Remembering the Lessons from 9/11

I am fan of of Rob Burgess of Business Spectator.  I particularly liked what he had to say about the IS beheading and our reaction to it.

Burgess starts by reminding us how we reacted to 9/11:

Whichever account of Bush’s actions one accepts, history now tells us that the US response to the Al Qaeda threat was exactly what terrorists would want.

Anyone old enough to remember the shock of those attacks will understand why the US was driven to define Al Qaeda as tantamount to a rogue state that could be tackled by a conventional war.

Not lunatics. Not criminals. But warriors who wanted a war … and the West was damned if it wasn’t going to oblige.

It was the wrong choice. We were damned because we did oblige, and the power vacuum in Iraq, and the massing of extremist forces in Syria, are some of the ghastly results.

In our ignorance, Australia also fell into the mistake of demonising Islam as a whole instead of the Islamic extremists who were behind 9/11.  In Australia 9/11 was used as an excuse by some to burn at least one mosque, throw stones at least one busload of students going to an Islamic school and rant and rave about hijabs.  Then there were the comments from some radio jocks as well as some of our politicians.

There are two dangers here.  The first is that we will be so busy trying to avoid “the mistakes of Afghanistan and Iraq” that we will fail to see the differences between what is happening now and what happened then.  (For example IS seems to be the foreign invaders this time around while the Kurds are the natives.)

The second is that we will simply mindlessly repeat the mistakes.  In Australia Abbott is already rabbiting on about how this (beheading) could happen in Australia despite al the anti terrorist laws we have in Australia.  His comments about “team Australia” aren’t really helping unite Australia and its communities.

Burgess had this to say:

We now seem to be again on the brink of allowing a force of between 10,000 and 17,000 extremists to define a conflict – with themselves as glorious warriors, rather than lunatics and criminals.

The brutal video of the beheading of James Foley is a symbolic missile fired into the heart of the liberal democracies that the IS fanatics so despise.

Their greatest joy is watching the missile explode and rip holes in our democratic political culture, when we could so easily choose to defuse its destructive force.


Civilised, democratic debate is the precious core of our society — and that makes it a target for the symbolic missiles sent by groups such as the Islamic State.

To the extent they rouse us to anger, and provoke ill-considered responses, as happened with 9/11, the missile can be said to have ‘exploded’. Let’s not let that happen again.

So what should we do this time round?

22 thoughts on “Remembering the Lessons from 9/11”

  1. Strange he doesn’t mention Barack Obamas 5.5 years ( and counting ) as POTUS, Lee Rigby, Bali, Oruzgan or the Quran teachings as if they have no relevance.

    What should we do now ?
    The fundamental role must be played by the Leaders of the Islamic community to relentlessly denounce publicly all terrorists, foil there activities and repair the damage caused by those of their flock.
    They are the only ones that are in a position to do so.
    We are yet to see them even start to help.
    Do they even want to contribute positively ?

  2. Jumpy: Most older community leaders have trouble dealing with the age group that is going to fight for IS. It is even harder if slogan wielding leaders of other communities insist on attacking the whole community instead of those who are the real problem.
    By the way what exactly do you think Obama should have been doing since he has been in power?

  3. Burgess, I think, is taking a considered and sensible view. I’m a fan of Immanuel Wallerstein who has commented here and here about IS. This is the guts of his latest commentary:

    So what is next? And who is profiting from this realignment? There appear to be three obvious short-term winners. The first is the Caliphate itself. The re-entry of the United States into the Iraqi military struggle enables the Caliphate to portray itself as the major force defying the devil incarnate, the United States. It will serve to bring many additional recruits, especially from the western world. And one can expect that it will try to engage in hostile activities within the United States as well as western Europe. Of course, this short-term advantage would collapse, were the Caliphate to suffer serious military reverses. But it would take some time for this to occur, if ever. The army of the Caliphate appears still to be the most committed and trained military force in the region.

    A second major winner is Bashar al-Assad. The outside support for anti-Assad forces has always been far less than decisive, and it is likely to dry up even further in the short term, as more and more Syrian opponents line up with the Caliphate.

    The third major winner is the Kurds, who have consolidated their position within Iraq and improved their relations with the Kurds in Syria. They will now be receiving more arms from western countries and possibly from others, making their military, the peshmerga, into an ever stronger military force.

    Are there clear losers? One, I suspect, is the United States. Unless the Caliphate were to crumble in the near future (something that seems most unlikely), this military effort will soon expose once again the limits of U.S. military abilities as well as the inconsistency of their public positions concerning Iraq, Palestine, and Ukraine. And Obama will have lost his biggest claim to geopolitical achievement. The U.S. public supports success, not a quagmire.

  4. 9/11 was used by the neocons as an excuse to (attempt as it turned out) to take control of a large resource of oil. This required an occupation force which in their minds would be funded from the proceeds of that oil.

