Since Sept 11, 2001, the Western world has faced totally unexpected terror attacks. These attacks have profoundly shaken the United States and European countries. In the wake of Sept 11, under the leadership of George W. Bush, the US government initiated the concept of a global war against terror. Various laws and executive orders were put into effect in order to prevent similar attacks.
Today, however, a number of think tanks are critical of post-Sept 11 policies. Events show that the world is now far more dangerous than it was in 2001. Tens of thousands of innocent people have lost their lives in some 300 terror attacks in the last 14 years.
The number of terrorist organisations across the world now exceeds 150. Following these attacks, the countries affected have taken what they imagine to be appropriate measures. As a result, constitutional rights have been infringed and freedom of speech and travel have been restricted. Millions of innocent people have been unjustly placed on file; some have been detained and imprisoned. Billions of dollars have been spent on additional security measures. As a result, it has become impossible to enjoy the full use of civil rights in the Western world, particularly in the US.
The trauma of Sept 11 led to the US passing a string of burdensome laws:
HOMELAND Security Act: Under this law, the Department of Homeland Security was set up and made senior to all other security organisations. The department operates at a cabinet level and has an annual budget of US$100 billion (RM430 billion) and a staff of 200,000.
PATRIOT Act: 130 laws affecting civil life have been introduced under this act; 1,200 people have been imprisoned, without trial for months, and their identities have been kept secret. The private lives of millions of Americans have been placed under surveillance, phones have been bugged and bank records have been examined. The concept of “Big Brother is watching you” from George Orwell’s famous novel 1984 has literally been made a reality in 21st Century America.
AVIATION and Transportation Act: Airport security has been restructured under this act. US$18 billion collected from air travellers through a special tax have been used for new security systems.
VISA and travel restrictions: It has been made more difficult for Muslims to enter the country. All travellers to and from the US are being monitored through the government’s no-fly lists. Under new legislation, the US has declared that nobody who has visited Iraq, Syria or Sudan in the last three years will now be allowed in without a visa.
The “If You See Something Say Something” campaign has encouraged people to spy on one another. In a country in which freedoms are becoming more restricted with every passing year, the American people have come to resemble the Russians, who were forced to denounce one another under Soviet communism.
Various illegal operations have taken place under the concept of the war against terror. Under the scope of the Stellar Wind and President’s Surveillance Programme (PSP) operations, metadata regarding emails, bank accounts and phone conversations of hundreds of thousands of Americans have been secretly collated by the National Security Agency.
People detained during the war in Afghanistan have been described not as prisoners of war, but as enemy combatants. This was designed to circumvent the Geneva Conventions and has led to the use of severe interrogation methods. President Barack Obama only managed to ban the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret torture centres (black sites) in 2009.
The ferocity that has come to dominate the US has been reflected at almost all levels. The torture photos from Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib jail, which came to light in 2004, led to enormous criticism and an explosion of anger across the world.
A Pentagon report revealed that these were not just the acts of individuals but reflected a basic approach at all levels of the military, from the highest to the lowest; tens of thousands of Muslims were interrogated, imprisoned and tortured on the pretext of having links to al-Qaeda. Although al-Qaeda has today largely ceased to exist except as a nebulous, loosely-linked organisation, it has been replaced by the Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and others.
These measures are not unique to the US, but have been applied in all Western countries exposed to terror attacks. Victims and perpetrators once again became mixed up after the attacks in France on Nov 13, 2015. Innocent people fleeing terror in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and seeking shelter in the EU were equated with terrorists and anti-refugee rhetoric dominated the agenda. The majority of the former Eastern Bloc countries rather blatantly attempted to prevent the admission of refugees and succeeded in doing so in quite a few instances.
Anti-refugee electoral campaigns were waged; Nicholas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen, two candidates for the French presidency, have already announced that they will introduce an even more stringent security system in the 2017 elections. The practical measures introduced are even more alarming. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, France put 88,000 members of the security forces on alert to seek out the perpetrators. Following a single warning about IS, Belgium put troops on the streets of Brussels and declared a state of emergency. The metro was closed and sport contests and intercity travel were cancelled.
Yet, these measures, intended to make the world a safer place, have done no good at all. We are living in a much more dangerous world than that of 2001. There are many more names on the terror lists. Initially, only Afghanistan was involved in the US war against terror.
Today, however, countries such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Qatar and various African countries are also a part of it. Some 10,000 US troops and hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians have died. The concept of a war against terror has divided Muslim countries, led to instability and resulted in low-level civil wars. More than one million people are today on the US Terror Watch List; of these, 280,000 are not part of any known terrorist group. During the Bush administration, the number of people listed as potential terrorists was only 48,000.
The cost of the US war against terror is put at some US$6 trillion and climbing. Despite this staggering sum, hatred of the US among Muslims is now the highest in the world. More importantly, the US and the Western world are losing moderate Muslims, their most important allies, because of these crude methods.
The war against terror over the last 15 years has resulted only in blood and tears. It is impossible to eradicate terrorism through brute force, bombs and guns. The Western world must establish models of cooperation to win Muslims back. Terrorism and radicalism can only be defeated by spreading the true Islam of the Quran.
Adnan Oktar's piece on New Straits Times: