A Meditation on 9/11

Will the thing called truth ever make a comeback?

The 2010 anniversary of 9/11 has come and gone and the question that people are asking is whether America has learned anything from the most devastating attack ever launched on the American mainland. Has anything changed since the early days when a terracotta army of treasonable intellectuals assembled in rows to condemn the United States for having deserved the carnage visited upon it—and in the process acquitted both the terrorists who slaughtered thousands of innocents and Islam itself which incubated their murderous rage?

The rogue’s gallery is represented by the likes of Ward Churchill, Robert Jensen, Edward Said, Susan Sontag, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Ramsey Clark, William Blum and Howard Zinn, to name just a sparse handful.

That millions of Muslims celebrated 9/11 worldwide is understandable if deplorable; but that highly-educated Western intellectuals should blaspheme the memory of their own dead is almost beyond comprehension and surely beyond repentance. The sympathy they so prodigally exhibit is almost never with their own people, the particular individuals murdered by the terrorists—office workers, firemen and policemen, passengers, pilots and flight attendants, mothers and young children facing the horror of their own approaching deaths—but with an abstract population of Afghanis, Iraqis and Muslims worldwide to whom they gave scarcely a passing thought before the American counteraction.

Nothing much seems to have changed since September 2001 though the rhetoric has been toned down, more or less. The contemporary nuances, however, merely camouflage the underlying anti-American toxin. President Obama assures us, in the very teeth of the monstrous, that “we will not or ever be at war with Islam” but with “a small band of sorry men” who have hijacked a religion of peace and amity. The president is here displaying either his ignorance, his duplicity or his sympathies, probably all three. Similarly, Obama’s national security adviser for counterterrorism, John Brennan, acting on the orders of his boss, denies that “there is an Islamic dimension to terrorism,” which is tantamount to denying that there is a physical dimension to homicide.

The current development around which the ongoing controversy revolves is the proposed construction of the Cordoba mosque abutting Ground Zero, which has become what T.S. Eliot called an “objective correlative,” defined as “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of [a] particular emotion.” Many have come out in support of this project. The mayor of New York is all for it. Dennis Prager provides a long list of invective-spewing human keyboards like Michael Kinsley, Roger Ebert, Andrew Sullivan, Peter Beinart and James Zogby who have launched virtual obscenities at those who oppose the mosque. Media types like Dick Cavett, Frank Rich and Nicholas Kristoff and an army of left-liberal temporizers and appeasers, as Susannah Fleetwood points out, have all given the green light to the Cordoba project, notwithstanding that nine years after its destruction the World Trade Center has yet to be rebuilt.

Their logic and methodology are wondrous strange. Although political leaders, intellectuals, journalists and peace marchers have rallied around the mosque, stressing its sponsoring imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s constitutional right to build the mosque wherever he pleases, they have at the same time savagely attacked pastor Terry Jones who exercised his constitutional right by threatening to burn the Koran. The fact that Jones put his auto-da-fé on the back-burner does not appear to have mitigated the indignation of this sanctimonious and irascible multitude.

Then we have Jason Horowitz writing in The Washington Post who speaks of “rabble-rousing outsiders,” but neglects to mention that one of these supposed miscreants is Debra Burlingame, the sister of the pilot whose plane crashed into the Pentagon, who is co-founder of Keep America Safe and director of the National September 11 Memorial. Polls indicate that approximately 70% of the American public agree with Ms. Burlingame’s anti-mosque position, which disposes one to speculate about who are the real rabble-rousers. So much for Horowitz’s imputation that it is “national conservatives” who are targeting the center.

Even Christopher Hitchens, while recognizing the imam’s plainly suspect credentials, regrets “the crass nature of the opposition to the center” and believes that arguments countering the construction of the mosque are “so stupid and demagogic as to be beneath notice.” It would seem that the imam may not be above reproach but those who bridle at his “initiative” are undoubtedly beneath contempt. Hitchens titles his column “Much Ado About ‘Tolerance’,” a quality whose perilous ambiguity he has neglected to parse.

And in another of his vapid Newsweek articles, while not speaking directly about the Cordoba mosque, Fareed Zakaria breezily opines that “we overreacted to 9/11” when it is clear that, after the initial response, we have consistently underreacted to the threat, especially under the limp and conciliatory administration of the current president. Al-Qaeda, according to Zakaria, “is simply not that deadly a threat.” That al-Qaeda has reportedly now established itself in 62 countries floats right by this clueless and oleaginous pundit. Despite its setbacks in Iraq, al-Qaeda remains a player and is still in a position to wield considerable influence, as witness its centralized as-Sahab media wing that encourages and coordinates terrorist activities around the globe. To argue that it is not operationally relevant and a clear and present danger is to play into its hands.

