Why Were We Attacked on 9/11? Why Must We Remember? What Have We Forgotten?


This.  This is why we were attacked.

Al Qaeda was originally founded to overthrow the corrupt tyrannies in the Muslim world.  Osama bin Laden and his gang believed that the governments that they opposed were propped up by Western democracies and Communist dictatorships, and would never be removed until the influence of those outside powers was broken.  They knew they could ever do this in open war, as the Prophet had done when he led the faithful from Medina to unify the Arabian peninsula or the Caliphs had done when they led armies out of Arabia into Africa and across Asia, eventually even into parts of Europe.  Instead, they chose to rely on terrorism and attrition.  They would commit acts of terror in countries they intended to conquer, in order to destabilize them.  The government would have to commit to guarding everywhere, and still would not be able to insure peace.  People would start to turn on each other, as their government’s financial resources were drained and they had to rely on themselves for security.  Eventually, the country would collapse into anarchy, and the former national unity would fracture along tribal and ethnic lines.  This vicious infighting would be the “savagery” part of the strategy.  Then they, the terrorists who originally caused the problems, would ride in to fix the problems.  This is the “management” part.  They would restore the very social services they had destroyed, restore law and order, and bring peace.

And where would Russia, the US, and Europe be during all this time?  The plan was to lure these powers into war on Muslim soil.  This would serve as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda, and would drain the great powers of their chief advantage:  their wealth.  As they went bankrupt, they would break up and lose the ability to export their culture, their movies, their blue jeans, and their political ideas, notions about women’s rights and so on.  This is the strategy they used to shatter the USSR and, they thought, it would work against the USA too.  Big, spectacular attacks like 9/11/01 are giant, bloody recruitment posters for al Qaeda, as well as attempts to goad the West into unending war and eventual bankruptcy.

At first, it seemed like it would fail, miserably.  This is why we need to remember.  After 9/11, the entire civilized world united against the forces of barbarism and savagery.  We had more pro-USA rallies around the world in the days and weeks after the World Trade Center fell than we had at any time since the defeat of Hitler, maybe even more.  The values that our nation was founded on—that all people are created equal, that we the people should control our own government—are principles that were valued around the world, even in the Islamic world.  The Muslim world has suffered under colonization and economic exploitation, as well as centuries of economic and intellectual stagnation that had left it weak and vulnerable in the 20th Century; but even there, many people want freedom, peace and prosperity, government that works for the people and in which they have some voice, even if the form that takes is not the same as our democracy.  And even people who disagreed with us did not agree with the idea of killing men, women and children who were working, or shopping, or on school trips to the city, people who might themselves be Muslim or Jewish or Christian, American or European or Asian or African, anyone who happened to be in the World Trade Center.  And we Americans, who had been pushed apart by the Culture Wars of the 1990s, came together, despite differences in race, class or religion.  Gay and straight, atheist and faithful, rich and poor all came together to mourn as one people, and to dedicate ourselves to preserving the promise of the United States of America.  We had national prayer services, we had fundraising telethons, public expressions of patriotism surged, and military recruiters were busier than they had ever been since the end of the draft.

There were some voices of dissent to all this unity.  Culture warriors like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson on the Right chose to blame feminists and progressives for the attacks, saying that God hates equal pay for women and help for the poor so much that He (sic) sent the terrorists to punish us.https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/19/september11.usa9  Culture warriors on the Left chose to blame the victim, saying that the terrorist attacks were just retribution for the past wrongs of colonization and the present wrongs of racism and exploitation https://www.ratical.org/ratville/CAH/WC091201.pdf  But the vast majority of people, from George W. Bush to Christopher Hitchens, were horrified, and we mostly saw those voices of division for what they were:  self-serving attempts to keep the Culture War Industry going and its leaders prosperous.

What we have forgotten, though, is that although we were more unified than ever, the forces of division never gave up.  Falwell and Robinson merely bided their time.  More to the point, the Republican party leaped into bin Laden’s trap.  Instead of pursuing a financially sound strategy, attacking and defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan while negotiating with other Muslim nations to side with us against this common foe, they launched a second front in Iraq, a regime that for all its despicableness had nothing to do with the terrorists who attacked us.  Yes, they supported terrorists in Israel, but not al Qaeda. They launched these wars with no realistic idea how to end them, with inadequate garrison forces to control the land and prevent them from descending into the very savagery bin Laden was seeking to create.  And worst, they did all this without paying for any of it running up huge national debts where the previous president had left a surplus that would have paid off the debt if only the Bush tax cuts hadn’t been passed.  As a result of this economic mismanagement, the world experienced an economic collapse in 2008 that much of Europe, Asia and Africa still has not recovered from.  The USA, under Obama, managed to stop the economic free-fall and slowly improve the economy, which has grown steadily for about ten years now.

