9/11 and the problem with tit-for-tat historians

Every year when 9/11 rolls around, I try my best to stop watching TV and reading the newspapers. In 2001, this date was one in which the entire world paused to think about our common humanity and, for a brief instant, set aside our petty differences. Since then, it has become the opposite, bringing out the worst in almost everyone. Whether American or Pakistani, Muslim or non-Muslim, everyone gets defensive and starts pointing fingers at each other’s faces. Aijaz Zaka Syed published a piece in The News making one of the arguments that I’ve been hearing for years: ‘What about the other victims?’ This comes up every year on the anniversary of 9/11, and I’m tired of hearing it.

The core, fundamental problem with Aijaz Syed’s piece is that he is turning tragedy into a competition. Who has suffered more? Americans or Pakistanis? Westerners or Muslims? I reject the premise of the question. Suffering is suffering. All lives are valuable, and no one should make the argument that one or the other victim of terrorism has suffered “more” or “less”. The point is that we are all victims. So why do we continue to lay the blame at America, who is also a victim? More Iraqis have been killed than Pakistanis, so should the Iraqis say that we cannot complain?

At the end of his piece, Aijaz Syed asks America to “ask yourself who and what started it all”. This is another illegitimate point. When did this tit-for-tat history start? Was it 9/11? Was it America’s invasion of Iraq in 1992? Was it Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait? Was it the Iranian revolution in 1979? Was it the CIA sponsored coup in 1953? Was it the Crusades? Was it the Battle of Tabuk? Tit-for-tat historians will always find that the other guy ‘started it’ by picking a convenient ‘start’ time and dismissing everything before.

When a tribesman reacts to a drone strike by killing some people, Taliban apologists say that he is justified because he is taking revenge for this killing. How is this different from what the Americans are doing with the drone strikes? The tribesman wants to kill American soldiers because they killed someone from his village. The American soldiers killed someone from his village because they are being targeted by jihadi militants. Tit-for-tat is not a strategy, it is a chain reaction of events that, like a snake eating his own tail, has no beginning and it has no end.

The implication of Aijaz Syed’s “who started it” comment is that the Americans started it when they meddled in Middle East countries by supporting coups and dictators. Without having the courage to come out and say so, Aijaz Syed implies that America deserved 9/11. But when it comes to their suffering, the tit-for-tat historian follows pure form, dismissing the barbaric acts that killed 3,000 innocents in one devastating attack. In a callous and embarrassing act, Aijaz Syed asks why the American’s can’t just move on.

How long will America remain handcuffed to history and stuck in this time warp? Isn’t it about time it moved on? It has already turned the world upside down, without achieving anything visible or concrete. Indeed, its overwhelming response to the terror attack has given birth to more extremists and has acted as a recruiting agent for groups like Al-Qaeda.

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I read this. Aijaz Syed suggests America is ‘handcuffed to history and stuck in this time warp’, but he also suggests that the US brought 9/11 on themselves for actions they did decades ago.

If anyone thought 9/11 would prompt America to mend its ways and policies in the Middle East, well, they need to think again. Clearly, America – the militant global superpower that we get to see and experience far beyond its borders and not American people – doesn’t seem to care one way or another. It remains far from repentant.

The US has certainly been a bad player in Middle Eastern affairs in the past. The CIA’s 1953 coup against the Mossadegh government in Iran is a case in point. But then again, that was almost 60 years ago. Based on Aijaz Syed’s logic, shouldn’t al Qaeda and Aijaz Syed “just move on”? Of course, the truth is America is ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’. For decades people screamed about American support for dictators. But when the Americans changed their tune and supported rebels during the Arab Spring revolutions, they were cursed for helping Arab rebels get rid of the same dictators they were blamed for supporting before! Meanwhile, the dirty little secret is that we’re the ones propping up an unpopular dictatorship in Bahrain. Does Aijaz Syed support al Qaeda attacks on Pakistan, too? Or does meddling in other countries only justify mass murders when it’s Americans who are killed?

9/11 was not a kneejerk reaction. Al Qaeda had been attacking the Americans for years before, even bombing the World Trade Center before in 1993. And obviously these attacks were not meant to stop any American policies – how can you stop an elephant from charging when you poke it in the eye? Rather the attacks were all carried out by al Qaeda as a strategy to lure the American military into a quagmire just as the Soviets had been defeated in the 1980s. It was a nefarious scheme to topple the only remaining world power that could stand in the way of their greater plans. Osama and his jihadi militants knew that innocent Afghani lives would be lost in the aftermath, but it was a sacrifice they were willing to make. In Iraq, it was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who led the jihadi strategy of stoking sectarian fighting in order to breed violence and chaos that would engulf the Americans. 35,000 people have died in Pakistan from militant violence, but what is the number of innocents killed from drone strikes? A few hundred? And Raymond Davis killed two ISI operatives who were tracking him. So who killed the other tens of thousands? It was Ilyas Kashmiri, Baitullah Mehsud, and other jihadi militants who are responsible for those deaths. Like their teacher al-Zarqawi, militant groups declare whoever they don’t like as apostate and kill with delight. Then they point West and say, ‘they started it’.

When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets stomped on. On 9/11, Osama poked the American elephant in its eye with a sharp stick to make him stomp. And ever since, jihadis and their media apologists have been blaming that elephant for stomping the grass. But neither would the elephant have lost his eye, nor the grass had been stomped if jihadis had not made this strategy of dividing moderate, peaceful Muslims and the West in a scheme to conquer them both. It’s time to end this vicious cycle of tit-for-tat history by uniting not as Christians, Muslims, Jews or Hindus; not as Americans, Pakistanis, Indians or Israelis; not as East or West…but as members of the brotherhood of humanity. Otherwise it won’t matter who started it, because in the end we will all be doomed.

One thought on “9/11 and the problem with tit-for-tat historians

  1. Very well written article Mr. Adeel. Don’t know what to say but what you have written here is nothing less than the absolute truth. Until & unless the policy of tit for tat is abandoned we can forget any treaty with peace. May God grant both the Jihadis as well as American Politicos wisdom for both of them together are paving a way for WW-3.

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