The Great Debate

The “missing battle” of 9/11

By Andrew Hammond
The opinions expressed are his own.

Almost 10 years after 9/11, the United States has a new window of opportunity to regain the initiative in the “missing battle” of the campaign against terrorism. That is, a sustained soft power effort to win the battle for hearts and minds in predominantly Muslim countries.

The US and wider Western response to the September 2001 attacks has been dominated by counter-terrorism and military might. While key successes have been achieved, including the unseating of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, an overwhelming emphasis on hard power has fueled controversy across much of the world.

Even former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged the problem when, in 2006, he asserted that the United States “probably deserves [only] a ‘D’ or a D-plus’ as a country as to how well we’re doing in the battle of ideas” [in the anti-terrorism campaign], and that “we have to find a formula as a country” for countering the jihadist message.

However, the death of Osama bin Laden, especially when taken in combination with the ongoing Arab Spring, offers a new window of opportunity for policymakers to re-emphasize the importance of soft power in the campaign against terrorism. As President Barack Obama said, this must include an “alternative narrative” for a disaffected generation in predominantly Muslim countries.

According to the just-released annual findings of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, in 9 out of 13 key countries for which relevant time series data is available, significantly fewer people think favorably of the United States in 2011 than before 9/11. Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in predominantly Muslim countries. In Turkey, for instance, US favorability ratings have declined precipitously from 52% in 2000 to 10% in 2011. In Pakistan, the fall-off is from 23% in 2000 to 12% in 2011.

Jupiter and Joseph

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book After the Fall: New Yorkers Remember September 2001 and the Years That Followed. Edited by Mary Marshall Clark, Peter Bearman, Catherine Ellis, and Stephen Drury Smith, “After the Fall” is an unprecedented cross-section of New Yorkers telling the story of how their lives changed due to Trade Center events and their aftermath, selected from interviews for the Columbia University Center for Oral History 9/11 Oral History Project.

Interview of L. Somi Roy by Gerry Albarelli I was born in Imphal, which is the capital of Manipur. People often ask me, “Where do you come from?” And I say Manipur. And I wait for the silence that follows. Usually there is a silence. There’s very little knowledge about this area, even in India. It’s on the border of Burma. It’s a very small, discrete culture. People are of mixed Tibetan and Burmese ancestry, and throwing in a bit of—depending on how far you want to go back—the Mon and the Khmers and the Thais and so on. So that’s where I grew up. 

So do you want to talk about September 11, is it okay?

Things never really quite die; you never quite lose people in your lives. I remember on 9/11 I was living in a loft downtown in the South Street Seaport area and, of course, that was totally cordoned off. There was no power and there was this dust everywhere. For some reason I came back home almost every night, like a homing pigeon. I was [getting around] on my bicycle. I’d always hated cargo pants but I really found the advantage of cargo pants that summer. In the weeks after 9/11, I had the cell phone in one pocket and water in the other, and my charger, and flashlight, and my PalmPilot. I was totally connected. And there I was on my bicycle, going up and down the East River Park because that was the only route where you didn’t have to go through a lot of police [road] blocks. But I used to come home every night and there was no power.

from Bernd Debusmann:

Egypt, America and a blow to al Qaeda

These must be difficult times for Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The uprising that swept away Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of huge demonstrations, none in the name of Islam, does not fit their ideology. In the war of ideas, al Qaeda suffered a major defeat.

Its leaders preach that the way to remove "apostate" rulers -- and Mubarak was high on the list -- is through violence. Al Qaeda's ideology does not embrace the kind of people power that brought down the Berlin wall, forced Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines into exile, and filled Cairo's Tahrir Square with tens of thousands of peaceful protesters day after day.

They waved the red-white-and-black flags of Egypt, not the green banners of Islam, in peaceful demonstrations that amounted to "a huge defeat in a country of central importance to its image," in the words of Noman Benotman, the former leader of a Libyan group often aligned with al Qaeda. "We are witnessing Osama bin Laden's nightmare," wrote Shibley Telhami, an Arab scholar at the University of Maryland.

Ground Zero mosque: how will it affect midterms?


By Jerry Kremer
The opinions expressed are his own.

Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, the late Speaker of the House, once stated that “all politics is local.” This will certainly be the case for the races this November, which will be decided by local issues. This fact only adds fuel to the fire for Republican strategists who are injecting the mosque debate into their campaigns in the hope of swaying ambivalent voters on this highly emotional issue.

Now that the mosque controversy has ballooned into an international issue, it’s worth taking a look to see whether the Republicans were correct in attempting to turn the fight into GOP talking points for November. For it may just be a double-edged sword.

In its early stages, the mosque debate focused on local zoning issues and the question of whether the proposed location was an insult to the families of 9/11 victims. It festered, but remained a local topic until President Barack Obama jumped in and offered his views on religious freedom. Even though he did not give an opinion on whether he condoned the mosque’s potential location, his remarks evoked a knee-jerk reaction from several key Republicans.

Torching U.S. power

The following is guest post by Andrew Hammond, a director at ReputationInc, an international strategic communications firm, was formerly a special adviser to the Home Secretary in the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair and a geopolitics consultant at Oxford Analytica. The opinions expressed are his own.

The ninth anniversary of September 11 is being overshadowed by the news of Pastor Terry Jones and his now-suspended plan to burn copies of the Koran at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Even if the bonfire does not take place, the news of it is tragic for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, although President Barack Obama and other US officials have rightly condemned the pastor’s previously intended actions, the episode has exacerbated anti-American sentiment, especially in the Muslim world. This comes at a sensitive period at the end of Ramadan, when debate is also still raging about an Islamic group’s plan to build a community center, which includes a mosque, near Ground Zero in New York City.

9/11 and the nine year war


The following is a condensed version of George Friedman’s geopolitical column for STRATFOR, a global intelligence company where Friedman is chief executive officer.

It has now been nine years since al Qaeda attacked the United States. And it has been nine years of America primarily focusing on the Islamic world. Over this period of time, the United States has engaged in two multi-year, multi-divisional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, inserted forces in other countries in smaller operations and conducted a global covert campaign against al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups.

In order to understand the last nine years, we must understand the first 24 hours of the war — and recall our own feelings in those 24 hours. First, the audacious nature of the attack was both shocking and frightening. Second, we did not know what was coming next.

America’s trouble with Islam

Of the many posters held aloft in angry demonstrations about plans for an Islamic cultural centre and mosque in New York, one in particular is worth noting: “All I ever need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11.”

As an example of wilful ignorance, it’s in a class by itself. It passes judgment, in just 12 words, about a sprawling universe of 1.3 billion adherents of Islam (in 57 countries around the world) who come from different cultures, speak a wide variety of languages, follow different customs, hold different nationalities and believe in different interpretations of their faith, just like Christians or Jews. Suicidal murderers are a destructive but tiny minority.

But for the people waving all-I-ever-need-to-know posters in front of national television cameras two blocks from “ground zero,” site of the biggest mass murder in American history, Islam equals terrorism. No need for nuance, no need for learning, no need for building bridges between the faiths. The mindset epitomized by the slogan mirrors the radical fringe of Islamic thought, equally doubt-free and self-righteous.

from The Great Debate UK:

Interfaith centre at New York 9/11 site sparks controversy

- Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is the author of several books, including ‘Who Moved my Job?’ and ‘Global Services: Moving to a Level Playing Field’.  The opinions expressed are his own. -

Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist who attacked the U.S. on 9/11 was a Muslim.

That’s the kind of aphorism being bounced around the Internet because of the news that a nineteenth-century building located close to Ground Zero in New York may be demolished to make way for a community and cultural centre aimed at improving relations between Islam and the West.

US intelligence spending – value for money?

America’s spy agencies are spending more money on obtaining intelligence than the rest of the world put together. Considerably more. To what extent they are providing value for money is an open question.

“Sometimes we are getting our money’s worth,” says John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington think tank. “Sometimes I think it would be better to truck the money we spend to a large parking lot and set fire to it.”

The biggest post-Cold War miss of the sprawling intelligence community was its failure to connect the dots of separate warnings about the impending attack on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. It also laid bare a persistent flaw in a system swamped by a tsunami of data collected through high-tech electronic means: not enough linguists to analyse information.