Islam was seen as the cause, rather than the context for radicalism and terrorism. The nuances of Muslim politics and authoritarian regimes and the crucial role of US foreign policy and intervention were ignored. Through popular narratives and images in the media, Islam was cast as a cruel and fanatical religion, inclined to violence. Hijab and burqa became flashpoints of conflict and assimilation. Cultural differences became politicised. Polls in the US show how views about Islam worsened — by 2010, nearly half of all Americans believed Islam encourages violence.
The social fabric has frayed in all plural societies. There have been hate crimes and attacks on Muslims around the world, from Norway to New Zealand, Germany to Myanmar and India. Stoking these fears and stereotypes has worked to the benefit of right-wing parties in many countries. Of course, there have also been contrasting political responses, like that of New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, who emphasised solidarity over fear.
They know everything about you
Nine-eleven birthed the secret world of surveillance through our phones and other devices. Facial recognition and biometrics took off in the years after the attacks. Vehicle tracking, DNA technology and CCTVs are also part of this 360-degree examination.
What began with George Bush letting the National Security Agency conduct wiretaps and gather metadata on foreign communications even on American soil, and the Patriot Act, soon became a huge and unchecked infrastructure for surveillance — the Homeland Security complex.
Meanwhile, digital technology became more sophisticated and people began living more exposed lives, conducting more everyday activities through phones and online platforms. In 2013, US government contractor Edward Snowden exposed the extent of this murky and clandestine spying, and the $52.6-billion ‘black budget’ of US spy agencies, which had violated the privacy of unwitting citizens with programmes like Prism and Tempora. GCHQ in the UK had also collaborated in mass surveillance. In India, surveillance programmes like NATGRID, Netra and CMS set up after the 26/11 attacks allow the minute monitoring of individuals, and there have also been allegations of covert operations with foreign private spyware like Pegasus. However, there has been less of a public outcry or argument about these intrusions, or about safeguards against abuse, despite the fundamental right to privacy.
But you know nothing about them
In the last two decades, the terrorism-industrial complex created a culture of executive privilege and state secrecy in many democracies. It was reason enough to confer greater discretionary powers on the political executive: the president in the US, or the PM and the national security council in India. Legislatures and courts, which are meant to hold the executive accountable, are not privy to these decisions.
Of course, the government needs to keep some sensitive information secret, at least for a while. But if these operations are never disclosed and even unnecessary information is classified, then the temptation to misuse this privilege grows.
Flying became an ordeal
Have you packed your own check-in bag, could anyone have accessed it since, you are asked. You have to go earlier to the airport, you may have to take off your belts or shoes, submit to full-body scans. Nineeleven changed the flying experience at every point, including the visa process and the immigration officer’s detailed quiz. Passengers are profiled more and airlines send complete details of all passengers the moment after check-in closes.
On the flight, cockpit doors acquired armoured locks and cameras. Pilots are required to see who is knocking to enter the flight deck before unlocking. Flying has been a buzzkill in the last two decades because of the terror of terrorism, and now terror of Covid has only made the ‘new normal’ even more abnormal.