On 11th September 2001 I was in a lesson in college when my lecturer announced that two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers and then he said he felt no sympathy for the American government and continued the lesson as normal. It was difficult to picture what he said as I had never seen the Twin Towers (this was before the advent of smartphones and social media) but after seeing the images on television I found it hard to understand my lecturer’s comments.
In these 20 years I have witnessed, as a young man to adulthood, how the War on Terror has exposed liberal values and undermined the secular ideology as nothing but rhetoric and election sound-bites.
The first value to be thrown under the bus, was the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. President George W Bush Jnr announced in November 2001 that ‘you are either with us or against us in this fight against terror’. This stark choice by the US government meant I was forced into the camp of the terrorists as I was absolutely not with the US and hence guilty of terrorism by this forced association. The world witnessed the opening of the Guantanamo Bay prison in 2002 and the horrifying pictures of men and boys in orange prison suits (later mimicked by ISIS) being held indefinitely without trial or due process. Guantanamo Bay is a constant reminder of the liberal values which the West says it upholds, but really has been abandoned in the War on Terror (WoT).
In 2003 the West launched its war in Iraq against great public opposition. The US and UK warned the public that Saddam Hussain had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) which could be launched in 45 minutes, and that Saddam Hussain and al-Qaeda were working together. Both of these claims turned out to be a lie and many people at the time said that was the case, yet the invasion was launched. The UN showed itself to be a tool in the hands of the US as it failed to stop the invasion. All in all, it showed that the US could do what it likes and no public opinion nor UN permanent members could do anything to stop her. All this talk of consulting partners and working within international law was flushed down the toilet. What the US proved and showed was that might is right.
Then came the horrific pictures out of Abu Ghraib, the humiliation, degradation and abuse of prisoners, not to mention the rape, all committed by US soldiers. The US government with her talk of human rights and her soldiers being a symbol of justice, exposed by pictures taken by US soldiers themselves for amusement, showing the utter contempt they held for civilians in Iraq.
The world saw how the US and her allies massacred the Muslims of Fallujah, who put up a heroic defence against the occupiers. The whole of Fallujah was levelled to the ground killing innocent women and children. The West “harks on” about the rights of women, but the women of Iraq and Afghanistan have paid a heavy price in this WoT as they have been killed, raped, widowed, orphaned and had their children massacred in the name of liberating women.
The world witnessed how the US and her allies abused prisoners from all over the world through their extraordinary rendition programme. Prisoners were flown by Western intelligence organisations to despotic regimes across the world for torture in order to extract information. In many cases the US and her allies tortured prisoners with water boarding and stress positions, but the US government changed the definition of torture so that torture could not be called as such.
This brought to the open which was already known by many, that western governments work hand in hand with the most despotic regimes in the Muslim world, even though they like to preach about spreading freedom and democracy. It also showed the world that the US was willing to torture people for information, exposing the idea that Western countries are so civilised that they do not use torture and treat prisoners in a humane manner.
Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition and changing the definition of torture showed how hollow Western values are. It was Western governments that actively looked for loop holes in their own law so they could bypass it, rather than upholding the law in difficult times, and therein lies the problem with secularism. Human beings make and break laws as they see fit in order to pursue their interests and benefits. Nothing is sacred and everything is open to change, so what was not acceptable at one point has now become the norm. Torture was unacceptable, but now has become acceptable and Guantanamo Bay is still open even though President Obama promised to close it.
In the name of the War on Terror, the world witnessed how on the domestic front, nations introduced anti-terror legislations which undermined their own values. In the UK, the anti-terror legislation targeted Islamic organisations and mosques by restricting their speech because of the fear of falling foul of glorifying terrorism. This law exposed the idea of free speech and Muslims were being targeted for things they wrote and spoke. The Prevent agenda was nothing else than a spy network using the population to spy upon their own citizens and many Muslims lives were destroyed due to this.
Many more atrocities and miscarriages of justice could have been highlighted in this War on Terror, like the drone programme, killing of US citizens in Yemen without due process, the death tolls of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the subverting of the Arab Spring. With all that has happened, not one politician in the West has been held to account for the abject failure of the War on Terror. No politician has gone to prison or even been tried. After all the inquiries and inquests, nobody has been held responsible for the hundreds of thousands of deaths and the destruction of nations. There is no accountability and the political class are above the law.
In the last 20 years, freedom of speech, human rights, rule of law, women’s rights, due process and being innocent until proven guilty, have all been stripped and sold for parts in the name of the War on Terror. What the last 20 years has shown is how these are nothing but empty words, incapable of standing the test of time and abandoned at the first sight of trouble. What this really highlights is that if you leave man to decide what to do, then the goal posts will keep changing in the direction of the benefit of the rich and powerful. The elite will use any incident to further their agenda and will break and change any law that stands in their way.
The legacy of the last 20 years is that the values the US and the West stood for have been undermined not just in my eyes but many around the world.
Mohammad Abdul Basir