Remaining mindful of liberty after September 11

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At this time every year, Americans from across the country come together to reflect on the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Without a doubt, the horrific loss of nearly 3,000 American lives at the hands of terrorists is something that will forever scar the memories of those of us who bore witness to the tragedy. However, when reflecting on monumental historical events such as 9/11, it is important to not only remember the tragedy itself, but also how our nation subsequently responded and the impacts such a reaction had on our lives here as citizens. Unfortunately, our government’s actions in the decade since 9/11 have been marked by misguided policies and reckless errors in judgment, creating enormous problems that ultimately our generation is being forced to face.

The first mistake made by both the government and American people following 9/11 was the failure to fully consider and comprehend the reasons we were attacked. It was easy for pundits and laypersons alike to assert that terrorists “hate us for our freedom,” and indeed, this became the general consensus. While this speculative assumption may fit nicely into a simplistic world view of good and evil, it does not fit the facts of reality. Americans failed to read the statements by Osama bin Laden himself — who laid out in more explicit terms than perhaps any other enemy of the US had before — precisely why he was at war with America. His reasons were not that they hated our freedoms, but rather that they hated our foreign policy of constant interventionism into the internal affairs of Muslim countries. As many officials and analysts such as former top CIA official Michael Scheuer have pointed out, 50 years of instigating revolutions, propping up vicious authoritarian regimes and building bases on Muslim holy lands inevitably resulted in what the CIA refers to as “blowback,” or the unintended consequences of military intervention. In this case, the blowback has taken the form of hatred against the U.S. by many in the Muslim world, which ultimately manifested itself in Al Qaeda’s war on America and the attacks of 9/11.

In failing to recognize the true motivations of our attackers, our government consequently failed to make the necessary changes to our foreign policy that would keep us safe. Instead, the Bush administration responded by expanding its interventionist policies, through endless nation building in Afghanistan and the disastrous War in Iraq. Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, President Obama has only continued these dreadful policies, as his administration has expanded the wars into Pakistan and Yemen, as well as involved us in a new conflict in Libya. Aside from costing thousands of U.S. lives and trillions of dollars, these wars have also served to further incite anti-American hatred from Muslims around the world and have almost certainly boosted al-Qaeda’s recruitment numbers as well, as reported by BBC and others. As a result, these misguided policies have undoubtedly made all Americans less safe, while simultaneously burdening our generation with massive amounts of new national debt. Even with the recent killing of Osama bin Laden and our country’s near default, the government has still shown few signs of finally bringing our troops home from abroad.

Unfortunately, the government’s response here at home has been no better. With the passage of the Orwellian-named PATRIOT Act, warrant-less wiretapping and the expansion of the TSA, the government has sought to combat terrorism by transforming America into a near police state, where young children cannot even board a plane without being groped by government officials. It is difficult to see how stripping Americans of the very same civil liberties which the government is supposed to protect can possibly help to make us better off. After all, in the wise words of Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

So, on this anniversary of 9/11, in addition to remembering all those who died on that tragic day, we should also remember to step back and consider the tragedy’s perilous policy repercussions that have unfolded over the last decade. Indeed, we as college students should be particularly mindful, as these policies are more real and threatening to us than any other generation. We are the ones being forced to give up our civil liberties and constitutionally protected rights. We are the ones being asked to fight and die in these endless wars and to bear the fiscal and existential threats in which they result. Thus it is imperative that we, especially here at UC Berkeley, stand up and act to help change the course of our country. We must fight to elect leaders who understand the critical importance of peace and liberty and who will make these values a reality. Only through understanding these issues and making our voices heard can our generation ensure for ourselves a truly free, safe and prosperous future.

Bobby Saxton is the president of Students for Liberty at UC Berkeley.