Hitchens on 9/11: setting the record straight

September 10, 2011 • 1:35 pm

Hitch is still cranking out his weekly column for Slate; this week’s, “Simply Evil,” is on how some analysts unnecessarily complicate the attacks of 9/11:

The proper task of the “public intellectual” might be conceived as the responsibility to introduce complexity into the argument: the reminder that things are very infrequently as simple as they can be made to seem. But what I learned in a highly indelible manner from the events and arguments of September 2001 was this: Never, ever ignore the obvious either. To the government and most of the people of the United States, it seemed that the country on 9/11 had been attacked in a particularly odious way (air piracy used to maximize civilian casualties) by a particularly odious group (a secretive and homicidal gang: part multinational corporation, part crime family) that was sworn to a medieval cult of death, a racist hatred of Jews, a religious frenzy against Hindus, Christians, Shia Muslims, and “unbelievers,” and the restoration of a long-vanished and despotic empire.

To me, this remains the main point about al-Qaida and its surrogates. I do not believe, by stipulating it as the main point, that I try to oversimplify matters. I feel no need to show off or to think of something novel to say. Moreover, many of the attempts to introduce “complexity” into the picture strike me as half-baked obfuscations or distractions. These range from the irredeemably paranoid and contemptible efforts to pin responsibility for the attacks onto the Bush administration or the Jews, to the sometimes wearisome but not necessarily untrue insistence that Islamic peoples have suffered oppression. (Even when formally true, the latter must simply not be used as nonsequitur special pleading for the use of random violence by self-appointed Muslims.)

Frankly, I’m tired of the “complexity” of blaming 9/11, and other acts of Islamic terrorism on anything other than religion.  (This reminds me of the penchant of some religion-friendly historians of science to say that the Galileo affair had nothing to do with Catholic dogma.) Politics, western oppression, young men with nothing to do: I’ve heard it all.  And all of it reflects a sneaking sympathy for religion that exculpates faith from the most odious attacks in the name of God. I recently had to put up with such assertions, and I finally asked the fellow (an atheist) who was arguing “Western oppression” this question:  What would it take to convince you that an attack was motivated largely by faith?  He had no answer, of course, for none is acceptable to the faitheist.  Their faith in the primacy of politics over faith is as strong as their belief in belief.

This is a long piece for Hitchens—two pages in Slate—and he goes on to disclose some personal feelings about the attacks, the orgy of remembrance that’s about to begin, and his prognostications about the fate of Al-Quaeda.

141 thoughts on “Hitchens on 9/11: setting the record straight

  1. A generation ago, all anti-Americanism/anti-Westernism was blamed on communism. Today, it’s all blamed on religion.

    Before you propose a new mechanism for each observation (of essentially the same phenomenon), shouldn’t you first reject the hypothesis that they share common drivers? That strikes me as the most parsimonious approach…

    1. Unlike the average American, and average ‘westerner’, I’m not unaware of the atrocities, the suffering, the horrors the west has been inflicting on others for the past two-hundred years. 9/11 doesn’t surprise me in the least.

      In fact, what surprises me is that we haven’t suffered more for our actions.

      1. Nonetheless, we did not *deserve* to be attacked. And religion was the prime motivator behind 9/11, not our imperialism.

        1. No. Not at all. Religion is a convienent excuse for the simple minded to come up with simple, in-the-box solutions while they ignore their complicity.

          And did I say deserve? No I fucking did not. So don’t put words in my mouth.

          I said I’m surpised that, given our behaviors, we’ve suffered so little for our horrible actions. Get it straight.

          1. “In fact, what surprises me is that we haven’t suffered more for our actions.” and “I said I’m surpised that, given our behaviors, we’ve suffered so little for our horrible actions. Get it straight.”

            So how would one parse “given our behaviors” as anything other than “deserves”?

            1. “So how would one parse “given our behaviors” as anything other than “deserves”?”

              Revenge? Hate-filled cruelty?

              Just because you can’t read, doesn’t mean he can’t write.

  2. From the article: The regimes of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fully deserve to be called “evil.”

