So much has been written and said about September 11 over the last decade from every conceivable perspective that it’s difficult to think of a theme that won’t seem trite. I could write about 9/11 as a consequence of American foreign policy, or as a symptom of the Islamic threat to the West, or in terms of America’s relationship to Israel, or its effect on domestic politics and culture, or about its role in fulfilling the neoconservative imperialist wish-list. But you’ve read all this before and I have nothing new to add to it. So what I will discuss instead are my own personal reflections on the event.
What I will establish right off the bat is that I do not subscribe to the idea that 9/11 was an “inside job.” While I do not deny that the attack gave the American military-industrial complex and its political allies enormous opportunities, I have seen no evidence that has convinced me that any part of the United States government or defense establishment was actively complicit.
Also, knowing how ineffective and chaotic any political establishment is, and the desires of its warring factions to make the others look bad, it would be impossible for such a large-scale conspiracy to remain a secret for very long. It didn’t take long after the Iraq War began for officials to come forward with their own information on the actual conspiracies that went on behind the scenes to make the war happen. If 9/11 had been a conspiracy, somebody, sooner or later, would have come forward with evidence.
As for President Bush, he was a man who was almost killed by a pretzel — not exactly the kind of person one can imagine as a linchpin of the greatest black-ops achievement in history. Not to mention that one can trace the history of modern Islamism from its origins in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate in the 1920s up to the present day, and when viewed within this context, the eventual emergence of something like al Qaeda seems inevitable. (If you are a believer in some permutation of the conspiracy idea, please don’t try to persuade me. I’ve spent enough time on that over the last decade.)
Another idea to which I do not adhere is that 9/11 was a sign of a coming, apocalyptic showdown with the Islamic world. Ten years on, it cannot be denied that there has not been a single attack which even approaches its scope or drama. Those who saw it as a sign of an imminent onslaught now appear as foolish as those who thought that the Oklahoma City bombing was the clarion call of a militia uprising throughout the United States.
The fact is that the majority of Muslims have not been responsive to al Qaeda’s message. The revolutions which have swept through the Islamic world in recent months have been the result of other political pressures, including mainstream Islamism, and al Qaeda has found itself left out in the cold by these developments.
In any society, the majority of people are peace-loving and simply want to get on with their lives. They do not want constant chaos and violence in their midst. The Islamic world is no different. Likewise, it is not a monolithic bloc. The various governments of the Islamic world hate each other more than us, and each is subject to very different social circumstances and pressures. One cannot say much about Qatar and Afghanistan in the same breath with any meaning. Any generalizing statement that one makes about the Islamic world is ultimately incomplete.
Therefore, the idea that they are all heading towards unifying into a Caliphate and attacking the West (which they would be doomed to lose) is ludicrous. The only genuine threat that the Islamic world represents for the West — more Europe than the U.S. — is from immigration, which has continued unabated in the background behind the empty alarmism over terrorism.
So what is the ultimate meaning of 9/11? For me, the most interesting lesson of the last ten years has been the strength of Islamism as a political and social force.
Like many people, I knew next to nothing about it prior to that day apart from what distortions I’d picked up from the media. Once the initial anger subsided, I thought to myself, “WHY did this happen? What are these people trying to achieve?” I knew that 19 men could not be persuaded to fly planes into buildings without some rationale, no matter how bizarre it might seem to me.
So, on September 12, I went to the library to read up on this movement, and what I found out was quite surprising. I had been expecting to find a bloodthirsty and alien ideology in opposition to everything I believed in. What I actually found was a system of ideas which contained many elements with which I could sympathize, even if I abhorred the techniques used by some of its proponents. Indeed, there was much in their beliefs which resembled the critiques of modern society that I had read in Rightist and traditionalist authors.
But more importantly, as someone who had already been studying the Right for a number of years prior, I recognized immediately that here was a movement that had achieved things on a scale on an entirely different magnitude in comparison with the pitiful efforts our own colleagues have put forward in recent decades. If someone were to survey the last 60 years of European and American history, the true Right would amount to little more than a footnote detailing the various failed attempts to stem the tide of liberalism and modernity. In contrast, the Islamists have become a vital force with wide appeal and influence which has reshaped the societies in which they live.
