Remembering 9/11

15th year Commemoration


The basic tenet of national sovereignty is to have all of its subjects, however diverse, turning into compliant citizens who respect the state, abide by its rules, and assimilate. Those who don’t, they struggle – many revolt. The very essence of a state is to seek fusion in the face of divergence. That approach embodies stressors that ultimately lead to terror acts or creation of terror groups. No state is immune from this. The difference is in the numbers and severity.

In mature societies, political factions, minorities, and ethnic groups that yearn for change, prevailingly turn to civic discourse. They express their dissatisfaction about certain cultural norms, religious dogmas, or major policies through a political debate – case in point – Brexit. Whether the rest of the country likes it or not, the coalition for the exit was persuasive and the majority of the people of the United Kingdom spoke. Now, it is the turn of the Eurocentric minority to look at its political options to respond.

In societies where the concept of a nation state or a citizen is weak – where tribal influence persists, where graft reigns, where religious dogma rules – harmonious options for change are either limited or nonexistent. The societal misalignments in these cases evoke violent uprising. Terror becomes the norm, applied both by the state and its subjects.

Ethologically speaking, this is an expected behavior. It takes root in primitive, yet fundamental human response to distress and danger – fight or flight – survive at all cost!


The groups that haven’t come to accept national unison are even less inclined to adhere to norms setup by external forces or foreign powers. In these societies, certain hardline or fundamentalist factions turn to various types of violence and some to an extreme form to display their displeasure. Terrorism! Whether the terrorists are the Sicarii Zealots revolting against Rome or Maximilien Robespierre and his followers during the French Revolution or the Islamic State of Iraq and Levitan (ISIL), they all share a common basis behind their actions – bring change through an extreme form of violence.

Since the days of the Zealots, terrorism has been evolving and adapting to the realities of present power structures. The responses to terror on the other hand, haven’t evolved laterally. We still think that raining bombs is the mechanism that could block the draconian actions of terrorists or dissuade others from applying chaos in displaying their displeasure.

We have sanctioned disproportional counterattacks since the days of Nero and have been repeating that approach for millennia. Most recently, we gloated that terrorism is on the run with a ‘mission accomplished’ banner behind us. Results speak louder than words, however.

Our efforts since 9/11 have produced minimal success. Worse, we have inadvertently spurred the creation of ISIL, a sect that separated from Al Qaeda to form even more brutal and fundamentalist movement. Our bombs and artificially created democratic governance in Iraq left a considerable leadership vacuum and our ‘friends’ in Saudi Arabia and Turkey exploited the situation by funding a radical faction for self-serving purposes in the Middle East that eventually turned against them, as we unfortunately witnessed in Istanbul and Saudi Arabia the past few months. How did the West respond? We continue supporting and funding ever more radicalized Islamic Turkey (Ataturk is probably turning in his grave) and Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, which adheres to strict form of Islam that teaches that those who are not Wahhabis, ought to be persecuted, even killed.

Terrorism is a powerful tool. Terrorists strive for public statements that cause short term chaos with lasting fear. The impact of terrorism is hardly about Xs and Os. Its impact is directly felt on few and indirectly experienced by many. ‘Who is winning, them or us’ is relevant by how we interpret a win. They are trying to alter the way we live. The success of an act is not measured in absolute numbers but rather by how much attention it amasses. They don’t try to win in the traditional sense. Their aim is to get numbers to be excessive enough to produce a sensational message to a point where we respond by changing our narrative and general behavior.

That’s winning for them. And if we look around. If we stop and reflect. They are.

Dressing up in a certain way, looking in a certain way, speaking in certain accent, saying certain things can cause issues for any of us regardless of how close or far we are from ‘terror’ breeding grounds. Think of how traveling experience has been altered since 9/11.

Terrorists’ intentions are well documented and widely known, yet we still pursue antiquated course of action. We fight them on their own turf. And that’s what they want us to do.

We have been bombing and blasting them away for the past 15 years, yet there have been more incidents on our home soil and on the lands of our allies since we proudly proclaimed that Al Qaeda is weakened and that ISIL was a ‘junior varsity team masquerading as a major league player’ as dismissed by President Obama in 2014. Our state and military leaders felt and feel this way, because many of the senior leadership of terrorist networks and many of their battlefield commanders were successfully eliminated.

But, are we better off today? What would the victims of Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, Orlando, Lahore, Istanbul, Dhaka, and Nice and their families say? And that’s only a select few and only from the recent past.

The terrorist groups, it appears, have better adopted the advice of the acclaimed Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher Sun Tzu: “In war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak”. We are extraordinarily powerful and militarily very formidable. Our weakness is our way of life – our liberties!

