September 11 (2001)
It was on this date, September 11, 2001, that four US planes were hijacked, turned in flight, and crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, into the west wall of the Pentagon in Washington DC, and into a rural Pennsylvania field, in a suicide attack on the United States of America.
That September 11 terrorist attack, conceived by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and carried out by al-Qaeda, has come to be known by its date, 9/11. And 9/11 was the most destructive faith-based initiative on US soil. As much as priests and politicians deny it, the facts are clear: without religion, those 19 young men would never have sacrificed their lives to achieve an end from which they would never live to benefit. If being faithful is the same as being good, then only religion can make good people do bad things.
Why did they do it? The glib answer is that people who are strong and successful are always hated by people who are not. Or, they hate our freedom, as pandering politicians say. The more accurate answer was articulated by the terrorists themselves: after defeating the lesser Satan, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the next holy cause was to defeat the Great Satan, America. This Great Satan is evil because (say the terrorists) it is a tempter, or in the words of the Qu’ran, one who "whispers in the hearts of men." It is the secularism of the West, as well as US support for Israel and the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, that are seen as impediments to submission to the true faith of Islam.
However, there is no question about 9/11 being part of a religious war: the terrorist attack fell on two symbols of secular American power: the financial power represented by the World Trade Center and the military power represented by the Pentagon. (One can only speculate that the fourth plane was destined for a political symbol: the US Capitol or the White House.) So although this was a faith-based attack by professed Muslims on a country dominated by people professing to be Christian, 9/11 was not an attack by Islam on Christianity.
There are six million Muslims in the US, about a billion worldwide, and many if not most of those Muslims (excluding the late Osama bin Laden himself) are poor, live in countries with no political freedom, and are taught from birth to blame their misery on the Great Satan, or its foreign policy, or its secularism or its support for Israel – instead of their own inadequate government and social services. And although the “Arab Spring” of 2011 may be changing this, there is almost no chance Muslims will blame their repressive religion.
Is Christianity just as bad? It was: the Christian Bible authorized the Crusades, the Inquisition, the murder of minority religions, slavery, the subjugation of minorities, the subjugation of women, slavery, imperialism and wars of aggression. To a greater or lesser extent, by history as well as by Qu’ranic exhortation, so does Islam. But there is little evidence of these Christian crimes against humanity in this century. On the other hand, there is no question about 9/11 being an attack by Islam against Christianity: the terrorists destroyed no Christian symbols, only secular ones.
You see, the West is not a Christian civilization. Yes, it has some values (mostly bad ones) that are coincident with Christianity. But to call the West Christian is to forget that there is no mention of democracy or representative government in the Bible. The Bible includes no idea of toleration for other races or religions. There is not a particle of biblical support for science. It is the secular ideas of democracy, tolerance and science that built the West, not priests and prayer. And all these ideas are missing from Islam.
Islam is about submission to one ideology; secularism is about openness to and tolerance toward multiple ideologies. If Islam can secularize and behave rationally, who knows how far they can go toward the future? Rationalism and secularism are the key. We have one planet and two alternatives: a minority of irrational, fundamentalist fanatics can destroy the planet with more faith-based initiatives like 9/11, or the planet can become more rational and secular and tolerant, so the planet will survive for all to share.
It’s not Islam vs. Christianity. It’s faith vs. reason. Can we make the right choice?
Originally published September 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.
Lamb was a complete agnostic from 1801, and from 1829 he was no longer even a Unitarian.