The University of Texas at Austin
  • Is America safer since 9/11?

    By Ami Pedahzur
    Published: Sept. 2, 2011
    Is
    Photo: Marsha Miller

    Ami Pedahzur, professor of government and Middle Eastern studies at The University of Texas at Austin, is the head of the T.I.G.E.R Lab (Terrorism, Insurgencies, & Guerillas in Education & Research). He has published several books on political extremism and suicide terrorism, including “The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Against Terrorism” and “Jewish Terrorism in Israel.” Visit ShelfLife@Texas for more about his books.

    The 10th anniversary of the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, should serve as a day of remembrance and mourning. The American people should come together next Sunday and commemorate that awful September morning, which marked the most vicious and unprovoked attack on the homeland since World War II. Yet they should also remember that despite the ringing alarm bells and terrifying prophecies, the United States has enjoyed a decade almost free of terrorism. There are several good reasons to feel confident and optimistic.

    First, over the past 10 years, every now and then a terrorist, mostly a lone wolf, has succeeded in carrying out a successful attack on U.S. soil. However, in comparison to crime-related death, car accidents and coronary diseases, the number of casualties caused by terrorism is negligible. While it is quite common to criticize the intelligence community and the law enforcement agencies, they must be doing something right.

    For some reason when it comes to terrorism we expect the government to provide us with 100 percent guarantees for safety. This is an unrealistic expectation. Yet the men and women of the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, military, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Transportation Security Administration and police, as well as many other agencies should be very proud of their impressive successes in meeting the high expectations of the American people and should be thanked by each and every one of us. If for a minute, we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we should all agree that the risks associated with driving to work every day, should be a much bigger source for concern than terrorism.

    Second, the killing of Osama bin Laden, following a meticulous intelligence operation and a courageous assault by SEAL Team 6, was a significant milestone. However, more important, the capabilities of Al-Qaeda had been diminished dramatically over the passing decade as a result of the decisive actions taken by the United Sates and its allies.

    The fears that the breakdown of the organization would lead to the proliferation of local terrorist cells in Western countries were not realized. Except for isolated incidents which draw a lot of attention, most people in the West, including radicals, do not stand in line to become terrorists. At the end of the day, people of all backgrounds, religious beliefs and ethnicities are united by simple human desires to live normal lives, provide for their families and enjoy the simple things. Those who actually turn to terrorism constitute a tiny minority even within the most radical communities.

    Third, while Al-Qaeda is fighting for its life, it still has some kick in it. Militias such as Al-Shabaab, the Taliban or Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula manage to terrorize the people of failed states including Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen. However, their continuous attempts to export their terrorist ventures to the West, either by recruiting masses of new volunteers or by perpetrating proxy attacks, have so far been less than impressive.

    Lastly, terrorists want you to worry. This is their No. 1 objective. Since they cannot defeat the West militarily, they carry out horrific attacks against random civilian targets which aim is to instill fear in the hearts of each and every one of us. They want us to be disoriented, succumb to a perpetual state of fear and consequently force our decision makers to carry out policies that would serve their interests. While we have to be vigilant, monitor emerging threats and respond accordingly, we should always remember that the best counterterrorism strategy is not to let them gain the upper hand in this mind game.

    After all, for all the reasons that I mentioned here, we should always remember that the real “losers” of 9/11 were Al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

     Ami Pedahzur will participate in a panel discussion on Sept. 9 on campus called “Conversation 9/11: A Decade After, Looking Forward,” sponsored by the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

