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THE REASON AMERICA’S “war on terrorism” is imperiled is that there is no clear sense of who the enemy is. Is Al Qaeda the problem? A network of terrorist groups operating through the Al Qaeda “franchise”? State–sponsored terrorism? Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of hostile states? Or is Islamic fundamentalism to blame, since it appears to be the incubator of terrorism? Or is the West facing a very old enemy, Islam itself?
Not only is the identity of the enemy obscure; many Americans also have no idea why these people are so murderously hostile to the United States. Five years after 9/11, most people still have little sense of what would cause a bunch of men to want to blow themselves up in order to smash the Pentagon and topple the World Trade Center. The 9/11 Commission Report, for all its length and lucidity, only describes how the grisly event occurred but gives no coherent explanation for why it occurred.
Americans—including the U.S. government—also seem confused about what is the overall objective of the enemy. Terror for its own sake? U.S. troops out of Mecca? The destruction of the state of Israel? Islamic control of the Middle East? World domination? Moreover, since the enemy’s goals are unknown, it is virtually impossible to figure out its strategy; about all that seems known is that terrorism is one of its components. Without reliable knowledge of what the enemy wants and how it intends to achieve its goal, it seems virtually impossible to have an effective counterstrategy, either at home or abroad. In addition, America’s people and leaders are deeply divided about whether this is a war with an end point, over what would constitute “success,” and over whether success is even possible in this new kind of war.
No nation ever won a war under these conditions. Therefore, the crisis of the war against terrorism is primarily an intellectual crisis, a crisis of understanding. To fight this war better it is necessary to understand it better. Therefore let us return to the beginning, to the cataclysmic attack that launched this new war for a new century.
Approximately five years after 9/11, we know a great deal about that nightmarish event. Many Americans actually saw it happen. If you were watching television the morning of September 11, 2001, you would have had your programming interrupted shortly before 9 a.m. That’s when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Word spread rapidly, and millions of Americans were riveted to their TV sets when, a few minutes later, a second plane flew directly into the South Tower. The sight of the slow–motion collapse of these two landmarks of the New York skyline, with chaos everywhere and people running for their lives, will long remain etched on the national psyche. One of the most gruesome symbols of 9/11 was the sight of people jumping out of windows, preferring to fall to their deaths rather than be roasted alive in the fiery inferno. Soon Americans discovered that a third plane had slammed into the northwest side of the Pentagon, and a fourth, headed for an unknown destination, had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. As the magnitude of the disaster slowly registered, Americans saw heroic scenes of firefighters trying to rescue survivors, and poignant portraits of desperate New Yorkers trying to locate family members, hanging on to the slender hope that they had made it out of the burning buildings alive. Here is a typical plea, taken from a collection of recordings from the 9/11 archive: “If anyone has any idea, or if they’ve seen him or know where he is, call us. He’s got two little babies. Two little babies.”
It was the worst day in American history, worse than Pearl Harbor, worse even than Gettysburg. Those were military catastrophes, one of them off American shores, in which soldiers killed soldiers. By contrast, 9/11 was an attack on the American mainland; it was an attack on the core institutions of America, and it took nearly three thousand lives, the vast majority of them civilians. The Cold War lasted for decades, cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and confronted Americans with the prospect of nuclear annihilation, but fewer Americans were killed over the entire duration of the Cold War than perished on a single day in September 2001. What made 9/11 even more sobering was the recognition that its perpetrators intended to blow up the White House or the Capitol—the apparent destination of the fourth plane—and they meant to kill a lot more people. Nearly fifty thousand people worked in the World Trade Center, and the death toll from 9/11 could have been much higher.
Today, with the perspective of hindsight, and thanks to the detailed government investigation that culminated in The 9/11 Commission Report, we have a lot of information about 9/11. We know a great deal about what happened and how it happened. We know that the original plan, proposed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, called for the hijacking of ten planes to be crashed into targets on both coasts. (1) (Bin Laden settled for the final plan that was executed on September 11.) We can follow the movements of the terrorists in the period leading up to 9/11. We have a detailed account of what they did that day: where and when they boarded the planes, when they spoke to one another, what they carried with them, and what they left behind in their rooms. The report has a moment–by–moment description of the climactic denouement. We can read heartbreaking transcripts of passengers calling family members to say “I love you,” and, “Good–bye.” We can hear what flight attendant Madeline Sweeney said as she saw American Airlines flight 11 zoom over the Hudson River toward the World Trade Center. “I see water and buildings,” Sweeney told her ground supervisor. “Oh my God, oh my God!”
