Jewish World Review Sept. 11, 2002 /5 Tishrei, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | "Dispute it like a man," says Malcolm to Macduff, when the news reaches him that his whole family has been slain, all his pretty chickens and their dam.
And Macduff replies, "I shall do so; but I must also feel it as a man!"
That is where we were a year ago: a reasonable place to start. The appropriate first response to the attacks on New York and Washington, after rescue efforts, was grief for all our losses. In so far as they were terrorist attacks, intended to instill fear in us, it was also important that we not fear, nor panic. No enemy is defeated by lashing out. An enemy is defeated deliberately.
From the firefighters and police, through all of New York, that first response was very impressive. From Donald Rumsfeld (dashing from his Pentagon office to help personally with the rescue efforts), to the whole city of Washington, likewise, spontaneous courage. Aboard Flight 93, the first plane on which, through cellphones, the passengers were able to know what their hijackers were intending -- the first victory over the terrorists. They brought the plane down in a Pennsylvania field before it could reach Capitol Hill or the White House. And a hero unsung at least by me: the American, mainstream, liberal media came through bigtime on that day, coolly reporting the breaking news, coolly squelching rumours, under great pressure. It was one day when I was proud to be a journalist.
"England expects that every man will do his duty," Admiral Nelson signalled to his fleet, entering the heat of Trafalgar. America, and we in the modern West, expect every man and woman will do his or hers, with or without a signal. The firebell rang in lower Manhattan, and everybody took their stations.
We did not know, in the first moments, what this was all about, though we had a general idea. It took little time to establish beyond doubt who had done this, and begin to think what we could do to prevent them ever doing it again. In the absence of immediate further attacks, there was time to grieve. But within days, American special forces were on the ground in Afghanistan.
Newspapers and media are presently so full of 9/11 remembrances, and the events themselves are anyway still so vivid to memory, I am not going to burden my reader with another careful reconstruction. I even object to some of this additional outpouring of emotion. The "grief counsellors" have done their ghoulish work, and surely now can move on to fresh victims. We have had the funerals, we have looked back and back. It is sufficient to remember that the terror strikes found America surprisingly ready; that even in the anthrax scare of subsequent weeks, only the media buckled; the people stayed calm.
The time had come to look only forward, to "dispute it like a man". We have had a full year to assess the issue before us; and while there are many fine points to be raised about tactics along the way, these are secondary.
Unfortunately, America is one year into a complex war, which most other Western countries, and fellow targets, just watch them fight. First against Afghanistan and soon against Iraq, the U.S. seeks to do what is painfully necessary to end the threat of massive terror attacks, and its allies carp and second-guess, throwing the odd scrap of aid, usually in expectation of pay-offs.
Well, that is how things always were. Churchill and Britain stood alone once, with almost no one but the Canadians behind them. Bush and America stand today, mocked in their isolation. It will take time for the other countries to realize that they are also in the line of fire, that appeasement and cowardice won't remove the danger. Fortunately, the U.S. has the power, for at least a few years, to stand alone.
The force which unleashed such horrors upon two of the West's principal cities has not been defeated. Nor is it very close to being defeated.
Al Qaeda itself, the immediate commissioner of the attacks, has been able to attempt or execute more than a dozen further atrocities, in both America and Europe, and in Tunisia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines. Their most senior operatives are not yet accounted for; several are almost certainly now being sheltered in Iraq and Iran. On a single day last week, the organization was able to mount a vicious car-bombing in the market at Kabul, and an assassination attempt on the Afghan president. And while these were happening -- and terror strikes in Israel which I believe to have been fully coordinated with them -- an Arab television network, Al Jazeera of Qatar, was able to begin interviewing senior Al Qaeda members in such cities as Karachi, and broadcast their satanic boasts to an audience right across the Muslim world.
