Juan Cole and Robert Fisk on 9/11


As an accompaniment to my article examining the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, “On the 9th Anniversary of 9/11, A Call to Close Guantánamo and to Hold Accountable Those Who Authorized Torture,” I’m cross-posting two other articles that provide important perspectives on the horrendous events of that day, and their bitter aftermath.

In the first, Juan Cole, Middle East expert and author of Engaging the Muslim World, provides a much-needed response to the Islamophobia being stirred up in the US regarding the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” and the Qur’an burning threats of a publicity-hungry preacher in Florida, pointing out how the Qur’an explicitly prohibits acts of terrorism — and how, by extension, Osama bin Laden “is not a proper Muslim, and his actions contravened Islamic law. He is a Jim Jones-type cultist with a fringe, violent People’s Temple.” In the second article, Robert Fisk, the Independent’s Middle East correspondent, provides his own, inimitable take on the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, asking, “Did 9/11 make us all go mad?” and lamenting the two wars and the hundreds of thousands dead as a result of America’s response.

For other good articles, see Jason Linkins’ astute analysis, for the Huffington Post, of how the media created global hysteria over the Qur’an burning — instead of simply ignoring the Pastor Terry Jones — and Ted Koppel’s analysis of America’s self-defeating overreaction to the attacks in an op-ed for the Washington Post.

Top Ways 9/11 Broke Islamic Law
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment, September 11, 2010

On the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, it is clear that al-Qaeda was a tiny fringe terrorist movement, not a globe-straddling threat to Western societies. The organization has been decisively disrupted and now lacks command and control. Its leader, Osama Bin Laden, has not been seen in a video since 2004, and is either dead or horribly disfigured. Its number 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is dangerous only in the way that any other terrorist crank is, firing off crackpot messages to his dwindling band of followers from time to time. With the startling rise of anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States, fanned in large part by Republican Party fearmongering, it is worthwhile underlining the ways in which September 11 contravened Islamic values and Islamic law. (For a modernist, liberal interpretation, see “Jihad and the Islamic Law of War” (PDF)).

1. It is forbidden to attempt to impose Islam on other people. The Qur’an says, “There is no compulsion in religion. The right way has become distinct from error.” (The Cow, 2:256). Note that this verse was revealed in Medina and was never abrogated by any other verse of the Qur’an. Islam’s holy book forbids coercing people into adopting any religion. They have to willingly choose it.

2. Islamic law forbids aggressive warfare. The Qur’an says, “But if the enemies incline towards peace, do you also incline towards peace. And trust in God! For He is the one who hears and knows all things.” (8:61) The Qur’an chapter “The Cow, 2:190,” says, “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggressors.”

3. In Islamic war, not just any civil engineer can declare or launch a war. It is the prerogative of the duly constituted leader of the Muslim community that engages in the war. Nowadays that would be the president or prime minister of the state.

4. The killing of innocent non-combatants is forbidden. According to Sunni tradition, ‘Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, the first Caliph, gave these instructions to his armies: “I instruct you in ten matters: Do not kill women, children, the old, or the infirm; do not cut down fruit-bearing trees; do not destroy any town …” (Malik’s Muwatta’, “Kitab al-Jihad.”)

5. Muslim commanders must give the enemy fair warning that war is imminent. The Prophet Muhammad at one point gave 4 months notice. Sneak attacks are forbidden.

The World Trade Center had a mosque in it, which Bin Laden destroyed, and he killed dozens of innocent Muslims in the attack along with thousands of others. All of this is an abomination is Islamic law.

By the laws of classical Islam and the instructions of the Qur’an, then, the September 11 act of terrorism was illegal. It is not an affirmation of Islam but a departure from its laws of war. That is why, contrary to popular belief, Muslim authorities have roundly condemned al-Qaeda’s actions in no uncertain terms. See also the Amman statement, to which large numbers of prominent Sunni and Shiite leaders subscribed.