Our Altered Way of Life

We are consumed with terror stories. With only minimal debate, we diminished our individual rights and liberties with the Patriot Act and have significantly adjusted the way we socialize and convene. We go through metal detectors not only at the airports and government buildings, but also when attending basketball games, operas, and musicals, and visiting theme parks, office buildings, shopping centers, hotels, and soon enough when entering our own homes. Peaceful Middle Easterners and those of us remotely resembling them systematically get harassed and ‘randomly’ profiled.

All these individually and socially restrictive measures should prevent any discussion about our winning the war on terrorism. We are only getting by, we are surviving. Our freedoms are being corroded right in front of our eyes. Yet, not only that we haven’t done much in changing our strategies and tactics to preserve our way of life, we instead encourage more individual limits and restraints with curbing legislature and by promoting radical candidates and parties throughout the western world.

Our efforts have been ineffective. I will turn to Sun Tzu one more time: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”. Win without fighting, or at least not with the ways expected by your enemies. In order to do so, we really need to understand the root cause of terrorism. We need to stop reacting and become proactive.

No person is born a terrorist. Unprovoked violent acts are not embedded in any individual’s DNA. The behavior rather forms in the ecosystem where they are brought up and the social reality where they consider home. Changing these social and societal dynamics modifies the elements that makeup the bases behind their actions.

We as humans have Zeal for life! We are biologically wired to live. We fight for life. Living while surrounded by abundance of essential resources produces a physical state of harmony and mental order, whereas the opposite brings physical agony and mental chaos. We are therefore on a quest not only to live, but to live in abundance – reach and maintain a state of harmony and order. We just need opportunities.


Humans continuously grow, advance, and sprout, even if not all individually or in the same ways. The governments, on the other hand, to remain in power, offer enough opportunities to please either the majority of their people – in democratic societies,  or specific winsets – in autocratic states. Regardless of the system, the need for opportunities does not change. The difference is in the size and the nature of those goods. This brings me to innovation.

The rapid global modernization due to technological advancements, makes it all too difficult for any government to independently produce enough public or private goods to keep their constituencies satisfied. Case in point are Russia and Saudi Arabia, where past narrow economic activities that had helped rip immense amounts of capital are no longer viable. This year Saudi Arabia introduced its Vision 2030, which is set to promote private sector entrepreneurial spirit through massive investments into innovation.

Innovation at its best is very disruptive, yet it is peaceful and produces myriad of new opportunities. When an opportunity is presented people respond positively. Full and satisfied people have little reason to rob or inflict harm upon their neighbors. Entire communities then can maintain an open door policy – the European Union prior to the eastern expansion. For them, the status quo far outweighs the potential prize of altering the current state.

That analogy could be applied to our borders and to the current American politics. We don’t have many Canadians jumping fences to move to the United States. Yet, the story is far different on our southern outskirt. Correcting this through building walls would be a patch at best, and minimally effective given its estimated price tag.

The $12 billion that it will cost to build a wall along the US-Mexican border, if it were spent on innovation and active investment on opportunities for Mexican men and women, it would significantly boost Mexico’s economic capacity. The growing economies regularly invest 2-4% of their GDP on Research and Development (R&D) to fuel entrepreneurship, Small and Medium Size enterprises, and new high-growth companies and industries. These nations with burgeoning innovation and entrepreneurship have above-average rates of economic growth. The $12 billion makes up nearly 1% of Mexico’s GDP, about half of the R&D resource requirement to achieve lasting economic advancement. If our neighbors are full and satisfied, we won’t need to lock our doors. No need then to speak of walls.

Human imagination is very rich. It begins from when we are toddlers trying to understand the world around us. Kids are allowed to have their imagination run. We hardly see that in adults or in our political leaders. We ought to spark that spirit in grown ups. We ought to begin investing and encouraging people and societies to dream and innovate.

Some places have done so and very effectively. Israel was found on battered land in 1948. Today, in one of the most unfavorable parts of the world, we have an oasis. Singapore was a rundown small nation, half the size of London, with crumbling infrastructure 50 years ago. Now it is amongst most successful, industrial nations. Rwanda only 20 years after the crippling Genocide is an African oasis. Today in Rwanda women dominate the Parliament, comprising over 60% of its members. The country is one of the fastest growing in Africa, with abundant opportunities for its youth. Its success is largely due to investments in opportunities for its citizens.

These countries are not without flaws. Some, especially those that are young or have witnessed worst type of atrocities and reinvented themselves, are bound to make mistakes, try things their own ways. Yet, their oppressive activities in many other areas of governance are detrimental and could negate most if not all of their progress if not countered expeditiously.