Today, the United States government is pursuing national and international policies that seem to be intended to make bin Laden’s dream come true.  He could never have sabotaged the USA economy without help, which he got from Republican tax cuts.  He could never have sabotaged the world economy and alliances without help, which he got from the White House.  Bin Laden could never have turned Americans against each other and threatened to break up the United States into disunited separate nations, if it weren’t for the cooperation of Republicans who called out their state militias to watch Jade Helm exercises, or threatened to shoot Federal workers who sought to enforce health care laws, or who simultaneously worked tirelessly to deprive American citizens of the right to vote while threatening “Second Amendment Remedies” against anyone they didn’t like who had the gall to win in a free and fair election.  We have forgotten what it was that our enemies wanted, and thus have allowed them to come closer to victory than ever before.

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6 Responses to “Why Were We Attacked on 9/11? Why Must We Remember? What Have We Forgotten?”

  1. peddiebill Says:

    Although this is probably standard US understanding of terrorism I would have thought we need to go a little deeper. Terrorism usually increases when a strong power is facing off against a weak power and the people from the weaker power tries to even the odds by engaging in acts of terror. When the stronger power starts trying to crush the terrorism by overwhelming force the terrorism spreads. Remember when George W Bush invaded Iraq and there was a threefold increase in world terrorism.

    In any case we like to rewrite the history and say the sorts of things in your article that makes the terrorists seem more reprehensible. Al Qaeda was after-all supported by the US back in President Reagan’s time when they were fighting against Russia in Afghanistan. For example President Reagan invited their leaders to the White House and presented them to the public as “the equivalent of American Founding Fathers” and allowed them to set up recruiting offices in New York and Washington (see my book Anatomy of Terror)

    • philosophicalscraps Says:

      Samuel Scheffler attempts to define the difference between “terrorism” and “asymmetric warfare” in his article, “Is Terrorism Morally Distinctive?” You’ve probably read it since you write about this, though maybe someone reading this comment later hasn’t. I think he’s onto something in saying that there’s a difference between the random violence aimed primarily at civilians versus the guerilla operations that target enemy patrols, for example. Reagan did us a great disservice by saying “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” opening the door to Russia’s insistence that the Syrian Free Army (whom we support) are “terrorists” merely because they oppose the Assad government, drawing a moral equivalence between ISIS and democratic(ish) freedom fighters. I think that, at least as far as most Americans knew, al Qaeda was attacking Soviet military targets or the puppet government, rather than passenger planes. I remember part of the problem with the Contras was that they were receiving U.S. aid to fight the “dictator” in Nicaragua and using it to plant land mines where civilians would be killed or injured. They were credibly accused of terrorism, and Reagan simply said that was merely a matter of opinion. Scheffler’s project is to try to define a difference between shooting a Stinger at a Soviet chopper versus shooting a pro-Sandinista farmer, even if both “guerillas” were funded by the U.S. If Scheffler is right and we can define “terrorism” then we can refute the moral nihilism that simply defines “terrorist” as “someone who fights against a government I like,” which seems to have been the definition adopted by Reagan as well by the Russians.

      And yes, that would also mean that some acts committed by “terrorist groups” might not qualify as terrorism, and some acts committed by groups we like would be terrorism. The fighting between Tories and Rebels in the Carolinas during the American Revolution probably should qualify as “terrorism,” and many acts committed against Native Americans would too.

      I think that saying the attack on the World Trade Center was terrorism is objectively true. It was aimed at civilians, with the intention of inspiring fear and terror and undermining social cohesion by doing so. The apparent randomness of the violence was part of the strategy, since the goal was not a military one but a instead to destabilize the civilian society. The fact that al Qaeda at one time got U.S. aid doesn’t really refute that as far as I can tell. Now, if we discussed an attack on a military target, such as the American troops in Beirut in 1983, it would be harder to simply label that as “terrorism” without more analysis than I can give; after all, from the perspective of many Lebanese the Americans were foreign invaders, the target was soldiers and the attack was hardly random. This seems very different from attacking a night club or highjacking a plane full of civilians.