Al-Qaeda can legitimately be seen as not a Muslim group at all. Osama Bin Laden openly said of the hijackers that “those young men had no fiqh [Islamic law]” — i.e. they were lawless secret operatives rather than proper Muslims. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed when in the Philippines lived like James Bond, going to nightclubs with a pure silver cigarette lighter. Several of the hijackers frequented strip clubs. Ziad Jarrah was from a secular family and had a Turkish live-in girlfriend. Many of these operatives simply were not fundamentalists but rather an odd sort of Muslim nationalist. Bin Laden did not target the US because of its way of life, but because he said it imposed a boycott on Iraq in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, because it encouraged the Saudi regime to pump more oil than it should so as to keep the price low, because it stationed troops in the kingdom. Even if Bin Laden hadn’t been a crackpot with conspiracy theories, these points are not civilizational or religious issues. They are just politics.

Bin Laden wanted a big fight between the Muslim world and the United States. He wanted the US mired in Afghanistan. He is a nobody, leading a tiny group of cells now mostly disrupted. But the US has sunk itself into a quagmire of wars in a vast over-reaction to a terrorist attack. Without the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, al-Qaeda might well have just disappeared even further into insignificance than it did. And now, instigated by the Republican Party, US society is moving toward an Islamophobia that could well set it at odds with 1.5 billion Muslims.

Bin Laden is not a proper Muslim, and his actions contravened Islamic law. He is a Jim Jones-type cultist with a fringe, violent People’s Temple. Americans need to stop blaming Islam, and to recognize that most Muslims in the world are their friends, and that American Muslims are patriots and contributors to our well-being.

Every time Americans tear down Islam, Bin Laden gets a little bit of what he wanted.

Nine years, two wars, hundreds of thousands dead — and nothing learnt
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, September 11, 2010

Did 9/11 make us all go mad? How fitting, in a weird, crazed way, that the apotheosis of that firestorm nine years ago should turn out to be a crackpot preacher threatening another firestorm with a Nazi-style book burning of the Koran. Or a would-be mosque two blocks from “ground zero” — as if 9/11 was an onslaught on Jesus-worshipping Christians, rather than on the atheist West.

But why should we be surprised? Just look at all the other crackpots spawned in the aftermath of those international crimes against humanity: the half-crazed Ahmadinejad, the smarmy post-nuclear Gaddafi, Blair with his crazed right eye and George W. Bush with his black prisons and torture and lunatic “war on terror”. And that wretched man who lived — or lives still — in an Afghan cave and the hundreds of al-Qaedas whom he created, and the one-eyed mullah — not to mention all the lunatic cops and intelligence agencies and CIA thugs who failed us all — utterly — on 9/11 because they were too idle or too stupid to identify 19 men who were going to attack the United States. And remember one thing: even if the Rev. Terry Jones sticks with his decision to back down, another of our cranks will be ready to take his place.

Indeed, on this grim ninth anniversary — and heaven spare us next year from the 10th — 9/11 appears to have produced not peace or justice or democracy or human rights, but monsters. They have prowled Iraq — both the Western and the local variety — and slaughtered 100,000 souls, or 500,000, or a million; and who cares? They have killed tens of thousands in Afghanistan; and who cares? And as the sickness has spread across the Middle East and then the globe, they — the air force pilots and the insurgents, the Marines and the suicide bombers, the al-Qaedas of the Maghreb and of the Khalij and of the Caliphate of Iraq and the special forces and the close air support boys and the throat-cutters — have torn the heads off women and children and the old and the sick and the young and healthy, from the Indus to the Mediterranean, from Bali to the London Tube; quite a memorial to the 2,966 innocents who were killed nine years ago. All in their name, it seems, has been our holocaust of fire and blood, enshrined now in the crazed pastor of Gainesville.

This is the loss, of course. But who’s made the profit? Well, the arms dealers, naturally, and Boeing and Lockheed Martin and all the missile lads and the drone manufacturers and F-16 spare parts outfits and the ruthless mercenaries who stalk the Muslim lands on our behalf now that we have created 100,000 more enemies for each of the 19 murderers of 9/11. Torturers have had a good time, honing their sadism in America’s black prisons — it was appropriate that the US torture centre in Poland should be revealed on this ninth anniversary — as have the men (and women, I fear) who perfect the shackles and water-drowning techniques with which we now fight our wars. And — let us not forget — every religious raver in the world, be they of the Bin Laden variety, the bearded groupies in the Taliban, the suicide executioners, the hook-in the arm preachers, or our very own pastor of Gainesville.

