AMERICA’S BLACK SEPTEMBER
Thursday, September 13, 2001
The horror in New York was literally awesome. The Pentagon fire was almost a sideshow by comparison, horrible and lethal, but familiar: We’ve seen similar footage from Beirut, Belfast, Baghdad, or Belgrade. The World Trade Center was of a different order of magnitude. The Titanic comes to mind: an epic tragedy laden with symbolism, to be dissected by intellectuals and elaborated by popular culture gurus for decades to come. Whatever its motives and its significance this was a crime against all of us.
Having stated the obvious let us look at the implications.
THE ENEMY WITHIN: When every printed page and flickering screen says “It’s Osama bin Laden!” the normal reaction of any rational person is to assume that it was someone else. This time, however, it seems that only the usual suspect, and others of his peculiar cultural ilk, combine the five key ingredients that produced America’s Black September: (1) the will and motive to strike against America; (2) the lack of moral inhibitions against doing it in that particular manner; (3) the financial resources; (4) the logistic and organizational infrastructure; and, a key criterium, (5) the fanaticism of would-be martyrs eager to caress the houris promised by their Prophet before the day is out.
Already at the time of the first WTC attack in 1993, it was obvious that belligerent Islam had a firm foothold within the Muslim diaspora in the United States. In the meantime, the demographic deluge has continued unabated. By 1998, President Clinton joyfully announced that “there are over 1,200 mosques and Islamic centers in the United States,” and that those “six million Americans who worship there will tell you there is no inherent clash between Islam and America.” His discovery of user-friendly Islam implied that that religion was tolerant of other beliefs, and thoroughly “American.” In reality this peculiar creed has been synonymous with violence and intolerance since its earliest days. It is both a religion and an ideology that seek to impose mind-numbing uniformity of thought and feeling on its faithful, and to subjugate and ultimately destroy all non-believers.
Its adherents’ murderous extremism, manifested on September 11, should spell the end of another kind of extremism: the stubborn insistence of the ruling establishment on treating each and every newcomer as equally meltable in the pot. They let millions of people into this country every year without seriously asking them who they are and why they are here. The federal government’s refusal to implement a rational immigration policy costs lives. Its refusal to accept that certain ethnic and cultural traits make some groups more (or less) readily assimilable into America than others has rendered our country incapable of considering reality. An obvious lesson of September 11 is that it is necessary to curtail immigration from the Islamic world, which fuels diasporas in both North America and Europe that allow terrorists to remain anonymous and untraceable.
RETALIATION: One way of dealing with anger is to lash out, but the horror of New York cannot be assuaged with amber flashes in some God-forsaken Afghan valley, compliments of the U.S. Air Force. In the aftermath of bomb attacks on two East African embassies in 1998, revenge proved counter-productive: In Afghanistan it was ineffective, while in Sudan it was misdirected. More importantly, the awful thought is that retaliation may be ordered and executed by those same people, or their cloned heirs, whose actions have caused the murderous reaction abroad. As Michael Pierce put it, nothing could keep his gorge from rising when General Wesley Clark began to pontificate about the need for a strong response: “it was this wretched man who whined loudly that we hadn’t murdered enough Serbs. Who was overseer of the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. Who armed Islamic terrorists by the literal tens of thousands . . . Today we got to see some Christians a little closer to home, running from burning buildings that had been hit by terror bombers. Thanks, Wes, we owe you.” Clark and his ilk do not know–let alone care for–Thomas Paine’s warning that “sanguinary punishments corrupt mankind.” Randomly violent and indiscriminate revenge in which more innocent civilians will die is exactly what the attackers want, and expect. It would be unworthy of the victims to strike at anyone but the verifiable culprits.
CUI BONO? Whoever did it, the Palestinians are the chief and immediate losers. For the first time in decades, despite the lynching of Israeli conscripts, the shooting of settlers, and the suicide bomb attacks, the public sympathy for the Palestinians has been rising. As Arab teenagers are shot in the streets for throwing stones, Israel has been losing the public relations battle. This is likely to change. The impression that we are now in the same boat with Israel is mistaken, but it will be promoted nevertheless. Jubilation in the streets of Nablus and Ramallah at the news from across the ocean will prove costly for the Palestinian agenda, at least in the short term. The peace process will remain stalled, and ever more stringent Israeli counter-measures will be approved. The need for a new American policy in the Middle East will be blurred, at least temporarily.
