One-year mark

The first anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the US leaves no room for relaxation. Despite America’s vigorous response and the overthrow of the Taliban regime, the world today appears to be racked by deeper uncertainty than before September 11, 2001. In Afghanistan, the power of President Hamid Karzai, a pro-Western leader who narrowly escaped an assassination attempt last week, does not seem to expand much beyond Kabul, while Osama bin Laden and other chief members of Al Qaeda are still on the run. At the same time, the US government seems determined to launch a military campaign against Iraq, threatening to trigger an all-out war in the highly volatile Mideast. The September 11 shock and the global war on terrorism declared by the Bush administration have had a far-reaching impact on the West. The turbulent electoral campaigns in France, the Netherlands, Portugal and other countries of the industrialized North highlighted that the anxious quest for security (not only against terrorism, but also against illegal migration, crime and so on) is the principal concern among electorates and a key arbiter of political developments. In Greece, the decisive impact of the September 11 events was reinforced by the disruption and the demystification of the November 17 urban guerrilla group following a botched bomb attempt on June 29. The fact that Prime Minister Costas Simitis promoted security as the new big idea of the ruling Socialists during his address at the Thessaloniki International Fair is an indisputable sign of the current zeitgeist. It is, of course, inevitable and fully legitimate for a government to utilize its unquestioned successes against terrorism to improve its immediate (in view of the municipal and local elections) and long-term political prospects. However, responsible officials should keep in mind that even though crucial battles have been won over the last two months, the war on terrorism is far from over, while unexpected events are daily occurrences. As striking as the disruption of November 17 is, it should not be seen as a panacea for other security concerns, unemployment, poverty, profiteering or even summer storms. Besides, the main message conveyed by September 11 and the bloody history of November 17 is that there is no better shield for modern democracies than national and social cohesion. And a lot remains to be done in order to accomplish that.