    This is something I hoped you would comment on. Hitchens is obviously a big fan of language with rhetorical force, and moral language is no exception. If asked, however, how do you think he would define “evil”? As “that which we are vehemently averse to”?

    1. Word entomology suggests to you that religion & the religious ‘own’ evil Tim ? I do not see a problem with it ~ had he used wicked I would have been uncomfortable though.

      Or am I misunderstanding you ?

    2. An example here where Dawkins writes:

      …that there are probably many others like him, whose minds have been twisted in this evil way by the man Stein…

      Seems appropriate to use evil there

      I’ve had a look around & it seems to be a common currency

    3. The etymology of ‘evil’ suggests that it comes from ‘over’ implying a transgression of boundaries. There is no need to suppose they have to be religious boundaries however, any transgression could be evil if people thought it looked evil.

    4. Well, Saddam wasn’t evil when we were selling him anthrax and VX gas technology… He became evil when he invaded Kuwait and threatened our supply of gas.

      1. What’s your point? The US and the UK oppress *other* people in a way that those regimes do not. You need to read your Chomsky and Zinn.

  3. Why did they choose us? If this were motivated primarily by faith, they could have done something even more hideous, much more easily, to a country closer at hand. Faith facilitated it, but politics also had much to do with it.

    1. Unfortunately true.

      We(the U.S.) supported, I think much to our shame, Al-Quaeda during the Balkan wars; it was politically expedient.

      We should also remember that we helped install Saddam Hussein to his position of tyranny.

      Of course most U.S. citizens have no awareness of our contributory involvement, and same must not be mentioned during memorial observances of 9/11.

      Well, at least the good mayor of N.Y. had the courage to make at least part of the remembrance secular.

    2. Osama Bin Laden’s own words show that you are wrong: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/nov/24/theobserver

      What is it you imagine 9-11 was primarily “motivated by”? How do you figure that faith is not to blame? How can anyone read the man’s words and claim that it was not motivated by his faith!? Do you believe that the hijackers believed they were going to heaven that day? What couldn’t a believer be made to do by convincing them their eternity is at stake (and god is non their side.)

      To me, those who hand wave about the role of faith in these attacks is bending over backwards to defend the indefensible in order to “protect faith” from being scrutinized to closely.

      Read the man’s own words without your “faith protecting glasses on” and see if you can still convince yourself that 9-11 was not “primarily motivated” by faith”?

      1. Articulett, you say I am wrong and tell me to read OBL’s letter explaining the reasons for the attack. Did you actually read his letter? Yes, there is a lot of bluster about Islam, (and I acknowledged that religion played a role in the attacks) but WHY US? There are many non-Islamic nations he could have attacked. This is what he says about why we were attacked:

        “As for the first question: Why are we fighting and opposing you? The answer is very simple:

        (1) Because you attacked us and continue to attack us.

        a) You attacked us in Palestine:”

        [Long list of perceived wrongs]

        “These tragedies and calamities are only a few examples of your oppression and aggression against us. It is commanded by our religion and intellect that the oppressed have a right to return the aggression.”

        “….the American people have chosen, consented to, and affirmed their support for the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the occupation and usurpation of their land, and its continuous killing, torture, punishment and expulsion of the Palestinians. …”

        Note the religious justification TO FIGHT AGAINST PERCEIVED WRONGS.

        Yes, the letter also blames America for its irreligious behavior (in Muslim eyes), its failure to accept Islam and Sharia law, etc. But most of the letter recounts perceived wrongs done to them, sometimes couched in religious language, sometimes not.

        To blame this on religion is like blaming the Viet Nam war on religion just because our leaders used to say things like “God is on our side…The US is all that stands in the way of godless Communism.” Religion facilitates extreme behavior, but political forces direct that behavior.

        I resent your statement:
        “To me, those who hand wave about the role of faith in these attacks is bending over backwards to defend the indefensible in order to “protect faith” from being scrutinized to closely…”

        If that is directed at my comment, your reading is colored by your prejudices. I made it clear in my post that faith facilitated the attack. To blame it all on faith, however, is bending over backwards to pretend that our own actions had nothing to do with their reaction.

