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The worsening scar of 911

Updated On: Sep 11, 2010
The tide of American opinion has turned against globalisation
On this 9th anniversary of 911, most will remember the sight of the twin towers in New York collapsing and mourn what was lost. More, we may worry about what is being built in its place.
In New York, a proposal to build an Islamic community centre and mosque next to the twin towers site has attracted opposition. Although it was proposed by progressive American Muslims, others see it as an "affront" to those who perished.
President Barack Obama tried to remind his fellow citizens of the American constitution's promise of religious freedom. Many citizens instead revived the Internet rumours that Mr Obama is a secret Muslim, on the basis that his middle name is Hussein.
On top of this, an American pastor planned to burn copies of the Quran this Saturday, the ninth anniversary of Sept 11. At the last minute, the idea may be, pardon the pun, extinguished.
General David Petraeus, overseeing the United States efforts in Afghanistan, has warned that such incendiary acts can make things harder on the ground for American troops dealing with a Muslim society. Mr Obama and leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia and countries in the Middle East also weighed in against the Quran burning.
But whether this plan goes ahead or not, the idea shows the dangerous thinking that has grown in America.
Some may say those speaking against the mosque or urging the burning of Qurans are minority voices. The US has always allowed strong views and endured crazies.
But they suggest a deeper and wider drift in American attitudes. Immediately after 911, many repeated the mantra that Islam is a religion of peace, that not all Muslims are extremists, and that American Muslims are Americans.
Nine years on, however, it seems not all have accepted the message and conflate Islam, Muslims and terrorism. This feeds into wider sentiments against foreigners. Hispanic workers provoke heated debate. So too does foreign trade and investment.
More Americans today question whether they gain from engaging the outside world. As high jobless figures continue, many Americans believe that free trade has been unfair and that their jobs have been exported abroad to low-cost economies. Asia and China are particularly targeted for unfair competition.
Many more Americans now feel that globalisation has an ugly face and that face is Asian. This is a big change for a country that has traditionally welcomed and benefited from newcomers as an open society and has been the pioneer of modern globalisation.
Political expression of these views is surfacing in the tea parties.
A swing of support to the Republican right is widely predicted for the coming mid-term elections. Mr Obama and the Democrats are likely to be weakened and it is an open question if he can recover afterwards.
The Obama administration has shown a keen interest in engaging with Asia in a more multilateral and equal way. But these domestic voices limit those engagements.
Nine years ago, terrorists targeted an America that was the world's sole superpower, far ahead of all others and confident in its power. They hit the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. They grazed the Pentagon, America's military headquarters. They sought to start a jihad between Muslims and Americans.
Today, the US shows little will to engage in world trade. Its military resources are stretched to exhaustion abroad in two Muslim countries, Iraq and Afghanistan. While there is no jihad, the American traditions of religious freedom and acceptance are under pressure.
War has its costs even as victory is pursued. American society bears the scar of 911 and, nine years on, may be paying in ways that many did not anticipate.