We have been reminded that belligerent Islam is the most immediate and lethal threat to America’s domestic security and, in the longer term, to the survival of our civilization. Islam is unable to create a country fit for a civilized person to inhabit, but it is good at destroying others. The creative response to it is to avoid the perception of a permanent bias in Middle Eastern affairs that breeds anti-Americanism and Islamic fundamentalism. But above all it is necessary to rethink the U.S. policy in the Middle East. American national interests in the Middle East are primarily economic: It is vitally important to the United States to have permanent access to secure and affordable sources of energy. It is not vitally important to the U.S. whose flag flies over the Dome on the Rock. We need a stable peace in the Middle East that should be based on a scrupulously even-handed treatment of the conflicting parties’ claims and aspirations. The desirability of any possible solution must be assessed from the point of clearly defined American geopolitical, economic, and diplomatic interests.
ANTHRAX TO COME? There will be many other lessons of September 11 on offer from every talking head in the nation. One will be an even stronger demand for the antimissile shield around America, regardless of the obvious fact that death came to New York and Washington by a more prosaic and less predictable route. The key security lesson of last Tuesday’s carnage is that the real threat to the United States–especially to its large cities–comes from terrorism, rather than any “rogue states.” Rich, urban targets meet determined but cheap attackers. The next attack may well be biological or chemical rather than nuclear, and the method of delivery will be a smuggled suitcase rather than a ballistic missile. Even a nuclear device could be activated on a freighter sailing under the Verrazano or Golden Gate Bridge. Missile defense will cost billions, and will not defend against such threat. If built it will be the most colossal exercise in futility in American history, the wrong response to the wrong security assessment. If nine-tenths of the population of a major city dies of a biological attack, and some Islamic terrorist group announces a hit list of a dozen more such targets in North America or Western Europe, the folly of missile defense will be obvious even to Mr. Rumsfeld.
LIMITS OF INTELLIGENCE: At the technical level, September 11 demonstrates the limits of intelligence gathering even in this ultra-high-tech age. The U.S. intelligence community is simply not designed to counter this kind of attack. Its fundamental architecture was created more than 50 years ago to counter the communist threat. The question is whether this structure, which has remained largely unchanged for decades and remains primarily focused on military threats, can deal with the challenge of transnational, non-state adversaries. Military force and economic sanctions may work against state-sponsored terrorism, but to counter an essentially private operation a new understanding of the threat is needed.
BILL OF RIGHTS, R.I.P? The mind-boggling failure of the U.S. “intelligence community” to anticipate and prevent last Tuesday’s attacks will be used by the proponents of further centralization of the power of the government. Those proponents of perpetual war for perpetual peace will demand expanded controls over the Internet, obligatory e-mail decoding devices, and more satellites that monitor us from the skies. But those attacks prove yet again that there is no substitute for human assessments based on a thorough understanding of the particular social, cultural, or historical milieu of the attackers. Human intelligence assets are needed, not more electronic gadgetry, to identify, target, and then destroy the individuals and organizations that can, and therefore will strike again.
TIME FOR INTROSPECTION: At the fundamental level, however, September 11 shows that the real and present danger is with us now, and will remain with us for as long as the United States remains committed to the concept of unrestrained projection of power everywhere in the world. It is amazing that no mainstream commentator stated the obvious: people who wish America ill are not merely “jealous of its power and wealth,” they are deeply resentful of what they perceive as Washington’s bullying, arrogance, criminality even. “Benevolent global hegemony” will entangle America in more wars and more lies, and result in more innocent victims at home and abroad. It is unconnected to this country’s interests, at odds with its tradition, and contrary to the wishes of the vast majority of its people. The paramount lesson of this American tragedy is that the threat to America exists because of the policy of global hegemony pursued from Washington. Designating “threats to national security” must follow the clear determination of a country’s national interests. If those interests are assumed to include the ability to project power everywhere and all the time, then indeed the threat is also unlimited and permanent.