But Al Qaeda is only a small part of the problem. Without the complicity of powerful established interests, and the direct patronage of rogue regimes, and co-operation between one terror group and another, no single organization could last very long. From Osama bin Laden's Qaeda to Yassir Arafat's Fatah, they flourish because they help one another. And they are unreachable because they have so many places to hide, whenever they need to hide -- from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley across a great arc of land to "Azad" Kashmir -- and within Somalia, Sudan, Libya, elsewhere.
One must be naive to think the issue reduces to Al Qaeda; catatonic to believe that, e.g., Saddam Hussein is not in the thick of terrorist support and planning; or that Hezbollah and Hamas exist to attack Israel alone; or that the Saudi princes are unaware of what their protection money goes to pay for; or a great many other propositions that people would like to believe, because if they were true we might not have to fight.
There are deep reasons for the emergence of Islamist terrorism and terror states, founded ultimately in the reverses of Islam; reasons that thus go back to the fall of the Ottomans (in 1918), to the arrival of Napoleon in Egypt (1798), to the rout of the Turks at Vienna (1683) -- and by all means, read Bernard Lewis. Terror has flourished in a culture or cultures that have wallowed in defeat, victimhood, resentment, despair.
And yet the greatest possible foolishness is to believe that Islamist terrorism is an expression of despair and hopelessness. It is a living, communicating force. It is, no less than Nazism was to the Germans, a response to defeat, victimhood, resentment, despair. But it is the opposite response: like Nazism, Islamism expresses a triumph of the will. The Islamists think that they are finally winning, that they have found a method to defeat the West, that the United States is a paper tiger. They thrive on appeasement, as the Nazis thrived, and they have no intention of becoming peaceful. Celebrations will occur today, to mark the anniversary of 9/11, in so many parts of the Muslim world -- from the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, to the Kebayoran mosque in south Djakarta. Imams will be leading prayers to commemorate what they will describe as a great Muslim victory. This is not despair but triumphalism.
There is no possible quick fix to a breach so large in the world's order. And there will be no peaceful way to close it. We are living in a fantasy ourselves, if we think it will somehow blow over.
On the day after 9/11, Le Monde of Paris ran this headline: "Nous sommes tous Americains" -- we are all Americans. A year later, what I find atop the front page of the same newspaper is a childish, humourless caricature of President Bush in military duffel, dripping with guns and grenades. The same old left-wing twaddle, recovered now that the shock has worn off. I am reminded of a stray dog I once saw on the tracks of a Paris suburban railway, leaping high in the air after touching its paw to the third rail; then landing, and trotting down the track, as if nothing had happened.
In Canada's Globe and Mail, Saturday, an unctuous little poll at the top of the front page. The majority of Canadians, supposedly, hold the Yankees at least partially responsible for the acts of psychopathic violence that were done to them. Another pollster declares that Canadians have "moved on" from the events of 9/11. (I keep thinking of that dog, "moving on".) It is hard to reconcile oneself, to the possibility of something so shameful.
As I look back over the quarter-million words I have written as a journalist in this last year, I am reasonably satisfied that I "got it right" -- that as far as reporting upon and analyzing the political, diplomatic, and military events that have followed from the 9/11 terror attacks, there was no major error. But in my interpretation of the "social" and even "spiritual" dimension of the conflict, I may have made the serious mistake of excessive optimism.
Towards Christmas, last year, I was confidently maintaining that people had learned something from this horrific experience. One by one, as the lesson sank in, I noticed many foolish writers had stopped writing foolish things. In particular, I thought the instinct of appeasement -- for making accommodations with evil -- had been set back. I began to hope even our "liberal elites", in government bureaucracies, universities, and media, were abandoning their moral relativism, and the other aspects of their "political correctness", after this shocking collision with reality. We had all received an extraordinary "wake-up call", and it seemed everywhere I saw sleepers waking.
Canada presents an especially sad example of what has since taken place, as the sense of personal safety has returned. The attacks of 9/11 weren't big enough, to effect any permanent change. After that brief leap in the air, we have resumed our trot along the railway.
Under pathetic leadership, Canada has made not only no progress, but no serious effort, to deal with the huge problems that were exposed in our immigration and refugee system, or in our security and intelligence forces; or to correct the attitudes that get in the way of finding the terrorists in our own country, who use it as a "safe house".
