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Western Press Review: The 11 September Attacks And The Year Since, And Central Asian Economies

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 11 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- On the first anniversary today of the attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the U.S. Pentagon, most American news dailies devote significant space to memorials and reflections of that day and how the world has changed in the year since.

The British, French, German, and Irish media also focus considerable attention on the events of a year ago and the geostrategic shifts of the months following. Some analysts remark that while America's national grief over the 11 September tragedy is entirely befitting, its response to the attacks -- the declaration of a "war on terrorism," military operations in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime and, perhaps, a forthcoming war in Iraq -- has been either ill-considered or inappropriately unilateral.

Other issues addressed today include Central Asia's hopes for economic renewal and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network -- how real is the threat?


A editorial in "The New York Times" memorializing the victims of the attacks a year ago says many questions about 11 September 2001 will forever remain unanswered. No one will ever know "how many selfless acts were committed" that day, whether "in the stairwells of the World Trade Center, the halls of the Pentagon," or on board the four hijacked airliners.

The editorial remarks that in the past year, Americans have "struggled with the gap between the immediacy, the instantaneousness, of the blow we felt on 11 September and the slowness, the laboriousness [of the] effort to adjust to it as a nation."

The tragedy of a year ago is now an important part of United States history. But "The New York Times" says, "In the long run, it will not be as important a part of the story as what we choose to do in response to what we suffered." It is possible to mistake moderation for "indifference," or the slowness of democratic processes for "indecision." But the paper says time will help clarify these distinctions, "if we continue to seek them out."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Southeast Asia analyst John Brandon of the Washington-based Asia Foundation says there has been an erroneous tendency "to equate Islam with Arab culture and repressive authoritarian regimes." But he says in the nation "with more Muslims than any other, Indonesia, Islamic groups are actively promoting human rights, democratization, civic education, and gender equality."

The Western media are partly to blame for the misconceptions about Islam, and have persistently misused two terms: "jihad" and "fundamentalism." While the word "jihad" has, at times, been distorted by radical Muslim movements for political purposes, Brandon observes that for most Muslims, it means "striving for spiritual good."

The concept of fundamentalism also does not imply extremism. For a Muslim, fundamentalism means "that he or she adheres to the five pillars of Islam -- to believe in Allah as the one true God and that Mohammed is His messenger, to pray five times daily, to help the poor, to fast during the month of Ramadan [to] attain piety, and to make the pilgrimage to Mecca."

Brandon says that on the first anniversary of the 11 September attacks, America "is properly mourning for those who tragically lost their lives ...." But he adds: "Whatever our differences, the peoples of the world are bound much more by their common fate than by their separate identities. We all need to bear that in mind."


In the German daily "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Wolf Lepenies draws some lessons from the 11 September attacks. America fundamentally changed within a few hours on that day, he says, as did the entire Western world. The concept of the national state, once diminishing, is regaining sharp distinctions. Democracy is adopting a militant image. The new economy is in a state of permanent recession. Instead of taking joy in life, many are distrustful and fearful.

Yet this, says Lepenies, is occurring hand in hand with a frenzied optimism. What "this combination of epochal fear and yet hope have in common is the claim that everything in the world has changed since 11 September."

Lepenies says such statements reflect the "provincialism" of the Western world. Although terrorist networks have altered the geopolitics of the globe, not all the inhabitants of the Earth are living in a changed world. The 11 September attacks means little for the poverty and AIDS that afflict Africa, or Asia and South America.

Lepenies recalls the words of a Nobel Prize winner for literature, Nigeria's Wole Soyinka, who said: "The war against terror will only be successful if it is simultaneously a war against injustice and inequality. Only when this happens will not only the West change, but the whole world."


In a contribution to Britain's "Financial Times," former U.S. National Security Adviser Samuel Berger says that in the wake of the 11 September attacks, the United States must focus on radical terrorist groups while having "peripheral vision." The focus on terrorism should not come "at the expense of other priorities," he says. Last 11 September "starkly demonstrated" America's interdependence. Today, using U.S. power "to help build a less bitter and divided world is a national security imperative," says Berger, and it is "morally right."

The fight against terrorism will be fostered best by "a broader agenda," he says, which should focus first on nonproliferation. The U.S. must also seek to defuse or resolve enduring conflicts "from the Balkans [to] South Asia," and provide help for the world's emerging market economies. Wealthy nations should help relieve the debt of poor countries, lower barriers to imports from undeveloped countries, and make universal education and public health into "international priorities."

Moreover, says Berger, there is now a "historic opportunity" to further integrate Russia and China into the international community.

Finally, the U.S. must act to protect the environment. "If Kyoto is flawed," he says, the U.S. should use its influence to fix it.

The U.S. cannot define all threats as terrorism, says Berger. If America uses its power "only for self-protection, and in a manner that is self- righteous, [it] shall fuel the fires of resentment."


