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Stanford experts: how 9/11 has changed the world

Never-ending war? A new "greatest generation?" A professor whose 3-year-old son is on the government's watchlist? Six Stanford experts talk about the world since that terrible day a decade ago.

BY CYNTHIA HAVEN

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Stanford News Service posed this question to a series of Stanford experts: "How has the world changed as a result of 9/11?" Their insightful answers are below.

Robert Crews

Robert Crews

Robert Crews, expert on Muslim networks 

 The most striking change has been the emergence in the United States of a garrison mentality. In the name of security, Washington embarked in 2001 on a course of open-ended war. Politicians have called intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya essential to America's safety. Yet the military has shouldered this burden alone. Meanwhile, these policies have brought death to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and tens of thousands of Afghans. A perpetual state of chaos reigns.

The United States is more intolerant and less curious about the world beyond the walls of the garrison. State legislatures have introduced harsh legislation against immigrants and demonized Islam. Few question Guantanamo – or a U.S. prison population of more than 2.2 million. Study of foreign language, history, literature, and the arts – knowledge that might inform a dialogue with the "barbarians" – is mostly ignored. Huddled in their insular world, Americans imagine that technology – drones, computers and smartphones – will make the world safer for them, no matter what the costs for foreign civilians. Delusion has followed tragedy in the garrison state.

Robert Crews, the director of Stanford's Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, is the author of For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia.


Priya Satia

Priya Satia

Priya Satia, expert on war, technology and culture

My 3-year-old is on a Department of Homeland Security blacklist. The problem is his blessing of a name: Kabir. Kabir is Arabic for "great," but the name has a special significance on the Indian subcontinent, where it refers to a medieval mystic poet beloved by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. But the DHS is, alas, deaf, dumb and blind to such cultural subtleties and the syncretism they capture – and, apparently, to age. So, last week when we flew from Delhi to San Francisco, Kabir underwent special screenings and pat-downs, although his unruly tresses produced some confusion about his gender in addition to the concern with his possible involvement with an unspecified terrorist network. Once I clarify his status with the DHS, his name will not be simply struck from the blacklist but will be included in another list – individuals who sound like they might be terrorists but are not. The world has indeed changed since 9/11.

In other ways, however, our times uncannily echo past eras. The reliance on covert aerial policing; military occupations that deny their own existence; and a democratic polity sufficiently appeased by the discretion with which occupation and counter-insurgency are pursued – these were features of the interwar British occupation of the Middle East, too. But alongside the global enmities produced by 9/11 – the world of "us" versus "them" – the past decade has also unleashed the power of new forms of social communication and media. It is difficult to judge which aspects of our changed world – for instance, the unanticipated flowering of political protest from Egypt to Israel to India – are rooted in the newly wired world and which in the atavistic binaries that structure the U.S. government's post-9/11 understanding of the planet. For us, 9/11 might be everything, but as so many of these protestors have shown, the real story is at once more local and more global – those old demons of economic inequality and political exclusion.

Priya Satia, an assistant professor of history, is the author of Spies in Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain's Covert Empire in the Middle East.


John Taylor

John Taylor

John Taylor, economist and government adviser

Ten years after 9/11 we now have a "new greatest generation" of Americans on the scene and ready to lead. It includes, of course, all the post 9/11 Afghanistan and Iraq veterans to whom Time Magazine dedicates its cover this week. Fifty-one have enrolled at Stanford with more to come. As [Stanford President] John Hennessy and [Stanford Provost] John Etchemendy say, "We are honored and proud to have many excellent current students and alumni who have served in the military."

But I see a new greatest generation that also includes equally dedicated civil servants, like those at the U.S. Treasury who froze terrorists' assets after 9/11 or funded new schools in Afghanistan; young entrepreneurs, who through ingenuity and hard work have been developing new products to improve peoples' lives; and the teachers, the doctors, the engineers who are just beginning their careers.

This is the best news and the most promising.

John Taylor, a fellow in economics at the Hoover Institution, served as a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers from 1989 to 1991 and as under secretary of the treasury for international affairs from 2001 to 2005. He is currently a member of the California Governor's Council of Economic Advisors.


