A 60 Minutes report which aired on Sunday provided a glimpse of the 9/11 Museum in New York, currently under construction and scheduled to open next year. The report underlined the degree to which 9/11 has become a pillar in America’s national mythology.
For many Americans the events of that day clearly hold more significance than perhaps any other event in American history — more significance than the war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War, World War Two, Hiroshima, the Great Depression, the Civil War, or the American Revolution.
Central to the 9/11 narrative is the idea that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon constituted an attack on America. This central presupposition is virtually never publicly questioned. Indeed, 9/11 has been sacralized and the site of the attacks in New York has become a place of pilgrimage. 9/11 has been made central to American identity.
That an event whose physical effects were so limited could nevertheless become a turning point in a nation’s history is remarkable. One could also argue that it was wholly unwarranted. But even if it seems unreasonable to believe that nineteen men have the capacity to attack a nation of over 300 million people, it is a fact that 9/11 is generally viewed as an attack on America.
There is a counterpart to this view that rarely gets mentioned in American discourse: that America’s response to 9/11 was to launch a war on Islam. On the occasions that the post-9/11 era is described in that way, it is almost always prefaced with “some Muslims believe…” The notion of an American war on Islam is treated as an expression of Muslim paranoia.
Wars and military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia — all Muslim nations; the creation of a prison system in which all the detainees are Muslims; the deaths of about a million Muslims and the displacement of millions more; at a time that close to half of Americans believe that Islam and American values are incompatible.
If this isn’t a war on Islam, what would a war on Islam look like?
At the very least, can it not be admitted that the perception of a war on Islam has a stronger objective basis than the perception of America facing a national threat?
Consider then one of the latest reports on evidence being gathered which describes the motives of the Boston bombers:
The 19-year-old suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings has told interrogators that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack, according to U.S. officials familiar with the interviews.
From his hospital bed, where he is now listed in fair condition, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has acknowledged his role in planting the explosives near the marathon finish line on April 15, the officials said. The first successful large-scale bombing in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, era, the Boston attack killed three people and wounded more than 250 others.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing investigation, said Dzhokhar and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed by police as the two attempted to avoid capture, do not appear to have been directed by a foreign terrorist organization.
Rather, the officials said, the evidence so far suggests they were “self-radicalized” through Internet sites and U.S. actions in the Muslim world.
American actions in the Muslim world — or to put it more bluntly, Americans killing Muslims.
Historians will eventually be forced to shed the euphemisms and the geopolitical gloss that currently accounts for America’s actions over the last decade, and instead acknowledge that the needs for vengeance and restoration of power, justified in the name of combating terrorism, were what — even if it was never formally named as such — amounted to a war on Islam.