    Isis is a threat more of the Afghanistan type, only more extreme again and better organised. The concern here is that this group may have the momentum to role over the entire region setting that part of the world back 200 years, but more importantly moving on into Africa.

    Consider how ISIS would address the Ebola outbrake, for example, when calculating involvement. (On that I suspect they would take an Abbottesque approach….contain, silence, eliminate)

  5. Brian: I might be missing something but my understanding is that ISIS appears to be attracting a lot of foreign fighters For example

    Throughout the Syrian civil war, one of the major concerns of Western powers in particular has been the inflow of Sunni foreign fighters, who come from the wider Arab world, Western Europe, and as far afield as Kazakhstan and Indonesia.

    According to a recent estimate by Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, there could be up to 11,000 of these fighters. It raises the questions of which groups they join, and what the relations between these groups are……

    ISIS is the result of a unilateral attempt by the leader of Iraq’s al-Qaeda affiliate, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to merge his group with al-Nusra. The move was rejected al-Nusra’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, and by al-Qaeda overall leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, but Baghdadi refused to disband ISIS.

    Of the two organisations, ISIS appears to attract more foreign fighters.

    They constitute a majority of ISIS’s elite fighter corps and are disproportionately represented in its leadership, as opposed to native Syrian majorities on both counts in al-Nusra.

    The invasion of Iraq by a brutal, extremist force with a lot of foreign influence may make it harder for ISIS to get local support.

  6. Thanks for the link, John, a useful backgrounder. I’m still trying to come to terms with the whole thing.

    Wallerstein says that IS are the most competent military outfit on the ground, and he says that the US are engaged, albeit minimally. Gareth Evans talking to Fran Kelly was suggesting that some intervention was appropriate because you can’t stand aside and watch genocide or the mass slaughter of peoples happen. When I googled to find the piece I also turned up this 2004 segment, where Evans was arguing along similar lines, at that time against the invasion of Iraq.

    Abbott’s beat up of the jihadi threat here seems to be working for him politically, as Newspoll shows that support for toughening laws is overwhelming – 75% I think I just heard. The same Newspoll shows 2PP narrowing to 51-49 in favour of Labor with a 2% drop off for the Greens.

  7. Bernard Keane explains that IS want a stronger Western involvement in Syria and Iraq because it radicalises youth and makes us less safe in our own countries. Seems they intend to do what’s necessary to draw us in.

    For me, I’d prefer that we in Oz should limit our potential involvement to our own region.

    Tom Allard says

    According to some estimates, Islamic State has up to 50,000 fighters, including some 10,000 to 12,000 foreigners, with the rest locals who are ideological supporters or those coerced into joining.


    But, says terrorism expert Greg Barton from Monash University, Islamic State has, in its own way, learned the lesson about the “hearts and minds” campaign.

    It provides food, medicines and make-work programs for unemployed youth in areas it captures.

    A New York Times report from the recently captured Syrian city of Raqqa detailed how local businessmen praised the rapid drop in crime and reported an orderly system of tax collection that was far more affordable than the bribes paid to the Assad regime.

    According to Barton, Islamic State is “behaving a lot better in Mosul” than AQI forces.

    “If that continues, they will be a much more formidable opponent,” he says.

    It’s politically impossible for Obama to mount a large scale intervention. My provisional answer to your question to jumpy, John, about what should Obama do, I’d suggest roughly what he is doing now. I can’t share his general enthusiasm for drone strikes, however.

  8. As I suggested above Bhoko Haram have declared an Islamic Caliphate in their little part of captured Africa. You don’t have to be a genius to see where that future is heading given half a chance. Don’t forget that the grand extremist plan includes exactly half of Australia (allegedly). The real concern is that Islam as a body of opinion seems to aquiesce when these issues arise.

  9. Bilb: The irony is that the Caliphate was a period when the Islamic world was a leader in science, philosophy, poetry etc. A place where what became the European renaissance started. It was also a period when Islam had the confidence to enter serious debates with other leading religions. At this point neither Bhoko Haram or ISIS seem to know much about what the Caliphate was all about – or being very selective in their memories.
    Brian: The lessons of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq all say that long term placement of US forces on the ground in countries that don’t speak the language, have different cultures and where US soldiers cant tell friend from foe just don’t work. That doesn’t necessarily mean that backing the Kurds and the Iraq army is stupid. Ditto using airpower to disrupt ISIS supply lines.

  10. Have a gander through the Quran.
    It makes Mien Kampf seem like Peter Pan by comparison.
    These isil ( no caps ) sunni nutballs follow this literally.
    If anyone would like, I can quote passages that reveal why there can’t ever be harmony with islamic fundamentals.
    Convert or die is the isil way.
    “Iraq was the safest place over there when the US was there ” said to me by an Afghan shia reffo I employed for a while. Good fella, from Uruzgan area as it happens.
    He spent 2 years in Iraq working.
    He regarded the withdrawal as tantamount to helping a junky get clean then dumping him back on the same street you found him coz your wife’s complaining about the grocery bill. Then he comes back to your home, beats you, and steals all your shit….

