"We have to understand that we're fighting a war against people who think that they are engaged in a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. They believe that this is not an earthly battle. This is a war between the forces of Christianity and the forces of Islam." – Reza Aslan
After six years it almost goes without saying that we have forgotten the events and the significance of 9/11. While we may still have a memory of what happened, more than enough time has passed to dull the emotional reaction we felt on that day and blunt the resolve which we felt to see justice done. Other events have happened since then, other concerns and other issues have arisen which occupy our conscious minds most of the time. In the moment six years ago we had a clarity of vision which now eludes us. We understood things then which are now obscure, because six years is a very long time for basically decent people to hold onto the purifying anger of the moment.
Today 9/11 has become an intellectual event and a memory, rather than something which we react to emotionally. It has moved from our twisted guts to the part of our mind where things are compartmentalized and rationalized and made abstract and acceptable. What we have forgotten is the truth which was apparent to every one of us on that day, that we were attacked by an outside enemy whose thirst for our blood was irrational, inhumane, and insatiable. We have lost our instinctual understanding that we were not attacked by just an isolated group of crazed fanatics or their latter-day old man of the mountain leader, but by an entire culture which can produce men who believe that the slaughter of innocents can buy their way into heaven.
The Christian tradition of our culture teaches us to turn the other cheek and let bygones be bygones and not to hold a grudge. Even our secular culture is characterized by a kind of stoic existentialism, an 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality. When we aren't constantly reminded of a problem we tend to assume it has gone away because we have plenty of other things to think about. Not on that list of concerns is the fact that jihadists have a lot less to think about. We have a short attention span and a fast-paced culture which produces new distractions on a daily basis.
Muslim culture is different. It's not influenced by the forgiveness of Jesus or the pragmatism of Roman philosophy. They see history as a sort of eternal present and they are much more focused and much less distracted. Less is happening in their world and what happens today often means less to them than things which happened hundreds of years ago. Even when we're not paying attention they're still thinking about the jihad 24/7. Their memory is measured in centuries while ours is measured in minutes. Even while we forget our anger and the principles our founders fought for, they remember every wrong done by every crusader and missionary and colonialist down the ages, nurture their hurt and keep it until they can strike back at us, unexpected and with horrific results.
We tend to think of others as being like us. We are reasonable so we assume that they are reasonable. We don't grasp the fact that other cultures can be truly alien and that our reasonable approach to life is as alien to them as their unreasonable fanaticism is to us. Projecting our values onto others is a fatal mistake. We need to move beyond our cultural isolation and realize that we are dealing with an ideology which demands that the world either submit or be destroyed and which can wait years or even centuries to achieve goals it believes are ordained by god.
Bin Laden is out there making his tapes and mumbling destruction in the darkness of his beard, but even he does not matter, because as an individual he is only a symptom of the cultural sickness which infects Islam. While Sunni and Shia squabble in Iraq, we need to understand that what they are fighting over is the question of which of them will get to guide the destiny of Islam and which of them will get to come after us when that struggle is over.
They don't hate us for our freedoms. They hate us for who we are and what we've done. If you want to end this war – the one with Islam in which the others are just battles – then prepare to wear the cloak of dhimmitude and bow five times to your master in the east, because no matter what we do their war will not end until we are defeated either by them or by ourselves.
If you like the secular values and sybaritic culture we enjoy and all of the things we have earned through our industry and enlightenment and if you don't think that we ought to be held accountable for the sins of everyone from Alexander to Bohemond to Chinese Gordon, then you need to accept that there is a price to pay for freedom which is paid with every long and bloody step. Why do we fight the same battles again and again?
By all means let's pull out of Iraq. Perhaps the price paid there has been too high and not enough has been achieved. Yet we have to remember that we did not start this war and we cannot end it unilaterally. We can stop fighting and go home, but all that does is give our enemies a victory to encourage them to fight on and even increase their efforts. When they attacked us they had greater goals than just killing some Americans and those goals are still waiting to be achieved.
If we give up the fight now, we should do so in the knowledge that it means we will fight these battles and pay their price again and it will not be at a time or place of our choosing. It will be fought on the homefront and we will be weaker and they will be stronger and the price to be paid will be higher in blood and treasure and loss of rights.
We've been here before. I feel like I've written all of these words before. The lotus eaters are not listening.
The generals will make their cases in Congress and then stand bewildered as the politicians ignore them and make arguments based on pandering and political expediency. The meaning of 9/11 will be remembered for an hour on the TV news and then forgotten again. We will continue to wallow in complacency while the enemy plots on towards the day when we are too weak for even another 9/11 to awaken us.
It seems we learned nothing at Roncesvalles, Vienna, and Lepanto. We win and then weaken in our resolve and move on about our business and in a generation or two the hound of Allah is at our throat again. When do we cry 'enough' and put the foul beast down?