It could it be that they are taking a page from the early European, Western experiences. From 15th through 19th centuries, most of the European Monarchies and Empires paid little attention to human rights and gender issues. Quite the contrary. The Kings and Nobility of these strongly patriarchal societies generally decided who lives and who dies and what should be the laws of the land. Yuval Harari in his New York Times Bestselling book – Sapiens – skillfully lays out how the Western Civilization, with its evil and injustice, also invested heavily in science and technology. Many suffered, yet the investments into knowledge economy ultimately paid off, bringing new medication, security, and better economic conditions to their subjects. But most importantly, the critical outcome was the ‘great’ insight, which seeded the foundation for eventual rise of human rights and gender righteousness, but not terrorism. We all must learn to walk before we can run.

To overcome global terrorism we need to invest in people, and not just at home, but globally. And it should not be through aid. We should not be helping. We need to help facilitate. Invest. Provide mutually beneficial opportunities. This should not be about social impact investment nor about bridging gaps in ethnological differences. It should be about constructive opportunities, about reciprocal investments. Take for example Malaysia. It is a Muslim country, yet we hardly hear about terrorism or terrorist networks operating out of Malaysia. The country had a visionary Prime Minister – Mahathir bin Mohamad – who in 1991 came up with Vision 2020. He set in motion a vision that Malaysia belongs in peers of developed countries. The country needed to break ethnic divides, a culture of graft, extreme poverty levels, income inequality, and unfavorable financial regulations. Prime Minister Mohamad made a number of bold infrastructure investments, including separating politics from business. Malaysia moved its capital from Kuala Lumpur to a newly created administrative capital of Putrajaya and heavily invested in innovation, primarily in technology sector, even created a designated technology city – Cyberjaya – that hosts Western companies and the local technology brass. Malaysia, similar to those above, is far from being a perfect country, but it has a thriving Information and Communication Technology sector and growing knowledge economy, and albeit not without hiccups, it kept on course with its Vision 2020.

Our focus should be on these types of grand visions and investments. We should concentrate on long term goals that ensure lasting prosperity for all people and remove terrorism at its core. Innovation is the antidote for terrorism. There is no dogma in innovation, there is no schism. There is growth and continuous evolution. And even when we get revolution, we don’t get bloodbath. Instead, we get Facebooks, Googles, Amazons, and Ubers.

There is no hate, or prejudice, or anti-immigration movement in innovation. We hear that Syrians only breed terrorism, yet the world would have been a bit dull without the creations of a Syrian entrepreneur named Steve Jobs. We hear that Russians cannot be trusted and are corrupt, yet the universe of search and information would have been awfully wrinkled if not for an imaginative Russian named Sergey Brin. We hear that Chinese are against market economy and entrepreneurship, yet they have one of the richest entrepreneurs in the world in Jack Ma. We hear that Americans are all about money and greed, yet we have Bill Gates who is spreading $30 billion of his wealth on health solutions and eradication of Malaria and Polio. We hear that youth is wasted on the young, yet there is Mark Zuckerberg, one of the richest people on the planet who made his first billion dollars at the age of 22. We hear that women are inferior, yet there are Nobel Laureate Marie Curie and billionaire entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey. We hear that nordic countries are socialist, yet there is Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of Ikea who is worth well over $40 billion.

Our minds are cluttered with perceptions. In reality, people desire opportunities for self-determination regardless of backgrounds.

Our focus should be on building opportunities around the world. But, we have it all wrong. We spend north of $600 billion a year on military in the US. The entire world (yes, the world!) spends about $250 billion a year on innovation. Over the next decade, the total US expenditures on military will reach nearly $8 trillion. Yes, $8 trillion! In comparison, the worldwide expenditures on R&D during the same period of time will comprise less than half of that amount.

Now, let’s imagine a world where we make ‘difficult’ decisions. We invest heavily not into equipment that kills people but into creating opportunities in the societies that are on the fringes or hotbeds for terrorism. We invest in innovation ecosystems, abundant in individual growth opportunities, research and development (R&D) facilities, funding mechanisms, favorable working facilities and conditions, and higher wages.

The societies powered with these types of robust entrepreneurial ecosystems experience growing middle-class, balanced employment, systematic innovation, and brain gain. None of them are hatching terrorists, regardless of religion or other ethnological qualities of humans.

Innovation ecosystems are the cocoons of new economy. Whereas in the past industry changes and its intended impact would take 100 years, in the 4th Industrial Revolution, the changes and the impact happen often over months if not weeks. Today, we have a unique opportunity to overcome the resilience of terrorism by building cross-border innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems. An environment full of opportunities is contagious. Success attracts success. Innovation breeds innovation.

There is no place for terrorism in our new world. We have the antidote – we just need to innovate.