Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11, 2001, and the triumph of fundamentalist thinking

I think it's time to post a few hard truths about September 11th and its aftermath. They won't be popular with those who merely react in knee-jerk fashion to the events of that day, but I hope they'll make others think.

1. September 11th, 2001, was not an atrocity committed by Islam as a whole, or by all Muslims. It was an atrocity committed by Osama bin Laden and his radical fundamentalist Muslim followers. To equate their beliefs and actions with all of Islam is to equate Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, or Matthew Hale and the World Church of the Creator, or Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple, with the whole of Christianity. It's absurd.

2. Islam is not a unified, monolithic religion, just as Christianity is not. Both have their particular revelation, which is interpreted and applied by believers in different ways. As always, religious expression boils down to the response of individuals to the teaching of their particular faith. Just as there are many denominations or sects within Christianity, so there are many within Islam (the 'great divide' between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims is only the tip of the iceberg). You'll find widely differing interpretations and applications of Islam among those different groups, just as you'll find widely differing interpretations and applications of Christian teaching among different Christian groups.

3. The perceived anti-Western bias of much (most?) of modern Islam is, in fact, largely the product of the colonial and post-colonial eras. One has to examine the impact of colonialism and Western paternalism on most Islamic states to understand how it developed. To put it as briefly as possible, colonial powers sought to exploit their colonies for the benefit of the mother country. They put as little as possible into them, while taking as much as possible out of them. In particular, education was neglected, leaving the only educated class in such colonies (usually religious leaders) to wield an undue influence among their people, and use their legitimate grievances against colonial powers to whip up a more religious-themed and -focused opposition. Examples are legion: Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab and the rise of Salafi Islam in what is today Saudi Arabia, the Mahdi in the Sudan, the Moros in the Philippines, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestine crisis, Mohammed Omar and the Taliban in Afghanistan, to name but a few of the best-known.

4. Islam, in theological terms, is still a very young religion, a problem which is exacerbated by the relative lack of education of many of its adherents. In many ways it's where Christianity was at the dawn of the Renaissance; still bound up inseparably with the society within which it operates, with religious influence dominating secular politics, business and education. It has a long way to go to bring itself into the modern era. It'll take generations to do so.

5. It makes as much sense to blame Islam as a whole for the anti-Western sentiments that led to 9/11 as it does to blame Christianity for the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. Both religions contributed to the emotions that led to these respective atrocities, but neither was the proximate cause of either atrocity. Hitler's grotesque, warped, twisted perspectives led to the latter; Osama bin Laden's grotesque, warped, twisted perspectives led to the former.

6. As always, responsibility for any action boils down to the individual(s) concerned. There are good Muslims, and bad Muslims. There are good Christians, and bad Christians. There are Muslim terrorists, and there are Christian terrorists. It's always the individual that bears primary responsibility for his or her actions. The teachings of his or her faith may contribute to those actions, but can never subvert his or her primary responsibility for them. There are many other adherents of the same religions, from similar backgrounds, who have turned out very differently from the terrorists.

It saddens me greatly to see how many Americans are blaming Islam as a whole for 9/11. It's simply not true. Anyone with half an ounce of understanding and common sense knows this . . . but understanding and common sense seem to be in desperately short supply right now. To blame Islam is to be as guilty of fundamentalism and fanaticism as were the perpetrators of 9/11. What's even worse is that this wrong-headed fundamentalist focus has been used by our leaders (from both major political parties) to mount an unprecedented power-grab that's left us in a significantly worse position as a society. In the name of responding to terrorism, they've justified torture, the warrantless killing of US citizens, and other actions that would have horrified our Founding Fathers - and we've let them get away with it, because of our blindness to reality and our focus on emotion rather than fact.

Although she and I are very far apart on the political spectrum, I agree with Earth-Bound Misfit on what would be appropriate actions for us on this anniversary.

What we need to do, as a nation, is to stop focusing on piddly-ass threats and go back to our national interests. It is not in our national interest to keep throwing hundreds of billions of dollars and the brunt of our military on areas of the word that do not affect our national interests. Al Qaeda is mobile and we have made the point that if they establish a footprint anywhere in the world, that we will hurt them badly. Other than that, it is hard to see what we have to gain by being in Afghanistan.

We also need to reclaim our heritage of a nation of laws. To do that, we need to roll back the police-state powers granted to law enforcement over the last nine years. We need to stop allowing the FBI and other agencies to peruse the records of Americans without probable cause. We need to stop the NSA, once and for all, from spying on the electronic communications of Americans. In short, we need to go back to the Constitutional presumption that we have the right to live our lives without law enforcement and the spooks watching us without cause.

Finally, we need to hold our own officials accountable for the commission of crimes of torture and not leave it to another nation to do so. This is our mess, we need to be the ones to clean it up.

I hope that on this anniversary of atrocity, we may begin to come to our senses as a nation, and begin to put right all the wrong that has been done over the past nine years in the name of responding to terrorism. That includes examining our own beliefs, attitudes and convictions, and coming to terms with reality and truth rather than with emotion and knee-jerk reactions.



Noons said...

How true. One thing that has resulted from all this obscurantism is the spread of fascism.
Yes, that is the name for the policies of police-states. I know: I lived in one in my infancy.
And I swore to never again let them take command of my life. NO surprise that I didn't quite like the Dubya era...

John Peddie (Toronto) said...

You have commented on Islam narrowly, as a religion. Fair enough, as far as it goes.

Whatever Islam's religious teachings, many people of Islamic faith come with a set of legal and cultural values (sharia law, treatment of women) which are incompatible with-and a threat to- Western society.

