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September 11

By:
Fred H. Lawson
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

September 11

At 8:45 am on September 11, 2001, American Airlines flight 11, carrying eighty-one passengers and eleven crew members, slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center at the southern end of New York City. Eighteen minutes later, United Airlines flight 175, carrying fifty-six passengers and nine crew members, plowed into the adjacent south tower. By 10:30, both buildings had collapsed in flames. At 9:43 that same morning, American Airlines flight 77, carrying fifty-eight passengers and six crew members, crashed into the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C. A fourth plane, United Airlines flight 93, carrying thirty-seven passengers and seven crew members, crashed outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 am. As a result of the four plane crashes and the collapse of the World Trade Center, nearly 3,000 people died. The aircraft were commandeered by nineteen members of the obscure radical Islamist organization al-Qaʿida (the Command).

Following the attacks, al-Qaʿida 's primary theoretician, āyman al-Ẓawāhirī, published a manifesto that called for the creation of a transnational alliance of radical Islamist groups to restore the influence and prestige of the world Muslim community (ummah) by any means necessary. The document justified the killing of American civilians on the grounds that they had freely chosen to elect political leaders who had played a pivotal role in the establishment, perpetuation, and expansion of the State of Israel. It went on to advise Islamist militants that the struggle against United States domination must include charitable and educational projects if it were to succeed in winning widespread public support. Nevertheless, the manifesto emphasized the importance of armed struggle, and in particular the central role of large-scale violence perpetrated by fighters willing to die for the cause, in the ongoing fight (jihād) to defend the ummah from further foreign encroachments.

This message, delivered in such spectacular fashion, elicited popular sympathy in unexpected places. A survey conducted by the security services of Saudi Arabia discovered that 95 percent of a collection of well-educated Saudi citizens ranging from 25 to 42 years of age expressed a favorable opinion of al-Qaʿida 's platform. Lebanese scholars found that although only 30 percent of a sample of educated residents of Beirut approved of the September 11 strikes, almost 90 percent believed that long-standing Arab grievances against the United States warranted the attacks. More important, Iraqi military commanders, who had previously stood resolutely against radical Islamist organizations of all stripes, invited hundreds of trained al-Qaʿida militants to take up positions in central Iraq to reinforce the beleaguered regular army. Meanwhile, the radical group Ansār al-Islām, based in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, welcomed the prominent Afghanistan-based commander Abū Mūsʿab al-Zarqāwī, who had opposed the September 11 strikes on the grounds that they would lead to the destruction of the Taliban regime and thereby deprive Islamist militants of a vital safe haven.

Governments and official religious figures across the Islamic world uniformly condemned the September 11 attacks. The Muftīs of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, among others, denounced the attacks as un-Islamic. King Ḥasan II of Morocco castigated al-Qaʿida and implored all Muslims to recommit themselves to the principles of tolerance and moderation that lie at the heart of the religion. The leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran made it clear that Tehran would reject demands by radical groups to act in solidarity with al-Qaʿida, and instead signaled Washington that it would acquiesce, if not in fact collaborate, in any effort to overthrow the Taliban. Syrian security officers forged close working relations with U.S. intelligence agencies, which succeeded in uncovering and breaking up several radical Islamist cells. The head of Indonesia 's radical Islamist organization Laskar Jihad publicly criticized the doctrines and tactics espoused by al-Qaʿida, while President Megawati Sukarnoputri was rewarded with a promise that the tight restrictions on U.S. military assistance to Indonesia that had been in place since 1993 would be lifted. The Somali government offered to cooperate fully in the campaign to root out and eliminate radical Islamist organizations, even as it denied that any such groups were to be found in Somalia.

Faced with a severe threat to the everyday lives of the American people, the authorities in Washington mobilized the armed forces to engage radical Islamist organizations on their own home ground, before any further attacks on U.S. territory could take place. American troops pushed into Afghanistan in October 2001, while U.S. officials negotiated arrangements with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan to permit military aircraft and commando units to operate out of bases along Afghanistan 's northern border. In return, Washington promised to provide local governments with substantial infusions of economic and technical assistance. The presidents of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, who had earlier been considered tainted if not illegitimate due to their Communist past and problematic human rights records, were invited to pay official visits to Washington.

Meanwhile, U.S. commanders augmented the American military presence in and around the Persian Gulf. Additional troops were deployed to Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar from September 2001 to June 2002. Shortly thereafter, combat teams arrived in Yemen, Jordan, and Djibouti. Such anti-terrorism forces were subsequently overshadowed by the massive build-up that presaged the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. This build-up coincided with the transfer of 15,000 troops that had previously been stationed in Germany and Italy to new bases in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania, putting them within quick striking distance of both the Gulf and the Caucasus.

September 11 not only precipitated a major expansion of U.S. military activity in Inner Asia and the Gulf, but also accompanied greater involvement in these two regions on the part of the People 's Republic of China, Japan, and India. Chinese engineers started building new docking facilities at Gwadar on the Makran coast of Pakistan in November 2000; a Japanese naval task force made an unprecedented call at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas in July 2001. Following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Japan 's parliament enacted an Anti-Terrorism Special Measures law that authorized units of the Marine Self Defense Forces to move into the Arabian Sea to provide logistical support for U.S. warships. Alongside the sharp jump in military operations came a flurry of American initiatives to promote liberal democracy throughout the Middle East as an alternative to Islamist radicalism. Such programs failed to generate meaningful political reform, partly due to a pervasive tendency on Washington 's part to overlook the persistent authoritarianism practiced by key U.S. allies and partly because close association with U.S. advisers and institutions undermined the credibility of local pro-democracy activists.

See also BIN LADEN, OSAMA; QAʿIDA, AL-; TALIBAN; and ZAWāHIRī, āYMAN AL-.

Bibliography

  • Atwan, Abdel Bari. The Secret History of al-Qaeda. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
  • Gaddis, John Lewis. Surprise, Security and the American Experience. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004.
  • Haddad, Simon, and Hilal Khashan. “Islam and Terrorism: Lebanese Muslim Views on September 11,”Journal of Conflict Resolution 46 (December 2002): 812–828.
  • Lawson, Fred H.“Political Economy, Geopolitics and the Expanding US Military Presence in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.”Critique 13 (Spring 2004): 7–31.
  • Markam, Ian, and Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabiʿ, eds. September 11: Religious Perspectives on the Causes and Consequences. Oxford: Oneworld, 2002.
  • Rabasa, Angel M., et al.The Muslim World after 9/11. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 2004.
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