has been the terrifying and the terrible we have experienced in the years since American and other Western forces went into Afghanistan in the aftermath of the tragedy, sweeping across the United States in September 2001.
Of course, now that President Joe Biden has taken all US forces home from Afghanistan, however chaotically the job was done, we would like to think that the war on terror is over.
Is it really over, though?
Dwell on the new formulation which has come down to us in recent times. “Forever Wars” -- that is the terminology we are today expected to understand and indeed analyze. It explains an entire burnt -- and smouldering -- landscape where political conversation is being, in fact has been, replaced by frontal combat.
And yet we need to qualify this term “frontal combat,” for the wars raging today are those where the combatants do not see one another and yet know they occupy swathes of that sizzling space. Time was when conventional armies waged war against guerrilla formations and vice versa. That condition now looks increasingly like part of a war manual in the past.
The audacity with which IS-K blew up more than 200 people at Kabul airport even as American marines tried assisting desperate Afghans to leave their country is a bad sign of how things might be in the days ahead.
In these two decades, murderous outfits like Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and a good number of others have emerged and have operated with impunity. Nothing of morality has underpinned their ideas, but unprecedented hate has been their defining feature. The ramifications, particularly for the world’s Muslims, have been horrendous.
Reflect on the rise of Islamophobia in the West, a circumstance which has had good, deeply devout Muslims -- as distinguished from the fanatics -- doing their best for the past 20 years to offer the very proper explanation that Islam does not sanction murder, that it is a faith whose foundational principle is peace.
And then there is the other side of the picture, one that has rabid non-Muslims go out of their way to reject such protestations of peace from Islamic scholars as irrelevant, for it is the fanatics who have seemingly commandeered the religion.
There are all the social consequences we have had to encounter through the darkness engendered by the tragedy of September 2001. Time was when travel was truly a holiday, when seeking visas to travel to destinations in Europe and North America was little reason for worry. That has changed, especially for people who happen to inhabit countries where the state is Muslim by orientation or considers itself as a Muslim-majority configuration.
People who before September 2001 easily travelled to the West, either as tourists or aiming to visit family, have in the past two decades faced the humiliation of seeing their applications for visas questioned, and eventually rejected.
When a couple who have travelled to America more than once in the past are now questioned on the motives of their intended new trip and must submit reams of information to substantiate their need to go to the land of liberty, indeed every detail of their lives, we realize how September 2001 has taken the charm out of travel.
The shine begins to wear off at the airports, where individual dignity has been replaced by the need to ensure foolproof security on the part of those manning all those steps until a traveller can finally board an aircraft. Everything, almost everything, on your person must come off -- your watch, your belt, your shoes, your keys, your mobile phones, the coins in your pockets.
The laptop you carry must go through the screening process as well. You think of the war on terror even as terror is welling up inside you, from the very legitimate fear that one of the objects you place on that tray to be gone through under the scanner you might forget to collect once the scanning is done.
And then comes the embarrassing spectacle of almost getting back into your clothes again as you struggle to put that belt back on and tuck your shirt into your trousers once more. To be sure, you understand all that requirement which comes with the security question. But by the time you board that aircraft, much of the joy of travel has been dissipated. You feel small, belittled. And all because of what those al-Qaeda men did in New York.
And other changes have marred the quality of life for all of us. In states where Islamist radicalism has sprouted in these two decades, mosques have been targets of ferocious men for whom religion has meant murdering innocent people. Friday prayers have ended in a sea of blood, with devout Muslims done to death by jihadists through bombs concealed in prayer houses.
In our rural regions, discoveries have been made of fanatics engaged in conspiracy to blow up civilized life through their twisted view of the world. Perfectly educated men have surreptitiously frittered away their intelligence on thoughts of drawing the blood from perfectly innocent people.
The bombs in Paris, the explosions in London, the bloodbath at Dhaka’s Holey Artisan inform us that the world we live in today is a twisted, blighted one.
That is the black legacy of the men who weaponized the aircraft flying into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.