In the days immediately following September 11, 2001, the Social Science Research Council invited a wide range of leading social scientists from around the world to write short essays for an online forum, After September 11.
Posts Tagged ‘9/11’
At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf attempts to prove wrong writers, political commentators, and politicians who claim that post-9/11 Islamophobia is a media-conceived, unsubstantiated hoax.
In the ten years since 2001, every September has brought with it calls to remember the attacks of September 11. This week, a ten-year anniversary and the completion of memorials in New York and elsewhere have inspired a swell of such calls. Standing out this year, however, have been petitions to, in the words of Jeremy Walton, “remember differently.”
Under its congressional mandate to “examine and report upon the facts and causes relating to the terrorist attacks…[and] make a full and complete accounting of the[ir] circumstances,” the Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as the 9/11 Commission Report, begins with a narrative timeline. In the simple past, in a voice devoid of interiority but rich in temporal data, the Report tracks movement in time and space.
The 9/11 debate was centered on a single issue: Islam. Osama Bin Laden was taken at his own words by the West: Al-Qaeda, even if its methods were supposedly not approved by most Muslims, was seen as the vanguard or at least a symptom of “Muslim wrath” against the West… Then came, just ten years after 9/11, the Arab Spring, in which Islam did not play a role, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden, whose death went almost unnoticed among Muslim public opinion. What about the “Muslim wrath”? Suddenly, the issue of Islam and jihad being at the core of the political mobilization in Muslim societies seemed to become, at least for a time, irrelevant. So what went wrong with the perception of the Western media, leaders, and public opinion? Was the West wrong about the role of Islam in shaping political mobilization in Muslim societies? Yes. The essentialist and culturalist approach, common to both the clash of and dialogue of civilizations theories, missed three elements: society, politics, and more astonishingly . . . religion.
At the time of the 9/11 attacks, commentators trying to analyze Afghan support for Al-Qaeda put a great deal of emphasis on the Taliban’s sectarian orientation as “Deobandi.” Deobandis across South Asia were known for disapproval of what they took to be Sufi or Shia intercessory practices that might compromise monotheism; they also discouraged celebration of ostentatious life-cycle customs. They called for adherence to what they took to be sharia-based individual practices. Deobandis had had a long tradition of influence within Afghanistan. This influence surged with the return of the Taliban leadership, who were, in fact, largely a product of Deobandi schools in Pakistan’s frontier region where they were refugees after the Soviet invasion. The problem was that commentators took to formulating a simple syllogism: The Taliban were Deobandis. The Taliban had accommodated Al-Qaeda. Deobandis therefore were “fanatical,” “fundamentalist,” “anti-Western,” and “terrorist.”
For some Americans, the response to the religious fears created by 9/11 was increased hatred of difference, particularly of Islam and Muslims. In contrast, others responded by reaching out across lines of religious difference to learn, share, and heal. Interfaith groups formed around the U.S. as venues for people of different faiths to get to know each other more deeply, challenging stereotypes and forging new community connections.
Ten years after 9/11, Americans cope with insecurity in their day-to-day welfare at home, while contending with continued warnings of an ominous threat of violence from abroad. With all this insecurity, it is perhaps quite predictable that features of the national discourse posit a crisis of existential proportion, hitting the very fabric of our being as a nation and a people. Simply to posit that there is a crisis is not enough; a crisis begs to be resolved, to be stymied, to be put right once again. To do that, though, requires identifying and locating the source of that crisis. With al-Qaeda both everywhere and nowhere, and the challenges in Afghanistan and Iraq too complex for most of us to understand, our attention turns to the nearest, most apparent and obvious site that represents that threat.
Perhaps no group of scholars has had as much at stake in the public understanding of religion of late as Islamic studies specialists. The attacks of 9/11 indirectly created opportunities for career advancement for Islam specialists. . . . The pressures to become the academic voice of Islam both on campus and in the media frequently led scholars to abandon caution. We reached for our copies of the Encyclopedia of Islam and sent out queries, sometimes quite urgently, to the AAR Study of Islam listserv. “What does Islam say about x?” was the way questions were often framed. We were not allowed to answer, “It depends.” What was generally desired, it seems, was a fatwa, an authoritative ruling on what the Qur’an, the Sunna, and the ulama say about “x,” not a lecture on how the historical practices of real people refuse easy generalization.