The Still Unnamed Enemy

When you war with what cannot be named, the war can never be won.

As the sun sets over Manhattan, the cladding on the crown of the Chrysler building bursts into a reddish flame that quickly dies out. Lights wink on across the panorama of office buildings and condominiums to the north of the island. In the south there is an island within the island, a space of darkness hardly filled by the naked structure of the new Freedom Tower. Out of that darkness two beams of blue light rise into the sky.

September 11 is a broken moment in American history. Unlike December 7, 1941, there can be no closure for it. It is a loose end dangling in the sky. Time has passed and the tides of the river that flows both ways have washed against the banks of the lower western end of the island built out of earth lifted from the foundations of the World Trade Center. And still the day hangs in the air like moths within the blue light. A question waiting for an answer.

Obama has already delivered his usual speech pimping September 11 as a National Day of Service and turning a solemn memorial into an opportunity for some of his allied non-profits to score free grief labor. The National Day of Service spiel comes packaged with the usual exemption for Islamic culpability from Islamic terror.

“I have always said that America is at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates,” Obama declared, “and we will never be at war with Islam.” But that really isn’t up to him. What the left never seems to understand is that war doesn’t have to be mutual. No matter what you do or what defeatist foreign policy you adopt, the enemy still gets a vote. And the enemies of this country have voted with their bombs and bodies.

The left resisted calling it a “war,” describing the murder of 3,000 people as a criminal matter. Obama even attempted to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the attacks, in a civilian court in downtown Manhattan. But then Obama embraced the war and rebranded Rumsfeld’s Special Forces and drones operations as his own innovative technocratic “smart” war.

The smart war doesn’t look too smart in Afghanistan where American forces are dying because they lack air and artillery support. It doesn’t look all that smart when the Afghan soldiers that we are training to replace us are killing Americans at a steadily rising rate. These deaths are at odds with the image of the smart war that Obama has cultivated, where drones operated from thousands of miles away target terrorist leaders and then fly away.

We are at war with the unnamable and when you war with what cannot be named, then you are at war with yourself—your own fears and doubts, your own neighbors and co-workers, and above all else your own country. Every nameless war is a civil war and everyone fights in it without even knowing it. It is a war that can never end because it never began. It officially does not exist and unofficially cannot be won.

The unnamable is what killed 3,000 Americans on a warm September morning and it is still killing Americans in Afghanistan. It is plotting to set off bombs right now, because we cannot name it and even trying to watch out for it without naming it has gotten the NYPD in trouble.

The unnamable, in Rumsfeld’s terms, is not an "unknown unknown"; it is a "known unknown." We know exactly what we dare not name and that is why we dare not name it for fear that naming it will give it life.

In Afghanistan, Obama squandered the lives of thousands of American soldiers on the long odds of winning the hearts and minds of the natives. Implicit in the crippling of American military might was the understanding that the ranks of our enemies could be refilled from the Muslim population of any given village. This has also been the argument used against profiling in airports, that to designate Muslims as the potential enemy would mean transforming them into the actual enemy, an admission that our politically correct tactics are being carried out on the assumption that any Muslim is just one bad airport experience away from turning terrorist.

“We will never be at war with Islam,” Obama insists, but who is this message really for? If it’s there for Americans, then why did he also feel the need to also say it in Cairo before the murderous rogues of the Muslim Brotherhood? Many Americans are convinced that we are not at war with Islam, but rather few Muslims are. The difference is in our contrasting allegiances.

For Muslims, an attack on one Muslim by one infidel is an attack on all Muslims by all infidels. For Americans, an attack by one group of Muslims is not an attack by all Muslims. And for those on the left, there isn’t even the group solidarity with the victims of the attacks, but rather with the perpetrators who appear to share their desire to grind the American empire into dust.

We assume that Muslims think like us and they assume that we think like them.  We assume that they are not at war with us, because we are not at war with them. They assume that we are at war with them because they are at war with us. Each side projects its assumptions on the other and then reacts to what it would do in the other’s place.

With the coming of "The Day," it is time for politicians to make their usual solemn proclamations. Obama will take his victory lap for the drone strikes against Al Qaeda leaders; a policy that dates back to 2002 utilizing a technology developed by Israel.

“We took the fight to al Qaeda, decimated their leadership, and put them on a path to defeat,” Obama boasted in his address. But what is Al Qaeda anyway? It’s an alignment of Jihadist fighters that can spring up anywhere. Taking out its senior leadership, as the United States has been doing for a decade, is useful, but there is no defeating Al Qaeda without addressing its Islamic goals and alliances.

Al Qaeda is not a nation or an isolated movement. Speaking of defeating it is as ridiculous as if the Soviet Union had focused on defeating the Kiwanis or the Elks. Al Qaeda is what happens when enough fighters come together and begin calling themselves Al Qaeda. They could just as easily call themselves something else and do. And when they begin calling themselves something else, as they do in Libya or Nigeria, we begin pretending that they aren’t Al Qaeda.

One of the defining characteristics of the Muslim world is the razzia, the raid. The raid used to require physical proximity, but with the jet plane it no longer does. We are all neighbors now and we all live next door to each other. And the raiders are coming. They have come for us before and they will come for us again for the nameless reason of religion and for the nameable one of power. They attacked us because they could and they will attack us again to show that they still can. They will attack us because they can make money and build a reputation doing it. And they will attack us because we are a big target full of life shining in the night.

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