Naturally, some Americans couldn't resist the temptation to ride their own hobbyhorses. We had it coming, said the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, for tolerating abortion and gay unions. (Falwell later apologized.) On the left, a veritable chorus of "blame the victim" analysis explained that America's crimes had driven our enemies to terrorism. The Nation magazine declared that America was "the world's leading rogue state."
Noam Chomsky offered his own twist, calling the U.S. the world's chief "terrorist state." Michael Moore, who held a seat of honor at the Democratic National Convention in 2000, offered that we shouldn't be surprised by the attack because "we have orphaned so many children ... with our taxpayer-funded terrorism."
The rest of us wondered how Muslims could be so fired with hatred of Americans considering that the last three wars we had fought had been on behalf of suffering Muslims: in Kuwait, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
The usual suspects blamed Muslim hatred of the U.S. on our support for Israel (though that issue ranked below "infidel" troops on Saudi soil on bin Laden's list of grievances). The rest of us have undertaken, during the past decade, a crash course in Islam, Islamism, the history of the Levant, al-Qaida, the clash of civilizations, and jihad. No sooner had we defeated communism than the scourge of Islamism seemed to reach straight out of the Middle Ages -- a death cult promising its killers 70 virgins in paradise, and warning the faithful that only the strictest adherence to the Quran would bring salvation.
Osama bin Laden, with his talk of the Caliphate and regaining Spain for the umma, seemed a figure of the 9th century himself -- an image carefully cultivated with stories of living in caves surviving on goat's milk.
But as the years have passed, it has become less and less clear that Islamism is just a throwback, or that the zealots who fantasize about killing ever larger numbers of Americans are acting on their interpretation of ancient dogmas. The 9th century does not coexist with the 21st.