Book Review: A History of the World Since 9/11 by Dominic Streatfeild

The main ramifications of historic events are frequently easy to see. Often, though, we overlook the ripples that produce unexpected, or even untended, effects. Take 9/11, for example. It didn’t take a great deal of thought to realize it would bring the U.S. into direct armed conflict with al-Qaeda. And it was barely six weeks later that the Patriot Act went into effect. But in looking at the world after 9/11, Dominic Streatfeild doesn’t limit himself to the obvious.

Streatfeild displays the unforeseen aspects of the event from the outset of his highly readable book, A History of the World Since 9/11: Disaster, Deception, and Destruction in the War on Terror. The first chapter tells the story of Mark Strovo, now sitting on death row in Texas for the October 4, 2001, murder of the operator of a convenience story and suspected of other such deaths. What does that have to do with 9/11? Well, Strovo targeted “sand niggers,” darker-skinned individuals who appeared to him to be Muslim. A convicted felon and admittedly racist before 9/11, Strovo told a television station after his arrest, “I did what every other American wanted to do but didn’t have the nerve.”

In telling Strovo’s story, Streatfeild examines some of the aspects of America and the post-9/11 rhetoric that contributed to the rage reflected in Strovo’s actions. Granted, Strovo is suspected of having committed a variety of retaliatory acts against prior to the murder and it takes someone predisposed to criminal violence to act out in such an extreme fashion. Still, there is little doubt about the strength of anti-Muslim emotions after 9/11 and some viewed Muslims as a threat. And if you’re wondering how Strovo so easily identified his targets, “Ay-rabs” to use his term, the answer is he didn’t. The man Strovo shot to death was Hindu and came to the U.S. from India in 1982. In fact, all the suspected victims and potential victims were Asian.

A History of the World Since 9/11 points out that 9/11 had unintended effects worldwide. For example, Streatfeild examines the adverse effect it had on the World Health Organization’s vaccination efforts seeking to eradicate polio worldwide. Not only did U.S. military action wholly disrupt efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan but it reinforced pre-existing suspicions in Africa and elsewhere that the vaccination program was actually an American plot against Muslims. Streatfeild, a British journalist, makes a crucial observation in the book. Whether those beliefs are true — just as whether the U.S. lied or killed innocent people — may well be irrelevant. “What does matter is that a huge percentage of of people in the Arab world believe them.”

Streatfeild’s irritation and frustration is evident throughout the book. Nowhere is it more evident than in the chapters dealing with what could be considered self-inflicted damage. Thus, A History of the World Since 9/11 explores the extraordinary rendition of a German citizen of Egyptian descent, a kidnapping, imprisonment and interrogation based entirely on mistaken identity. Streatfeild also takes the reader to the weapons depots the U.S. military failed to secure after the invasion of Iraq, the looting of which provided most of the explosives and other weapons that would be used against U.S. troops during the so-called insurgency.

Yet perhaps the most frustrating events featured in the book is the chapter examining the Bush Administration’s claims in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq that Iraq had been trying to purchase aluminum tubes to greatly expand a nuclear weapons program. It may be the most condemning account of the Bush Administration’s actions during that period I have ever read. Streatfeild leaves little doubt that not only did parts of the government and intelligence community take only one view of the facts, they ignored and even suppressed definitive contrary evidence. It makes clear that part of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s crucial speech to the United Nations was predicated on withheld information, if not affirmative misrepresentations.

There is no doubt Streatfeild views the reverberations of 9/11 as more disastrous than the attacks themselves. It’s equally clear that he condemns what nations and governments have done in the name of fighting terrorism. Yet even though A History of the World Since 9/11 does have a predisposition, it is an engrossing piece of reportage in which even those who may disagree with its conclusions can gain insight and knowledge about the impact of 9/11 on the history of the world to date.

9/11 brought us together. A decade on, not only is the United States the most reviled nation on earth, but a third of its own citizens believe their government to have been complicit in the bombing of the World Trade Centers.

Dominic Streatfeild, A History of the World Since 9/11

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