Twenty years ago when the whole world was stunned at the terrorist attacks in America I was a first-year college student.

I remember sitting in the common room and watching the horrific images of aeroplanes crashing into and destroying the Twin Towers in New York. The date was September 11, 2001 or as it would come to be known – 9/11.

Harrowing images of people jumping to their deaths from the skyscrapers is seared in my memory – surely no-one deserves that.

Finger-pointing started immediately and America’s focus was placed firstly on Afghanistan, then on Iraq. America and her allies invaded Afghanistan with the objective of toppling the ruling Taliban group who were unwilling to hand over Osama Bin Laden as they sought evidence of Laden’s complicity in the attacks.

The concept of Jihad does exist in Islam – it means to struggle in two ways. One is to struggle against one’s ego or self and remove evil traits such as greed, pride and jealousy and the second type of struggle is to physically resist an invader or aggressor.

In Islam the second type of struggle has many guidelines and rules such as not harming women and children, not destroying cattle as they are a source of nourishment. Trees cannot be destroyed and monks in temples should be left alone.

The 9/11 attackers didn’t differentiate between men and women, Muslim or Christian, young or old. 3,000 lives were snuffed out in one act of cruelty and cowardice. 3,000 families lost a brother or sister, a mother or father and a husband or wife.

The blame was placed upon Muslims and Islam, was it Islam that motivated the attacks or were they carried out by deviants who interpreted Islam in a twisted way to suit their objectives?

I remember asking myself these questions and looked for answers about my faith. America’s response was swift and brutal. They invaded Afghanistan as the media began to peddle its own agenda by focussing on the issue of women’s rights and the presence of Al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

The Taliban were defeated easily or so it seemed at the time. 20 years later we know how wrong we were. The Afghans have a long history of resisting foreign invaders such as against the British between 1839-1842 and the Russians in 1979-1989 and now America and her allies between 2001-2021.

Over the past 20 wasted years America spent more than a trillion dollars in Afghanistan, training the Afghan National army and suffering a large number of casualties. But worst of all they were humiliated into a retreat by a rag-tag bunch of guerrilla fighters who didn’t have a single fighter jet to count on. America’s prestige and standing as a superpower has been tarnished for good. The world’s most sophisticated and well armed army was defeated by the Taliban.

As America planned to leave Afghanistan who would have thought that the Taliban would regain control of their country within the space of two weeks? This time around, the resurgent group wants to be recognised as legitimate and have made promises such as allowing women to study and work and to not take revenge on those who worked with foreign powers.

They have given assurances that Afghanistan will not again become a base for terrorist groups. They have also pledged to end the drug trade as they did during their first term in power.

America’s other conflict in its ‘War on Terror’ was the second Gulf war, where Iraq was invaded on the basis - at the time – of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction. None were found. Regardless of Saddam’s dictatorship, Iraq was stable while he was in power and terror groups existed in the shadows and there was a form of harmony between Sunnis and Shias. Many suggest that ISIS or the so called Islamic State was born due to the invasion of Iraq and the consequent vacuum of power after the capture and hanging of Saddam Hussein.

The ‘War on Terror’ fuelled the rise of Islamophobia by casting all Muslims as potential terrorists. According to the Independent, more than 363,000 civilians have been killed in America’s war – all Muslim. Are their lives not equal to Western or American lives?

Let’s not forget about Guantanamo Bay where prisoners have been held without trial and tortured physically and psychologically since 2002. Moazzam Begg was one such detainee who was kept in isolation for three years by the Americans.

He has been traumatised by what he saw and experienced. Let’s not forget about the atrocities carried out at Bagram airbase and Abu Ghraib.

9/11 was a tragedy but the ‘War on Terror’ was also a tragedy, America needs to learn that enforced regime change does not work and that there aren’t any quick fixes