As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 draws near, much is being said about it — ‘where was I when’ stories, political lessons to be learned, stories of great personal loss (the husband, daughter, son that never came back), and more. It’s impossible to escape in local and national newspapers, the radio and TV, the internet.
“Everything changed,” many say. But what changed isn’t the same for every one of us.
What stands out the most for me is this: 9/11 thrust itself in the most concrete way possible — interposed astonishing cruelty, massive destruction and widespread pain — between the politically correct discourse that had come to characterize our national conversation, and the reality that exists beyond it.
It’s as if Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Mohammed Atta, et al, struck a powerful blow which propelled us into their world, a world in which honor and shame are the primary determinants of behavior, in which you get points for gratuitous cruelty (except it isn’t gratuitous), and in which ideology is far more important than economic benefits. In this world, the ‘other’ is often your enemy, and what you do to enemies is kill them.
It’s an uncivilized world, and many of us still don’t know how it works or how to survive in it.
We started fighting a ‘war on terror’, not always against the correct targets, and even today our government is capable of saying only that they are fighting ‘al-Qaeda’ — a relatively small piece of the coalition of radical Islamists that has declared war on us. Even when it was obvious that they were trying to kill us because we were their enemies, government officials insisted that “terrorism is caused by poverty” and similar ridiculous explanations (even your average teen-age gang member understands killing enemies).
We have finally — after 10 years — figured out how to kill members of al-Qaeda, starting with bin Laden, and that organization is staggering today. But apparently our administration still doesn’t see that the coalition of convenience of radical Islamic powers — which includes Iran, Syria, Hizballah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and (more and more) Turkey — is lined up against us, despite their considerable differences.
It’s the ideology, stupid
The cooperation of Shiite Hizballah and Sunni Hamas to threaten Israel should be instructive to us. Until we understand, for example, that Turkey can be preparing to invade Syria and challenging Iran for domination of the region, while still cooperating with those powers to push out US influence, we will continue to miss the point that we are fighting an ideology, not terrorist militias.
The danger of home-grown terrorism is not reduced when we insist that those who practice jihad without explicit connections to al-Qaeda are mentally disturbed or otherwise irrelevant. The facts that there are mosques in the US where radical Islamic views are preached, that some of the largest and most influential Muslim organizations espouse Islamist ideologies, and that many Muslims feel that piety is proportional to radicalism — these are things that we can’t afford to ignore.
Muslim organizations would like us to think that the biggest problem resulting from 9/11 is a ‘wave of Islamophobia’, a backlash against innocent Muslims. Actually, although prejudice against Muslims does exist, it is almost negligible — far less prevalent than antisemitism. But if every expression of concern about radical Islamism, every suspicion that some organization or mosque is imbued with Islamist ideology is forbidden on the grounds that it constitutes an unacceptable form of prejudice — then we will be defenseless against this ideology, which, frankly, wants to kill us.
This should be the main lesson of 9/11: enmity based on ideology is not obsolete. We are at war with an ideology, one closely bound up with religion in the most dangerous way possible. We need to name the enemy, fight it abroad and suppress it at home.
I have to agree with the bumper sticker:
Everything I need to know about radical Islamism I learned on 9/11.