As we approach the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, are we any safer now? I was at university when the 9/11 attacks happened in 2001. I remember the day vividly. I had just seen some friends after a trip abroad and on the way home I saw a large crowd of people gathered outside a shop watching the news coverage through the window. As I stumbled through, to get a glimpse of what people were watching, I will never forget those horrific scenes. I imagine few of us will forget the pictures of the twin towers collapsing amid the debris, dust and carnage. I felt a cold shiver run down my spine. The events of September 11 not only caused great distress and shock, but the reverberations across the world caused panic and pandemonium.
The U.S., like Britain, began a process of using national security as a smokescreen for unpopular interventions – from dodgy dossiers and non-existent weapons of mass destruction to an array of counter-terrorism laws and two wars which were thrust upon us without any credible intelligence. So began the global "war on terror,”which could have easily been renamed a decade later the global ‘war on Islam’. Since then we have seen a rise in Islamophobia and a sense of fear, over-policing and racial profiling. From the Burkini ban in France to British Muslims being marched off an Easyjet flight after their WhatsApp messages were mistaken for ‘Isis material’. So are we really winning the battle for hearts and minds?
At the time the prime minister, Tony Blair, told us: "This is a battle with only one outcome: our victory, not theirs."
But have we actually won? And who are we at war with? I was one of the million people who marched in London against the illegal war in Iraq in 2003. As the chants of "Not in our name" grew louder, and I began to lose my voice, Blair clearly was not listening. A decade later and Iraq has now become a sectarian hotbed for extremism.
Moreover, I would argue that since 9/11, counter-terrorism legislation has actually increased terrorist activity. Tactics of over-policing and hardline legislation disproportionately targeted at Muslims have contributed to the "othering" of Muslim communities. At the same time they have led to antipathy over the actions of far-right groups.
The ancient writ of habeas corpus, due process, and the rule of law are also all being lost in this wave of anti-terror legislation that includes detaining people without charge, detaining people under curfews and restrictions on what people can say.
Some people may argue that because Osama bin Laden is now dead, the "war on terror" has achieved its ultimate goal. I disagree. If we look at what we have achieved since the war on terror, then what we see is a bleak picture of rising Islamophobia, extremist groups like Isis have emerged, hundreds of innocent people arrested, thousands of people murdered and terrorist plots continuing to take place. So the question we should be asking; “Is Britain a safer place now and have we really won?”
(The writer is an associate professor in Criminology at Birmingham City University. The is article is courtesy of the Birmingham City University Press Office.)