9/11 – the day everything, and nothing, changed


By Osama Saeed

“The kaleidoscope has been shaken,” said Tony Blair in the weeks after 9/11. “The pieces are in flux, soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world around us.”  Ten years on, we’ve a fair idea how this reordering went.  Many millions across the world had their lives shaken, but it’s arguable how materially different if would have been if 9/11 hadn’t happened.

The US set about a war in Afghanistan with her allies, and then went into Iraq eighteen months later with less of those allies. New security arrangements including torture were set up. A war on terrorism and a war with ‘Islamism’ were declared.

In Afghanistan, the US vowed to rout “AQT”, Al Qaeda Taliban. Ten years on, the two are now seen as distinct in official policy and the US is actually engaged in talks with the Islamist Taliban.

The Iraq war had long been a neocon fantasy and 9/11 gave them the impetus to realize their dreams. 9/11 didn’t bring about a change so much as provide a peg to hang existing policy. These people knew how they wanted the pieces of the kaleidoscope to land. The only change was that the neocon dream of subsequent engagements in Syria and Iran didn’t see the light of day because of how badly they prosecuted the previous two conflicts. There’s significant US concern about the Iraqi government’s relations with Iran, but the very fact that the war essentially helped set up an Islamist government in Baghdad goes uncommented on despite concerns aired about the potential post-revolutionary rise of Islamists in other countries.

Most recently we’ve seen the extraordinary story of Abdelhakim Belhadj, a man apparently rendered by the UK and US from Kuala Lumpur via Bankok to Colonel Gaddafi in order to be tortured as an Islamist for seven years, only to be reincarnated a few months later to militarily lead on the ground a NATO air-powered democratic revolution. The rules of the game changed, then changed again.

Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden haven’t had much better a time of it. When OBL first declared his war on the US in 1996 he mentioned as his casus belli: US troops in the Middle East, US support for Arab tyrants, and US support for Israel. Each of these situations become worse because of Al Qaeda actions.

On the first count, the change he effected was in the massive upscale in numbers of US troops in the Muslim world, resulting in deaths possibly numbering in the millions.  The ideology that he spread that it was legitimate to murder innocents has taken hold in such a way that his franchise in Iraq was banished by the people there because AQ began a sectarian civil war. It is only in Pakistan that the ideology still maintains a chaotic foothold.

On the second, this year we are witnessing the toppling of Arab dictators, but it’s emphatically no thanks to Bin Laden and the people are not fashioning their region in the vision of a brutal totalitarian state that he would have set. Neither is it Facebook, Twitter or even Al Jazeera that caused the revolutions – it was the presence of repression itself that made the people rise up. It’s the natural course of things that this state of affairs is unsustainable.

It’s surprising then that so many were on the wrong side of history on this one. When George Bush told Congress after 9/11 that “They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their [Al Qaeda’s] leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms,” he followed this up in the next paragraph with “They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.” Bush failed to realize in his friendships with these regimes that they weren’t freedom loving and it’s not just AQ that wanted to overthrow them.

So this unique moment arrived in the Muslim world, not just without the support of the West, but their active connivance against it. They have at the eleventh hour reinvented their policy in the region, but not on one crucial element – Palestine. With the push for UN recognition, it is only now, a decade later that we are getting back to the situation that existed when an isolated Israel walked out with the US from the Durban conference on racism in 2001. Shortly after, Israel was successful in fastening itself onto the ‘war on terror’ wagon. The need for a Palestinian state didn’t go away, it was though delayed.

The cause of justice and freedom was setback by 9/11, but the hope is that we’re now getting back on track. The Muslim world did and does need reordering, but not again in the interests of outside forces.

The people are now dreaming the patterns and colours of their own future.


Osama Saeed is a Scottish activist and commentator now based in the Middle East.