20 Years On: A Gen-Z Perspective on the 9/11 Attacks

Though I wasn’t alive to witness the Twin Towers collapse on live television, the grotesque images of grey smoke and dust blanketing the streets of New York City, of men and women jumping to their deaths in favor of a quicker and more painless end, and of both planes piercing the foundations of the American dream, are bored into my brain. As I type these words in the early hours of the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, my ears ring with recordings of passengers calling their loved ones in a futile attempt to hear their voices one last time. My eyes swell as I remember the stories of firefighters lying in the rubble because search dogs were suffering from depression as they couldn’t find any survivors. Moreover, my heart aches not only for the 3,000 Americans killed on that fateful morning but also the millions of U.S. military service members and Middle Eastern civilians needlessly murdered in the War on Terror, a military campaign we now know surely had little to do with terrorism. 

Even though many of us just entering the foreign policy realm didn’t ‘authentically’ experience 9/11, we grew up in its immediate aftermath, knowing only a world in which the United States was at war. Pictures and footage of bloodied Iraqi bodies were normalized in the media we consumed, and the heinous acts of cowardice that occurred twenty years ago today were regularly exploited to justify the slaughter of innocent brown people all over the globe. My parents would regularly inform me of hate crimes committed against fellow Indian-Americans or others mistaken for relatives of the 9/11 attackers. Though I was constantly frightened by the prospect of being killed for my identity, I couldn’t help but empathize with the fury felt by anyone who lost a family member, friend, or relative during the attacks. 

I write about 9/11 on the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan purposefully. As American citizens, we tend to separate 9/11 from the invasion given our proximity to the former, yet both events are as interconnected as can be. The United States invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 — less than a month after the attacks — purely to seek vengeance on the monsters responsible. Though a swift and uncompromising response was necessary, the invasion was poorly planned and the human cost is inexcusable.

As we make our promises never to forget the sacrifices of those working at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the firefighters, the passengers, and the police officers, we must not repeat the same mistakes made over the last 20 years in our response to the attacks. Despite the thousands of U.S. military service members and contractors and the hundreds of thousands — possibly millions — of civilians who lost their lives as a result of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Taliban is back in power and the rest of the Middle East remains unstable and highly susceptible to terrorism and terrorist attacks.

America’s military campaign against terrorist groups has clearly emerged unsuccessful in light of the Taliban retaking the Afghani government and heightened terrorist activity. Young Iraqi and Afghani children who lost their fathers, mothers, friends, and relatives to the War on Terror grew up with a rage instilled in them against the United States and have taken up arms themselves. Until we understand that our current strategy is inefficient and far too costly, we will continue this cycle of violence and hatred, leaving us susceptible to more 9/11s in the future. It is imperative we seek better methods of preventing and responding to terrorist activity. After all, the 9/11 hijackers themselves were radicalized as a result of poorly calculated American interventionism.

Undoubtedly, no event in American history can compare to the tragedy of 9/11. The resilience of the American people in the years since will serve as an example of what the United States stands for, for generations to come. Nevertheless, this doesn’t excuse the Islamophobia, xenophobia, and discrimination that much of this unity was founded on. The same sentiments that endorsed hate crimes against South Asian and Middle Eastern Americans also fueled the massacres of the Afghani and Iraqi people and forever scarred the Middle Eastern landscape. The sooner we recognize these mistakes, the sooner we can truly unify our country and prevent future attacks on American soil. 

Indigenous Children Remains Force Canada to Reconsider Its Treatment of the Indigenous Population

On May 27, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported finding the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamploops, British Columbia. Originally constructed to force Indigenous children to assimilate into Western-centric, white culture, the Canadian residential school system idea pulled children from their homes, subjecting them to physical, emotional and sexual abuse, not to mention banning them from speaking their languages and imposing Anglo-American culture and values. The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) concluded in 2015 that Canada’s forceful relocation of more than 150,000 Indigenous children was an act of cultural genocide. The discovery of the unmarked graves is a reminder of Canada’s colonial history, a haunting legacy that Canada must now reflect on and change.  

Today, disproportionate numbers of Indigenous children are in foster care and many victims still remain lost to their families. Though the exact statistics of missing children or fatalities are unknown, the euphemistic rhetoric of governmental officials is evidently clear: a cycle defined by performative actions that fail to match the country’s lofty promises. As Canada continues to reconcile with its grave history, we would be remiss to ignore the historical isolation and denigration of Indigenous people in Canada no different from the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania. Parallels can similarly be drawn to the racial reckoning of the U.S. in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. 

Shortly after the First Nations’ findings were released, the Canadian legislature recommended a 94-item list, also known as the Calls to Action, demanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to implement policies to aid in reconciliation. Some actions include the identification of the children who died in residential schools, the erection of proper memorials and the commencement of searches to find other unmarked gravesites. Attempting to atone for a country’s historical perpetration of exploitation, violence and discrimination requires honest and sustained commitment by the government. Citizens can help in a number of ways; from spreading awareness through social media to advocating for state and county legislators to fortify and amend laws to prevent future atrocities. The ramifications of this legacy will remain present in society until we recognize and confront our mistakes and take steps to ensure progress moving forward.

Burkina Faso Crisis Warrants International Aid

Since 2016, the Group for Support of Muslims (JNIM), the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and Ansarul Islam have terrorized civilians in Burkina Faso for no clear reason. The clashing militias and complex relationships between different actors is responsible for further destabilizing and the escalation of violence and insurgency in the region. In the last five years, civilian deaths rose more than 650%. 920,000 people have been internally displaced, and in dire need humanitarian assistance. 

In an attempt to recruit supporters for their movement, Islamist rebels seized power from the government after exploiting its systemic negligence of citizens and high levels of poverty in the country. Since the beginning of the insurgency, attacks have become more frequent and deliberate, massacring innocent civilians in churches, schools and other communal settings. However, in response, security forces, foreign and government troops are executing those they perceive to be affiliated with Islamist groups in an attempt to hinder jihadist presence in the country. This is potentially ineffective, as it aggravates tension between actors and could further threaten the stability of other West African countries in the region. 

For instance, the crisis in Burkina Faso has been affected by extremist violence in Mali, where armed groups have committed numerous crimes against humanity, war crimes and sexual violence. The tri-border between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso aids in the expansion of groups like al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The lax border security will only harm more civilians as the violence continues. For instance, while militias and self-defense groups are targeting people’s identity, Islamist armed groups have targeted people’s livelihoods. As a result, the failure of the state and border security has failed to protect their civilians from the violence.

Genocide Watch recommends the UN to take part in counterinsurgency efforts. Both the Burkina Faso government and civilians must also work together to prioritize citizen needs. Individuals are more tempted to join rebel groups if a government cannot adequately provide for their needs; thus, the government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) must work together to adequately fund and assist citizens with their needs.

Currently, the international community has:

  1. launched an investigation through the International Criminal Court for war and human rights crimes
  2. subjected individuals to sanctions through the UN Security Council for violating human rights
  3. launched Operation Barkhane, a French-led counterterrorism operation
  4. launched the Civilian Casualties Identification, Tracking and Analysis Cell to mitigate civilian harm

However, this is not enough. Not only should all three governments work together to protect their citizens, greater international response from people around the world will pressure governments to participate in funding humanitarian aid and work to disarming militias. Humanitarian law is being grossly violated and neglected in all three countries, and individuals must be held responsible for their crimes.