The recent New Jersey explosion and other myriad on-going terrorist attacks around the world suggest that the threat of Islamic terrorism now looms larger than ever before. How the social psyche, approach and policy of the US have changed since 9/11 Islamic terrorist attacks, an analysis
Dilip Chaware in US
The threat perception of possible terrorist attacks has increased around the world, but it is felt more vividly in the USA after the pressure cooker bomb explosions in New York and in New Jersey within a week of the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 Islamic terrorist attacks that claimed around 3000 innocent lives in the on September 11, 2001.
New York Police Dept honours officers who died in 9/11
The New York Police Department honoured the officers who died in the 9/11 attacks or after working on the toxic pile of rubble. The department handed out medals to families of 23 officers who died on 11 September 2001 and the 49 officers and one civilian who died since.
New York Fire Brigade remembers 343 bravehearts of 9/11
A fitting tribute was paid to the 343 firefighters, who died in the 9/11 attacks at St. Patrick’s Cathedral 15 years ago for their acts of heroism.
It is to the credit of the New York Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the seamless coordination as well as cooperation among all law enforcement and security agencies that the perpetrator was identified and apprehended in record time. It is most remarkable that there is no blame game, like the one we in Bharat are used to witnessing on television channels and through newspaper columns.
The swift action in arresting Ahmad Khan Rahami and exposing his Pakistan connection has strengthened the
confidence of the common US citizen in the law and order apparatus. This
capture of a dreaded terrorist has proved the effectiveness of the US machinery and its efficiency.
There is no doubt that the US has intensified its security measures at each level and in each manner possible, but the palpable fear that a terrorist attack can occur anywhere at any time had been articulated by various experts, analysts and columnists in exhaustive details while writing or speaking on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. It is most heartening that all of them, at the same time, have expressed a firm determination that those responsible for such attacks will not be spared, howsoever long it may take.
Such manifestation of a national resolve is thrilling to watch, especially for a Bharatiya, who is accustomed to hearing the criticism of his own government whenever terrorists strike, as if it is a lapse and responsibility of the ruling party alone. And the irresponsible television channels, who describe each and every step taken by security personnel, as if to brief the enemy, add fuel to the fire. In stark contrast, no political party or leader has condemned the US government for the 9/11 attacks neither for the two crude bomb explosions. Instead, all have condemned the attackers in unison.
It was just a week ago that while
paying homage to the 9/11 victims, the entire nation had reverberated with one pledge: “We will never forget.” This was declared by President Barack Obama and various top government officials in a variety of ways but the tone and tenor was identical across the nation.
Although the US and various nations suffering from terror attacks have increased vigil, it is accepted across the board that terrorist activity has been increasing around the world. According to the Global Terrorism Index, it reached its highest recorded level in 2014, the last year with available data. There were 32685 terrorist-caused deaths in that year while in 2001, the figure had barely exceeded 5000. Out of 162 countries studied, 93 have suffered at least one terrorist attack, according to the findings of the Index.
Prevailing Fear Psychosis
In the US, the odds of being killed by a terrorist were one in 56 million in 2013, according to some quoted data. With the murders in San Bernardino and Orlando this year, that ratio has changed
drastically. The odds of death-by-terrorist for Americans can be said to be one in 5 million now, showing a ten-time drop.
A Gallup survey conducted in 2015 December showed that 51 percent of Americans were ‘very or somewhat’ worried that they or someone in their family would be a victim of terrorism. But in March this year, 72 percent of Americans reported that now they
“personally worry” about terrorist attacks in the US. This overall sentiments is reflected in a frank admission by two former leaders of the 9/11 Commission. Former Governor Thomas H Kean and former Congressman Lee H Hamilton served as chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, of the 9/11 Commission. They are co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Programme.
In an op-ed page article published on September 10, in USA Today on the eve of the 15th anniversary of 9/11, Kean and Hamilton emphasised that the terrorism threat isn’t just about in the US, rather, it’s a global issue. They described it as a spreading disease eating away at the foundation of the free, open and lawful international system.
They say, “Certainly, we have not suffered another catastrophic attack on the scale of 9/11, thanks to considerable progress in reforming how we protect the homeland. Commercial aviation, ports and other critical infrastructure are better protected. The thousands of people involved in protecting the country deserve our gratitude.”
As pointed out by these experts, terrorist-fuelled instability is not held in by international borders, nor can the oceans bound it. It aggravates ethno-sectarian tensions, instigates conflicts, displaces innocent millions and weakens legitimate governments. Terrorists target public spaces, international air travel and cyberspace, while seeking weapons of mass destruction. Terrorism’s toll on the US, on the vibrant democracies of America’s European allies, on the stability of its Middle Eastern partners and on the security of the global commons is alarming. Even when America is not the target, terrorism is a strategic threat it must confront, they have said.
