Reflecting on America in the aftermath of 9/11

What can we learn from 9/11

9/11 Memorial Wall Outside Ground Zero (flickr/Pattie0

SAN JOSE, Calif., Sept. 17, 2015 – Fourteen years have passed since the horror of the insidious terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon and upon innocent lives, yet the network of Islamist militant extremism has grown in scope. On that day, America was caught completely off guard: the U.S. intelligence agencies, federal government officials, President George W. Bush, the majority of Americans and people throughout the entire world were caught by surprise by such a tragically dramatic event. Yet, as nations adapted to global terrorism, supposedly becoming more attuned to the threat and becoming better prepared to deal with the dangers, the network of Islamist militant extremism has grown exponentially.

A challenging question for Americans in the years since 9/11 is whether this nation will ever be rid of the scar left internally on the minds and hearts of the populace. True, the American people can get lost in their daily routines and the culture of freedom enabled by the government, but has this period of time helped Americans to be clearer about what we believe, or have we become more confused and emotionally overwhelmed by what the terrorists believe?

Although there have become many self-proclaimed “experts” on Islam or the genuine faith of Muslims, it remains to be seen whether such experts are simply touting their own form of intolerance or religious bigotry or whether they are really Americans.

Tolerance has long been one of the ideals upheld among a good number of the first European settlers in North America. The original 13 colonies, though initially separate and created to a large extent by religious preferences, merged into one nation. Yet, today with the “us vs. them” mentality driving much of the discussion, it seems to hearken back to the days of the Spanish Inquisition in these good old United States of America.

Patriot Day: Moving past the scars of 9/11

There are those “experts” who would have everyone follow the logic that all Muslims are potential terrorists.  That is a concept that led to FDR’s Japanese, German and Italian internment camps in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Did that reflect sound judgment by the Roosevelt administration? That reflected fear.

Despite the wise words of FDR that all Americans had to fear was fear itself, the innocent among the Japanese descendants actually had to fear the U.S. government. Fear is one of the primary goals of the terrorists. Fear spread far and wide among people with no strong leadership runs rampant throughout any nation. And, I have heard tell that Roosevelt was supposed to be a great leader. Fear is something to be feared, especially when people react emotionally without careful thought or discernment.

Prejudice stems from a distant form of fear. However, prejudice can lead to intolerance among the people of the world, and it is not the monopoly of any one culture or race. Prejudice and intolerance have often led to irreconcilable differences. Mongols enslaved white Russians, Africans enslaved their enemies and sold them to Europeans, white Europeans and Americans enslaved black Africans, President Andrew Jackson drove thousands of American Indians from their homelands and manifested intolerancein U.S. government policy, the Japanese imperialists enslaved and slaughtered many Asians, the Germans rounded up the Jews and slaughtered them.

However, there is one nation on this planet where the differences between people could be resolved – not perfectly – not immediately — but where a nation could permit the efforts of resolution to be worked out under the law. Since the beginning of the United States, but not all of the time, and not completely implemented, there has been an effort to look to the ideals that were instituted in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in order to do right under the law. It has permitted the greatest number of people to achieve freedom, more than in any other nation on the planet throughout history. One of the reasons that it happened was because at specific times, leaders have had enough support to uphold those ideals instituted in law.

On the other extreme, Osama bin Laden condemned the United States as the “worst civilization witnessed by history of mankind.” In bin Laden’s “Letter to the American People” in 2002, he denounced U.S. support of the “Jews” in Israel. He also called upon Americans to embrace Islam and reject the immorality that pervaded the nation and specifically the evils of “fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling, and trading with interest.” One other objective of bin Laden was that the American people rise up against their corrupt government. The purpose of that uprising was supposedly to stimulate the American public to revolt against the capitalist system.

Those objectives seem like honest religious-oriented objectives to many –- who are confused. If this attack and subsequent terror attacks are essentially about one religion attacking or being able to destroy an “opposing” religion, why did bin Laden bother with the U.S. support of Israel or the capitalist system?

While it is not entirely clear whether bin Laden was genuinely a religious man, it is clear that he used the religion of his people to obtain his sinister objectives and to send many people to their deaths. The attacks have raised deep questions if one looks from a broader and deeper perspective and considers the distinctions within the clouds of chaos and confusion.

