We Americans become like the moribund Hapsburg Empire which was said to have forgotten nothing and learned nothing.
Watching 9/11 commemorations, which have by now become an annual religious-political event, reminds us of this old adage.
One of the biggest tragedies within the tragedy of 9/11 is that the nation has not learned the real lesson of 9/11 — the reason why the 19 suicide hijackers attacked New York and Washington.
Before this attack, the hijacker’s ringleaders made clear their goal was to punish the United States for occupying the holy land of Saudi Arabia and for supporting Israel’s repression of the Palestinians.
A subtext of the deadly operation was to make America experience some of the suffering and damage it had long inflicted on the Mideast.
In short, the motive for the assault was entirely political. But the Bush administration and then Congress were unable or unwilling to accept the fact that America’s Mideast policies were the cause of the attacks. The US media cowered from discussing the true reasons for the attack as a third-rail that had to be avoided.
Instead, 9/11 was spun by the White House and a remarkably tame media into an assault on America by crazed Muslim fanatics who hated, as President Bush said, our freedoms, values, religion and way of life. Islam was to blame.
This message reverberated through the US media and government. Christian and some Jewish fundamentalist groups amplified the theme that Islam is a menace. Pundits opined that Islam was inherently and dangerously flawed, a religion that preached violence and sought world domination.
The lurid proclamations of Osama bin Laden served as a convenient, perfectly timed proof of the wickedness and danger of Islam. His tiny organization of no more than 300 men, as this writer saw firsthand, had been devoted to fighting the Afghan Communists, suddenly morphed into a mortal danger for the United States.
Al-Qaida was vastly exaggerated into a worldwide menace. Housewives in Peoria, Illinois, voted for George Bush because they feared Osama bin Laden was about to come and snatch away their children. Paranoia gripped the United States and made it do terrible things that violated its own laws, ethics and values.
Muslims under our mattress replaced the old bogeyman of the 1950’s, reds under our beds.
When Bush declared a “crusade” against terrorism, he really meant it. Like all crusades, this ostensibly religious mission quickly became a scramble for plunder — in this case, Iraq’s vast troves of oil and gas.
Thanks to Washington’s anti-Islamic spin over 9/11, Americans were able to steep themselves in righteous indignation and victimhood, free of any inconvenient questions that their policies in the Muslim world may have contributed to the 9/11 attacks.
The British used to call such attacks, “the cost of empire.” But Americans were simply not aware their nation had an empire. This writer calls it the “American Raj.”
Blaming fanatical Muslims for 9/11 may have been a tactical success for the Bush White House. But in the longer run, laying off the blame on Islam has proved strategically disastrous for the US and just as dishonest as blaming World War II on Christianity.
Poll after poll is now showing that a majority in Muslim nations, even so-called “moderate” ones like Egypt, Indonesia and Morocco, mistakenly believe the US is out to destroy Islam.
The fire and brimstone anti-Muslim hate fulminations of mountebanks like Rev. Hagee, Newt Gingrich, Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh are amplified at full volume across the Muslim world.
Pakistanis now regard the United States as their nation’s leading enemy. Old foe India has fallen into second place. Anti-Americanism is now raging across the Muslim world. The next explosion will come in long-repressed Egypt.
Washington has fallen into Osama bin Laden’s last and deepest trap. First, two wars that have so far cost up to $4 trillion and thousands of US military casualties. Next, the undermining of the US economy by reckless deficit spending on the military and intelligence. Under Bush, and now Obama, the runaway deficit has reached an astounding $1.4 trillion.
Finally, the so-called “war on terror,” that has earned America the searing hatred of much of the Muslim world.
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.