Remember 9/11, but don’t forget the victims of its wars

“Comment: America’s response to 9/11 unleashed illegal, ongoing wars and occupation that have killed hundreds of thousands, writes Usaid Siddiqui.

Earlier this month, I stood at the site of the worst terrorist attack on American soil — Ground Zero. 

It was a moment, now 17 years ago, more powerful than any other I could recall in my lifetime. That a civilian plane was weaponised to murder thousands, at times, frankly feels like fiction.

The September 11 Memorial featuring two pools with the largest man-made waterfalls in North America, is etched with the names of every individual that died in the 1993 and the 9/11 attacks — a fitting tribute to the lives lost that day. Each name elicits a different emotion, arousing curiosity as visitors wonder about the lives that were lost, and the families who loved them.

Yet it’s impossible not to also reflect on the fact that hundreds of thousands were killed (and continue to be killed), in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen, as a direct consequence of the policies formulated in the aftermath of 9/11.

While the attack unquestionably shaped the lives of millions living in New York City, it has defined a whole generation of people, policies and leaders across the country and around the world.

Civil liberties were hit first. 

The Patriot Act was passed a month after the attacks, which the American Civil Liberties Union said gave way to holding immigrants and non US citizens in detention for an indefinite period. Despite its architects pretending that it prevented numerous attacks on the country, it has actually wreaked havoc on the lives of many innocent men and women, mostly Muslims.

“What were supposed to be missions to end the Al-Qaeda network, only opened the gates for more groups to form”

The Muslim background of the hijackers was enough to cause American Muslims across the country, and their institutions, to be relentlessly surveilled and harassed. Ironically, former FBI heads James Comey and Robert Mueller, today America’s leading resistors to Donald Trump’s administration, were then at the forefront leading the counter-terrorism charge.

Michael German, a former FBI agent working under Mueller, and now a civil rights advocate, publicly called out the former director, asserting that “Mueller downplayed abuses and minimised the true extent of the impact these surveillance programs imposed on Americans’ privacy”.

The executive director of San Francisco-based Muslim Advocates Farhana Khera said in 2011, “One reason for the anti-Muslim sentiment in America is the government policies that target Muslim communities. The government is basically telling people they should fear their Muslim neighbours.”

Read more: Talking to the Taliban won’t bring peace to Afghanistan

 A report published by the group, entitled “Losing Liberty: The State of Freedom 10 Years After The Patriot Act” calls out the FBI for treating Muslims with suspicion, tracking those who convert to the religion or appear to have strong religious convictions.

Due to such policies, anti-Muslim sentiment has become deeply entrenched in American society, with political opportunists wielding it to grab news headlines for their own cynical agendas.

In 2010, disgraced former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin whipped up a frenzy over the building of a Muslim cultural centre, allegedly right at Ground Zero. It didn’t matter that this was wildly untrue or to be generous, highly exaggerated.

 Nonetheless, a majority of the public consistently viewed the development negatively for many months, a victory for the demagogues in Palin’s camp. While counterterrorism experts warned that this hysteria was undermining the war effort, the likes of Palin have these same national security gurus to thank for their gains.

Abroad, Muslims had it even worse, as America set out to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq as a foreign policy response to 9/11.

 It remains engaged in the former, in what is the country’s longest ever conflict. While it was clear the US would respond in some way, starting ill-advised, illegal wars, and occupying sovereign nations for years after, only proliferated the very terrorism it set out to curb.

What were supposed to be missions to end the Al-Qaeda network, only opened the gates for more groups to form in the so-called cosmic war against the non-Muslim invaders.

 Al-Qaeda member Abu Musab Zarqawi, too extreme for Osama Bin Laden himself, moved to Iraq to lead a full-blown insurgency against the Americans within the first year of the occupation. Zarqawi who was eventually killed by US forces in 2006, would become the inspiration of Islamic State group, who have ushered in a new era of brutality that that had not been seen for some time.

This “War on Terror”, a term coined in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and now largely understood as a catch all term for as an American policy for empire-building, has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians. In fact, some reports have even estimated the combined death toll from Afghanistan and Iraq, may be over the million mark.

Add Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and drone assassinations to the mix and you have a complete picture of the disarray parts of the Muslim world find themselves in since the twin towers fell.

Every 9/11 anniversary deserves to be remembered on its own — one where the victims are honoured by vigils; a 21-gun salute; stories of the fallen relived through those who knew them intimately; all without politicising the tragedy.

“For many American Muslims, Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and others, 9/11 is the date their lives were turned upside down”

Unfortunately, that has become a difficult line to tread.

Over time, the events of that day have acquired so many political and social connotations that there can never be one prism through which we can all view it. 

For many American Muslims, Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and others, 9/11 is the date their lives were turned upside down, since they became scapegoats for an event in which they didn’t participate and would have never wished to.

While those who perished on that fateful day will forever have their names remain engraved at Ground Zero, their profiles neatly displayed and easily accessible in the 9/11 Museum situated below the plaza, the hundreds of thousands killed in the subsequent retaliatory wars, will remain unidentified, without praise or tribute.

Usaid Siddiqui is a freelance Canadian writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs.

Follow him on Twitter:
@UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

Usaid Siddiqui

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