” In the three years since 9/11, the administration has yet to arrive at a clear definition of the enemy or the aim in the war on terrorism”.
                                  US Army War College Report, April 2005
This observation highlights the fact that the highly publicized and much vaunted 911 Commission may have lost the only real opportunity to actually win the so-called ‘war on terror’. Despite its sweeping recommendations to ensure long term success “with the use of all elements of national power: diplomacy,intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy and homeland defense”, its greatest shortcoming was where it counted most. The Commission clearly did not create the culture of permissiveness that currently permeates every aspect of discussion on Islam and generates such hostility toward and contempt of Muslims. The enemy that generated this milieu was none other than a band of extremist Muslims. Regretably it served as a catalyst for a counter reaction in which the enemy was transmuted from “deviant Muslims” into “evil Islam” in the same way as the “showdown with Saddam” melted into the cauldron of the “war on terror”. The 911 Commission had the unique opportunity to reappraise the rapid downward spiral of the relations between the US and Muslim world as a consequence of these developments , and help re- focus our strategies in containing and then eliminating the scourge of terrorism. But instead of co-opting the willing support of the Muslims worldwide to join the community of nations in eradicating this global threat, the Commission chose rather to throw down the gauntlet at the Muslim world by defining ‘terrorism’ as specifically “Islamist”.

The term “Islamist” is not used by Muslims to define themselves; rather it is one created with a deliberate vagueness to include Muslims of every shade of the spectrum - from political activists, religious radicals, freedom fighters, terrorists, common criminals to any practicing Muslim. The diabolic brilliance of the term is that it blurs the distinction between “Muslim” and “Islamist” so that inevitably every Muslim ends up an “Islamist”. Once Muslims are branded as “Islamists” their struggle from tyranny, no matter how just, loses its legitimacy; their victimization by any and all means becomes legitimate; and as an “Islamist” threat to accepted hegemony that has to be crushed at all cost, ( the most recent victims being those of the brutal Uzbek regime) the silence of the media is assured. When Islam was chosen to replace the “evil empire” as a threat to world order, the “Islamist” had to be invented to replace the communist as the bogeyman of the millennium. For more than 50 years the communists were the supreme symbols of hate and fear, and targets of subversion, overthrow or subjugation. Today “Islamists” have been set up to inherit their mantle ( The Muslim Observer, 2/11/2000).

Thus when the Commission went out of its way to define terrorism as not just any “generic” terrorism, but specifically as “Islamist” terrorism, this discriminatory and pejorative label, despite the banal niceties of Islam being a “religion of peace”, sent a chilling message to Muslims worldwide, that terrorism was in someway a hallmark or prerogative of Islam, or that when committed by groups or individuals of other denominations it was mitigated by intrinsic extenuating circumstances hence these terrorists could be euphemistically referred to as “tigers “, “settlers” or “liberators”. 

This projection had a profoundly negative impact on the psyche of the overwhelming majority of traditional Muslims who abhorred and repudiated acts of terror as a justification for any grievance whether real of imaginary. In the immediate aftermath of 911 they felt branded as “guilty of being Muslim”. With the formalisation of terrorism as being specifically “Islamist”, if Muslims had felt tormented by their characterization before the Report most had little doubt after its publication that there was indeed a crusade against Islam. This is not just a matter of semantics. Few if any ordinary people can make the distinction between ‘Islamist’ and Islamic and for its part the US Army War College seems to have no qualms about referring to “Islamic terrorism”. Indeed such has been the power of indoctrination that the expression ” the terrorists” has come to encompass all that the terms “Islamists” and “Islamist terrorism ” stand for. 

Consequently everytime reference is now made to “the terrorists” Muslims get the sinking feeling that “this is us”. Notwithstanding, if the overwhelming majority of Muslims were indeed fanatically anti-west, the label of “Islamist” might have been politically incorrect but factually true and operationally necessary in order to “isolate or destroy” such a hateful ideology. 

It is thus essential estimate the he magnitude and genesis of this neo-fascist ideology at the time of 911. 

