9/11 - World Trade Towers being destroyed

Experts reflect on the 20th anniversary of 9/11

10 September 2021
Global security, Islam, and legal researchers consider its resounding impact
Tomorrow, it will have been 20 years since Al Qaeda hijacked and crashed aeroplanes into the World Trade Centre towers in New York and the Pentagon, fundamentally shifting geopolitics in the 21st century. University of Sydney experts reflect on the events that transpired and the lessons learnt as a result.

Is the world safer after 9/11?

Because of the impact of 9/11, no doubt there could be attempts to produce spectacular violent attack on its anniversary, says Emeritus Professor Michael Humphrey.

“Probably the more worrying question, 20 years on, is whether the world is now safer after the US ‘war on terror’. The post-Cold War project of human rights and democratisation as the means to achieve global peace has not proven to be very effective. The Afghanistan return to Taliban rule is just one example. The vacuums of power in states in the Middle East and Africa have seen international terrorism become geographically dispersed.”

The strength of international law

Professor Ben Saul is an international law expert: “The response to 9/11 put huge pressure on international law in many areas – self-defence, the law of war, torture, targeted killings, military trials at Guantanamo Bay, indefinite detention, and exceptional deviations from human rights law.

“While the law has been responsive to genuine needs for change in some areas, it has also stood fast against excessive counter-terrorism responses – and been vindicated by the failure of responses which violate basic norms.”

Justice or revenge?

“Twenty years on, remembering 9/11 has become less of an event in and of itself. There remains, however, much to honour through memory—the loss of innocent lives, the sacrifice of the first responders, the coming together of communities, from the local to the global, against the terrorist attack on the United States," said Professor James Der Derian, Director, Centre for International Security Studies.

“But there are also moments we might wish to forget, forged in fear, trauma, and vulnerability - a disastrous, unnecessary war in Iraq; the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay; illegal wiretaps, surveillance, and suspension of civil liberties in the United States and elsewhere; an abiding suspicion of the foreign other; a search for justice that became indistinguishable from a desire for revenge; and now, this week, one more headstone in the graveyard of empires, that is, Afghanistan, with the possibility that Al Qaeda will become the living dead of global terrorism.”

Terrorism 'non linear'

Associate Professor Jean Bogais, an expert in extremism, terrorism, and international security, directs the Systems Thinking, Futures, and Ethics program at the Australian Department of Defence. He says we need to rethink our ‘linear’ approaches to terrorism and extremism.

“Violent extremism online is on the rise and virtual tribes are thriving. A supposedly defeated ISIS in the Middle East has re-emerged and is active in East and Southeast Asia. White extremist networks are spreading and more connected than ever.

“Despite the enormous resources at their disposal, intelligence agencies failed to forecast the Taliban’s surge in Afghanistan as we are witnessing. Why? Shouldn’t we rethink our linear approaches to extremism and terrorism (such as reactive wars) and educate “strategists and operators” to think differently and experiment? Terrorists are changing all the time; we need to adapt.”

Hero image: 9/11 photos via Flickr.

Loren Smith

Assistant Media Adviser (Humanities & Science)

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