Immediately after the tragedy of 9/11, many Americans started asking themselves, why do they hate us?
These questions and others, each with its own diagnosis and corresponding prescription, reflected ordinary Americans' uncertainty of the real causes of the attacks.
What went wrong?
Why have terrorists singled us out from all other free nations of the world to be a soft target for their wrath and anger?
Why have our economic and political achievements suddenly became our curse, and why are our duty in policing the world and helping small nations unappreciated?
The scale of the attacks and the havoc they caused left many Americans feeling as if they had stumbled into a war zone. Above all, it was New York, the world's greatest city and the apple of Uncle Sam's eye, that was attacked.
For the majority of Americans, such things could happen only in Hollywood movies, not in real life. Thus, the shock was unimaginable. September 11 was a national tragedy that caused the loss of 4,000 lives, great shock and destruction. Sadness and anger followed but then, a sudden awakening.
September's events caused America to react in an irrational manner by waging international war against an unknown foe in the name of fighting the terror. The whole American concept of tolerance and justice were demolished with the great Twin Towers.
This concept was replaced with the dogma of suspicions, irrational anger and arrogance. In their desperate attempt to understand why they hate them, Americans followed an irrational path.
Despite the havoc and the destruction which 9/11 caused, Americans did not get the message. The attack should have served as an eye-opener for them. It did not. Instead of seeking "how do we put it right", Americans adopted a policy of "we will do it our way".
Instead of viewing the attacks as a reminder of the injustice they inflict on other nations, they resorted to their historical policy of introversion.
Instead of confronting themselves and their political system with the real causes of the attacks, they blamed others. Such behaviour is understandable. It is a human response when things go badly wrong and no rational answer to it.
It is usually easier and more satisfying and consoling to blame others for one's misfortunes. But it was not the attitude of a superpower. Many Americans interpreted this tragedy as "here's a sample of the outside world". In response, America showed the world a sample of its own.
Within hours of the attacks the finger of suspicion fell on the Muslims in general, who were singled out to shoulder the blame. For a long time Muslims were the favourite villains.
They were the weaker side who deserved to be blamed for the misfortune of the others. A western stream of post-September commentary blamed Islam, Muslim states' plague of authoritarianism, and their decrepit educational systems for spawning the anger that has infected their subjects with hatred for America.
Still, many try to come up with satisfying explanations to convince ordinary Americans of why their free democratic peace-loving nation suddenly became a soft target. The Atlantic Monthly in January, 2002, carried an article by the British historian Bernard Lewis titled "What went wrong with Muslim Civilisation?"
In his article, Lewis came up with the thesis that the world of Islam had become poor, weak, and ignorant.
The primary and therefore, the dominance of the West is clear for all to see, invading every aspect of Muslim's public and painfully private life.
Many remedies were tried – weapons and factories, schools and parliaments, but none achieved the desired result or bring to a halt the increasing imbalance between Islam and the western world.
For the oppressive Muslim regimes finding targets outside their societies serves a useful, indeed essential pose to explain the poverty they have failed to alleviate and justify the tyranny they introduced. Accordingly, they seek to deflect the mounting anger of their unhappy subjects toward outside targets.
Lewis had more to offer. He went on to explain that militant Muslims who found themselves alien in their own societies, and failed to mingle in any western style society, decided to destroy the West. Therefore, it is the anger, the frustration and deprivation of the Muslim world that is costing America its security, its civil liberties and its well established democracy.
In Lewis's thesis, as in most of the western commentaries, Islam was presented as an evil and wicked religion and although some western élite came up with different interpretations that exonerated Muslims from such attacks and blamed Muslim militants, the damage was done. Islam is to blame.
If Islam is an obstacle to democracy, to science, to economic and social development, how is it that Muslim society in the past was a pioneer in all these fields?
As most Americans began to come to terms with what happened to them, many still question their emotional ability to overcome the scale of the attacks. For them "the doctrine of why they hate us" still plays a vital role in shaping their outlook and their attitude towards others. Because they were well sheltered from the real world, they had seen the unexpected.
But for many people in the war-torn Middle East they had unexpected scene not of strangeness but familiarity.
Many lived through terror and destruction of their homes and shelters.
Many lived for decades under sanctions, and survived on other people humanitarian assistance. To them this scene and the loss of 4,000 thousands civilians was nothing compare to what is really happing to them.
For the Palestinians or Iraqis this scene is nothing in comparison to the life they have lived in past decades. Despite this fact, no honest, open-minded Muslim accepted the attacks, justified them or hailed the culprits as heroes.
Muslims in the Middle East understood the American tragedy and its causes, and it is obvious that they would never have wished such calamity on themselves or others.
Although 9/11 was by all means a tragedy, it never motivated the Americans to contemplate and think of a world beyond their own. In their shell, and within their own comfort zone, ordinary Americans never attempted to understand how the world functions or how cultures, different from their own, existed or co-existed in other countries.
The only external danger they perceived was communism and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, they then felt secure in their world. No military power could rival them, and for sure no economic rival can pose any challenge.
The Americans felt comfortable in their fortress type-siege mentality. The world which they understand is the world within their borders, and sometimes within their home state.
For the majority of Americans neutrality is the order of the day, and unless something that touched directly upon their daily lives, they would go on in life, unaware of any circumstances that are taken place outside their limited world.
For them 9/11 was a shock for two reasons: it shattered their certainty that no rival could match their military superiority, and it impacted their over-protectionism which assured them of security and safety within their own borders.
In their strongly held belief that America would never be a soft target, it became one. September's attack, with its roar and growl, changed many dimensions. In their sense of fragility and shock, most Americans resorted to the belief that it was hate and anger that motivated the attacks, and the answer to such hate is counter-hate.
The Americans held and still holding the belief that the world revolves around their orbit. In their fortress type siege mentality, they exert no attempt to understand how the world revolves around itself and around different universes.
But things are surely destined to change. The tragedy of 9/11 has left its imprint on the American mentality for years to come, and although the tragedy is destined to be a memory, its outcomes and consequences are here to stay.
The writer, Visiting Scholar, Georgetown University, Center For Muslim Christian Understanding.
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