Why it’s not okay to say “Muslims attacked us on 9/11”

December 20, 2010

In the days after September 11th, 2001, President Bush declared to us, and to Muslim people around the world, that America was NOT at war against Islam.

But he didn’t clearly and definitively state the converse: that the Islamic world was not at war against America.

It wasn’t a calculated omission, but it was an unfortunate one nonetheless. Since then, some people have insisted on repeatedly stating that Muslims attacked us on 9/11. These people don’t see anything wrong with that characterization. It’s factually correct, after all.

But a characterization such as that has a significant impact on our perspective. The way we talk about things affects the way we think about those things. We create a mental frame of the subject, thru which all information passes and is unavoidably filtered, interpreted, altered, and construed.

By stating that Muslims attacked us, we’re effectively framing the attacks as a holy war, perpetrated by ruthless Islamic extremists. These extremists can’t be reasoned with, for their purpose and justification is ethereal: they’re doing Allah’s bidding, slaying infidels, as is prescribed by the Koran. They hate us because we are not like them. They hate us because of our freedoms.

This is a convenient framing for us, because it absolves us of any culpability we might have in bringing this fight upon ourselves. The framing escapes any need for us to examine the spread of Western imperialism over Islamic lands: the battles we’ve waged there, the governments we’ve installed, the thousands of Muslims we’ve killed.

For none of these things is the reason the terrorists attacked us. They attacked us simply because we are non-Islamic, freedom-loving people.

And we will fight to defend that freedom. “Give me liberty, or give me death!” By framing it as a war against Islam (er, I mean, an Islamic-extremist war against us — remember, we are the passive party here, being attacked and thus forced to defend ourselves), we’ve effectively defined the battlefield to include any Islamic country in the world* (with the asterisk qualifying that they either support or give safe haven to Islamic terrorists). So let’s pick one we particularly don’t like: Iraq! Does Iraq harbor terrorists? Surely it must — look at all the Muslims there. Not enough of a justification? OK, how about a cooked-up WMD claim? That’ll do it.

And so, with spurious evidence of al-Qaeda training camps and WMDs, the Western crusaders, at the charge of their outspokenly Christian leader George W. Bush, invaded and swiftly conquered the Islamic holy lands located in modern-day Iraq, slaying tens of thousands of Muslims along the way. The Islamic leader Saddam Hussein was seized, given a perfunctory trial, then executed. After their conquest, the Christian crusaders subjugated the surviving Muslims with a phony, Western-friendly govt — one that permitted the crusaders to steal the oil riches buried beneath the holy land.

I assume most American Christians would take offense to my holy-war-like characterization of “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. And perhaps rightly so. It’s certainly an unfair framing.

Just as unfair as framing 9/11 as a religious attack by Muslims against American freedom.

But the terrorist leaders themselves have called the attacks Jihad against America! Jihad means holy war!“, the Americans say. Again, this is factually correct.

But throughout history, people have hijacked religions to justify the vicious slaying and conquering of other peoples.

When the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro met with the Inca leader Atahualpa at Cajamarca on November 16, 1532, Pizarro instructed his Friar to hand the Bible to the Inca, and compel him to accept Catholicism as his faith and Charles V as his emperor. Atahualpa, confused by the book and the strange unrecognizable symbols inside (the Incas hadn’t developed writing at the time), tossed the book to the ground. The Friar screamed that the heretic Incas have insulted the Christian God and have refused to acknowledge His supremacy. At this, Pizarro ordered his men to attack. Even though the Spanish were greatly outnumbered (by some accounts, 80,000 Incas to about 150 Spaniards), they easily routed the Incas with their superior military technology (guns, cavalry, steel armor and swords, none of which the Incas possessed). Tens of thousands of Incas were killed that day, and the Inca leader Atahualpa was seized by Pizarro and held for ransom. After the ransom was paid (enough gold to fill a 22′ x 17′ x 8′ room), Pizarro executed Atahualpa anyway. The Spanish conquered the land and subjugated the remaining Incas, most of whom died within a year’s time due to the lack of immunity against European germs.

Clearly, Pizarro’s conquest of the Incas had nothing to do with religion. Nevertheless, religion was the primary proximate justification Pizarro used to motivate his troops, to steel their resolve, and to absolve them of the moral guilt and responsibility of slaying massive numbers of Incas. When his troops wrote letters home describing the battle and their incredible victory, they spent the first and last paragraphs of those letters profusely praising God for protecting them in battle, and repeatedly noting that their inexplicably victory — despite being vastly outnumbered — was proof that God exists and supports their war efforts over non-Catholic savage societies.

So just because Bin Laden says it’s Jihad, doesn’t make it so. Just as Pizarro did with Catholicism, terrorist groups like al-Qaeda have hijacked the Islamic religion to justify the indiscriminate killing of Westerners. They use religion, and the promise of an afterlife full of 72 virgins, to manipulate and motivate young Muslims to sacrifice themselves in suicidal missions against the West.

The Western world has committed numerous atrocities against Islamic peoples — atrocities for which we neither take responsibility, nor even acknowledge. The worst of them being, in my opinion, the subtle yet highly corrosive framing of Islam itself as the enemy.


One Response to “Why it’s not okay to say “Muslims attacked us on 9/11””

  1. Naseer Says:

    Thanks for the history lesson on Pizarro, Rob. Very interesting. Good post.

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