At the time of the 9/11 attacks, commentators trying to analyze Afghan support for Al-Qaeda put a great deal of emphasis on the Taliban’s sectarian orientation as “Deobandi.” Deobandis across South Asia were known for disapproval of what they took to be Sufi or Shia intercessory practices that might compromise monotheism; they also discouraged celebration of ostentatious life-cycle customs. [...]
In the days immediately following September 11, 2001, the Council invited a wide range of leading social scientists from around the world to write short essays for an online forum, After September 11. Written against two-week deadlines when it was difficult to come by sure knowledge in a time of quickly changing circumstances, the forum’s essays would be downloaded millions of times and used extensively by teachers and journalists.
A decade later, contributors to the original forum were asked to reflect on what they wrote and to explore what has changed and what remains the same since those harrowing times. The result is this extraordinary digital collection of new essays, 10 Years after September 11. Short and written in a style that is accessible to both academic and non-academic readers, the essays offer deep, expert analysis of developments since 9/11 from the perspectives of the social sciences.
So politicized, so fraught, and so painfully disappointing, the process of memorialization of the events of 9/11, symbolically focused on Ground Zero in New York City, was in many ways entirely predictable from the first months after September 11. [...]
In May of this year, when Osama Bin Laden was revealed to have been living in the tranquility of a suburb in Abbottabad, a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s premier military academy, it again brought to the surface underlying tensions between the Pakistani and American governments. The relationship between the militaries of the two countries is an old one, and the mutual suspicion is not new either. [...]
A decade has passed since September 11, 2001. On our side, there is still bickering over construction of the memorial site in Manhattan, but the war over the mosque, or cultural center, nearby has gone into remission. Memorial services focus on the victims rather than on the clash of civilizations that the attacks represented. This year, we can even celebrate with fanfare, since Osama Bin Laden is dead, dumped ceremoniously into the Indian Ocean. But, on the other side, the conflict is not over. [...]
The 9/11 debate was centered on a single issue: Islam. Osama Bin Laden was taken at his own words by the West: Al-Qaeda, even if its methods were supposedly not approved by most Muslims, was seen as the vanguard or at least a symptom of “Muslim wrath” against the West, fueled by the fate of the Palestinians and by Western encroachments in the Middle East; and if this wrath, which has pervaded the contemporary history of the Middle East, has been cast in Islamic terms, it is because Islam is allegedly the main, if not the only, reference that has shaped Muslim minds and societies since the Prophet. [...]
The famous French historian Fernand Braudel distinguished “macrohistory” from “microhistory.” The former is the history of significant political, economic, and social events, while the latter is the history of the proliferation of, and the slow changes in, people’s everyday lives. [...]
Writing about 9/11 in 2001, right after it had happened, what I saw as an activating field, though not the origin, was the rapacious global political economy Western governments and firms have produced over decades and centuries. By “activating field,” I do not mean a cause, but a type of agency that enables, which might be one of several. This activating field has been one factor in many and diverse historic events—some emancipatory, such as the independence movements of the 1960s in Africa, and some brutal and murderous, such as the 9/11 attacks. Being asked to write about what I see today, ten years later, I am struck by the emergence of yet another activating field—the urbanizing of wars and the associated global projection of even minor attacks. [...]
It is a rare opportunity to be asked to reflect on an essay written a decade ago, now with the benefit of hindsight—of knowing what has happened, rather than anticipating what might happen—and with the tempting prospect of saying “I told you so.” But the truth is that the meaning of September 11 continues to recede just as the tenth anniversary arrives, or remains as difficult to fathom now as it was then. [...]
A decade ago, coming off of parallel research projects on what some were then calling “global civil society,” we responded to a request from the SSRC that we contribute to an online forum on the impact of 9/11 from our work on transnational contention. [...]
Ten years ago, the shock of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, DC, led me to reflect on the impact of secularism on modern developments in East Asia, especially in Japan, whose postwar economic transformation had become the model for the region. I wondered whether the Enlightenment project that inspired the secularism had been misunderstood and led to government policies that damaged the faiths and religions that most people still believed in. [...]