The 20th anniversary today of the 9/11 attacks provides a time for introspection on how that devastating event in the United States changed the lives of people and nations around the world, how they came to terms with it, and the lessons that can be drawn from it to ensure the emergence of a world in which extremism can be contained, if not eliminated altogether. The impact of Sept 11, 2001, reverberated in Singapore as much as it did elsewhere. Analysts and thinkers put those terrorist attacks on the US in perspective by arguing, variously, that they were in essence an attack on secularism and tolerance, US and Western cultural, religious, commercial and economic dominance. The attackers managed a tactical hit.
The destruction of New York's Twin Towers and the damage inflicted on the Pentagon struck at American economic and military power and pride. The attacks struck fear, prompted widespread reexamination of security and other protocols affecting airports, public spaces and the like, but failed to force the global community to retreat, abandon cooperation and turn inwards. The US-led invasion of Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks might have ended chaotically last month. But the 20-year period has seen a demonstration of international resolve to strengthen cooperation, build alliances, reshape attitudes, share resources and not give in to the threat of terrorism. It enabled nations to redouble their defences against the menace of militant extremism.
The advantages gained on the security front also allowed countries to concentrate on the domestic social consequences of 9/11. Unfortunately, bouts of unjustified Islamophobia followed the attacks in parts of the world, as if the religion could be held responsible for what a misguided group did in its name. It is testimony to the world's capacity for resilient reason that no conflict of civilisations erupted. Muslims remain united with those of other faiths in resisting extremism that hides in the borrowed cloak of religion.
Singapore's experience and contributions to the post-9/11 world order have lain in its continuing respect for the values of all religions and also in its creation of an overlapping secular space in which citizens can come together to share and converse as Singaporeans.
Protecting the country, the task of the security agencies, has been accompanied by campaigns to protect, particularly young and impressionable individuals, from falling prey to radicalising online propaganda. Looking ahead, the security of the world from militancy will call for the healing of longstanding rifts between the West and the Islamic world. Singapore must continue to do all it can to safeguard its harmonious multi-religious society from conflicts that flare up elsewhere.