What did we learn from the Report of the 9/11 Commission? II

Westernized elites (lawyers, bureaucrats, soldiers) provided the leadership for the successful nationalist movements in the Middle East after the Second World War. The initial economic situation of the new states did not appear unpromising: “The established commercial, financial, and industrial sectors.., supported by an entrepreneurial spirit and widespread understanding of free enterprise, augured well.” (p. 79.) However, the secular variant of the new states failed to deliver on the extravagant promises made in the early period of independence. The governments of many new states followed policies that slowly stifled all economic progress.

In the Arab world the oil shocks of the 1970s inflicted grave damage in the disguise of a great blessing. The enormous profits proved transient, but the governments used them for efforts to transform Arab society that had long-term consequences. Governments spent heavily on “huge infrastructure projects, vastly expanded education, and…subsidized social welfare programs. Cronyism meant that lots of money stuck to members of the ruling elites, as well.

Modern medical care led to a soaring birthrate all across the Muslim world. This large, young population needed jobs to be created at a rapid rate, but the stagnant economies of all the Muslim states failed to fulfill their tasks. The result was the proliferation of angry, frustrated, aggrieved, half-educated or mis-educated young men. (p. 80.) Rather than yield power or turn to new policies, the ruling elites settled for repressing dissent.

When a sharp rise in population intersected precipitously declining oil revenues in the 1990s, the government had to sharply reduce spending. The generous programs of the early 1980s “established a wide-spread feeling of entitlement without a corresponding sense of social obligation.”   The later effort to cut spending “created enormous resentment among recipients who had come to see government largesse as their right.” (p. 79.)

Many people turned to religion. As is the case with Christianity, Islam has been subject to periodic reform movements that could be called “fundamentalist” or “revivalist.” One exponent of reform was the 14th century scholar Ibn Taimiyyah, who “condemned both corrupt rulers and the clerics who failed to criticize them. He urged Muslims to read the Qur’an and the Hadith for themselves, not to depend solely on learned interpreters like himself but to hold one another to account for the quality of their observance.” (p. 75.) NB: In short, Calvin’s Geneva.

In the 1940s, Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian scholar had visited the United States at the behest of his government and returned to Egypt deeply estranged from everything Western. (pp. 75-76.) Qutb espoused a Manichaean worldview in which pervasive, corrosive “unbelief” (jahiliyya) among non-Muslims and Muslims alike threatened to overwhelm true belief. True believers had to fight the unbelievers by all means and to the death. (pp. 76-77.) “The extreme Islamist version of history blames the decline from Islam’s golden age on the rulers and people who turned away from the true path of their religion, thereby leaving Islam vulnerable to encroaching foreign powers eager to steal their land, wealth, and even their souls.” (p. 75.)

By the late Seventies and early Eighties there had arisen a powerful religious movement among young men in the Muslim world. Osama Bin Laden was inspired by a preacher in the late Seventies. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed became attracted to “jihadism” in the early Eighties. In the early Eighties “Hambali” became attracted to Islamist preaching in Malaysia. Young jihadis went to fight in Afghanistan (1980s), in Bosnia (1990s),

Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, The 9/11 Report: The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004).

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