Yeah, I think we can all agree to Never Forget. Seems like the thing to do. We’re Americans. And our country was attacked. So let’s stand together today, and Never Forget.
But what, exactly, are we Never Forgetting? And, more importantly, for what purpose? What is accomplished by our Never Forgetting?
We will Never Forget where we were, the horrific images seared into our brains, and the details of the suffering. We can’t possibly forget. We don’t need to remember to Never Forget, we just do it. And there’s probably not much good to come from this Never Forgetting, unless you’re into using these memories to stir anger into some steely resolve. Maybe that’s something, I guess.
We must Never Forget the victims, some will say, lest their deaths be in vain. I didn’t know anyone killed in the attacks on 9/11 – I know this makes me fortunate, and I consider myself so. I do know people who knew people who died that day. I know that the victims will not be forgotten by their friends, as long as those friends live. The victims will not be forgotten by their families for at least a couple generations, maybe longer.
As for dying in vain, does our Never Forgetting the victims really accomplish that? More on that shortly.
Should we Never Forget the hijackers? I think this would be a less-popular sentiment, at least in terms of the actual identities of the men. Most would probably agree that these men should be forgotten, so as to avoid any type of glorification or credit for their deeds. But, maybe, we should Never Forget that they were Muslim. Surely, there are many who would agree that this is closer to the crux of why we Never Forget. Islam is at war with western civilization, and we must remain ever vigilant.
Except, of course, that it really isn’t. There’s no disagreement that the attackers were indeed Muslim, but there’s no indication that radical terrorists make up more than a tiny fraction of the world’s largest religion. If Islam itself were truly at war with the West, well, I’m not sure I’d like our chances. But it is not.
Here’s my proposal for what we should Never Forget: What did the 9/11 terrorists want?
From a 2012 piece by Mary Habeck (text bolded by me):
A speech by John Brennan in 2011 gives a detailed look at how the U.S. defines al Qaeda’s goals, proposing four separate objectives: first, to terrorize the U.S. into retreating from the world stage; second, to use long wars to financially bleed the U.S. while inflaming anti-American sentiment; third, to defend the rights of Muslims; and finally, claims al Qaeda has “a feckless delusion” and “grandiose vision” for global domination through a “violent Islamic caliphate.”
A look at the public and private statements of al Qaeda’s leaders supports the view that the group seeks to achieve far more than simply attacking the U.S. and its allies. In multiple statements, leaders like Zawahiri have consistently presented a series of objectives that al Qaeda is actively pursuing: liberating all “Muslim lands” from occupation by both non-Muslims and “apostate” rulers; imposing their version of sharia (Islamic law) on Muslims and non-Muslims alike in these lands; erecting then a state that they call the “caliphate;” and eventually making God’s word the highest. This phrase, which means many things to Muslims, signifies just one thing for the extremists: that the entire world is ruled by their version of sharia.
It is significant that al Qaeda’s lists of objectives do not mention attacking the United States or its allies. Rather, attacking the U.S. is presented as a way to achieve these goals, suggesting that U.S. evaluations of al Qaeda’s effectiveness have a serious error at their very foundation: a confusion of our enemy’s means and ends. The importance of this mistake cannot be understated. If al Qaeda’s main goal is to attack the U.S. and our current counter-terrorism (CT) efforts have prevented the group from doing so, then we have succeeded not only in saving lives, but also have found how to stop the terrorists entirely. If, on the other hand, killing Americans was just one of the methods that al Qaeda has been employing on its way to other, larger goals, then our CT work might have only partially thwarted the group and there might be other areas where they have been more successful in reaching their goals.
Of the four objectives Brennan ascribes to al Qaeda, the first two appear to be “mission accomplished.”
In my opinion, to ensure that the victims of 9/11 have not died in vain, we must Never Forget what our attackers wanted. And we must stand together and fight against that.