Defining the Terror War Part 1: The Wake-up Call

This is the first installment on the subject of examining the forces driving the clash between radical Islam and Western culture.

     We all remember where we were on 9-11, the same way people of sufficient age remember where they were when Kennedy was shot. I remember it was a clear blue day, with soft white clouds. Our skies would never again be so blue. The change after 9-11 came immediately and drastically. We were plunged into a turbulent economic recession. The airline industry was devastated. Subsequent attacks on media offices and government buildings by unknown agents using weapons-grade anthrax heightened fears. People were afraid to open their mail. Faces were grim, and hearts were heavy. Everywhere you heard stories of loss. Everyone had a friend who knew someone who had died on 9-11. Eventually the numbers were revealed; 184 dead at the Pentagon, 40 Americans killed aboard flight 93, and 2,804 killed in Manhattan.

As the initial shock slowly abated, questions were asked and fingers pointed. News reports blamed the lack of suitable fireproofing on the beams of the WTC for the collapse of the towers. Make no mistake, those towers did not fall because of a lack of insulation, they fell because murderous Jihadists flew airplanes into them.

The bigger question asked was: Why? Why did they do it? Why was the government unable to prevent it?

Why didn’t we have any warning?

In retrospect, we did have warning, and plenty of it. The truth is, anyone following basic headlines throughout the 90’s could have figured it out. Sadly, as Americans, we posses a notoriously short attention span. We quickly forget the importance of a headline that shocks and infuriates us. A week later, we are making jokes about it. We jump from one media tidbit to the next, discarding the relevance of these items as quickly as we discard the papers that print them. The 90’s proved dangerously narcissistic for America; we focused much of our attention inward throughout this turbulent decade. The tragedy at Waco, 75 dead, including 24 children, was quickly overshadowed by the O.J. Simpson trial. The Oklahoma City bombing claimed 168 lives, including 19 children. We became obsessed with domestic terror, and American militia groups became the new common enemy. School slayings in Kentucky and Colorado next diverted our attention. American kids were suddenly taking guns to school and blowing each other away. So it is against this background that the clues leading to 9-11 slipped through the cracks.

The first time I heard the name Osama bin Laden was on 9-11; I am as guilty as anyone else of ignorance concerning the now glaringly obvious rise of terrorism during the blind decade of the nineties. I watched the coverage of the first WTC bombing in 1992. I knew that our embassies had been bombed, but most of the casualties had not been Americans. I watched the attack on the Cole as well but I attached no specific name to the people perpetrating these acts; they were simply Acts of Terror, and they had happened far, far away. I also vaguely remember watching American bombs dropping in the Balkans and not being really sure what they had done to deserve it.

Now, al-Qaeda is a household word and Osama bin Laden is one of the most widely recognized faces on the planet; he is America’s Most Wanted on one side of the globe and an epic hero on the other. Americans can’t understand why he is still allowed to exist, even now, 7 years after 9-11. They can’t understand why the government failed to pick up the obvious clues, such as known terrorists taking flight classes at American flight schools. These questions stayed with me after 9-11, as well as the moral question; what would drive somebody to commit suicide for the sole purpose of killing as many people as possible and on as grand a scale as possible?

When you try to answer this question, a funny thing happens. You only find more questions and no answers.

So what starts as a simple exercise quickly reveals a chaotic chain of interrelated events that seem to have no specific starting point, an historic web in which nearly every people and culture on earth is involved. The oldest and longest strands of this web reach back to the earliest pre-history of man. As much as it behooves us, the foundation of our modern history was laid 6,000 years ago, when man was only first gaining self-awareness. During that 6,000 years, event led to event, exponentially branching out into the intricate framework that now threatens to engulf the world in the bloodiest war ever fought, the War to end all Wars.

So who is our enemy? How and from where will that war come? Jihad is waged in many ways and by many disparate groups, sometimes peacefully, sometimes violently. While a suicide bomber blowing himself up in a Tel-Aviv mall may seem a separate atrocity from an attack on a nightclub in Bali, a massacre of hostage schoolchildren in Chechnya, or even 9-11, they are all only limbs of the same animal. And while the individual short term goals of the separate organizations that perpetrate theses acts may vary, their long term goal is the same. Restore Islam to its former glory and expand it to cover the face of the earth.

Put simply: World Domination.

The major component of the modern Jihad that affects us as Americans are attacks on American and European targets by non-national terror groups like al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is only one of hundreds, possibly thousands of terrorist networks who have a dual ambition with their attacks: kill Americans and Europeans in mass numbers and also cripple our economies and influence our policies and elections. These Jihadist groups sustain cells in many countries and they merge alliances when and how it suits them. They are intelligent, capable, and extremely well trained. They have strong financial and recruitment networks. They can attack quickly and efficiently, and then disappear like smoke.  They studied at American universities and colleges. Some have been trained by our own intelligence agencies, they know how these agencies operate and are experts on how to circumvent our security measures. Their leaders are brilliant if evil men who study us every hour of every day, looking for new and inventive ways to kill us.They live, sleep, and breathe our destruction. They understand us and can predict how we will react when attacked, be it physically or through the forum of the world stage.

In contrast, we know nearly nothing at all about them. We have no answer for why someone would unflinchingly blow him or herself to smithereens while at the same time murdering scores of innocent civilians. Our instinct for self-preservation is so strong that we are unable to comprehend the act. We label them “crazy,” but do not try to understand more of their motivations than that blanket assumption. We wrongly assume there is no more. We acknowledge the complete lack of humanity and compassion, but cannot understand from where it emanates. And while some suicide bombers may be simply insane, many of them are in reality intelligent, college educated individuals from good families. They could sit next to you on the subway and hold an intelligent conversation on any topic. Then: Boom! You would never see it coming. Fortunately, suicide bombing has not yet begun in the United States, but it has now become more of a “when” than an “if” issue. A May 2007 Pew poll revealed that 28% of American Muslims age 30 and under agreed that “suicide bombings to defend their religion are acceptable at least in some circumstances.”

So can we fight an enemy that we do not know, but who knows us intimately? No, so we must try to understand him, his motivations, and most importantly, his resolve. As Americans we need to wake up to Jihad, to understand what it is and why it is happening. We must understand our enemy to defeat him, and work together for the common goal of protecting our Life, Liberty, and Happiness from the threat of extreme Islam. To remain divided on this issue is to embrace defeat. Hopefully, a deeper understanding of our enemy will help us to prepare for the inevitable, the impending fight for our very existence. The lines have been drawn, the glove thrown, and the bell rung. We must come to terms with the unattractive truths of a new reality. The time is now.

Part 2 will further define the four main components of the Terror War.


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