In case to the world’s third – and perhaps the most significant – 9/11 of the three discussed in this essay, it is perhaps as evident to narrate what happened as it is complex to fathom why did it occur, and more relevantly, what led to it and, above all, what does it portend for the future.
The first 9/11 shook the world by reminding the representatives of its main religions of the fundamental Vedantic premise that divinity is inherent in human nature and all paths lead ultimately unto one spiritual fountainhead. The second offered mankind a unique weapon to fight oppression and injustice – the weapon of Satyagraha.
The third brought the world back to Square One in the game of Snakes and Ladders. It heralded the revival of Your Jaw for My Tooth retributive principle of justice traditionally sanctified by lex talionis – the age-old law of retaliation that a punishment inflicted on the wrong-doer should correspond in degree and kind to the offense. It is exemplified by the oft-quoted Biblical dictum – Matthew 5:38 – a tooth for tooth and an eye for an eye.
One step forward two steps back, has, unfortunately, been the theme-song of world history in its march from primitivism to enlightened progress. And few events in World history illustrate this dictum as does the third 9/11, and all what followed it.
First, the event itself
that made 9/11 a household term.
On the crystal blue morning of Tuesday, the eleventh day of September 2001, nineteen men turned four commercial airplanes with their passengers into something the world could never dream of, namely, weapons of mass terror attacking world famous sites of New York and Washington D. C., killing more than 3,000 people. The brutal suddenness of what happened startled the whole world. Very few of our generation will ever forget watching on their TV screens the day-long images of the Twin Towers ablaze.
That Creeping Horror
The reaction of those who saw the Twin Towers collapse on September 11, 2001, was spontaneous indignation. Throughout the day, the anguished voices of television news anchors cracked and faltered, and the next morning's newspaper headlines were atypically emotional: "A Creeping Horror," thundered The New York Times. The San Francisco Examiner summed up the common anger when it simply howled "BASTARDS!"
The hijackers in the September 11 attacks were 19 men affiliated to al-Qaeda, and, surprisingly, 15 of the 19 were citizens of Saudi Arabia, supposedly a very close political ally of the United States. Two hijackers were from United Arab Emirates while one each hailed from Lebanon and Egypt, which too were declaredly US associates.
Meticulous preparations had gone into planning the attack. The first hijackers to arrive in the United States were Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. They settled in the San Diego area in January 2000. They were followed by three more hijacker-pilots, Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah early in the summer of 2000 to undertake flight training in south Florida to spearhead the proposed project. The fourth hijacker-pilot, Hani Hanjour, joined them in San Diego in December 2000. The rest of the "muscle hijackers" arrived in the spring and early summer i.e., only some months before the deadline.
The hijackers were organized into four teams, each led by a pilot-trained hijacker with four "muscle hijackers" who were trained to help subdue the pilots, passengers, and crew. The hijackers flew two of those planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. Both the towers collapsed within two hours. The hijackers also intentionally crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. They had intended to pilot the fourth hijacked jet, United Airlines Flight 93, into the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. However, the plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after its passengers possibly attempted to take control of the jet from the hijackers.
Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks, including all 227 civilians and 19 hijackers aboard the four planes.
After coordinating all intelligence reports it was soon established that the 9/11 attack was the handiwork of al-Qaeda – literally, the base – the terrorist global militant Islamist organization founded sometime in 1988 or 1989 by Osama bin Laden during the Soviet War in Afghanistan to avenge attacks by infidels.
The first American retaliatory action was the attack on Afghanistan to root out “Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime”. Don’t forget, dear readers, not the faintest protest was whimpered when in March 2001, just six months before the September 11th bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, the same Taliban destroyed ancient statues of the Buddha called Bamiyan in an attempt to cleanse the country of Afghanistan of what they perceived as Hindu heresy.
