Remembering 9/11.

Since 2001, September 11 has become a somber occasion – a sad reminder of an attack on American soil that shattered many lives. Almost every American who was alive at the time can remember where they were and what they were doing when New York’s World Trade Center towers came down.

That day impacted everyone – some far more than others.

I have known people who were in New York that fateful day, people who worked to clean up the site in the aftermath, people who were in the air and rerouted to airports outside the US. All of their lives were dramatically changed in a moment; a flash from the explosion of jet fuel; a massive cloud of dust; the unknown of what and who would be next.

Sadly, there are casualties from that day that have been overlooked or forgotten, such as the first responders who worked around the clock to help survivors and to find the bodies of the dead. Many of these people have been stricken with cancer and other diseases, yet had to fight Congress in order to receive funding for the health care they need. Many of the first responders have prematurely died as a direct result of that day. Many have suffered from PTSD and taken their own lives in percentages that far exceed the suicide rate of other Americans.

Indeed, it is expected that the premature deaths of these heroes will exceed the deaths of the 2,977 original victims of 9/11 by the end of 2018!

In addition, there are other things about that day that have been largely ignored. In the tribalization of our national politics, too many Americans have refused to acknowledge that the Bush administration had clear warnings of the impending calamity. Richard A. Clarke, the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism, has written about running around Washington with his “hair on fire” trying to warn that we were about to be attacked. The PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) of August 6, 2001 was headlined “Bin Laden Determined To Strike In US.” The text of that PDB even included the possibility of the hijacking of aircraft.

Many of us never knew or have forgotten about the British immigrant Rick Rescorla who, as Security Chief for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, accurately predicted the attack on the World Trade Center towers and created an emergency evacuation plan. On the day of the attack, he led 2,700 people to safety before he died after going back into the tower to look for stragglers.

Too few of us recognize that many of the victims of 9/11 were citizens of other nations.

Too many US politicians have conveniently overlooked the fact that 15 of the 19 terrorists were from our so-called ally, Saudi Arabia, in order to maintain the flow of Saudi oil to world markets. The same Saudi regime that bombed a school bus full of Yemeni children with US-made weapons and US-provided guidance. The same Saudi Arabia that is responsible for creating and exporting a radical and hateful form of religion based on Islam.

Too many of us have forgotten that America’s longest-lasting war – the war in Afghanistan – which began as a direct result of the 9/11 attacks is still raging and still costing the blood and treasure of our nation. Too many have forgotten that the invasion of Iraq was falsely tied to 9/11, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis and more than 4,800 members of the American-led coalition. And almost no one recognizes that the radicalization of Islam began in Saudi Arabia. That it was exported to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. And that its flames were fanned by US-sponsored propaganda created by a former professor from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

So, on this somber day, I would suggest that you remember the issues and mistakes that led up to that fateful day in 2001 and that still plague us today in order that we not repeat them. And I would suggest that you remember all of the heroes and victims, including the first responders and the families of those who have died.

After Paris, What Next?

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, the Republican presidential candidates and others are calling for President Obama to deploy a large force of troops in Iraq and Syria. There are those who want to prohibit Syrian refugees from entering our country…unless they are Christian. And, as with every terrorist attack, there are those who blame all of Islam. Donald Trump even called for the closure of all mosques in the US!

As awful as the attacks were, we all need to take a collective deep breath. Let’s not over-react by trying to punish all Muslims and excluding refugees from western countries. Let’s not allow ourselves to be caught in between the angry religious crusaders on the right and the na├»ve apologists on the left.

It’s important to understand that most Muslims have condemned the attacks and oppose terrorism. The extremists who carried out the attacks on behalf of ISIS do not represent the vast majority of Muslims any more than Westboro Baptist Church represents all Christians. Yet it’s undeniable that the attacks and jihadist extremism are associated with radical Islamic fundamentalists.

Before we act, we should understand that the problem began in Saudi Arabia with a narrow ideology called Wahhabi (aka Salafi) fundamentalism. It divides all people into two groups – the Wahhabis (who will go to heaven) and infidels (Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc. who will not). This divisive belief system is still popular in Saudi Arabia today and it was exported to western Pakistan during the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion. It is still taught in Pakistani madrassas with the help of textbooks created by the University of Nebraska at Omaha and paid for by USAid that portrayed the invaders as western infidels. (Not surprisingly, many of the children taught in these madrassas later became the Taliban.) It is still nourished and funded by some Saudi billionaires. And it was used to justify the attacks on 9/11 as payback for the US military presence in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War (15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi citizens).

This form of Islam (based on 7th century beliefs and laws) became even more virulent following the US invasion of Iraq which led to the disenfranchisement of thousands of Sunnis and the appearance of the US waging war against Islam. Ultimately, this led many Sunnis and desperate youth (who have grown of age in a war zone) to coalesce into what we now know as ISIS.

All of this has been made worse by years of turmoil in the Middle East which has caused Muslim refugees to relocate throughout the region, Europe and the US. While the first generation of these refugees embraced their new countries, their children have too often found themselves feeling isolated, unemployed and the victims of racism and repression. Now in their twenties, some of these second generation refugees are easy marks for extremist recruiters.

What can be done to prevent more terror attacks, such as those that were carried out in Paris?

First, we must be careful not to over-react. As Maajid Nawaz, founder of the counter-terrorist organization, Quillium, said during an interview on Global Public Square with Fareed Zakaria, “Now is not the time to think like ISIS along religious lines.” We must not allow ourselves to follow those who want to attack and isolate Islam. Second, we need to militarily destroy ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Third, we must root out the extremist mullahs and recruiters. But, in doing so, we cannot allow our actions to be seen as a war on Islam. That will only make matters worse.

We must recognize that militarily defeating the ISIS will not, by itself, end terrorism.

More than anything else, we must focus on preventing the next generation of terrorists. We must deal with the conditions and issues that allowed Islamic terrorism to flourish. We must include young Muslim youth in our culture. We must replace their frustration and isolation with opportunity and hope. (The countries that have best succeeded in doing that, such as Germany and the US, have experienced fewer problems with home-grown terrorism than France and others.) And we must starve the extremists of funding.

As Nawaz said, “…this is an ideas problem in a civil society less so than a physical military problem.”