Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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1.1.3 US responses to 9/11

The international impacts of 9/11 are obvious, when seen from the vantage point of 2008.

Since that date, as the US academic Phillip Bobbitt observes:

The United States has invoked the war power of the US constitution against terrorists. In an unprecedented action, American allies endorsed action on the basis of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which provides that an attack on one member of the Alliance shall be treated as an attack on all. The US Congress, the British Parliament, and other governing bodies have passed various statutes aimed at making the prosecution and detection of terrorists easier. The United States has reorganised its bureaucracy and authorised vast new funding for fighting terrorism. Coalitions led by the US and the UK have invaded and conquered Iraq in a campaign to prevent the proliferation of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] (among other reasons) and the UN has sanctioned, for the first time, the invasion of a member state, Afghanistan, in order to suppress terrorism. Most of the senior leadership of al-Qaeda has been killed or detained. Nearly 3400 of its fighters are either dead or in prison. Two thirds of the persons known to intelligence agencies at the outset of this war have been sequestered”.

(Bobbit, 2008, p13–15)

Yet at the same time, as Bobbitt also observes,

... al-Qaeda has continued to strike: indeed there has been a drumbeat of violence, and far from abating since the invasion of Iraq, it has picked up momentum. Since 9/11, al-Qaeda and its network of affiliates have carried out countless attacks. [...] Al-Qaeda today is a sophisticated operation – with a sophisticated propaganda machine based in Pakistan, a secondary but independent base in Iraq, and an expanding reach in Europe. [...] According to data released by the US Central Intelligence Agency in the spring of 2006, there were 11,111 terrorist incidents in 2005, in which more than 14,600 civilian non-combatants were killed. Figures in the [US] State Department’s annual report on terrorism disclosed a 400 percent increase compared with 2004.

(ibid, p15-16)

Of course, terrorism is not a new phenomenon. Before 9/11, as Tony Judt of New York University observes:

No one who has lived in Spain, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Japan, the UK, or France, not to speak of more habitually violent lands, could have failed to notice the omnipresence of terrorists—using guns, bombs, chemicals, cars, trains, planes, and much else—over the course of the twentieth century and beyond. The only thing that has changed in recent years is the unleashing in September 2001 of homicidal terrorism within the United States. Even that was not wholly unprecedented: the means were new and the carnage unexampled, but terrorism on US soil was far from unknown over the course of the twentieth century.

(Judt, 2008)

Open and liberal modern societies, when attacked by terrorists, are sometimes tempted to respond in illiberal ways. This is why, as you’ll see later in the course, the UK has to debate carefully the trade off between the security needs of society and the civil liberties of individuals.

Activity 1 The lesser evil: Political ethics in an age of terror

Now read an extract from the Canadian academic Michael Ignatieff’s book, The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. Consider the following questions:

  • according to Ignatieff, what may ultimately render terrorism useless as a means of coercion?
  • to what extent can terrorism be considered a dangerous threat?

Click to view The lesser evil: Political ethics in an age of terror [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

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