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

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2.2 Bush and Blair on the post-9/11 terrorist threat

Terrorism has been described as being ‘a weapon of the weak, turned to out of desperation, because better and more direct means of achieving objectives, which are invariably set high, are not available’ (Freedman, 2007, p327). Others, especially Western policy makers, see terrorism only as being a violent expression of anger and hatred.

US President George Bush

On 20 September 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush declared the attack to be ‘an act of war’ in an address to Congress. For him this meant the US and its allies had to embark on a ‘war on terror’ in response to the attacks – and the likelihood of further attacks – waged on the US. Bush’s impassioned speech, delivered very soon after the event, reflected the global revulsion sparked by the attack.

The terrorists' directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans, and make no distinction among military and civilians, including women and children. This group and its leader – a person named Osama bin Laden – are linked to many other organisations in different countries, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries. They are recruited from their own nations and neighborhoods and brought to camps in places like Afghanistan, where they are trained in the tactics of terror. They are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction … Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber – a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other. They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. They want to drive Israel out of the Middle East. They want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions – by abandoning every value except the will to power – they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism.

(Bush, 2001)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair

September 11th was for me a revelation. What had seemed inchoate came together. The point about September 11th was not its detailed planning; not its devilish execution; not even, simply, that it happened in America, on the streets of New York. All of this made it an astonishing, terrible and wicked tragedy, a barbaric murder of innocent people. But what galvanised me was that it was a declaration of war by religious fanatics who were prepared to wage that war without limit. They killed 3000. But if they could have killed 30,000 or 300,000 they would have rejoiced in it. The purpose was to cause such hatred between Muslims and the West that a religious jihad became reality; and the world engulfed by it. When I spoke to the House of Commons on 14 September 2001 I said: ‘We know, that they [the terrorists] would, if they could, go further and use chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction’.

(Blair, 2004)

In a scholarly article written for Foreign Affairs in 2007, Blair, who was soon to step down as prime minister, outlined his attitude toward terrorism in the wake of events that had followed 9/11. While Blair and Bush shared many beliefs about how to deal with the problem, Blair’s article reads differently in tone to Bush’s speech. Bush’s speech to the nation will use very different language and structures then Blair’s article for a scholarly journal. As a result, Blair’s article, being retrospective, appears more analytical. It places the modern terror threat in a wider global context.

The roots of the current wave of global terrorism and extremism are deep. They reach down through decades of alienation, victimhood, and political oppression in the Arab and Muslim world. Yet such terrorism is not and never has been inevitable … Terrorism did not begin on the streets of New York [on 9/11]. Many more had already died, not just in acts of terrorism against Western interests but in political insurrection and turmoil around the world. Its victims are to be found in the recent history of many lands: India, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and countless more. More than 100,000 died in Algeria. In Chechnya and Kashmir, political causes that could have been resolved became brutally incapable of resolution under the pressure of terrorism. Today, in 30 or 40 countries, terrorists are plotting action loosely linked with this ideology. Although the active cadres of terrorists are relatively small, they exploit a far wider sense of alienation in the Arab and Muslim world … The struggle against terrorism in Madrid, or London, or Paris is the same as the struggle against the terrorist acts of Hezbollah in Lebanon, or Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories, or rejectionist groups in Iraq. The murder of the innocent in Beslan is part of the same ideology that takes innocent lives in Libya, Saudi Arabia, or Yemen. And when Iran gives support to such terrorism, it becomes part of the same battle, with the same ideology at its heart.

(Blair, 2007)

Both Bush and Blair’s references to terrorism (delivered by politicians charged with the leadership of their countries) should be seen as political statements that not only set out their attitudes toward terrorism, but also their response to it. Both, particularly Bush, spoke for the overwhelming majority of their citizens in the aftermath of 9/11. Leading politicians, expected to express their opinion on all forms of happenings, have to both explain the opinions they hold and justify the action such opinions prompt. They have to deal with the threat that terrorism poses. Commentators and academics, in contrast to politicians, often lay claim to being able to independently analyse phenomena like terrorism. Of course, while they may provide ‘fact’ and ‘analysis’, their commentary will also reflect their opinions, beliefs and political agenda.

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