Anesthetizing the Giant: Ten Years after 9/11

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It seems as though it is now understood and was even at the time, that the September 11th attacks marked the true demarcation line between the 20th and 21st centuries. The 20th century, filled though it was with both innovation and horror in equal measure, was nevertheless the “modern” century. And on that September morning, nineteen men, with knives and a religious ideology forged fourteen hundred years ago, took airplanes, an innovation born early in the 20th century and smashed them into skyscrapers, the preeminent architectural feature of the age.

In an attempt to understand the events of that day, the immediate comparison was to Pearl Harbor., the starting point of America’s entry into the conflict which defined the 20th century. 9/11 had much to compare itself with Pearl Harbor after all. Both from the surprise nature of the attack, to the number of casualties, and the sheer rarity of an attack upon the American homeland. Perhaps the comparison also drew hope of a united America dealing an overwhelming and certain defeat to a determined foe. And perhaps it brought to mind the apocryphal quote from Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, that to attack America was, “to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

As the American people learned more about the foes that struck us that day, it became clearer that this was not a 20th century conflict. It was, simultaneously something both new and ancient. In western minds it conjured up images of a bold new threat. The risk was seen as one of asymmetrical warfare against shadowy transnational groups. But in the minds of our enemy there was nothing new about 9/11. This was ancient warfare, reborn. 9/11 was a razzia, a raid, into the heart of Dar-Al-Harb, the abode of war, the lands of the infidel. This was the same jihad in pursuit of the same age-old goal. They sought to impose a global Caliphate and the ultimate domination of Islam in the world. As the 9/11 Commission report made clear at the time, there was no method of modern statecraft which might appease this enemy. “[A]l Qaeda’s answer [to the question of what American could do to avoid such attacks] was, “America should abandon the Middle East, convert to Islam, and end the immorality and godlessness of its society and culture…”

As America became more familiar with this enemy ideology, they realized that it was not merely the held belief of a few hijackers, or even a few thousand terrorists spread across camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thanks to billions in petro-dollars provided by Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia, it was the curriculum for generations of young men educated in madrassas from Indonesia to east Africa. It could even be found within Europe and the United States itself. Its adherents were inculcated in the belief in the righteousness of Jihad, in the status of non-Muslims as infidels and oppressors who must be fought. Among those brought up to believe America and the West were their mortal enemies, were citizens of nations that America thought to be friends and allies. The 9/11 investigation revealed the extensive role played by our so-called allies in financing this jihad war against the West. These facts were revealed to the American public despite the millions of oil dollars the Gulf nations were spending with America’s largest public relations and lobbying firms to convince the American people otherwise.

Even as the depth of the problem became more easily understood by the average American, American leaders were at pains to limit the public’s exposure to certain realities about the nature of the challenge before us. The phrase “the religion of peace,” has been used so often by politicians that it has come to be regarded as a mostly risible and ironic phrase. “” for instance, is a website that tracks attacks by terrorists committed in the name of Islam since September 11, 2001, at a current count of 17,710 world-wide. But both the Bush and Obama administrations insisted that any question of the role of religious doctrine or ideology or how widely such ideology might be held, was a dangerous distraction and that outreach to Muslim communities at home and abroad would be the center-piece of the resistance to Al Qaeda, not understanding and countering the enemy’s doctrine.

However in 2004, in the basement of Ismail Elbarasse, were discovered the archives of the Muslim Brotherhood in North America. The same Muslim Brotherhood whose principle ideologue, Sayyid Qutb, was featured in the 9/11 Commission’s explanation of Osama Bin Laden’s origins and intentions. The documents found there would later be used as evidence in the Holy Land Foundation trial, perhaps the most important terrorism finance trial ever to take place, where several Muslim Brothers were indicted, and convicted of funding Hamas. The documents entered into evidence, and stipulated to by the defense, illustrated to the public a decades’ long “civilization-jihadist” program against the West, to be waged by the Brotherhood. As part of this campaign, the Brotherhood had created numerous front-groups. Now they were marked as unindicted co-conspirators for terrorism, in a federal court.

In the years since 9/11, it was these unindicted co-conspirators that had been sought out by the government as sensitivity trainers, and outreach partners for their anti-terrorism efforts. Even after 2004, despite the government’s knowledge, the Brotherhood remained responsible for certifying the chaplains of America’s prisons, and her military, and remained a close partner for reaching out to Muslim communities. A loud outcry from concerned citizens groups and a few astute lawmakers led to a few of these M.B. organizations being excluded. But federal departments soon were opening up new associations with other Muslim Brotherhood groups — which ironically were also were listed as unindicted co-conspirators for supporting terror organizations.

Since the arrival into office of the Obama administration, this matter of Muslim Brotherhood subversion, once worrisome, have now reached levels of the deepest concern. Administration officials now openly praise the brotherhood as a “largely secular” organization and have squashed future prosecutions against the Muslim Brotherhood and its support for terrorism.

Where once the 9/11 commission openly discussed Islamic history and Bin’ Laden’s ideological motivations, now there is only “violent extremism,” a shapeless meaninglessly vague threat. Where once some complained that the denotation “the War on Terror” was too vague and ill-suited, now there are only “overseas contingency operations” aimed at preventing “man-caused disasters.” These bland characterizations have not stuck with the American public however. Today, more than ever, the American people understand the depth of the threat from the theocratic political doctrine, Sharia, which unites Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and others that pose a threat to the American way of life.

The only way to judge the status of our struggle, is to ask whether Al Qaeda and those who share their beliefs, are closer, or further from their goals? We must say in fairness that they are closer. Secular regimes across the Middle East are in turmoil, and may yet be replaced by Islamic governments. Western academic elites proudly and publicly declare that the very totalitarian law which Al Qaeda and the Brotherhood would impose is neither threatening nor undemocratic. In western countries free expression about the nature of Islam, and those who commit terrorism in its name has been sharply curtailed. In the United States of America, cartoonists are censored, even sent into hiding, because they have violated some Islamic stricture against so-called blasphemy. What’s worse, the government has now partnered with the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (formerly Islamic Conference) and Muslim countries to institute global speech codes aiming to brand any critical statements, even those made by apostates or reformers of Islam, to be hate speech and therefore illegal.

Ten years after, we are not a sleeping giant anymore. The public is more awake now, certainly more aware now, of what is happening then it has ever been. We see far more clearly than we did that day in September. But yet we find that despite the awakening of the American people, the organs of our national power do not respond, do not take the appropriate action, despite the warnings. We are a giant suffering under a local anesthetic. A potent mixture of infiltration, subversion, and cowardly political correctness saps our national will. In whatever ways this conflict differs from modern wars of the past century, until America restores its “terrible resolve”, we remain no closer to resolution of this great conflict of the 21st century.

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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