There are days which stick in our memories and we remember where we were when we heard particularly important news. Undoubtedly one of these was September 11, 2001 and the images of the planes hitting the buildings and their subsequent collapse are burned into the minds of people around the world. That day began what we now know as the “War on terror and we are still fighting the wars that began that day in the sky above New York. Yet that name was the first mistake in that 16 year old conflict.

George W Bush and his slogan

The position of President of the United States is truly difficult and even more so when such an incident occurs.

The deaths of thousand and the destruction of buildings in the heart of one of the world’s most important cities demanded action by the country’s leader and President Bush did so by beginning the first of armed conflicts on the “War on Terror”.

The slogan was easy to find, but the mistake made by the title given to the conflict had two unexpected effects.

The first effect was to effectively turn the war against one terrorist group into a war against a religion. The U.S. had the support of a number of Moslem countries in the struggles against Osama Bin Ladin’s Al-Quaeda and over time this conflicy extended to a number of other groups, finally leading to #ISIS in Syria. In the minds of war and the many terrorist attacks around the world that then followed began to be perceived by many on both sides as a war against all of Islam and not only its fanatical dissidents.

The second effect was to concentrate the efforts of fighting terrorism so much on these incidents that the world has forgotten that terrorism is not only Moslem, but has many faces in other countries. The Anders Breivik Massacre in Norway in 2011 and also attacks on fertility clinics in the United States by Christians against abortion and birth control must also be considered as acts of terrorism.

The Boston Trial on Terror

Any form of labeling of individuals and groups is easy, the problems of removing these labels from those not involved in the act of terror is truly difficult. Labeling all Moslems as terrorists only makes the struggle against ISIS and other such groups that much harder and also risks creating heroes for others to copy.

But there is one example in United States that should serve as a lesson for the future. Like many countries in the first decades of the 20th century the U.S. was hit by a number of assassinations and bombings by anarchists, particularly from Italy. As a result many Italians were treated with suspicion and this was the background of the famous Sacco and Vanzetti Trial in Boston which ended in their execution. The Italian community in America suffered as a result, but then became a fundamental part of that country. It the meantime the presumed terrorists then became valued citizens.

That is the lesson that has been forgotten in the War against Terror and that must now be applied once more. Isolating people is not a solution, but part of the problem.