COMMENTARY | Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists declared war on the United States on September 11, 2001. Nineteen hijackers and an estimated 3,000 American residents died. Political changes after 9/11 sought to prevent a recurrence of terrorism on American soil. In so doing, 9/11 changes affected at least three significantly negative outcomes.
Litmus Test for Patriotism: Flag Lapel Pins
As information about what happened on September 11 was broadcast across the nation, Americans mourned for their fellow men with a heartfelt show of patriotism. American flags hung from windows, flag poles and car antennas. Citizens and residents alike wore flag lapel pins. In at least one Southern California covenant-controlled housing development, where flags were forbidden by the rules, residents taped printed American flags to windows.
It did not take long for American politicians and pundits to capitalize on the flag lapel pins. The New York Times chronicled in October 2007 then-candidate Barack Obama's lack of a flag lapel pin -- which had "been on politicians since Sept. 12, 2001." Obama went on record with his opinion that these pins had become replacements for true expressions of patriotism. His idealistic stance did not last long; in April 2008, the pin was back on Obama's lapel, and the fact did not escape notice by the L.A. Times.
It is fair to say that of all the negative changes impacting American politics, the patriotic litmus test is one of the most galling. Readers who find this statement to be somewhat over the top might want to count the lapel pins on the politicians who voted against a bill appropriating "billions of dollars for medical treatment to rescue workers."
Islam Becomes a Political Football
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," decrees the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Changes after 9/11 affected a political climate that thus far had struggled with Christianity and its place in American schools, government architecture and even on currency. Since the suicide attackers are considered religious zealots from the fringes of Islam, the religion has come under political fire.
Case in point is Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. "Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult whatever you want to call it," Talking Points Memo quotes. Ramsey is not alone in taking potshots at Islam. Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain -- as reported in The Tennessean -- referred to the construction of a local mosque as "an infringement and abuse of our freedom of religion." He has backtracked quite a bit since then, but the damage is done.
The BBC showed that hate crimes targeting Muslims have increased after September 11, 2001. For a few years, the figures remained surprisingly elevated and steady. The American political climate is quite possibly to blame for this undesirable change.
Cherry-Picked Intelligence, Torture, Presidential Back-Tracking and Saddam Hussein
Perhaps the most destructive of political changes after 9/11 was the ease with which the administration of President George W. Bush acted on cherry-picked information, which led to the invasion of Iraq. The Washington Post outlines how a former CIA official highlights the use of intelligence to support an already made decision regarding an Iraq invasion.
Failure to make the connection beyond a doubt led to allegations of torture. "While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful," former U.S. Army psychiatrist Maj. Charles Burney told McClatchy Newspapers. Yet even repeated water-boarding failed to get the information the Bush administration so desperately needed to justify the war in Iraq after 9/11.
In an Aug. 21, 2006, press conference, President Bush went on record stating that "nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq." It is at this juncture that the president reversed his March 21, 2003 opinion.
The public outcry over the invasion of Iraq has been vociferous. Unfortunately, what happened on September 11 has led to a polarization of the electorate, which is only too willing to cut slack to the politician of its choice. While plenty of Republicans refuse to fault the Bush White House for the ill-advised Iraq war, Democrats are careful not to fault the Obama White House for involving American military in Libya. The N.Y. Times calls this latter incident a "trivialization of the War Powers Act."
Undesirable political changes since 9/11 for sure, there is a good chance that lip service to patriotism, singling out of Muslims for political gain, and an administration-led attitude of "the end justifies the means" will continue to erode the republic set up by America's forefathers.