According to the Commission Report (page 375), “Polls taken in Islamic countries after 911 suggested that many or most people thought that the US was doing the right thing in its fight against terrorism; few people saw popular support for Alqaeda”. Just how few is few, is answered by the Commission itself in 3 different statements:

“The small percentage of Muslims who are fully committed to Bin Laden’s version of Islam are impervious to persuasion”, page 375

“Between 1996 and September 2001 about 10,000 and 20,000 fighters had been trained in the camps of Afghanistan. Of this number full-fledged members of AlQaeda numbered only in “the hundreds”, page 67,

“Within Pakistan’s borders are 150 million Muslims, “scores of AlQaeda terrorists”, and many Taliban fighters.

From these direct quotations from the 911 Report it may be inferred that at the time of 911 in a total Muslim population of 1.2 billion, the followers of Bin Laden constituted an infintesimal fraction.

If the number of Muslims with an extremist ideology was so tiny and did not represent mainstream Islam by any stretch of the imagination, how did their interpretation of Islam reflect Islamic teachings? To answer this question it would be helpful to analyze some of the statements or fatwa allegedly issued by Bin Laden and blithely and uncritically accepted as an expression of the Islamic world view:

1.” the murder of any American, anywhere on earth, as the individual duty for every Muslim”, page 47.

2.” it is more important for Muslims to kill Americans than other infidels”, page 47.
As a preamble to these alleged fatwas by Bin Laden, the Commission noted, “A fatwa is normally an interpretation of Islamic law by a respected Islamic authority, but neither Bin Laden, Zahwiri, nor the three others who signed the statements were scholars of Islamic law”.

By their own observation the Commission exposes the total illegitimacy of Bin Laden’s views. Notwithstanding, the Commission accepts them at face value , and bases its subsequent strategy of eradicating “terrorism” on the rants of a paranoid Muslim operating outside the pale of Islam.

3. Even more disturbing is the following unreferenced question and answer sequence recorded on page 51 of the Commissions Report In an alleged question raised by “Americans” , as to, “what can we do to stop these attacks?”, Bin Laden’s alleged retort was, “America should abandon the Middle East, convert to Islam and end the immorality and godlessness of its culture”.

On an exchange of such monumental importance the Commission fails to document the validity of its source. Needless to say the opinions if expressed by Bin Laden are nothing but his own opinions and therefore without authority and legitimacy, and not reflective of the teachings of Islam or the sentiments of Muslims in general.

4.” If the instigation of jihad against the Jews and Americans to liberate the holy places is considered a crime, let history be a witness that I am a criminal”, page 70.
This is among several other generic grievances, including the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslim Iraqi children as a result of of the sanctions following the Gulf war, the inaction of the western powers in the face of genocidal campaigns against the Muslims of Bosnia and Chechnya and totally unbalanced support of the US of Israel against predominantly victimized Palestinians who are Muslim, that Bin Laden shares with an overwhelming worldwide Muslim population. Though many Muslims may share the same view of the victimization of Muslims at the hands of the west, “only a small percentage of Muslims”, measured in the “hundreds” were committed to Bin Laden’s version of Islam. These were the few who would murder women and children in cold blood in the name of Islam. These were the few who would impugn an entire religion by their execrable acts and bring disgrace to more than a billion of its adherents. These were the few in whose name the Commission felt that an entire religion and its 1.2 billion followers be branded by the contemptible and contemptuous title of “Islamist terrorism”.

The grievances that Muslims have felt, whether justified or paranoid, were not ushered in by Bin Laden. They had been taking shape before Bin Laden usurped center stage and will persist if not addressed long after his departure. These were not his prerogative but he exploited them amongst his disenchanted followers to execute his diabolical scheme. The fact that Bin Laden borrowed many of the concerns of Muslims world wide to perpetrate a crime against humanity does not delegitimize them. The Commission’s dismissiveness of these these genuine and legitimate concerns of Muslims within the context of “negotiating” with “terrorists” is not only short-sighted, but counter productive.

