The Supreme Court’s June 26 decision to partially uphold President Donald Trump’s March 6 executive order to block people of six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. is the most recent manifestation of the fear that Osama bin Laden succeeded in creating with his September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.
The 9/11 attacks were the worst terrorist attacks in world history, killing 2,996 people and injuring more than 6,000 others. The World Trade Center attack in New York was the most psychologically traumatic one for most Americans because millions watched it happen on live television.
Rudolf Giuliani was New York’s mayor when it happened. The following year he visited London and toured the local museums and memorials dedicated to the 1940 Battle of Britain and the Blitz. He wanted to do it, he explained, because the toughness exhibited by Londoners in those dark days of the Second World War had inspired him in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack.
The suffering that Londoners endured during WWII was truly awful. From September 1940 to May 1941 they were bombed by Hitler’s Luftwaffe almost daily. Then from January through May of 1944 the Germans bombed them regularly again, in what came to be know as the Baby Blitz. After the Western Allies landed in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Hitler unleashed thousands of V-1 flying bombs against southern England. And in September he began sending thousands of V-2 rockets. Hitler ordered these attacks as vengeance for the Allied bombing of German cities, but he also he hoped to instill a level of terror in Londoners that would destroy Britain’s will to fight. The Nazi attacks on London killed about 30,000 and seriously injured another 50,000, but the city kept calm and carried on.
The same can be said of most Americans after the 9/11 attacks. Nothing would ever be the same again, as intensive security measures were permanently implemented across the nation. But it helped when President George W. Bush addressed Congress in a nationally televised speech on September 21, 2001, and warned Americans about succumbing to fear and hatred:
I ask you to live your lives and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat. I ask you to uphold the values of America and remember why so many have come here. We’re in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.
Bush simultaneously took military action against the 9/11 terrorists. In October of 2001 he launched an invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban regime that had given Osama bin Laden a safe haven. In 2003, however, he launched an ultimately disastrous war for dubious reasons against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Barak Obama subsequently won the 2008 presidential election partly due to his promises to get U.S. troops out of Iraq, and to focus on killing Osama bin Laden while destroying his Al-Qaeda Islamic extremist terrorist network. Obama’s focus on fighting terrorism paid off when on May 2, 2011, he was able to tell a national television audience that, under his direction, U.S. Navy SEALS had killed Osama bin Laden in his hideout in Pakistan.
Under Obama, U.S. military and foreign intelligence agencies also inflicted enormous damage to the Al-Queda terrorist network. But the chaos created by the Syrian Civil War and the incompetence of the new Iraqi government created a vacuum that allowed for the meteoric rise in 2014 of a new Islamic extremist group in the Middle East who called themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – more popularly known in the West as ISIS. They were different than Al-Queda, because they had an army that captured and held large portions of Syria and Iraq, which facilitated their declaration of Raqqa, Syria, as the capital of their new “worldwide” Muslim caliphate.
ISIS was also more ruthless than Al-Queda, subjecting the people in the territories it occupied to torture and mass-executions for any perceived offense to their religious rules. And they generated terror worldwide by posting videos of brutal executions on social media, while encouraging Muslims around the world to carry out spontaneous attacks against non-believers.
They succeeded in inspiring numerous Islamic extremist terror attacks across the globe, but the ones that alarmed Americans the most, as usual, were the ones that happened in Europe and the U.S. In Western Europe, the November 2015 attack in Paris killed 130 people, the March 2016 attack in Brussels killed 32, and the July 2016 attack in Nice killed 86. In the U.S., the December 2015 ISIS-inspired attack in San Bernardino killed 14 and injured 24, and the June 2016 attack in Orlando killed 49 and wounded 58 – making it the worst terrorist attack in the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks.
President Obama responded to the San Bernardino attack, and subsequent reports of the harassment of American Muslims, by giving a speech at a mosque in Baltimore in February 2016 wherein he said:
As Americans, we have to stay true to our core values, and that includes freedom of religion for all faiths. An attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths, and when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. We cannot be bystanders to bigotry. We have to reject any politics that targets people because of religion. We have to make sure that hate crimes are punished, and that the civil rights of all Americans are upheld.
But Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner in the 2016 presidential election, decided to exploit the terrorist attacks.
- He suggested the death toll in Paris would have been lower if the locals were allowed to carry guns, and that he would kill the families of terrorists to win the fight against ISIS.
- He warned that the attack in Brussels was “just the beginning” and supported torturing terrorist suspects.
- After the Nice attack, he described his plan to restrict people of Muslim nations from entering the U.S., and warned that Muslim refugees were creating a “cancer” from within.
- In response to the San Bernardino attack, he said the attackers were obviously radical Islamic terrorists because of their last names, and falsely claimed that one of their neighbors “knew what was going on” but didn’t report anything because he didn’t want to racially profile them.
- And after the Orlando attack he implied that it was President Obama’s fault, and claimed his election opponent Hillary Clinton wanted to disarm Americans, making them defenseless against Islamic terrorists.
Clinton’s response to the 2015 Paris attack, however, touched on the same American ideals that were recognized by Bush and Obama.
“After a major terrorist attack, every society faces a choice between fear and resolve. The world’s great democracies can’t sacrifice our values or turn our backs on those in need. Therefore, we must choose resolve. And we must lead the world to meet this threat.”
Unfortunately, Trump’s inflammatory statements about Muslim extremist attacks helped him win a narrow election victory, even though more Americans have died from domestic right-wing terrorism. And his rhetoric hasn’t cooled off since the election. This March, an ISIS-inspired attack took place in London near the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the British Parliament, killing 4 and injuring more than 50. London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, responded to the attack by making a statement to ease the fears of Londoners.
There can be no justification for the acts of these terrorists and I am quite clear that we will never let them win. My message to Londoners and visitors to our great city is to be calm and vigilant today. You will see an increased police presence today, including armed officers and uniformed officers. There is no reason to be alarmed by this. We are the safest global city in the world. You saw last night as a consequence of our planning, our preparation, the rehearsals that take place, the swift response from the emergency services tackling the terrorists and also helping the injured.
Trump attacked Khan on Twitter for telling Londoners there was no reason to be alarmed by the increased police presence in the city. A spokesperson for the mayor responded to Trump’s tweet by saying the mayor “has more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump’s ill-informed tweet.”
Donald Trump’s abandonment of long-held American values during the election campaign, and his continuing use of fear as a political tool have done immeasurable harm to the country in innumerable ways. That’s not an exaggeration. For example, far-right groups promoting racism, hatred and xenophobia now feel legitimized. Is this making America great again?
But even more troubling, he’s shown there are a lot of American voters who are willing to sacrifice other people’s rights for their own security. I bet a lot of Londoners would call them snowflakes.