Six Years After 9/11
Magazine or Newspaper Article
September 11, 2007
Author: Rami Khouri, Senior Fellow, Middle East Initiative
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Dubai Initiative
BEIRUT -- This week’s sixth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States sees the top American military and diplomatic officials in Iraq speaking to the US Congress about American strategy in Iraq. The juxtaposition is noteworthy: Six years ago, a small band of Al-Qaeda militants attacked the United States and killed some 3000 people. Today, an army of over 160,000 American troops wages a war in Iraq that has seen tens of thousands of people killed since 2003. Neither policy makes much sense to anyone in the world, other than to those fanatics on both sides who decided to pursue these actions.
If we wish to assess our world six years after the 9/11 attacks, we should do so without perpetuating the crippling analytical mistakes that have been made on all sides -- but especially in the United States. The main mistake continues to be the capacity to view one's own country, values and policies as righteous, innocent and well-intentioned, while viewing the enemy as evil and dangerous. We've seen this attitude among Arabs and Israelis, Americans and Islamic militants, Turks and Kurds, Syrians and Lebanese and other such pairs of foes. To learn how we reached this point of ever-expanding conflict, in order to find a way out, we must transcend the habit of simply demonizing the other side while ignoring our own faults. Arabs, Israelis, Iranians and Americans, above all, must find a way to jointly examine the whole cycle of relationships, conditions and policies that have bound them together in an increasingly violent sequence of events in recent decades.
Neither 9/11 nor the Anglo-American war on Iraq occurred in a vacuum. Anyone who followed events in this region honestly and comprehensively would have been aware of the growth of militant Islamist groups since the 1980s. These groups were visibly motivated by, and targeted, three parallel foes: conservative Arab regimes, Israel, and the United States. The Al-Qaeda phenomenon has continued to spread in the form of small, local militant groups, because the conditions for its nourishment remain largely unchanged. The war in Iraq and the situation in Palestine-Israel only provide new incentives for the growth of Islamist and other radicals. We should expect more, not less, manifestations of Arab-Islamic extremism in the years ahead.
The same applies in the other direction: People throughout the Middle East should not be surprised if the United States, Israel, or others soon launch overt or covert attacks against Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas in Gaza. These are the four principal parties that the dominant Western-Israeli political elite has singled out as dangerous, and has designated for containment, punishment, or removal from the scene. Some form of assault on one or more of these parties is certain in the coming years.
There are three main reasons why the US-led West and Israel will not leave the Middle East alone to define itself: global reliance on Middle Eastern energy; the strong American commitment to Israeli security (in the form of superiority over the rest of the Middle East); and, continued anger and fear related to the 9/11 attacks and the Al-Qaeda phenomenon behind those attacks. American-British-Israeli extremism and militarism will certainly rear their heads in new forms in the months and years ahead.
Conditions for stability and prosperity throughout the Middle East are moving in two different directions. Small pockets of prosperity and stability are emerging in places like Dubai, western Amman, Doha, bits of Cairo, and other such isolated quarters that have joined the global economic train. Most of the rest of the region is polarized in the other direction: mass economic stagnation, mediocre educational standards, deteriorating environmental conditions, and limited ideological expression opportunities.
Consequently, political stress is a dominant condition throughout the Middle East. It will be made worse in the short run by three main issues: a) the continued treatment of Iraq as a problem of incompetent native Arabs (now called Sunnis and Shiites) who seem unable to grasp the gift of freedom that a benevolent American army has given them; b), the fantasy peace-making in Israel-Palestine directed by the American-Israeli refusal to deal with democratically-elected Hamas; and, c) applying a harsher standard to Arabs and Iranians than to Israel when applying UN resolutions and global treaties.
We cannot predict how and when mounting Arab-Iranian humiliation and a sense of dehumanization will manifest themselves, no more than we can say when the American-Israeli-led West will move against Iran, Syria or others. The sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, though -- like this year's 60th anniversary of the partition of Palestine resolution -- should remind us that traumatized people do not acquiesce passively in their agony and perplexity, but rather they fight back, often violently and irrationally. To fight and eliminate the militarism and terrorism of our age, we must first acknowledge that they do not spring onto the world stage whimsically and without cause.
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