In an interview with the Tehran Times, Stanislav Byshok, says “I'm in no way defending the principle of collective responsibility, though. I'm just reminding that bin Laden's plot had more connections to that country, not others.”
Bin Laden, the mastermind of al-Qaeda who engineered the September 11 attacks on the U.S. World Trade Center and Pentagon, was raised in Saudi Arabia. Even 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
Saudi Arabia and the United States supported religious fanatics, who were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. These fanatics who emerged under the name of al-Qaeda were inspired by the Salafist ideology propagated in Saudi Arabia.
The following is the text of the interview with Byshok:
A: Three effects come to mind instantly. First, the realization that even in a multipolar world wherein you're the hegemonic power, it's possible to have enemies that embitter your prosperous life. Second, the understanding that there are significant non-state actors at play along with states. Third, the lack of ability to precisely distinguish between the two leads to the fourth effect: the global war on terror based on the "axis of evil" idea.
Q: A few weeks after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. launched a war on Afghanistan under the pretext of fighting terrorism. In March 2003, the U.S. also invaded Iraq. What have been the consequences of these two long wars for the U.S. and the region?
A: The U.S. occupies a uniquely comfortable position for launching military actions abroad. Having a huge defense budget and many allies and military bases overseas, the U.S. can carry out military operations of almost any scale without fear of any meaningful retaliation. America's enemies—both real and imaginary —are by definition weaker, and America's territory is safely protected by the mighty fleets controlling the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
It's impossible to seriously defend the idea that the U.S. managed to bring about peace and prosperity to Afghanistan or Iraq. At the same time, it's also dubious that its failures in these countries in any considerable way hurt Washington. Sure, the image of the U.S. was, to a certain extent, damaged, especially in the Muslim world, but given the economic, military, technological, political, and—one should never forget—cultural might America enjoys, this damage doesn't really matter. No matter what, one would prefer to be a friend and partner to the U.S. That's an advantage of being America—you can get away with murder.
Some call today's Greater Middle East (West Asia) the arc of instability, invoking the theory of controlled chaos. This concept implies that there was an initial masterplan that indicated the (programmed) failure of the U.S. operations in all its military interventions in the region. I'm not sure this theory is worth understanding the dynamics of the Greater Middle East. However, what is true is an abject lack of expertise in Washington when it comes to cultural and political peculiarities, to complicated sectarian and tribal relations in the regions the U.S. wants to get involved.
Q: Why do Americans, who chanted the slogan of fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban, are now sitting at the negotiating table with the Taliban after two decades?
A: Even a lousy pupil can graduate from school at 20 or 30 or 40. Security hawks give way to international doves, and later the role exchange repeats, and then repeats again. One should not forget that in the 1980s, long before the U.S. proclaimed the war on terror, none other than President Ronald Reagan had friendly meetings with the Taliban, whom he greeted as freedom fighters and even "moral equivalents" to America's founding fathers. Today, the latter praise is absent, but the negotiating table is still there.
Q: What have been the consequences of 9/11 for U.S. internal security, especially when the freedoms were restricted under the pretext of fighting terrorism?
A: The dichotomy of personal freedoms vs. security exists only in democracies wherein people are sure their rights are inalienable and can be restricted by the government only if the citizen's consent to that. On the contrary, in non-democratic states, the extent of personal freedoms and security measures is decided by the government alone.
After the initial 9/11 shock, the general American public was all for more security-related restrictions, believing that these measures would save the ordinary folk from further terrorist attacks. Virtually nobody was against newly introduced metal detectors at public places, including in airports, or several new CCTV cameras. However, later some began to question whether these anti-terrorist measures lead to the creation of the surveillance state. The considerations of security clashed with the idea of privacy.
As of today, we see certain somewhat contradictory trends in Democratic party-controlled states of the U.S.
On the one hand, the police are obliged to have body cameras which are believed to prevent them from using excessive force against alleged criminals; on the other hand, the police are denied using certain A.I. programs on these very cameras related to facial recognition of criminal suspects—because that may violate the privacy of the latter. Go figure!
To sum up, the world, in general, is getting more transparent than it's ever been. The trend has both positive and negative consequences. The transparent nation cuts both ways, i.e., it's not only the governments who surveil over people but also people get to know more about their governments' proceedings (take WikiLeaks). The transparency trend seems to be unstoppable anyway, with the 9/11 tragedy being an event which facilitated—not created—what was already underway.
Q: What happened to the American Dream after 9/11?
A: I think the American Dream, whatever that means, is still alive. At the end of the day, the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech is still intact, so it's safer for Americans to publicly criticize America and its president than for a citizen of a non-democratic country to castigate his or her state and its government. As the political scientist John Mearsheimer rightly mentions, the U.S. is still very much liberal democracy inside, no matter what questionable things it does outside its borders.
In this regard, what's important is that the ideas of personal freedom, the rule of law, human rights, government accountability, fair elections, etc. today do not necessarily associate positively or negatively or any attitude towards the U.S.
Now, these concepts tend to be more or less autonomous entities shared by more educated people regardless of their country of origin, ethnicity, or their parents' religion. If America's military actions positively contributed to these ideas spreading is unlikely. But America's cultural and technological attractiveness is unquestionable—iPhones and Netflix/HBO series are equally admired in all corners of the world.
Q: What happened to the defendants found guilty of the 9/11 attacks? Why is the U.S. still silent despite irrefutable evidence that some Arab citizens were involved in 9/11?
A: These essential questions have been asked by many, even by President Donald Trump. Moreover, now it's pretty much clear that if one is not satisfied with the idea of non-state terrorist actors and wants to put the blame for 9/11 on one particular country, Saudia Arabia is much more proper choice than Afghanistan or Iraq. I'm in no way defending the principle of collective responsibility, though. I'm just reminding that bin Laden's plot had more connections to that country, not others.
As for America's "partial blindness" concerning international terrorism and certain other issues, it's necessary to keep in mind the power of lobbyism in American politics. Some lobbies, like Saudi or Israeli, seem to be much more influential than others. Nay, it's safe to say that there are no Afghani or Iraqi lobbies in Washington, D.C., at all. Hence the results.
Q: What is your view of this theory that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated to spread Islamophobia in the West, especially as we see instances of anti-Muslim sentiments in the West.
A: I guess certain Muslims, including some migrants from Muslim-majority countries, did contribute generously to the spread, in the West, of negative attitudes towards Islam and those associated with this religion. One doesn't need to be a conspiracy theorist or an Islamophobe to see that some previously-safe areas of Paris, Brussels, Stockholm, and some other European cities have turned into no-go zones. It's not related to the memory of the tragedy which happened 19 years ago in New York; it's what happens today.
Tolerance is a great thing as long as it works both ways. No doubt, there are certain personal prejudices against Muslims and a variety of other minority-groups, but these practices are by no means state-initiated. Moreover, as we know, many leading Western states have global programs encouraging multiculturalism and tolerance and eliminating different forms of discrimination—racial, gender, ethnic, etc.
As for some anti-Muslim plot, I'll say that it is not that difficult a task to find evidence proving the existence of this or that conspiracy.
However, a much harder case is finding evidence that there's no conspiracy—or, more precisely, that the world is such a complicated place that all global conspiracies are doomed to fail since there are many counter-conspiracies, (un)lucky coincidences, and unintended consequences. And what's essential—we're all humans; hence we're prone to being wrong and making mistakes. Some mistakes cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. To sugar the pillow, it's important to mention that we also tend to learn from our mistakes. That's why we're still here, no matter what.
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