Fifteen years ago today, with the al-Qaida attacks that murdered nearly 3,000* innocents in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, the world changed. Since that horrible day, perhaps even more ink has been spilled on those events than blood on September 11, 2001.
I will waste little additional ink here. Readers can find plenty more on other pages. I will say only that my feelings today are no different than they were 15 years ago: horror and outrage. If anything, these feelings have only grown with the unabated series of attacks on Western civilization by Islamist** fanatics.
What is even more horrifying than 9/11? The series of slaughters that have followed? The Boston Marathon bombing; the San Bernardino and Orlando massacres; the outrages in London, Madrid, Jakarta, Bali, Paris, Brussels, Nice and Ankara; the atrocities of Boko Haram in Africa and ISIS across the Mideast; the incessant bombings, stabbings, automobile attacks on pedestrians, and murders of children in their beds by Hamas and other hate-driven terrorists in Israel?
Is there anything more horrifying than all that? Yes. Society’s apparent resignation to these unspeakable acts as “the new normal.” That is truly terrifying.
A friend, in an article published yesterday, asked, “When will we wake up?” I think the better question is “What will it take to wake us up?”
Or has the civilized world, with all its economic, military and – yes – moral power, fallen into an irreversible coma? Or a coma from which we finally awake only when our fanatic Islamist enemies succeed in exploding a “suitcase” nuclear weapon, slaughtering not thousands but hundreds of thousands in New York or another prominent symbol of Western civilization?
I fear the answer. Whether we awake or not.
I also fear that if we do awake following one or more mega-attacks, society’s response might include sweeping away the West’s current leadership – much of which has been too timid to name our enemies, let alone strategically confront and respond to them lest it be accused of “Islamophobia” – and replacing those leaders with ugly, quasi-fascist regimes led by the sort of parties that are already rapidly gaining ground on the far right in Europe, e.g., Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France. Such enormous political change could very possibly be accompanied by unprecedented civil disorder. It won’t be pretty. And it could well spell the end of America’s – and the West’s – experiment in republican democracy.
Those two things – the continuing threat of Islamist mega-attacks and concern about the future of our liberal democratic society – keep me awake at night.
* The toll of 9/11, 2,996 dead and nearly 6,300 injured, surpassed even that of Japan’s 1941 strike on Pearl Harbor (2,403 dead and 1,178 injured), which catapulted the U.S. into World War II.
** For readers unfamiliar with the term, “Islamist” is not synonymous with “Islamic.” It means people who have been radicalized and turned into fanatics ready to fight in a jihad – “holy war” – against “infidels” or to commit atrocities in the name of Islam. While only a small percentage of Muslims are Islamists or have Islamist leanings, it represents a frighteningly large number of people when you consider Islam’s global population of more than 2 billion, or over a quarter of all those who share our planet.