9-11's Long Shadow on Today's "Terrorism"


September 2016


As the World Trade Center Towers in New York City fell on September 11th fifteen years ago as a result of Islamic extremist attacks, those of us still living then knew the world had suddenly entered a new era of fear.  While the annals of history have always been scribbled in the blood of millions who have died in war, 9-11 has proven to be a portent of the 21st century’s slippery struggle with an elusive enemy.  We now live in a world where our adversaries are as close and as far away as the internet, and those who seek to hurt us are our neighbors.  No country is immune to this ever-present fear of terrorism.

An Los Angeles Times article has noted the increase in death worldwide from terrorism:

“Over time, terrorism has become deadlier, and the rise in violent extremism since 2000 has been staggering: a ninefold increase in deaths from 3,329 to 32,685 in 2014, according to the Global Terrorism Database compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, based at the University of Maryland.”

This same study noted that terrorist attacks occurred in almost 100 countries in 2015 though the majority of attacks were only in five countries—Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria.  In the earlier article, the Los Angeles Times compiled all terrorist attacks during the month of April 2016 which resulted in 858 deaths and 1,385 injured in 27 countries in order to paint a picture of what “terrorism” looks like on a global scale.  ISIS was responsible for 395 of the dead.

The article goes on to detail some of the origins of the current terror groups,

“The Taliban began as a group of religious students fed up with corruption and lawlessness in Afghanistan. The Shabab grew out of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia, which in 2006 chased out clan warlords who had been tearing the country apart for decades. Islamic State germinated in a U.S.-run prison in Iraq in the 2000s. Boko Haram started in 2003 as a tiny group of ethnic Kanuri fighters opposed to Nigeria’s corrupt elite and set up on a base the group called Afghanistan.”

“There's no one factor that has led to such a rise in violent extremism in the Middle East and the spread of the violent ideology across the world, but there is one characteristic: failed or failing states and persistent conflict and terrible governance,” said Patrick Skinner, a former CIA case officer and director of special projects at the Soufan Group, a New York-based security and risk analysis company.

The majority of killings in April were carried out by groups aiming to impose fundamentalist Islamic law.

As seen in the article quoted above, there has been a curious response of omission or deflection from certain spheres when broaching the connection between radical Islam and terror.  Apparently, now, even mentioning the word “terrorist” has become taboo for some because of its strong connotations.  For example, in the recent bombings in New York City, while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was calling the attacks “terrorist”, New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, called the bombing “an intentional act” and “a very bad incident” as if it were a juvenile prank gone bad.  This initial circumspect response from de Blasio starkly stood out against the backdrop of pressure cooker bombs which were found at the New York crime scene which had been used by other Islamist terrorists created from a blueprint posted on an al Qaeda-linked online magazine.

The irony is last weekend's Islamist attack occurred in the very city that bares deep scars as a result of such extremist ideology.  And despite that, defining terrorism has been and continues to be a political exercise.   Fifteen years later, Osama Bin Laden's Islamic fundamentalist ideas still live on, as seen in the diary of Ahmad Rahami, last weekend's "terrorist," whether we want to admit it or not.