While Al Qaeda seems to be gradually passing out of the pages of history, the impact it has had on our world, considering its size, has been staggering. A group of no more than a few hundred highly determined men, admittedly with a sizeable sum of money at their disposal, succeeded in embroiling the greatest superpower in modern history in two extremely bloody, expensive, and vicious wars (and several other, smaller ones), with no end in sight.
Granted, they have failed to achieve any of their other goals, and there has not been a single successful Islamist revolution in the last decade anywhere. Indeed, the al Qaeda strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, the nom de guerre of Mustafa Sethmarian Nasar, wrote in his massive tome Global Islamic Resistance Call that he regarded 9/11 as a strategic error, since the forces of Islamism were not yet prepared for full-scale conflict with the West in 2001, and in fact he lamented that it resulted in the loss of the only safe haven from which they could safely organize and prepare their troops: Afghanistan.
Al-Suri, as well as another Islamist strategist, Abu Bakr Naji, have favored a slower process of stoking conflict, education, training, and recruiting and building support throughout the Muslim world. Still, al-Suri credited bin Laden with bringing the war against the primary enemy of the Islamists to the doorstep of the United States, and diverting attention away from secondary conflicts with Israel and the various domestic struggles in which Islamism before 2001 had frequently found itself distracted.
Whether anything can be rescued of this strategy of gradualism from the ashes of the decimated first generation of al Qaeda and the recent transformation of the Middle Eastern political environment remains to be seen (and it may be years or decades before we know with any certainty).
Regardless of its achievements, or lack thereof, we should recognize in the spirit of the al Qaeda warriors a faith and a determination which our own “movement,” if it even deserves that name, is sorely lacking. Many Islamists do not hesitate to sacrifice their careers, their safety, and often their lives for the sake of the cause in which they believe. When an Islamist commits, it is a total commitment unto death, and comes before all other concerns.
Since 1945, with a few notable exceptions, we have rarely seen such a dedicated revolutionary vanguard among the ranks of the Right, which tends to be dominated by people who are only revolutionaries insofar as it does not endanger their bourgeois lives and reputations. We could learn something from the Islamists’ example.
I am not a sympathizer with Islamism. As someone of European descent who lives in India, two areas which are under constant threat from the onslaught of Islam, I have no desire to live under the “new Caliphate.”
As a Traditionalist, I do recognize the validity of Islam as a manifestation of the ultimate metaphysical reality, although I think it is obvious that the Islam which adheres to the doctrines of the Primordial Tradition in today’s world is embodied in certain forms of Sufism, and not by its simplistic arguments and the black-and-white Manichean views of radical Islamism, which lacks the esoteric component that Guénon recognized must exist to sustain a healthy spiritual tradition.
Still, it cannot be denied that our Right shares many of the same concerns as the Islamists, particularly in terms of the degenerative impact of modern culture on civilization and the role that American, Jewish, and other imperialistic power interests have in continuing and exacerbating the trend. For philosophical and ideological evidence, one need look no further than the primary ideologue of modern Islamism, the Egyptian martyr Sayyid Qutb.
But for inspiration from Islamism, I would not look primarily to al Qaeda, but rather to those Islamist groups which have been much more successful in achieving their goals.
I think Rightists could learn a lot from the example of the Lebanese HizbAllah and the Palestinian Hamas, rather than wasting their time with studying failed movements from our own ranks such as Mosley’s, Rockwell’s, GRECE’s, or David Duke’s (not that they aren’t worth studying, but they are more examples of what not to do, in practical terms, than examples to follow), or movements which have nothing in common with what we actually want to achieve, like the Tea Party.
Both HizbAllah and Hamas are groups which began as little more than ragtag bands of terrorists, but after years of determined struggle established themselves as central to the political lives of their respective societies.
One mistake that Rightists frequently make is to put too much emphasis on the negative: we tend to only talk about what we oppose, and point our fingers at our enemies, and some of us even get tempted into blind (and ultimately futile) militancy. Since 1945, nowhere in Europe or North America has the Right offered anything constructive, nor much of a viable vision of the future apart from utopian daydreaming.
HizbAllah and Hamas have certainly engaged in militancy — quite successfully, I might add, as HizbAllah is the only force which has succeeded in defeating Israel, not just once but twice (the first being forcing Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, and again in the summer of 2006 when they thwarted Israel’s attempts to root them out permanently). But militancy alone is insufficient.
