Myths of 9/11
Published in abridged form on Jan. 17, 2002 at the Duke Chronicle
One of the most poignant cartoons of mid-September depicted a travel agent asking a woman where she would like to go, and she replied, “Sept. 10th.” This all too human impulse is as dangerous as it is impossible. The comfortable cocoon we once inhabited lies shredded at ground zero but still wanting to return to business as usual is tempting.
In this and future columns I hope to stimulate discussion on our priorities in domestic and foreign policy. With the turning of the page on a most tragic year and the successful completion of one objective of the war against terrorism (the eradication of the Taliban), it is reasonable to assess what we have learned. While Afghanistan has historically been a graveyard for foreigners, it is now a cemetery for smashed delusions. It is well to review some of these debunked myths:
1) Osama didn’t do it: With the smoking gun tape, even the juries that let off OJ and the Rodney King cops would have to convict. Anyone who still thinks OBL not guilty of 9/11 should have a mental examination. But more important is holding accountable all those who spread lies right after 9/11, blaming the CIA, Mossad, or a Zionist conspiracy for the attacks, lies of a piece with aspersions such as India staged the attack on its Parliament or the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane 2 years ago. Each person who spread those despicable and absurd canards should apologize to every Jew and CIA agent and Indian official and voluntarily abstain from commenting on matters of policy indefinitely. This is critical as shirking responsibility and shifting blame perpetuates trouble; it is high time that everyone acknowledge that Islamic fundamentalists have a virtual monopoly on suicide-bombing terrorism (the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka being the exception that proves the rule).
2) Islamic fundamentalism is no different from other fundamentalisms: Every country and religion has its murderers and fanatics. Israel has Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, those who preach ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and murdered Yitzhak Rabin. India has Nathuram Godse and Bal Thackeray, killers of Gandhi and countless others in the fires of communal violence. The West has the KKK and various militias, and, in the past, fundamentalists responsible for slavery, genocide of native Americans, inquisitions, and pogroms. But relativism is a coward’s device. In 2002, radical Islamic fundamentalism is much more dangerous, for it is a witch’s brew of aspirations of global conquest, a uniquely callous disregard for life, plentiful oil money, mob passions, preachers spewing hate, and young men enticed by promises of 72 virgins in Paradise, while other fundamentalist groups are local, pariahs, laughingstocks, or checked by democratic forms of government.
3) Terrorists are brave: Right after 9/11, there was a controversy about whether the real cowards were the terrorists or Americans, the thrust being that it takes courage to gun a 767 into a tower. I wrestled with this for days until I realized that it is neither brave to attack defenseless people without warning nor to avoid responsibility for your actions. Thuggery lured by the promise of celestial virgins is not courage, which is why the appetite for death that is the terrorists’ principle asset is ultimately worthless. Suicide bombing is “glamorous” but courting death leads only to oblivion. Courage is not killing yourself to kill others, but about running into burning buildings to save others, about improving this world rather than embrace homicide or suicide.
4) The US would mindlessly slaughter Afghans: While any loss of civilian life is tragic, the US did not vaporize Afghanistan. Loony leftists equating the US and the Taliban make an offensive comparison in desperate need of logic’s acquaintance: the Taliban murdered 1.5 million Afghans in the last 5 years, and if the US is to be blamed for inevitable civilian casualties of war, then it should be credited with stopping an annual slaughter of 300,000 Afghans, let alone the ouster of a regime that destroyed historic Buddhist statues, forced Hindus to wear yellow stars, and oppressed women and minorities. US action also allowed the priceless activities of letting women have sun shine on their faces, kids fly kites, men shave, and music be played.
5) The US is a paper tiger: Two decades of retreat and half-baked responses by the US in the Beirut bombing, Somalia, the 1st World Trade Center bombing, Khobar Towers, the embassy bombings, and the USS Cole bombing led al-Qaeda to make the same mistake as the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.
6) Islamic fundamentalists are invincible: The terrorists then made the Soviet error- they believed their own press, and lost touch with reality. After defeating the Russians and bleeding us, they thought an act of war would cripple America. We saw mobs demonstrate against America in many Islamic countries, cheering bin Laden neither out of bloodthirst nor grievance but out of the glee that one feels when a new and daring “underdog” bloodies the “top dog.” There were dire predictions about the “Arab street”, thousands of recruits joining bin Laden, and how 10 men would replace any one who was killed. Once the US became decisive, the Taliban and al-Qaeda were smashed, the mobs collided with reality & dispersed, and governments followed. Resolve gets results.
7) Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are “our friends.” While we needed Pakistan’s airspace and Saudi airbases, we must recognize these are friends of convenience. Saudi oil money fills bin Laden’s coffers, and Saudi imams and organizations internationally propagate the hateful intolerance of Wahhabism, part of a Faustian bargain to deflect terrorism by export. Meanwhile, Pakistani intelligence turned Afghanistan into a terrorist factory, helped create the Taliban, supplied it with weapons even after America started bombing, and airlifted god-knows-who out of Kunduz.
These shattered illusions should teach us valuable lessons:
- Decisive resolve is critical.
- Acknowledging and crushing evil is not only important but imperative.
- In a fight between imperfect good and pure evil, there is no choice.