  4. Frankly, I’m tired of the “complexity” of blaming 9/11, and other acts of Islamic terrorism on anything other than religion.

    I’m thinking, perhaps, that both yourself and Hitch should be avoiding this subject then.

    because it simply is more complicated than just Islam.

  5. Well quite frankly I am tired people using anything, religion or otherwise, as a convenient excuse to promote blind patriotism and to abstain from introspection.

    Suppose for a moment that the 9/11 attackers were motivated by simply being pissed off at the U.S. for its self-interested meddling in the military coup in Iran, from which the country has never recovered. Or for continuing to prop up the Saudi monarchy, who have been stealing from the Saudi people for decades. The royalty lives lavishly while the country goes to pot, all for American oil interests. Sorry, but America really does act problematically in the world.

    How do you think Americans would feel if China set up military bases in New Hampshire to advance their own plutonium interests? Of course Americans would not stand for it. But what if America had no military power to prevent it? Is it so hard to imagine that some Americans would take radical measures? And that some would add Jesus into the mix? Suppose some Jesus/rapture Americans do some bombing in China. China says it’s all because of religion. Well screw you, China. Yeah, the Jesus bombers are nutty, but it’s too convenient for you to say it’s just because of religion.

    1. I’m with you. Anyone want to blame the butchery of Vietnam on religion? Was it religion that prevented Americans from reexamining their role, say, two years into the Vietnam war and concluding that they were wrong? Was it primarily religion that motivated us to continue a futile war? Can the American inability to recognize the futility of the Vietnam war be called “fanaticism” and if so, was religion to blame?

      Religion is neither necessary nor sufficient progenitors of fanaticism – it is just one of the top contenders.

  6. Pointing at only religion is still over simplifying things. Yes, you’ve heard the other arguments. And yes, religion did play a very important part in it. But without those other factors, religion would not have been enough.

    More formally: religion is necessary, but not sufficient.

    Very necessary, I would add, because without it people certainly would not be persuaded to kill themselves. But still: not sufficient.

    1. How is it not sufficient? The Qu’ran repeatedly and clearly supports violence against infidels and venerates those who die while doing so.

      1. True, but so do a whole lot of other religions, including Christianity. Smiting the infidel isn’t exactly an islamic monopoly. Furthermore, 99.999% of islamic people are not terrorists. So, there needs to be something more than just that.

        1. Most Islamic people are not terrorists because most Muslims don’t want to do what their holy book tells them to do. I can understand not wanting to die for your faith even if you believe it is the right thing to do. But they refrain from killing not because of their religion but because of their good sense. If they were actually acting on their faith, they would do what Islamic terrorists do.

          I’m not sure how your remark about Christianity (and other religions) applies.

          The mere fact that a very low percentage of a particular religion’s members are violent does not mean the religion itself is non-violent. It just means there is cognitive conflict among most of its members between doing what the holy books encourage and living a non-violent and sensible life.

          1. Do you consider the Quran more hate-mongering (or more violent, or more smiting-the infidel)than the Bible? And if so, why?

            An important part of most religions is dislike of ‘the other’ (mostly: the non-believer). That dislike can be dealt with in a lot of ways (indifference, common sense, violence, etc.). I don’t consider it exclusively islamic.

            1. Sam Harris compiles a decent number of hateful passages from the Qu’ran in his first book. The Bible is quite hateful in parts, but does it really match the Qu’ran? Maybe. But in any guess, I think the whole point about Christianity is tangential.

              1. of course, all of that is irrelevant to the fact that the issue of using terrorist tactics goes well beyond any specific religion as a tool to achieve such ends.

                do you really think that removing Islam itself would eliminate terrorism as a tactic?

                now THAT would be rather simplistic.

              2. Well, granted. I could have stopped at just mentioning ‘other religions’. But, let’s not get in an argument about which is the most hateful religion.

                Do we agree that most religions are really about setting your own community apart from the others? And that Islam does not have a monopoly on violence?