It is equally disturbing that a generally astute historian like Gil Troy believes that “the lure of the normal, our addiction to the regular routines of our lives…iPods and iPads, rush hours and vacation days” constitute “America’s—and the West’s—true victory over Al-Qa’ida.” Troy goes on to comfort us with the factoid that terrorism “is on the wane” and affirms that “it is worth re-framing 9/11…not as a spectacular day of terrorism” but as “a day that demonstrated Western strength [and] Islamist weakness.” This rosy view of current history is no less troubling—because disarming—than the sinister prevarications of our ideological elite. It is the modern form of the “glad game,” which consists in finding something to celebrate in every untoward situation, described by Eleanor Porter in her 1913 classic, Pollyanna. It makes little difference, really, whether our intellectuals are cynical or Pollyannish by temperament, bigoted or naïve, since the jihadists are given a free pass in either case.

The truth is that Europe and America are riddled with Muslim advocacy groups, sleeper cells, online radical networks and lone wolves, all sharing the same overriding cause as al-Qaeda and orbiting around the same Koranic center. The potential numbers of decentralized, new wave terrorists “are so great that they must now be seen as the main terrorist threat to the West,” says former CIA officer Marc Sageman (MiamiHerald.com, June 16, 2008). One thing is certain. All these groups, despite their internal differences, are essentially cladistic, that is, they descend from a common ancestor. And we know who that is.

Of course, our public cognoscenti must do everything in their power to bury their heads in the sand dunes. The psychological state of meek subservience to a formidable enemy, masking as an exalted spirit of tolerance and understanding, bears some resemblance to the Stockholm Syndrome before the fact. In The Big Lie, I alluded to the German poet Gottfried Benn’s Gesänge, written on the eve of the First World War.

O dass wir unsere Ururahnen wären.
Ein Klümpchen Schleim in einem warmen Moor.

Leben und Tod, Befruchten und Gebären
glitte aus unseren stummen Säften vor.

(O that we were our primal ancestors.
A little clump of slime in a warm moor.

Then life and death, insemination and birth
would glide out of our dumb lymph.)

The mindset of our media and political appeasers of a conquering and imperial faith approximates the attitude expressed in this poem. It is difficult to disentangle the psychological and historical vectors at work in these orgies of renunciation, but it is also hard to repress the suspicion that, at the barometric levels of the cultural sensibility, almost our entire cultural elite and their millions of followers really do want to submit to their own eclipse and that the Islamists may be right in believing that the West is ripe for the plucking.

This pervasive suicidal impulse, this surrendering of courage, dignity and self-assurance, may explain why our leaders and intelligentsia are unwilling to accept obvious facts, to read the real world for what it is, and to mobilize against the threat to their very existence. They are, as former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert once said, “tired of winning.” They may even be tired of being tired and would prefer to be absorbed by a theocratic ectoplasm than to stand and fight, clear-eyed and Periclean. They would rather be wrong than bestir themselves to defend the world which nurtured them. They would rather be wrong than interrogate their gossamer fantasies and congenial pieties in the face of a menace they are frankly incapable of meeting.

A little attention to Voltaire would not be out of keeping here: Nul n’a le privilège de toujours se tromper. (“No one has the privilege of always being wrong.”) But then, Voltaire did not enjoy the dubious gift of living in the modern and post-modern ages when being wrong in the most reprehensible and conspicuous ways, especially if one happens to be on the left, does not militate against the profession of infallibility but merely reinforces it. The lie is not only triumphant but an ostensible sign of unfailing insight and brave outspokenness when it is really a symptom of a sickness in the soul.

In a time when truth is regarded as a relative concept without basis in reality, one can lie with impunity and be rewarded for it. One can blame America for the bloodletting it suffered and excuse or justify the madmen who attacked it, and never be called to account by one’s peers. One can venerate a profoundly compromised imam who wishes to build a mosque on a site where it has no business being, while dismissing out of hand the evidence that he is not to be trusted. In such a topsy-turvy postmodern world, one can play fast and loose with the truth and be lionized for nobility of character and purpose.

But all may not be lost. Regarding the press blackout of the mammoth Rally of Remembrance against the Ground Zero mosque, numbering in the tens of thousands—the media’s latest attempt to suppress or distort the truth—Robert Spencer observes that “Despite the media’s best efforts, the truth will not be successfully snuffed out. Americans will be heard.” The conviction that “truth will out” was memorably expressed by the nineteenth century English poet Coventry Patmore in his poem, Magna Est Veritas (Truth is Great):

…the world’s course will not fail:
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;
The truth is great, and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not

The irony of the last line, however, sticks in the mind. For it is precisely now, in the present and immediate future, on this last and every future anniversary of 9/11, that the truth must be articulated, heard and made effective, when more and more ordinary people and private citizens, unlike the political, intellectual and media constabulary, are finally learning to care.