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The Legacy of 9/11 – a Zeitgeist of Fear

On September 11th, 2001 the Twin Towers fell and the world changed. In the United States, Canada, and much of the Western world a culture of fear set in and came to dominate the next 2 decades. This was primarily a fear of Islamic terrorism, but 9/11 also brought about a general sense of uncertainty and fear that continues to this day. For the next 20 years our politics, media, culture, and Zeitgeist as a whole would be characterized by a strong sense of fear, often bordering on paranoia.

9/11 triggered a wave of xenophobia in both the US and Canada. Islam, immigrants, and anything seen as foreign were treated with suspicion and fear. Unfortunately this attitude never really went away. Even now Islamophobia is still a major problem.

Over the last 20 years apocalyptic media has become increasingly popular, with dozens of movies depicting apocalypses and post-apocalyptic worlds. In 2005 Steven Spielberg included imagery reminiscent of 9/11 in his film adaptation of War of the Worlds. Spielberg told USA Today, "Every iteration of War of the Worlds has occurred in times of uncertainty. We live under a veil of fear that we didn't live under before 9/11. There has been a conscious emotional shift in this country."

Green politics also adopted apocalyptic messaging and became increasingly popular.

Both the US and Canada expanded government surveillance and security measures, resulting in the steady erosion of human rights and freedoms. The constant sense of crisis allowed both governments to seize more control.

Fear compelled the US and Canada to invade Afghanistan, a mission that killed hundreds of thousands, ended in chaos and disaster, and ultimately accomplished nothing. Canada spent an estimated $18 billion on the Afghanistan War.

In 2003 unfounded fears about weapons of mass destruction led the US to invade Iraq. American fears could not be quenched, and the "war on terror" kept expanding, to Pakistan, to Yemen, to Syria, and beyond. America's post-9/11 wars have displaced millions and killed over 335,000 civilians

A constant sense of crisis pervaded the public consciousness and never left. The Western world has been in a perpetual state of emergency since 9/11, and it was in this environment of fear that we suddenly came face to face with covid-19.

Over the past year and a half the covid-19 pandemic has ushered in a new era of even stronger fear. It is primarily a fear of disease, but also a general sense of uncertainty and fear exacerbated by government restrictions, lockdowns, and fear-filled messaging from government officials and mass media.

After 9/11 Muslims and foreigners were the target of suspicion. Since the pandemic began every breathing human being is now a target of suspicion. After 9/11 air travel and international travel were considered dangerous. Governments attempted to mitigate the apparent danger with heightened surveillance and restrictions on travel. Today all face-to-face interaction is considered dangerous and governments feel the need to regulate all human interaction.

Much like the aftermath of 9/11, fear has led to more xenophobia, strengthened borders, and more restrictions on human rights. A wartime mentality quickly emerged. A fresh sense of crisis became omnipresent in Canadian society, enabling our governments to act with near impunity.

We are now able to look back at 9/11 and its aftermath with the benefit of hindsight. The events of September 11, 2001 had a huge impact but the Bush government's response had a much bigger, wide-reaching, and lasting impact on the world. The long-term effects of the pandemic and various governments' responses remain to be seen.