Around the world on Sept. 11, 2001, and in the days that followed, there was widespread empathy and a sense of shared struggle against a new, unseen enemy. That sense of sympathy and solidarity proved short-lived.
The Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace played “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was photographed donating blood. Cuba offered use of its airspace and medical facilities. And the French daily Le Monde ran the front-page headline: “We are all Americans.”
Around the world Sept. 11, 2001, and in the days that followed, there was widespread empathy and a sense of shared struggle against a new, unseen enemy. Overnight, it seemed, the fight against terrorism might redefine the global order. Old enemies would become new allies. Antagonism would give way to opportunity.
That window proved fleeting, the sense of sympathy and solidarity short-lived.
From Egypt to Pakistan, large majorities of Muslims have an unfavorable opinion of the United States and its policies abroad 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. Even among traditional allies in Europe, the United States is viewed widely as acting too unilaterally and failing to take into account the interests of other countries.
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In some countries, such as China, animosity toward the United States and suspicion of U.S. intentions has deepened. Ordinary people describe a sense of dismay over what they see as a U.S. preoccupation with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Compared to 10 years ago, our anger is stronger, not weaker,” said Luo Ruxi, 24, a recent university graduate who was in middle school at the time of the attacks. “I think they started all these wars to divert attention from their own domestic crisis.”
Some of the breakdown in unity was U.S. officials’ doing.
Perhaps the Iraq invasion, with its months-long public debate, huge anti-war protests around the globe and failure to find weapons of mass destruction, was primarily responsible for the fraying of that post-9/11 global solidarity. Or maybe it was reports of abuses and civilian casualties at the hands of U.S. troops. Maybe the world simply tired of the conflicts after a decade.
Or, as also seems likely, the shift was at least partially inevitable, because the post-9/11 solidarity was artificial and fragile.
Even at the time, response to the attacks was not universally sympathetic. Less reported than the collective sympathy was that there was satisfaction, even jubilation, in some quarters that the swaggering superpower had met its comeuppance. While Arafat gave blood, anti-American celebrations were held in the Gaza Strip, with automatic weapons fired into the air and gunmen handing out candy to children.
In China, too, anti-Americanism had been widespread, mainly because of the accidental U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the 1999 Kosovo war and the death of a Chinese pilot earlier in 2001, after his jet collided with a U.S. spy plane over the South China Sea.
When word came to China of the Sept. 11 attacks, the initial reaction of many in the public was joy.
“I thought they shouldn’t bomb the twin towers. They should bomb the White House,” recalled Zhang Linna, 25, a film and television producer, who was in high school in 2001.
Many world leaders saw opportunity from the events of 9/11.
Russia’s then-president, Vladimir Putin, saw a chance to engage with the United States after the bad feelings over the Kosovo war, and became the first foreign leader to call President George W. Bush after the attacks. Chinese President Jiang Zemin also saw potential; China’s relations with the United States were at a low ebb, but Jiang didn’t want confrontation: He wanted to concentrate on modernizing China’s economy.
Putin and Jiang also had narrower motivations for joining Bush’s “war on terror.” For Putin, it was a chance to seek U.S. support for Russia’s struggle with violent Muslims in breakaway Chechnya as a fight against “terrorists.” For Jiang, it was a desire to win backing for China’s fight against Muslim Uighur separatists of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which Jiang wanted labeled a “terrorist organization.”
The hope that the United States would regard others’ fights as its own was shared by ordinary people, too. Israelis who had endured years of Palestinian suicide attacks, Spaniards accustomed to assassinations by Basque secessionists of the ETA and others came to believe that Americans would lend them far more support after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Among those who hoped for greater U.S. understanding was a Kenyan, Douglas Sidialo, in Nairobi.
Three years earlier, Sidialo had survived a brush with violence inside his white Toyota Celica, stuck in a traffic jam 30 feet from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. An explosion. Then darkness.
Sidialo was forever blinded by flying glass and shrapnel. The U.S. government initially helped the Nairobi bombing victims with medical rehabilitation, but much of the assistance has stopped. Sidialo lost his job as a marketing executive, and he and his family survive on income from selling sugar cane at his small farm and his wife’s high-school teacher’s salary.
The attacks brought the governments of the United States and Kenya closer. Kenya and its neighbors such as Ethiopia and Uganda, are among the strongest U.S. allies in the fight against terrorism. The United States has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the region and sent military experts to bolster security capabilities.
But Sidialo has seen his personal hope turn to disillusionment.
“What we imagined is that now the Americans will be filled with more compassion and more concern to support the Kenyan victims who are really wallowing in poverty, financial challenges and trauma,” he said. “But now it has been almost 10 years. Nothing has changed.”
Mohabeb Khan also imagined new possibilities after Sept. 11.
An Afghan immigrant, Khan had been living a pleasant life in Peshawar, Pakistan: steady work selling eyeglasses and repairing watches on the side. Years earlier, one of his customers had been Osama bin Laden, who had stopped by Khan’s shop because the battery kept dying on his digital Al-Asr Watch. Khan still has the watch; bin Laden never picked it up.
In the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Khan and his family thrilled to watch U.S. soldiers arrive in Afghanistan.
The family returned to Afghanistan. Khan’s eldest son, Imran, found work as an interpreter for the U.S. military. But Imran was killed in October 2009 by a roadside bomb while on a foot patrol with U.S. soldiers. Two years after his death, the family said it is still owed $20,000 in promised insurance money from the U.S. company that had hired him.
The experience has soured their view of Americans in Afghanistan. “They don’t know how to treat people,” Mohabeb Khan said. “The biggest mistake we ever made was moving back to Afghanistan.”
While the United States has been consumed by military interventions and is dealing with a massive federal debt, China in the past decade has continued to build and grow.
It has risen to become the world’s second-largest economy, surpassing Japan. The International Monetary Fund recently forecast that, by at least one measure, China’s economy would overtake the United States’ by 2016, a feat for which many in China, only half-jokingly, say the Chinese should thank bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
Correspondents Sudarsan Raghavan in Nairobi, Kenya; Will Englund in Moscow and Joshua Partlow in Kabul contributed to this report.