Our first duty is to stand together against bin Ladenism.
BY CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS
Monday, September 11, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT
Never mind where I was standing or what I was doing this time five years ago. (Because really, what could be less pertinent?) Except that I do remember wondering, with apparent irrelevance, how soon I would be hearing one familiar cliché. And that I do remember hearing, with annoyance, one other observation that I believe started the whole post-9/11 epoch on the wrong foot.
The cliché, from which we have been generally but not completely spared, was the one about American "loss of innocence." Nobody, or nobody serious, thought that this store-bought phrase would quite rise to the occasion of the incineration of downtown Manhattan and 3,000 of its workers. It might have done for the Kennedy assassination or Watergate, but partly for that very reason it was redundant or pathetic by mid-day on September 11, 2001. Indeed, I believe that the expression, with its concomitant naïve self-regard, may have become superseded for all time. If so, good. The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that the United States was assaulted for what it really is, and what it understands as the center of modernity, and not for its unworldliness.
But here I am, writing that it was "the United States" that was assaulted. And there was the president, and most of the media, speaking about "an attack on America." True as this was and is, it is not quite the truth. I deliberately declined, for example, an invitation to attend a memorial for the many hundreds of my fellow-Englishmen who had perished in the inferno. I could have done the same if I was Armenian or Zanzibari--more than 80 nationalities could count their dead on that day. It would have been far better if President Bush had characterized the atrocity as an attack on civilization itself, and it would be preferable if we observed the anniversary in the same spirit.
In the past five years, I have either registered or witnessed or protested at or simply "observed" the following:
(1) The reopening of a restaurant in Bali, where several dozen Australian holidaymakers and many Indonesian civilians had earlier been torn to shreds. (2) The explosion of a bomb at a Tube station in London which is regularly used by two of my children. (3) The murder of a senior Shiite cleric outside his place of worship in Iraq. (4) The attempt to destroy the Danish economy--and to torch Danish embassies and civilians--as a consequence of the publication of a few caricatures in the Danish press. (5) The murder of the U.N. envoy to Baghdad: a heroic Brazilian named Sergio Vieira de Mello, as vengeance (according to his murderers) for his role in shepherding East Timor to independence. (6) The near-successful attempt to blow up the Indian parliament in New Delhi, and two successful attempts to disrupt the commerce and society of Mumbai. (7) The destruction of the Golden Dome in Samara: a place of aesthetic as well as devotional importance. (8) The bombing of ancient synagogues in Tunisia, Turkey and Morocco. (9) The evisceration in the street of a Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, and the lethal threats that drove his Somali-born colleague, a duly elected member of the Dutch parliament, into hiding and then exile. (10) The ritual slaughter on video of a Jewish reporter for this newspaper.
This list is not exhaustive or in any special order, and it does not include any of the depredations undertaken by the votaries of the Iranian version of Islamic fundamentalism. I shall just say that I have stood, alone or in company, with Hindus, Jews, Shiites and secularists (my own non-sectarian group) in the face of a cult of death that worships suicide and exalts murder and desecration. This has not dimmed, for me, the importance of what happened in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania. But it has made me slightly bored with those who continue to wonder, fruitlessly so far, in what fashion "we" should commemorate it.
The time for commemoration lies very far in the future. War memorials are erected when the war is won. At the moment, anyone who insists on the primacy of September 11, 2001, is very likely to be accused--not just overseas but in this country also--of making or at least of implying a "partisan" point. I debate with the "antiwar" types almost every day, either in print or on the air or on the podium, and I can tell you that they have been "war-weary" ever since the sun first set on the wreckage of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and on the noble debris of United Airlines 93. These clever critics are waiting, some of them gleefully, for the moment that is not far off: the moment when the number of American casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq will match or exceed the number of civilians of all nationalities who were slaughtered five years ago today. But to the bored, cynical neutrals, it also comes naturally to say that it is "the war" that has taken, and is taking, the lives of tens of thousands of other civilians. In other words, homicidal nihilism is produced only by the resistance to it! If these hacks were honest, and conceded the simple truth that it is the forces of the Taliban and of al Qaeda in Mesopotamia that are conducting a Saturnalia of murder and destruction, they would have to hide their faces and admit that they were not "antiwar" at all.
