If only the fantasy were true: If only there actually were a dominant, pro-American, echt moderate Islam, an ideology so dedicated to human rights, so sternly set against savagery, that acts of terrorism were, by definition, “un-Islamic activity.” Imagine an Islam that, far from a liability, proved an asset (indeed, an indispensable asset) in combating the threat against us. Imagine that we could accurately call the threat mere “extremism” — no “Islamic” (or even “Islamist”) modifier being necessary because the “extremists” truly were a tiny, aberrant band, fraudulently “hijacking” a great religion.
If the fantasy were true, who among us would not be proud to mark the annual observance of September 11 by breaking ground on a $100 million Islamic center cum mosque at the site of the most horrific attack in American history? In the nine years since the atrocities that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans at the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Shanksville, Pa., such an Islam — if it really existed — would have spearheaded the defeat of America’s enemies.
Such an Islam, over nine long years, would have risen up and made itself heard. It would have identified by name and condemned with moral outrage the imposters purporting to act in its name. It would have honored America’s sacrifice of blood and treasure in the liberation of oppressed Muslim peoples. It would have said “thank you” to our troops. It would have joined America, without ambiguity or hesitation, in crushing terror networks and dismantling the regimes that abet them. It would not have needed trillion-dollar American investments to forge democracies; it would naturally have adopted democracy on its own.
What excruciating truths have we yet failed to grasp on this ninth anniversary of 9/11? The first is that such an Islam does not exist. The second is that, despite this fact, American foreign and domestic policy continues to proceed as though it does exist — and as though it were the only real Islam. That is, nine years after Islamists made their commitment to our destruction as unmistakable as possible, nine years after the non-occurrence of all the wonderful things that would certainly have happened if the Islam of our dreams were the Islam of our reality, our national-security strategy is still steeped in fiction.
Self-delusion is a convenient policy. It resists defining missions with anything but the most detached, politically correct loftiness. Serial attacks by readily identifiable enemies seamlessly become a nebulous “war on terror,” then a “long struggle against violent extremism,” then an “overseas contingency operation.” If you stubbornly avoid saying whom you’re fighting and why, pretty soon no one remembers — the better to define down success — don’t say victory
. So we gradually slide from “You’re with us or you’re with the terrorists,” to “draining the swamps,” to “the forward march of freedom,” to the creation of “democracies” that are reliable American “allies in the war on terror,” to “democracy-lite, and please pass the sharia,” to “shoot for stability,” to “Why not negotiate with the Taliban? Look how well the engagement with Iran is going.”
We may succeed in kidding ourselves, but our enemies aren’t fooled. By 9/11, Iran had been braying “Death to America!” and matching word with deed for over 20 years. The mullahs heard all the “You’re with us or with the terrorists” banter, but they also saw it followed up with a policy of entreaty, appeasement, and capitulation. So they did what any jihadist taking our measure would do: They spent the ensuing nine years helping other jihadists kill Americans. The only difference now is that they’re about to be a jihadist nuclear power — a status they must have known was a shoo-in once the chorus of American politicians began pronouncing it “unacceptable.”