Below is my response made back in September to a series of in-depth comments on facebook by my good friend Samuel Wecker, regarding the legacy of 9/11 and America’s foreign and defence policy. Back then, Sam essentially argued that we can go some way to understanding the causes of 9/11 by looking more critically at the United States’ role abroad and particularly its tendency to engage militarily in a number of countries, both in the Middle East and beyond. While some (understandably) reacted quite emotionally to the difficult issues Sam raised at a difficult time, I attempted to provide a measured response and engage with Sam’s points in a more dispassionate and balanced way. I begin my response by actually agreeing with Sam on his point surrounding the issue of general government expansion in the US.
To start off with, I agree with you that the US military-security-intelligence complex has grown wildly out of control since 9/11. Year upon year, the accumulation of vast expenditures combined with a severe lack of oversight has caused serious damage to the United States. And the problems are not confined to US policy overseas. In addition to two major wars and a series of undeclared military engagements throughout the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, at home too, a massive new national security and intelligence apparatus has been allowed to expand. Its inherently secretive nature means that most Americans are both unaware of the monetary costs and the very existence of some of these institutions. I highly recommend the Washington Post’s two year investigative report – “Top Secret America” for more details on this phenomenon. On both sides of the aisle, Congress continues to write blank checks for new programs and organizations with seemingly no capacity or intention of exercising any kind of supervisory power. While I am certainly a believer in strong central authority, this kind of unchecked expansion of governmental power should clearly be of great concern to Americans. I am sure we are both in agreement on this point.
Where I fear we will disagree quite strongly is on your central point concerning the distinction between policy and ideas. In broad terms you believe that the US was attacked by al-Qaeda mainly because of the former’s interventionist policies throughout the world and particularly in the Middle East. While this may be true to some extent, I believe this only offers a partial explanation. In order to truly understand the emergence of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, we must delve into the origins of its ideas and how these ideas came to be. By focusing entirely on policy one is confusing the symptoms with the cause – the spark with the fuel.
If we look carefully at Bin Laden’s background we see that what fuelled his hatred and specific interpretation of Islam, were the teachings of the Egyptian theologian and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb. Qutb’s Islamic philosophy and Qu’ranic commentaries are complex and wide-ranging. However, if we try to distil it succinctly, we can see that it was essentially characterised by a loathing of Judaic-Christian values in general and the Liberal-Western idea of the separation of Church and State in particular. Qutb believed in the superiority of Islam and the supreme justness of the Islamic governing system based on Sharia law. Because the “Zionists” (read Jews) and the “Crusaders” (read Westerners/Christian-seculars) were aware of their own inferiority to Islam, (so Qutb’s argument went), they were implacably opposed to the Muslim faith and would be forever engaged in a global plot to completely defeat it. After witnessing what Qutb described as a “decadent” and “permissive” society during his visit to the US in the late 1940s, the Islamic theologian’s violently anti-Western and anti-Semitic worldview was further cemented. This was a worldview which the young Bin Laden and others like him in the 1970s eagerly consumed in Saudi Arabia under the tutelage of the exiled Muhammad Qutb, the only brother of the late Sayyid Qutb. Perhaps Bush wasn’t at his most articulate when he proclaimed “they hate our freedoms”, but on second thoughts maybe the straight-talkin’ Texan, had a point after all.
*Editorial Note- unfortunately Sam’s original statement and counter-response to my remarks above have disappeared/deleted from the facebook-online “ether” and are no longer publicly available.