"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please." Twenty years after the attacks of September 11, could Karl Marx’s aphorism help us understand the upheavals the world has seen since?
With the Taliban back in power in Kabul, it is tempting to consider that the past twenty years have resulted in nothing but noise, fury and unnecessary suffering. Has the world, or at least Kabul, not returned to the way it was in 2001? Nothing could be further from the truth. Behind the deceptive veil of continuity, the world has changed profoundly - just not necessarily in the direction desired by its main protagonists at the start of the 21st century. Recently declassified documents written by Bin Laden, which were found in his Pakistani hideout in 2011, shed light on his intentions.
The man behind the 9/11 attacks did not only want to humiliate and hurt America and rally Muslims behind the creation of a new caliphate. He was convinced that once America's citizens were shaken to the core by a strike on their own soil, they would take to the streets and demand that their country withdraw from the Middle East, as they had for Asia during the Vietnam War. After the end of America’s presence in the region, the possibilities would be limitless: from the overthrow of the Arab regimes in place to the eventual disappearance of Israel, that outlier in the land of Islam. The fight between the "believers" and the "infidels" would end in the total defeat of the latter, thus changing the path of global history.
A romantic and bloody endeavor
In fact, the exact opposite happened, at least - and this is an essential point - in the short term. Driven by a desire for self-defense as much as revenge, America invaded Afghanistan to drive out the Taliban, who had provided a sanctuary for al-Qaeda terrorists. Attacks on US soil ended up meaning more, not less, America in the Middle East. And the main beneficiaries of Bin Laden’s destabilization efforts were the region’s non-Arab powers: Turkey, Iran and, most importantly, Israel.
It is almost as if Bin Laden’s main intention had been to strengthen the Jewish state. From as early as 2011 and up to today, polls conducted in the Arab world show that only a tiny minority of Muslims (1 for every 100,000) recognize themselves in Bin Laden’s radical aims. Moreover, as Fareed Zakaria notes in The Washington Post, the vast majority of Islamist groups, from Boko Haram in Nigeria to Al Shabab in the Horn of Africa - not to mention, of course, the Taliban in Afghanistan - are local, not global. Their destructive capabilities may not have been eliminated, but they have been severely curtailed.
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