THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
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17 Years Since 9/11
Liam Duffy, Director of SINCE 9/11, looks at where we are 17 years after September 11, 2001
17 years ago, the most devastating terrorist attack in history unfolded on live television. What began as a clear, bright and otherwise unassuming September day, would see the murder of 2,977 innocent people before lunchtime, and the course of history permanently altered by nightfall. While the debris from the 9/11 attacks would burn at Ground Zero for 100 days, the earth-shattering consequences of the day are still felt around the world almost two decades later.
It is difficult to overstate the immense and terrible impact of 9/11. The immediate loss was catastrophic, with almost 3000 dead and billions of dollars worth of physical damage. Still, in 2018, barely a week passes without the news of another first responder succumbing to illness caused by inhaling toxins working among the twisted wreckage of the World Trade Center, or the remains of loved ones finally being identified years later.
But what of the enduring international repercussions? The days following saw Article 5 of NATO (the principle of collective defence) invoked for the first time in the history of the most powerful military alliance to ever exist. The expiration of the ultimatum to the Taliban rulers in Kabul to hand over Bin Laden led to a multinational invasion of Afghanistan and the longest war in US history – which shows no signs of waning 17 years later.
Around the world, a global movement which was just a few hundred strong with pre-9/11 al-Qaeda, now numbers in the tens of thousands, with dozens of different groups inflicting misery on local populations from West Africa to the Philippines and many places in between.
While the core leadership of al-Qaeda was decimated by drone strikes and special forces raids in the years following 9/11, the numbers of adherents to the ideology they exposed to the world through the attacks has grown exponentially.
Nor does the decline of ISIS indicate the end of the threat. Before, we have seen the optimism of the Arab Spring and a period of relative quiet during the War on Terror suggest that the movement was on the backfoot, before sectarianism in Iraq and a brutal conflict in Syria combined to create the perfect storm for a Jihadist revival in the Levant. A revival which attracted thousands of recruits from around the world, including some 850 Britons and up to 300 Americans.
It is clear that defeating the ideology which was behind 9/11 and was able to mobilise so many thousands around the world will take a generational, cross-societal and international effort. While defence and law enforcement have played the most visible role in the War on Terror, undermining the grievances and ideology behind the violence is something which everyone can play their part in.
My own organisation, SINCE 9/11, is using education to fight back against the challenge of extremism, encouraging difficult conversations on terrorism and promoting democracy and tolerance in schools around the UK. We have also begun allowing young people to hear the firsthand accounts of 9/11 and 7/7 terror attack survivors, vital not only as the memory of these atrocities fades, but also crucial in directly countering the extremist notion which denies the innocence of victims.
H.G. Wells wrote that ‘history is a race between education and catastrophe’. This was never more evident than on the morning of September 11th 2001. With this in mind, every one of us can arm ourselves with the knowledge to challenge, undermine and disrupt extremism wherever it rears its head, and ensure that never again is catastrophe allowed to win the race.
SINCE 9/11 is a London-based educational charity established on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The organisation hosts a piece of World Trade Center steel in London’s Olympic Park as a public commemorative artwork and works in schools across the country. Learn more at www.since911.com or connect on social media: @since911uk