9/11 is a day indelibly etched into my mind, as it was for all New Yorkers that day. As I watched the second plane hit the twin towers and the first tower crumble, something visceral metamorphosed inside me. Our country was under attack. After recovering from the shock, I knew I had to do something.
In the following weeks, I opted to leave my high-paying law job to teach a subject that makes our country great: the rule of law and the respect for individual human rights. My first assignment was to teach human rights in Uzbekistan, an ex-Soviet dictatorship with a Muslim population still hell bent on quashing all dissent. While the environment there was not conducive to teaching human rights, I am still hopeful that my former students will lead Uzbekistan on the path to democracy one day.
I then switched jobs to work with Iraqi women who, after living for 35 years under one of the worst dictators in history, were attempting to guarantee their rights in a new constitution. Despite the challenges in both countries, there was nothing more exciting than seeing how the newly-minted concept of “rights” was so fresh in their vocabulary- something the West in its cynicism takes for granted.
As a supporter of the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq, I continue to work at the Independent Women’s Forum on projects that promote the political and economic independence of Iraqi women. These brave women, under threat of death, continue to fight for their rights despite the daily threats of terrorists and their bombs.
Despite the impressive gains in Afghanistan and Iraq “the anniversary of 9/11 reminds us how far we have left to go.” Five years later, I wonder how the events of that terrible day changed my fellow Americans. What are they “doing” in memory of those lost in this continuing war? Too often, most just complain and urge retreat.
Today, partisan bickering is at its peak. Infighting triggered by midterm elections trivializes the sacrifices that have been made protecting this country.
War is not fought according to timelines set by elections. The murderers that killed our brethren in 9/11 are still killing our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are waiting until we get weary so they can take over one of the most geopolitically strategic regions in the world.
As the war wages on, the media tells us that national security is no longer a “hot button” issue. If the latest foiled plane attacks in the U.K., the war in Lebanon, the bombings in London and Madrid, and the nuclear ambitions of the Iranian regime are not “hot button” issues, then something is gravely wrong with American politics.
We are not fighting a Cold War where we can afford to wait our enemy out, this is a very much a “hot” war. This is a war where the front lines are the World Trade Center, an airliner flying over the Pacific, and a train in Mumbai. All those who lost their lives in this ongoing war deserve our commitment to devise common strategies to deal with these imminent threats.
Mid-term elections are coming, and Iraq is an issue on every candidate’s platform. But what we must realize is -whether or not you agree that Iraq had ties to global terrorists in 2003- the struggle for Iraq now is a critical part of the war on terrorism that threatens modern civilization. That is how our enemies define it. How can we not understand this?
An immediate pullout from Iraq would leave a fractious country of 25 million peaceful people, in the hands of a minute percentage of the population who are fomenting sectarian violence, killing women and children, and taking orders from Iran who pray for our, and the Iraqis’, defeat. These are the same people who bombed the World Trade Center in 1995, our embassies in Africa, the USS Cole, 9/11, London, and Madrid. They are al-Qaeda, the Mahdi Army, the Iranian-backed militias all over the Middle East who are converging in Iraq because they know a victory there is the beginning of America’s defeat.
So is this how we are going to honor the thousands massacred in 9/11 and in the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq? Hand Iraq to the terrorists; retreating with our heads down?
Our politicians today should not play into the hands of the incredibly media savvy terrorists by advocating ridiculous timelines and unattainable goals. Whether we agree with all the tactics used by the administration and its allies in Iraq, we must commit to the common vision of an American victory. Nothing will bring back those who died for our country but surely we can work on reducing the likelihood of future losses. If we keep demanding that Iraqis have a national unity government isn’t it time that we have one in Washington? Isn?t it time we do “something” in unison?
A. Yasmine Rassam is the Vice President?for Foreign Affairs and International Women’s Issues for the Independent Women?s Forum.