Five years after the 9/11 attacks, here is where we stand:
- Are North Americans safer? Yes. Before 9/11, the administration of U.S. President George Bush, like its predecessor, ignored warnings of attacks. Today, security agencies are vigilant, though information sharing remains a problem.
Intensified border controls have raised North America's security, but have hurt tourism and trade, and bedevil travellers. Dangerous gaps remain at sea and airports.
While ignorant U.S. Congressmen call Canada a "hotbed of terrorism," there are 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S. This ludicrous situation makes a mockery of U.S. national security.
Improved North American security has been partly offset by new enemies for the U.S. and Canada, generated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Terrorism and 9/11 are being furiously milked by the Bush administration to rekindle fears among U.S. voters prior to November elections. Just before the tight 2004 Bush-Kerry election, a tape of Osama bin Laden threatening America boosted Bush's rating four points, helping him win. A new bin Laden tape with 9/11 hijackers surfaced Thursday.
- Civil liberties: The hastily enacted U.S. Patriot Act enabled governments to sweep away laws protecting individual rights and begin the torture, wire-tapping, surveillance, jailing without charges, and record-mining found in totalitarian states.
In a wise, informative new book, Being Muslim, author Haroon Siddiqui describes how 83,000 mostly Muslim "terrorism suspects" were arrested in the U.S. and abroad. Only 40 were convicted of terrorism; 100 died in custody. These blanket arrests and a McCarthyite anti-Muslim witchhunt, observes Siddiqui, have created a sense of "psychological internment" among 7 million American and Canadian Muslims.
- Afghanistan: An anti-al-Qaida operation has turned into a classic 19th-century colonial war against unruly Pashtun tribesmen, costing $2 billion monthly. Washington failed to impose a viable regime. Afghanistan is producing 80% of the world's heroin. Taliban and its nationalist allies are resurgent. Americans and Canadians are not being told the truth about the growing mess there. Sending troops to Afghanistan, and cheering the destruction of Lebanon, seriously endangered Canada's national security, though it may help lumber exports.
- Iraq: 9/11 provided an uncannily perfect pretext for a cabal of Washington's far rightists to launch wars for oil and world domination. Some $300 billion and nearly 3,000 American lives later, the war in Iraq is lost. While the U.S. had enormous sympathy after 9/11, the farrago of lies over Iraq, and Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo horrors, gravely damaged its image and sharply increased the threat of anti-Western attacks.
- Al-Qaida: Originally with 300 members, it has been demolished. But after five years and billions spent, with 22,000 U.S. troops and an army of CIA agents still hunting them, ultimate survivalists bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri still remain elusive, mocking Bush, urging new attacks on the West.
Al-Qaida has morphed into a worldwide anti-American movement whose force and numbers are spreading. Bin Laden focused the rage of 1.5 billion Muslims over the agony of Lebanon, Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, and Afghanistan, inspiring violent homegrown groups in Madrid, London, Miami and Toronto. Osama bin Laden remains a hero for defying the might of the West -- Che Guevara in a turban.
- Can this war be won? It's not a real war, but an international police/intelligence operation against disparate groups fighting Western political and economic domination. It cannot be won by further militarizing the conflict. The right responses: 1. Patient vigilance, but without East-German style security; 2. Resolving festering political issues roiling the Muslim world.
- Who's Winning? In the early 1990s, bin Laden stated the only way to drive America's influence from the Mideast was to attack its economy and bleed it dry by a series of small wars. Afghanistan and Iraq fulfilled two of his scenarios. Still, it's too early to tell.
- How grave the threat? Only nuclear weapons present a truly catastrophic threat. Al-Qaida, so far, has none.
Fanning terrorism fears makes good press and benefits politicians. But "terrorism" is not an existential threat to the U.S., or even the major one. Since 9/11, motor vehicle accidents have killed at least 20 times more Americans than al-Qaida.
There has been no successful attack on North America for five years. But having generated so many new enemies, the U.S. and, now, Canada remain prime targets.
Disturbingly, many Americans -- one poll says 33% -- believe their government is covering up facts about the 9/11 attacks, or was somehow even involved in them.
© 2006 Toronto Sun