GLOBAL: Civilisations have grown apart since 9/11

I was a student when the news broke on 11 September 2001. "America under attack" was the headline. I was playing ping-pong in the common room of the students' hostel at Quaid-e-Azam University in Pakistan's federal capital Islamabad. Everyone was stunned and we were glued to the TV the whole night.

We were masters students hailing from different parts of the country and we feared a third-world war the next day, after a possible US attack on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. The next morning, our teachers told us our fears were not unfounded, because perhaps the time had come for a 'clash of civilisations'.

This was a theory proposed by political scientist Samuel Huntington in 1992. After that a debate started over Francis Fukuyama's 'end of history' theory and we were certain, back then, that in a few days the world would see nuclear war ending life on earth.

"Osama claims to have nukes" was the banner headline in Pakistan's English language daily, Dawn, the next day, which intensified our fears of nuclear war.

There is one thing I remember clearly: not a single student cursed America and not a single student looked down on 'Western civilisation' with sentiments of hatred or anything like that. Instead, we decided we should do something to stop war. We held a rally on the campus, opposing war and chanting slogans to show solidarity with the American people.

Ten years after 9/11 attacks, subsequent events have changed perspectives from inspiration and admiration of the US to mass hatred across the Muslim world. This is now an almost unanimous view held by Muslim populations and scholars across different continents.

The anti-American sentiments are no different in Pakistan, where the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, was found and killed by American troops in May.

When I visited the university last week to speak to academics about their perspectives on 9/11, I did not find public sentiments of fraternity for the 'great America' we used to admire when I was a student there from 2000-02. There was no rally planned on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, like the one we students staged in 2001 to condemn the attacks on the US.

The US post-9/11 responses, which included a decade-long war in Afghanistan and attack on Iraq, are the main causes of loathing in the Muslim world for America and the West, which allied with the US in the name of the 'war on terror'.

"A hate campaign waged in the West against Islam and Muslims, recently termed as 'Islamophobia', has also generated reciprocal hatred against 'Western civilization'," Professor Alia El-Mahdy, dean of the faculty of economics and political science at Cairo University in Egypt, told University World News.

Public opinion surveys such as the Gallup 2007 Survey, the Pakistan Public Opinion Survey 2008, and the PEW Global Attitudes Project 2007 have reported popular opposition to US policies by an overwhelming number of people of Pakistan, ranging from 70% to 80%.

"The war on terror, which was unleashed to counter terrorism, has made the world much more terror-ridden, insecure, unjust and verging on economic collapse," said Professor Khurshid Ahmed, Chairman of the Islamabad-based Institute of Policy Studies.

"The first decade of the 21st century will go down in history as a 'lost decade' primarily because of the flawed strategies of the US, the only superpower."

Khurshid, who also heads the UK-based Islamic Foundation, is of the view that Muslim world perspectives in the aftermath of 9/11 have not been properly projected in the media, and that most of the studies conducted on terrorism do not reflect viewpoints of Muslim populations.

"While the book market is inundated with literature on terrorism, it is a sad fact that it serves vested interests, as much of it represents the viewpoint of the power-elite responsible for the escalation of terrorism, whereas the viewpoint of the aggrieved has not got appropriate space," Khurshid told University World News.

A number of scholars in Islamic countries believe the US overreacted to the events of 9/11, and that the perpetrators of the outrageous attack could have been brought to justice through normal legal processes, as was done in the cases of earlier terrorist attacks such as the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, the Oklahoma bombings in 1995 and the US Naval Ship attack in Yemen in 2000.

"The terrorist attack of 9/11 was a crime against humanity. But the way the US responded to 9/11 is also against international law, as the heinous attack was not treated as a criminal act, to be handled within the framework of criminal justice system and due process of law," Mohammed Mahjoub Haroun, Director of the Peace Research Institute at Sudan's Khartoum University told University World News.

"Instead nations were punished for crimes of individuals.

"While those 3,000 innocent lives lost in the 9/11 terrorist attack are being remembered, nobody seems to talk about the millions who perished in Iraq and Afghanistan as a direct consequence of 9/11," wrote Seif Ahmed from Jeddah in Arab News.

According to the report Pak-US Relations, by the Islamabad-based Institute of Strategic Studies: "Washington has, since the events of 9/11, reacted to events in and around Afghanistan under the pretext of Islamist extremism and anti-West terrorism. This approach has failed to assess the relevance of the situation according to regional dynamics and could not shape an appropriate response."

The lead author of the report, Mahrukh Khan, told University World News that one of the causes of increasing anti-Americanism in Pakistan and other Muslim countries was use of the term 'Islamic militancy'. "It is just like blaming the faith, which consequently turns neutral Muslims against them."

Rashid Khalid, a political scientist and professor in the department of strategic studies at Quai-e-Azam University, argues however that post-9/11 events are not the manifestation of a clash of civilisations but involve a clash of economic interests.

"It is the oil in the Middle East and immense natural resources in Central Asia which have brought the United States to Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "Only 1% of people surveyed in June 2003 in Jordan or the Palestinian Authority expressed a favourable opinion of the US. Favourable ratings elsewhere in the Middle East were almost all below 30%."

Responses to similar questions by Americans reveal that the feeling is mutual. In a recent poll, only 24% of Americans expressed favourable views of Muslim countries overall, according to the study "Media, Education and Anti-Americanism in the Muslim World", published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

After a survey of university-educated populations in Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Morocco and Indonesia, this study concluded that education has no consistent relationship with attitudes toward terrorism.

The study reports that more educated individuals will always be better informed on the politically neutral measure, but will not necessarily have more accurate perceptions of 9/11 or display more pro-US attitudes.

Recognising that 9/11 and its aftermath is widening the distance between civilisations, efforts have been made to bring Islam and the West closer and many interfaith harmony dialogues have been held across the Muslim world.

Islam and the West: Annual Report on the State of Dialogue in 2008 reported that interfaith harmony dialogues had proved to be only lip-service, and nothing substantial had come out of them.

The report was produced by the World Economic Forum in partnership with Prince Hussam bin Saud bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, the US Gallup Organization, the Kingdom Foundation of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East Centre for Peace and Economic Cooperation in the US, and Xenel Group of Saudi Arabia. John J DeGioia, President of Georgetown University, was its lead author.

"An astonishing 76% of respondents in the United States think that the Muslim world is not committed to improving relations with the West, and the same percentage of Palestinians think that the Western world is not committed to improving relations with the Muslim world.

"This dichotomy is illustrative of a debilitating perception on both sides that any attempts by the 'other' to engage in dialogue or bridge the divide lack authenticity," the report said.

To bridge the gap between Islam and America, US President Barack Obama addressed Muslim nations at Cairo University on 4 June 2009, and announced an initiative of science, technology, research and education cooperation with Islamic countries. The initiative was termed the "new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world".

UK-based Athar Osama, founder and editor of, believes that nothing substantial has come out of Obama's Cairo speech. "Generous funds should be allocated to this programme if they are serious about it. Any announcement without financial commitment has no value. It could only be an art of deceiving in the name of science," Athar told University World News.

The studies, surveys, opinions, seminars, talk-shows, protests, rallies, research papers and newspaper writings in the Islamic world across different continents reveal at least one common conclusion - that post-9/11, the world is more divided.

Civilisations have not clashed in the way predicted by Samuel Huntington, but political analysts believe that Islamic and Western civilisations could be heading for such a clash in the future. Sane voices, both in the West and the Islamic world, have for the past decade been calling for an end to wars, which they do not believe can deliver peace.