Fifteen years ago today…
Well, you all know what happened fifteen years ago today, so I can omit a lot of superfluous description. Most of it has been repeated so often that it sounds hackneyed now — the crisp, flawless early-fall Tuesday morning, the crystalline blue sky, people going about their workaday business… and then the horror overhead in Manhattan, the horror on the ground in Arlington, the smoke plume and the crater in Pennsylvania.
Virtually every American over the age of twenty-five remembers exactly what he was doing on that bright, bright morning when he heard the news from New York. He can give an account of his next few hours of rapt incomprehension, glued to the TV as the Twin Towers came down. The early return home from work or school. Strangers gathered in knots in the TV sections of stores, talking to each other while they stared up at the screens. Watching endless loops of the final collapse as the dust cloud swallowed Lower Manhattan.
They’ve got their stories, and I’ve got mine. But we’ve all told them so many times, working them over and over with our minds and lips, that the words are worn down to little nubs and have lost the hard edges of immediacy.
So we’ll leave that story for the moment and slide away to another anniversary, this one from a third of a millennium ago. I refer, of course, to the breaking of the Second Siege of Vienna on September 11-12, 1683. The city was on the verge of falling to the invading hordes of Muslim Ottomans when, at the last possible moment, a Christian army led by Polish King Jan III Sobieski descended from the Wienerwald and routed the army led by Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha. The Turks fled ignominiously back into Hungary, and the Islamic tide began to ebb from Europe.
For a full account of the Battle of Vienna, see “The Other September 11th”.
The pamphlet shown at the top of this post was printed in England to celebrate that victory over the Turks. Notice the pamphlet’s statement that the Turks were defeated “Without the Help of the Most Christian MONARCH” — a snide reference to King Louis XIV of France, who declined to join the coalition against the Turks, hoping for his Austrian rival to be overthrown so that France might gobble up the leftover pieces.
Now, more than three hundred years later, the Islamic tide has returned. This time the “grandchildren of the Ottomans” have entered the European heartland unopposed, invited and welcomed by European leaders eager to submit to them.
Times have changed. Plans announced by the FPÖ (Austrian Freedom Party) for a commemoration of the 333rd anniversary of the breaking of the Siege caused controversy in Vienna. The FPÖ was strongly criticized for proposing an activity that would be provocative to their Turkish guests. Celebrating the victory of 1683 would be insensitive, and maybe even Islamophobic.
The Turks hold massive celebrations every year for the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Is that provocative and insensitive? Or even Christianophobic?
It took three centuries for the Austrians to lose the plot, but we Americans do everything so much faster — we lost the plot after only a decade and a half.
Actually, it took much less time than that. A window of opportunity opened for a few weeks in the fall of 2001, making it possible for government officials and political leaders to say the words “Islamic terrorism”. For a little while we were actually able to name the enemy. But all too soon the iron grip of the House of Saud tightened around the nether parts of President George W. Bush, and we were reduced to a war against “terror” and “extremism”. We were fighting a “tiny minority of extremists” who had “hijacked a peaceful religion” — a religion that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a fit of saccharine hyperbole, described as the “religion of peace and love”. The lexicon used to describe Islam, thin to begin with, was thinned even further until there was nothing left that could be said about Islam except how wonderful it was.
So we went haring off after the “extremists” in Afghanistan and Iraq. We spent thousands of lives and trillions of dollars on nation-building to remove the “root causes” of radicalism, so that the great nation of Islam could no longer be hijacked by evil people.
And in order to further mutual understanding between ourselves and the Muslim world, we allowed agents of the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate us at every possible level. They instructed us about the true nature of Islam. They explained what Islam really meant. They taught us what we were allowed to say — and even think — about it.
Never has a great nation been suborned so quickly and so thoroughly by its sworn enemies. In the blink of an eye the mujahideen marched out of the dust of Ground Zero, donned suits and ties, and put the nation under their thrall. In our new-found enthusiasm for the wonderful religion of Islam, we anointed a man who could yodel the azaan with the best of them. God help us, we elected him president — twice.
The headline today in Business Insider says “The terrorist threat is worse now than it was before 9/11”. This tells us all we need to know: after all those years, and all that expenditure of blood and treasure, the only thing we can identify as an enemy is “terror”.
Fifteen years didn’t just roll back events to where they started: they pushed them back even further, putting the United States and the whole of the West that much closer to the full rule of Islamic Law. Try proclaiming your true feelings about Islam loudly from a street corner in any major Western city today, and see where it gets you.
You’ve come a long way, baby.
The important thing about 9-11 wasn’t the “tiny minority of extremists” who hijacked those planes and flew them into buildings.
The important thing was the huge majority of mainstream Muslims who danced in the streets when it happened. Those wonderful adherents of the religion of peace ’n’ love who still celebrate in public whenever their co-religionists succeed in a mass-slaughter of infidels. They cheer and fire their guns into the air and hand out candy to kids in honor of the victorious shahids.
In the months after September 11, 2001, I was preoccupied with matters such as these. Like so many other people at that time, I felt driven to understand the nature of what had happened to us, and how the enemy might be defeated. That’s how I began the long and crooked path to the work I do now.
In truth, as I assess how far we’ve backslid in the last fifteen years, I don’t have much optimism about the final outcome. Unfolding events in Germany over the past two years have demonstrated the tenacity of delusion and self-deception in the minds of ordinary Westerners. The illusory “narrative” is preferable to the bitter reality of what is happening. So many people will hang on to it at all costs, even when it means their doom.
So I contemplate all this for a while. Then I shake my head vigorously, rub my eyes, and return to the task at hand. What else can I do?
The current situation reminds me of the words of the Antarctic explorer Sir Raymond Priestly concerning the astonishing feats of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who brought his crew to safety after being stranded for two winters (1914-16) without a ship in the Antarctic:
For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.
That’s what I’m doing right now, on this the fifteenth anniversary of 9-11: I’m down on my knees, praying for Shackleton.