              3. Of course it wouldn’t eliminate “terrorism as a tactic.” It’s a tactic; it’s a mean of serving ends. Islam gives people a reason to use terrorism. Without Islam they might have other reasons to use terrorism, but their faith wouldn’t be one of them.

                Thanks for pointing me to that study. It may actually be that the Bible is more violent than the Qu’ran.

              4. I don’t know if most religions are “really about” what you say they are, but it’s a big part of it.

                In any case, your asking for me to agree that “Islam does not have a monopoly on violence” is strange because I never even remotely suggested otherwise. Do you have some straw man in your head who thinks that?

                The point is that Islamic fundamentalists are motivated to acts of violence because they believe a violent text is the supreme guide to living. Those Muslims who act otherwise are just less fanatically religious.

              5. “Islam gives people a reason to use terrorism. ”

                FFS, you just circled back to square one.

                so do any number of other motivating factors.

                you’re really hung up on this.

              6. I’m “hung up” on how Islamic fundamentalism is not a sufficient explanation. This does not even mean it is a correct explanation, but it is a sufficient one. If we know that A, B, C, D, and E can all independently cause X, than A can be a sufficient cause of X without being the cause of X in each particular instance. It could be that C occurs five times and that in one time it’s caused by A, another by B, and so on.

              7. Sorry, I’m screwing up my use of terms, I meant X that second time, not C…I’m making myself unclear.

              8. but it is a sufficient one.

                no, it isn’t.

                it’s been explained to you why, but you choose not to listen.


              9. Islam is insufficient because if it had the world domination it desires then there would be no opportunity or need for violence. However under current conditions where world domination is not yet complete and there is still a need for violence to achieve their aims, Islam will be a sufficient condition for violence to occur.

              10. Islam is insufficient because if it had the world domination it desires then there would be no opportunity or need for violence. However under current conditions where world domination is not yet complete and there is still a need for violence to achieve their aims, Islam will be a sufficient condition for violence to occur.

                This is just stupid.

        2. I’m not suggesting you’re wrong, but can you tell me which other religions support violence against infidels and venerate those who die while doing so?

          1. lol. Never heard of the Crusades? And there are many in the Pentagon who are pushing Apocolypic Christianity quite hard in order to justify our atrocious behavior to the troops.

            Then we have various apocolyptic Christian sects. Some of which comit terrorist acts in this country.

            Then we, of course, had the Catholic/Protestant crap in Northern Ireland. Just because they were white christians didn’t make them any less terrorist.

            National Liberation Front of Tripura is a Christian terrorist organization in India. It’s one of the TOP TEN most active terrorist groups in the world.

            Then there was that “Christian Crusader” in Norway, just a month ago…

            Then we had the Ku Klux Klan that, at one time, had millions of members here in the US. And while it’s a shell of it’s former self, it was an active Christian terrorist group until the 60’s.

            Oh, and find an abortion service bomber/murderer… He’ll be supported and venerated by large groups of Christians.

            1. Why lol? I was asking in all seriousness, and although I didn’t stipulate it, I was really speaking of current events, so I would not include the crusades.

              However, I don’t think the items you have given are what I was requesting, so let me be a little clearer. Bas had responded to a statement that the Koran supported violence against infidels and those that die in the process of enforcing that violence would be venerated by the Koran (see above). What I am asking for are which other texts of other religions support violence against infidels and venerate such violence. Also, Bas said “a whole lot of religions”. You have given only examples of Christianity.

              I’m asking this not to rebut what Bas or you have said, but to ask for something slightly different.

      2. But you have to ask “why go to all the trouble to kill infidels in the United States, rather than starting with ones closer to home? Merely positing a desire to kill infidels doesn’t explain why they chose those particular infidels, when there were surely much more convenient targets around.

  7. Now, crashing jetliners into tall buildings with oneself inside takes a lot of fanaticism.

    That kind of fanaticism generally needs religion to fuel it.

    In this case, there is lots of evidence that radical Islam is one of the principle motives behind the 9-11 attacks.

    So while it is true that some political considerations lie behind Al Qaeda’s hatred of the U.S, for example, the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the extra push which leads normal everyday anti-Americans to go from normal anti-American conduct, say, burning an American flag, to commiting suicide by crashing airplanes
    into buildings most probably comes from
    religious fanaticism.

