The next day a friend calls me and asks, like a whole lot of Americans asked, "OK, so they blew up the WTC. Now what?" You could topple all the towers in America without toppling our government. What do they hope to accomplish?
For Muslims who respect traditional Islamic law, the attacks can be similarly hard to digest. "It just doesn't add up," Dr. Faroque Khan of the Islamic Center of Long Island told The New York Times. "The Prophet laid down clear guidelines that, even in the case of a war, you don't harm women and children."
Some Americans assume, as one woman wrote me: "We must have done something wrong, otherwise they would not be so mad at us." Does she think the Jews did something to deserve Hitler's rage, I wonder, or perhaps that African-Americans in the old South deserved a good lynching?
Bin Laden is neither merely a criminal nor merely a terrorist. The closest analogy really is to Hitler. Bin Laden is the chief organizer of a malevolent gang that already controls one proto-state, Afghanistan, and seeks control of other, more powerful states. The great sin of America in his eyes is that we accepted the invitation to protect Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression. He and his recruits are driven not by a need to redress specific grievances, but to reassert cultural and religious potency, violence as a balm for persistent humiliation. Like Hitler in his march to power, Bin Laden abandons religious proscriptions against wholesale murder. In this, he represents not rigid orthodoxy, but theological development, an evolving view of the Koran's moral rules.
He draws on a long Koranic tradition of David and Goliath stories, in which Allah humbled arrogant peoples by allowing small bands of faithful to crush them militarily.
Bin Laden's tactics will thus be spiritually attractive only so long as they are successful. It is primarily success that breeds more terrorists, for success will be (and was) taken as proof that Allah wills it.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.