The jihadi attacks against New York and Washington created an unforgettable date in the collective psyche of Americans: this nation was bled by men indoctrinated by an ideology that, both in its texts and in its actions, knows no mercy for free societies. The terrifying three numbers and a hyphen, 9-11, took their place in the country's national identity, alongside Pearl Harbor in the high drama of American history.
But 9-11 became also a benchmark to other nations and regions of the world. In Europe, Russia, and India, civil societies began identifying the date 9-11with their own subsequent traumas. Madrid had one on March 11, 2004. Russia had a sister horror on Sept. 6 of the same year in Beslan. London encountered its 9-11 on July 7, 2005. The rest of Europe prepared for the forthcoming "ones." India's two Mumbai attacks are perhaps the equivalent of their own 9-11.
So what is the first meaning of this symbolic date, deeply embedded in the minds of millions around the world? Despite the denial by intellectual elites in all of these countries (at least since the end of the Cold War), there is a jihadi global movement espousing terror as a means, seeking violence against what it perceives as kuffar countries, and making no room for international law.
Contradicting what academia stubbornly has asserted since the end of the Cold War in 1990, Osama bin Laden's Ghazwa (jihadi raids) on America shattered not just buildings, but also houses of denial; it killed thousands of civilians, but also wrong teachings. It planted the seeds of a cultural revolution where the American people were forced by blood to wake up to new world realities resulting from the Soviets’ demise.
Unlike the Francis Fukuyama vision of an "end of history" as asserted in the early 1990s, it was rather some of Huntington's writings and the warning by Middle East dissidents that materialized instead.
Lesson No. 1: There was a threat rising against America, other democracies, and even against non-democratic systems, such as China. The threat was first wrecking havoc in Middle Eastern lands: massacring women, children and the elderly in Algeria and Sudan, filling mass graves in Iran and Afghanistan, and torturing and assassinating individuals in Lebanon. Jihadism butchered women's rights across the Muslim world and hunted liberals in the Arab world, while the West slept deeply throughout the 1990s.
Al-Qaida awoke the free world with images of planes hitting the center of the world's economy, and shook consciousnesses with the sight of men and women jumping from the twin towers.
But 9-11 wasn't just one horrible day to remember as a passing nightmare. Salafi jihadism's insatiable ideology went on to strike other capitals' trains, subways, buses, schools and hotels before producing mutant forms of horrors: videotaped beheadings, maimed bodies, assassinated teachers, girls, legislators, and more.
Lesson No. 2: The jihadists wanted to seize the East, and to do so, they had to strike the West as hard as they could, beginning with America on Sept. 11.
However 9-11 begot a U.S.-led campaign to crumble the Taliban in Afghanistan. The international community accepted the equation: America was hit; it had to hit back on the aggressors. The deal was to be closed on the insistence of oil producing regimes, themselves the irresponsible producers and exporters of jihadi ideology.
But the United States didn't stop as 9-11 opened a new era. At the time, many in Washington argued that only a significant change in the region could prevent future strikes against the mainland. The question was how to go about this change. It was decided that another regime had to be changed before democracy was to be promoted.
But was democracy really fought for strategically? Apparently not, or at least not by the U.S. bureaucracy. The democratic dividends were taking time to appear in Afghanistan and Iraq, while the Islamist movements seizing the microphone were louder than the reformers. It was clear that avenging 9-11 alone couldn't buy international endorsement of free campaigning in the region, certainly not for democracy, and just a little to find bin Laden and his acolytes.
By 2007, the Bush Administration has used all the goodwill generated from 9-11, without fulfilling the promises of creating palpable change in the region. It failed because of its own bureaucracy, a relic from pre-9-11 era, fully in tune with oil interests and the regimes irritated by democracy. Since then, the counteroffensive began.
Oil regimes such as Salafists, Khomeinists, and authoritarian Baathists, and their apologists on Western shores, moved together against the historical clock generated by 9-11's awakening. Pressure against the Syrian and Iranian regimes ceased. The Iraq campaign was put on a time schedule. The campaign to end the Darfur genocide was slowed. In Lebanon, the Cedars’ revolution was abandoned and Hezbollah was allowed to take back the country as reformers across the region were told to wait.
With the change of American administration in 2009, the clock was turned back completely: Damascus and Tehran are to be engaged, Iran's democracy uprising is not to be "meddled in," the Muslim Brotherhood is to be partnered with, the good Taliban is to be invited to sit downs. And at home there is a cascade of retreats: the term war on terror was dropped, Jihad becomes yoga, and dismantled jihadi cells are ignored. That brought the push back close to the big bang where the whole national awareness began, the commemoration of 9-11.
Gradually, 9-11 symbolism may be on its way to a museum, or perhaps to cold storage. On Sept. 8, three days before the eighth anniversary, President Barack Obama addressed the school population of America. These little folks will carry the collective memory of this aggression into the next decade. Not one word mentioned the September jihad. Is this is where America's classroom needs to go now: to erase those eight years from its memory? We'll see.
On Sept. 9, the presidential address in Congress was obviously dedicating its full force to the highly debated healthcare crisis. But at two days from the commemoration, a sentence rang into my ear: "The plan I'm proposing will cost around $900 billion over 10 years — less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars." No comments on 9-11.
And to close, note that Hollywood didn't produce the expected gigantic movies on the single most important event in America's national security since 1941. "Flight 93" or "The World Trade Center" are good as parts of a series, but should not be the only movies on this cataclysm. There has been no movie that shows and analyzes bin Laden and his lieutenants' discussions of the attacks, that goes back in historical background about the jihadi war against democracies, and that explains the motives, to help Americans understand their future.
Dr. Walid Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of “The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad”.
To see Phares and Lt. Col. Allen West (Ret.) discuss Sept. 11 in this Center for Security Policy video go here now.
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