On the other hand, President Obama has tried to transmit a similar message but in more guarded terms. While giving a call for unity, a celebration of diversity and a reminder that Americans will never give into fear, Obama told hundreds of service members, relatives and survivors of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon which killed 184 people that the US will never bow to the wishes of terrorists who, through their attacks, hope to change the way Americans live. Obama’s solemn but hopeful speech, his last 9/11 observance as an incumbent President, was delivered just feet away from where American Airlines Flight 77 had slammed into the Pentagon on 11 September 2001.
The US has plenty of knowledgeable people who find that the government’s approach towards containing terrorist activity over the past 15 years will have to change. The 9/11 Commission Report had warned that terrorism would
“menace Americans and American interests long after Osama bin Laden and his cohorts are killed or captured.”
One of the recommendations of the report was that the US strategy should have two prongs: dismantle the al-Qaeda network and prevail in the longer term over the ideology that gives rise to Islamist terrorism. An equal focus on the ideological aspects of the struggle is still to be provided. Until it is done, this threat will not diminish, the experts feel.
The Muslim world’s psyche is influenced by extremist propaganda and misinformation. In this battle, along with the media, deeply rooted organisations are used. Perceived economic and political grievances are used for instigating the masses. Such nefarious activities are supported by certain governments. These are radical perversions of Islam, which might not condone violence directly but will certainly throttle more sober, tolerant or broader ideal.
A distinct link between extremist beliefs and terrorism exists and there is enough evidence to establish this. A British government review of the Muslim Brotherhood found that, while the group itself might not be involved in terrorism, “both as an ideology and as a network, it has been a rite of passage for some
individuals and groups who have gone on to engage in violence and terrorism.”
How 9/11 has changed life in the USA
Changing the worldview of societies is a long and difficult process but it
provides the only hope of quelling the terrorist threat. That is the reason a task force of experts to develop a long-term strategy to combat terrorist ideology has been set up in the US. The post-9/11 era has now spanned two terms each of both, Republican and Democratic administrations. The challenge of keeping America safe will be inherited by whoever is elected president in November. A bipartisan approach will be essential, it is pointed out.
In the decade and a half since the 9/11 attacks, the US got engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As an effective remedy against terrorism, the Department of Homeland Security was established and Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the attacks, was killed. The Patriot Act and other legislation expanded the Presidential authority and the government’s powers to peep into personal lives of the people.
Actual Impact of the Changes
The most striking change Americans have faced after the September 11 attacks are seen and felt at the airports. Air travellers now must check in at least two hours in advance. Restrictions on what the travellers can carry have been imposed. Liquids and toiletries have can’t be beyond a certain volume or size and need to be placed in clear, sealed bags. No food or bottled water is allowed. Passengers are selected at random for more intense screenings. Over the decade, airport security has tried different types of searches and screenings, introducing new equipment. The extra security protocol means longer lines.
Impact on Mental and Physical Health of Citizens
In the aftermath of the attacks, the government launched a war on terror and searched for suspects intensively. Several Muslims and Asians in the US became the victims of uncalled for harassment and hate crimes. One such unfortunate ethnic group was of the Sikhs. They were targeted because of the turbans, associated in US psyche with Muslims. Religious buildings, including a Hindu temple in St Louis, Montana, were hit.
However, anger and fear are not the only psychological traumas caused by the September 11 attacks. According to available figures, in three New York City 9/11 health programmes, at least 10000 police officers, firefighters and civilians directly exposed to the World Trade Center attacks were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
When the Twin Towers collapsed, thousands of tons of toxic debris containing known carcinogens were released. Exposure to the chemicals led to illnesses among rescue and recovery workers. A study of nearly 13000 rescue workers, published in the April 2010 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, found that 30—40 percent of the workers who suffered impaired lung functions still showed little or no improvement in symptoms.
It was only after June 2002 that the air quality near the site returned to the level prior to the attacks. Residents, students, and office workers in Lower Manhattan and nearby Chinatown reported health problems after the attacks.
Impact on the Economy
Spending on domestic security has grown exponentially. The Department of Homeland Security was created in 2002. In the beginning, its budget was 19.50 billion dollars. After 14 years, the budget for 2016 stands at 41.20 billion dollars.
The money the US may have spent on domestic security is hard to guess but the Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that from 2001 till 2014, US domestic security expenditure may have exceeded 1.1 trillion dollars. This is spending of about 73 billion dollars a year on average.
Just to indicate the increasing expenditure on defence, the Pentagon’s base budget increased from 307 billion dollars in 2001 to about 530 billion dollars in 2011, an increase of 72 per cent. These figures are beside the human cost of war, the lives lost or forever altered. How the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have affected the US’s economic recession is a source of an ongoing debate. Economists disagree about whether war hurts or helps the nation’s economy.
