In May of this year, when Osama Bin Laden was revealed to have been living in the tranquility of a suburb in Abbottabad, a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s premier military academy, it again brought to the surface underlying tensions between the Pakistani and American governments. The relationship between the militaries of the two countries is an old one, and the mutual suspicion is not new either. [...]
A decade ago, coming off of parallel research projects on what some were then calling “global civil society,” we responded to a request from the SSRC that we contribute to an online forum on the impact of 9/11 from our work on transnational contention. [...]
The rest of the world should be grateful to Western civilization for having given it the concept of human rights. There are some things we cannot do to others, not because it is God’s command, because we will go to hell or earn spiritual demerit, but because of certain capacities that people possess. We cannot harm others because this is what we minimally owe them. This realization does not entail the idea of human rights as supreme, something over and above all other values in every context and at all times. [...]
Ten years ago I argued in this space that under global capitalism, wars among major nations no longer made sense and that the turning point from a world where the great countries were permanently threatening each other with war to a world of international economic competition had been the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. War made sense while there were real winners and losers—while the winner could reduce the loser to a condition of slavery, or impose taxes on its new colony, or incorporate its territory. [...]
Was 9/11 a landmark event or a watershed event? I started posing this question to friends and students soon after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and urged them to keep it in mind as they watched the fallout over the passing years. [...]
It is a rare opportunity to be asked to reflect on an essay written a decade ago, now with the benefit of hindsight—of knowing what has happened, rather than anticipating what might happen—and with the tempting prospect of saying “I told you so.” But the truth is that the meaning of September 11 continues to recede just as the tenth anniversary arrives, or remains as difficult to fathom now as it was then. [...]
A decade of intense theorizing on the forms of violence and human degradation, on global connectivity, on demands that scholarship be done in “real time” . . . a sense of urgency . . . disciplines are aggressively asked to prove their relevance . . . a deep disquiet on the part of many radical scholars and public intellectuals that the American public is increasingly becoming complicit in projects of warfare. We ask, are our senses being so retrained now that we cannot see the suffering of others or hear their cries? [...]
Ten years have passed since G-Force Pakistan, a group of Pakistani hackers with a history of defacing websites, announced the formation of the Al-Qaeda Alliance on one of their hacked sites. Declaring that they stood by Al-Qaeda, the defacement said they would be attacking major US and British websites and giving confidential data to Al-Qaeda authorities. [...]
Ten years on, remembering 9/11 has become an event in and of itself.1 There is much to honor through memory—the loss of innocent lives, the sacrifice of the first responders, the coming together of communities, from the local to the global, against the terrorist attack on the United States. But there are also moments we […]
Reading what I wrote about Afghanistan a decade ago reminded me of how much my understanding of the role of war and hard power in upholding security for the nation and the world has changed. Actually, it seems clear to me that my views on Afghanistan back in 2001 were an exception to my general skepticism about Western interventions in the non-Western world, a view formed during ten years of opposition to the American role in the Vietnam War. [...]
Ten years ago, just days after the World Trade Center attack, Charles Tilly courageously put forth for the SSRC thirteen predictions about the attackers, their operations, and the consequences of their actions. Let me address his two last predictions: [...]
Ten years ago, the shock of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, DC, led me to reflect on the impact of secularism on modern developments in East Asia, especially in Japan, whose postwar economic transformation had become the model for the region. I wondered whether the Enlightenment project that inspired the secularism had been misunderstood and led to government policies that damaged the faiths and religions that most people still believed in. [...]
The famous French historian Fernand Braudel distinguished “macrohistory” from “microhistory.” The former is the history of significant political, economic, and social events, while the latter is the history of the proliferation of, and the slow changes in, people’s everyday lives. [...]
9/11 was a crime against the United States and a crime against humanity. Treating the criminals who perpetrated it as soldiers at war with the United States and the West only elevated their status and standing and began the “War on Terror.” The war was as ill formulated as it was executed. [...]
On November 12, 2001, I received a request from the German journal Kommune to send for their next issue, which was already in press, some reflections on the events of 9/11 and their implications for the future. The invitation was welcome; after all, what can an intellectual do in the face of such total destruction but try to construct some sense by using his most familiar tool, the word? [...]
Before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asia didn’t rank among the regional priorities of US foreign policy. Neither did ordinary Americans have much interest in this region. In 2000, taking part in a scholarly conference held at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, I dared to complain that, to my observation, the average US citizen often doesn’t have any idea about the very existence of Uzbekistan and other Central Asian “stans” or where they are located. [...]
The response I made some weeks after the attack on the twin towers by and large has been reinforced over the years. The core of my argument was the idea that the practices and language of security that were so pivotal to the response to the events of 9/11 risked marginalizing the broader context of power and interest that shapes these transnational issues. [...]
