Fathoming the Atrocities

On that cloudless Tuesday morning in September, downtown Manhattan was engulfed by an eerie fog, a fog of dust and ashes. From the top floors of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, plumes of smoke billowed, and inside an inferno raged. The courtyard at the foot of the towers was strewn with aircraft debris, shattered glass, corpses. These were the bodies of “suicides” who had sought escape from the intense flames, fed by hundreds of gallons of airplane fuel, that were ripping through the towers. Hundreds of other desperate souls, hurrying down fire-escapes, were pulverized under tons of buckling girders and cement.

The massacre of September 11, 2001, claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

But it was calculated to kill many more. Of the other hijacked airplanes, one rammed into the Pentagon; the intended target of the fourth plane was the U.S. Capitol. By seeking to destroy the headquarters of the Department of Defense, the nation’s legislature, the global hub of financial markets—by striking at organs crucial to the security and prosperity of America—the attacks were an assault on everything that depended on those organs. The attacks were intended to devastate the entire country.

The hostility unleashed against America on that day has extended also to our allies. On March 11, 2004, bombs on commuter trains in Madrid transformed the vibrant bustle of rush hour into a scene of unspeakable carnage. Human limbs and random chunks of flesh lay on the ground, amid pools of blood. Nearly 200 individuals perished, but, as with the attacks thirty months earlier in New York, the killers had hoped for a higher death toll. Police found and safely detonated three further explosive devices. Then London, in the summer of 2005, was hit by suicide bombings on three Tube trains and a No. 30 bus in the center of town. On one of the trains, the explosion left remains so mutilated and burned that they were scarcely recognizable as ever having been human. Fifty victims died, and 700 were injured; some had massive burns, some had limbs blown off. (Three weeks later another team of bombers attempted to strike the Tube system again, albeit unsuccessfully.)

The hostility of the killers is fierce. They diligently toil for our destruction. To them, human life is cheap—not merely the lives of their victims, but also their own. Unlike soldiers risking death in hopes of living to see their nation’s army triumph, the attackers who strap on dynamite vests, who drive trucks laden with explosives into buildings, who deliberately crash airplanes into skyscrapers, do so certain of their own annihilation. They have no hope of surviving to see the success of whatever goal they are working to achieve. This perverse willingness to kill themselves in order to kill Americans makes the atrocities all the more bewildering.

Who are these killers? What drives their gleeful slaughter of human beings? What motivates their rabid hostility to America?

Explanations that have surfaced since 9/11 can be divided into two basic types. One exculpates the killers and blames America. The other exculpates America and blames the evil kingpins who put them up to it. . . .


Acknowledgement: The author wishes to thank Yaron Brook, Onkar Ghate, and Peter Schwartz for their assistance with this article.

1 Transcript of videotaped statement by Mohammad Sidique Khan, which was aired on the satellite television channel Aljazeera on September 1, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4206800.stm.

2 “Last Words of a Terrorist,” Observer, September 30, 2001. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,560773,00.html. The newspaper’s website states that this translation was provided for The New York Times by Capital Communications Group, a Washington-based international consulting firm, and by Imad Musa, a translator for the firm.

3 Cf. Bin Laden’s statements in http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/12/13/tape.transcript/. Zawahiri quoted in Efraim Karsh, Islamic Imperialism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 228. Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman quoted in Jonathan Schanzer, “Breeding Ground: Fundamentalists Pervert Teaching of Islam,” Investor’s Business Daily, September 24, 2001. Moussaoui quoted in Neil A. Lewis, “Moussaoui, Testifying Again, Voices Glee Over Witnesses’ Accounts of Sept. 11 Grief,” New York Times, April 14, 2006, p. A16.

4 George Bush, speech of November 19, 2001, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/11/20011119-14.html.

5 George Bush, speech of September 17, 2001, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010917-11.html.

6 George Bush, speech of October 6, 2005, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/10/20051006-3.html.

7 Bernard Lewis, The Crisis of Islam (New York: Random House, 2004), p. 138.

8 Lee Harris, “Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology,” Policy Review, no. 114, August-September 2002, http://www.policyreview.org/aug02/harris.html.

9 This survey of Islam’s pillars relies on John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 88.

10 Koran, Sura 9:29 quoted in Robert Spencer, Onward Muslim Soldiers (Washington: Regnery, 2003), p. 6.

11 Ibid,, 9:19–20, p. 123.

12 Quoted in Karsh, Islamic, p. 19, which draws on Waqidi, Kitab al-Maghazi, vol. 3, p. 1113, and Carole Hillenbrand, The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999), p. 92, and the Koran, translated and with an introduction by Arthur J. Arberry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982).

