Sat, Sep 11, 2004 - Page 9 News List

How 9/11 changed the world

Al-Qaeda took the first step, but the most sweeping effects of the terror attacks were in fact designed and implemented by Americans as policy, with politics lumbering into a new era of paranoia and repression

DPA , Washington


The dramatic photographs of passenger planes hitting the World Trade Center towers now spark different feelings from those they evoked at the end of 2001.

The immediate reaction of Americans was to join together against a faceless enemy that killed 3,000 innocent civilians without formally declaring war -- an enemy that provoked a sense of vulnerability never before felt in a country spared by its location and power from such attacks through most of its history.

The country rose to the challenge. In an outburst of support for the victims, hundreds of Americans lined up to give blood for the wounded, even as the sad realization sunk in that there were few survivors. The Red Cross and other organizations helping families of victims were flooded with donations of food and other items.

Democrats, Republicans and independents, conservatives and progressives, southerners and northerners, city residents and midwesterners -- all felt moved. And they felt justified in defending their lives after the attacks.

American flags were hoisted over gardens, homes, buildings, shops, cars, motorcycles and vans as had not been seen in recent memory.

Support for President George W. Bush, who faced severe problems in the 10 months after his highly controversial 2000 election win, rose to unprecedented levels, despite the near 50-50 division in the country between Bush supporters and opponents.

Bush rallied an international coalition to go to war in Afghanistan and push out the Taliban regime that had harbored al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden with support from not only the US public, but also from ordinary citizens abroad.

But any unity started to dissipate as the Bush administration pushed through an agenda that prodded great unease.

The Patriot Act drafted by Attorney General John Ashcroft introduced unthinkable violations of the civil rights deeply imbedded in US history: detention of suspects without charge, arresting suspects without allowing them to speak to lawyers, and spying on telephone and e-mail communications without a judge's order. Even librarians were supposed to submit to secret searches of their lending records without informing borrowers.

Protests from civil-rights groups were barely heard amid the Bush administration's arguments for the war on Iraq.

Bush chose to state the case against Iraq at the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks, noting the UN demand that Iraq give up its supposed weapons of mass destruction or face force. He pushed the issue to a divided UN Security Council, causing huge splits in the transatlantic alliance, with Germany and Russia and France refusing to wage war in Iraq.

The unity Americans boasted after the attacks has, three years later, turned into deep division. The US led a "coalition of the willing" against former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, and continues to supply most of the financial and military resources in the ever-escalating conflict. The purported weapons of mass destruction, administration officials had to admit, were never found.

The near 50-50 division has split open again, with only a small margin of undecideds expected to tip the November elections.

Half of the country thinks Bush has ensured that the US averted other attacks. The other half thinks Bush has put in place noxious measures that undermine civil liberties, and has followed a foreign policy that has alienated and provoked the international community.

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