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by Amir Taheri
Benador Associates
July 26, 2004

Reading the 570-page "The 9/11 Commission Report" is like going through a French nouveau-roman. It starts with the promise of uncovering an ingenious plot but offers nothing but re-heated platitudes served with a pseudo-philosophical garnish.

The reader ends up asking: where is the beef?

The trouble starts with what looks like a misunderstanding of the mission of the commission.

When it was set up many thought that the commission was there to find out who were the people who wish to kill Americans and why; and , once those questions were addressed, to come up with suggestions for neutralizing those people and destroying the environment that breeds them.

The commissioners, however, appear to have embarked upon an altogether different mission.

The commissioners tell us that they had three aims:

To offer "the most complete narrative" of the 9/11 events. But that, in fact, is the task of historians and may not be possible for years, if not decades to come. There is still so much that we do not know. What the report offers is a collage of numerous articles and books that have already covered the "event" side of the 9/11 event. One more narrative adds little that is useful.

To assemble as many personal testimonies as possible of the survivors of the attacks and their families. This, though, a laudable effort, is of little help in identifying the ideology and the machine that produced the killers in the first place.

To offer recommendations about ways and means of preventing similar attacks. Normally, this should have been the "meat" of the report. It is not. It is, in fact, its Achilles heel. The reasons are not hard to imagine.

The commissioners have a politico-technocratic mindset. They are the products of a political culture that assumes that all problems have technical and bureaucratic solutions.

Such solutions are standard: create a new layer of bureaucracy, and spend some more money. This has, of course, failed to solve the social problems that the US itself has faced for decades, and is certainly not going to put the fear of God in Osama bin Laden and his like.

The commission itself was a typical product of such a way of thinking. So it is not surprising that it came up with only two new proposals: one is to create a Cabinet post dealing with intelligence, a twin for the existing Homeland Security tsar.

The other is a suggestion to spend money on improving the lives of disaffected youths in Arab and other Muslim countries. I am not kidding!


Less than 10 per cent of the report, basically its Chapter II, is devoted to the key question: who are these terrorists, where do they come from, and what makes them tick?

The report says: "We learned about an enemy who is sophisticated, patient, disciplined, and lethal. The enemy rallies broad support in the Arab and Muslim world by demanding redress for political grievances, but its hostility towards us and our values is limitless."

Leaving aside the odd syntax,-obviously someone insisted that the last phrase be added- the paragraph quoted above shows how the commission got on the wrong track from the start.

The report assumes that there is a single, readily identifiable enemy. This is the routine way of political thinking, as shaped during the Cold War.
Anyone with knowledge of the Arab countries and the Muslim world in general would know that this is not the case.

The problem with the current war on terror is precisely that the democracies, and those Muslims who aspire after democracy, are faced with a multi-faceted threat that assumes numerous forms, from the burning of books to the cutting of throats.

This is a war that has to be fought in numerous battlefields and against many enemies that, though united in their efforts to destroy the democratic societies, and first among them the United States, use a bewilderingly wide range of weapons and tactics.

The Bush administration has opened the military theatre of this war by liberating Afghanistan and Iraq and seeking to destroy the terrorists in there.

But this is a war that must also be fought in diplomatic, cultural, religious, and, above all, political battlefields. In all those theatres the US would need, and can find, allies, including among a majority of the Muslims who have been the first victims of Islamic fascism and its ideology of terror.

The commission has no suggestions to make about how to engage in those battlefields, who to choose as allies and who to identify as neutrals.
The commission makes an even bigger mistake. By speaking of "political grievances" it tries to explain the Islamists within the parameters of classical logic.

Having accused the administration of lack of imagination, the commission, is itself unable to imagine a conflict that is not political in the normal sense of the term.

The typical politician in a democracy, starting with ancient Athens, is a deal-maker. He practices the art of compromise, not confrontation. He is always ready to understand the other side, to accept part of the blame, and to propose give-and-take.

A more cynical version of this type of politics leads to triangulation, a la Bill Clinton. That kind of politics, however, does not work with the kind of enemy the US now faces. This enemy does not want to give and take, to compromise, or to triangulate. He wants you to obey him in every detail or he will kill you.

Once you assume some guilt on your own part, the whole thing could go something like this: well, you know, our wealth and power is bound to cause jealousy and humiliation among the poor and powerless; we also have a military presence in all but three of the Arab states; and don't we support Israel whose destruction is the dream of every Arab worth its salt?

The aims of the "enemy" in question, however, are not solely political.
He will not be happy even if, in the spirit of liberal generosity, you gave him half of your power and wealth. Nor would he settle for a total American withdrawal from the world. Nor again would he be satisfied if you helped him wipe Israel off the map.

This enemy's conflict with the United States, and alongside it other democracies, not to mention those Muslims who also aspire after democracy, is not political but existential.

He wants to rule you because he thinks he is the holder of a "the highest form of truth". Just as Hitler believed that the Aryan master-race had a natural right to rule the rest of mankind, regarded as sub-humanity, these guys believe that because they are Muslims they have a God-given right to seize control of all aspects of our lives.