    • philosophicalscraps Says:

      It occurred to me last night that my response and yours were a bit off-target. My central concern is this: Since September 11, 2001, the US response to the terrorist attacks, and more specifically Republican policies and actions, have been exactly what al Qaeda wanted and predicted, so much so that we could almost—almost—-ask if they were actively collaborating with those who wish to destroy the United States of America. Al Qaeda could not possibly have asked for a better ally than one that would lead the United States into ever-increasing debt, unending war with over-extended military commitments due to its own choices ( specifically the second Iraq invasion), and into tribalism and identity politics by playing the race card over and over again, diverting more and more of the nation’s resources to the enrichment of 400 families in the USA while telling the millions who see their relative household wealth shrinking that the fault lies with black and brown people stealing from whites. Add to this the thirty-year stated policy of the GOP to make it more difficult for millions of American citizens to vote, stripping millions of citizens of their right to vote completely, and adopting a policy of “alternative facts” or, as Harry Frankfurt calls it, bullshit, a conscious policy of eliminating the entire concept of objective reality so that there is no rational way to discuss problems at all and the only way to decide policy is through the rich and powerful imposing its own chosen truth-claims on the majority. And finally, while the right to vote is systematically destroyed, and even the ability to debate and discourse peacefully is demolished, the GOP preserves and expands one part of the Constitution—the right to bear arms—while shrinking all other protections the individual has from oppression and all other avenues to seek “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The GOP, through the words of its politicians such as Sharon Engle and Donald Trump who have referenced “Second Amendment remedies” to get rid of Democrats who have the gall to win elections, and through right-wing media who spread conspiracy theories and tell conservatives to arm themselves and prepare to gun down their liberal neighbors, are doing exactly what al Qaeda has stated it hoped would happen: spreading fear and division to undermine national unity, ultimately threatening civil war.

      Your comments about Reagan’s arming the Taliban do not undermine that central point; if anything, they reinforce it, by pointing to the moral nihilism which was inherent even in his patriotic idolatry and which now bears its fruit in the racial tribalism of the GOP that fights for the preservation of white conservative culture and prints T-shirts saying “I’d rather be Russian than a Democrat”— a sentiment that would have made Reagan either puke or howl in rage.

  2. peddiebill Says:

    Thanks for a courteous response. I usually get abused when I question views in this area of global politics.

    I suspect finding an appropriate definition is not really where the problem is centred. There are plenty of definitions to choose from in that, for example in their book “Political Terrorism”, Schmidt and Youngman cite 109 different definitions of terrorism in common use.
    For the record my personal definition favourite is that of Boaz Gaynor who came up with “Terrorism is the intentional use of, or threat to use violence against civilians or against civilian targets, in order to attain political aims.”

    If we stand back a little from a nationalistic selection we might wonder why it only seems to generate public notice when the civilians are ours or those who are close allies. There is such a phenomenon as State sponsored terrorism. All too often the targeting of civilians in neutral or unfriendly nations is seen as unfortunate and incidental. Yes the Twin Towers was bad (3000 civilian victims?) but was this publicity because they were US citizens. What about the 25,000 civilian victims of terrorism in the Congo the first four months that same year. I don’t remember the US protesting. Do you? And what about the 1996 statement by Madeleine Albright, then US secretary of State, when she claimed the loss of half a million Iraqi children was “price worth paying” for “keeping the pressure on Baghdad” (cf CBS Sixty Minutes interview quoted by John Pilger (http://pilger.carlton.com).

    Similarly the US is happy to fund the Saudi attacks on civilians in Yemen, and for that matter, much of the last year’s bombing by the US coalition on cities and towns in Syria. When those fleeing the bombing (unfairly?) protest at the loss of their family members and turn on their so- called liberators then “unfairly” (from a Western point of view) commit terrorism, why is it we never think in terms of cause and effect? Thank goodness terrorism is rarely successful to the point it becomes tit for tat, or it would be US towns and cities in smoking ruins.

  3. philosophicalscraps Says:

    I fear the ghosts of Yemen will yet haunt future generations of Americans. It is easy to remain ignorant of one’s own complicity when the crime is distant and one is at least a step removed from the deed; “I only built the bomb, I didn’t drop it on anyone!” is a common refrain. The ones on whom the bombs fell do not always draw that distinction.

    Rational morality clashes with the realities of psychology. We don’t see Congo and most of us don’t relate to it. Most Americans know nothing about Yemen and never hear of it except when a plot to destroy civilian airliners is launched from Yemen, or a guy with Yemeni family shoots up his place of work in California, or something like that. There simply isn’t much there for the average American to visualize or sympathize with. As Iris Murdoch said, morally we are often limited by what we can see; and between our natural egoism, the limits of the press and intentional obfuscation by our leaders, many Americans are largely blind to terrorism that doesn’t threaten them (at least in their imaginations). And from what I can tell, this is not limited to Americans, either; if racism and tribalism were not so universal, it wouldn’t be necessary for every major religion to warn against it.

  4. peddiebill Says:

    Well put!!

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