September 9, 2001, the longest day in contemporary history



Jean Marie Montali (*)

War against terror did not start on September 11 in New York. It actually started two days earlier in an Afghan village no one ever heard about.

In the morning of September 11, nineteen mad guys made their way, among other passengers, aboard four different planes. They prayed quietly. They were going to die. Everyone was going to die. So, they prayed. The world was on the verge of collapse. So, they prayed; and then they howled. With a cutter, they slashed the throat of the flight attendants and took over control of the aircrafts. And they prayed and prayed… At 08H48, the Boeing 767 of the American Airlines flight from Boston to Los Angeles hit and stuck itself on the 87th floor of one the twin towers of the World Trade Center, in the heart of Manhattan, New York. Praise be to God !

–  At 09:02 am: United Airlines flight 175 exploded at almost mid-height level of the second tower. Praise be to God!

– At 09:43 am: a third Boeing crashed on to the Pentagon, Washington, the building which symbolizes US military might. Praise be to God!

– At 10:00 am: the first tower collapsed. Praise be to God!

– And at 10:08 am: the fourth and last aircraft crashed at Sunny Creek, near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Praise be to God! Quite likely, this plane targeted the White House but the audacious passengers and crew members, who received news of what was going on elsewhere, heroically prevented the plane from hitting the intended target.

– The second tower collpased shortly before 11:00 am. Praise be to God!

A huge cloud of dust covered New York and the world was short of breath, on the edge of the abyss. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives. Three thousand civilians; 3,000 innocent people, men, women, children, American and foreign nationals, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, non-believers…. God is great!

On September 11, 2001, dust had not settled yet but the world had just acknowledged that war had begun. A vicious war which would obey no rule but which will hit at random, blindly, everywhere even in supposedly safe places. In Paris, Brussels, Boston, Madrid, London, Nice, Tunis, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Moscow, Casablanca, Jakarta, New-Delhi, Glasgow, Islamabad, Stockholm, Alexandria, and again in Paris. War was everywhere. Every woman, man and child was exposed to death by a bomb, a knife or an assault rifle.

But a war against whom or what? A war of civilizations or religions, as was being claimed increasingly ? Or is it a war of civlizations, of all civilizations, regardless of the God they pray to, against barbarity, as I tend to think? A war of civilizations against terrorists who claim, in the most blasphemous of ways, that they are fighting in the name of a God of whom they painted an outrageous image: an ossified, unyielding and bloodthirsty god…

On September 11, 2001 the world knew it was at war.

What the world did not know was that, in actual fact, that war did not start on the 11th of September 2001; it started two days earlier, on September 9, in an Afghan village close to the border with Tajikistan, which goes by the name of Khoja Bahauddin.

On that fateful day, two terrorists, who posed as Tunisian journalists, sacrificed their lives in a suicide attack targetting commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, the legendary hero who fought the Soviet occupation, the leader of the Northern Alliance and the sworn enemy of Taliban and Bin Laden. Strangely enough, though behaving suspisciously those “journalists” were not searched. Their equipment was not cleared. Yet, their camera was packed with explosives. The explosion was earth-shattering. The legendary war leader stayed in agony for many days. In hindsight, his assassination is a sign of powerlessness: unable to defeat him militarily, his enemies knew that only through treachery and its devices (deceit, betrayal and murder) would enable them to eliminate such a lord who distinguished himself on the battle field.

For Bin Laden and the Taliban, by murdering Massoud they sought to achieve several aims, i.e.: to get rid of the last fighter who prevented the Taliban from reigning as absolute masters over Afghanistan. A pious Muslim, Massoud thought that the fight against religious fanticism is not less important than the fight against communism. He believed that only an enlightened government had a chance of freeing his country from the grips of obscurantism, that a State must not be ruled by Sharia law but rather by laws which protect the freedoms of all citizens while respecting the religious sentiment in the country.

Bin Laden and his terror ‘strategists’ knew, when they were preparing the September 11 attacks, that they risked retaliation from the US. By killing Massoud, they eliminated the one and only military partner the US could work with in Afghanistan. By killing Massoud, they disrupted the Resistance. By acting in this manner, Bin Laden was setting a terrible entrapment for the West. The US and their allies were left with no alternative but to intervene directly in the country by sending their tanks and soldiers on the ground. The consequences were going to be terrible:

– Allergic to any military occupation, Afghans were quite keen on supporting or joining the Taliban.

– Ben Laden and the Taliban were going to drag the US, that they loath as much as they loath the devil,  into a military quagmire which will go on for years and where hundreds of young servicemen would die; just like what happened to the Russians and British in colonial times.

– From the first days of the allied intervention, Bin Laden and the Taliban urged Muslims all over the world to rise against the “Crusaders”. Thousands of volunteers would join that “holy war”, the Jihad, in response to Bin Laden’s fatwa of 1998 where he had decreed that “killing Americans and their allies is a duty that each Muslim must perform until the holy Islamic sites in Jerusalem and Mecca are liberated from their grip, until such time when their broken and defeated armies have left all the lands of Islam.”

– For the most radical of them, the « occupation » of Afghanistan by allied troups would vindicate the exportation of war outside the country. “Since the Crusaders are striking us on Islamic land, let’s strike them on their own land”. That is the argument put forward to justify not only terrorism but drug trafficking too.

– Bin Laden and the Islamist fanatics would, thus, achieve their dream: walk in the footsteps of Saladin, the emblematic adversary of the Crusaders and architect of the Muslim recapture of Jerusalem in 1187, to stir up the Islamic world against the West by waging a world war. And the world let itself be dragged into this folly.

– Afghanistan then became the epicenter of international terrorism. Even the Arabic word “al-Qaeda » means « the Base ».

– So, that war started on September 9, 2001 in Khodja Bahauddin, a dusty and deadly village right on the Afghan-Tajik border. A cursed village which, since then, fell back into oblivion. That day of September 9 is the longest day in our recent history. It stretched on for 48 hours untill September 11, until the World Trade Center twin towers came down crumbling just as collapsed our deep-rooted belief that we had been living in a world of peace since 1945.

And the war began. Another kind of war; we did not know it could exist. It was not going to spare any region of the world, or any religion. Twenty years later it is still ongoing and it will go on for some more time. It is the longest war in modern history.

Then this nagging question: if Massoud was not assassinated, if we supported him earlier and unambiguously in his fight again Taliban and al-Qaeda, would we have ended up like this ? Could it be that, by ignoring him, we missed the opportunity of saving peace ?