On September 11, 2001 I watched the first plane hit the World Trade Center from the street. Several hours later I participated in a panicked, thronged, exodus from Manhattan.
As soon as the smoke cleared I reached a conclusion about what the biggest geo-political threat resulting from this momentous day would be: The biggest threat was going to be, I thought, American and Western military over-reach and aggression.
As I surveyed the landscape of American flags covering every possible surface in those days of immediate aftermath, there was little chance, in my reckoning, that the that this new, extreme, senseless form of terrorism would not be taken seriously enough. Rather, my primary fear was that it would be taken too seriously.
So I frantically sent out e-mails warning the recipients to be careful of American military interventions. I monitored the news for evidence of a large-scale backlash against Muslims which, with a few notable exceptions, to my surprise, didn't happen.
Well, was I correct when I looked to the future and saw the nightmare of over-reaction? Was I right about the nightmare of a society too obsessed with the danger of Islamic terrorism, and too quick to react based on that obsession?
No. I was wrong.
Other people were right and I was wrong, and if you were one of those people who was right, I apologize to you here and now.
No. to my surprise, but perhaps not to the surprise of people who were wiser than me in 2001, what I feared then is not what turned out to happen. Instead, the opposite of what I feared then is what turned out to happen.
The 9/11 attacks have been followed up with a litany of Islamist terrorist incidents and atrocities, large and small, to which Western society's reaction has not been increasing vigilance but rather increasing apathy and equivocation.
To list all of the atrocities which have been visited on us in those 14 years would take more bytes than Blogspot allows. Just a partial rendering of the terror that Islamists unleashed upon the innocent in the West since 9/11 would include the LAX attack, the shoe bomber, the underpants bomber, the Madrid train bombings, the Bali bombing, the Lackawanna six plot, the London 7/7 bombings, the Glasgow airport attack, the Mumbai massacre, the Delhi Bombings, the Times Square bomb plot, the Ft. Hood shooting, the Little Rock recruiting shooting, the Frankfurt Airport shooting, the Boston bombing, the Kenya mall slaughter, the Toulouse School Massacre, the Brussels Museum massacre, the Lee Rigby dissection, the Canadian Parliament shootings, the New Jersey Copt beheadings, the Oklahoma City beheadings, the New York Police ambush, the Sydney cafe attack, the Sydney bomb plots, the France Christmas car rammings, the Charlie Hebdo assassinations, the Kosher Supermarket massacre, the US Capitol bomb plot, and the Copenhangen assassinations.
That very abbreviated list was, as I said, only a selection of the atrocities served to Western and non-Muslim majority countries since 9/11. Even beyond a comprehensive list of that violence, the full tally of Islamist violence would have to include the slaughters and tortures visited upon their brethren in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia by ISIS, AQAP, AQIM, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, the Taliban, and countless other groups. It would also have to include the daily drumbeat of chaos brought to Israel, where, proportionally to their population, they suffer a 9/11 every year.
It turns out that in the face of the mangled bodies and mangled vehicles, in the United States, in Canada, in Europe, in Australia, in India, and in Africa, the response of the West has been to cede more ground, to give up more of its hard-earned religious freedom and openness, which each successive attack.
As the 2000s became the 2010s and to the present, each attack carried out and each plot uncovered has been met with less and less discussion of the senseless violence and what can be done about it, and more and more discussion of how the attacks are not the atrocities they appear to be, how we are responsible, and how that supposed responsibility precludes action.
In the aftermath of 9/11 some people with whom I was acquainted viewed those attacks as unfortunate, but ultimately understandable, blowback for American imperialism. This unsettled me because how can this be the case when the attackers are themselves imperialists, who have a stated goal to dominate the world or a large part of it? On Al Qaeda's published list of grievances against the West was that we supported the independence of East Timor against the imperialism of Indonesia.
While the impossibility of equating arch-imperialist Islamists with anti-imperialists bothered me then, I had no idea of the trends to come.
For what was then confined to the realm of extremists has since become a standard presence in the mainstream discourse:
Today we have the largest circulation newspapers in the West telling us that making fun of a religion or ideology in ink is the same as incitements to violence and Holocaust denial.
Today we have feminists telling us that burqas mean freedom, people of African descent rushing to embrace the religion of the people who started the African slave trade and still practice it, and human rights commissioners of major American cities comparing Iran favorably to America on LGBT issues.
Today we have the largest internet forums proclaiming that we must understand the grievances of terrorists. But only Islamist terrorists, for these sites would never dream of claiming that one must understand the grievances of any other terrorists.
Today we have pundits at our largest news outlets telling us that the Charlie Hebdo massacre must be understood in the context that the assassins were radicalized by the Iraq war. Never mind that France did not participate in the Iraq war - remember Freedom Fries.
Today we have many people who appear in mainstream programs telling us that to oppose Islamism as an ideology is just as bad as white supremacy or calling for the extermination of an ethnicity.
Today we have, while the Jewish dead in the Kosher supermarket are still smoldering, a BBC reporter berating a grieving woman on live TV about what other Jews are supposedly doing to Arabs a thousand miles away.
Today we have people saying that because of the perceived relatively low death toll of terrorism, efforts to combat terrorism are wasteful and immoral. The same logic would mean that because of our modern relatively low death toll from contaminated water and contaminated medicine, the efforts we expend to treat the water and regulate pharmaceuticals are wasteful.
Today people who occupy central positions in the culture tell us that these Islamist atrocities are not Islamist atrocities at all, but rather outlandish conspiracies of our own governments.
Today we have people literally telling us that their goal is to enslave and rape all of us, and our response is to find yet another way to blame ourselves.
Worst of all, the terrorists have literally won in achieving their major objective: the Western media has surrendered by agreeing not to do anything that the terrorists dislike. And not only have they acquiesced, they have done so pathetically, and they lie about the reason.
There you have it. I was wrong back then. The biggest threat was not that we would over-react to terrorism. It turned out that we would seriously under-react to terrorism, and begin the process of equivocating about it, and therefore ultimately surrendering to it.
If I had seen the following BBC program on September 13, 2001, perhaps I would have had more insight into the brave new world which was to come. Here, just two days after 9/11, while bodies were still being pulled out of the wreckage, the audience brings the still shocked American Ambassador to tears with all of the above and then some, delivered in the crudest manner. I would like to think that had I seen this then, I would have been wiser. I will never know.