The American media this week have focused on this theme: How have we changed since 9/11? Far less attention has been given to the issue of how they have changed “they” referring to the social and political nexus that produced the hijackers of 9/11.
This morning, The Washington Post ran a piece by Bernard Lewis, under the title Targeted by a History of Hatred. But the headline-writer missed the point of the essay: it was not hatred that produced 9/11, but contempt. The hatred, as Lewis points out, has been growing for some years, but “a more important question, less frequently asked, is the reason for the contempt with which they regard us.” The contempt arises from the fact that the United States has radiated irresolution and weakness in the face of challenges put up by Middle Eastern assailants.
In an address almost a year ago, I listed what had to be done to squelch that contempt:
You must smite your enemy in a decisive and demonstrative way. This requires two things. First, you must get rid of the Taliban regime. The United States has not deposed a regime in the Middle East in fifty years. It must do so now. Second, you must get Osama bin Laden and not in one, two, or sixteen years. Every day he lives is an affront to American credibility. Let me be clear: nothing you do will ever even the score for September 11. But do these two things, and you will rebuild the gaping hole left in your wall of deterrence. Do these two things, and you will create awe and fear among the multitudes. Fail, and you will engender derision and contempt and the fear will be yours.
So the crucial question, one year after, is not how we have changed, but how they have changed above all, have they learned to fear us? Lewis ends his essay on the hopeful note that the destruction of terrorist bases in Afghanistan will have “compelled some revision of their earlier assessment of American weakness and demoralization.” But with bin Laden (and Mullah Omar) still at large along with much of al-Qa’ida’s leadership, Afghanistan in a tenuous state, and America’s leadership under question even by its allies, the authors of 9/11 still have room for hope. And to judge from the new terror alert, the fear is still ours.