5 years ago
It is appropriate to consider, ten years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, what has transpired and where we find ourselves.
A number of excellent writers have undertaken to do this, so I will not re-invent the wheel. At the same time, however, there are a few points that seem to be missing from the analysis.
So, for example, Barry Rubin over at Pajamas Media has an article titled, “Ten Years After September 11: Who’s Really Winning The War On Terrorism?” Rubin has an excellent summary of the Al Qaeda strategy and its place in the larger context of Islamic militancy:
Let’s be clear. Al-Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon to achieve several goals:
–To become the leader in a worldwide jihad.
–To persuade Muslims that America is weak and can be defeated.
–To stir far more Muslims to jihad, that is a Holy War that today can be defined as an Islamist revolution.
–To mobilize forces in order to challenge and eventually to overthrow all of the existing regimes in the Sunni Muslim areas, replacing Arab nationalism in many of those countries with Islamism as the main ideological force.
I would suggest that al-Qaeda’s September 11 attacks largely succeeded in three of those four goals. Only in the first did it fail, and for a very good reason. Precisely because it carried out the attacks, al-Qaeda became the main target for U.S. efforts and repression by leaders in Muslim-majority countries. Consequently, it has suffered greatly from losses.
By the same token, however, other Islamist forces have largely been left alone by the West or faced far less pressure. Such groups include the Muslim Brotherhood groups, Hamas, Hizballah, and the pro-Islamist regimes in Syria and Iran. In fact, Islamist groups and Islamism as an ideology have advanced impressively, especially in the last few years.
I would differ with Rubin that Al Qaeda did not succeed in becoming the leader in worldwide jihad. Clearly, in the immediate aftermath of 9-11, Al Qaeda was easily the most visible terror group and most heralded in the Islamist world. The fact that Al Qaeda has suffered a disproportionate number of decapitation operations by the U.S. does not mean that it did not accomplish its goal of jihadi leadership. In fact, it could be argued that Al Qaeda has succeeded brilliantly in this regard to the extent that the U.S. has been distracted from fighting other no-less dangerous groups which share the wider goals of Islamist domination of the West.
Indeed, Rubin alludes to this as the very problem afflicting U.S. policy:
Where is terrorism weaker? Other than Algeria, where it was defeated in a bloody civil war, it is hard to find any such examples, though in other places like Morocco and Saudi Arabia — terrorism has not made gains.
In many places in Europe, the Brotherhood and even more radical groups have made important strides in gaining hegemony in neighborhoods and over Muslim communities. Governments have not combatted this and even have encouraged it, arguing that the organizations are not presently using terrorism. But with growing radical Islamist ideas, the level of terrorism and intimidation also increases.
A key factor is the failure of the U.S. government, which basically defines anything that isn’t al-Qaeda as not being a threat. Within the United States, a major terrorist attack has been averted, though luck seems to play a role here (underpants bomber; Times Square bomber). At the same time there have been many more small-scale attacks. One way the U.S. government achieves positive statistics is to redefine specific events — a shooting at the El Al counter in Los Angeles, an attack on a Jewish community center in the Pacific Northwest, the murder of a military recruiter in Arkansas, and even the Ft. Hood killer — as non-terrorist, non-Islamist criminal acts.
So are things much better a decade after the September 11 attacks? Aside from the very important aspect of avoiding a huge successful terror attack on the United States, the answer is “no.”
Another PJM article by Raymond Ibrahim emphasizes this point as well.
The unfortunate fact is that, even if al-Qaeda were totally eradicated tomorrow, the terror threat to the West would hardly recede, since al-Qaeda has never been the source of the threat, but simply one of its manifestations. The AP report obliquely reflects this: “Senior al-Qaeda figures have been killed before, only to be replaced,” even as the Obama administration is optimistic that “victory” is at hand.
To get a better perspective on the overall significance of the latest killing of an al-Qaeda member, consider how at the turn of the 20th century, the Islamic world was rushing to emulate the victorious and confident West — best exemplified by the Ottoman empire itself, the preserver and enforcer of Islam, rejecting its Muslim past and embracing secularism under Ataturk. Today, 100 years later, the Muslim world has largely rejected secularism and is reclaiming its Islamic — including jihadist — heritage, lashing out in a manifold of ways. Consider how many Islamist leaders, organizations, and terrorists have come and gone in the 20th century alone — many killed like bin Laden — only for the conflict between Islam and the West to continue growing by the day.
