With the cleanup of the World Trade Center towers nearing completion (ahead of schedule to boot), it seems an appropriate time to survey some of the lasting damage from the terrorist attack of September 11.
Despite public perception that the war is over and a newly installed UN-approved provisional Afghan government, the US-led multinational military expedition in Afghanistan continues to root out pockets of Al-Qaeda resistence. The hefty price tag and apparent success of this operation hasn't seem to diminish the capability of Al-Qaeda (or perhaps the more fittingly nebulous umbrella name 'The Terrorists' is more appropriate here) to plan and execute more attacks on US soil. Witness this Memorial Day's terror warning and Vice President Cheney's certainity that another attack is coming. Not that most of us don't believe that that isn't the case anyway. In fact, many of us aren't eagerly jumping onboard airplanes these days.
What did Al-Qaeda get from the attacks on September 11? Certainly, they gained no territory, nor did they "decapitate" the US (of course the few weeks after the event lacked anything of Calvin Coolidge's "normalcy"). Following the attack, violence in the Mid-East, including the ulcerous Israeli-Palastinian conflict and the equally galling Pakistani-Indian dispute over the Led Zepplin-inspiring Kasmir region, crescendoed to a fevered pitch. Al-Qaeda itself brought enormous harm to itself through its actions. So, what was the point?
One of the most primal emotions in all creatures, fear compels humans in ways that aren't always predictable. In the case of the US, fear has led some to suggest arming airline pilots, in the expectation that would-be hijackers will be put off by the prospect of dying. Another fly in the ointment of this plan is that the qualifications for a pilot's license don't always overlap those for a job as a security guard. (As a side note, wouldn't firing a gun in a plane be a Bad Thing? You know, that whole "pressured cabin"-thing and all.)
Perhaps the most important victim of fear has been personal privacy. When privacy zealots first raised cane about the FBI's email-sniffing, sealed boxes called Carnivore, many of us (including me) shrugged. The FBI only targets the guilty, right? Carnivore is just like a wire tap on a phone, but for them computer thingies. In the days that preceeded 9/11, one FBI techie noticed the Carnivore was working a little too well and reading the email of non-targetted users. The techie, appalled or frightened by the implications of this glitch, destroyed all the email Carnivore had collected. Unfortunately, one of the targets being investigated was connected to Osama bin Laden. This is one of those classic moral dilemnas. How much is safety worth to you? How much is privacy worth?
Outside the realm of terrorists (for now) is the secret testing of DNA to rat on its owner. Not only are paternity cases being resolved from bits of absconded dental floss, but some employers are looking to limit employment opportunities of those that are genetically prone to Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI). How long before insurance companies use your DNA to determine your coverage? While DNA testing can help solve crimes, it can also be used in chilling ways against the innocent. Again, this is another example of the safety-security two-step.
Still the cost-benefit analysis of 9/11 for Al-Qaeda doesn't look too good for them. How has frightening the US done anything positive for them? For that matter, what exactly does Al-Qaeda want? If you can trust the FBI, Al-Qaeda wants the "infidels" out of mid-east. Certainly, the US and Israel are on the infidel list, but so are the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Al-Qaeda was born during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Just like many freedom fighters in other countries, Al-Qaeda members found that once the war was over, the only skills they had were useless. So they manufactured another war -- only this one would go on for years. Cleansing the holy land. This isn't a new goal. One might suggest that Muhammad himself started this cycle in the seventh century. In any case, the 9/11 attacks and subsequent US retaliation only reinforce Al-Qaeda's reason for being.
Perhaps the difference between a freedom fighter and a soldier is that soldier works for the winning side. The Memorial day parades and wreath-laying ceremonies might explain why freedom fighters are fanatical. If they lose the war, no one will remember them.
In this strange new world, two questions need to be asked of everyone on this third rock from the sun: what kind of world do you want to live in and how much would you pay for it?