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Reflections on 9/11, Then and Now

We have returned to the mentality before 9/11, only to await the disaster next time.

by
Abraham H. Miller

Bio

September 9, 2011 - 4:00 pm

Terrorism is now what it always was: political theater, a bid to capture attention through the creation of dramatic events.  No indigenous (non-colonial) government has ever fallen to terrorism. Only two regimes in modern history have even fallen to the more effective guerrilla warfare, Somoza in Nicaragua and Batista in Cuba.

Terrorists talk of regime change, but what they usually end up doing is causing people to demand order, and the people are usually willing to yield freedom to obtain it. Governments, even democratic governments, end up with strong, often draconian, powers that they use to stamp out terrorism and sometimes basic liberties as collateral damage. The precedent for the Patriot Act was long set by the British experience with the Irish Republican Army and the European experience with nihilistic terror violence of the 1970s and ’80s.

Terrorists seek to lacerate public sensibilities and to gain access to the media, especially the electronic media, which is why terrorists attempt to generate compelling visuals.

The laceration of public sensibilities in modern democratic society causes civilized people to ask: why? Civilized society does not want to comprehend that there are people who would show no more concern for slaughtering thousands of people than they would show for slaughtering thousands of chickens.

Consequently, there are not only “root causes” of terrorism peeled off as a leftist catechism — poverty, despair, hopelessness — but there are also the people who are the “real causes” of terrorism, us. Seldom has so much blame been placed on the victims of mass murder or their government as there was after 9/11

After all, the terrorists must have a reason for doing what they did, the leftist mindset advances. “It’s our foreign policy,” was the hackneyed refrain I heard from Berkeley progressives.“It’s our support of Israel,” said some of my graduate students who never heard a leftist cliché they were not likely to repeat. And, of course, there are conspiracy theories of an inside job.

I wonder: If nineteen orthodox Jews turned airplanes into bombs and blew up the World Trade Center, would the left have said, “It’s our support of the Arabs” that caused 9/11? I think I’d be pondering the answer to that question from a Quonset hut at Manzanar.

Of course, the perpetrators of 9/11 were anything but poor. And if Osama bin Laden ever had a coherent reason, forget justification, for his actions, it was lost in his tirades that seemed, by comparison, to make a  philosopher out of German nihilist Andreas Baader, the man who said, “It is better to burn a department store than to own one.”

After the initial impact of 9/11 wore off, the multicultural elite turned their attention to the “real” victims of 9/11, ordinary Muslims. On the 2005 anniversary of 9/11, the Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett paper, profiled the difficulty the local Muslim community was confronting in the face of alleged Islamophobia. This concern stood in sharp contrast to unasked questions about how the families of the victims of 9/11 were doing on that anniversary. Was the inconvenience and humiliation of an extra TSA screening at the airport equivalent to losing a loved one?

At the national memorial service on September 14, 2001, the Bush administration showcased Muzammil Siddiqi to represent Islam in the ecumenical service.  The administration was quick to show that this was not a war between America and Islam. But just who is Muzammil Siddiqi?  A formidable and recognized Islamic scholar, Siddiqi has called for the transformation of America into an Islamic, sharia-observant community. And while he personally does not accept punishing homosexuals by death, he condones that punishment when applied in Muslim countries that embrace sharia. In 2000, he spoke of the importance of jihad to Islam. In September of 2001, he was the public face of moderate Islam.

The Bush administration used the term “Islamo-fascism” once, and found it had stirred up a hornet’s nest of outrage. And the Obama administration has created a bunch of misfit euphemisms to discuss the terrorist threat. “Man-caused disasters” and “countering violent extremism” have replaced the only slightly less nonsensical “war on terrorism,” as if it were possible to wage war on a mode of conflict. Every euphemism confirms what everyone knows: we are engaged in a battle with radical Islam. Every euphemism confirms that we are pandering to those who would destroy us.

This administration has militated against the harsh methods used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but had no trouble basking in the spotlight when information derived from those methods led directly to the elimination of Osama bin Laden. Suddenly, all the rhetoric about terrorism being a criminal justice issue and not a military issue was forgotten, as was closing Gitmo. There were political points to be scored from the elimination of bin Laden, and in America almost everything ultimately boils down to politics. When the election campaign fires up, there will be time enough to mobilize the Democratic base with recommitments to guarding civil liberties for those who would murder thousands in the blink of an eye.

Two needless wars are still ongoing ten years later. The war in Iraq that shifted the balance of power in the Persian Gulf toward Iran, and the unending war in Afghanistan that continues without resolution. Neither of these makes us more secure, as our treasure and blood are spilled.

Ten years after 9/11, we are a society less together than we were with the ephemeral burst of patriotism that ensued in the wake of disaster. But even then, news organizations saw the wearing of a flag pin as a violation of journalistic objectivity and asked news personnel to continue to obey the pre-9/11 standard. No such standard was promulgated for participation in various types of politically related events that news organizations typically sponsor. Mayor Bloomberg, most likely for fear of a Muslim cleric present at a religious service for the tenth anniversary, has ruled out all religious participation. We are consumed with what our enemies think of us. We have put in power a party whose base is more concerned with the rights of terrorists than the lives of their victims. We continually hear the refrain that terrorism is a criminal justice problem, ignoring that the criminal justice system is incapable of dealing with a military threat.

We have returned to the mentality before 9/11, only to await the disaster next time.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science and a former head of the Intelligence Studies Section of the International Studies Association.
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