NOTICE: Twenty Years After 9/11, Foreign Terrorism Not America’s Greatest Threat


Sae Furukawa PO ’25 argues that September 11 overshadows other bigger issues that directly affect the lives of Americans. (Courtesy: Juliette Kober)

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, former President George W. Bush made a startling comparison between al-Qaeda and domestic terrorism in his speech – which has been widely interpreted as a reference to insurgents. who attacked the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Bush claims that there is “growing evidence that dangers to our country can come not only from borders, but also from the violence that gathers within.”

Bush is among the most unpopular alumni Presidents of the United States, who dragged the country into two endless and infuriating wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet he was right to claim that, as much as we are concerned about the foreign terrorists attacking American soil, there is a new and growing threat of local violence rooted in racism and white supremacy.

Since hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, the fight against terrorism has been at the center of political decision-making in Washington, DC. While some politicians have used the event as a pretext to invade foreign states and slaughter countless innocent civilians, there has been real progress after 9/11, namely a a significant reduction the number of foreign-born terrorist attacks on American soil. Yet, according to polls by Gallup, Americans today are as concerned about terrorism as they were just after 9/11.

The lasting socio-psychological impact of September 11 can best be explained in a larger context. The event was the first foreign attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor and therefore disrupted the sense of security established among Americans. September 11 has become emblematic of the fall of American hegemony, or of the so-called American exceptionalism which fostered a sense of immunity to external threats.

But let’s clarify one thing: Foreign terrorism has never been America’s most pressing threat. Since September 11, more people have died as a result of violence committed by racially motivated far-right extremists; as suggested in a recent report from the Director of National Intelligence, they pose a far more imminent threat to Americans than foreign extremists. According to Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism71% of extremist-related victims in the United States between 2008 and 2017 were perpetrated by white supremacists, compared to just 26% by Islamic extremists.

Nonetheless, the focus on domestically-born far-right extremism has been undermined and overshadowed by a plethora of resources devoted to the fight against al-Qaeda and other foreign extremist groups. “There is no denying that federal law enforcement has played down and misunderstood the level of white supremacist violence,” Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, Recount The Guardian.

While it is true that Washington has made substantial progress in some areas of the fight against terrorism since September 11, the past 20 years of US foreign policy have also had far more problematic consequences. After the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Washington found itself stuck in a two-decade war that cost more than $ 1,000 billion and the lives of 2,300 American soldiers – at first it was to eliminate al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and cripple his organization, before the mission turned into a nation-building program.

Ultimately, 111,000 Afghan civilians who had nothing to do with the American mission were killed, and many more were forced to flee their homes. Against this background, President Joe Biden’s full withdrawal program from Afghanistan seemed inevitable, and some may indeed wonder why Washington did not accept this reality sooner, long before the withdrawal agreement negotiated under the administration. Trump. The answer may be simple: Many members of Congress were eager to end this vicious cycle of “war on terror” military intervention, but they were also aware of the potential repercussions from the general public that could. put their political future in danger. In the end, it turned out to be much easier to maintain the status quo.

Even today, while the public consensus is generally in favor of a policy of reducing military commitments abroad, many Americans still seem paranoid about the idea of ​​”foreign terrorism” far beyond what is known as “foreign terrorism”. reality would imply. More than a decade after September 11, anti-Muslim attacks have been five times more frequent than before 2002 – an astonishing reminder of how Americans’ heightened fear of “fundamentalist Islamic” terrorism translated into widespread Islamophobia. The Trump administration “travel ban“Disproportionately affecting Muslim-majority countries is among the most recent examples of policies motivated by racial and religious prejudice.

Thinking about the most pressing issues the country really faces provides an opportunity to reassess what is in America’s collective interest. Rather than relying on mythical narratives of ‘foreign terrorism’ imposed by our culture and media, individuals need to draw more attention to the violence that comes from within – regardless of its origin seen as white supremacy. , lack of gun control or a combination of factors.

The fight against terrorism is not necessarily a wasteful project and the United States, like any other country, must invest in it to ensure the safety and security of American citizens. At the same time, however, the last 20 years of madness in Washington’s policymaking have proven that the over-channeling of resources in the fight against “foreign extremism” often leads to frowned upon foreign policies that produce. more harm than benefit and distract from other pressing threats.

More importantly, this is not just a problem among politicians: politicians are largely influenced by public opinion, and every voter plays a role in influencing their political agendas. This is the very reason why young voters must be able to critically assess the country’s needs and priorities – so that they can elect decision-makers who understand and strive for holistic benefits for the nation. the public.

Sae Furukawa PO ’25 is from Tokyo, Japan. She enjoys non-fiction, documentaries and Coppola films.

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