Some moments in history stand out from the rest. For me, and much of my generation, 9/11 is a critical moment in time that we’ll never forget, one that took the lives of 2,977 innocent people, brought terrorism to our TV screens, forced us to become more politically aware, and fundamentally changed the world and our perspectives of it.
The horrific events of a decade ago have had a terrible and incomparable impact on the victims, their families, New Yorkers, and Americans. But the effects of the attack have stretched far beyond U.S. borders.
With a death toll of 67, 9/11 claimed more British lives than any other terrorist attack, including the Lockerbie bombing and the 7/7 London attacks that would follow in 2005. This had a significant impact on British families, the national psyche, and the country’s subsequent response to terrorism.
The days that followed 9/11 introduced a new lexicon to the West: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, terrorism, jihad, and, unfortunately, Islam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, all became buzzwords in the media. With their meanings intertwined and misunderstood, Islam wrongly became synonymous with extremism and terror. It is difficult to measure the endurance of these popular prejudices, but the immediate assumption this July that the tragic attack in Norway was an Al-Qaeda plot indicates the legacy of 9/11, and that the link between Islam, extremism, and terror is still firmly entrenched in Europe and beyond.
Consequently, 9/11 has changed the lives of nearly 3 million British Muslims in the UK, many of whom have experienced victimization and alienation from society as a result of Islamophobia. According to author Zabia Malik, since 9/11 half of the UK’s mosques and Islamic centers have suffered at least one attack. Meanwhile there are countless examples of Muslims experiencing verbal and physical abuse after 9/11. British Muslims have also been forced to confront an identity crisis over the past 10 years, as government policies in the Middle East and social prejudice has demanded they choose whether their loyalties lie with Britain or Islam.
As a direct result of 9/11, the UK has also been at war for the majority of the past decade. The human cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq far outweighs 9/11. Britain has lost 179 servicemen and women in Iraq, and so far almost 400 in the continuing conflict in Afghanistan. The disproportionate loss of life to British, American, and other allied forces, in addition to the huge civilian death tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan, has prompted many to question whether it is really worth it. Furthermore, Iraq, which cost the UK around $14.32 billion, and Afghanistan, which is costing over $6 billion annually, are unaffordable wars which have drained the British economy and contributed, in part, to the current economic crisis.
British faith in the government has also eroded substantially in the decade since the Al-Qaeda attacks. The decision by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with President George W. Bush and follow the U.S. blindly into war without sufficient evidence and against the tide of public opinion seriously damaged his personal reputation and that of the Labour Party. In addition, the assault on civil liberties, from allowing foreign nationals to be jailed in the UK without charge or trial to permitting the U.S. to render British nationals from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay has led to anger and ambivalence from the British public and threatened democratic liberties under the guise of protection.
Despite the horror of that September day, in some ways 9/11 has changed the world for the better: by stepping up security; removing the Taliban from formal power; raising political and religious awareness; scrutinizing the actions taken by the government; and uniting countries against the common threat of terrorism.
But the terrible attack and the hasty decisions made in its immediate aftermath have had a profoundly damaging impact across the globe. As commemorative stories and specials abound in the media this weekend, it is important to remember the victims and heroes of 9/11, reflect on its global impact, and learn the lessons of the past decade.
Photo Credit: Basykes