Remember that Hitler, too, had grievances: starting with the Versailles Treaty and the Suddeten ethnic Germans.

Once you assume that those who kill Americans do so because of "political grievances", the next logical step is to establish a list of those grievances and find ways of addressing them.

This leads to a role reversal: rather than the Americans being the aggrieved party because they are killed, not to mention the daily burning of their flags- those who cut throats and burn American flags become the victims with "political grievances."

This enemy wants you, the whole world in fact, to convert to Islam because he believes the advent of Islam abrogated all other religions. Anyone who is not a Muslim is not a full human being.

"Our struggle is not about land or water," the late Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini said in 1980. "It is about bringing, by force if necessary, the whole of mankind onto the right path."

During the largest pan-Islamist conference ever was held in the Sudanese capital Khartoum in 1993. It ended with a vow to turn the 21st century into "the century of Islam's triumph throughout the globe."
But even if all Americans do convert to Islam that would not satisfy the "enemy" in question.

This enemy would want you to convert to his version of Islam. He wants to seize full control of every aspect of your life and dictate whatever move you make. Its chief theoretician, Abu-Ala Muadoodi, says that God subjected man's body to the iron laws of biology from which he cannot escape. The task of Islam, meaning Maudoodi's Islam, is to impose similar iron laws on man's soul.

This enemy regards the overwhelming majority of Muslims as "lapsed ones" or "hypocrites". This is the enemy that was measuring the beards of Muslims men in the streets of Kabul and punishing those whose facial hair was not up to standard. This is the same enemy that raids shopping malls in Tehran to beat up Muslim women who dare reveal a single strand of hair from under their hijab. This is the same enemy who issues a booklet under the title of "Allowed and Forbidden", in Qatar each year, dictating every imaginable move that anyone might make anywhere and at any given time.
Now, this enemy does not grow on trees. He is the product of a system of education, a culture and a polity. He is citizen of a state, has bases and safe havens not in space but in real countries, and uses all the facilities of the modern global system.

It is astonishing that the 9/11 Commission chose to fly over all that.
It discovered extensive contacts between the Al Qaeda and 24 governments in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Al Qaeda's contacts with Iraq and Iran, not to mention Syria through its domination of Lebanon, stretched over years and are mentioned in the report.

The Commission, however, did not think of asking any of those governments what they were doing talking to Al Qaeda. May be Al Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden, simply dropped in for a social call; and may be all the talk was only about the weather. But it would have been nice to know what the governments involved had to say for themselves.

Lee Hamilton, the Democrat co-chairman of the Commission, has gone out of his way to hammer in the point that they found no evidence of actual cooperation between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, although there was a well established pattern of relationship between them.
Hamilton means this as in indirect way of criticizing President George W Bush's decision to liberate Iraq.

The fact, however, is that if the Commission found no evidence that Saddam worked with Al Qaeda, it also found no evidence that he didn't. In a case like this the "presumption of innocence" cannot be used for obfuscation.

Keen to score a partisan point of his own, Tom Kean, the Commission's Republican Chairman, has come up with his own gem of a phrase to give credit to the Bush administration's efforts since 9/11.
"Although we are safer today, we are not safe," he says.

Well, how can you be safer if you are not safe in the first place?

What he means is that we are less unsafe now than we were on the eve of 9/11.

Both men ask why is it that the terrorists specially hate America?
Neither provides an answer.

The answer can be found in hundreds of books, articles and sermons that make the round in the Arab world.
The US is an "evil animal" because it can bite back when bitten. It is not Spain that would rush to change its governments after a few bomb kills 200 people on suburban trains. Nor is it The Philippines to change its foreign policy as soon as one of its citizens is seized as hostage in Iraq.

Nor yet can the US be compared to some of the European Union members who spend more intellectual and diplomatic energy fighting George W Bush than they do in combating Islamist fascism.

"The American Great Satan is the centre of global perfidy," says Ayatollah Emami Kashani, one of Iran's ruling mullahs. "Hit the centre and the edifice collapses."

According to bin Laden a single hour fighting America is better than 10,000 pilgrimages to Mecca.

There is no space here to review the 9/11 report in detail.

There are also too many grammatical, spelling, and factual errors to be catalogued in a newspaper article. But the chief failure of the commission was in its assumption that the mindset that suits the study of isolated, though dramatic, events, could also accommodate a probe into the undercurrents of history of which the 9/11 tragedy was but a manifestation.

All that one can say is that, although it took 19 moths to complete, the Commission's report is a bland document whose chief purpose is not to ruffle any feathers.

It says: "It is not our purpose to assess blame." Really? On the contrary, the commission was set up to assess blame and to expose those responsible.

Sadly, the 9/11 Commission has failed in its mission. The American people, indeed the whole world deserve a more serious approach to this life and death issue of our times.

Amir Taheri is an Iranian author of ten books on the Middle East and Islam. He's reachable through


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