On the morning of September 11, 2001 (a.k.a. 9/11), nineteen al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four California-bound commercial jetliners that had just departed from Boston, Newark, and Washington, DC. The hijackers intentionally crashed two of the airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City; both towers collapsed within two hours after impact, destroying or damaging several other nearby buildings in the process. The hijackers then crashed a third airliner into the Pentagon, just outside of Washington. The fourth plane crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania after some of its passengers and flight-crew members, having learned of the World Trade Center attacks of earlier that morning, attempted to retake control of the plane, which the hijackers were planning to crash into the U.S. Capitol building in Washington. All told, the 9/11 attacks resulted in 2,977 fatalities, including all 246 passengers aboard the four planes, another 2,606 people in New York City, and 125 at the Pentagon.
The 9/11 attacks were part of the worldwide jihad that Islamic fundamentalists have long been waging against so-called “infidel” nations in every region of the globe. The United States responded to the attacks by launching its War on Terror, invading Afghanistan to depose the Taliban regime that had provided a safe haven for al Qaeda, and enacting the USA PATRIOT Act in an effort to prevent future attacks against American interests.
In the wake of 9/11, the American Left was quick not only to charge that U.S. foreign policies had provoked the terrorist attacks, but also to condemn America's military reprisal in Afghanistan. In 2002, for instance, the socialist anti-war activist Medea Benjamin exhorted the U.S. government to “stop taking innocent [Afghani] lives in the name of seeking justice for the loss of other innocent lives.” Benjamin identified “the root causes of resentment against the United States in the Arab world” as items ranging from “our dependence on Middle Eastern oil to our biased policy towards Israel.” The bombings in Afghanistan, she said, had “made Afghans so upset that some [have] talked about waging a jihad, or holy war, against the United States.” “If the Muslim world sees the United States as willing to bomb but not feed people,” she added, “it will deepen the suspicion and mistrust already felt by millions ... that the United States doesn’t care about the lives of the Muslim people.” These sentiments were representative of the Left's positions generally.
Another strident anti-American voice, the now-infamous University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, asserted that the 9/11 attacks constituted a morally justifiable response to what he characterized as the U.S. government's “rape” and “murder” of other peoples. "If we want an end to violence," said Churchill, "especially that perpetrated against civilians, we must take the responsibility for halting the slaughter perpetrated by the United States around the world." Churchill did not, however, harbor any hopes that America might mend its alleged flaws; rather, he advocated the country's destruction: "I want the state gone: transform the situation to U.S. out of North America -- U.S. off the planet. Out of existence altogether." Toward this end, Churchill candidly endorsed further acts of anti-American terror. "One of the things I've suggested," he said, "is that it may be that more 9/11s are necessary."
The political Left, as personified in the extreme by Medea Benjamin and Ward Churchill, tends to believe that Islamists ultimately hate America for the long litany of its sins. By contrast, many conservatives have maintained that Islamists hate America for its virtues – i.e., the freedoms and opportunities its citizens enjoy, and its overall success as a society.
But each of these views omits a crucial reality, as explained by Yale University military historian Mary Habeck. According to Habeck:
- Radical Muslims today base their war against non-believers on the Islamic sacred writings -- particularly the Sira, which tells the story of the Prophet Muhammad's life in chronological sequence.
- Jihadis pattern their thoughts and actions after those of Muhammad, who was not only the founder of Islam but also a brutal and most successful warrior.
- Islam's inherent desire for conquest, and not any particular provocation (real or imagined) by some outside power, is the key to understanding why jihadis such as the 9/11 hijackers do what they do.
Expanding upon these themes, Islam scholar Robert Spencer writes that the ruthless goals and motives of the 9/11 hijackers (and other jihadis like them) are not determined by the actions of America, but have been consistently “detailed in Islamic texts and by Islamic teachers” for many centuries. Adds Spencer:
“America’s support for Israel is the most common explanation given today for jihad violence. Many, particularly on the American Left, believe that if the U.S. decreases its support for Israel, and if Israel surrenders further territory, jihad violence will cease. But this view is ahistorical; the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance, the first modern Islamic terrorist organization and the direct ancestor of Hamas and Al-Qaeda, was founded in 1928 – twenty years before the founding of the State of Israel. Its objectives have not markedly changed since then.”
The RESOURCES column located on the right side of this page contains links to articles, essays, books, and videos that explore such topics as:
- the political factors that set the stage for 9/11;
- regulations that hampered terror investigations by preventing law-enforcement investigators and intelligence agents from sharing vital information with one another;
- conspiracy theories contending that the widely accepted version of what had occurred on September 11, 2001 (i.e., terror attacks by Islamic jihadists) was nothing more than a disinformation campaign hatched by the U.S. government; and
- an analysis of claims that the U.S. government severely curtailed the civil liberties of Americans post-9/11.