We all remember where we were and how we heard about the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Nearly all of us reacted with shock and revulsion at the premeditated nature of the orchestrated suicide airplane crashes that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people and sparked terror across the civilized world. How, indeed, could someone even conceive of such a thing, let alone carry it out?
Ten years hence, some of that fear and revulsion lingers, to the point where we now accept, somewhat grudgingly, extra security measures at airports and at other major transportation terminuses including ferry terminals and on subway trains. Some of our civil liberties have been curtailed through the Patriot Act in the U.S. and Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act because of fears of future attacks. We have accepted Orwellian terms like Homeland Security and Orange Alert into the lexicon as though there was never a day when they didn't exist. And 10 years later, we have the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and more stringent border-crossing document requirements and longer lineups to cross the 49th parallel.
Mistakes have certainly been made along the way, the largest of which was the decision by the "coalition of the willing" led by the U.S. and United Kingdom to engage in a protracted Iraq war that left thousands of soldiers and tens if not hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis dead while failing to resolve that country's deep divisions - all of it on the false pretenses of the phantom "weapons of mass destruction" and supposed direct links to the Al-Qaeda terror network. It was (is?) one of history's biggest wastes of resources and precious human lives. It's of only small consolation to Canadians that our Prime Minister at the time decided to give it a miss.
We can understand why the current U.S. administration decided, when its intelligence networks finally nailed down the location of Osama bin Laden, to launch the recent commando raid that resulted in his execution. It was probably necessary, though this writer isn't sure that brutally killing someone - anyone, no matter how reviled - can lead to more harmonious relations between the Muslim world and the West. It seems to yours truly that violence of any kind only begets more violence in the end.
The Arab world appears to be changing, mostly for the better - casting off dictatorships, embracing pluralistic democratic principles espoused by the West, despite Western powers' historic double standard (for example, talking about democracy and freedom while co-operating with Libya's illegitimate Gaddhafi regime in the persecution of dissidents).
The fact that recent uprisings have embraced democratic principles in spite of the many instances of Western hypocrisy only shows the principles are strong ones that should be applied across the board, not just when it suits one side's interests. Only by practicing what we preach will we ever be able to stem the tide of terrorism and forge a more secure, more peaceful world.
- David Burke