Seen “Die Hard”? To be in America on 11 September 2001 was to be part of one such Hollywood thriller. The unbelievable had happened and America’s worst fear of becoming the target of a deadly act of international terrorism had come true. Two American landmarks, the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, located in the two most powerful cities of America, New York and Washington respectively, had become victims of deadly acts of terrorism.
It all began close to 9:00 am east coast time, when while already in office or on their way, the Americans heard the TV and radio waves carry the shocking news that one of the two towers (each one having 110 stories) of the World Trade Centre, the proud symbol of New York’s booming financial sector, had been hit by an aeroplane. While, media and the public alike tried to figure out what exactly had happened, and whether it was an accident or an act of terrorism, another plane hit the second tower of the building within twenty minutes. Now it was obvious: it was not an accident, it was a planned terrorist conspiracy.
Any lingering doubts were quite quickly removed by another newsbreak from Washington in less than half an hour of the news from New York. There was fire in the Pentagon, the headquarters of US Department of Defence. The White House was being evacuated too. Initial reports were not clear of the cause of the fire in the Pentagon but soon it became clear that it was caused by yet another plane crash, establishing the link between the disasters in New York and Washington.
While people were still trying to absorb these horrifying developments, the TV news channels, pictured the devastating collapse of the one of the hit towers of the World Trade Centre so that the entire 110 story tower collapsed to the ground. A few more minutes and another cloud of smoke and dust filled the Manhattan streets as the other tower also crumbled to the ground. If that was not enough, yet another plane crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
A chaotic New York, a dumb founded Washington, and an overall horrified America witnessed the worst case of human catastrophe as fire brigade, medical staff, and emergency rescue workers, rushed to help the victims of these attacks. How many? No one knows. The government has said that it will be a day or two before it is in any position to release some confirmed numbers of affected victims. But, whatever the number, it is expected to be big, with thousands of injured people and hundreds of dead bodies. The New York hospitals are reported to be full of victims and other cities are helping by sending in additional medical support and blood supplies.
The American media is going frantic with on the scene coverage of the situation as well as getting comments from experts. But, this is just the beginning. What happened on 11 September in America is going to dominate American media for months to come as slowly more details unravel. Americans are shocked to think that four planes from two different American airlines were successfully hi-jacked and then crashed into such important buildings. How could CIA not see this coming? How come the security forces could not monitor the air space around Pentagon? The scale of the whole terrorist act from the ability of the terrorists to hi-jack the planes and then crash them into these buildings has left the Americans doubting the capacity of their security and intelligence agencies.
But, the key question that is burning in every mind is: who is the culprit? By chance being in USA in the city of Chicago at the time of this happening, it is not a very pleasant feeling to see that the unanimous reaction is: the Muslim fundamentalists and especially Osama Bin Laden. People on the street as well as the representatives of the government are pointing their fingers towards the Muslim fundamentalist groups. The American government has denied any links with the bombing in Kabul that happened the same day, but various officials appearing on the media have not been reluctant to say that Osma Bin Laden and Muslim groups are the prime suspects. Iraq is the next suspect in line.
All of this is not good news for Pakistan, nor for the Muslim world as a whole. Whatever the intentions of the terrorists, the fact is that if it is proved that these attacks are actually conducted by Muslim fundamentalist groups, then it means worsening standing of the Muslim countries in the international community. America is going to come out hard on anyone who is suspected to be involved in these activities and it will have the support of the entire western world that, despite the individual differences, stands together in its fear of the Muslim fundamentalism.
The sense of horror right now in America is already turning into a sense of rage. People will want to see someone punished for these attacks. The government will have to be aggressive to prove it is competent to counter the enemy. This only means more deadly attacks in coming days, though this time quite likely on the other side of the map. Bush government was already pushing hard for raising military spending. Now, there will be no stopping this increased US spending on military. Afghanistan is going to be under deep scrutiny.
The close geographical proximity to Afghanistan plus the suspected support for Taliban in Pakistan, only means mounting troubles for the country. Pakistan is likely to come under the wrath of America for allegedly supporting the Taliban government. This is likely to lead to further strengthening of ties between India and USA to put a united front against what the two nations believe to be the common enemy, namely Muslim fundamentalists. It is critical that Pakistan adopts skilful diplomatic efforts and ensures America and the world community that it is not supporting any kind of Muslim fundamentalist activities.
It is important to remember that these acts of terrorism are not doing any favour to the Muslims. All they do is to further alienate the Muslim countries from the rest of the world. But, also, it is critical that US reacts with caution. Attacking Taliban or bombing sites of suspected Muslim fundamentalist groups in some other suspected Muslim countries, is not going to solve the eventual security threat to America. America can kill Osama Bin Laden but it cannot stop other people taking his place.
America and the western world need to develop a better understanding of the Muslim community rather than labelling them all as fundamentalists. It needs to show more sensitivity to plights of Muslims be it in Kashmir, Palestine, or other such disputes that demand international attention. It needs to develop a better understanding with moderate Muslim states rather than shunning all Muslim states for perceived fundamentalist threat.
Also, it shows the need for America and the western world to play their role in development of other countries. In this age of globalisation, no country can completely isolate itself from the rest of the world. America cannot keep enjoying its wealth when so many countries continue to suffer extreme poverty. Poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment, create a bitter pool of frustrated youth in many developing countries, who form a good recruitment base for fundamentalist groups. The developed world needs to invest in the developing world not just for humanitarian grounds but also for its own safety. When people have nothing to lose, they are more easily tempted into terrorist activities than when they have a smooth-going life.