It was 6:30am on Tuesday, September the 11th 2001 and I was arriving to school. I was in 7th grade. Like I did every morning, I went to the cafeteria to buy breakfast and then walked to the band room to eat it. The band room had two TVs mounted up on the wall and both of them were playing live CNN coverage of New York. At this point, the first plane had just hit and there was mass confusion and horror. We weren’t if it was an accident or an attack. And then the second plane hit. At this point we were pretty sure that it was not an accident but there was still only shock and confusion. We were 13 and 14 year olds after all – we still had some sense of innocence. A few minutes later an announcement came over the school intercom instructing all teachers to turn off their TVs, not discuss news with students and to await further instructions.
It was not until that evening, when I got home and was able to watch TV, that I able to grasp the full impact of what had happened in New York. But this seemed to only leave me with more questions. Most of all I wanted to know why. What did we do to this evil man living in a cave to cause him to wreak such havoc on us? Today, we finally have answers to a lot of our questions but there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Perhaps things we will never know. Most importantly, who is the bigger enemy: radical Islamists or our own government?
Osama bin Laden was a very evil man but he knew exactly what he was doing when he attacked the United States on 9/11. His target, the World Trade Center, was a symbol of Western Civilization. Al Qaeda was symbolically destroying the West. Their goal: sparking a civilizational war between the Islamic world and the West. Bin Laden may have killed a lot of people in the 9/11 attacks, but killing people was not his most important goal.
Even then, in 2001, things were not looking good in the Arab world. Radical adherence to Islamic ideals was declining as more and more young Arabs were reaching out to the influences of the West. The Dictatorships, Arab Monarchies and Theocratic Regimes dominated by mullahs were losing popular support. When popular support dries up, oppressive regimes crumble. These men, existing on the radical fringes of Islam, were not willing to abdicate their thrones.
Enter Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. What better way to motivate and enlist young Muslims into the radical fringe then to provoke a war with the West? Although the military-industrial complex wants us to believe that we are helping people in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of the people who live there are eager for the American military to go home. They have lived in a virtual hell since we invaded in 2001, many of them going without basic utilities like electricity and running water for the past 10 years. In this respect, Al Qaeda’s war was very successful; the “War on Terror” has created a lot more terrorists than it has eliminated.
The war that bin Laden provoked has killed many of our troops, proven him right on a lot of his claims about the west, caused social and political unrest in the United States and has taken its financial toll on the economies of the West. But most striking is what it has done to the American psyche: we live in constant fear of terrorists. Our airports are virtual police states. Many of our civil rights have been suspended under the Patriot Act in the name of protecting us. The cost of keeping us safe is bankrupting our country.
On the other hand, the attacks on 9/11 gave us a sense of American pride and togetherness that we haven’t seen since World War II. People put their political affiliations aside and came together simply as Americans. Heroes gave their lives in the World Trade Center to save others. The sense of patriotism was overwhelming: red, white and blue everywhere. Many stores sold out of all of their patriotic merchandise. Even through it felt like the end of the world as we knew it, we had each other. And with each other, what could go wrong?
Osama bin Laden killed a lot of Americans, he successfully provoked a war with the West and the endless war has essentially ruined our economy. Osama bin Laden has changed the world forever – but it cost him his life. Hatred for the West bought the Arab world another 10 years of oppression but as we saw this past Arab Spring, the revolutions have begun. The influence of the West on the Arab World and their use of Twitter has brought about the final undoing of the radical fringe of Islam.
As the war efforts wind down in the Middle East and we put our economy back together, lets set an example for the new democracies springing up in the Arab world. Rather than continuing our culture war and being the poster child of a dysfunctional polarized government, lets once again be the America that puts our differences aside for the common good. Our future depends on it.