This was soon followed by the American action in Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein after elaborate efforts to convince the world that his regime possessed weapons of mass destruction, among other things. The Taliban in Iraq were ousted, Saddam Hussein arrested and later executed, but no weapon of mass destruction – none whatsoever – were found in Iraq. Nevertheless, the American apprehension of larger war and the terrorist threat to the American homeland continued unabated.
The United States avenged the death of some 3000 killed on 9/11 by killing at least 3500 Afghan civilians in the very first ten months of the war in Afghanistan which began on October 7, 2001. Over 2000 soldiers from different countries, (1,887 of them Americans) paid with their lives in Iraq war from March 2003 until January 31, 2005. As per conservative estimates some 10,000 people have so far died simply because the United States cannot afford to take any action of any sort against the known terrorists and the country of their origin which everyone knows is Saudi Arabia.
Imagine Bandar bin Sultan, the long-serving Saudi Ambassador to Washington D.C, (just two years short of the 24-year record of his Soviet counterpart, Anatoly Dobrynin) calling on Colin Powell, the American Secretary of State shortly afterwards to apologize on behalf of his country for the erring, misguided Saudi youths involved in yesterday’s indescribably gruesome happenings. Surely Powell knew as well as Prince Bandar how the USA would have reacted but for its pathetically helpless dependence on Saudi crude to sustain the American economy.
Ever since 9/11, “decimating” Al Qaeda has been, and is likely to continue in the years to come, to be the leitmotif of American foreign policy.
Admittedly, al-Qaeda’s operating environment, today, is vastly different from the one in which it launched its most notorious operation, the 9/11 terror attacks. Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s founder and charismatic leader, was killed by United States Navy Seals in Pakistan in May 2, 2011 in the dare-devil Operation Neptune Spear mounted by Navy Seals on behalf of the CIA. The raid on bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, discovered after meticulous espionage, was launched from Afghanistan without caring to let Pakistan know about it.
And that’s not all. Three brutal Middle East dictatorships came tumbling down by unarmed civil-resistance tactics actively encouraged by the CIA. Drone attacks within Pakistan have eliminated many of Al Qaeda’s most experienced commanders, including, most recently, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman.
The war however against terrorism is far from over. Terrorist organizations have sprouted the world over. Have you read the formidably long state-wise list of terrorists groups in India alone? Would you be surprised to know that there are 32 terrorists’ outfits operating in the State of Jammu and Kashmir?
Now let’s examine briefly the ‘why’ of this menacing phenomenon and the basic source thereof.
The Clash of Civilizations
And in any such exercise the first name that comes up is Samuel Huntington, the eminent Harvard political scientist who supposedly introduced in the lexicon of current debate on international conflicts in post-Cold War world, the controversial concept of Clash of Civilizations. He enunciated it in a 1992 lecture delivered at that citadel of American conservatism, the American Enterprise Institute headquartered (where else?) in Washington, D.C. Soon it found a place in as article in 1993 the columns of the prestigious Foreign Affairs as a much-debated article entitled "The Clash of Civilizations?". It was supposed to be a refutation of Francis Fukuyama's then popular thesis, The End of History and the Last Man. Huntington later expanded his thesis in 1996 in the much-talked-less-read book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
Some researchers point out that the phrase – clash of civilizations – was not Huntington’s own coinage. It had been used earlier by Bernard Lewis in an article in the September 1990 issue of The Atlantic Monthly titled "The Roots of Muslim Rage”. In any case, you cannot think of the forbidding possibility of another major international conflict without reference to Huntington and his clash of civilizations thesis.
Today, the two main civilizations pitted against each other are the Western civilization and Muslim civilization with their accoutrement of mutually exclusive attributes, beliefs and stakes. Western civilization comprises of North America, Western and Central Europe, Australia and Oceania. And the Muslim civilization in its various shades consists of the Muslim world of the Greater Middle East (excluding Armenia, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Georgia, Israel, Malta and South Sudan), northern West Africa, Albania, Bangladesh, Brunei, Comoros, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Maldives.