What The 9/11 Commission Report does not tell us, however, is why it happened. (2) On the subject of why the terrorists and their sponsors did what they did, the report is largely silent. This failure to comprehend the motives and goals of the enemy greatly limits the value of the report. Moreover, the report’s discussion of the vital question of whether 9/11 could have been prevented suffers from an air of unreality. The report concludes that 9/11 could have been averted had America done this and that and the other—if only America had better control of its borders, if only the agencies of government were restructured to permit better sharing of intelligence, if only there were more systematic checks on airlines and other modes of transportation, and if only America had eliminated the Al Qaeda training camps and their support structures.
This conclusion is a fallacy. Call it the fallacy of retroactive insight. The characteristic feature of 9/11 was that it was a surprise attack designed to take advantage of an existing vulnerability in America's defenses. After the attack, it is easy to say that we should have taken the measures that would have prevented the attack. But imagine the uproar if a newly elected President Bush had ordered massive air strikes on Afghanistan prior to September 11. Imagine if someone, prior to 9/11, proposed restructuring the government at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, restricting the freedom and convenience of Americans through extensive security checks and measures like the Patriot Act, and ousting the Taliban through military force. Such a person would have been dismissed as a paranoid and a crackpot, akin to someone today who called for America to take drastic measures to stop the Chinese from invading Florida.
In this sense, I do not believe 9/11 could have been prevented.
BUT WHY DID they do it? The terrorists didn’t leave an explanatory note, and the question of their motives has haunted America ever since the fateful attacks. At first 9/11 generated a spectacular moment of national unity, in which Americans came together to grieve over the terrible loss of life, acknowledge a new sense of shared vulnerability, and cherish the heroism of the police officers and firefighters. From the far ends of the world came words of sympathy and solidarity. Even the French commiserated, and Le Monde ran a banner headline proclaiming, “We are all Americans.”
At the same time, however, Americans were startled by the reaction to 9/11 from certain quarters of the Muslim world. “Allah has answered our prayers” declared the Palestinian weekly Al–Risala in its September 13, 2001, issue. The Egyptian newspaper Al–Maydan noted that when the news broke that the towers were hit, “Millions of us shouted in joy.” There were celebrations in Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, and Jordan. Even in London, some Muslims rejoiced and Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed preached a sermon in his mosque calling September 11 “a towering day in history” and hailing the “magnificent 19” for what they did. (3) In many parts of the Muslim world, Osama bin Laden became an instant sensation for having hit America where it hurt. Americans who hoped that these reactions were grotesquely aberrant, and expected them to be strongly repudiated by the rest of the Muslim world, found these hopes disappointed.
Wracked with grief over 9/11, and furious at this bloody assault on civilian life, American leaders and opinion makers responded with instinctive and sputtering contempt toward their attackers. Several TV commentators and talk radio hosts proclaimed the 9/11 attackers “insane.” Columnist Thomas Friedman declared that Osama bin Laden was simply “a psychopath.” Another theory was that 9/11 was pointless, what scholar–activist Edward Said termed “a terror mission without message, senseless destruction.” Historian Stanley Hoffman, not previously known for his expertise in Koranic interpretation, noted that the bin Laden crew were acting “on so peculiar an interpretation of the Koran that there is very little one can do to rebut it.” President Bush took up this theme on September 20, 2001, charging that the 9/11 attackers “blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.” Columnist Barbara Ehrenreich suggested that 9/11 was an uprising on the part of the wretched of the earth, seeking to remedy “the vast global inequalities in which terrorism is ultimately rooted.” Writing in The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg and David Remnick announced, “This is a conflict that pits all of civilized society against a comparatively small, essentially stateless band of murderous outlaws.” (4)
It is easy to sneer, with the benefit of hindsight, at these outlandish theories. But there was a good deal of evidence even at the time they were uttered that they were wrong. Clearly the terrorists were not insane, or they could never have pulled off the most successful terrorist attack in history. By all accounts 9/11 required a degree of imagination, precision, and coordination of which insane people simply are not capable. At the meager cost of $500,000, and armed only with box cutters, the 9/11 hijackers managed to inflict heavy casualties, cause hundreds of billions of dollars of damage, and transform the way of life of the world’s most powerful nation. (5) Since bin Laden was one of the richest men in the world, his deputy Ayman al–Zawahiri a physician from one of the most prominent families in Egypt, and most of the 9/11 hijackers from educated middle–class backgrounds, 9/11 was hardly a poor man's uprising; one might almost call it “terrorism of the rich.” By all accounts bin Laden and Zawahiri are deeply pious Muslims, and the diaries left behind by the 9/11 hijackers show them to be equally sincere and devout. (6) There are many people in the Muslim world who disagree with bin Laden and the perpetrators of 9/11, but few Muslim clergy consider them to be apostates or betrayers of Islam. Moreover, it was clear from the beginning that lots of Muslims supported and rejoiced in 9/11, and that far from being stateless outlaws, bin Laden and his men enjoyed the sponsorship and support of at least one Islamic regime, the Taliban government of Afghanistan.
