Six Years Since 9/11

Aristide Zolberg

Aristide Zolberg, Walter A. Eberstadt professor of political science at the Graduate Faculty of New School University and director of the New School's International Center for Migration, Ethnicity, and Citizenship

In the six years since 9/11, "security" has become the overriding concern of national governments and of a wide range of international actors and agreements. What do you see at the most important consequences?
In the case of the United States, 9/11 has been made the equivalent of Pearl Harbor and used to justify the war in Iraq, despite the lack of connections between the attack and the Saddam Hussein regime. More broadly, the events of 9/11 and their aftermath have triggered general suspicion of Islam, thereby lending credence to Samuel Huntington's inane "clash of civilizations" argument and turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Indeed, even some moderate Muslims are now persuaded that the United States is their major enemy (see, for example, the recent public opinion poll in Turkey on that subject).

What has been the most important legacy of 9/11 in terms of its impact on ordinary citizens and their lives?
The events of 9/11 have had the unfortunate consequence of raising the level of tolerance of violations of privacy, due process, and freedom of expression on both sides of the Atlantic.

How have 9/11 and its aftermath influenced the U.S. debates on immigration?
The events of 9/11 have increased concern over border-control and entry of any sort, which has spilled over into concern over undocumented immigration and provided fodder for anti-immigration agitation more generally -- despite the fact that none of the identified 9/11 terrorists was an immigrant, whether documented or undocumented. Surely, no potential terrorist is likely to apply for an immigration visa, which involves delays and additional scrutiny.

As everyone knows, President Bush framed the 9/11 events as acts of war and responded with a "war on terror." How might the last six years have been different if the attacks had been understood instead as criminal?
As I watched the second tower coming down from my rooftop in downtown Manhattan, I screamed: "What an intelligence failure!" Everything we have learned since, including from the recently published memoirs of George Tenet, has confirmed the validity of that judgment. But from what I have seen, very little has been done to improve U.S. intelligence capability -- in particular, by increasing the pool of personnel knowledgeable about the Middle East generally, not to mention versed in written Arabic and the various spoken versions.

What books or studies have you read in the past six months that have influenced your thinking on the above questions?
I am afraid it is more a matter of things I have put on my "to read" list than of things I have actually read. Top of the list is George Tenet's memoir, At the Center of the Storm, and the reviews it provoked. Besides books, I also have a file of newspaper and periodical clippings. On the due process issue, one especially frightening piece is Jane Mayer's "The Black Sites: A rare look inside the C.I.A.'s secret interrogation program" in the 13 August 2007 New Yorker.

For useful suggestions toward an alternative approach, I want to read Ian Shapiro's Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror (Princeton, 2007), mentioned in Samantha Power's "Our War on Terror," an essay that appeared in the 29 July 2007 Sunday Book Review of the New York Times. Other works that Powers recommends, which are on my list, include:

I also recently downloaded an interesting 90-page report by the New York Police's intelligence division, called Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat.

Published on: Monday, September 10, 2007