Why Will they Clash
Huntington identifies half a dozen substantial sources of clash between the Western and Muslim civilizations
These two civilizations are fundamentally differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition, and, most important, conflicting religions. These fundamental differences are the product of centuries, which are most unlikely to disappear soon.
The world is shrinking geographically to become a smaller place. Consequently, the interactions across the world are constantly increasing, and these interactions highlight both the commonalities and differences within these civilizations.
Due to the economic modernization and social change, people are getting severed from longstanding local identities. Religion has come to replace this gap, which provides a basis for identity and commitment that transcends national boundaries and becomes an adhesive force to unite these civilizations and their adherents.
The growth of what Huntington calls “civilization-consciousness” is enhanced by a development unique to our times. A West, at the peak of its power, confronts non-Western countries that increasingly have the desire, the will and the resources to shape the world in non-Western ways.
Political and economic differences far outweigh the cultural similarities.
Economic regionalism is on the increase. And a successful and effective economic regionalism tends to reinforce civilization-consciousness and make it stronger.
Real Face of Islam
The most forthright and intellectually honest statement of the religio-political tenets of Islam as they impact the contemporary world and promote conflict thereby is in Bassam Tibi's study, The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder. Prof. Tibi, a Sunni Muslim is settled in Germany and is no fire-spitting ideologue of Islam nor a saber-rattling politician but a respected academician at the University of Gottingen. His views, therefore, merit serious consideration. The issue he raises has a deep contemporary relevance: can Islamic nation states integrate themselves in the new world secular order? Can Islam, in other words, exist at terms of peace and amity in its confrontation with modernity and all that it stands for?
Tibicites the oft-quoted Sura al Baqarah (2/256) from the Qur'an: "[There is] no compulsion in religion". And yet Islam's record in tolerating other faiths – faiths opposed to its own tenets – is dismal indeed. He contradicts himself soon thereafter by complaining that "Contemporary Muslims feel that the West has deprived Islam of its core function, that is, to lead humanity". If Islam passionately believes in the conversion of the whole world to its faith, where then is the scope for tolerance? Tibi states Islam's claim to universality in unambiguous terms:
The Qur'an is based on a verbal inspiration passed on to the Prophet (Mohammed) as the final version of God to all mankind. In dar al-Islam/ the territory of Islamic civilization, Allah's rules are expected to be strictly followed, and dar al-Islam is thus identical with dar-al-Salam/ the abode of peace. Muslims are expected to spread their religion through da'wa/ mission, which entails the obligation to enhance their territoriality as the abode of people. This effort in the pursuit of peace, that is, spreading the true religion of peace all over the world is called jihad, which means "exertion" in contrast to the usual translation into Western languages as "holy war". It is simply an opening (futuhat) of the world to Islam aimed at encompassing all humanity, and the effort is based on the belief that the message of the Prophet Mohammad received from Allah constitutes the true religion for all humanity. (Italics added for emphasis).
Obviously, the true religion for all humanity is the only true religion, declaring by implication all other religions as untrue, and hence, unworthy of adoption. Tibi further elaborates:
Jihad is simply a religious duty Muslims must fulfill in carrying out Allah's message. The da'wa/ call to Islam, like Christian evangelism, is supposed to be peaceful. But if the people to whom Muslims bring the message of Islam do not submit to it voluntarily ("Islam means submission to God"), Muslims are entitled to use force in defending the da'wa against the resistance of the unbelievers. This struggle is called qital/ defense. Again, Muslims' use of force is not considered to be a harb/ war, but rather a righteous reaction to the unbelievers' hindering of the spread of the da'wa as a call to Islam. (Italics added for emphasis).
Don't, dear readers, be alarmed, henceforth, when you hear the calls for jihad. It is merely something that the faithful do to discharge their righteous duty in response to Allah's call. Nor be perturbed when Taliban or the likes of it, unleash reign of terror. Instead, listen to Tibi's eloquent defense:
In the Islamic understanding, Muslims by definition do not fight hurab/ wars. Islamic jihad is never an aggression but rather an effort to spread Islam as the true religion through enhancing of dar al-Islam/ Islamic civilization by futuhat, understood as an opening of the world to dar al-salam/ the abode of peace.
