A decade after 9/11 – and still proud

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

Despite all my lingering post-9/11 anger, I also hold on to overwhelming feelings of pride, gratitude, hope from that day and its aftermath.

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 9-6-11

Ten years ago this week, 19 terrorists hijacked four airplanes, murdered nearly three thousand people, destroyed the World Trade Center’s twin towers, and damaged the Pentagon. Our therapy-orientated culture encourages us to “move on,” rather than wallow in anger. We are supposed to seek “root causes” of violence, absolving belligerent individuals and nations of moral responsibility, especially if we perceive someone from the Third World assailing powerful white Westerners. But at the risk of being politically and psychologically incorrect, I remain angry after all these years. The ruins have stopped smoldering – I haven’t.

I AM still angry that so many good people lost their lives. I mourn with the parents who buried their children so prematurely – or had no remains to inter – and with the widowed spouses and the orphaned children.

Every victim has a name and a narrative; the daily ache of missing a lost friend or relative’s look, laugh and love is compounded by imagining the possibilities of lives not fully lived. For weeks after 9/11, The New York Times ran what became a Pulitzer-Prize winning series, “Portraits of Grief.” These mini-biographies painted a pointillist picture of what America, and the world, lost that day, one precious life at a time. And they confirmed what many of us knew but the media was too politically correct to say – although the victims came from dozens of countries and all classes, most were either white collar male professionals – like me – or blue collar rescue workers who went to work one day and never returned.

I am still angry at the anti-Americanism that formed the backdrop to these mass murders. Al-Qaida’s anti- Western ideology is a murderous manifestation of a broader phenomenon mixing resentment of American power, jealousy of American success, fear of American freedom and contempt for American novelty. In its mildest forms, this anti-Americanism unites haughty Old World Europeans who disdain the aggressive New World upstarts as crude cowboys. In its ugly Islamist form, this anti-Americanism strengthens Muslim fundamentalists’ dreams of a Caliphate theocracy dominating the world.

I am still angry at the foolish, foul Red-Green alliance between radical leftists and Islamists, that has too many in Europe and on campuses echoing the Islamist agenda even when it entails rationalizing sexism, homophobia, theocracy and autocracy. These laptop jihadists, these posturing Chomskyites, view Third Worlders as necessarily noble, oppressed, and thereby justified in attacking Americans, Israelis and others they deem powerful “whites” – despite the multiracial makeup of both America and Israel. These self-hating hypocrites only see Western faults, staying scandalously silent about Syria’s crackdown or Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

I am still angry at the United Nations, which has become international headquarters for this selective indignation and these double standards. Founded with democratic idealism in the 1940s, the world body has degenerated since the 1970s into the Third World Dictators’ Debating Society as autocrats deploy in New York the very democratic techniques they ban at home.

I am still angry at the bipartisan failure by both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to prevent the crime. The moral onus remains on the terrorists, but President Clinton lacked the guts to hunt down Osama Bin Laden more aggressively, while President Bush failed to focus on the threat. Informed speculation that better cooperation between the CIA and the FBI could have stopped the jihadists is emotionally devastating. The fact that reporters and politicians ignored terrorism in the 2000 presidential campaign reflects the bipartisan sloppiness that made the terrorists’ work easier.

I am still angry that despite the rhetoric claiming that terrorism never succeeds, terrorism has succeeded – most dramatically in popularizing and somehow legitimizing Palestinian demands, making the late Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization the spiritual and tactical trailblazers for Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida.

I am still angry that this summer, just weeks before the tenth anniversary of 9/11, leading media outlets again rationalized terrorism by calling the Gazan terrorists who slaughtered eight Israelis near Eilat – including two sisters vacationing together with their respective husbands – “militants.”

I am still angry about the convergence of anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism, exemplified by the candy Palestinians in Gaza threw to celebrate the 9/11 murders, and the cynical way in which Bin Laden started invoking the Palestinian cause when retroactively attempting to popularize his despicable act.

I am still angry about the increased vulnerability of Jews following 9/11 – partially due to the parallel terrorist onslaught Palestinians unleashed. Even today, throughout the Diaspora, many Jewish synagogues, schools and organizations require special protections because terrorists target us and our institutions particularly.

And I am still angry that most American Jews started acknowledging the renewed Palestinian terrorism against Israel only after 9/11 – even though that wave of terrorism began in September, 2000, a year before the devastating al Qaida attacks.

FORTUNATELY, DESPITE all my lingering post-9/11 anger, I also hold on to the overwhelming feelings of pride, gratitude and hope from that day and its aftermath.

