Fifteen years since 9/11: Have we gotten safer and wiser?

The 9/11 attacks should have been a dramatic wake-up call  for Muslims concerned with radicalization in their community and also for governments to revamp their ways of dealing with  theocratic and secular fascist governments. As tensions grow between Muslims and non-Muslims, there is need for unity, compassion and tolerance in society, meaningful dialogue, and bold initiatives for peace,  for social and political change.

Last weekend marked the fifteenth anniversary of the tragic attacks of 9/11/2001 – an attack that changed the course of the world forever. Since that horrific day, countries around the world – chiefly my country of the United States – have found themselves in what seems like an endless war against various protean forms of radical Islam, whether or not they want to name the enemy for what it is.

A man lays a flower on a monument engraved with names of victims of the September 11th attacks, during a memorial event marking the 15th anniversary of September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., at the 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza in Jerusalem

A man lays a flower on a monument engraved with names of victims during a memorial event marking the 15th anniversary of September 11 attacks in the U.S., at the 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza in Jerusalem. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

While our conflict with radical Islam did not begin on 9/11 (the United States and much of the world had been plagued by radical Islam for many years before that day), there is no denying the history-changing ramifications of those attacks – both in terms of war and geopolitics as well as in the hearts and minds of individuals worldwide, who continue to be challenged by the question of Islamism, or political, radical Islam.

From Afghanistan to Iraq, Pakistan to Nigeria – and even in California, Florida and Texas – Islamists who reject national borders are waging a global war against some of the most fundamental of human rights – freedom of speech and conscience, the rights of women to be treated as equal citizens rather than as property of the community, and the freedom to pursue one’s own success and happiness in a free market. In turn, our nations have spent billions of dollars and lost many precious – and many very young – lives to fight the scourge of radical Islam. But are we close to winning this war?

I take no pleasure in telling you that the answer is no. While strides have been made both to raise awareness about the cancer of radical Islam and its Islamist precursors and to organize reformist Muslims in opposition to it (like our Muslim Reform Movement, a non-partisan, human-rights centered organizing body founded in December of 2015), our political establishments in particular continue to limit their narrative to a false choice between two evils: “Islamists versus dictators”. They prop up supposedly secular and certainly fascist dictators like Bashar al-Assad and theocratic monsters like King Salman of Saudi Arabia as the “lesser of evils” – assuming that the only other alternative for their citizenries are full blown theocrats, while civilians from Saudi Arabia to Iran and Syria are murdered, tortured, jailed and tormented.

Make no mistake. Radical Islam is a natural byproduct and endpoint of theocratic Islamism. But Islamists and dictators are essentially two sides of the same symbiotic coin. They each exist because of the other even though they may at times be at war. Just because some forms of the “sharia state” are more obviously extreme than other forms (as with IS vice Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or with Hezbollah vice Assad regime), does not negate the fact that they arise from the same supremacism from which all forms of the “sharia state” derive their oxygen.

The abuses of our so-called “allies” are documented in unprecedented ways, as social media continues to capture the reality on the ground. Activists, defying censorship and facing death for speaking out, have continued to show us what life looks like under the boots of both theocracy and secular fascism, and our governments continue to all too often look away in the name of “security.” Of course, those of us who operate out of conscience rather than economic interest could tell you that it is exactly this construction which brought us 9/11, and which has since brought us attacks as close to home as Orlando and San Bernardino.

The attacks on 9/11 should have been a dramatic wake-up call not just for Muslims concerned with the issue of radicalization in our community – forcing us to look swiftly and thoroughly at sources of funding to our mosques, madrassas and community organizations – but also for governments to completely revamp their ways of dealing with both theocratic and secular fascist governments. Syria is now well into its fifth year of war, with Bashar al-Assad continuing his genocide against innocent civilians, while IS and groups like it continue to advance – and commit attacks well beyond the Levant.

The “status quo” of leaving a dictator in place has, predictably, opened the gates to the possibility of another attack as deadly, and as historically significant, as the attacks of 9/11. Further, as tensions continue to grow between Muslims and non-Muslims, we see an ever more fractured society with perhaps less compassion, less interpersonal resilience and less tolerance emerging – exactly the kind of situation Islamists long for as they plan to extinguish our freedom. Whether we could survive additional attacks and maintain the best of ourselves is a frightening question.

We invite Muslims and non-Muslims alike to join our reform efforts – understanding that change can only come through meaningful dialogue and bold initiatives for peace, for social and political change. We can together form a vision for a third path away from the evil of both sides of the coin of the current Islamist global establishment of the club of dictators.­

Zuhdi Jasser MD is President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement. He is a former U.S.Navy Lieutenant Commander and author of “A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save his Faith”. Follow him @DrZuhdiJasser

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