Tags: 9/11 Anniversary | 9/11 Commemorations | Religion | 911 | terrorism | islam | world trade center

A Unique Look at 9/11 Through 'The 19th Hijacker: A Novel'

Woman draped in the us flag pays her respects at the 9/11 memorial
A woman pays her respects at the Wall of Names at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after a Service of Remembrance on Sept. 11, 2018. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

By    |   Tuesday, 26 January 2021 06:17 AM

The American fascination with anniversaries is by no means a modern phenomenon.

In 1887, our country rightfully celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Constitution with "a three-day long commemoration in Philadelphia."

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the notorious and jarring Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States. The 20 years that have passed since that fateful day have defined how our nation has rebuilt itself and the lessons we have learned.

In an effort to convey more than the mere pomp and circumstance of politicians, the numerous literary works produced during these anniversary years are a trove of introspection that allow us as the reader to consider the whole picture.

James Reston Jr.'s book, "The 19th Hijacker: A Novel," is perhaps the quintessential book that aims at provoking the reader's critical thinking skills. It plunges us into the mind of a hijacker through the tape recordings captured by his girlfriend Karima Ilgun.

Reston's literary style of presenting the terrorist in the novel was driven by the idea, in his words, of "what if in this conflict this terrorist used this woman as a sound[ing] board and actually tape recorded out how things were going and if he would come to this choice to do the operation or flee."

In the author's view, the unique use of the tapes would be a way of the reader getting a gritty view of a terrorist's rationale throughout plotting the heinous deed.

At the heart of what happened in the days, months, and years after 9/11 were the many actions taken in order to prevent another 9/11-style terrorist attack on American soil.

Reston suggests that a crucial benefit of reading this psychological thriller is to address how we protect ourselves from radical Islam. As the author put it, "If we really want to protect ourselves from radical Islamists that come from the Middle East, then we have to know what drives them and what makes them tick. If we don't know that, then how do we protect ourselves?"

"I wanted to try to really understand one character, even if imagined, who could get recruited and undertake this horrific action through Islamic religious ideology."

The novelty of this novel lies in the presentation of the material and the prose Reston evokes to capture the tortured mind of a man being radicalized.

"There has never been any [literary] work done on the recruitment of a terrorist to do an attack on the United States," said Reston, "so that theme was what was driving me. [Sept. 11] changed American history, and the clash of civilizations of Islam and Christianity was on nobody's minds until then.

"It remained so raw in the American mind even at the 10th anniversary, and everyone does not want to talk about the other side. It has been a taboo subject, and it is my hope that we can digest this more into our national consciousness."

It is no surprise that the attacks on Sept. 11 are still a hard subject for many Americans, simply because of the sheer evil and atrocity of the actions perpetrated.

Reston, however, believes "the 20th anniversary of the attack can be a historic time if [the attacks are] fully addressed by the American people by looking into it in different ways. I want to be in that [national] conversation, and I want to open people's minds up to better understand how this happened."

For the millions of Americans whose lives were forever changed on that fateful day, approaching the topic from a humanistic perspective is not for the faint of heart.

Rather, it is a solemn and somber time to reflect and perchance to grow from the most boldfaced assault on our beloved democracy in nearly a century.

Reston's novel presents the inner conflict of man in a barren way for the reader to dissect and to ultimately comprehend. It aims at being an answer to that most fundamental of questions asked that day and to this very day: why?

Michael Cozzi is a Ph.D. candidate at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

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The American fascination with anniversaries is by no means a modern phenomenon. In 1887, our country rightfully celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Constitution with "a three-day long commemoration in Philadelphia." This year marks the 20th anniversary of the notorious...
911, terrorism, islam, world trade center, radicalization
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2021-17-26
Tuesday, 26 January 2021 06:17 AM
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