From the days of Osama bin Laden, chaos has grown from one nation to another exponentially. It began on the horrendous day of 9/11/2001, when premeditated chaos claimed the lives of thousands of innocent citizens upon American soil. It was like an international political earthquake of tremendous magnitude, and it sent shockwaves throughout the world. But it also sent a message to those terrorists that, if the U.S. can be so boldly attacked, no nation is safe. That is what is unfolding throughout the cities across the planet in 2015.

When Osama bin Laden was privately shown the video clips of the horrendous attacks, he reportedly remarked that the acts of terror were “spectacular,” and when he eventually came out of the closet and admitted complicity in the incident, he praised the hijackers as freedom fighters exhibiting “defiant spirits” in a fight against an evil oppressive empire.  The reason for Americans being killed was the “jihad” or religious war against the infidel, and the suicide squad of 19 who carried out the lethal plans were acting in the name of freedom. It begs the question:

Spokesmen for Al Qaeda or bin Laden, although initially denying involvement, were eventually crowing over their victory. However, when bin Laden was questioned about his involvement he has been quoted as saying: “I have already said that I am not involved in the 11 September attacks in the United States. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge of these attacks, nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children, and other humans as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children, and other people.

Ground Zero: Images from 9/11 – 13 years later

Looking more closely at bin Laden’s religious values, someone questioned how he could claim to be a “good Muslim” in light of the obvious contradiction of what he previously said about obeying Islam and not being involved in “the killing innocent women, children, and other people.” At that point, he simply confessed that he was not a good Muslim. But it certainly didn’t stop him from preaching to the American people in his letter: “rather than ruling by the Shariah of Allah… You separate religion from your policies, contradicting the pure nature which affirms Absolute Authority to the Lord and your Creator.”

Osama bin Laden’s weak adherence to the fundamentals of Islam also did not stop him from  re-arranging the pillars of the teachings of Islam to suit his own purposes. People in the West would realize this, but only if they understood more about Islam. It did not begin just with such attacks on 9/11. It began many years before with the mujihadeen in Afghanistan. In Lawrence Wright’s well-researched “The Looming Tower” (eight weeks on the New York Times best seller list and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction), he details how ideas generated a movement of people to fight against one of the most powerful nations on the planet.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and the inhabitants were at the mercy of the powerful military might of this superpower. Wright recounts a very revealing stance of a Palestinian scholar, Abdullah Azzam, who he claims was “the most influential figure in bin Laden’s involvement with the Afghan cause.” A sort of parable was provided by Azzam when he compared the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to a drowning child. He painted a visual of a group of people walking along a beach.

They see a child about to drown. The child, he suggests is Afghanistan. Saving the drowning child is an obligation for all swimmers who witness him. ‘If someone moves to save him, the sin falls from the rest. But, if no one moves, all the swimmers are in sin.” Thus Azzam argues that the jihad against the Soviets is the duty of each Muslim individually, as well as of the entire Muslim people, and that all are in sin until the invader is expelled.

This precept is at the heart of why a great many of militant Islamist terrorists seek to destroy the United States today. This is really not reflective of the entirety of Islam. Jihad has been artificially imposed as one of the “pillars” of Islam. Westerners have a hard time with making intelligent distinctions in many respects, and this difficulty is evidenced in history time and time again. The Native Americans were viewed by the conquistadors some type of subhuman and lower that the invaders. Ironically, the Spaniards viewed Jews and Muslims in the same way before Columbus sailed. American Indians were lumped together as the same by those who could not make intelligent distinctions, and tragedy ensued.

Intolerance and prejudice should not be the outcome of the attacks of the militant Islamist terrorists. Such a fight should be viewed in through the lens, not of religion, but of freedom vs. tyranny. The people who lost their lives on that dreadful day were not only Americans, but people from all over the world.  The attacks can be more appropriately viewed as a dramatic quest, not for freedom, nor even an effort to advance Islam; they will primarily be remembered in history as an effort  of militants to be ”free” to terrorize or impose tyranny upon the rest of the world.

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Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member at West Valley College in California. He currently writes a column on US history and one on American freedom for the Communities Digital News, as well as writing for other online publications. During the 2016 presidential primaries, he worked as the leader of a network of writers, bloggers, and editors who promoted the candidacy of Dr. Ben Carson. He founded the “We the People” Network of writers and the Citizen Sentinels Project to pro-actively promote the values and principles established at the founding of the United States, and to discover and support more morally centered citizen-candidates who sincerely seek election as public servants, not politicians.