The Global War on Terror: Two Decades On

September 13, 2021

A few days after 9/11 President George W. Bush, in impromptu remarks said, “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while. His use of the word “crusade” raised concerns in Europe among those who saw this as walking into civilizational clash trap set by al-Qaeda. Thus, when he addressed a joint session of the Congress on September 20, 2001, the President struck a different tone. He said,

“We’ve seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers in English, Hebrew and Arabic…

“I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith…

“The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.”

He also said, “The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.”

Over the years, this “fringe form of Islamic extremism” has come to be defined as “radical Islamic terrorism”.

And this is what President Bush said on the Taliban:

“The leadership of Al Qaeda has great influence in Afghanistan and supports the Taliban regime in controlling most of that country. In Afghanistan we see Al Qaeda’s vision for the world. Afghanistan’s people have been brutalized, many are starving, and many have fled.

“Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for owning a television. Religion can be practiced only as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough.

“It is not only repressing its own people, it is threatening people everywhere by sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists.

“By aiding and abetting murder, the Taliban regime is committing murder. And tonight, the United States of America makes the following demands on the Taliban.

“Deliver to United States authorities all of the leaders of Al Qaeda who hide in your land.

“The Taliban must act and act immediately.”

The Taliban refused to act, and America started its longest war. Two decades later, Washington was left with no other choice than withdrawing from Afghanistan with the Taliban back in power in Kabul.

And on August 16, President Biden said, “Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland… Today, the terrorist threat has metastasized well beyond Afghanistan: al Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nusra in Syria, ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates in multiple countries in Africa and Asia.  These threats warrant our attention and our resources.”

So, one may ask what has changed since 9/11. Unfortunately, very little for the better and a lot more for the worse. The terrorist threat has only metastasized. And, to expect that the Taliban have changed is chimera. Last week, euronews reported that the Taliban security forces appeared to use whips and sticks against women to break up a protest in Kabul after a new ban on unofficial demonstrations was introduced.

The terrorist threat has taken deep root in the Middle East with its long-drawn-out conflicts. To stop its spreading elsewhere, major powers have no other option than working together. Presidents  Biden President and Xi Jinping agreeing that competition should not veer into conflict is a positive sign. Hopefully, this would be followed by a positive exchange between Presidents Biden and Putin.

In the absence of any peace initiative from within the region, major powers should join hands to help resolve Middle East conflicts. They should put an end to proxy wars which only empower the terrorists. They must convince Middle East leaders to openly confront the ideology of the Islamic State to prevent terrorists from hijacking Islam itself. They should encourage those leaders to invest in progressive education. And the Biden administration should keep its promise of a foreign policy centered on human rights.

Ataturk led our War of Independence and launched the reforms which marked the end of Turkey’s Age of Decadence.  This is why Lord Kinross titled his book: “Atatürk: The Rebirth of a Nation”. These reforms can serve as the compass to guide the Middle East towards its Age of Enlightenment. The problem is finding leaders brave enough to take that path.


About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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