Moreover, at a time when the world has suddenly become a much more dangerous place, where at any moment we may be called upon once again, to play our part in foreign wars as we did so illustriously in the past, our nakedness is exposed. We have been caught truly with our pants down, with a military that has been allowed to decline to the point where it can offer little besides a handful of talented snipers. And even these require U.S. and British transport to get to the theatre of action, and once arrived, the U.S. and British to provide them with appropriate gear.
Yet there is still no proposal to do anything at all, in the face of this national humiliation. On Monday a group containing almost every prominent Canadian outside the serving armed forces with knowledge of our military affairs, published a report that announces the Canadian Forces are disintegrating, from underfunding and neglect. We have a government in Ottawa that is, plainly, uninterested in the defence of our own realm, let alone in pulling our weight internationally. A year after the attack on our closest ally, we have nothing to show from our government except expressions of smugness.
This refusal to take responsibility may have very serious consequences in the future. It has unfortunately become fairly easy to imagine some future emergency in which the United States is threatened by Islamist terrorism from Canadian soil, and turns to Canadian authorities who are simply unable to do anything about it. At such a time, the U.S. will be compelled to send military forces directly into Canada, to deal with the emergency, with or without Ottawa's permission. A nation which cannot defend itself loses the right to call itself sovereign.
The reactions of our prime minister in the aftermath of 9/11 are almost too painful to recall; most notoriously, making an implausible excuse to avoid visiting Ground Zero in New York, so that he could fly back to a Liberal Party fundraiser in Toronto. A year later, we are still hearing hallucinogenic remarks from both him and his foreign minister -- a man whose casually-revealed ignorance of history and current affairs is excruciating. In the shadow of everything we have not done, we now presume to give little lectures to the U.S. President on the moral advisability of acting against the threat from Iraq. What has become of Canada?
As I wrote in the moments after 9/11, and have repeated at various times through the year, the great majority of Arab and Islamic immigrants in the West can hardly be potential terrorists. Quite the opposite: a high proportion of the Arabs, especially in North America, are actually self-exiled Christians; but the Muslims, too, have mostly "voted with their feet", to get as far away as possible from societies which they themselves view as backward and oppressive. While in certain cases their children may fall under the influence of radical imams, or anyone may fall under the spell of Islamist indoctrination in our prisons or elsewhere, the first generation of immigrants still wants nothing more than to gain acceptance in the new society. They want to assimilate.
These people are, as I wrote from the beginning, our natural allies in the great battle with the forces of "Islamism" -- of fanatical political Islam. They should also be our most useful sources of information in the domestic struggle, to help identify and arrest members of Islamist terrorist cells that have penetrated our society.
Unfortunately two large obstacles stand in the way. One is that the mosques have been gradually taken over by radicals and Wahabists -- members of the most puritanical Muslim sect -- financed chiefly from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. (Something like 80 per cent of the mosques in North America are now in such hands.) Our moderate Muslim immigrant population is thus increasingly prey to networks of informants, and to threats of reprisal if they step out of line.
At the same time, this segregation of the Muslims is being reinforced by our state policy of "multiculturalism", through state patronage of ethnic groups (often distributed through the same dubious radical and Wahabi "community leaders"), and by the constant lip-service to the empty ideal of "diversity". In other words, our government is working to promote ethnic and religious tribalism hand-in-hand with the Islamist insurgents (and for the motive of controlling huge blocs of voters).
Reasonable Muslims -- the great majority here -- find themselves with nowhere reliable to turn when they want to help. If they report their suspicions to such conventional authorities as CSIS or the police, they are met with a blank wall of ignorance and indifference. Even when they understand the threats, officers are terrified of taking any action, lest the fanatics come back at them with charges of "racism".
The hard truth is that it will take much worse than 9/11 to knock sense into officialdom, to unshackle minds from the rigid cliches of "political correctness" -- and not only here but (to a lesser but still great extent) in the United States.
