The Terrorists Attacks of 11 September 2001
The whole world was stunned by the vicious terrorist attacks committed on 11 September 2001 against the United States of America. What occurred in New York in particular - given the number of people killed (over 5,000), the destruction, the economic impact, and the symbolism of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center - has resulted in a deep and lasting impact not only in America but also throughout the entire international community. The United Nations, given its location and more importantly its mission, was impacted by this crime and was immediately seized with it. The Secretary-General, who was in the forefront of world leaders condemning the horrible attacks, called for the U.N. to play a decisive role in the battle against terrorism and the attempts to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The Security Council quickly adopted resolution 1368 on 12 September 2001, recognizing the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, clearly in line with the position taken by the U.S. that any form of military response would not be subject to authorization from the Council. The resolution unequivocally condemned the terrorist attacks that occurred in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania, and called on all States to work together to prevent and suppress attacks. The resolution also affirmed the Security Council’s readiness to take all necessary steps to respond to the terrorist attacks in order to combat all forms of terrorism.
On 18 September 2001, the General Assembly followed suit and adopted resolution 56/1 calling for international cooperation to prevent and eradicate all forms of terrorism. At the same time, the General Assembly, taking into consideration the unusual burden on the security apparatus of the city and the country as a whole decided to postpone the general debate, which typically involves the participation of high-level government representatives, to a later date. (It was later decided to convene the general debate from 10 to 16 November.) The Assembly also undertook several decisions postponing the Children Summit and reorganizing its work. Further, the Assembly gave priority to beginning the debate in the plenary on agenda item 166: Measures to eliminate international terrorism.
In this regard, prior to the debate of the General Assembly, the Security Council, on Friday, 28 September 2001, adopted resolution 1373. The resolution was sweeping, especially on the issues of suppressing financing for terrorism and the exchange of information and intelligence. It established a follow-up mechanism in the form of a Committee of the Whole to monitor compliance and implementation of the resolution. The most striking aspect of the resolution was the fact that it was adopted under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which raised several questions about the relationship between the resolution and the obligations of Member States under international conventions on terrorism. The other striking aspect was the absence of a definition of terrorism, something understood to be left for the negotiations on the comprehensive convention on combating international terrorism, which will be taking place in the sixth committee during the present session of the General Assembly.
On Monday, 1 October 2001, the General Assembly debate on measures to eliminate international terrorism began with 158 speakers participating in the debate. There was virtual unanimity in condemning the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and expressing sympathy to the victims. There was also wide support for actions aimed at bringing the perpetrators to justice and even in holding those who support them responsible. There were also, however, many voices who cautioned against going beyond that and many speakers stressed the need to rethink policies leading to more just situations everywhere, and particularly in the Middle East. Almost everyone stressed that this battle should never be perceived, nor should it ever become, a conflict among civilizations or an inter-religious conflict.
The Palestinian position on the attack of 11 September 2001 as well as on the issue of international terrorism in its entirety was detailed by Ambassador Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations. His statement, however, did not deal with the "issue of definition", which was left to the above-mentioned discussion to take place in the sixth committee. The following is the text of Ambassador Al-Kidwa’s statement to the Assembly:
During the past few sessions of the General Assembly, Palestine did not actively participate in the debate on terrorism. We did not because of our belief that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was nearing a solution, with all that necessarily implies in terms of redefining many relevant issues. We also believed that the increased threat of terrorism essentially involved some groups inside certain states, particularly some Arab States, who aimed at changing the governing system, typically on the basis of an extreme religious position - a phenomenon rejected and confronted by the entire international community. A final reason was because we believed that international terrorism in general was waning and was on its way to defeat.
Unfortunately, we were wrong and perhaps we were too optimistic. In the Middle East and specifically in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, the peace process and the situation on the ground deteriorated in an extremely dangerous way and we witnessed the resurfacing of the accusations of terrorism and the counter-accusations of State terrorism and war crimes against the ongoing background of foreign occupation. With regard to internal terrorism, if the term is correct, it did not come to an end either, and we witnessed clear loopholes in the collective international position aimed at putting an end to this kind of terrorism. At the same time, international terrorism was not defeated. Indeed, it shocked us all when it culminated in the serious tragedy and devastation of the 11th of September in the United States of America. Somehow all of the above might be related.
