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September 11, 2001 - 

How and Why it Happened? 

Suresh Jaura


South Asian Outlook e-Monthly would like to express our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those lost in the tragic events of September 11.


September 11, 2001 will mark the day that shook the confidence of many Americans.


A day that changed the world! A day that will divide our times in two parts – pre-September 11 and post-September 11.


It is the first time in history that four American planes full of innocent civilians were hijacked on American soil by persons who had been living in the US and took flying lessons from its schools. Two of the planes slammed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, filled with more innocent civilians, one hit Pentagon and the last one crashed in Pennsylvania.


“The objective of the attack appears to have been a psychological humiliation of the United States, an objective achieved by the evacuation of the White House and the shutting down of all government buildings, national monuments and airports in the country”, wrote a columnist.


The attacks hit not only these buildings but also were symbolic -  having targeted the American Economy, the American Defence and above all the American psyche. Once for all America’s feeling of being invulnerable was shattered.


Until then, terrorist attacks were mostly happening in other parts of the world. Less than a dozen of these had hit America in the last 30 years but none of these was as brutal as the one on September 11. Thousands of innocent lives were lost for no fault of theirs but that they lived, worked or were visiting America.


When such a catastrophe strikes a nation, it is right to think of how and why it happened.


As for the how: Wesley Wark, a professor of international relations specializing in intelligence services at the University of Toronto, called the attacks the worst intelligence failure in history. He immediately compared them to the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but he said there was one important difference.


"In 1941 [the United States] had a handful of agencies and a small budget. Nowadays they have the largest intelligence community in the world with a budget of about $30-billion (U.S.)."


Dana Rohrabacher, a Californian Republican, said, “It’s probably the biggest intelligence blunder in any of our lifetimes”.


As for why: President Bush’s famous words -  either you are with us or against us – have all but labelled anybody and everybody (who wishes to discuss why this happened... what makes these group of people  ‘terrorists’ in addition to their hatred of America and the American way of life) a traitor or a dissenter. Dissent is not to be tolerated.


The main criticism offered is that these dissenters express a view of "moral equivalence", which is allegedly a belief that, as a result of America's previous foreign policy, we "had it coming". Critics also call this "the cycle of violence" argument or "blame America first" traitorous to say the least.


An example of the type of argument that is being criticised is an article by John Pilger in Britain's New Statesman: “Far from being the terrorists of the world, the Islamic peoples have been its victims - that is, the victims of American fundamentalism, whose power, in all its forms, military, strategic and economic, is the greatest source of terrorism on earth...”


“It is legitimate to argue that US policy was a possible cause of this attack, but it is morally abhorrent to most people to argue that we therefore deserved this, or that such a murderous response was somehow inevitable”, writes Brendan Nyhan in an article titled Suppressing Dissent At Home, Fighting for Freedom Abroad?


It is crucially important that we do not let democratic debate be silenced, as some commentary has implicitly encouraged and even directly advocated.


Some words from another time are worth considering: "We have certain standards of life that we believe are best for us. We do not ask other nations to discard theirs but we do wish to preserve ours...We reflect on no one in wanting immigrants who will be assimilated into our ways of thinking and living." -- Calvin Coolidge, newspaper column, Dec. 13, 1930

- Suresh Jaura
Publisher & Managing Editor