In 2001, before September 11, it seemed as though the world was moving inexorably toward a new humanitarian norm of military intervention in cases of massive human suffering, and in particular, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and large-scale human rights violations. Several reports were published in 2000 and 2001 that strengthened the case for humanitarian intervention. [...]
At the time of the 9/11 attacks, commentators trying to analyze Afghan support for Al-Qaeda put a great deal of emphasis on the Taliban’s sectarian orientation as “Deobandi.” Deobandis across South Asia were known for disapproval of what they took to be Sufi or Shia intercessory practices that might compromise monotheism; they also discouraged celebration of ostentatious life-cycle customs. [...]
May Day. It is the feast of pagans and socialists and the namesake of distress. We are ten years into the age of 9/11. George W. Bush is gone and Barack Obama is again casting his voice into the air. No lilting refrain. No poetry. The president is most intent on gravity, although the teleprompter is oddly placed so he cannot look us in the eye. Here is a familiar story retold. Once upon a time, there was a bad man, an enemy to even his own people, like Benedict Arnold or Rasputin or John Wayne Gacy. [...]
After nearly a decade of foreign military intervention and with a visibly deteriorating security situation that has affected most of the country over the last three to five years, the primary concern of Afghan women and their families remains physical security, and second to that, economic and food security. [...]
The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is upon us. The tragedy surely changed the global political landscape forever. The shockwaves it sent throughout the world, most notably through the United States, raised hopes that the tragedy would encourage probing of the causes of the event and help change Western governments’ foreign and military policies and adventures in the interest of reducing global tensions.
That has hardly happened. [...]
A decade ago, I wrote about the evolution of the concept of jihad and how a plastic signifier grew harder over time and assumed a status that became almost canonical. Ten years on, it seems that the contestation over the meaning of that signifier remains with us, and my suspicion is that it always will. […]
The 9/11 debate was centered on a single issue: Islam. Osama Bin Laden was taken at his own words by the West: Al-Qaeda, even if its methods were supposedly not approved by most Muslims, was seen as the vanguard or at least a symptom of “Muslim wrath” against the West, fueled by the fate of the Palestinians and by Western encroachments in the Middle East; and if this wrath, which has pervaded the contemporary history of the Middle East, has been cast in Islamic terms, it is because Islam is allegedly the main, if not the only, reference that has shaped Muslim minds and societies since the Prophet. [...]
One of my teachers, Roy Macridis, was fond of saying that public policy, in particular that which is relative to foreign policy, should be evaluated not for its objectives but for its consequences. The theme that especially grieved him was the Vietnam War, concerning which his pithy affirmation was that the United States had achieved exactly the opposite of what it had set out to accomplish.
Ten years ago, my concern was that the American response to the brutal attacks of 9/11 would bring about precisely the opposite of what was intended. [...]
Writing about 9/11 in 2001, right after it had happened, what I saw as an activating field, though not the origin, was the rapacious global political economy Western governments and firms have produced over decades and centuries. By “activating field,” I do not mean a cause, but a type of agency that enables, which might be one of several. This activating field has been one factor in many and diverse historic events—some emancipatory, such as the independence movements of the 1960s in Africa, and some brutal and murderous, such as the 9/11 attacks.
Being asked to write about what I see today, ten years later, I am struck by the emergence of yet another activating field—the urbanizing of wars and the associated global projection of even minor attacks. [...]
The most unpredictable result of the aftermath of 9/11 was surely the massive implosion of US global power.
A lot was of course predictable in the aftermath. It was clear that the US state would appoint itself the “global executioner,” as we suggested then, although less clear how this would work through. [...]
So politicized, so fraught, and so painfully disappointing, the process of memorialization of the events of 9/11, symbolically focused on Ground Zero in New York City, was in many ways entirely predictable from the first months after September 11. [...]
What kind of year was 2001?
American government figures and candidates for office can only answer this in one way—if, that is, they want to be seen as mainstream representatives of either of the main political parties. They have to begin by referring to the tragedies and traumas of 9/11 and move on to the challenges the country faced a decade ago in the aftermath of that horrific day. Leading members of a very different political organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), might be strongly tempted to respond to the query in a radically contrasting way, at least when talking among themselves. [...]
In my earlier essay posted on the SSRC website, I spoke of the “tragic predicament of a diaspora caught between deeply felt loyalties, at an historical moment not of its own making. Most British Muslims in the diaspora,” I commented, “witnessed the collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers on television, sitting in their living rooms, with the same helpless sense of horror as Western spectators. [...]
A decade has passed since September 11, 2001. On our side, there is still bickering over construction of the memorial site in Manhattan, but the war over the mosque, or cultural center, nearby has gone into remission. Memorial services focus on the victims rather than on the clash of civilizations that the attacks represented. This year, we can even celebrate with fanfare, since Osama Bin Laden is dead, dumped ceremoniously into the Indian Ocean.
But, on the other side, the conflict is not over. [...]