I remember the way Americans united, transcending partisan, racial and religious differences, as so many millions throughout the world expressed sympathy – and outrage. I honor the estimated 5 million Americans who have served in the military since the attacks – alongside many soldiers from allies such as Canada and Great Britain. I lament the 6,200 Americans lost in combat – along with so many other fallen soldiers and civilians from other countries in this fight for freedom. And I appreciate more than ever the liberties we in the West enjoy , the civil society we have developed, and the moral values we cherish, well aware that civilization itself, let alone functional democracies, requires careful tending – and when necessary, an aggressive, effective defense against our enemies – ideologically as well as militarily.

The writer is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, his latest book is The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.

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Lessons from Osama’s blood-spattered biography

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-2-11

As President Barack Obama sought the right tone in announcing Osama Bin Laden’s death – not too triumphal, not too cerebral — Americans took to the streets, celebrating the news. They were frustrated, having waited nearly a decade to capture al Qaeda’s terrorist mastermind. Still, Osama must have suffered, fleeing from cave to cave. In many ways, that punishment imposed on Osama paralleled the punishment he tried imposing on the civilized world. The terrorist wants millions to feel perpetually harassed, everywhere targeted, constantly endangered. The man constantly on the lam is perpetually harassed, everywhere targeted, and constantly endangered.

Osama Bin Laden fancied himself the preacher-terrorist, a Jihadist firing off religious fatwas one minute and RPGs the next. He emerged unwittingly as a teacher-terrorist. His blood-splattered biography taught the world important lessons, including:

We cannot escape history: Too many Americans awoke the morning of September 11, thinking that we were enjoying a holiday from history. The Soviet Union had fallen. The Dow Jones was rising. Electronic gadgets were proliferating. Serious thinkers and superficial commentators were feeding this notion that Americans transcended history – using “history” as a euphemism for troubles.

Al Qaeda terrorism abruptly ended America’s post-Cold War idyll, highlighting even a super-power’s vulnerability in the modern world. But the post-9/11 assumptions that this mass trauma would make American society more serious proved as false as the September 10th assumptions that peace and prosperity would last forever or that anyone could get a free pass from the various forces large and small which accumulate and shape us — which we then call history.

We can defeat terrorism: Even before September 11, but certainly when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, the conventional wisdom imputed far too much power to terrorists. These big bangs in New York and Washington, as well as the latest wave of Palestinian terror that had started a full year earlier in Israel, seemed to be harbingers of perpetual attacks. But two leaders who were not afraid to be hated, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, showed that the old cliché was true – the best defense is a good offense. Just reacting to terrorist attacks was not enough; pushing back militarily, hunting terrorists down, keeping them on the defensive, was the best way of preventing future attacks. Terrorists have trouble planning attacks on the run or under bombardment.

Islamists – and eventually the Palestinians — also suffered from their own, often-overlooked, version of blowback. Suicide bombings of office buildings and cafes, buses and bar mitzvahs triggered mass revulsion. The terrorists lost what little romance they cultivated in the 1960s and 1970s, appearing to be barbarians who hurt their own cause. Ten years later, Al Qaeda has nothing to show for its spectacular mass slaughter in 2001; even Hamas is more likely to deny a terrorist attack than take “credit” for it.

Islamism is evil: Prior to 9/11, the statement was doubly problematic. Many of our greatest thinkers recoiled from such judgmental proclamations, especially concerning any non-Western phenomena. The crime of 9/11 was so dastardly it shocked many — not all — back into a language of good and evil, right and wrong. And, as politically incorrect as it may be, many recognized that this fight was not just against a tactic – terrorism – but an ideology – Islamism.

Islamism is a Jihadist, holy war-oriented, perversion of Islam, rooted in some Koranic teachings, but ignoring others. Despite their fury against Bin Laden’s brutal Islamism, few Americans attacked Arab-Americans or Muslim-Americans. George W. Bush deserves tremendous credit for repudiating such bigotry. American-Arabs and Muslims also helped themselves. Most are neither Islamists nor Jihadists. The nineteen hijackers were foreign infiltrators not homegrown terrorists. And anyone who examined America’s Arab and Muslim population saw law-abiding citizens, many of whom sought refuge in the United States from this fundamentalist fanaticism.

Israel is not the problem: Bin Laden’s own words demonstrated his hatred for the West, and for America’s military presence in Saudi Arabia. He only redirected his Jihad toward Israel after 9/11, in a bid for popularity. As with this year’s Arab Spring, the facts from the Middle East disturbed the conventional wisdom in the West. Nevertheless, so many supposed experts continued buying Palestinians’ propaganda line that solving their conflict is the keystone to world peace, when their future is not even the central regional challenge.

