This long-planned post has become more relevant in light of the recent episode in Paris. These tragic events happen all too frequently, but they usually happen in places and to people that we don’t care about. Google “terrorist attacks 2015” for a startling picture of the vast toll of death and destruction that is inflicted on people all over the world without our giving a shit. But let it happen in New York, or Paris, and it’s Katy bar the door! Something must be done! But what, pray tell? What must be done?
September 11, 2001
I awoke that morning at 6:00 am in Los Angeles to the sound of NPR’s All Things Considered on the clock radio. For a change, something had happened. It has always been a little joke for me to wake up, turn on some media, and mumble to myself, “did anyone shoot the pope overnight?” That was 9:00 am in New York, and the first tower had already been hit. So I turned on the TV to CNN, and the video was startling, totally amazing. Surreal even, unreal, ludicrous! I had a court appearance that morning so I got rolling as usual, but with an eye on the TV. It got worse quickly.
I saw the second tower get hit, and the whole thing was obviously a big deal. I saw both of the towers come down, which was shocking in the extreme. I lived in New York when the towers were built. I went to college in the immediate area when construction began. Before that, over the years, I had shopped in the area. That was Christie Street, a long block of ancient buildings housing mostly Jewish owned stores selling electronic equipment. My father bought me my first transistor radio there when I was ten or so years old. He took me again to buy me my first serious set up for playing records, a Grundig radio and a Telefunken turntable (matching weird jacks, you know). Now here was the entire area lying in ruins at the hands of a group that seemed to be well known. I remember thinking that here it was, a moment where all that has happened before becomes the Old World. Welcome to the New World!
But what kind of New World would it be? That would depend on our response.
I drove to the court appearance even though I’d heard that government buildings would be closed. Just to be on the safe side. In the car I listened to more news and considered the possible responses, likely, preferred and ideal. I considered people’s emotions, including anger and sympathy, good will, and admiration for the first responders. It wouldn’t have taken a rocket scientist to figure out what was coming. But what would be the ideal response?
My Ideal Response
I had very strong opinions very quickly about what should be done. There were two immediate problems: 1) rebuilding the site; and 2) knocking the wind out of those angry Muslims.
What to do about the buildings was the easy part. If it were up to me, I would have re-built the Twin Towers substantially the way they had been as quickly as possible. Maybe change up the construction a bit to avoid what may have been weaknesses in the design, but remake them visually the same as they were. Let the world see how fast America can build huge structures, top them off, put a flag on top, and say to all observers, we’re back. That would have been quite a show.
In the event, they cleared the site fast enough, too fast in fact, fast enough to lend credence to the conspiracy crowd, but after that the process dragged on interminably. That kind of disagreement and uncertainty and hesitation looks like weakness, and people were watching. It was an embarrassment.
What to do about the angry Muslims was more challenging. I quickly settled on a two-track response as ideal. Above the table, my recommendation was all-love, all-the-time. An outreach to the Muslim world, with the message that we obviously have some differences, let’s address them, we’re here to help in any way that we can, we’re sorry if there have been misunderstandings. Tell the world, what can we do to help Muslim people? I would have spent good money on things like water projects; disease eradication programs; education assistance; farm aid; even infrastructure programs. All in close cooperation with local governments, where there were effective local governments. Not only the usual suspects, but also those with whom we had had less than wonderful relations. Like Iran, maybe Iraq and Syria. More with non-oil countries, because they need the help more. And wave American Muslims around like a flag. An American flag. You are here; we are us; all men are brothers. That kind of thing. That’s above the table.
Of course the people responsible for 9/11 were Muslim, and of course there would need to be a reckoning. But I felt at the time, and I still think, that it would be best to keep the worst of the violence under the table. Exaggerate, through misinformation, the fact that there were multiple factions of angry Muslims. Make people think that the situation is much worse than it is. Make even the angry Muslims themselves believe that there are factions that disagree with them and have violent intentions. Make some known angry militants unaccountably rich, and blame it on collaboration. Release doctored video, pictures and banking records that incriminate suspected perpetrators. Sow confusion among the jihadists, and then let them begin to mysteriously die. Make them believe that their killers are other angry Muslims who are perhaps jealous of their successes, or were apostates, or were spies. Disappearances and deaths, and let the world believe that the angry Muslims are killing each other. Maybe the angry Muslims themselves would believe it, or would be unsure. Just do it quietly, off-stage, and without being noticed.
Drive home the nail without using a hammer. Don’t be Rambo; be Penn and Teller. Couldn’t we have done that?
Maximum Importance Alert!
There are two things here that must be stressed as being totally, wildly important, two things that should have occurred to everyone as MUST DO things.
For one thing, preserve and develop all of that worldwide good will at all costs. The entire world, even countries that usually worked against our interests, was sympathetic to America in that magic moment. It would have been smart to have done anything and everything possible to nurture that good will and use it as an opportunity to improve relations with many countries where such a thing was possible. Countries like Iran, for instance. They were sympathetic! We could have found common ground and improved relations! But no.
Instead we launched two “Crusader” wars that were total, abject failures, throwing away trillions of dollars and achieving nothing good, sowing, instead, the seeds of ISIS and a long laundry list of terrible things that we will still be paying for decades from now. We arrogantly pissed off people all around the world, friend and foe alike. Oh, and we famously tortured people, egregiously and viciously. I mean, in the name of Sweet Baby Jesus! Couldn’t we at least have kept that a secret?
Secondly, when terrible people do terrible things, and you know exactly what they want and why they did it, please DO NOT GIVE THEM THE THINGS THAT THEY WANT!
This last thing constantly amazes me. The Palestinians launch a few small rockets into Israel, rockets that mostly explode harmlessly in some corn field somewhere. What do they want? They want Israel to retaliate and kill some Palestinian civilians. So what does Israel do? They retaliate with massive, concentrated firepower and blow up whole neighborhoods of civilians. The Palestinians are big winners. On 9/11 it was the same. Al Qaeda wanted to prove that there was a war between Muslims and the Western Democracies. Our response was to invade at least two Muslim countries and kill huge numbers of Muslims, thus proving Al Qaeda’s point. Watching this happen time after time is discouraging. Oye, vey ist mir, are our leaders stupid or what? (Hint: they’re stupid.)
So Now, Paris
ISIS itself might be something of a mystery, but their goals in this Paris attack are not mysterious at all. They want to discourage European countries from accepting refugees from their territory. They want to make life harder for Muslims in Europe so that more of them can be radicalized. They want Europe and America to unleash more military power on them, preferably sending ground troops, so that they can show the world that the “Crusaders” are invading the Dar Al Islam. So what is the response so far? New restrictions on refugees; increased hostility to Muslims in Europe and America; and military action, including talk of sending ground troops. They Shoot! They score! Militant Islam wins again!
It’s enough to make a sensible person despair.