The day had started like any other in the bustling city of New York. Below the blue skies and between the myriad of skyscrapers, millions of people went about their normal Tuesday morning routine. The cacophony of horns, construction tools and voices was building to its normal crescendo, to a level that was often sustained throughout the working day.
Little did New Yorkers know that on that particular morning their relative peace and normality was on a timeframe, for come 8.46 AM their city would be under attack. The bustling sounds of their vibrant world would quickly fade out, only to be replaced by explosions, sirens and screams of terror.
By days end, nearly 3,000 people would be dead after two hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. A further two hijackings saw a passenger jet plough into the Pentagon situated in Virginia and another one into a field in Pennsylvania. The September 11 terrorist attacks remain the deadliest in human history. The militant Islamist group al-Qaeda claimed responsibility and its leader Osama Bin Laden became the world's most wanted man.
The impact of the attacks cannot be understated; the world changed that fateful day. The paths of nations were set on new courses, institutions were created and new practices were brought in. So let’s take a look at five ways the attacks shaped the world we live in today.
America went to war
In the aftermath of 9/11, President George W. Bush declared a new type of war the world had never seen before. In his own words, it was a Global War on Terrorism 'against all those who seek to export terror, and a war against those governments that support or shelter them'.
Just a month after the attacks, the War on Terror saw America and its coalition allies (including the UK) invade Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime, which was harbouring al-Qaeda and Bin Laden. By November, the capital city of Kabul had fallen and a twenty-year American presence began in Afghanistan.
The Bush administration then invaded Iraq in 2003, citing the country under Saddam Hussein to be a ‘sponsor of terrorism’. The Iraq War divided opinion and the voices of dissent gradually grew louder and louder. Support for the War on Terror waned over the coming years as America conducted the longest sustained military campaign in its history.
American and coalition troops finally pulled out of Kabul in August 2021, bringing the war to a close after an estimated cost of $8 trillion and nearly a million dead. One of the most enduring legacies of 9/11 had finally been brought to a close.
The rise of ISIS
Over the past two decades, America’s presence in the Middle East shifted the regional balance of power triggering events such as the Arab Spring and leading to the rise of the Islamic State known as ISIS or Daesh. The terror group emerged from the remnants of al-Qaeda in Iraq and took advantage of the growing instability in the region caused by the American invasion.
Their influence quickly spread to Syria and by 2014, the group claimed the formation of a caliphate that stretched from Aleppo in Syria to Diyala in Iraq. Fuelled by social media, ISIS expanded its influence and networks across the globe as terror attacks occurred in Manchester, London, Egypt, Paris and Orlando.
America led a coalition of Syrian Kurds and Arabs known as the Syrian Democratic Forces along with Iraqi Security Forces to gradually push ISIS back and reclaim key cities and positions. Although the ISIS caliphate is no more, the terror cell remains active to this day, recently carrying out an attack on the airport at Kabul during the evacuation of U.S. and NATO forces in August 2021. Around 170 Afghan civilians lost their lives along with thirteen American personnel.
Airport security changed forever
Pre-9/11, airport travel was a much quicker, less stressful affair. However, it was also clearly more dangerous as the al-Qaeda terrorists demonstrated how easy it was to take crude weapons onboard a plane and hijack the cockpit. The September 11 attacks ended the days of short security lines, checked-in luggage going unscanned and families waving goodbye to loved ones by the gate.
Background checks on all airport employees became mandatory, passenger tickets and ID were now required to get anywhere near the plane, outdated metal detectors were replaced with full-body scanners, cockpit doors were locked and reinforced, air marshals became a thing and security checks on passengers were elevated to new levels. No longer could you take large amounts of liquid on an aircraft or pass through airport screening areas without removing shoes, belts, laptops, cameras, Ipad's etc. Spot checks including pat-downs and luggage inspections became commonplace.
The world of airline travel has become a safer but much longer and more intrusive affair.
Fear and prejudice took hold
In the wake of 9/11, revenge attacks on Muslims were seen across America and beyond. There was a spike in racial profiling and discrimination across the globe. Fear took hold and Islamophobia grew as public perceptions of Islam and Muslims were tarnished by the violent actions of a few. Prejudices became so commonplace that politicians even had to clarify between a Muslim and a terrorist. ‘Our war is against evil, not against Islam’, President Bush once said.
Today, hate crimes against Muslims persist and the numbers are still vastly above pre-9/11 levels in America and other nations, showing that the aftershocks of those attacks still ripple to this day.
Data collection and surveillance changed
Before the planes hit the World Trade Center the balance between personal privacy and national security was more even. As soon as the day was over, law enforcement and intelligence communities were being blamed for not having prevented the attacks. America went into overdrive to ensure 9/11 never happened again and in the process, the lines between privacy and 'the good of the country’ became remarkably blurred.
As the saying goes, ‘when America sneezes, the world catches a cold’, and so data collection became the new normal as governments across the globe began harvesting personal data from billions of people in the interest of national security. The invasion of privacy protection rights and the introduction of mass surveillance programs are a direct result of the events of September 11, 2001.