Events are the building blocks of history. Narrative historians, starting with Thucydides, have focused on what they regarded as significant occurrences in order to present and evaluate the past.
The import of some events can be recognized by astute observers almost as soon as they occur. Edmund Burke’s 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France is one example. Even before the Terror and the mass murder of civilians in the Vendée, Burke predicted that the revolution would end terribly because its abstract foundations—allegedly rational—did not heed the complexities of human nature and society.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were immediately characterized as historic by an army of commentators and analysts both in the United States and globally. The causes and implications of those attacks were not properly evaluated by the American elite class at the time, however, and for the most part they remain improperly deduced two decades later.
The main parties to the approved debate on 9/11 are those who hold that jihadists loathe America for its democracy and irresistible modernity, and those insisting that flawed U.S. policies motivated the attackers. Both agreed that the attackers were unrepresentative of what they termed “true Islam.” President George W. Bush set the trend when visiting a mosque six days after 9/11 to declare that “the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam”; attackers “violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith,” he added, because “Islam is peace.”
Bush’s statement was a spectacularly unsound and untrue summary. Terrorism—unpredictable violence against noncombatants meant to undermine enemy defenses—is as old as humanity. Only Islamic terrorism—that used by Muslims in pursuit of objectives inspired by Islamic teaching, tradition, and historical practice—is a global phenomenon, however, and it is the only variety that threatens “infidel,” i.e. non-Muslim, countries and nations as such.
Bush’s flawed diagnosis reflected the instant elite consensus on 9/11, which is by now cemented as inviolable orthodoxy. It resulted in the misnamed “war on terror.” That clumsy term confused the enemy’s technique with his ideology or, worse still, with the enemy himself. It denied the possibility of a viable strategy of defense—not merely against the narrow jihadist cadre, but more importantly against an inherently aggressive, demographically vibrant, and ideologically rigid Islamic movement that has global proportions and world-historical significance.
The squeamishness in naming the enemy was but one sign of a shared malaise that still hampers a coherent assessment of what happened 20 years ago. Had Scipio issued a rallying call for a war on battle elephants, Hannibal would have marched into Rome. Had the Allies waged a war against the Blitzkrieg, the Third Reich would still have 912 years to go. But the Romans of the Republic, and even our feebler predecessors 80 years ago, were not afraid to name their enemies.
The problem was aggravated by the joint criminal conspiracy of neoconservative insiders to manipulate the 9/11 attacks to pursue their Middle Eastern agenda, which they had defined years earlier. That agenda was not merely unrelated to the American interest, however rationally defined; it was diametrically opposed to it. The initial result was the war in Afghanistan, the longest in American history, which came with a humiliating finale just over three weeks before 9/11’s 20th anniversary. The debacle in Afghanistan is a clear testimony to the failure of every level of the American establishment—politicians, military brass, intelligence agencies, think-tank analysts, diplomats, journalists—to understand the workings of a traditional Muslim society.
The surrender of Afghanistan’s National Army, lavishly armed, equipped, and trained by the U.S. for years, had been quietly negotiated and arranged under the noses of those same American officials who had kept telling us that Kabul would be no Saigon and that, come what may, there would be a decent interval before the fall of President Ashraf Ghani’s regime.
Afghanistan will now revert to its usual state of Islamic unpleasantness. This is of minor import in the global scheme, for the country’s strategic value has always been overstated. If the Taliban regime turns out to be a problem, it will be up to China, Russia, India, Iran, and Pakistan, to deal with it. If these nations have any sense they’ll keep the place cordoned off and lastingly left to its denizens’ devices.
More important in terms of geopolitical impact and overall cost was the war in Iraq. It was a war of choice par excellence, pushed relentlessly, with stunning mendacity, by its promoters as a 9/11-related operation. Manipulating one crime in order to perpetrate another—in accordance with the innovative doctrine of “preemptive war”—was a repulsive yet unsurprising modus operandi for Messrs. Rumsfeld, Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith, Kagan, Kristol et al. The ensuing war could never be won in any meaningful sense. Saddam’s removal was an Allah-sent boon to Iran.
