Tuesday 19. October 2021
#142 - October 2011


9/11 and Europe – Ten years on


Europe Infos comes late to the tenth anniversary commemoration of the terrible attack on the USA. The events of that day have shaped not only the USA’s but also Europe’s subsequent relationship with the wider world.


The anniversary, although not the occasion for detailed policy proposals, deserves reflection.

After 9/11 2001, Europe was quickly classified in the perspective of the USA’s military objectives as, from within the administration of President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld crudely divided Europe into two (‘old Europe’ and ‘new Europe’) on the basis of whether or not states supported the US-led war against Iraq. In the years that followed, European cities (Madrid, London, Moscow) suffered terrorist attacks. Some European governments have themselves colluded in cruel and secret abuses (complicit, at least, in the torture flights conducted under the euphemistic label of ‘extraordinary rendition’) a collusion recently fiercely condemned by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg.

In such ways the short-term horror of ‘9/11’ - 3000 people were killed, thousands of others traumatised - led into the history of the wars of the last ten years, including the unwinnable ‘war on terror’ - as if terror might somehow ‘surrender’. According to the journal The Economist, a major project at Brown University (importantly a USA academic institution) finds that on a ‘very conservative’ estimate about 137,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan since 2001 - not only, of course, by the USA and its European allies. More than 7.8 million refugees have been created in these countries. What terror and misery is being stored up for the future by our countries’ massive violence in response to others’ violence?

Cases are more vivid than statistics. A long-delayed official report was issued in the UK this September, into the beating to death, in 2003, of an Iraqi civilian detainee by British troops. He was a receptionist in a hotel where the troops suspected arms were hidden: he had done no clear wrong. Under the terrible pressures of war, failure to imagine what justice might mean risks our being moulded into the form of the people we most hate: we extend the horror of a world from which respect and compassion are banished.


Meanwhile, civil liberties in Europe, freedoms and privacies that had come almost to be taken for granted, have been curtailed in the name of counter-terrorism, as they inevitably are in conventional warfare. Up to a point, this erosion of liberty is probably inescapable. States must protect their citizens from threats that are horrifyingly real, and the citizens of democracies cannot be exempt from the consequences. Measures such as the scrutiny of bank transfer data and the transfer to US agencies of European passenger records, even without independent scrutiny, do not directly threaten lives. Yet without democratic safeguards, as a columnist in EU Observer commented recently, it seems that Europe is ‘safer but less free’.

Undeniably, 9/11 brutally changed our world. Such events understandably destroy all sense of proportion.  Nevertheless it remains sobering to think that the deaths of millions on other continents (for example the 5.4 million who died by violence during the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1996 and 2002, a war sustained by outside powers) have made no comparable impact on Europe’s thinking or its politics.


Frank Turner SJ



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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.