The Palestinian side, through President Yasser Arafat and many other Palestinian officials, has strongly condemned the heinous terrorist act, which took place on 11 September. We have done that not only out of our political responsibility but also in line with our conscience as Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians both Muslims and Christians. There can be no justification whatsoever for this horrible act.
In this regard, we again express our heartfelt condolences to President George Bush, the American Government and the American people, particularly the families of the victims. I would also add that for us, we the family of the United Nations and its Missions who live in New York, at least for a while, our lives and those of our families were impacted as was the life of every inhabitant of this unique city.
The Palestinian side welcomed the clear and strong international reaction against what happened and for confronting the phenomenon of international terrorism. We naturally are ready to add our very modest efforts to the international efforts aimed at bringing the perpetrators of this crime to justice, to prevent any reoccurrence of what happened and to end international terrorism. The United States, as the nation that was attacked and also as the superpower of the world, has strived to form an international coalition to wage a multi-faceted battle against international terrorism. A broad international coalition is a positive development, and we call for the use of the available forum of international work in this respect and we reaffirm as well the importance of international legitimacy. The United Nations, as the Secretary-General has said, can and must play a decisive role. We support this and call for the full engagement of the United Nation organs, including the Security Council, in the upcoming battle in a continuous way.
We also welcome what several officials of the United States and the West generally have stated, including the clear position indicating that this is neither a battle against Islam nor against Arabs. This is an important issue, which needs constant reiteration. There must also be a conscious and continuous resistance of any attempts to distort such a position and push things towards the wrong battle. There are indeed some forces which are trying to do just that and there is at least one State, for its own interest, which is trying to push towards widening the circle to include targets that have nothing to do with the 11th of September or with the battle against terrorist groups with global outreach.
We must also try to understand what happened and to realize that a successful battle will require rethinking some policies with political, social and economic repercussions with the aim of achieving more just situations everywhere. Why exactly did the terrorists do what they did on the 11th of September? I am unable to give a decisive answer about the reasons for this diabolic act.
The reasons might include a rejection of the West with all its cultural dimensions, which is something we cannot solve through different policies and it has nothing to do with Arabism, Islam or indeed with any logic. We, of course, firmly reject conflict among civilization and we stand for dialogue among civilization and the nurturing of humanity on the basis of diversity and tolerance.
But we should not stop here. We have to look into the negative positions and feelings of millions of Arabs and Muslims towards the United States and some other Western States. These are positions and feelings that grow stronger everyday, competing with the reasonable mainstream and steering it towards extremism. We have to look into the reasons for such a situation that provides a breeding ground for the emergence of groups and actions such as that which took place on the 11th of September.
The main reason may be what the ordinary person in the region has witnessed in terms of policies regarding the issue of Palestine over the course of almost one hundred years. It is an unbelievable story involving the imposition of a gross and severe injustice through long years of pain, suffering, disappointment and unbearable conditions. In addition, other things happened in the region that cannot be completely isolated from the Palestinian issue. All lead the ordinary person in the region to conclude that the system of values and the yardstick basically established by the West, even when we accept them, seem to be inapplicable to us, maybe because we are Arabs and we are Muslims.
We must bring all this to an end, and in particular we must solve the issue of Palestine in a just way, thus ending the source of huge anger and despair in the region. That in itself, if achieved, is not going to conclude the battle against international terrorism, but it is a necessary condition to gain in the battle that the international community must wage in any case.
Regarding what happened on the 11th of September, the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish stated in a statement signed by several Palestinian intellectuals, " The catastrophe that hit Washington and New York has only one name - the Madness of Terrorism. This catastrophic event was neither a dark science fiction film nor was it the Day of Reckoning. It was terrorism that is country-less, colorless, and creedless, no matter how many names of gods, deities and agonies of man it may have enlisted in order to justify itself." He further states, "Nothing, nothing can justify this terrorism that melds human flesh with iron, cement and dust. Nor can anything justify polarizing the world into two camps that can never meet: one of absolute good, the other of absolute evil. Civilization is the result of world societies contributing towards a global heritage. The accumulation and interaction of which leads towards the elevation of humanity and nobility of consciousness."