SFS On Topic: 9/11 Anniversary


President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Pentagon as part of a memorial observance ceremony on Sept. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

15 years after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the United States and the world are still much living with a consciousness of that day and its significance for the world we live in today. The date serves as both a time for retrospection on the transformation of world affairs since 9/11 and for reflection on the problems and conflicts that persist. The SFS faculty has approached the issue from a variety of perspectives, including a discussion about the transformation of understandings of terrorism, arguments for why we are safer today than 15 years ago, a look at the development of anti-terror military capabilities, and the specter of Islamophobia. As the ramifications of the 9/11 attacks continue to be felt despite the passing of time, attempts to draw a line between those events and the present can yield fruitful insights on where we are today.

Bruce Hoffman was asked by The Atlantic to speak on the evolution of terrorism as a method of political violence and an academic subject.

Bruce_Hoffman_thumbnail“For decades, scholars and analysts have searched for this holy grail of terrorism studies that would unlock all the mysteries about why individuals embrace violence in this manner. I am reminded here of the massive study undertaken by the West German government in the early 1980s in hopes of divining such an answer. The result was a multi-volume, meticulously detailed compendium of years of research that, as I recall, identified no single reason or universal explanation of why someone becomes a terrorist (or, in the contemporary vernacular, how one is radicalized). Much as we still lack an understanding of why persons become terrorists, we also still lack an understanding of how governments can best and most effectively respond to this menace.” Bruce Hoffman is Director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown and has been studying terrorism and insurgency for nearly four decades. For more insights from him and other experts on the evolution of the study of terrorism in The Atlantic, click here.

While the study of terrorism has evolved, so too have responses to terror, making the world safer from terrorism than it was in 2001, according to Professor Daniel Byman.Byman

“Back in 2001, I predicted that another mass-casualty attack on the United States was likely. Thankfully, I was wrong,” Byman writes for Vox. “The fact is that, for a number of reasons, the U.S. homeland today is safer than it was 15 years ago.” Byman is an expert on counterterrorism and Middle East security. For his full argument on how the U.S. is safer from a large terrorist attack today than it was 15 years ago, click here.

Much of the United States’ counter-terror efforts have been concentrated in upgrading military capabilities to combat groups like al-Qaeda. David Maxwell discusses the capabilities of U.S. Special Operations Forces and how they will need to evolve in the future.

maxwell“[U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF)] must maintain its sophisticated surgical strike counterterrorism capabilities but also reach back to its traditional special warfare missions to develop a SOF campaign capability to support a new national security strategy to protect U.S. national interests and operate in the complex security environment of the 21st Century.” David Maxwell, Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies, is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel. For more analysis on the transformation of U.S. military capabilities since 9/11 and future needs, click here.

Within the United States, ties between terror and Islam have manifested in animosity towards the U.S. Muslim population. With Islamophobia featuring prominently in the rhetoric of presidential candidate Donald Trump and throughout the country in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Europe, Professor Engy Abdelkader spoke on how Trump’s rhetoric has broken dEngy Abdelkaderown the taboo on expressing anti-Muslim sentiment.

“[Trump speaks] in such a public way that’s amplified, perhaps inadvertently, by news media, and it is impacting people around the country,” said Abdelkhader. “It falls on people’s ears in different ways. Some find it repulsive, but for others it may give them a green light that what he’s saying is right.” Engy Abdelkader is a Senior Fellow at the Bridge Initiative, a  research project seeking to add to the public discourse on Islamophobia.