9/11: A Decade After
Professor Todd Landman, Director of the IDCR
© 2011 Todd Landman
The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 on the United States fundamentally changed world politics in numerous and profound ways that have implications for democracy, conflict and human rights.
The attacks themselves caused the death of thousands of people in New York, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania; affecting thousands more through family and friendship networks and associations, and millions more in terms of daily life in the ‘Age of Terror’ and all that has entailed.
No one will ever forget the horrific images and stories associated with these events, and a new generation of children is growing up in a ‘post-9/11′ era who simply do not know what the world was like before this tragic event. Many of us have been affected directly or indirectly in ways that have altered our lives forever.
As the Tenth Anniversary of these attacks is commemorated around the world, it is worth reflecting on the developments since 9/11 with respect to conflict, human rights and the promise of democracy.
The decade since 9/11 has seen the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime, the ‘surge’ in Iraq during the Administration of President George W. Bush and in Afghanistan during the Administration of President Barrack Obama, as well as the 2011 assassination of Osama Bin Laden.
Alongside these conflicts, there have been terrorst attacks in Bali in 2002, Madrid in 2004, London in 2005, and Mumbai in 2008, all of which provide a stark reminder that the threat of terrorism is real and continued, even though no major terrorist incident has occurred in the United States since 9/11.
The end of the decade has seen the popular uprisings and subsequent conflicts over the future of government across the Middle East and North Africa. These events have varied greatly from the relatively swift removal of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia and the Mubarak regime in Egypt, to the NATO intervention and domestic overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, to the recalcitrance and resistance of the Assad regime in Syria.
Our screens have been filled with images of conflict, stories of success and failure, and the anguish associated with hard choices required to bring these conflicts to a peaceful conclusion, as well as the frustration over so many unresolved matters.
The current period will see the continued draw down and exit of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, the trial of Mubarak and the first democratic elections in Egypt, the unravelling of the Gaddafi regime and debates over its relationship with the United Kingdom, and the continued pressure on other regimes to reform their political systems in ways that makes them more accountable to their own people.
The decade has also seen profound and heated debates about the relationship between security and the protection of human rights. The initital reaction in most advanced industrial democracies was to pass a variety of measures that in some way curbed the protection of particular sets of human rights; effectively sending a signal to non-democratic regimes and allies in the ‘war on terror’ that human rights could be compromised for larger reasons of state.
The rights most affected are those relating to freedom of speech; freedom of association; freedom from arbitrary detention; freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and the right to privacy. Well-documented cases of extraordinary rendition(the covert transport of terror suspects between states for interrogation in ways that are meant to circumvent applicable laws) and torture of terror suspects (particularly in the case of the Abu Grhaib detention facility in Iraq) have filled newspapers and journals throughout the decade.
These developments have been all the more disturbing when the principle of ‘universal jurisidction’ had recently been buttressed by the 1998 Pinochet case in the UK and the dramatic decision by the Law Lords that confirmed that former heads of state can indeed be held accountable for their actions while in power.
But the decade of debate, argument and discovery about the relationship between security and human rights has seen the beginnings of a shift from the law of states (or ‘lawless world’ according to Philippe Sands) to a law of people (or ‘humanity law’ according to Ruti Teitel), and a recognition that the arbitrary use of state power and violation of human rights is counter-productive in the fight against terrorism. The struggle for human rights will continue and a shift to humanity law is a welcome development. Indeed, as the events in the Middle East and North Africa continue to unfold, humanity law is being applied through the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
The Promise of Democracy
Democracy is predicated on two simple principles: popular control over decision makers and political equality of those who exercise that control (see the International IDEA framework for assessing democracy). The turn of the new century saw a world comprised of more democracies than non-democracies, and the events in the Middle East and North Africa provide a glimmer of hope that more countries will be added to the community of democracy.
Even as late as last September, no one would have predicted the rapid changes that have taken place in the Middle East as the appeal of democracy and the language of rights have shaped the struggle against tyranny. The outcomes of these struggles are not yet known, but the promise of democracy has inspired thousands to risk their lives to bring about positive change.
Countries in conflict are finding ways to resolve their differences and the current trends show that the world sees less conflict between and within states (according to the latest Human Security Report) even though 1.5 billion people (approximately 25% of the world’s population) are ‘still affected by current violence or its legacies’ (see the World Bank’s World Development Report).
As we reflect on 9/11 over the coming days, it worth noting the positive developments in the struggle for human rights, the resolution of conflict and the desire for ordinary people to control their own governments through peaceful and democratic means. The message of the 9/11 attacks has in so many ways failed, and despite the troubled days that we are in, there is much to celebrate as we commemorate that fateful day.