Another 9/11 anniversary, another al Qaeda commemorative special. This one featured Abu Mus’ab Walid al-Sheri, one of the “Nineteen Champions of Holy Tuesday,” the seventh we’ve seen so far. He was introduced by Osama bin Laden in a 14-minute monologue heavy on history and theology. He hit the usual themes — the Muslim rulers are corrupt, the Mullahs are sellouts, Jews and Nazarenes are taking over. While last week’s al Qaeda video was addressed to the American people and sounded like it was pieced together from political blogs, this tape was made for the jihadists and showed Osama in top form. He quotes the Koran, he invokes historical figures, he dips into poetry and song; it is Osama being Osama. He should stick to what made him a star and leave global warming to the experts.
For his part, Abu Musab issued a warning: “We shall come at you from your front and back, your right and left.” But have they? We have seen threat after threat from al Qaeda and similar groups over the last six years, the repeated promise to their followers of “good news to come, God willing.” But apparently God has not been willing. They seek to inspire fear, but have only generated contempt and a sense of resolve.
Osama’s narration runs over a still from the recent video, so the audio may have been taped earlier, perhaps much earlier. The suicide video of course predates 9/11. It may have been intended to be part of information operations to support the terror campaign that was planned to follow. Many things were supposed to have happened six years ago. There were supposed to be two more waves of aircraft-based attacks across the US over the following weeks. The Muslim masses were supposed to turn out in the streets in support of Osama’s offensive. Legions of young men were supposed to flock to al Qaeda’s banner, to head for Afghanistan to join the growing army of the Caliphate, or to take independent action in the same cause. The apostate rulers were supposed to seek bargains with Osama or suffer attacks in their kingdoms and dictatorships. Osama had expected a very bright future to emerge.
But here we are six years later and there have been no more dramatic attacks on the US homeland, and all the other parts of the plan failed to materialize. The war on terror is no longer central to daily life, if it ever was after the fall of 2001. The anniversary of the attack came and went. Morning arrived grey and drizzly in New York, not like the bright and brilliant day of the attack. I went to Penn Station to catch a train to Washington. The most visible reminder of the attack was a message board set to read: “We Will Never Forget 9-11-01.” There were extra police and Guard personnel but not in great numbers. There were a few people wearing pins, but only a few. No flags, no posters. Life was going on, as it must and should.
The latest video, and Osama’s introduction in particular, presents a comprehensive argument in favor of mass murder. If you accept the premises, if you buy into the train of thought, it leads ineluctably to the deeds it was meant to justify. There is power in that; it has a great appeal to true believers seeking to give meaning to their otherwise vacant lives. Bin Laden praised Waled al-Shehri, saying he “recognized the truth” that Arab rulers were “vassals” of the west and had “abandoned the balance of [Islamic] revelation.” He called upon a caravan of martyrs to sacrifice themselves “until the sufficiency is complete and the march to aid the High and Omnipotent continues.”
But step back a minute and ask, who is this hate filled old man? Who could possibly care about his conception of the high and omnipotent? What psychologically maladjusted lowlifes would respond to his wretched ramblings? What dismal world do they live in? I looked around the train station — there were vendors with buckets of bright, fresh flowers. Shops full of freshly baked pastries. Cheerful people greeting friends and loved ones. Do we need a greater vision of the benevolent universe than that?
A string quartet was on the landing above the lobby, playing selections of Americana on violin, cello, guitar, and banjo. I can’t believe the banjo would be allowed to exist in bin Laden’s ideal world. Its raspy, joyful timbre would be inimical to the spirit of the Caliphate. I cannot envision rows of tired young boys memorizing the Koran with a banjo playing somewhere in the background.
Eventually three of the musicians packed up but the violinist remained, a tall young man dressed in black shirt and pants. He stood and began to play “God Bless America,” slowly, in a minor key, filling the rotunda with the sound. Soon the guitarist came back and joined in for a few licks. They smiled. It was not a dirge, but a tribute. And America passed by below, bustling, vigorous, and unafraid.
— James S. Robbins is the director of the Intelligence Center at Trinity Washington University , senior fellow for national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, and author of Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point. Robbins is also an NRO contributor.