Bashing America and Israel after 9/11: it’s popular and profitable

The posts marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that were featured over at Harry’s Place included a longer essay by Petra Marquardt-Bigman who describes the past 10 years as “A decade of divisive debate.”

The essay begins with a look at the Le Monde editorial with the famous headline “We are all Americans” and argues that this editorial “provided a rather accurate preview of the controversies that would come to dominate the political discourse in the decade after 9/11.”

Towards the end of the essay, there are a few paragraphs that highlight the Guardian’s role and the fact that Seumas Milne claimed “a special place of honor for the Guardian’s own contribution to the controversies that developed in the aftermath of 9/11.”

Milne, who was the Guardian’s comment editor at the time of 9/11, asserts in his celebratory column that the verdict of history clearly favors those who, like him, insisted even in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks that it was imperative for Americans to “make the connection between what has been visited upon them and what their government has visited upon large parts of the world.” Indeed, making the point even more succinctly, Milne’s column on September 13, 2001, was entitled:They can’t see why they are hated.” In Milne’s view – which is clearly shared by many of his readers – his paper’s efforts to ensure that voices blaming American and Western policies for the attacks on 9/11 “would be unmistakably heard” merely amounted to a supremely commendable effort to provide “a full-spectrum debate about why the attacks had taken place and how the US and wider western world should respond.” With a sense of victorious vindication, Milne recalls the resulting “backlash” and dismisses it as a reaction that “verged on the deranged.”

However, what Milne describes as “a full-spectrum debate” largely excluded voices that sought to answer the question why Americans and the West “are hated” by exploring the societies of those who hated. Denying these voices a chance to be heard was obviously the right thing to do in terms of the ideology outlined by elite opinion-shapers like Ramonet. Yet, given the eagerness to avoid a “clash of civilizations” and the perception that this was the West’s responsibility, there was also a general sense that it would only be counter-productive to shine the spotlight on the pathologies that allowed Osama bin Laden to be regarded as someone who inspired considerable “confidence.”

A decade after 9/11, the guardians of this “political correctness” can arguably point to some “achievements” – how about the fact that the Bush administration’s “war on terror” has become nameless and unnamable in the Obama administration? As Walter Russell Mead has noted, America is now “fighting an anonymous war with unspecified goals against Those Who Cannot Be Named” – though, courtesy of Mead, we have at least a handy acronym: COFKATGWOT, which stands, obviously, for the Conflict Formerly Known As The Global War On Terror.

But whatever the war is called, the more salient fact is surely that Osama bin Laden was killed by US commandos. Another salient fact is that by the time he was killed, the number of Muslims who expressed “confidence” in him had shrunken dramatically.

So how do these facts square with Seumas Milne’s claim that the Guardian’s commentary after 9/11 has been vindicated by history’s judgment? Well, they don’t.

Even the examples Milne himself cites to support his claim don’t help his case. One of Milne’s references is to a particularly shrill and triumphalist piece by the London-based Syrian writer Rana Kabbani, which was published by the Guardian on September 13, 2001, under the title “Terror has come home.” Milne highlights that Kabbani “warned that only a change of policy towards the rest of the world would bring Americans security.” But there was no “change of policy” as advocated by Kabbani or Milne, and Americans nevertheless had security.

Moreover, well-respected US analysts from across the political spectrum have recently argued that President Obama’s Middle East and security policies have begun to gradually shift towards policies and measures implemented by the previous administration. Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of recent articles arguing that George W. Bush might have reason to feel vindicated by history.

While this makes Milne’s claim that the Guardian’s commentary after 9/11 was vindicated even less convincing, there is one issue where he is clearly right: he notes that “the post-9/11 debate was ‘totally transformative’ for the Guardian, turning it into one of the two fastest growing news sites in the US.” That is to say: controversy sells. No doubt it does.

Right, if Islamists can always count on the “Great Satan-Little Satan” shtick to boost their popularity, why shouldn’t leftists in the West follow their example — particularly if there is money to be made by peddling the ideas they share with the Middle East’s most reactionary forces? 

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