Ali Yaycioglu

Ali Yaycioglu

Ali Yaycioglu, expert on globalization and economic institutions in the Islamic world

Perhaps the main impact of 9/11 is the consolidation of a conviction that the world is divided by the Western, Islamic, Hindu and East Asian civilizations and there are inherent tensions or clashes among them. Such a perspective, however, not only ignores the interconnectedness of the world through diverse cultural and economic ties but it also overshadows several other categories of understanding human history, such as class, gender and environment. On the other hand, 9/11 and following global violence committed both by the terrorists and the states seeded distrusts and phobia among peoples of the world. This process of distrust has been further strengthened by the consolidation of advance surveillance technologies employed by the states to control their societies and mobility of individuals and ideas. Although we are far from the birth of global civil society that Immanuel Kant once imagined, we should make efforts to challenge the established paradigm of 9/11.

Ali Yaycioglu, an assistant professor of history, is the author of the forthcoming Partners of the Empire: The Rise of Provincial Notables and the Crisis of the Ottoman Order.


Amy Zegart

Amy Zegart

Amy Zegart, expert on intelligence and security

Osama bin Laden is dead. Yet 10 years after 9/11, it would be dangerous and wrong to think that the terrorist threat is behind us. Violent Islamist extremism comes from many places, not just the 50-100 core al-Qaeda fighters holed up along the Af/Pak border. The years 2009 and 2010 have seen a spike in plots against the U.S. homeland. Nearly all of them have come from radicalized homegrown terrorists or "franchise" groups with loose and murky ties to the core al-Qaeda organization. In addition, WMD terrorism remains a haunting future possibility. And the FBI has not made the leap from crime-fighting to intelligence. FBI analysts, whose work is vital to connect dots and protect lives, are still treated like second-class citizens – labeled "support staff" alongside janitors and secretaries, and relegated to middle and lower rungs of the bureaucracy. So long as FBI analysts are treated like second-class citizens, Americans will get second-class security. These three factors – diversification of the terrorist threat, the potential to combine destructive motives with devastating weapons and the FBI's continued weaknesses – suggest that the future may not be any safer than the past.

Amy Zegart is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and an affiliated faculty member at the Center for International Security and Cooperation. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Eyes on Spies: Congress and the United States Intelligence Community.


Lisa Blaydes

Lisa Blaydes

Lisa Blaydes, an expert on Middle Eastern politics and the dynamics of authoritarianism

[The events of] 9/11 made it increasingly clear that the grievances of citizens in the Islamic world – legitimate or falsely constructed – impact not just Muslim populations but also residents of Western democracies. Since 2001, survey researchers began taking a much greater interest in understanding how Muslims view religion and extremism, Americans and U.S. policy, as well as Muslim attitudes toward democracy. What we have come to know is that citizens of Muslim-majority countries place tremendous value on democracy as a form of government while simultaneously disliking the way that Western democracies – like the United States – have projected their interests and power in the world.

Lisa Blaydes is an assistant professor of political science.  She is the author of this year's Elections and Distributive Politics in Mubarak’s Egypt.


Byron Bland

Byron Bland

Byron Bland, international conflict negotiator

Since 9/11, the practice of tolerance has come increasingly under assault. The adage, tolerance is tolerant of everything but intolerance, provides little guidance for dealing with seemingly intolerable threats looming on the horizon. In the post-9/11 world, because what we can afford to tolerate appears much less certain, tolerance must mean more than indifference toward whatever some fool might do or think. Under pressure, it seems that we are tempted to tolerate only those things that we respect. However, if we allow only those things we find meaningful, valuable or comfortable, are we really practicing tolerance?

Tolerance is hard to pin down because it revolves around two distinct and opposing principles: first, the freedom to be different, and, second, a positive regard toward these differences. When these principles conflict, the practice of tolerance suffers if either is allowed to eclipse the other. Take, for instance, the turmoil surrounding the proposal to build a mosque near the World Trade Center Memorial. Tolerance requires that freedom of religion trump apprehensions that non-Muslims may have about Islam. At the same time, unless Muslims who seek to exercise this right also make clear their deep respect for the dignity and worth of every human being regardless of their religion, tolerance will remain superficial and fragile. If tolerance is to flourish, the tension that exists between these two vibrant principles must be not only balanced but continuously cultivated. 

Byron Bland is a senior consultant for the Stanford Center on International Conflict and Negotiation and a lecturer at the Stanford Law School. He is currently exploring the social and political dynamics of reconciliation in Northern Ireland. He is also working with community groups and civil leaders in Israel and the West Bank.