Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, an event which would irrevocably alter the shape of the world order and international travel therein. The attacks, which roughly occurred at the turn of the 21st century, have come to define a generation’s ideological battle between the progressive and reactive forces of globalization; those who strive to bring about a more integrated global order, and those who oppose this vision.
Though the consequences of September 11 have been profound, that fateful day did not take place in a vacuum. A decade before, in 1991, two major events came to pass which set the stage for the 2001 attacks to occur. First, the Soviet Union dissolved, leaving the United States as the sole world superpower overseeing a new era of rapid globalization. Second, and less remarked upon, the United States brought the Gulf War to a close, a relatively minor altercation with landscape-shattering aftershocks.
If the former collapse of the USSR set the stage for a new era of unfettered globalization, it was the latter intervention against Iraq which helped crystallize the reactive jihadist ideology that sought to disrupt this process. The September 11 attacks one decade later, which claimed the lives of more than 3,000 innocent civilians in the United States, officially brought to the mainstream a violent brand of jihadi terrorism which we have come to accept today as commonplace.
For global wanderers in the wake of this tragic day, terrorist attacks have become a major fear embedded in international travel. But beyond these isolated incidents, which are few and far between, how has travel changed since 9/11? The answer, it may please you to hear, is that we’re doing better with every passing year.
Terrorism’s Effects on Travel
We’ll start by covering some of the negative consequences that the September 11 attacks have had on global travel, first by digging a bit deeper into the threat of terrorism, which so many people today feel to be an inhibitor of traveling the world.
While tragedy has struck too many innocent civilians over the past 15 years, the simple fact is that terrorism remains a remote threat to the average world traveler. In the United States, for example, just 94 lives have been claimed in the past 15 years by terrorist attacks, since September 11; put otherwise, during this period of time, the average American is more likely to have drowned in the bathtub or been crushed by their own furniture than to have died in a terrorist attack.
Rather than any real threat, it is the ideology itself which has facilitated the sharpest changes in global travel since the 2001 attacks. Terrorism works by promoting a culture of fear in mass populations, with the ultimate intention of sowing discord and instability among otherwise peaceful people through random attacks. Jihadism specifically is a type of psychological warfare coming from a small, misrepresented band of religious extremists who abide to an apocalyptic ideology.
So while terrorism itself may not pose a significant threat to global travelers, the resulting fear and anxiety around the world has undeniably altered the travel experience. Hikes in security, such as increased global surveillance systems, greater safety regulations during air travel, and stricter visa regulations are the places where travelers will most directly feel the squeeze. Due to these measures, however, international travel has actually become safer since September 11.
More so than terrorism, the aftermath of September 11 is most powerfully felt today in the regional instability which the attacks have influenced. The United States’ decisions to overthrow the hostile governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by a wave of revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa known as the “Arab Spring,” and the ensuing war in Syria which rages on today, can all be directly or indirectly traced back to the vast geopolitical consequences of the September 11 attacks.
And so, over the past 15 years a large portion of our globe, spanning roughly from Nigeria in the west to Pakistan in the east, has erupted in conflict and consequently become less safe for global travelers. This region was the cradle of human civilization and is home to some of the world’s greatest historical treasures, most genuine cultures, and most dynamic peoples the world has ever known. It is the great tragedy of the 21st century so far that violence has become a central part of the Middle Eastern narrative.
Any experienced traveler cannot come to a clear picture of our world without experiencing these tremendously enriching countries and cultures firsthand, but nonetheless the Middle East and North Africa have become increasingly unstable ever since the September 11 attacks. It should be a chief aim of the global community to bring peace and stability to this region, primarily for the sake of innocent people there who suffer needlessly, and tertiarily, so that globally minded citizens may welcome this region back into the international community with open arms.
Getting Better All The Time
All these consequences of the September 11 attacks should not mask, however, that as a global community, we are more peacefully integrated than ever before in human history, and international travel has played a huge part in this. Every year that passes, more students are studying abroad in places that challenge them to grow, more young professionals are interning abroad in emerging economies halfway across the world, and more educators, volunteers, and workers are going abroad to contribute their knowledge and skillsets to the development of countries previously unknown to them.
Every year, millions of travelers embark to other countries not merely as tourists, but as cultural diplomats, learning and teaching from their experiences as they come to know new manifestations of life on our planet.
Advances in technology continue to make each generation more globally connected than their predecessors, while international organizations, multilateral alliances, trade groups, multinational companies, and NGOs continue to consolidate our global order under a common net which grows in breadth by the year.
There has never been a better time to be an international traveler.
The September 11 attacks were a human tragedy and have had profound effects on the contours of our modern world order. As a global community, the violence and conflict which we have seen as a result should not instigate fear and isolation, but rather compassion and commitment to a shared vision of integration. This Sunday should serve as a remembrance of all those who lost their lives on September 11, and should reaffirm our shared ideals as world citizens that they were not lost in vain.