    • Quote 2
      salsheehy said on Sept. 15, 2011 at 10:26 a.m.
      Although there are many "terrorists" who want to promote their beliefs, there must also be a mafia who are profiting from arms sales, sales of protective services, etc., who have no beliefs at all.
    • Quote 2
      Martha said on Sept. 9, 2011 at 3:03 p.m.
      This article completely ignores the great cost of this so-called war on terror. If anything, the violence of these wars will create more terrorists. If the U.S. government was interested in security, which they are not, they would not be actively bombing so many countries, killing innocent civilians, and creating more terrorists. THis article also ignores the fact that U.S. citizens are under the constant threat of being illegally monitored for their anti-war beliefs, and muslim U.S. citizens are now monitored by the CIA. How is this progress on terrorism? How about addressing the fact that the wars have weakened our economy, our military, and have cost thousands of more lives? I'd say that the U.S. played right into the hands of terrorists. Weakening and dividing America is what they wanted and that's what they got. Our global reputation has suffered greatly. The world knows that the U.S. tortures terror suspects who have never been charged with a crime. How is any of this a successful response to 9/11. This professors states that the real losers after 9/11 are Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. What an absolutely ignorant statement written by someone who has never and will never serve in the armed forces. Show me in history where an ideology was "killed" by violence? So we killed Osama bin Laden. Who's to say that there won't be another one? There is certainly enough anti-American sentiment from the horrible destruction these wars have caused.
    • Quote 2
      Daryl James Harris II said on Sept. 9, 2011 at 12:02 p.m.
      I would not be so quick to commend the efforts of law enforcement agencies that have taken advantage of American fear of terrorism for the purposes of buffing up and securing their source of funding. Yes, 9/11 was a tragedy, however the bigger tragedy is that the faith and tax dollars that are put up to support the work of counterterrorism is used to create would-be domestic terrorists rather than to adjust our awfully biased and opportunistic foreign policy so that it radical factions don't have an audience to appeal to in the first place. The tragedy of 9/11 is not just that it happened -- this is plainly apparent-- the travesty is that not but decades prior it was American foreign aide and CIA training that helped equip and train Osama Bin Laden to be political entity that he became, with the assumption that buying him off would make him loyal to American economic and political interests. Is America safer post 9/11? I don't know. But I will confidently stae that it is quite brazen to suggest otherwise until there is full assurance that American government agencies are not repeating past folly under the auspices of ensuring American security. article talking about FBI informants funding domestic terrorists: http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/08/fbi-terrorist-informants CIA funding ObL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIA_%E2%80%93_Osama_bin_Laden_controversy
    • Quote 2
      Iman Bin Hamad said on Sept. 8, 2011 at 6:06 a.m.
      My Story of 911. Where was I on 911- I was working for the United States Government on Fort Hood, Texas, for a contractor called Tesco/EWA Services. WE were in the FTC on Fort Hood that day waiting for our assignments for the day working on the FBCB2. All of the employees including me were in the trailer at the FTC when, somebody mentioned that there was a terrorist attack in New York, somebody mentioned that a plane has crashed into the World Trade center and that there was mass confusion, we did not have access to the internet or to any communications because we were placed under federal lockdown, which means that we were not allowed to leave the military base. We all stood in suspense and sorrow not knowing what was happening, we thought that this was a world war and that our lives would be in jeopardy and possible we would be harmed or if not killed. Later that day our supervisors advised us and confirmed that New York was attacked by terrorist, we stand still and confused and, not one of us knew what to say or to do, It was a very emotional periods of all our lives, we were together in this time of grief and held each other for comfort, we wanted so badly to be able to see this happening, but we had no access to a television, it was a feeling that I cannot explain a feeling of helplessness. We asked what can we do, we stayed under lock down for many hours, finally we were allowed to leave the Military base, and Fort Hood would never be the same after this day. What we took for granted before would no longer exist. The freedom was taken away from all of us. I am a Muslim but have given my part in the defense of the Military for the United States. May God always be with the families during these times of remembrance and grief? I have experienced alot of discrimination after 911, but have learner to accept that every individual is entitled to their opinions. Iman Bin Hamad
    • Quote 2
      Vidhu Shekhar Chaturvedi said on Sept. 5, 2011 at 5:12 p.m.
      Thank you Dr. Pedahzur. I fully agree with your views and strongly agree with you on two strong points you have made: 1.On this day of Remembrance and Mourning we must also congratulate and express our heartfelt gratitude to our security agencies and forces including the police for their unceasing, untiring, efficient and very successful efforts. 2.That the best counterterrorism strategy is not to let terrorist "gain the upper hand in this mind game." In my homeland India, where the security agencies face various daunting challenges that occasionally frustrate their best efforts to check and prevent acts of terror (-the list of those challenges being considerably a long one involving international relations with our 'neighbors' as well-) common people have adopted this strategy even at the expense risk to the lives of their loved ones, and thus have been able to discourage terrorists to a vast extent. We must therefore also thank those common people representing ALL ethnic communities who have courageously and bluntly refused to be terrorized. [Incidentally, Courage (shauriya) and Patience (dhairya) appear as the first two of ten characteristics (lakshana) of dharma in the Hindu Manusmruti, besides forgiveness (kshama), tolerance (dama), honesty (asthaya), physical restraint (indriya nigraha) etc. However, it is to be noted that common people- even the most educated ones among them- DO NOT read Manusmruti, the treatise being in classical Sanskrit language. This correct counterterrorism strategy so rightly suggested by Dr. Dr. Pedahzur is adopted by the common Indian by way of pure common sense.]
    • Quote 2
      Ana Rodriguez said on Sept. 3, 2011 at 7:34 p.m.
      Thank you for this thoughtful piece, Dr. Pedahzur. Very much appreciated.
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