Twenty years later, I still remember the horror I felt as I watched on live television the attack on New York’s World Trade Centre. That feeling turned into anger as the identity of the terrorists were announced.
I was angry, and so were millions of Muslims, because the terrorists and their leader, Osama Bin Laden sought to portray their atrocious crime as an act of defence in the name of ‘Muslims oppressed by the West.’ Not in my name, I though just like the rest of Muslims. The mainstream media, academia and the ordinary people condemned the Sept. 11 attacks and disavowed the idea behind them.
Nevertheless, we were all caught in the crossfire the moment President George W. Bush declared his infamous War on Terror — he didn’t give the world much of a choice. Either you are with America in this, or you are against it, he repeated more than once in the days and weeks after he announced his crusade in the wake of the attacks.
His nemesis, Bin Laden too divided the world into two camps, the good and the evil. Today, as we reflect on the gamechanger attacks on America by Al Qaeda on their 20th anniversary, one can see clearly that the attacks and the US response was merely a war between two fundamentalist thoughts. The rest of us were collateral damage.
In some distorted context, mainly in the Western popular culture, fundamentalism is linked exclusively to Muslim militant groups. But by the practical definition of the word, fundamentalism also applies to those staunchly liberal ideologues who tend to dismiss other ideologies and cultures. They believe in the absolute righteousness of the West’s values — just as Muslim fundamentalists dismiss everyone else as deviant.
Premature declaration of triumph
Few weeks after he watched the Berlin Wall fall in 1989, leading to the collapse of the Soviet order, US scholar Francis Fukuyama declared the world history has ended and there will no ‘End of History’. The West has won the Cold War; the Soviet Union, and its Communist ideology were defeated.
In his now famous End of History, Fukuyama, who worked for the US State Department at the time, celebrated the ‘triumph of the West’ as “ultimate victory of liberal democracy” and said that the defeat of Communist Russia and the end of the Cold War “may constitute the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government and as such constitute the end of history.”
His premature, and somehow egotistical, declaration of the ultimate triumph of the Western style government, particularly the capitalist system, was widely criticised as naïve and unrealistic. But the most prominent criticism came from two similar famous fundamentalist American scholars. The first was Samuel Huntington who published his own argument, ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ in 1993, few years after Fukuyama published his thesis.
According to Huntington, the end of the Cold War signalled the advent of a new world order, one that is divided by ideological lines such as capitalism and communism. But will be shaped by a conflict between civilisations and cultures. He singled Islam as the new enemy of the Western civilisation.
Stereotyping of Muslims
The war was just a matter of time, he argued. His argument was supported by another Fukuyama critic, the zealous Bernard Lewis, a self-proclaimed expert on ‘political Islam’. Lewis, who died in 2018 at the age of 101, wrote hundreds of essays on Islam and Muslims that were basically a compilation of racial, religious and ethnic stereotypes and condensing description of Muslim societies.
I read him very extensively during my years in college. He saw all Muslims as inherently violent, erratic and ‘full of rage’ due to the ‘oppressive’ nature of their governments and decades of Western colonialism. He believed that Islam as a religion and civilisation was not compatible with the modern world.
Islam is the new enemy, he told anyone. In response to the ‘naivety’ of Francis Fukuyama, he wrote that “without the common threat of communism, the West and Islam now perceive each other as enemies.”
And like Huntington, Lewis said a war by Muslims on the West was a matter of when. He once suggested that America should bomb holy Islamic cities in response to the September 11 attacks.
Therefore, it was no surprise that when Bush and his Vice President Dick Cheney decided to go to war to avenge the honour of America following the September 11 attacks, Lewis and like- minded fundamentalists were key White House advisors.
The fundamentalist neocons were there too, such as the two deputies of the Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Elliott Abrams, Deputy National Security Advisor- a right-wing dream team and the kind of enemy Bin Laden cherished.
The Sept 11 attacks and the clash of the fundamentalists that followed has changed the world forever. The world lost its innocence on that fateful day. But Muslims were actually the real victim of those events that seem to have come to end (hopefully) with the recent US pull-out from Afghanistan and the scheduled withdrawal from Iraq later this year.
The war on terror and the thousands of attacks perpetrated by Al Qaeda have killed thousands of Muslims in the past 20 years — collateral damage. Muslims in the West are guilty until proven innocence. The mainstream media and the pop culture in the West vilified Muslims.
Political correctness doesn’t apply to Muslims- they have become a legitimate target. Islamic terrorism is an acceptable term used regularly even by Western heads of state. Immediately after the New York attacks, the majority of Muslims condemned its own fundamentalists.
Not in my name, we all said. But it will take long years, I think, before Westerners, particularly Americans, condemn their own fundamentalists.