One must have a blunt answer to the banal chat-show and op-ed question: What have we learned? (The answer ought not to be that we have learned how to bully and harass citizens who try to take shampoo on flights on which they have lawfully booked passage. Yet incompetent collective punishment of the innocent, and absurd color-coding of the "threat level," is the way in which most Americans actually experience the "war on terror.") Anyone who lost their "innocence" on September 11 was too naïve by far, or too stupid to begin with. On that day, we learned what we ought to have known already, which is that clerical fanaticism means to fight a war which can only have one victor. Afghans, Kurds, Kashmiris, Timorese and many others could have told us this from experience, and for nothing (and did warn us, especially in the person of Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance). Does anyone suppose that an ideology that slaughters and enslaves them will ever be amenable to "us"? The first duty, therefore, is one of solidarity with bin-Ladenism's other victims and targets, from India to Kurdistan.
The second point makes me queasy, but cannot be ducked. "We"--and our allies--simply have to become more ruthless and more experienced. An unspoken advantage of the current awful strife in Iraq and Afghanistan is that it is training tens of thousands of our young officers and soldiers to fight on the worst imaginable terrain, and gradually to learn how to confront, infiltrate, "turn," isolate and kill the worst imaginable enemy. These are faculties that we shall be needing in the future. It is a shame that we have to expend our talent in this way, but it was far worse five years and one day ago, when the enemy knew that there was a war in progress, and was giggling at how easy the attacks would be, and "we" did not even know that hostilities had commenced. Come to think of it, perhaps we were a bit "innocent" after all.
Mr. Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His most recent book is "Thomas Jefferson: Author of America" (HarperCollins, 2006).
'We cannot let down our guard'
In the 5 years since 9/11, terrorism has become a constant. Yet free people will reject — and ultimately defeat — this bloody vision.
By Rudy Giuliani
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, continue to flood me with many memories. Some are sad, some are tragic, others are uplifting. But recently I have been reflecting on how the attacks are ongoing. The attacks of five years ago cannot be consigned to history.
The attacks did not begin on Sept. 11, 2001. They actually began sometime in the late 1960s, when Islamic radicals started hijacking planes and directing terror at civilians. The first attack that drew significant international attention was the slaughter of the Israeli wrestling team at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Numerous attacks followed, leading up to Sept. 11 and the deadliest ever attack on American soil.
(Sept. 12, ’01: New York Gov. George Pataki, left, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., tour the site of the collapsed World Trade Center. / File photo by Robert F. Bukaty, AP)
The attacks have continued unceasingly since 9/11 and include those on Bali, Indonesia; Madrid; Beslan, Russia; London — and the recent interrupted plot in the United Kingdom, which might have been even deadlier than the attacks five years ago.
So the killing of innocent civilians by Islamic fanatics has been going on for some time. What was quite different about the attacks of five years ago is that Sept. 11, 2001, marks the day that our nation went on offense against the terrorists.
We broke the pattern of inconsistent response to previous attacks. We began a concerted effort to defeat Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.
'Safer, but not safe enough'
Five years later, the measures taken to improve safety in our country have made a difference. We are safer, but not safe enough. It might be tempting to lower our guard and allow our memories to fade into history. That's probably a natural tendency. But it would be a dangerous mistake for our country.
The people who consider democracy their enemy have not stopped fighting. They have not stopped killing. We cannot let down our guard.
This month brings us another sad anniversary, the second year since the siege at Beslan by terrorists. Imagine the kind of people who saw their intended targets — schoolchildren — enter for the first day of school laden with flowers for their teachers. Days later, those children would be so hungry they would eat those wilted flowers as the terrorists mocked them. Soon, many of the children and their parents would be dead.
