Reheated platitudes

Amir Tahehi:

READING the 570-page "The 9/11 Commission Report" is like going through a French nouveau-roman. It starts with the promise of uncovering an ingenious plot but offers nothing but re-heated platitudes served with a pseudo-philosophical garnish.


LESS than 10 percent of the re port, basically its Chapter II, is devoted to the key question: Who are these terrorists, where do they come from and what makes them tick?

The report says: "We learned about an enemy who is sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal. The enemy rallies broad support in the Arab and Muslim world by demanding redress for political grievances, but its hostility towards us and our values is limitless."

Leaving aside the odd syntax, this quote shows how the commission got on the wrong track from the start.

The report assumes that there is a single, readily identifiable enemy. This is the routine way of political thinking, that took shape during the Cold War.

Anyone with knowledge of the Arab countries and the Muslim world in general would know that this is not the case.

The problem with the current War on Terror is that the democracies, and those Muslims who aspire for democracy, are faced with a multi-faceted threat that assumes numerous forms, from the burning of books to the cutting of throats.

This is a war that has to be fought on numerous battlefields and against many enemies that, though united in their efforts to destroy the democratic societies, and first among them the United States, use a bewilderingly wide range of weapons and tactics.


The commission makes an even bigger mistake. By speaking of "political grievances" it tries to explain the Islamists within the parameters of classical logic. Having accused the administration of lack of imagination, the commission, is itself unable to imagine a conflict that is not political in the normal sense of the term.

The typical politician in a democracy, starting with ancient Athens, is a deal-maker. He practices the art of compromise, not confrontation. He is always ready to understand the other side, to accept part of the blame, and to propose give-and-take. A more cynical version of this type of politics leads to triangulation, a la Bill Clinton. That kind of politics, however, does not work with the kind of enemy the United States now faces.

This enemy does not want to give and take, to compromise, or to triangulate. He wants you to obey him in every detail or he will kill you.


He will not be happy even if, in the spirit of liberal generosity, you gave him half of your power and wealth. Nor would he settle for a total American withdrawal from the world. Nor would he be satisfied if you helped wipe Israel off the map.

This enemy's conflict with the United States, and alongside it other democracies, not to mention those Muslims who also aspire after democracy, is not political but existential.

He wants to rule you because he thinks he is the holder of a "the highest form of truth."

This enemy wants you, the whole world in fact, to convert to Islam because he believes the advent of Islam abrogated all other religions. Anyone who is not a Muslim is not a full human being.

"Our struggle is not about land or water," the late Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini said in 1980. "It is about bringing, by force if necessary, the whole of mankind onto the right path."


Both men ask why is it that the terrorists specially hate America? Neither provides an answer.

The answer can be found in hundreds of books, articles and sermons in the Arab world. The United States is an "evil animal" because it can bite back when bitten.

Taheri nails it. These people do not want a deal. They do not care if we understand their grievances. They only want conversion to their death cult or death, yours or theirs.


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