These errors are not surprising. The mood in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was disturbed and intemperate. Many Americans expressed the view that they didn’t care why America was hated; they just wanted to find the people who planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks, and to obliterate them. No wonder that many senseless things were said in this truculent frame of mind. What is surprising is that for a time there was moral and ideological unity in America of a kind not seen since World War II. Suddenly the old divisions in America—over race, over taxes, over the Clinton legacy, over the 2000 election and the Supreme Court decision that put Bush in office—evaporated. The whole nation felt itself under attack by a common enemy. One powerful symbol of this unity was the sight of the entire U.S. Congress, conservative Republicans joined by liberal Democrats, singing “God Bless America” in front of the nation’s Capitol. Despite their previous disagreements, the Democrats in Congress pledged to support President Bush in a unified national response to 9/11.
Even old ideological adversaries began to speak the same political language. A few days after the attacks, the New York Times declared that bin Laden and the hijackers “acted out of hatred for the values cherished in the West such as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism, and universal suffrage.” (7) I am not concerned at this point with the veracity of the Times’s statement. I am struck, however, that a major newspaper that can be relied on to condemn President Bush here sounded exactly like him. Thus 9/11 produced something that Americans once took for granted but now experienced as a novelty. One America. One America united against its enemies.
But this moment of national unity was brief. It lasted as long as the impact of 9/11 was fresh. But as soon as that emotional wound began to heal, the moral and ideological unity disappeared and a furious debate broke out over the meaning of 9/11. This debate has only intensified the division in the country, revealing the division to be bigger than 9/11, bigger even than foreign policy. Ultimately 9/11 has exposed a deep chasm in the American soul over the meaning of America itself.
I WANT TO begin by discussing the mainstream conservative view of 9/11 that formed the basis for the Bush administration’s war against terrorism. This view is sometimes called the “neoconservative” approach, although I believe it is wrongly labeled as such. Some neoconservative strategists may have helped to devise it, but ultimately it is President Bush who adopted it and it is the Bush position that enjoys general support on the right and in the Republican Party. I recognize of course that there are dissident factions on the right, primarily the Buchanan wing of the “old right” and the libertarian critics. I will address their views later. Here I outline the central principles of Bush’s conservative understanding of 9/11.
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted March 18, 2008
This book is well worth the read, even if you don't agree with Mr. D'souza's politics. It provides a different viewpoint on why the U.S. is under attack. Mr. D'souza's main point is that people in the U.S. and the West in general think in an ethnocentric way that prevents us from understanding the complaints from not only the Islamic world but from other traditional cultures. We project our own values onto developing cultures without thinking about how radical they might appear. This is a lesson on how we can better understand other cultures but also shows we need to be more respectful of the other points of views within our own country.
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Posted March 29, 2007
3/29/2007 I own and enjoyed reading several of Dennis D'Souza's books but his latest book is a great disappointment to me. In my opinion, his basic premise that the decadent West's life style and efforts to spread its moral depravity around the world' is the cause of radical, murderous and anti-American Islamism doesn't begin to explain the real reasons. I am afraid that Mr. D'Souza completely misses the root cause of radical Islam's hate of the Western World. He confuses the easily available excuse of a decadent West with the fundamental and very old drive of traditional Islam to regain its position as the one and only permitted religion in the world. The author does not 'connect the dots' of Islam's early political successes, from the 7th to the 16th century, with what has been happening during the last almost 100 years in the Middle East and lately in Asia and the West. He mentions 20th century authors of radical anti-American tracts but forgets the much earlier authors of really radical Islamic thinking starting in the 14th century with Abd al-Halim Ibn Taymiyya '1263-1328', Abd al-Wahhab '1703/4-1792' and Muhammed Rashid Rida '1865-1935' and subsequently with people like Hassan al-Banna '1906-1949', Sayyid Abul A'la Mawdudi '1903-1979' and Sayyid Qutb '1903-1966'. When earlier Islam's political and military power waned during the Renaissance, the Christian West was just beginning to get its second wind, eventually resulting in the world as we know it today. But the original and fundamental drive of Islam as the only permissible religious dogma allowed in this same world, did not die in the 17th century. It was very much kept alive by the radical proponents of what had once been young Islam but had in fact become an aging, mellowing religious construct. It was oil money, in the early 20th century, and support from the Saudi family that gave Wahhabism its opportunity to spread aggressively in Arabia and beyond. Its basic focus includes Islamic apostates and religious slackers as much as any other religion's adherents. Why otherwise would the Taliban have made such an effort to destroy the Buddhist Bannyan Statues in Afghanistan a few years ago? It had nothing to do with anger at the West but represents their incoherent hate of anything not Muslim. The Jihadists hate anybody and everybody because we are considered infidels and therefore must be converted to Islam or slain. That is the fundamental reason they are at war with the whole world. But because the USA is the strongest military opponent with currently a seemingly confused and weak urge to defend itself, it has become the primary target for the Jihadist's rage. I agree with the author that there is an extremely vocal anti-Bush and anti-Iraq war contingent in this country and in Europe which clearly plays into the hands of our enemies. Unfortunately, it has been like that during other periods where we were at war. It is part of our political culture but if one believes that at times like these we must show maximum unity of purpose, thereby denying the enemy any opportunity for insidious tactics, one can only deplore the unpatriotic actions and attitudes of those who indulge in it. Clearly, this perceived American disunity enormously helps to hide the actual objectives of Jihadism, namely the reconquest of the world to impose Islam everywhere, but paradoxically it seems to make all those westerners, who do not like America, feel good. Because the war the Jihadists are waging is completely unconventional, this exploitation of naive and uninformed Westerners is grist on the Jihadist mill. As Sun-Tzu was saying 2400 years ago, in war the use of fear, brutality, fifth column invasions 'immigration', deceit and terrorism are to be employed aggressively and today serve the Jihadist plans and efforts to a tee. If the West cannot see the woods for the trees we are doomed. Instead, D'Souza believes that there exists a significant group of tradi
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Posted June 2, 2012
So much for repuke claims they are the "party of responsibility". They destroy this country and then, like spoiled brats, turn around and blam everyone else. This book is a compilation of badly written lies.