Shortly after the siege ended, I happened to travel to the region. I was in Moscow on the day of the memorial gathering. Having recently endured a deadly takeover of a Moscow theater and the downing of commercial airliners, Russia's reaction was swift and overpowering. The war against radical Chechen Islamists continues, but Russia has won significant victories and seems to have turned the tide.
It is just over a year since the brutal bombing attacks in London that killed more than 50 innocent people on their way to work. I was visiting in London on that date, just a half block from Liverpool Street Station when the bombings occurred. These attacks made it clear to us that any place is vulnerable. Despite having perhaps the best intelligence services in the world, British authorities were not able to prevent the attack. They did, however, display superb skill in responding to the emergency. Their immediate action saved lives, reduced suffering and mitigated the shock the terrorists were attempting to achieve.
They had learned from years of terrorism how to handle an attack. The perpetrators were identified and their accomplices and plotters of further attacks were captured before additional planned attacks could be launched.
The British intelligence services learned a lesson from the bombings on July 7, 2005. They updated their methods and learned to identify new sources of danger. Then, homegrown British citizens planned and executed deadly plans without detection, possibly because the intelligence was focused on foreigners. By 2006, the security services had adapted. They were able to thwart a massive plot involving mostly homegrown terrorists.
The United States has successfully prevented domestic attacks over the past five years, but the terrorists have not relented. Think of the innumerable attacks from Israel to Iraq and the reported attacks planned by sleeper cells in Buffalo; Portland, Ore.; and Canada that were disrupted by alert authorities.
Some argue that the attacks continue because of the war in Iraq. But the attacks began decades before the Iraq war. Some argue that our enemies seek negotiation and understanding. But our enemies have made clear to us that what they seek is the annihilation of our most precious freedoms.
One of the main reasons for the founding of the United States was to establish freedom, particularly freedom of religion. Our enemies oppose freedom, particularly freedom of religion. This was made shockingly clear by the recent gunpoint "conversion" of two kidnapped journalists in Gaza. The terrorists don't want to understand and co-exist alongside Western democracies. There are those over the past 30 years, and even to this day, who want to negotiate with the fanatic Islamic terrorists. But the fanatics don't want to negotiate. They want to establish a world in which everyone practices a perverted version of their religion. They want to return to a time before the modern age, to a world in which women have no rights and religious dissent is met with death.
These attacks are about a radical form of Islam that views our very existence as a grave threat. This is not a debate over values or policies. This is not a border dispute. This is a war over the preservation and expansion of the modern world.
We must realize the depth of the danger we face and the determination of our enemy. We have increased attention on air security. We have extended the USA Patriot Act, which has given us a greater opportunity to detect terrorist plots before they occur. We now receive much more help from other countries, such as Pakistan, including banks sharing information about money flow inside terrorist organizations. That information was vital to revealing this summer's airline terror plot in Britain.
Secure our future
As we continue to focus on what we've learned, we must also focus on goals for securing our future. We must improve our intelligence. We must commit to restoring a human intelligence base. We must increase our port security and expand the cooperation of other countries. We must ensure at least a minimum level of emergency preparation in every community in America.
If we remain steadfast in our commitment to these goals, we will succeed. We will make the world safe for the practice of all religions, including Islam. After all, the majority of Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding — they too have been victimized by the radical minority.
On the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, I hope the world will visit the hallowed ground of the World Trade Center and see a soaring memorial to those who were killed there, as well as those in Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa. A fitting tribute will pay honor not only to the victims of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but also to the spirit of freedom.
There is a reason thousands of rescue personnel rushed into enormous danger to save men and women who were strangers to them. The reason was respect for the value of human life. It can also be described as love — the kind of love expressed in a biblical phrase, "Man has no greater love than to lay down his life for his friend." This respect for human life and love for others, including strangers, form the core of Western civilization. It is the driving force that helped us create freedom.
What I learned from Sept. 11, 2001, is that free people have much greater strength than they realize. Ultimately, free people prevail over oppression.
Rudy Giuliani was the mayor of New York on Sept. 11, 2001.