As you rightly comment, "It has a long way to go to bring itself into the modern era. It'll take generations to do so."

While we wait for that slow passage of decades, and as the number of Muslim adherents further eclipses the West due to a higher birth rate, our vigilant attention should be paramount.

Anonymous said...

I also wonder how Islamic theological development will overcome the Closing of the Gates of Inquiry that occurred in the late 1100s. That is when the major thinkers of the time (still very influential today) decided that all questions had been answered and that from thenceforth, debate, discussion and attempts to change certain aspects of Islamic-Arabic culture were forbidden. The only major possible revision since then has been the concept of greater and lesser jihad that arose in India after 1860, and even that is considered unacceptable to the vast majority of Suni and Shia theologians today. How will Moslems re-open the Gates?

Anonymous said...

I admire the nobleness of your post. Would you post it again if a cloud hung over your city after a devastating attack?

Every time I try to think this issue out I am left in the dark. I have found no wisdom.

The Constitution should not flap in the wind like a flag. Unfortunately we are at the mercy of reality.
At what point does the success of your adversary to "play" the Constitution reduce it to compost?

It would be a great intellectual exercise, if the lives of our countrymen were not at stake.

At some point the mob rules when threatened. Avoiding mob rule may be the greater danger.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for what I consider a
great clarification of the issue.
Harm has been done, but to focus
on retribution and hate demeans
what I consider the resilience
and capability our nation and
the constitution that provides
a beacon toward a goal.
Anon, Don

Anonymous said...

The mistake this country makes is that it affords Constitutional protections to non-citizens. The US Constitution should apply to United States Citizens and them alone. If you are here in this country and you are not a citizen the government should not need reason or a warrant to investigate you or search your residence. If the visitors are opposed to this arrangement they need not come here. America belongs to Americans. Allowing people that hate this country to come here with the intent to do us harm and the hide behind great individual liberties that have been paid for in blood for generations is lunacy. Non-citizens should have the right to a fair trial if accused of a crime and thats it. Rights concerning search and seizure should not apply to them and their presence in this country should be based solely on the will and whim of the government and revocable without cause at any time. This would not eliminate domestic terrorism but it would be a significant step toward cleansing ourselves of insurgents and sleeper groups in this country.

STxRynn said...

Here's my 2 cents worth: I believe that the Christian Crusades were a perversion of the teaching of Christ, an aberrant interpretation of how the Gospel was to be spread. The violence accompanying the spread of Islam is taught quite clearly in the Koran. The Christian is called to spread the Gospel by peace, the Mohammedan is called to spread Islam by war. Quite different methodology.

I also see that if we were allowed to follow the Constitution, we would be responsible for our own protection. We have systematically given our responsibility of self-protection to the government. We don't trust ourselves with the power of liberty. And it stands to reason that we wouldn't. If we are just accidents of nature, no different than feral animals, then we can't be trusted to protect ourselves. If we cling to the belief that we are God's creation, and made in His image, then life is precious and deserves protection. We will necessarily be cautious in our use of deadly force.

The secularization of America is at the root of our passivity and helplessness to combat true evil when it rears it's head. We argue that their beliefs are as valid as ours, when that is clearly not true. (just look a the value of a woman, ie honor killings)

As we leave Biblical beliefs in the dust of our 'progressive' society, this will be more evident. We are on the road to losing everything that is dear to us: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. It's because we have forsaken the Author of Liberty, and turned to our own understanding.... What a mess we are making.

SewerDweller said...


With regret, I must disagree with you.

1. While 9/11 was not perpetrated by islam as a whole, it was most certainly celebrated as a whole. I dont seem to recall any images or reports of anyone on the 'islamic street' who was -not- celebrating. to put it in perspective, I dont see anyone celebrating the antics of phelps and his ilk.

And while cristianity has a couple of loose nuts, the number of incidents in the world are very very small, and can usually be traced to completely batshit insane people ( jim jones comes to mind )

as opposed to the number of incidents of islamic violence, world wide. the reported verified incidents number in the hundreds -per year-. And when we look at the perpetrators, we find that they're not 'random nutjobs' Some of them are government employees, carrying out court sentances ( stoning to death for being raped, anyone>? ) most of them are what could be comfortably classed as mainstream members of Islam.

If you still dont believe me, try this simple test.

go to Rome, visit the vatican, and loudly proclaim that God does not exist.

go to Mecca, and loudly proclaim that Allah does not exist.

P.S. hope you and Wing are doing great.

Bill N. said...

While I question our involvement in Iraq (I am an Iraq Veteran) and our continued involvement in Afghanistan, I disagree with the threat Islam poses to our country. The Koran (Quran) teaches its followers to kill infidels (non-believers) and that they will be rewarded with 72 houris (we translate it as virgins)for becoming martyrs. That is why so many Muslims are willing to become suicide bombers. If the Bible has similar teachings can you forward book, chapter, and verse to me? While not all Muslims will become suicide bombers, considering what their holy book teaches I think the following saying is appropriate in dealing with Muslims. "Be civil to everyone but have a plan to kill them."

Tom Bridgeland said...

I have read the Koran. While there are passages that call for decent treatment of certain classes of non-believers, there are also passages that clearly call for war against them, subjugation, forced conversion, sexual slavery for non-believer women and etc.

Find any of this in the New Testament. Christians who do these things are acting against their religion. Muslims are acting in accordance with theirs.

Anonymous said...

I really don't see that many people I know blaming all Islam for terrorism or 9/11. I have been hearing people say we shouldn't do that since 9/11. I can deal with that.

What I really would like to see in return is Muslims stop blaming ALL Christians or ALL Americans for acts by only a few Americans such as the small church pastor who said he would burn a Koran.