Likewise, throughout the Middle East, as I have been discovering through the last year, entering into e-mail and other conversations with whomever I could find to tell me what was happening, I have become convinced there are millions -- millions -- of Arab and other Muslim souls who long to be free of the burden of tyranny, and would build if they could on Western models of constitutionalism, democracy, rule of law, separation of mosque and state.
Especially in the countries where fanatics have power -- Iraq and Iran are the best examples -- there is little question that the great majority of people would greet U.S. soldiers as liberators; just as the Kuwaitis did. (Of course, whether the happy relationship continues depends on many issues of skill and chance.)
Within other countries, the so-called "moderate" Arab states -- Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the best examples -- anti-Americanism thrives because the U.S. has been, over time, associated with the preservation of autocratic regimes. And the regimes in turn exploit anti-American nationalism and religious enthusiasm as their defence against domestic reform. Nevertheless, in each of these countries we find at least a small "middle class" whose outlook, education, and commercial interests tend to make them sympathetic to Western values. They are a more substantial minority, in social, economic, and political clout if not in raw numbers, than Western commentators tend to assume. But they are a "silent minority", who keep their heads down when the mobs begin to form.
My own belief is that President Bush has begun the ambitious process of reorienting U.S. policy, away from these "moderate" Arab regimes that proved only superficially useful in the past (chiefly as bulwarks against Soviet influence in conditions that ended with the Cold War). It will not be easy either to disengage from past treaties and arrangements, nor re-engage with new commitments to democratic opposition forces. It cannot be done all at once, with so many other U.S. priorities. There is no sane alternative to gradualism: for it makes no sense to multiply one's enemies in a moment when wars must be fought.
But a start has already been attempted, in making U.S. aid conditional upon political reform, from Uzbekistan to Egypt. And five years from now I would expect the U.S. will no longer have any autocrats or dictators for allies in the region -- if they have any allies at all. They will have thrown in their lot as they have with Israel -- behind what I hope may be budding democracies in Syria, Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere. To create even one reasonably successful democratic constitutional order in the region, for instance in Iraq, would make a huge difference in Arab and Muslim perceptions of what is, and what is not, possible. Hence the need to pull all the stops, to rebuild Iraq after the regime of Saddam Hussein has been destroyed.
For, contrary to the most pessimistic assessments, we will be able to know when the war against terrorism has been won. It will be when we see a phenomenon sweeping the Middle East, equivalent to what swept Central and Eastern Europe in the years 1989-91. (Though we may yet see the contrary in the meantime -- Islamists overthrowing governments in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.)
We are dealing with an enemy that is defeatable, but which is not small. And we are dealing with entrenched attitudes that penetrate far more deeply into Muslim society than into the societies that were freed in Central and Eastern Europe. There was in these latter, after all, no one left who genuinely believed in Communism. In the Islamic world there are great masses of people who genuinely believe in the most bellicose interpretation of the old Muslim concept of "jihad" or holy war. Dead or alive, Osama bin Laden does command armies of millions of sympathizers, people living an apocalyptic fantasy.
But we have faced that kind of thing before. The Nazis were living an apocalyptic fantasy; so were the fascists of Mussolini's Italy, and the emperor-cultists of Tojo's Japan. In many ways, the antebellum U.S. South once fell into such a collective fantasy, and behaved aggressively in a like way. Such enemies were never going to be won over by reason or negotiation, and every proposal for appeasement strengthened their hand.
One thing and one thing only can rescue the Islamists from their fantasy world -- and that is total, ignominious defeat. But so long as there is a single jurisdiction, anywhere on the planet, where they are free to hide, plot, and dream, the war isn't over. Iraq is just the start.
That is the hard fact of life. Only the infantile narcissism in so much of the post-modern West prevents us from seeing it plain. The enemy we confront is defeatable, though it may be a hard and bitter fight.
A question remains about the enemy within: ourselves. Do we have the stomach
to do what it will take? Can we stop our whimpering, and "dispute it like a
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