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It was ten years ago today . . .

To reflect on 9/11 in the light of the death of bin Laden.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To reflect on 9/11 in the light of the death of bin Laden.

Preparation and materials

  • None required.


  1. It took almost ten years for the American military to find Osama bin Laden after President George W. Bush issued his famous ultimatum: ‘dead or alive’. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the mood was understandably one of fear and defensiveness. War was declared against the al-Qa’eda movement, and its founder Osama bin Laden, which carried out the attacks, and against the Taliban, then rulers of Afghanistan, who refused to surrender the leaders of this movement.
  2. Now, in 2011, we are living the hangover of those panicked days. The war in Afghanistan continues. The Taliban were quickly defeated by overwhelming US firepower, but managed to regroup when American media, political and military pressure was directed against Iraq. The Iraq war was eventually ended, but resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians (although many were killed by terrorists: the responsibility for these deaths cannot be placed entirely on the coalition). The war in Iraq also damaged Anglo-American global prestige, which has not yet recovered.
  3. The hunt for bin Laden shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan and the suspicion grew that bin Laden was hiding in remote, inaccessible mountains. This has since been discovered to be untrue, at least in more recent years: bin Laden was found in a compound in a suburban town, moreover one that houses many retired generals and the Pakistan Military Academy.

    But misdirection and exaggerations of false beliefs have been the norm where bin Laden is concerned. He has been portrayed as a shadowy figure, a dangerous cult leader with thousands of followers at his command. This is untrue. Bin Laden was rather a money-man: a devoted Islamist with an inherited fortune and a great talent for raising money. Other Islamists came to bin Laden for funding. The key point is that without him there is still an ideology, and this ideology will survive him.
  4. Now that bin Laden has been found and executed, there is a temptation to wrap up the war in Afghanistan and make a hasty exit. The war has cost the US and partners many lives, and has destabilized an already fractured nation. It has also reached a monotonous but deadly stalemate: Afghanistan is simply too big for the forces embedded there. Every year there is a new Taliban offensive. These offensives rarely succeed but are a continual drain on the coalition forces. There are many reasons to leave.
  5. But leaving a broken and undeveloped nation will not help anyone. It is the ideology of radical Islamism that is the real enemy in the war on terror. For every civilian that the coalition accidentally kills or harms there is a risk of a new enemy. This is the dilemma that policymakers face: should we withdraw, and leave a broken nation to the Taliban, or fight on, and risk not only our own soldiers but also risk creating a new wave of radicalized and anti-Western Islamists?
  6. Meanwhile, as we remember the terrible events of 9/11, honouring all those who died, the allies are reflecting on the wars that were pursued as a result of the destruction of the twin towers. Questions of how to withdraw honourably, how to help Iraq and Afghanistan to work towards democracy continue.

Time for reflection

Light a candle and pause.

At this anniversary, we remember all those who died on 9/11, and those who have died since as a result of the actions on that terrible day –

those who were in the towers
the fire fighters
those who were in the vicinity and could not escape

the forces who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan
the civilians, caught up in a war not of their making.

And we look towards a better world
and that peace towards which we all aspire. Prayer
This was the prayer used by a New York fire chaplain who died on 9/11 while working with his colleagues in the twin towers:

Lord, take me where you want me to go,
let me meet who you want me to meet,
tell me what you want me to say; and
keep me out of your way.

(Mychal Judge, New York Roman Catholic chaplain to the fire services)

Publication date: September 2011   (Vol.13 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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