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Posted April 27, 2011
D'Souza is right that this war is about hearts and minds. About the imorallity of the cultural left. But the real issue is spiritual in nature, and how far America has strayed (led by the cultural left) from the Christian heritage left to us by our founding fathers. Until we find our way back to our Biblical roots America will continue to suffer. America's success and prosperity is directly related to our relationship with God as a nation. So I say D'Souza is close but should have emphasized this point more throughly. Our hearts and minds should turn to God for answers not to politics and the economy, and the rest, including 'our war with Islam' will work out.
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Posted March 28, 2007
D'Souza establishes his theory that liberals are the cause of America's international and domestic problems today and then proceeds to support his thesis with selective quotes. This is a very one sided book with the conservatives the heroes and the liberals the villians. But it is worth reading in order to get into the mind set of someone who views the world in black and white terms and sees very little gray.
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Posted February 17, 2007
While reading this book I was amazed that he was laying everything out so clearly. Just how ironic it is that the real reason we were attacked on 9/11 is due to the cultural depravity that the radical muslims see in our country and which they deplore...a cultural depravity that is being fueled by the ideals of the liberal left. Yet the liberal left and the radical muslims are at the same time allies in doing everything in their power to ensure the failure of our Country in Iraq. The muslims are doing this because they do not want democracy to take root in the Middle East and the liberals motive is to discredit Bush and the Conservatives so that their liberal agenda can continue unimpeded as it has for so long. Europe has become a secular, decadent place and the liberals want America to go down that same path. Much of Europe has rid itself of the influence of religion and the liberals would like the same for America. They have been succeeding brilliantly with their agenda of weakening the influence of the family in America, particularly that of the father, and our country is paying the price. Everyone should read this book and absorb all it has to say about the terrible predicament of our country!!!
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Posted August 30, 2011
I found the book very interesting. I can certainly understand why deeply religious radical muslims might find our way of life offensive.. and it's not surprising that many liberals might find this book offensive. However, another point of this book is that "most" americans don't allign themselves with the radical left in this country and should make it clear that mainstream America is not so different from the average muslim. There's no reason why we shouldn't be able to find common ground when it comes to freedom of religion. We can do without the radical fringe on both sides of the road.
There may be more history involved as a prior reviewer responded.. although I would think if that person had actually "read" several of his books as they claim, they would have figured out that the name is not "Dennis" it is Dinesh???
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Posted January 31, 2007
'the enemy at home ' is a very fasinating book and the writer dinesh d` souza has really documented research that shows our enemys in battle and mostly in vietnam and iraq our opponents knew they could not win in battle so our opponents were able to use the culture left in america so this publication proves that through out history our enemys use the left to hurt our soldiers and lose our battles and give bad moral to our nation. this book shows hillary clinton and micheal moore who are more intrested in political gain thean helping there country.the writer gives hope and a voice to the voter and what they can do to make a change.
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Posted June 7, 2014
Adulterer and thief who wrote this book? No wonder he's worried about Muslims -- they take a much harder stance on those things! The Saudis who did 9/11 would cut off a few body parts from him and kill his "other woman" for that. Plus his hero W. flew Bin Laden's relatives out of the USA while the rest of us were stuck in airports on the wrong side of the country/world. And he says it's the LEFT'S fault? Ha ha! Projection is a funny old thing, isn't it?
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Posted January 28, 2011
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Posted September 30, 2013
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