Today is the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, which took 3,000 innocent lives. At the time, more than a few commentators predicted that, henceforth, our era would be divided between “pre-September 11” and “post-September 11.”
Thus, we need to know how things have changed, if at all, in these past five years. What lessons have we learned, and how have these lessons changed the way we live?
The answers are mixed.
The good news is that the terrorists have failed in their attempt to disrupt our way of life. After the shock of September 11 subsided, Americans returned to normalcy, which is a good thing. We refused to give the jihadists what they wanted: that is, frightened acquiescence to their agenda. We took sensible precautions to increase our security and went after al-Qaeda, which has prevented further attacks on the United States—much credit due to our government.
The bad news is that five years and hundreds of deaths later—in places like Bali, Madrid, and London—many of us in the West still don’t understand what we’re up against.
This lack of understanding can be seen in the recent flap over the president’s use of the expression “Islamo-fascists.” As I’ve told you, the term fascist can properly be applied to the likes of bin Laden. The president’s critics, for the most part, don’t deny this.
Instead, their objection is that the term is inflammatory and offensive. They think that an acceptable combination of rhetoric and concessions will divert Islamist radicals from their path. This is dangerous nonsense. As the London Telegraph put it, quoting an Islamist leader, our enemy isn’t trying to exact concessions from us; it’s trying to eliminate us.
That’s why European attempts to link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the war on terror are absurd. Even if that conflict were resolved, that wouldn’t satisfy the jihadists. First of all, they want Israel annihilated. Secondly, the jihadists’ goals extend well beyond the Middle East to Europe and to the United States.
The failure to understand the threat stems, in part, from the West’s own loss of faith. For many of us, religion is something we do - or don’t do - depending on how it makes us feel. We don’t look to religion to tell us how we should live our lives, and, thus, we fail to understand how religion, and the worldview it inspires, might affect other people.