And God? Where does he fit in? An archive of quotations suggests that just about every monster created in or after 9/11 is a follower of this quixotic redeemer. Bin Laden prays to God — “to turn America into a shadow of itself”, as he told me in 1997 — and Bush prayed to God and Blair prayed — and prays — to God, and all the Muslim killers and an awful lot of Western soldiers and Dr. (honorary) Pastor Terry Jones and his 30 (or it may be 50, since all statistics are hard to come by in the “war on terror”) pray to God. And poor old God, of course, has had to listen to these prayers as he always sits through them during our mad wars. Recall the words attributed to him by a poet of another generation: “God this, God that, and God the other thing. ‘Good God,’ said God, ‘I’ve got my work cut out’.” And that was just the First World War …

Just five years ago — on the fourth anniversary of the twin towers/ Pentagon/ Pennsylvania attacks — a schoolgirl asked me at a lecture in a Belfast church whether the Middle East would benefit from more religion. No — less religion! — I howled back. God is good for contemplation, not for war. But — and here we are driven on to the reefs and hidden rocks which our leaders wish us to ignore, forget and cast aside — this whole bloody mess involves the Middle East; it is about a Muslim people who have kept their faith while those Westerners who dominate them — militarily, economically, culturally, socially — have lost theirs. How can this be, Muslims ask? Indeed, it is a superb irony that the Rev. Jones is a believer while the rest of us — by and large — are not. Hence our books and our documentaries never refer to Muslims vs. Christians, but Muslims versus “The West”.

And of course, the one taboo subject of which we must not speak — Israel’s relationship with America, and America’s unconditional support for Israel’s theft of land from Muslim Arabs — also lies at the heart of this terrible crisis in our lives. In yesterday’s edition of The Independent, there was a photograph of Afghan demonstrators chanting “death to America”. But in the background, these same demonstrators were carrying a black banner with a message in Dari written upon it in white paint. What it actually said was: “The bloodsucking Zionist government regime and the Western leaders who are indifferent [to suffering] and have no conscience are again celebrating the new year by spilling the red blood of the Palestinians.”

The message is as extreme as it is vicious — but it proves, yet again, that the war in which we are engaged is also about Israel and “Palestine”. We may prefer to ignore this in “the West” — where Muslims supposedly “hate us for what we are” or “hate our democracy” (see: Bush, Blair and a host of other mendacious politicians) — but this great conflict lies at the heart of the “war on terror”. That is why the equally vicious Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the atrocities of 9/11 by claiming that the event would be good for Israel. Israel would now be able to claim that it, too, was fighting the “war on terror”, that Arafat — this was the now-comatose Ariel Sharon’s claim — is “our Bin Laden”. And thus Israelis had the gall to claim that Sderot, under its cascade of tin-pot missiles from Hamas, was “our ground zero”.

It was not. Israel’s battle with the Palestinians is a ghastly caricature of our “war on terror”, in which we are supposed to support the last colonial project on earth — and accept its thousands of victims — because the twin towers and the Pentagon and United Flight 93 were attacked by 19 Arab murderers nine years ago. There is a supreme irony in the fact that one direct result of 9/11 has been the stream of Western policemen and spooks who have travelled to Israel to improve their “anti-terrorist expertise” with the help of Israeli officers who may — according to the United Nations — be war criminals. It was no surprise to find that the heroes who gunned down poor old Jean Charles de Menezes on the London Tube in 2005 had been receiving “anti-terrorist” advice from the Israelis.

And yes, I know the arguments. We cannot compare the actions of evil terrorists with the courage of our young men and women, defending our lives — and sacrificing theirs — on the front lines of the “war on terror”. There can be no “equivalence”. “They” kill innocents because “they” are evil. “We” kill innocents by mistake. But we know we are going to kill innocents — we willingly accept that we are going to kill innocents, that our actions are going to create mass graves of families, of the poor and the weak and the dispossessed.

