Hardly feeling safer nine years later

Updated: 2010-09-14 08:02

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Has the United States or the rest of the world become safer nine years after the tragic Sept 11 attacks?

The answer by most US officials and experts seems to be "yes". Evidence cited includes a weakened al-Qaida under US offensives, heightened security measures and the fact that there has been no major terrorist attack on US soil since then.

However, claiming that the world is safer for Americans is not only premature, but also contradictory to numerous news reports in the mainstream US media in the past years. These agencies reported that al-Qaida has been growing stronger, especially in places such as Pakistan or Yemen. A number of Americans have also reportedly gone abroad to join radical Islamic groups and there is reportedly growing anti-American sentiment in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A poll by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project found that the US has been viewed less favorably than al-Qaida among Pakistanis. Only about 17 percent of Pakistanis polled had a favorable view of the US and 59 percent described the US as an "enemy" of Pakistan. Meanwhile, 18 percent of Pakistanis polled viewed al-Qaida favorably, up from 9 percent a year ago. The drone attacks and the stringent conditions attached to US aid to Pakistan were regarded as two main factors fanning anti-American feelings there.

With facts like these, it is hard to draw a conclusion that the US is safer today than before. In fact, wherever you go today in the US, you are constantly reminded of terror or fear by the excessive security measures.

If you take a flight, you will have to go through troublesome checks. You are not only required to take out your laptop, take off your shoes, jackets and belt, but you will also need to raise your arms high to pose in front of a full-body scanner.

When I asked a Transportation Safety Administration officer in the Cincinnati airport why passengers had to make a different pose here compared with other places, she said the new scanning method would soon be applied nationwide.

Even if you never fly, you will also be reminded of the terror and fear around you when your bags are searched randomly at stadiums, theaters and subway stations.

Living in New York, it is not unusual to see heavily armed police officers or National Guard soldiers carrying carbine machine guns, along with bomb-sniffing dogs at the Pennsylvania and Grand Central train stations.

All these do not remind people how safe they are. They remind them of the dangers that might exist around them on a daily basis. That was something people never experienced before Sept 11 nine years ago. But they are experiencing more of these every day today.

Of course, the US is not the only country that feels like this. In China, few people would imagine officials announcing before the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the Shanghai World Expo this year that security and anti-terrorism would be the top priority for successfully hosting the events.

Nine years ago, few people would have thought of security as a major concern for hosting a major event, let alone wasting huge amounts of money on security measures.

In the US, the worry about the danger is so severe that $75 billion have been spent on intelligence since Sept 11, 2001, more than the combined spending in the field by the rest of the world. The US intelligence apparatus has grown so large that its buildings are now equivalent to the size of 22 US Capitol buildings, according to news reports. In fact, the new Department of Homeland Security building under construction in Washington will be the largest federal government site in 50 years.

All these mean that there are mounting threats to US security from terrorist organizations. Otherwise, there would be no need to build such a government structure that costs $3.4 billion.

A world that makes people feel safe is not a place where you see heavily armed police officers and soldiers at street corners and train stations. It is not a place where your bags are subject to random searches a few times in a busy day.

Until such reminders of terror threats go away in our daily lives, we can hardly say that we are safer than before. That was when no one had to take off their shoes, remove their belts and hold up their pants in an embarrassing manner at the airport.

The author is China Daily's chief correspondent in New York.

He can be reached at

E-mail: chenweihua@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 09/14/2010 page8)

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