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On September 11, Kelly Caldwell muses in the Huffington Post about the lack of a national call to action following 9/11. We could donate money, buy t-shirts… but where was the moment to respond in a more lasting and meaningful way? She writes:

“Nine years later, that grand mobilization has yet to materialize. Even the simplest, most straightforward actions became debacles. Congressional Republicans keep sabotaging the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which would provide medical care to first responders and innocent bystanders who were sickened by the toxic smoke that spewed all over downtown. New York’s repeated requests for help replacing the radio system that failed police and firefighters on September 11th keep getting rejected.

And Friday, two of the people who wrote the 9/11 Report released a study that says we’re not doing what needs to be done to fight Al Qaeda and terrorism abroad.

What do we have instead? A 9-year-old war in Afghanistan; a vitriolic protest over an Islamic community center; a proposed Koran burning in Florida; and a case of national amnesia about the difference between Al Qaeda, (who actually attacked us) and Islam, (a religion with about a billion adherents).

Is it too late? Is it crazy to think there’s still time for the 21st Century rubber drive, a national effort that would starve Al Qaeda (and other fundamentalist groups like it) of its money, wreck its brand, and drain away its membership?”

Nine years later, it’s time “for each of us to deploy our resourcefulness, ingenuity, sacrifice”. Caldwell leaves us with a list of links to take more action (including a link to the AIDemocracy website – thanks Kelly).

We ask ourselves the same questions every day. How can we, as a national network of students founded after 9/11, continually inspire our peers to think and act in ways that will redefine our world? College freshman were 8 years old on 9/11. What does that event mean to them?

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Since the Christmas Day plot in Detroit, there has been a strong focus on Al Qaeda activities in Yemen. Reports of safe havens and training camps have led many to believe that Al Qaeda members, hounded out of Afghanistan and much of Pakistan, have sought refuge in an ungoverned area of the Middle Eastern nation, using the name Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Essential though this focus may be, the global nature of the fight means that concentrating efforts in one place means neglecting enemy forces gathered in another. This is exactly the case with another branch of Al Qaeda in North Africa – one which has gone largely unnoticed and whose increased capacity to attack presents a real threat to security in Europe and the U.S.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb emerged in the early nineties, and was originally called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). The group was formed as an angry response to the Algerian government’s cancellation of the 1992 elections that would have handed victory to a coalition of Islamic moderates and militants. GSPC operated in a largely ungoverned area of the Sahara desert, along Algeria’s southern and Mali’s northern border, and launched attacks on Algerian government employees and institutions. The group then began to receive funding and training from Al Qaeda towards the end of the decade, and the alliance was made official in 2006 when Al Qaeda’s no. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, announced the “blessed union” in a video published on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Since then, the group has been known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and has claimed responsibility for its actions under its new name.

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The foiled terrorist attack on Christmas Day served as a timely reminder that the U.S. remains vulnerable to plots from Al-Qaeda. As more details emerge about the security lapses that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board his flight to Amsterdam and later to Detroit, President Barack Obama has come under intense criticism from opportunist Republicans over his handling of the so-called War on Terror. Yet instead of dodging the role as a partisan punching bag, Obama appears willing to engage in domestic squabbling, at great cost to his foreign agenda.

Obama’s announcement on January 4 that the U.S. was to introduce tougher airport screening for “security risk” countries underlined the air of desperation and ineptitude that has gripped the White House since December 25. The countries included on the list were Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen. While some of the countries are merely the usual suspects, the inclusion of Cuba seems anomalous. Its appearance is explained by its unfortunate presence on another U.S.-produced list: state sponsors of terrorism. Nevertheless, many experts believe its inclusion is anachronistic, given that there is no current evidence to support the theory that Cuba sponsors terrorists, especially not those linked to Al-Qaeda. Many Cubans hoped that Obama’s election would help restore diplomatic relations between the two nations, and indeed the Obama administration has made tentative steps to this effect. The guileless inclusion of Cuba on a “security risk” list needlessly hinders potential rapprochement.

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While on the campaign trail for the 2008 election Barack Obama often extolled the virtues of the Afghanistan War, contrasting it sharply with the disastrous Iraq War which he had vociferously protested.  A year after winning that election, he faces arguably his toughest political decision to date: should he send more troops to Afghanistan? The debate within the White House appears to be focused on how Obama should continue this war (more troops or more sophisticated technology such as unmanned drones) as opposed to why he should. In reality, sending in more troops is delaying the inevitable and Obama must put an end to this war as soon as possible.

The first reason to end this war is the lack of clarity over the war’s objective. In March, the President stated that his goal in Afghanistan was to “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda”. Yet most experts will tell you that al-Qaeda is a diminished force which has largely fled Afghanistan. It would be more prudent for the U.S. to concentrate on defeating al-Qaeda in countries such as Yemen and Somalia, which have recently become a hotbed for Islamic extremists, while paying more attention to the tinderbox that is Pakistan. Unfortunately, the U.S. is bogged down in a perpetual battle with the Taliban at huge human cost for all concerned. The War in Afghanistan has evolved into another nation-building exercise, despite the fact that Obama stated that “We are not going to be able to rebuild Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian democracy“.

The military is ostensibly in Afghanistan to protect the U.S. from future al-Qaeda attacks, yet how many of al-Qaeda’s most devastating attacks have been organized from Afghanistan? 9/11? Yes. The attacks provided the casus belli for the war. The 2002 Bali Bombings? No. They were planned in Thailand. The 2004 Madrid Bombings? No. They were planned in Spain and North Africa. The 2005 London Bombings? No. They were planned in England. The idea that the War in Afghanistan will protect the U.S. from future attacks is naïve and myopic.

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Post by Dylan Matthews, Campus Progress

The nation’s initial response to 9/11 was one that could have easily come from an eleven-year-old. Let’s hope we’ve moved beyond the need for war as a response to terrorism.

9-11 tribute

The Tribute in Light is an art installation of 88 searchlights placed next to the site of the World Trade Center to create two vertical columns of light in remembrance of the September 11 attacks. (Flickr/macten)

I was in my sixth grade newspaper class when I heard that a plane had hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. It wasn’t until the second plane struck the other tower that my middle school sent around notes to teachers telling them to make the announcement. One plane, I suppose they had reasoned, could have been an accident and perhaps not worth causing panic. Two was something altogether different. After a brief and, in retrospect, fairly odd warning from my teacher against assuming it was Muslim terrorists that were responsible, we flooded into the school library to watch madness unfold on the school’s 50-inch TV as Dan Rather informed us that the Pentagon had been hit as well.

Everyone one of us, old and young, has of these stories. For people my age—that is to say, those of us currently in college or late high school—the impression of that day has been particularly formative. Before that day, this country we lived in was not one that fought wars. We were barely sentient for the Gulf War, if alive at all. Our country was not one that was attacked on its own soil.

This was the first truly huge event of our lives, and its sheer scale overwhelmed all but the most immediate details. We were too overwhelmed to wonder or care whether al-Qaeda or Iraq or a Timothy McVeigh-like domestic terrorist had planned the act.

That evening, President George W. Bush addressed the American public, “Tonight we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution.” My eleven-year-old self understood his logic and took the next step. Big acts, Bush was saying, necessitate big responses.

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