It is for this very reason that soon after 911 we had appealed for an immediate de-linkage of Islam from the ideology of terrorism. We argued that if the war against this fascist ideology , of which ‘terrorism’ was just the means, had any hope of achieving permanent success there was an immediate need for a redefinition of the enemy. The shift in emphasis from Islam to a cult whose unifying call was hate, whose target was the current world order, whose modus operandi is the terrorization of civilians, and whose ideology is totally antithetical to that of the religion it claims to espouse, would serve not only to highlight the illegitimacy of the cult, and isolate, if not dismember its organization, but more importantly it would de-link Islam as the enemy . This would allow Muslims worldwide to free themselves of the “guilt by association” and win their active collaboration in the extermination of the terrorist ideology. To achieve such an uncoupling between Islam and the deviant cult, we had suggested the use of the term binladenism as an accurate characterization of its architect and its messianic radicalism. The historical precedent for this was clear. Previously, when the consummate terrorist, Adolph Hitler, proclaimed that in exterminating the Jews, he was “doing the Lord’s work”, his Nazism was never linked to Christianity. Thus now when a cult figure emerges as a shadowy legend of the Afghan-Soviet war but with a grotesquely radical ideology that he associates with but has no basis in Islam, his ideology should be repudiated as strongly as any linkage between Christianity and Nazism. Fittingly the term “binladenism” would convey the same repugnance to the world that Nazism had done before - neither religion being impugned for the heinous ideology spawned in its name (Boston Globe ,2/18/02).

It is especially ironic that the vast majority of Muslims who detest Bin Ladin and AlQaeda for their grotesque distortion of Islam and the mayhem they have brought to so many areas of the Muslim world, and who in turn are as scorned as “non-Muslim”, by the extremists, (“takfari”), should be viewed so pejoratively as “Islamists”. As previously noted, polls taken in Islamic countries after 911 suggested that the US was doing the right thing in its fight against terrorism; however, by “2003 the bottom has fallen out of support for America in most of the Muslim world ” ( Report,page 375). The cataclysmic change that took place in the intervening period was the redesignation of the “showdown with Saddam” as an ongoing part of “the war on terror”. Despite its repeated findings that there was no evidence of direct or even indirect collaboration between Saddam Hussain and Al Qaeda, and clear information that Iraq had nothing to do with 911, the Commission dismally failed to highlight this in its deliberations. It also failed to point out that the catastrophic war has been a breeding ground for more terrorism because of the perception in most parts of the Muslim world of the US as a crusader rather than that of a liberator. The jihadi-crusader cycle is in a steep downward spiral with each passing day in Iraq, and sideshows along the way - the Abou Ghraib scandal, the live beheadings, the Quran flushing, Saddam caught with his pants down, and the “Islamic Rambo”, Zarqawi, taking on “my God is stronger than your God”- Boykins- are all unsettling to us in their different ways, but all are guaranteed to destroy the very core of our humanity- in the name of religion. The main event is sidelined as countless Iraqis and hapless US soldiers who all happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time perish needlessly, and the cradle of civilisation is unceremoniously demolished into the scrapmetal yard of history. Perhaps it was beyond the scope of the Commission’s jurisdiction to determine why we in this country got involved in Iraq; it certainly did nothing to disabuse us of the notion that there was absolutely no connection between the “showdown with Saddam” and the “war on terror”, at least not until after we “invited” more jihadist to what was billed as a “cake-walk”; and certainly has done nothing to help us get out of a no win situation.

A final indictment of the much vaunted 911 Commission was not that it failed to include American Muslim scholars, leaders and activists who could reflect a true sense of the deep outrage that Muslims in general experienced at the grotesque distortion of their religion by murderous deviants, and how best Muslims as a whole could help to destroy the cancer within their midst, not that it excluded non-Muslim academics with a real understanding of Islam and the workings of the Muslim societies, but that it included in its panel of “experts” on Islam, notable Islamophobes such as Steven Emerson who may have ultimately framed the definition and discourse on Islam and have been instrumental in concocting the blatantly offensive and racist terminology of “Islamist terrorism”. If such an august body as the 911 Commission has set the standard for communications with Muslims is there any wonder that so many politicians, columnists, talk show hosts, and other closet bigots misrepresent Islam with total impunity and such gleeful malevolence? 

Abdul Cader Asmal 6/01/05

The 9-11 Commission Final Report
A.C. Asmal The Muslim Observer, 2/11/2000
A.C. Asmal The Boston Globe, 2/18/02
S.D.Biddle American Grand Strategy after 911, Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College