All that the Pakistani regulars and foreign mercenaries were doing, therefore, on the Indian side of LOC in Kashmir in the Kargil operations were merely extending dar al-salam at altitudes as high as 17,000 ft above sea level. They were merely engaged in the noble "effort to spread Islam" – an effort that the unbelievers grossly misunderstood. The Indian charge that Pakistan is indulging in a proxy war against India is thus untenable. As Tibi explains:
Only unbelievers fight hurub/ wars in the conventional sense of the word as an unjust aggression. (Italics added)
Tibi speaks for the true believers that number about 1.3 billion i.e. roughly one-fifth of the people inhabiting the planet. The sacred duty of these people constituting a majority of the population of 52 sovereign states, including our devout neighbour Pakistan, is to work for hakimiyyat Allah/ Allah's rule through enhancing of dar al-Islam/ Islamic civilization, revealed to an-nabi/ the messenger.
If the above vision of Islam and its historic role is accepted, one doesn't have to do much searching to identify the source of ‘civilizational’ conflict in the Indian subcontinent. In this respect, Jinnah played only a catalytic role. Perhaps Gandhi's arrival on the scene to give India's freedom struggle a new vision and direction only delayed the conflict which, as per Tibi's above-discussed analysis, is inevitable wherever there are believers in dar al-Islam.
If the true believers are imbued with this faith, what chances do you foresee of avoiding future clashes?
Core State and Fault Line Conflicts
In Huntington's view, inter-civilization conflict manifests itself in two forms: fault line conflicts and core state conflicts. Fault line conflicts are on a local level and occur between adjacent states belonging to different civilizations or within states that are home to populations from different civilizations. Core state conflicts, on the other hand, are on a global level between the major states of different civilizations. Core state conflicts can arise out of fault line conflicts when core states become involved.
Huntington has had no dearth of supporters and critics of his central theme. Let’s hear his critics.
Edward Said, the renowned Palestinian–American literary theoretician, better known for his book Orientalism, issued a response to Huntington's thesis in his "The Clash of Ignorance". Said argues that Huntington's categorization of the world's fixed "civilizations" omits the dynamic interdependency and interaction of culture. A longtime critic of the Huntingtonian paradigm, and an outspoken proponent of Arab issues, Edward Said also claimed that not only is the Clash of Civilizations thesis a "reductive and vulgar notion, but it is also an illustration of the purest invidious racism, a sort of parody of Hitlerian science directed today against Arabs and Muslims.”
Noam Chomsky has criticized the concept of the clash of civilizations as just being a new justification for the United States "for any atrocities that they wanted to carry out," which was required after the Cold War as the Soviet Union was no longer a viable threat.
The Alliance of Civilizations (AOC) initiative was proposed at the 59th General Assembly of the United Nations in 2005 by the President of the then Spanish Government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and co-sponsored by the Turkish Prime Minister RecepTayyip Erdogan. The initiative is intended to galvanize collective action across diverse societies to combat extremism, to overcome cultural and social barriers between mainly the Western and predominantly Muslim worlds, and to reduce the tensions and polarization between societies which differ in religious and cultural values. Will the project bear fruit? The future alone will tell.
We cannot, also, wish away that the continuing Western stake in the Arab World – as much of the United States as of the European Union – is two-fold: as a source of petroleum supply and a good market of armament sales from the West. Ideally, the Western powers would like the crude producing Arab countries to spend their export earning in maintaining the vulgarly luxurious life styles of the rulers and importing weapons – whether they need them or not – to sustain the armament production of the Western armament producers. However the rogue elements in this ideal picture are the awakened and awakening Arab masses. Have you forgotten those who gathered in Tahrir Square to demand a say in how things are managed? To fit their aspirations in the current equations will inevitably see clashes.
What is in store for the world? Well, your guess is as good as mine.