The Noseless Bear and The Blind Lion
The fashion dictators demanded that a man’s beard be longer than the grip of his hand. Violators went to jail until they were sufficiently bushy. A man with “Beatle-ly” hair would have his head shaved. Should a woman leave her home without her veil, “her home will be marked and her husband punished,” the Taliban penal code decreed. The animals in the zoo-those that had not been stolen in previous administrations-were slain or left to starve. One zealous, perhaps mad, Taliban jumped into a bear’s cage and cut off his nose, reputedly because the animal’s “beard” was not long enough. Another fighter, intoxicated by events and his own power, leaped into the lion’s den and cried out, “I am the lion now!” The lion killed him. Another Taliban solider threw a grenade into the den, blinding the animal. These two, the noseless bear and the blind lion, together with two wolves, were the only animals that survived Taliban rule. -Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
Our thinking has survived and changed a decade after 9/11. My roundup from around the web:
Andrew Sullivan on if Bin Laden “won”:
We need to understand that 9/11 worked. It worked as a tactic to induce American self-destruction, even if it failed spectacularly as a strategy to advance Al Qaeda—and its heretical message of suicidal warfare—across the globe. It worked because this was not just another terror attack. The emblems were clear: the looming towers of Western capitalism in New York, the cradle of Western democracy in Washington. When the third plane crashed into the Pentagon and the fourth (United 93) was brought down by its passengers, the drama didn’t cease. We saw the symbol of America’s military preeminence lying with its side opened like a tin can. And we imagined the panic and courage in the air over Pennsylvania as people just like us finally found their bearings and fought back.
Christopher Hitchens on Al-Qaeda and the obfuscation of “complexity”:
The proper task of the “public intellectual” might be conceived as the responsibility to introduce complexity into the argument: the reminder that things are very infrequently as simple as they can be made to seem. But what I learned in a highly indelible manner from the events and arguments of September 2001 was this: Never, ever ignore the obvious either. To the government and most of the people of the United States, it seemed that the country on 9/11 had been attacked in a particularly odious way (air piracy used to maximize civilian casualties) by a particularly odious group (a secretive and homicidal gang: part multinational corporation, part crime family) that was sworn to a medieval cult of death, a racist hatred of Jews, a religious frenzy against Hindus, Christians, Shia Muslims, and “unbelievers,” and the restoration of a long-vanished and despotic empire.
Conor Friedersdorf on 9/11 political correctness and the role of universities in teaching complexity:
Essayist Charlotte Allen is sharp writer whose best pieces adeptly skewer the left’s politically correct excesses. But her latest piece, a critical look at the 9/11 commemorations American universities are planning, sure reads as though she’s the one trying to enforce politically correct orthodoxies of thought. Take her criticism of the lectures and non-credit courses offered this year at the University of Denver, including Retrospective Reflections on the Crisis of Religion and Politics in the Muslim World, Islam and Muslims in the U.S. Media, and The Future of Islam: Beyond Fear and Fundamentalism. “Where were the firefighters?” Allen asks. “Where was Flight 93? Where was the sense that 9/11 was an atrocity of such monstrous proportions that retribution–not to mention military action that could deter similar attacks in the future–was fully in order?”
Her complaint, put more broadly, is that unlike commemorations in the rest of America, “campus commemorations, many of which will be spaced out for days and even weeks this fall, will focus on, well, understanding it all, in the ponderous, ambiguity-laden, complexity-generating way that seems to be the hallmark of college professors faced with grim events about which they would rather not think in terms of morality.” But surely America’s universities, being institutions of higher learning, properly take an approach to marking the terrorist attacks that is in keeping with their distinct mission, just as in lower Manhattan, the city government, the Catholic parish, and the local newspapers will all commemorate the 10 year anniversary in their own ways.
Andreas Kluth on terrorism and human risk assessment:
Did September 11th teach us about the risks of terrorism? It should not have. The existential threat of a suitcase bomb, a rogue nuclear event, already existed before and exists still. On the other hand, September 11th itself killed about as many Americans as die each year as a result of texting while driving. Homo sapiens are bad at understanding risks relative to one another, and worse at responding proportionately. The world became a worse place on that day. In part because the terrorists made it that way. In part, because the rest of us then did the same.
Sam Harris on intellectual honesty and its role in human conflict:
Ten years have passed since a group of mostly educated and middle-class men decided to obliterate themselves, along with three thousand innocents, to gain entrance to an imaginary Paradise. This problem was always deeper than the threat of terrorism—and our waging an interminable “war on terror” is no answer to it. Yes, we must destroy al Qaeda. But humanity has a larger project—to become sane. If September 11, 2001, should have taught us anything, it is that we must find honest consolation in our capacity for love, creativity, and understanding. This remains possible. It is also necessary. And the alternatives are bleak.
Lawrence Wright on “What is Islam?” and “What is America?”:
To understand the scale of nonviolent sacrifice that Muslims have endured in the pursuit of democracy and justice in recent months, it is useful to look back at a similar time in American history. There is a monument in Montgomery, Alabama, to the martyrs of the civil-rights movement. Only a few of the 40 names on that memorial — Emmett Till, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers — are familiar to most Americans. The architecture of civil-rights laws that arose from their sacrifice made America a more just nation.
Compare those 40 names to the martyrs of the Arab Spring so far: Some 200 died in the revolution in Tunisia. The death toll in Egypt reached 840 during the 18 days of revolution. More than a thousand have been killed in the youthful rebellion in Yemen. So far in Syria, more than 2,200 lives have been lost.
Photo Essay by Kate Brooks, What War Looks Like:
Many Afghans have never heard of 9/11, CNN video: