"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years ago today...

What happened to America five years ago today was an atrocity far worse than the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor sixty years earlier. The latter took about as many lives as 9/11, but its target was military not civilian. It was a conventional act of war against soldiers, not one of mad terrorism against innocents. It lacerated my soul in another way too. At a party in 1975, I danced to the disco sound of "Burn, Baby, Burn!" at Windows on the World, at the top of one of the towers. All I could think of on 9/11 was penance.

While both Pearl Harbor and 9/11 roused this country from a certain slumber, there is another key difference: Pearl Harbor was an attempt to break our naval power; 9/11 was an attempt to break our will. The former did not long succeed; indeed, one might say that it roused and stifferened our will to prevail. In the short run, 9/11 failed too. But about the long run I am not so sanguine.

Americans and Westerners generally do not, as a whole, seem yet to understand what all the conflict within and about the Middle East has in common. This is not a war about "terrorism," which is only the most obvious weapon wielded by our true enemy. Whether one looks at Iraq, Southern Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan, or any place where Islamist terrorism has spilled blood, the enemy is the same: radical Islamic jihadism, whether of the Sunni (Wahhabi) or the Shi'ite variety best represented by Hezbollah and sustained by Iran in Iraq too. The aim of all jihadists is the same: the destruction of Israel and ultimately of the West, making way for the worldwide rule of Islam. While it is quite true, for example, that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda had no working connection, the trends throughout the Middle East and Southern Asia, both before and since Saddam, are toward increasing convergence of jihadist groups. Saddam paid off the families of Palestinian suicide bombers of Israelis and tolerated Iraq's homegrown jihadist group, Ansar al-Sunna. The hydra-headed monster had been, and has since been getting, more cohesive for quite some time. One might argue that the overthrow of Saddam and the subsequent Iraqi insurgency has only accelerated that process; but if it has, that is not such a bad thing. It helps prevent people from sleeping too long.

Wherever there is Islamist terrorism, one finds jihadists from many different countries joining together. We're seeing only the earliest stages of what will, in due course, evolve into a true "clash of civilizations." Secular tools and outlooks will not avail us. The West will lose if it does not, in Benedict XVI's words, recover its "spiritual roots."
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