HizbAllah and Hamas have been successful because they integrated themselves into the lives of their peoples by taking heed of their immediate needs and answering them. Today their support is such that they have both successfully competed with their opponents in the democratic process and become a part of the central government. They built their reputations as much on their social services as their battlefield victories by providing food, hospitals, and schools. They assisted in building and reconstructing homes when needed. They also established networks of followers to assist in these efforts in every town and neighborhood.
People are much more likely to take your ideas seriously, and thus give you money, vote for your ticket, or sacrifice their lives for you when your group has helped to feed them and educate their kids, or when their brothers and sisters belong to one of your organizations.
I realize this will take a large investment of resources, and perhaps even the combined forces of the Right, which has never demonstrated much of an ability to work in unison, are insufficient for this task, but I see little hope for success for the true Right unless we begin engaging in, and committing our personal time and wealth, to develop such groups in our own nations and our own communities on the local level (since that’s where any movement must begin). And when has there been more of a need for such groups in the United States than today, when so many people are in desperate need? There is an opportunity before us that is going completely to waste.
There are many other lessons that one can take away from 9/11, but along with the usual rhetoric I urge readers to take a moment to view the phenomenon of Islamism from the other side. Read a book. A truly knowledgeable person must be willing to learn from as diverse a range of sources as possible. I myself try to keep up with the literature by and about Islamism as I find much food for thought there. If you can bring yourself to look at it objectively with a cool head, you may be surprised at what you can learn from it, both ideologically and practically.
1. Readers interested in al Qaeda’s strategic thought are urged to consult two excellent volumes: Architect of Global Jihad by Brynjar Lia, which is a biography of al-Suri plus substantial translated excerpts from Global Islamic Resistance Call, and A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad edited by Jim Lacey, which is a 200-page summary of al-Suri’s 1,000-page tome. Harvard University has also translated Abu Bakr Naji’s work, The Management of Savagery, and it is available free of charge on-line as a PDF at www.wcfia.harvard.edu/olin/images/Management%20of%20Savagery%20-%2005-23-2006.pdf.
2. Little-known but particularly interesting from a Rightist perspective is the Sufi Shaykh Ian Dallas, aka Abdalqadir as-Sufi, who today runs his Order from South Africa. Dallas, a Scotsman who formerly wrote scripts for the BBC and hobnobbed with the likes of Federico Fellini (he has a bit part as the magician in 8½), Edith Piaf, R. D. Laing, Eric Clapton (he gave Clapton a copy of the Persian Sufi fable Layla and Majnun, which inspired Clapton’s song of the same name), George Harrison, and Bob Dylan (who, in 1967, called him the only “interesting man in England”), became a Sufi during a visit to Morocco in 1967, and for decades since he has written many books and essays which integrate ideas and themes which he openly takes from Conservative Revolutionary thinkers such as Ernst Juenger (for whom he organized a symposium during the 1980s) and Carl Schmitt, as well as from Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, and National Socialism. He has also attempted to formulate a unique form of political Islamism which bears little relation to what goes by that name elsewhere and which synthesizes many elements from the European tradition. He even advocates a new economic system for the Islamic world based on the Islamic gold dinar. His official Web site is at www.shaykhabdalqadir.com.
3. Sayyid Qutb’s writings are voluminous, including a massive commentary on the Qur’an, but a good starting place is his short work Milestones, which can be downloaded for free as a PDF from forums.islamicawakening.com/f17/e-book-milestones-special-edition-by-maktabah-13171/. As a critic of modernity and democracy, I believe that Qutb is as interesting as any European or American thinker, even if one disagrees with his ultimate conclusions.
4. Two excellent works which show everything which went into getting these movements to where they are today are Shaykh Naim Qassem’s Hizbullah: The Story from Within, and Azzam Tamimi’s Hamas: The Story from Within. Shaykh Qassem’s perspective is particularly interesting as he has been active in a leading role in HizbAllah since its origins during the Lebanese Civil War in 1982. Some may wonder at how applicable the lessons from Lebanon could be to our own situation, but Lebanon is a highly modernized and Westernized nation in which a wide variety of communities are constantly in competition for power, not unlike our own. Therefore it is not so alien, and will become even less so as the United States will come to more and more resemble a Third World plantation in the years ahead.