This is why we created the obscene definition of “collateral damage”. For if “collateral” means that these victims are innocent, then “collateral” also means that we are innocent of killing them. It was not our wish to kill them — even if we knew it was inevitable that we would. “Collateral” is our exoneration. This one word is the difference between “them” and “us”, between our God-given right to kill and Bin Laden’s God-given right to murder. The victims, hidden away as “collateral” corpses, don’t count any more because they were slaughtered by us. Maybe it wasn’t so painful. Maybe death by drone is a more gentle departure from this earth, evisceration by an AGM-114C Boeing-Lockheed air-to-ground missile less painful, than death by shards from a roadside bomb or a cruel suicider with an explosive belt.

That’s why we know how many died on 9/11 — 2,966, although the figure may be higher — and why we don’t “do body counts” on those whom we kill. Because they – “our” victims — must have no identities, no innocence, no personality, no cause or belief or feelings; and because we have killed far, far more human beings than Bin Laden and the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Anniversaries are newspaper and television events. And they can have an eerie habit of coalescing together to create an unhappy memorial framework. Thus do we commemorate the Battle of Britain — a chivalric episode in our history — and the Blitz, a progenitor of mass murder, to be sure, but a symbol of innocent courage — as we remember the start of a war that has torn our morality apart, turned our politicians into war criminals, our soldiers into killers and our ruthless enemies into heroes of the anti-Western cause. And while on this gloomy anniversary the Rev. Jones wanted to burn a book called the Koran, Tony Blair tried to sell a book called A Journey. Jones said the Koran was “evil”; Britons have asked whether the Blair book should be classified as “crime”. Certainly, 9/11 has moved into fantasy when the Rev. Jones can command the attention of the Obamas and the Clintons and the Holy Father and the even more Holy United Nations. Whom the gods would destroy …

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

8 Responses

  1. Jan says...

    Andy – Too often I hear the inaccurate excuses, made by my fellow citizens in the US, as to why “we should” fear Muslims, distrust all “Muslims” and that “they hate us”.
    The fallacies promoted by political hacks, media moguls and corporate heads that is for the SOLE purpose of perpetuating war and imperialism that seems to be the guiding force of the US of A over the past 30 years.
    It is the basis for all propaganda of hate creating the “islamophobic” responses we hear so pronounced and it is causing an increase in fear, anger and acting out against people innocent of everything except for their belief in God.
    A religion does not hate, people do; a belief in GOD does not fly jet into buildings, people do.
    It was not “Muslims” acting in their belief in GOD, it was angry, misguided and manipulated people acting out after being pushed to the edge of their limits by those who would use them for their own political aims.
    The US is NOT a Christian Nation, it is a nation with a large number of Christians – it is not Christianity that causes us to fear those brothers and sisters of the Book – it is our own ignorance and intolerance.
    Just like it is not Islam that creates men and women who will strap bombs on their bodies to kill hundreds in a market or mosque; or fly jets into tall buildings.
    Exceptionalism and hubris are evil but too often we are guided by them..
    So GuantanamoAndy, keep bringing the light and shining it on us all.
    The only way for true understanding is to confront the demons and understand they are not outside but within

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Jan, for the excellent analysis — and for the supportive words.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Here are some comments from Facebook:

    Ryan Brevard made my day. He wrote:

    my 2010 all star journalism team = greenwald, cole, worthington, taibbi, scahill.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Val Stevenson wrote:

    Totally agree, Andy – two voices worth hearing.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Mujahid Ul-Haq wrote:

    excellent andy, man…. its been nine years

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Rukhsana Bhatti wrote:

    I’m so glad people like you are highlighting these issues. Still a lot of Islamaphobia out there. Not sure if America will ever get to grips with Islam when so many still believe Baraka Obama is a Muslim!!!!

  7. ANDY WORTHINGTON: Introducing the Definitive List of the Remaining Prisoners in Guantánamo | Dark Politricks says...

    […] Juan Cole and Robert Fisk on 9/11 […]


    […] Juan Cole and Robert Fisk on 9/11 […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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