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9/11, four years after

About the author
Isabel Hilton is the editor of, and was editor of openDemocracy from March 2005-July 2007. She is a journalist, broadcaster, writer and commentator.

Many reflections are possible on the fourth anniversary of 11 September 2001. All relate in some way to the changes – both anticipated and unforeseen – in our world since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that killed 2,986 people.

The militarisation of problems that have neither military origins nor military solutions – terrorism being the most obvious – was predictable and predicted. The extent of encroachment on legal rights, the instatement of torture as a commonplace of security policy, was expected by some but unimaginable to most. The use of military power against Afghanistan was regarded as near inevitable, but its extension to Iraq was envisaged only in the fetid inner policy circles of the Bush administration.

The consequences of all these changes will be with us for a generation.

This 11 September, the world’s eyes are on another disaster – Hurricane Katrina. Many links are suggested between the aftermath of the two events: the reluctance to count bodies, the administration’s desire to restrict the circulation of images of the casualties, the predominance of a security over a humanitarian response, the indifference to the fate of the poor. All have their echoes in Iraq. And if some commentators are right, just as 9/11 defined the image of the Bush administration at its beginning, Hurricane Katrina may well come to define its image in its closing stages.

The site of the World Trade Center, the heart of the catastrophe, is mired in bureaucratic wrangling and the competing claims of victims’ families, commercial pressures and rival interests. It is not difficult to imagine that in a fractured, troubled country, the fallout of the Gulf coast disaster will also be less than unifying.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the world where 11 September has long been marked as a tragic anniversary, 9/11 has had an unexpected consequence. General Augusto Pinochet, whose coup d’état on 11 September 1973 – assiduously promoted and supported by the United States administration of Richard M Nixon and Henry Kissinger – ushered in Chile’s brutal seventeen-year dictatorship, was himself a victim of the tighter regulation of international monetary flows that followed the 9/11 attacks.

In July 2004, the US senate reported its findings on a series of dubious financial transactions: among their discoveries was Pinochet’s illicit fortune of $8 million deposited in Riggs Bank in Washington. Further investigations of other accounts uncovered a total amount of $27 million – $26 million more than could be accounted for by the general’s accumulated salary. The revelation of this squalid corruption has made Pinochet a pariah even among his long-term supporters in Chile, perhaps the least anticipated connection between two tragic 9/11s.

openDemocracy was launched in May 2001; our discussion of Pinochet’s arrest in Britain on human rights grounds (involving the lawyers Juan E Garces and Geoffrey Bindman) was one of the first articles we published. Three months later, we shared the horror of a transfixing moment – then set about trying to understand everything we could about its causes, contexts, and consequences.

Four years on, we present a very small selection of the material we published in the days after the world changed. Click here to download a special PDF compendium of 15 articles, or scroll down to read the articles individually online.

An American tragedy

  • Is this our fate?
    Todd Gitlin
    openDemocracy’s North America editor witnessed the events in New York. This is his first response.
  • Shifting the rubble
    Max Robbins
    A day after the attacks, Max Robbins decided to volunteer in the clear-up effort. This is his personal account.
  • Understand the whispers
    Rajeev Bhargava
    Our South Asia editor gives us a careful, elegant picture from the point of view of those who suffer injustice and see it erased before it is spoken of. He argues for a common humanity: even the mighty can be humbled.

  • War on terror

  • The war begins
    Paul Rogers
    The first night of aerial assault on the Taliban indicates an extended US campaign. But is this what bin Laden wants?
  • Can America go modest?
    Godfrey Hodgson
    The closer you come to America, the more complex and interesting the country becomes. Immigration, the frontier and exceptionalism have informed and underpinned the realities of power. Can these elements of the American self-image now adapt to the realities of a diverse world?
  • Understanding the ‘war on terrorism’
    Mary Midgley
    If the war on terrorism is literal, it cannot be won. If it is metaphorical, it offers only a continuation of the frozen, abstract hatreds made possible by the cold war. And how do you defeat a metaphor?
  • Arab states, Islamism and the West
    Gema Martín-Muñoz
    “Think, America. Why do we hate you?” This sentiment, which appeared in the first demonstrations against the ‘war on terrorism’, expresses two essential requirements of a new Western approach to the Muslim world: to think and to know.

  • Muslim worlds

  • Cultural schizophrenia
    Malise Ruthven
    The attacks on America represent the globalisation of radical Islam. Their ultimate source lies in the intellectual and social tensions of Islamic societies facing western modernity, says Malise Ruthven.
  • The suicide of fundamentalism
    Maruf Khwaja
    The speed, reach and supports of today’s Islamic terrorism owe much to globalisation. But there is a silent majority building in the Islamic world, and among the young people of its diaspora. Can they take the fanaticism out of fundamentalism?
  • Disneyland Islam
    Omar al-Qattan
    This is not a clash of civilisations, in part because the battle of ‘fundamentalist’ Islam is itself a product of modernity. For Muslims as for others, an openness to contradictory modern life and identities, amidst the search for a common ethical language, is the only way forward.
  • The war for Muslim minds
    Gilles Kepel
    From Fallujah and Peshawar to Amsterdam and Paris, is radical, militant Islam winning or losing its political battle for the support of the world’s Muslims? Gilles Kepel, leading analyst of post–9/11 global fractures, talks to openDemocracy’s Rosemary Bechler.

  • Living after 9/11

  • Art and suffering: four years after 9/11
    KA Dilday
    When does it become appropriate to make fiction from terrorism or genocide? And how does a writer do that without feeding off the grief of victims?
  • My America
    Sorious Samura
    The Sierra Leonean filmmaker Sorious Samura wrote a letter to Jesse Jackson for openDemocracy’s “My America: Letters to Americans” series. This is its first publication.

  • Democratic answer

  • Raise your eyes
    Paul Gilroy
    As we remember the dead, we face a fundamental choice. We can feed our fears of the clash of civilisations. Or we can enter a new global era and build on our shared sense of the fragility, and diversity, of human life. Our grasp of the history of racism may play a crucial role.
  • Letter from wounded London Isabel Hilton
    The terror attacks in London are a moment to reaffirm democratic values, says openDemocracy editor Isabel Hilton.

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