Rather than represent those that died in the attack thirteen years ago, '9-11' for many has become a by-word for over-reaction, an excuse of sorts for the expansion of global hegemony and military conquest by the West. Fahad Ansari reminds us of the global challenges that the War on Terror has posed, predominantly to Muslims across the world.
CC image courtesy of judge_mental on Flickr
Every parent struggling to teach their child basic manners will have plenty of experience in using the phrase "what's the magic word?". Young children can find it difficult to comprehend that they cannot be given everything by simply making demands without first considering factors beyond their selfish desires. By steadily indoctrinating them to use the 'magic word', the parent teaches the child that it is only when the other person feels respected and understands his or her needs that he is more likely to receive a favourable response to his demand.
On this day thirteen years ago, two new magic words entered the political lexicon which were manipulated and exploited to persuade a terrified public to acquiesce in the greatest suspension of civil liberties and human rights since the Cold War. Within seven weeks of the attacks on New York and Washington, the USA Patriot Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act) was passed into law with scant dissent. The Act which stretches to over 300 pages expanded the government's surveillance powers to unprecedented levels. Religious and dissident groups were placed under the microscope and even benign support for organisations accused of being involved in terrorism was criminalised, putting pressure on activities that were historically protected by the First Amendment, with chilling effects on free speech, religious freedom and freedom of association.
The AmericanjJudiciary felt bound to allow the Executive to behave as it wished on simply hearing the words '9/11'. The Supreme Court routinely refused to hear cases in which lower courts upheld the government’s position in cases involving national security. It only became interested where the government had lost. In 2010, the Supreme Court even held that it could also be a serious felony merely to urge terrorist groups to use peaceful means to resolve disputes. Such speech, the court said, amounted to material support and could be made criminal notwithstanding the protections of the First Amendment.
Internationally, hundreds of men were kidnapped from around the world and flown thousands of miles from their homes and families and detained on an island in Cuba without charge for decades. Why? Because the magic words had been spoken. Western governments were complicit in rendition and torture with the most brutal regimes in the Arab world such as those of Gaddhafi, Assad and Mubarak with the silent consent of their citizens because of 9/11. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were slaughtered in illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving the latter in such a fragmented and unstable state, that violent sectarianism was able to fester and flourish. The use of cowardly predator drone strikes were used to maim and murder thousands of men, women and children in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, where President Obama himself authorised the assassination of a number of US citizens, including a child. All in the name of 9/11.
On this side of the pond, internment of foreign nationals became a reality with the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 being fast tracked through parliament. Detention powers were introduced through Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act allowing anybody to be held regardless of suspicion for up to 9 hours and interrogated without a lawyer at any port of exit or entry to the UK. New extradition arrangements were rushed into place allowing the extradition of individuals to the US and between European states without a need to provide prima facie evidence. After two new magic words 'extremism' and 'islamism' gained currency, further draconian legislation allowing house arrest, control orders, secret evidence, and the criminalisation of dissent was introduced, albeit with slightly more discomfort among British citizens than their American counterparts. A mammoth surveillance operation entitled PREVENT was created to gain a network of informants among public service providers, health care workers, youth officers and even family members, as this was necessary to counter 'extremism' which remained undefined. We now even have debate on whether Syrian returnees should be presumed guilty under proved innocent a ripping apart of a fundamental tenet of civil liberties’.
As the governments of the world now seeks to use the new magic word – ISIS – to persuade the public to surrender their right to have rights through deprivation of citizenship measures, it is worth reflecting on what has clearly become mission creep. For the benefit of the bigots, let us ignore the hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims who have been targeted by these laws and focus on the wider population. In 2005, Walter Wolfgang , an 82 year old German-Jewish Holocaust survivor was forcibly ejected from the Labour Party conference for heckling then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and as he tried to get back in, police detained him under the Terrorism Act. Two years earlier, anti-war protestors, including children and the elderly , were stopped under the Terrorism Act on their way to RAF Fairford. Between 2008 and 2011, local councils used powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) designed to counter terrorism almost 10,000 times even to catch dog owners whose pets fouled the streets and to investigate breaches of the smoking ban. RIPA has also been used to investigate whistle-blowers and critics of the government. The Extradition Act 2003, the intended aim of which, was to enable the efficient transfer of dangerous criminals to the US, was used to arrest Richard O'Dwyer, university student who had set up a file sharing website. Most recently, the European Arrest Warrant, was cynically manipulated to apprehend and imprison the parents of terminally ill British child Ashya King in Spain on charges of child cruelty that the CPS never intended to prosecute.
Thirteen years after the attacks on New York and Washington, the magic word 'ISIS' has replaced '9/11'. As a result the freedoms and rights of all citizens are in danger of being eroded and as Edward Snowden has vividly illustrated at great personal cost to himself no one , not even leaders of powerful states are immune from suspicion or having the privacy obliterated . The whole Cage project is about alerting the world to the fact that it may be so called terrorists or militants who are extinguished remotely today because of the 9/11 tsunami but tomorrow it could be you. In order that we all do not sleepwalk into an Orwellian nightmare, let us all ask our government to stop now.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)