  11. Jumpy: More Americans were killed chasing revenge for 9/11 than were killed in the 9/11 attacks. That is one of the reasons they got sick of being in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    This doesn’t mean that the US can’t do something about the current ISIS invasion.
    You should read the bible sometime and look at what was done to convert people to Christianity in the good old days.

  12. You should read the bible sometime and look at what was done to convert people to Christianity in the good old days.

    Yep, equally egregious and wrong.
    Difference is now we have several entities that can intervene but don’t.

    Ask yourself what Saudi king Abdullah is doing in this space.

  13. So what should we do this time round?

    Stop deluding yourselves these opportunists, blasphemers and thrill-killers are Extremists.

    They are not.

    If you want extremists, look at the Yazidi, who are being slaughtered every day because of their beliefs – or the Druze, the Alawi and all the other minor sects who are next in the queue for the chop.

    The murderous bandits of the so-called “Islamic State” are cunning enough to keep fairly close to the letter (though not the spirit) of the Qur’an and the Hadith. That’s what makes them so attractive – gullible mothers and fathers urging their sons to go off and fight the good fight for Islam alongside all those other nice young Moslem fellows who have to do tough things at times (like hacking and sawing off someone’s head) to defend Islam from all those evil Westerners.

    Abbott’s latest anti-terrorism stunt will fail – and worse than fail, it will help recruit more and more to fight for the fake “caliphate”. It will fail because the present government still deludes itself that they are fighting Extremists. The Enemy are not Extremists – they are opportunists seeking personal power and personal satisfaction; religion hardly comes into it except as a convenient

  14. …. (continuing) except as a convenient, standardized vehicle for personal ambition.

    So here we go again – this time we are not chasing Weapons of Mass Destruction, instead, we are chasing imaginary Extremists and other shadows whilst steadfastly refusing to face up to what the exceedingly vicious Enemy really are.

    Vast fortunes and far too many lives will be squandered yet again trying to fulfil the fantasies of our wilfully ignorant decision-makers.

  15. Phillip Adams the other night talked with William McCants and Thomas Hegghammer about IS and the Management of Savagery, a book written by Saudi Islamist Abu Bakr Naji back in 2004, I think.

    The Management of Savagery proposes creating power vacuums through terrorism and then moving in to establish a quasi state through the levying of taxes and the provision of services. They reckon the US security outfit was up to speed with developments, and proposed taking IS down earlier by direct intervention in Syria, but Obama has been consistently a reluctant interventionist.

    Obama’s strategy now is to get other Middle East powers to become more active as it is happening on their doorstep, but so far not much luck.

  16. Graham: I don’t know about ISIS but history often follows the “Animal Farm” story. A movement of idealists attracts/creates a group of people who find the violence attractive. This follows by the movement being taken over by people who simply want power. Think communism, the IRA and….. In the end the movement can end up being accepted as being better than the alternative.

  17. This article would seem to back Grahams theory.

    In 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was leaked to the Guardian. It revealed that, “far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.” The analysts concluded that “a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation”, the newspaper said.

    For more evidence, read the books of the forensic psychiatrist and former CIA officer Marc Sageman; the political scientist Robert Pape; the international relations scholar Rik Coolsaet; the Islamism expert Olivier Roy; the anthropologist Scott Atran. They have all studied the lives and backgrounds of hundreds of gun-toting, bomb-throwing jihadists and they all agree that Islam isn’t to blame for the behaviour of such men (and, yes, they usually are men).

    Instead they point to other drivers of radicalisation: moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, for a sense of belonging and purpose. As Atran pointed out in testimony to the US Senate in March 2010: “. . . what inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Quran or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends, and through friends, eternal respect and remembrance in the wider world”. He described wannabe jihadists as “bored, under­employed, overqualified and underwhelmed” young men for whom “jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer . . . thrilling, glorious and cool”.

    Iv’e taken a little time looking into this and my position is changing quite a bit, not totally, but quite noticeable.

  18. Thanks for that reference, Brian: I missed that Philip Adams broadcast and repeat. Sounds like an age-old insurgents’ method has now been focused and refined.

    Yes, John D., Animal Farm, Mk. LXVIII.

    Thanks for your reference, Jumpy; shall use it.. You can add to that the brutal silencing of any alternative viewpoints so that their own story, no matter how manifestly false, is the only one heard. .

  19. Interesting one Jumpy. You could say much the same about the young men who went to war at many times during human history. Adventure, the chance to become heroes, the feeling that you are involved in some great, critical event and….
    But there are also the old men like Armageddon, the poets and the priests lurking there to at least launch the young into their great adventure.
    One comment I saw pointed out that, unlike many other Islamic movements ISIS is led by a fighter, not a theologian.

Comments are closed.