Democracies are resilient: September 11 resulted from a dramatic American intelligence failure. Following September 11, Americans feared terrorism would triumph. President Bush made many, significant mistakes – or, as Republicans preferred to say it, mistakes were made. Yet, like Londoners in the 1940s, or Jerusalemites in the 2000s, Americans showed a grit and a grace, a unity and a sense of community, a softness in their hearts and a toughness in their spirits, that ultimately defeated the terrorists and healed the country, even as over 3000 families, friendship circles, neighborhoods, communities continue to cope with unfathomable losses.

Presidencies often converge: For all their differences in tone, style, and ideology, Presidents Bush and Obama have responded in remarkably similarly ways to their respective presidencies’ biggest crises. Bush looked downright Democratic in turning on the stimulus spigot to spend America out of its economic trauma. Obama has looked downright Republican in assassinating America’s enemies whenever and wherever he can. Perhaps, it is worth ratcheting down the rhetoric, just a bit, and understanding that responsible democratic leaders often have more limited options than it seems, and that responsible leaders often act responsibly, regardless of ideology.

Bin Laden is dead but al Qaeda isn’t. These and other lessons should bring some moral clarity and communal grit to the fight. Seeing problems clearly and in proportion does not make them disappear, but does make them more manageable.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGillUniversity and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com

9/11 and the race for the White House

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, September 10, 2008

A JPost.com exclusive blog

September 11 - 7 years on

September 11 – 7 years on
Photo: AP [file]

While much of the presidential campaign excitement this week stems from John McCain’s Sarah Palin-assisted post-convention surge in popularity, it is worth remembering the seventh anniversary of 9/11 which fell this Thursday.

American politics remains defined by that trauma, for better and worse. For better, because underestimating the danger Islamist terrorists pose endangers all Westerners. The only way to ensure that the nearly three thousand victims of Osama Bin Laden in 2001 did not die in vain, is to remain vigilant, working to prevent future attacks. For worse, because a politics solely defined by 9/11 neglects today’s economic, social, cultural, diplomatic and political challenges. As with all traumas, America’s candidates should remember past horrors without being imprisoned by them.

On this score, the two candidates – and their parties – pose an interesting contrast. Barack Obama and the Democrats seem to risk forgetting the lessons of 9/11. Democrats barely mentioned terrorism or 9/11 during their convention. Moreover, their disgust with George W. Bush’s policy has soured too many on the entire War against Terror while misleading them that Bush somehow triggered the troubles. Democrats must remember that al Qaida declared war on America during Bill Clinton’s enlightened reign, when America was actively seeking peace in the Middle East.

Republicans, on the other hand, cannot use the continuing threat of terrorism as an excuse to justify ignoring America’s economic, energy, and health crises. It is frustrating to watch as Republicans fail to encourage serious alternatives to oil, considering the estimated $700 billion America pumps annually into many oil-saturated, terrorist-friendly regimes. Welcome steps toward energy independence would change the geopolitical conditions that have financed terrorists.

Underlying this division is a tactical debate between Democrats who tend to favor deploying “soft power” and Republicans who favor “hard power.” This clash plays right into the ongoing debate about which candidate is a better friend to Israel. Obama Democrats tend to trust that soft power — diplomacy — will help Israel survive in the longrun. McCain Republicans tend to reverse Winston Churchill’s famous maxim, believing that for the hard-bitten Islamist radicals of al Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, “war-war” not “Jaw-jaw” is the only alternative. Of course, the best response to terrorism, the best way to support Israel, is with a deft mix of soft and hard power, demonstrating a shrewd diplomatic touch backed up by a willingness and readiness to be tough when necessary.

More broadly, this anniversary should compel both candidates to remember what unites them as Americans – in opposing terror, supporting Israel, and facing other challenges as well. Political campaigns emphasize the differences between candidates, creating a series of false contrasts. Just because John McCain is passionately anti-terror, Barack Obama is not pro-terror. Just because Barack Obama is in favor of preserving civil liberties even amid the terrorist threat, John McCain is not against civil liberties.

Even amid the presidential campaign tensions, both candidates should make sure to affirm their and their country’s consensus against terror and for civil liberties. Barack Obama should give a speech detailing where he agrees with George W. Bush’s anti-terror strategy – before highlighting the disagreements. John McCain should identify what constitutional limitations he accepts when fighting terrorism – before justifying the emergency measures he feels the war warrants. Such statements would shrink the partisan battlefield, emphasizing the consensus Americans share with their two presumptive nominees in abhorring terror and cherishing the Constitution.

Seven years ago, on a beautiful September Tuesday, Osama bin Laden’s terrorists did not distinguish between Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites, Muslims or non-Muslims, or even Americans and non-Americans. They killed indiscriminately, brutally. Living as we all do in a post 9/11 world, those who aspire to lead Western countries responsibly must reaffirm a common commitment to combating Islamist terrorism – and ensure that the nightmare of 9/11 never recurs.