Why Bashar Al-Assad is Invoking 9/11 in the Syria War

The memory of the September 11 attacks is one of the strongest uniting forces for millions of Americans, regardless of their respective political stripes and affiliations. This was evident as many stood at Ground Zero in Manhattan Wednesday to commemorate and pay tribute to the victims of that fateful morning. Like the attack on Pearl Harbor, 9/11 has made an incredible impact on the world stage, as many nations continue to frame their own political narratives and battles in the context of the attacks.

One such country is Syria. President Bashar Al-Assad has been embroiled in a civil war since 2011, with groups he accuses of being part or inspired by the infamous Al-Qaeda network. While there is certainly some truth to this notion, Assad’s rhetoric in the  past year or so has clearly implied that all those who oppose him, are the same type of people who were responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent civilians on 9/11.

Assad is not the first leader to use this tactic in order to legitimize his brutal policies. Syria's neighbors in the west, Israel and Egypt, have relied on the perceived threat of Islamist terrorism to carry out their own repressive actions. The pioneer of this technique, of course, is the U.S. government, whose ongoing “war on terror” was born immediately after the 9/11 attacks and is drenched with metaphors and symbols that are meant to legitimize any use of force whenever and wherever.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration's War on Terror strategy was not too hard to decipher: You’re either with us or against us. This skewed view was used as cover for many of the Bush administration's illegal laws and policies, the war in Iraq being the most blatant example.

An example of this short-sighted strategy was the term “Axis of Evil”, coined by George W. Bush’s speechwriter David Frum. The Axis of Evil included three countries: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. The term was used to symbolize the threat the world faced in the post-9/11 era and warn Americans about the “reckless” actions these countries were capable of.

A myriad of problems exist with this generalization. First, none of these countries had a role or had a citizen who was involved in the attacks on the Twin Towers. The majority of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, a nation that has immense investment in the United States and vice versa. Hence it was not so surprising when members of the Bin Laden family and other Saudi nationals were flown out of the country shortly after the attacks had occurred.

Second, all three countries have had a hostile but different relationship with the US. To lump all these countries together was a harsh disservice to the history of each country’s relationship with the world’s only superpower. The neocons seemed to have forgotten that pitting Iran and Iraq together displays extreme ignorance of recent history. The two countries fought a brutal war in the '80s, in which the U.S. under Ronald Reagan relentlessly supported the Saddam Hussein.

Other governments like Israel's swiftly jumped on this bandwagon as well. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon successfully portrayed his country's own oppressive occupation of the Palestinian Territories as a necessary step in Israel's fight against Palestinian resistance groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. However, these groups have yet to orchestrate an attack against any country in the Western Hemisphere and have distanced their goals from those of Al-Qaeda. This was once again a display of sheer lies being fed into an already problematic narrative.

Assad’s obsession with using the memory of the 9/11 victims for his own political agenda is deplorable. Yet it seems to be working. Most nations, including the United States, expect little or worse from the rebels who are being funded by the U.S. government and its allies in the Gulf, and frankly cannot stomach another war in the Middle East.

The Obama administration is looking increasingly foolish as it tries to arm Al-Qaeda inspired groups to overthrow the regime, the very people successive U.S. governments have been waging a war against for more 12 years. Rhetorically, Assad has taken a page from the United States' playbook, and this time around it is he who is using the specter of the 9/11 attacks to appalling effect.