By John Wight
I was living in America on 9/11 — in Los Angeles to be exact — and will never forget the palpable fear and confusion which reigned in its immediate aftermath. Streets normally teeming with traffic were eerily quiet. The world-famous Sunset Strip was completely deserted, its bars and restaurants closed and its flashing neon lights now reminiscent of an abandoned theme park.
During those initial few days immediately afterwards shock not rage or anger predominated, as America tried to get to grips with the enormity of what had just taken place and why.
Modern history did not begin with 9/11, but it did change its course in ways the men of war who used it as a pretext for the most prolonged and destructive military onslaught since World War II did not anticipate. For instead of achieving the domination and mastery of the Middle East and Central Asia, as intended, the wars unleashed after 9/11 ended in the recent humiliating retreat and panicked and shambolic evacuation from Afghanistan.
Such a far cry from the bombastic speeches and pronouncements which spilled from the mouths of George W Bush and his neocon friends twenty years ago, relishing, all of them, the prospect of unleashing bombs and missiles on Afghanistan and Iraq not with justice but revenge in mind.
It was not as if they weren’t warned and warned mightily of the consequences of what they had in store for a world they mistakenly and hubristically believed was theirs to control. As a footsoldier with the US anti-war movement, which I joined not long after 9/11, I along with countless others from every part of the world — men and women of every race, creed and color — marched and rallied against the invasion of Afghanistan and the now impending war on Iraq as if the future depended on it, which it did.
It was one of the most inspiring and also tragic periods I have ever lived through — the inspiration of seeing millions of people in every corner of the world coming together as one in a desperate if futile attempt to drown out the growing drumbeat to war with a cry of peace. That we failed was a tragedy measured in the shedding of an ocean blood of the innocent over the two decades that have elapsed since, and which continues to this day.
9/11 was an act of terror against mostly innocent civilians for the crimes committed not by the powerful in their name but by the powerful in the name of the powerful. The hatred that fueled it was a long time in the making, and it was produced by decades of Western foreign policy beforehand. When it comes right down to it, the salient lesson to be drawn from 9/11 is a simple one. It is that the best way to stop terrorism is to stop committing acts of terrorism — and that the best way to ensure ‘your’ children are safe is to make sure that ‘their’ children are safe.
When, for example, then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright opined during her infamous 1996 interview with Lesley Stahl, on the US current affairs show 60 Minutes, that the ‘We think price is worth it’, when asked about the deaths of half a million Iraqi children as a result of US sanctions, she paved the way for 9/11. The unending oppression of the Palestinians with the connivance of the West paved the way for 9/11. The propping up of unpopular dictatorial regimes in the Middle East paved the way for 9/11.
This, to be clear, is not in any way to defend this terrorist attack or the barbarians responsible. It is instead to understand it in the interests of future generations if the right lessons are to be learned from it — lessons required in the cause of forestalling the possibility of anything like it ever happening again.
A catastrophically misplaced sense of exceptionalism, a mistaken belief that might is right and that Western cultural values are by extension universal, has since 9/11 been the underlying cause of carnage and misery on a truly biblical scale. Wars unleashed in the name of democracy, human rights and security, but in truth in the name of imperialism, hegemony and domination, have killed and displaced millions, produced failed states, and given succor to Salafi-jihadism. Heroin-production and corruption not new roads and women’s education is the real story of Afghanistan over two decades of Western military occupation, while ISIS rather than democracy is the most significant outcome of the occupation of Iraq.
Despite such a grim balance sheet, the direction taken by the West after 9/11 is still defended by its truest of true believers. Like one of those Japanese soldiers who only emerged from the jungle decades after the war was over, out of the jungle of his own madness has come Tony Blair to publicly defend the slaughter of which he was a prime mover in its wake. Not one second of justice has he or George W Bush ever faced for their role in the heinous crimes committed against the peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq et al. at their direction.
But no matter because being self-declared religious men, there still must be a voice somewhere deep inside warning them of the justice that awaits them in hell.
There Bin Laden and al-Baghdadi will be waiting to greet them — not as foes but as kindred spirits.
John Wight is an author and political commentator based in Scotland.
(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)