For two decades following 9/11, America has failed to define and understand the enemy. It is considered a thought crime even to ask, in today’s United States, whether Muslim terrorists—the only variety that seriously threaten the Western world—are true or false to the tenets of their faith. That they are indeed a minority of 1 billion-plus Muslims in the world is hardly disputable. But do the minority of Muslims who are terrorists belong to the doctrinal mainstream of their creed? The answer must be based on Islam’s history and dogma, not on a priori judgment by those who know the correct answer regardless of the evidence.
The sacred texts of Islam, its record of interaction with other societies, and the personality of its founder, Muhammad, provide reasonable evidence about the motives, ambitions, and methods of modern jihadists. Put bluntly, terrorism is not an aberration of Islam’s alleged peace and tolerance. It is a predictable consequence of the ideology of jihad, a key pillar of Islam’s global conquest ideology.
On both sides of the Atlantic, the elite class deems such questions about the nature of Islam illegitimate. On both sides there also exists an elite consensus that de facto open immigration, multiculturalism, and the existence of a large and growing Muslim diaspora within the Western world are to be treated as a given and not scrutinized. That consensus is purely ideological in nature, flawed in logic, dogmatic in application, and disastrous in results. It needs to be fought tooth-and-nail. At the cost of prosecution and deplatforming it must be tested against evidence by all people of integrity, not against the norms of acceptable public discourse imposed by those who do not know Islam, or do not want us to know it.
An effective defense demands a re-think of our foreign and military policies. Would American soldiers make America safer by patrolling the border with Mexico, rather than securing the airport in Kabul? What are the costs and benefits of supporting the Muslim side in the Balkans, in Bosnia and Kosovo alike? Attempts to continue projecting power offensively are self-defeating. It will have the same reward as that reaped by Athens after the victory over Persia. Pursuing the path of “benevolent global hegemony” is certain to take America down the same path, as the humiliating endgame in Afghanistan demonstrates.
It is possible to develop a more effective grand strategy, although it cannot be done under the Joe Biden presidency. The impact of the ongoing Muslim migration into the developed world—which is likely to exceed the migrant tsunami of 2015—and the consequences of the existence of a huge Muslim diaspora in Western Europe and North America, are inseparable from the coherent long-term defense of the homeland.
A viable strategy under some future president must entail denying terrorists a foothold inside the United States. Abolishing the useless TSA and effectively controlling the southern border would be but the first step. The application of clearly defined criteria in deciding who will be admitted into the country, and in determining who should be allowed to stay from among those already here, is essential. Evaluating the profile of all prospective visitors to America, and systematically monitoring the behavior of all resident aliens and the bona fides of naturalized citizens, is a vital ingredient of a serious defense strategy. To that end, Islamic activism must be treated as an eminently political, rather than “religious,” activity.
Some events can change not just the balance of causal forces operating, historian William H. Sewell, Jr., notes, but the very logic of their consequences. They can bring about such historical changes “in part by transforming the very cultural categories that shape and constrain human action.” This is an important insight. Two decades after 9/11, the task of redefining who we are, rediscovering and reasserting our European-rooted Christian identity boldly and assertively, is the prerequisite to survival. Defeating wokedom is the precondition of defeating jihad.
Jihad remains undefeated, for now. In the end, the victory can, and has to be, won in the domain of culture, morals, and faith. Global jihad can be countered only by Western nations aware of their spiritual and civilizational roots. If such recovery happens, the renewed impulse to defend what is ours will come, too. The likelihood of America’s belated recovery is in doubt—especially in view of the latest census data, so triumphantly presented in the media—but it is not impossible.
The alternative is the increasingly rapid decline of the United States to the status of a failed country, harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend.