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The Risk Professional: Did 11 September 2001 deliver its primary objectives?

Editorial Staff

The actions of terrorists are always unacceptable. But history shows that changing attitudes accept the results of terrorism and, in some cases, see the results as worthy of the action. As we come up to two weeks before the 12th anniversary of 11 September 2001, it is clear some, perhaps unintended, consequences may prove to be beneficial to the entire world, including Muslims.

A contentious thought: please set aside emotional considerations when reading.

The results of some terrorism become acceptable, accepted and even applauded. Starting from the premise that terrorism is all about territory and wealth (the two being closely interlinked) and that it is largely the educated who encourage terrorism by the less educated based on promises of a reward of some kind (freedom from taxation by distant sovereign (USA), the right to occupy certain land (Israel), the right to self determination (Basque country) and freedom of religion (Ireland, Kurds), the right to impose religion (Aceh, Mindanao, southern Thailand), a fundamental political change (Mao, Lenin, etc., unsuccessful uprising in Malaysia) one common thread is that those who seek change are denied the publicity machine that supports the status quo. In short, while small terrorist acts are designed to wear down opposition to the changes sought, large scale acts are designed to draw wide attention to whatever cause is being promoted.There was, in broad terms, a conspiracy of silence in much of the world insofar as Islam was concerned. That was, in part, a deliberate policy by governments (in the same way as governments ignored the rise of Communism pre 1912 and Hitler before the invasion of Poland) and a widespread public lack of interest.

And, to be fair, Islam's own introspection has encouraged or at least facilitated that lack of engagement. So, it has to be said, has (in some sects) its dogmatising stance which is rivalled only by the Catholic church and hard-line communism in its intolerance for alternative views and narrow interpretation of heresy.The events of 11 September 2001 brought questions of radical Islam into the public eye; governments and the mainstream media began to devote much time and much coverage to selective opinion. All too often, this was prejudiced and ignorant.

Now fast forward 12 years.

Today, governments and mainstream media are widely concerned with matters arising in Islamic countries. We see extensive (albeit often poor) coverage of e.g. The Muslim Brotherhood, the actions of Assad (who only yesterday or the day before almost recited the contents of an April issue of The Economist but set it against the background of the tenets of Islam without mentioning the religion). We are seeing a much more benign coverage of Islam and its true place in the world. Increasingly, we are seeing sympathy, even empathy, for those in conflict zones, offers of humanitarian assistance rather than weaponry, We are seeing a reluctance by governments to intervene (regrettably, the UK appears to be following its previous mistake by preparing to follow the USA into armed action if the USA decided to act against Assad without UN approval) in the affairs of nations, especially where those affairs are set against the background of Islamic sectarian violence.

As a result, one has to consider that the events of 11 September 2001 achieved two major objectives:

- 1. directly or indirectly to reduce the willingness of "the west" to intervene in the affairs of Islamic states
- 2. to raise the awareness and through that, over time, understanding of Islam (radical and not) across the world.

The means were despicable. The ends are at least acceptable and, in the case of the second, desirable.

For the architects of the 11 September 2001 attacks, the second may have been an unintended consequence: it has opened up Islam to scrutiny rather than cowing the world's inquiring minds. It has actually increased engagement with Islam - its scholastic and scientific achievements are now the subject of many mainstream TV programmes produced all over the world. Islam has become a topic of interest and that is a very good thing. There is open debate over political models, the separation of powers, the desirability of government dominated by religion (a debate that Christianity and Hinduism/Buddhism have both gone through). We are seeing history repeat itself as Islamists (itself a derogatory term for those that see religion as their primary motivator) use both persuasion and force to prevent the modernisation of the practice of Islam : some countries have "religious police" who are the Islamic equivalent of The Spanish Inquisition with an even wider scope.

The scrutiny is not all - perhaps not even mostly - critical. And, ignoring loonies that bomb newspapers for publishing cartoons, the result is a much more open, a much more included, Islam.

Around the world, the ignorant are still stuck in a post 11 September 2001 anti-Islam mindset. They are just as much loonies as those who attacked the newspapers. Those with open minds are learning that, just as in every other area of society, there are a few bad apples that are spoiling a barrel of goodness.

That is something that would not, perhaps could not have happened 12 years ago.