Perhaps its too early to judge the significance of 911 and I agree that its impact on US History as of now pales in comparison to the American Revolution and the Civil War. I further believe that its immediate ramifications have been abused by various parties on both sides of the political spectrum for political and economic gain. This is unfortunate. However history is more than a dichotomy that we can use to relate past to present. It is a dynamic that supplies us with the tools to better understand the future and it is in this light that 911 must be looked at.
911 was not an isolated incident. There were attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as well as on the USS Cole beforehand. Many would argue that the US deserved these hits as payback for American policy in the region. I do not wish to entertain these arguments as they very soon become tedious. What 911 does represent though is the formalization in the western mindset that history has not ended in the Fukuyama sense but has mutated to take on a new form. I am inclined to see this as an actualization of Huntington’s Clash of Civilization. Others may view it as a legitimate backlash to the coming of the monoculture of globalization. The choice is yours.
What is certain though is that 911 was not only an attack on the US but on Western Civilization itself. It was an act driven by Islamists who clearly see their worldview in opposition to the west. It will not be the last attack, as to assume such would be to discredit the capabilities of those opposed to liberal democracy.
Now it can be argued that we (the west) have responded poorly. The Iraq invasion, although useful in removing the tyrant Saddam Hussein, took away the focus from the more critical Islamist threat. An Islamist threat that is two headed– one driven by Iran’s Shi’ite regime – the other of Sunni origin (fueled no less by our ‘ally’ in Saudi Arabia – this is my biggest criticism of the Bushites). The commonality of these forces is their hatred of the West.
Ordinarily this would not be a problem as the US/NATO has the military might to resist any conventional challenge. However the variables don’t simplify as easily. Humanity is in collective possession of the great equalizer known more commonly as the Nuclear Weapon. It is this equalizer that does for geo-politics what the ordinary handgun can do for a street fight. It raises the weak to the level of the strong. Now the disturbing factor about nuclear weapons is that the fundamental technology is well known. A university physics student with access to the internet should have no problem deciphering the methodology. What is difficult is obtaining the enriched uranium for functionality. However even the latter ceases to be an obstacle when rogue scientists such as AQ Khan offer their assistance to states such as Libya, Iran and North Korea. Factor in the ambitions of an increasingly autocratic Russia and the picture becomes even bleaker. It is only a matter of time before a terrorist group or a regime obsessed with an apocalyptic vision (such as Iran) has access to the nuclear option. This is frightening regardless of your political views for unlike the Soviets who operated from a basis of pragmatism and understood the limitations of nuclear weapons the same cannot be said of the current Islamist threat. Their base of action transcends normal rationalization as it is inspired by the otherworld offerings inherent in their theological outlook.
It would be immoral for our leaders not to address this threat which carries with it a historical uniqueness that seems lost on many analysts. Yes some liberties will be sacrificed in the attempt to crackdown on networks and terror cells. But is not the alternative worse? A nuclear bomb going off in New York City, carnage in LA or Chicago? Freedoms have been lost temporarily (during World War I and II) but they have also been regained if the foundation for democracy is strong and thriving. I believe it is. However the death of millions is not so easily reversed. Call me what you like but I would prefer not to play Russian roulette with people’s lives so a few of us can shout fire in a crowded theatre. We live in a democracy but we are still obliged to defend ourselves against a threat that has shown itself to be very real.