This is the essence of where we stand today. By and large, the Obama Administration and its supporters on the Left refuse to face the fundamental nature of the conflict. While it is true that Al Qaeda carried out the attacks of September 11, 2001, those attacks were merely a manifestation of what has been a perpetual civilizational conflict between Islam and the West since the militant spread of Islam after 632 A.D. The militant strain of Islam has always sought to expand and dominate non-muslim peoples and it always will.
Historian Victor Davis Hanson writes in Carnage and Culture:
In the century between [the death of Muhammad and the critical battle of Poitiers, France in 732 A.D. which stopped the incursion of Islam into Southern Europe], a small and rather impotent Arab people arose to conquer the Sassanid Persian Empire, wrest the entire Middle East and much of Asia Minor from the Byzantines, and establish a theocratic rule across North Africa…. [B]y the mid-eighth century, the suddenly ascendant kingdom of the Arabs controlled three continents and an area larger than the old Roman Empire itself.
The Arab conquests were a result of two phenomena: prior contact with Byzantines, from whom they borrowed, looted, and then adapted arms, armor, and some of their military organization; and the weakness of the [Persian Empire and remnants of barbarian conquests of Asia and North Africa].
[The conquests by early Islamic militants goes beyond adopted technologies and weak adversaries]. There was to be a novel connection between war and faith, creating a divine culture that might reward with paradise the slaying of the infidel and the looting of Christian cities. Killing and pillaging were now in the proper context, acts of piety.
For the rest of the ninth through tenth centuries, the war between [Islam and the West] would break out in northern Spain, southern Italy, Sicily, and the other larger islands of the Mediterranean [which] became the new line of battle between the two entirely antithetical cultures.
Although Hanson is commenting upon distant history, it is remarkable how applicable these observations remain today and how little the nature of Islam has changed in 1300 years. Militant Islam in the 21st century still maintains the “novel connection between war and faith” and a “divine culture that might reward with paradise the slaying of the infidel.” True, militant Islam has traded in the scimitar for suicide bomber vests and I.E.D.s, but the subjugation of unbelievers remains the same.
We seem to be making a fundamental mistake in the West when we fail to see the broader context of the struggle. September 11, 2001 was not a “tragedy” but an act of war. A tactical strike by militant Islam at the financial, military and (it was hoped) political heart of the West. And it was not the first such strike. Militant Islam has been on the march in modern times since at least 1979 with the founding of the theocratic state of Iran. As Mr. Ibrahim writes in his article, the muslim world is quickly turning (or, more exactly, re-turning) to militant Islam as a means of forcing an expansion of power, in the Middle East in the short term and in Europe and even North America in the long term. This is not some new phenomenon to any student of history but a continuation of a struggle between two civilizations: one based upon Greek and Roman thoughts of law and liberty with Christian overlays (Western democracy) and one based upon the all-encompassing rule of the Koran which sublimates the individual in every aspect of life. The two cultures are thoroughly incompatible and the history of the world has shown that peace has only, ever reigned between the two when Islam was too weak to force its will upon the West.
This, then, should be the take-away from 9-11: we are in a desperate struggle for civilizational survival that is being fought on the battlefield, certainly, but also in the courtroom, in the media, in politically correct driven government policy and think tanks, and in the very essence of our culture— how we view our basic freedoms and the means we are willing to employ to cherish and defend them.
Sadly, I see little evidence, ten years after the attacks of 9-11, that America’s leaders are at all willing to face this larger context. It is too frightening. The risk of being called xenophobic, or Islamophobic or chauvinistic is too intimidating. So we will fight where we find it convenient to fight. Drone attacks that take out an Al Qaeda leader but leave in peace Iranian leaders who have killed far more Americans than Al Qaeda or the Taliban. We will look for the first opportunity to declare victory, as when Osama Bin Laden was killed, but ignore the mortal threats to peace and economic security posed by a nuclear Iran or a growing Hezbollah or Hamas. We will sacrifice precious blood and treasure gaining great victories in Iraq and Afghanistan only to throw it away in hasty withdrawals under the smokescreen of “transition.”
Can the West recover in time?