Sept. 11 Attacks, 20 Years Later

The real lesson of 9/11 isn’t a story about Islamophobia

The ADL’s apology for its former director’s opposition to a Ground Zero mosque is one more way the anniversary is being used to change the narrative about the attack.

ADL national director and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in Jerusalem, June 5, 2017. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
ADL national director and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt in Jerusalem, June 5, 2017. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

One of the strangest aspects of post-9/11 America has been the compulsion of so many to change the narrative about the attacks that took place 20 years ago. We’re reminded of that due to the bizarre decision of the Anti-Defamation League to commemorate the attack on America by revisiting the organization’s decision to oppose the building of an Islamic center in the shadow of the fallen twin towers of the World Trade Center.

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist assaults, it was clear what had happened. Al-Qaeda, a radical Islamic terror group led by Osama bin Laden, took their fight against the West to the United States and wound up killing nearly 3,000 Americans. Like it or not, a variant of Islam that could count on considerable support and sympathy from extremist believers forced the West to realize that they were in a war against these forces.

President George W. Bush and the rest of the government, as well as the American media and entertainment industry, went to great lengths to point out that the conflict was only with the radicals who had attacked America rather than all Muslims. But almost immediately, a counter-narrative about 9/11 began to be put forward. In this reading, the real story wasn’t about those who committed the atrocities, their ideology and the way they were linked to other dangerous groups seeking to topple moderate Arab governments and those waging war on the existence of the State of Israel. Instead, for some, the most important thing about 9/11 was that it gave birth to a surge of Islamophobia.

Though there was little or no evidence to support it, a myth that there was a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims in America was embraced by much of the mainstream media and others who purported to advocate for civil rights. Among the leaders of this effort was the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that had its origins as a front to raise funds for Hamas terrorists in the United States.

It was in this context that in 2010 an effort was made to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan on the site of one of the buildings that had been struck by debris falling from the collapsed World Trade Center buildings. From the perspective of 11 years later, the effort was more of a publicity stunt by a Muslim group than a realistic project. But it provoked a massive controversy at the time.

While none except a few extremists disputed the right of any religious group to build a house of worship or community center where it wanted to, the idea of converting that specific site—literally in the footprint of the attack—into a large Islamic facility outraged families of the victims and public opinion in a city still traumatized by the Sept. 11 atrocities. In an act of courage, Abe Foxman, then the director of the Anti-Defamation League, took a stand opposing the building of the Ground Zero mosque, which he rightly labeled as an insensitive gesture that would do more to inflame religious conflict than, as its promoters disingenuously claimed, to heal the city.

Liberal opinion backed the project, and those who agreed with Foxman about the inappropriate nature of the plan were denounced as Islamophobic, while the myth about an anti-Muslim backlash was revived and treated as fact rather than fiction. Nevertheless, the plan for the Islamic center failed to materialize and, up until now, it was just a divisive footnote to the 9/11 story.

But on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the attacks, the Ground Zero mosque that never was is back in the news.

The reason is an op-ed authored by Jonathan Greenblatt, Foxman’s successor at the ADL. Citing the obligation of Jews to make amends for their sins prior to Yom Kippur, Greenblatt apologizes for his organization’s opposition to the Ground Zero mosque, which he claims were misguided and helped fuel bigotry. The former Clinton and Obama administration operative not only recycles the anti-Muslim backlash myth but also the disingenuous claim that the ban on immigration from five Muslim-majority nations that were terrorist hotbeds implemented by the Trump administration was a “Muslim ban.”

Claiming that his purpose was to help build support for Afghan refugees, it’s clear that for Greenblatt, the most important aspect of any Sept. 11 commemoration won’t be to remember an attack on America, who did it and why, or even to comfort the families of the victims. In his view, and in that of many others on the left, the most important aspect of the attacks is the alleged racism and religious bigotry for which the attacks served as an excuse.

Greenblatt’s Islamophobia polemic fits in with the arguments about critical race theory and history that, like The New York Times’ fallacious “1619 Project,” seek to make Americans believe their nation to be irredeemably racist. But this is particularly offensive because of the way he is seeking to make the 9/11 anniversary about mythical Islamophobia and not Islamist terror.

Though Greenblatt claims FBI statistics back up his claims about an anti-Muslim backlash, a look at the last 20 years of such data proves the opposite. The number of attacks on Muslims has remained small even when temporary hikes occurred. Throughout this period, the numbers show that the overwhelming majority of religion-based attacks have been aimed at Jews, not at Muslims.

While Greenblatt is riding the left’s favorite racism hobby horse, elsewhere the anniversary is being used for different purposes.

In Afghanistan and other places where Islamists rule, Sept. 11 won’t be a day of mourning or an occasion for talking about Islamophobia. It’s not a coincidence that the Taliban—the Islamist group that hosted the Al-Qaeda terrorist atrocities—will inaugurate their new government on the date. They believe they have proved that with enough patience, sooner or later those who attack the United States can wait out a democracy that lacks the will to oppose them in a long, drawn-out struggle.

As Hudson Institute strategic analyst and former combat veteran Michael Pregent told me in an interview that will air on a JNS’ “Top Story” podcast, Afghanistan will now be open for business again as a base for Islamic radicals. While four administrations from both political parties contributed to this catastrophe, the feckless decision of the Biden administration to pull the plug on its Afghan allies and then effectively concede the country to this enemy will help to recruit others for various Islamist radical terror groups. It will also encourage Iran, a rogue regime that Biden is also still bent on appeasing, to stick with its goal to acquire nuclear weapons.

That will make American allies like Israel less secure and increase the chances of regional war. It will also—contrary to the belief of many Americans on both the right as well as the left, who think the conflicts in the Middle East can be ignored as long as Americans are no longer stationed there—make it entirely possible that future terror attacks will be closer to home, rather than in Kabul.

These cruel facts should be uppermost in our minds on this somber anniversary. Instead, Greenblatt and others on the left are trying to change the subject to Islamophobia. In retrospect, the Ground Zero mosque controversy was all about the way radical groups like CAIR were, with the help of liberal media, trying to change the narrative about 9/11 in order to distract Americans from a potent threat while miring them in a self-destructive and dishonest conversation about prejudice. Still, who would have believed 10 years ago that the ADL, the group tasked with defending Jews against the ideas and the people behind 9/11, would be lending its considerable influence to this disgraceful effort?

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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