What’s this ‘nineleven’ you conquered us for?
A modern Westerner would instantly recognize the image of a huge plane crashing into a skyscraper in an inferno of burning fuel. What happened 10 years ago was the pivoting point for global affairs.America found itself in the middle of the War on Terror. Osama Bin Laden grew in the public eye from a second-rate terrorist to a global villain on a par with Hitler. Afghanistan, where the leader of Al-Qaeda was supposedly hiding, saw an invasion and 10 years of bloody guerilla warfare. For many American soldiers and officers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, 9/11 is a great moral support, a reason to be where they are.But for most Afghans the words “nine eleven” and the images of the attack have no meaning at all, as British journalist Adam Pletts discovered while he was looking for a story with an unusual angle.“I was aware that there would be a lot of news coverage at the time of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, but that most of this would focus on world events from a Western perspective, so I wanted to get the points of view of Afghans, who have also been deeply affected by 9/11,” he explained.Pletts went to Helmand province in southern Afghanistan – the place bearing the brunt of the fighting between Taliban and coalition forces – with a bunch of 9/11 photos and showed them to locals. The typical answer was: “No, we have never heard about this.”
He talked to dozens of Afghans, some youths, who lived most of their lives with a US presence in their country, some elders, who were adults long before the terror attack on America happened. Even a local translator, who works with the coalition troops every day, did not recognize the photos.“I showed the pictures to about 80 individuals. I was only able to speak directly to about 15 of these, but the reactions of the majority of people looking at the pictures were clear,” the journalist says.When asked about what place was in the pictures, most simply had no idea or speculated that it must have been in Kabul, the Afghan capital.“If I’d just got here I would have been surprised, but having been here now for six months I’m not. This is pretty much the stone ages where we are,” commented US Marines Captain Zachary Shore, who accompanied Pletts in the investigation.The idea that the photos showed a New York building being reduced to rubble by some terrorists from Afghanistan seemed astounding to the locals. One said:“Afghanistan doesn’t even have a donkey. How can Afghanistan come to this point and get the airplane from here to attack the United States? They don’t have that much power.”Captain Shore says he can sympathize with such rejection: “When you can’t even feed yourself or house yourself, how are you going to care about somebody 6,000 miles away? So I can understand that. But I never thought to ask those questions to anybody here, as to why we’re here.”The only person Pletts interviewed who instantly recognized what the pictures showed and make the connection with the reality in Afghanistan today was a district police chief in Marjah. Some of his men, however, were genuinely surprised and asked for details. And they still were not convinced at all that the perpetrators of 9/11 were Afghans.A survey taken in 2010 by the International Council on Security and Development found that 92 per cent of Afghan men in Helmand and other Afghan provinces had no idea what 9/11 was. The eyebrow-rising statistic was no surprise for the British journalist, after what he personally saw and heard.With American troops set to start withdrawing this year, it seems likely that they will leave Afghanistan without the vast majority of Afghans ever having really understood why they came in the first place.