The blatant acts of terrorism against the US on September 11, 2001 jolted the entire world. These attacks raised important questions about the future shape of modern-day societies.
The US and the West secured freedom from the political, economic and spiritual shackles that have bound humanity for many centuries after a strenuous and protracted struggle during the last century. 9/11 seriously threatened this freedom and its effect are still felt even after 17 years.
Terrorism is a destructive ideology. All societies across the world want to uproot it, but lack a collective approach to do so. Wishful thinking about military might and invincible airstrike power over the last 17 years has failed to help win the war against terrorism and fanaticism. The humanisation of world societies can be the only effective tool to eliminate terrorism.
The most important question in the aftermath of 9/11 is whether we are afraid of freedom or want to preserve it for our future generations. After the debacle of communist oligarchy, the responsibility of Western democracies increased manifold to assure the rest of the world that wielding absolute power doesn’t mean showing high-handedness towards others. But they have proved otherwise.
After much struggle and paying a heavy price, people learnt the principles of economic liberalism, political democracy, religious freedom and individualism. Since 2001, certain forces have been working to push people back into the dark ages when inalienable fundamental rights were denied by the authoritarian rulers.
There are now debates within the US and elsewhere that pinpoint the dangers of more wars and the further erosion of civil liberties on a massive scale. In occupied Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, terrorism surfaced as a reaction towards growing “fascism” on the part of US.
Freedom of expression per se has been considered to be the sufficient fulfilment of the need to achieve a democratic society. The fallout of this fulfilment appears to be a misconceived notion held by individuals and groups that freedom of speech ipso facto gives them an authority or a licence to impose their own ideas on others by using money, power and physical force. They are not only intolerant towards the views of other, but also suffer from the misconception that their ideas are the only truth through which the world can become a wonderful place.
Terrorists believe that their way of thinking is the correct version of life and the defenders of freedom are of the view that they hold the ultimate truth. Neither side is ready to initiate dialogue. This growing authoritarian thinking has led to a perpetual conflict in the world.
Lack of rationalism among the powerful to be fair towards the powerless has turned our world into a place full of misery, destruction and unhappiness. The frustration of the powerless gets its vent in the form of ghastly acts of terrorism and destruction. If a large segment of the world lives in a state of powerlessness, the powerful will always remain the target of hatred and attack.
This authoritarian thinking and the mechanisms adopted (eg, imposing economic sanctions) are illogical and irrational means to fight a war against fundamentalism and terrorism. The oppressed and powerless have their peculiar ways of reacting that, by no means, can be expected to be according to the norms of internationally-agreed principles. Their destructive tendencies are symptomatic of a sick world order.
The revival of dictatorial state orders in the name of security needs is a step towards fascist systems. On the global level, there are now open expressions of superior and inferior statuses while entering into relations with different states, and a blind admiration of the unipolar force. This is akin to pushing the entire world towards ground zero.
In devising military strategies to fight the forces of fundamentalism and terrorism, the people at the helm shouldn’t overlook the human side of the whole problem.
Freedom and democracy are inseparable. The right to express our thoughts clearly only means something if we are able to have thoughts of our own. If the media and state machinery is shaping the thoughts of everybody, then do we really have freedom of expression? If the shape of the world is to be determined by a handful of people having known economic interests (who want to make oil and political maps right), then of what use is freedom for the people? When we remember 9/11, there is scepticism and cynicism towards everything. The future of freedom and democracy is at stake.
The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and adjunct faculty at LUMS.