13 David Cook, Understanding Jihad (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), p. 6

14 Karsh, Islamic, p. 21.

15 Ibid., p. 26.

16 In chapter 2 of Understanding Jihad, Cook offers a robust scholarly defense of this point.

17 Abu al-`Ala al-Mawdudi, quoted in Karsh, Islamic, p. 207.

18 Ali Benhadj quoted in Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003), pp. 119–120.

19 Quoted in Cook, Understanding, p. 129.

20 Qutb’s In the Shade of the Qur’an quoted in Berman, Terror, p. 102.

21 Quoted in Karsh, Islamic, p 19.

22 John F. Burns, “New Afghan Rulers Impose Harsh Mores of the Islamic Code,” New York Times, October 1, 1996. See also Radical Islam’s Rules, edited by Paul Marshall (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), p. 15.

23 Radical Islam’s Rules, p. 48.

24 Ibid., p. 13.

25 Yaroslav Trofimov, Faith at War (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2005), p. 8.

26 Center for Religious Freedom, a division of Freedom House, The Talibanization of Nigeria: Sharia Law and Religious Freedom, 2002, p. 17, http://freedomhouse.org/religion/pdfdocs/Nigeria%20Report.pdf.

27 Karsh, Islamic, p. 217.

28 Daniel Byman, Deadly Connections (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 92.

29 Bernard Lewis, The Shaping of the Modern Middle East (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 122.

30 Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics, enlarged ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), pp. 6–13.

31 Ibid., p. 14.

32 Ibid., p. 10.

33 Quoted in Karsh, Islamic, p. 210, 211.

34 Quoted in Sivan, Radical, p. 24.

35 Qutb quoted in Karsh, Islamic, p. 212.

36 Al-Banna quoted in Karsh, Islamic, p. 209.

37 Lewis, Crisis, p. 159; see also Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden, edited by Bruce Lawrence (London: Verso, 2005), p. 167.

38 Sayyid Qutb quoted in Berman, Terror, p. 69.

39 Ibid., p. 69.

40 Daniel Pipes, “Who Is the Enemy?” Commentary, January 2002, http://www.danielpipes..org/article/103.

41 Quoted in Berman, Terror, p. 95.

42 Lewis, Shaping, p. 72.

43 Daniel Pipes, The Rushdie Affair, 2nd ed. (New Brunswick: Transaction, 2004), p. 75.

44 Neil Mackay, “Anataomy of a Global Crisis: How the Fire Spread,” Sunday Herald, Scotland, UK, February 12, 2006, http://www.sundayherald.com/54058. Note that the title of the Egyptian newspaper is sometimes transliterated El Fagr.

45 Hassan M. Fattah, “At Mecca Meeting, Cartoon Outrage Crystallized,” New York Times, February 9, 2006, p. A1.

46 Trofimov, Faith at War, p. 204.

47 Lewis, Crisis, pp. 115–6, citing The Arab Human Development Report 2002: Creating Opportunities for Future Generations, sponsored by the Regional Bureau for Arab States/UNDP, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development.

48 Ibid., p. 116.

49 Tofimov, Faith, p. 275.

50 Robin Wright, “The mind of Hezbollah,” Seattle Times, July 23, 2006, http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2003143646_sundayhezbollah23.html.

51 Daniel Pipes, “A New Round of Anger and Humiliation: Islam after 9/11” in Our Brave New World: Essays on the Impact of September 11 (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 2002), pp. 41–61, http://www.danielpipes.org/article/417.

52 Trofimov, Faith, p. vx.

53 Sheik Muhammad Rafaat Othman, a scholar of Islamic law at Al-Azhar University in Cairo; Alan Zarembo, “A Merger of Mosque and State,” Newsweek, U.S. ed., October 15, 2001.

54 See the polls cited in Pipes, “A New Round.”

55 Pamela Constable, “Afghans’ Uneasy Peace with Democracy: In Discord over Convert’s Trial, Muslims Say They Identify with Islamic Law First,” Washington Post, April 22, 2006, p. A15; http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/21/AR2006042101747_pf.html.

56 The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Adrienne Koch and William Peden (New York: Random House, 1998), p. 399.

57 Pipes, “Who Is the Enemy?”

58 See Report of the Official Account of the Bombings in London on 7th July 2005 (London: The Stationery Office, 2006), http://www.official-documents.co.uk/document/hc0506/hc10/1087/1087.asp; Peter Whoriskey and Dan Eggen, “7 Held in Miami in Terror Plot Targeting Sears Tower,” Washington Post, June 23, 2006, p. A26.

59 Gilles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge: Belknap, 2002), p. 123.

60 Ibid., p. 131, 132.

61 Byman, Deadly, p. 85.

62 See “Hezbollah: ‘A-Team Of Terrorists,’” CBS News, April 18, 2003, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/04/18/60minutes/main550000.shtml.

63 Byman quoting Saad-Ghoreyeb, Deadly, p. 97.

64 Koran, Sura 8:65, quoted Sayyid Qutb, Islam and Universal Peace (Burr Ridge: American Trust, 1993), p. 10.

65 Dore Gold, Hatred’s Kingdom (Washington: Regnery, 2003), p. 187.

66 Ibid., p. 127.

67 For more on the Saudi regime’s relation to organizations that channel funds to terrorist groups, see Gold’s Hatred’s Kingdom.

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