Modernity was at fault, so he despised it. Modernity is a fuzzy notion, but it is definitely an earthly condition that rewards creativity unchecked by clerics and ayatollahs. America is this unbridled modernity's boldest experiment, this modernity al-Qaida approved Islam does not dominate. So in the name of blame he murdered 3,000 people in New York and Washington.
In the decade since 9/11, al-Qaida has lost hundreds of battles (largely at the hands of the U.S. military), but if Arab Spring 2011 is any indication, it is also losing The Battle of Blame. This bodes well for the rest of the 21st century.
Al-Qaida is first and foremost an information power whose dark political genius connected the Muslim world's angry, humiliated and isolated young men with a utopian fantasy preaching the virtue of violence.
Al-Qaida propagandists explained the centuries of Muslim decline to its high testosterone audience in two ways. Today's Muslims lacked sufficient faith. They had been corrupted by materialism and the devil appeal of modernity. Moreover, the propagandists asserted that the God-directed, unified political-spiritual structure that existed in the era of the Prophet Muhammad and the inspired caliphs who ruled in immediate wake of his death no longer existed. To rectify history, to recreate modernity on God's terms, the caliphate had to be restored.
Bin Laden made this clear in a videotaped tirade delivered after 9/11, in which he fiercely complained of "80 years" of Muslim humiliation and disgrace. He was indicting World War I's Western European victors, who divided the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire's Arab Muslim villayets into economic satrapies and dared to call it peace. But his outrage also targeted a fellow Muslim, a man who was also arguably the 20th century's greatest revolutionary: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.
In 1924 (eight decades before 9/11), Ataturk eliminated the Islamic caliphate and began systematically separating mosque from state. Ataturk and his fellow nationalists were pragmatists who believed the caliphate was one of several fossilized Ottoman institutions that stifled creativity and thus condemned Turks to economic and political backwardness.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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