Even before the War on Terror had begun, the 9/11 attacks had dealt a blow to America’s financial standing. The World Trade Centre Towers, the object of the attacks, housed more than 400 businesses, some of them most reputed financial firms. When the Twin Towers tumbled, about 8 billion dollars was lost in just the cost of the buildings. In New York City alone, loss of life and the destruction of infrastructure amounted to 14 billion dollars, according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index. The loss of equipment, infrastructure, utilities, injury, value of life and clean-up altogether amounts to about 58.80 billion dollars in 2016 prices, according to adjusted numbers published by The New York Times.
Cost of War on Terror
Operation Enduring Freedom was launched in October 2001 by the US, which continued for longer than a decade, including the War in Iraq (2003 to 2011) and the War in Afghanistan (2001 to 2014). When operations in Afghanistan ended at the end of 2014, the estimated cost for the 13-year War on Terror was stated to be 1.6 trillion dollars, according to the Congressional Research Service. Operation Enduring Freedom, the CRS said, cost 686 billion dollars and accounted for 43 per cent of the total cost of the War on Terror. Waging war in Afghanistan resulted in an annual cost of 195 billion dollars in 2008 and the cost came down to 95 billion dollars in 2014. Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched in March 2003. The War in Iraq cost around 815 billion dollars or 51 per cent of the 1.6 trillion dollars, according to the CRS. The CRS report says the cost of keeping a single American soldier there was 3.9 million dollars.
Efforts to stop ISIS from conducting its murderous activities is similarly costly. The coalition campaign against ISIS from August 2014 to October 2015 cost 11 million dollars every day or about 4.75 billion dollars in all, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace. The global economic cost of terrorism was highest at 51.51 billion dollars in 2001. The very next year, in 2002, it abruptly dropped by 85 percent to 7.65 billion dollars. Though the CRS has calculated the cost of war at 1.6 trillion dollars, many other experts tag it much higher. A 2013 study conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School on the War on Terror has calculated the total cost between 4 trillion and 6 trillion dollars. This study has included long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment as well as social and economic costs.
Sceptics and Doubters
There is no dearth of experts and intellectuals who forcefully argue that there is no direct co-relation between Americans’ fear of terrorism and the probability that they will die from it. Writer Justin Hienz says that an American has a one in 5000 chance of dying in a car accident every time he or she drives and a one in 3000 chance of struck by a lightening at some point in life. But while people drive every day without any fear or run through a rainstorm occasionally, the far less likely terrorist attack makes most Americans afraid. Since the potential for terrorism does not match the concern, Americans’ fear of terrorism is, by definition, irrational, according to Hienz.
Nonetheless, Hienz admits that the low possibility of terrorism is partly due to the work done by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, state and local law enforcement and others. He has ridiculed President Obama’s frequent reminder that more people drown in bathtubs than from terrorist attacks. He has termed the remark as insensitive.
Presidential contestants are also charged with exploiting the public fear to win votes. It is a familiar world
phenomenon that unscrupulous politicians create public fear and then presents a solution to claim that they alone can save the nation. Of course, there are genuine leaders who desire to protect the nation from saboteurs and anti-national elements. But some of the sceptics in the US use q quote by FBI Director James Comey’s that “one cannot trust people in power.” This quote is bandied around, without its reference to context, just like many self-proclaimed intellectuals do in Bharat.
The sceptics and doubters have not spared the mass media either. They allege that the media also exploits
people’s anxiety and the resultant sales and advertising income generated by such fear psychosis. They see a direct connection between the coverage of terrorism and popular media, maintaining that this is a profitable relationship.
But the fact remains that the true beneficiaries of terror are the terrorists. Slain terrorist Osama bin Laden had floated the concept of bleeding America into bankruptcy. His logic that the US would be spending billions of dollars to detect a 100-dollar worth homemade bomb is well-known. The Islamic State group is using the same policy to lure the US forces into a wider ground war. And terrorists use the fear factor to shake faith and trust in government, as is being done in Kashmir at present.
According to various chronicles, those adhering to the 9/11 Truth movement are called conspiracy
theorists who doubt the official and media accounts of the 9/11 attacks of 2001. They are also called “truthers,” which is considered a derogatory term by some. They challenge the commonly accepted account that Al-Qaeda
terrorists hijacked four airliners, crashed them into the Pentagon and New York’s Twin Towers and caused the horrendous tragedy.
They sift through the evidence about the attacks, analyse various stories about how the attacks may have happened and demand a new investigation into the entire chain of events. They also attribute different motives, including the use of the attacks as a justification to start wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to curtail civil liberties within the US. n