"Los Angeles Times" syndicated columnist William Pfaff says the attacks of 11 September "broke the international geopolitical mold of the previous decade, which was set by the collapse of the Soviet system." The new order left America with a "military and political power monopoly."

Pfaff says the leaders in Washington now have "a vision that is radical and utopian on the one hand, and complacent on the other. Their utopianism is their belief that American domination of international society is history's natural conclusion."

Their "complacence" is that they think American power alone "can bring this new international order into being. They believe in using American power without compunction. They are hostile to international constraints and regard international law as, in important respects, outmoded." In addition, the U.S. seeks to dominate military high technology.

Such ambitions "will fail in the long run," says Pfaff, and could "disrupt the existing international order." In this way, the United States could "[turn] itself into a generator of international tension and conflict." In the Muslim world already, "enemies are being made of former friends, and new friends are undermined by the demands made on them in the war on terrorism."

Pfaff warns that American security may be ultimately undermined "by Washington's own actions." And that, he says, "will be Osama bin Laden's success."


"Europe's Faintheartedness" is the title of a commentary by Brigitte Klos in today's "Frankfurter Rundschau," in which she discusses a possible U.S.-led war with Iraq.

The U.S. regards Europe as a "global lightweight," she says, which is a situation Europe itself is creating. Klos questions what clear message European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is supposed to give Washington, when each EU leader is pulling in a different direction -- from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who supports U.S. policy on Iraq, to Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is adamantly opposed, and French President Jacques Chirac, who is engaged in an "elegant balancing act." Klos says as long as each European nation appears to the U.S. to be going it alone, America "will reject the EU as a global player with any influence on war and peace."

Klos says in a world that could "spin out of control" if it does not deal with the root cause of the dangers it faces, it does little good for Europe to foresee the dangers if it is "unable to act on its good intentions for lack of courage and unanimity."


An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" asks, a year after the attacks on the U.S., "What remains of Al-Qaeda?" Most of its troops have now scattered, and the network no longer has the Afghan state to support it. But Al-Qaeda's management seemingly endures, including its leader, Osama bin Laden. Cells most likely remain in Europe, the U.S., and Asia. In short, says the paper, the Al-Qaeda threat has been reduced, but not eradicated.

Al-Qaeda, the editorial continues, seeks to restore Muslim believers to an original state of Islam by pitting Muslim populations against the Western world. But this terrorist network is not a structured organization, like ETA or the IRA. And "Le Monde" says it is exactly the informality of its network that makes Al-Qaeda so difficult to fight. Last 11 September it proved that not only state actors could unleash great violence. Today, Al-Qaeda remains a robust threat, says the paper, and it is necessary to remain on alert.


In "Eurasia View," "Eurasianet" contributing editor Alec Appelbaum says the 11 September terrorist attacks "thrust Central Asian states into the spotlight." As America and its allies rushed to establish military bases in the region as part of the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan, many hoped "that Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and others would parlay the attention into broader trade and sounder economies." But "that has not happened," he says.

American leaders have not tied increased aid to economic progress, and "Central Asian republics have not clearly applied revenue from aid or from foreign visitors toward projects that stimulate foreign investment or improve national living standards." Economic policies throughout the region threaten to keep it mired in economic stagnation. While the antiterrorism coalition "has provided cash and attention," Appelbaum says it has not "spurred re-engineering of these young economies."

Ultimately, says Appelbaum, some observers believe the U.S. seeks Central Asian sources of oil as alternatives to the Middle East. "This may promise steady investment in oil-rich Kazakhstan and other nations near the Caspian Sea," he says. Some have speculated that the region has become a strategic priority precisely because of its potential energy supply to U.S. and European markets. But Appelbaum says "drilling, delivering, and refining fossil fuels cannot foster widespread improvements in living standards if governments do not tie oil revenues into a system of savings and social investment."


In "The Irish Times," columnist Vincent Browne questions why there are countless memorial services today around the world for the approximately 3,000 victims of the U.S. attacks a year ago, and virtually no attention is being paid to the numerous Afghan casualties from the American-led response to the attacks. He says all the commemorations "also reflect a disregard for the thousands of lives lost in Afghanistan and elsewhere as part of the retaliation for the atrocities of a year ago." He asks: "What is so special about the 3,000 lives lost in the Twin Towers, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon? Why should these lost lives alone be commemorated?"

Browne says today's remembrances will express an unintended "message of disrespect for those Afghans and others who were killed, maimed, and bereaved, for they do not [seem to] count in our sympathies or concern."

"The commemorations will serve another purpose also," he says. "They will signal to the United States an empathy for the plans that are afoot to extend the retaliatory response further afield, probably [to] Iraq." One year after 11 September, he writes, "Al-Qaeda is still active," the terrorist threat to the U.S. is "greater" and Afghanistan is still "a violent mess."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)