We can all remember the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Almost all of us can remember the second anniversary. The third, a lot less; the fourth, even less. Eventually, something happened: we forgot about 9/11.
I began working at Hollywood Video, a movie rental store, in 2004 and saw this process happen. On September 11 of each year, I’d walk in and almost no one would mention the significance of the date, and the number of those that did steadily declined to zero by 2008, my final year there. Customers frequently asked the date, as they always did, not even realizing that it was September 11, but they always managed to remember the release date of the movie they were waiting for. And, I must add, this was in New Jersey, only a short train ride from New York City.
This complacency can be seen in public opinion polls, the media, and even the government’s reaction to incidents that would have sparked fear nationwide and saturated media coverage in the years immediately following 9/11.
Take some of the incidents where radical Islam showed its head this year alone, such as in the case of Rifqa Bary, a 17-year-old girl who converted to Christianity from Islam. When her father found out, she claims, he threatened to kill her, causing her to flee to Florida. Her attorney says she had been abused at home. We now know her father’s mosque, the Noor Islamic Cultural Center of Colombus, had Salah Sultan, a radical preacher of anti-Semitism known for preaching about the future destruction of the U.S. and with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, as a “resident scholar.” Bary’s attorney, John Stemberger, pointed to many other ties the mosque has with terrorism in his 35-page court filing.
Although the case has received a fair level of media attention (but far from the amount it deserves), very few reports have mentioned the extremist ties that give credibility to Bary’s fears. Instead, MSNBC ran an AP article titled “Parents Say Local Runaway Was Brainwashed.”
The Orlando Sentinel ran a piece on August 30 that opened with “Mohamed Bary is a doting Muslim father, intent on giving his daughter the best education he can. But he says he made a terrible mistake last October: He bought her a laptop computer.” A little further down it has a subheading of “Friends back family,” which says that “people who know the Barys say Rifqa’s allegations are crazy. … Mohamed Bary, 47, is a kind, gentle man who loves his daughter.” Not a mention is made of Stemberger’s court filing or the ties of the family’s mosque.
On July 14, I wrote an article for Pajamas Media about the arrests of three individuals for trying to sneak weapons on board two separate U.S. Airways flights to Phoenix, taking off from Philadelphia and Tampa about 35 minutes from each other. The FBI’s initial reaction was to dismiss any connection among the arrests and the media dropped the story. I am not aware of a single news article mentioning all three arrests and the similarities of their circumstances, and I can only find a small handful of articles covering any of the individual arrests. Just like those walking into the video store I worked at, the impact of 9/11 on the media has dissipated.
The 30-second news culture of today is causing the media and the public to fail to see the size of the problem. The case of a convert to radical Islam shooting at soldiers in Arkansas is forgotten before the next story of the arrest of seven in North Carolina for training to join overseas terrorists hits the news.
When each is given short attention and treated as the isolated actions of the few wackos that inevitably exist in a large population, the big picture is missed and they are looked at as little speed bumps on America’s road — and not the potential traffic-stopping train crash they can become.
The fact that there hasn’t been a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 is an advantage to the terrorists of the future. As long as they aren’t too blatant about their objectives and they throw out nice words about condemning “terrorism,” they are free to organize without much media scrutiny. They will be armed with the unreasonably high standard of proof that is demanded before labeling someone as a radical.
The resolve of the American people to fight overseas is quickly weakening. Americans seem content to believe that our post-9/11 efforts have sufficiently weakened the enemy and therefore that their rhetoric shouldn’t be taken as seriously. Those that try to raise awareness about the threat are dismissed or even attacked, as the Christian Action Network learned after releasing its Homegrown Jihad documentary earlier this year about radical Islamic compounds in the U.S. that have been used for paramilitary training.
The government’s current attitude towards gathering threats seems to reflect a decreasing concern about terrorism and the growth of extremist networks at home. Just by being a little craftier than al-Qaeda, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and governments like that of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad and Assad are able to appear moderate and flexible. The FBI decided to end its relationship with the Council on American-Islamic Relations following its designation as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the Holy Land Foundation trial, only to continue ties with the Islamic Society of North America, another “unindicted co-conspirator” in the same trial.
The media and American people certainly do remember the events of 9/11 in terms of history, but the impact and lessons of 9/11 have been forgotten. On that day, we realized that enemies seeking the most horrid of goals come in different shapes and sizes, and use different strategies and tactics. By dismissing each case of terrorism and extremism as “isolated,” rather than yet another example of the reach of radical Islam in all its forms, enormous portions of the media, the government, and the American people have forgotten what 9/11 taught us. One day we will be taught again.