Reflecting on the 16 years of the War on Terror
To answer Alan Jackson, I was in the shower getting ready for a day of college classes when the world stopped turning.
Sixteen years ago this past Monday terrorists hijacked four planes and managed to crash three of them into major symbols of Western culture and ideology. It was an attack on a culture of capitalism and largesse that offended the sensibilities and beliefs of a radical fringe that fed on the disenfranchised and desperate.
The whole goal of the attack was not to win a war that night but to have the West eat itself from the inside out.
Sure, in the following first few years, the idea seemed folly. We were galvanized behind these attacks. We were going to root out the evil in the world, we were going to win the war on terror. In months. Not years. It’ll be over by Christmas.
As with all of these horrendous seminal moments in time, it’s worth reflecting on where we are at these many years later. Have we won? Have we snuffed out the evil that threatens our way of life? Are we strengthened by unity and the fight against oppressive regimes? Do we feel safer with everything that has gone on?
Can we really answer “yes” to any of these?
Let’s start with some of the basics here. The so-called War on Terror is still alive and well, though Canada’s role is reduced from the height of the conflict in Afghanistan. Part of the problem is no one can really agree on who the enemy is anymore. It’s shifted from Al-Qaeda to ISIS and about a half-dozen other fractured factions. We never even could agree on where the real battle front was. Was it Afghanistan? Iraq? Syria? Turkey? Any Middle East, oil producing country where they talked funny and worshiped that Muhammad guy? Or what about the outskirts of Paris, or Germany or London or even our own neighbours? Or what about that guy who fled terrorists in his own country and became a refugee in ours? Surly he and his family must be one of them.
It was to the point where nations were arguing which terrorists or rebels are the right ones to support or if they are a lesser evil to take the place of regimes that were attempting to ethnically cleanse their own people and actively using chemical weapons on them.
What part of this makes any sense?
The conflict is not just “over there,” either. At home, we have become far more divided in our politics. The with-us-or-against-us trend is reaching new vitriolic heights and there has been a near complete evaporation of any kind of middle ground on anything.
We were once known as a welcoming country, developed on the backs of immigrants and hard work. Now large factions of us want to assume anybody fleeing the terror of what is happening in their own country is as guilty of it as those planting the bombs.
The paranoia has led to the development of our own extreme factions and conspiracy theorists who live in complete terror of assimilation of some foreign threat, when the vast majority of terrorist attacks since 9/11 have been home grown.
We have the U.S. that is pushing to escalate other world conflicts to the nearest points of a nuclear winter that we have been since the Cold War. Meanwhile, in Canada the only real cuts to a federal budget that will plunge us $30 billion in debt came at the expense of our military and veterans.
There was never going to be a mass attack on the West. The functionality of an organization like Al-Qaeda was to cause destabilization in our way of life. To question our beliefs, our traditions and our culture. To fracture us from the inside out.
I do not think they have won, but it is difficult to say we are winning. Our world certainly is not better today than it was 16 years ago.
We are still standing. But we have to realize the fight is not about who has the biggest weapons, or even us against them. The fight is within.