    These were not “normal” suicide bombers, who may be drugged or depressed (and thus easily manipulated by terrorists), but people who trained for months, who were able to pilot a jetliner, who coordinated their actions perfectly.

    1. Timothy McVeigh. Abu Nidel. Alex Boncayao Brigade. Aum Supreme Truth. PKK. MEK. FARC. Red Brigade and it’s split offs. Etc. Etc. Etc.

      All fully functinal terrorist groups that have killed, some of them many thousands of people, all without relgion to motivate them.

      1. s. wallerstein was referring to suicide bombers. Specifically the 911 attacks, which clearly would never have happened if it weren’t for islam(the one variable that if removed would’ve made 911 impossible).

        I don’t understand why you’re so quick to make excuses for islamic terrorism. Aren’t you an atheist?

        Is it fear of angry muslims responding with violence for having their religion accused of being responsible for 911 that’s motivating you? Cause that would be the ultimate irony.

        Or is it liberal guilt?

        You also misspelled Abu Nidal.

        1. It’s possible to make an argument that is 100% correct argument but to be misguided about what to do about it. The latter is a value judgment based upon what views and actions we think are sensible and reasonable.

          If one’s goal is to just sit on one’s ass while pointing out the faults of others, that is one value system. If one is motivated to use some introspection to see a web of interdependent causes having something to do with America’s role in the world, that is another value system.

          I cannot use pure rationality to convince people that the latter is superior and the former inferior. It comes down to a value judgment.

          The China example I gave above is meant to illustrate this.

          1. Well said. I’m so sick of the “liberal guilt” meme. The irony is that the people who use the phrase are the ones who are unwilling or unable to acknowledge that the U.S. may have played some small part in generating the negative sentiment to which it is currently subject. If I had to pick who seemed more guilt-ridden, the person who can acknowledge his own nation’s faults versus the person who cannot and instead loudly points out the faults of others’…well, that one’s just too obvious, isn’t it?

            Toronto, are you a Limbaugh fan by any chance?

        2. Thanks Toronto.

          As you said, my point is that religious fanaticism is the most probable cause, not of Al Qaeda’s hatred of the West, which may have political causes as well, but of their willingness to commit suicide in a planned and coordinated attack for that cause.

          The groups listed above, FARC, Red Brigades, Shining Path, etc., are all terrorists and there is also state terrorism, that of Pinochet, that of Pol Pot, that of Israel in Gaza, but generally only those whose hatred is fueled by religion, are willing to commit suicide for their cause.

          Islamic society has many legitimate and illegimate grievances against the United States. However, we are not discussing whether the grievances of Islamic society are legitimate or not, but what motivated
          19 men to hijack airplaners and crash them into tall buildings full of people, willingly losing their own lives in the process.

  8. Hitchens dismissal of complexity is lazy. As if a simpler truth is innately more true, and complex truth is the tell of a weak mind.

    The truth is the truth, be complex or simple, and in the case of causality of 9/11 the truth is simply complex. Did Muslim religious fundamentalism motivate the people who committed the crime? Undoubtable. However, is it fair to say the presence of American and European interests in the Middle East also motivated the attackers? How could it not? After all, the terrorists did not attack Brazil or Argentina, both of whom share our Western values and our religion. Nor did they attack the US when it was the USSR who invaded into Afghanistan. The complexity of this explanation does not negate its actuality.

    Hitchens, however, is quick to dismiss the role of politics in the attacks. He argues that politics is a distraction and should be ignored. He even conflates any political explanation with the wildest of conspiracies and anti-semitic drivel pumped out after the attacks so as make it seem all the more absurd. Why? So he can hone in on his favorite target: religious fundamentalism.

    I am not fan of religion. Indeed, I agree with Hitchens’ opinion of religion and the evil that it breeds. However, the role religion played in 9/11, and the simple tale one can build around, is not enough to understand why 9/11 happened. Nor the terrorist attacks that preceded and followed 9/11. To deny the role of politics is just as short-sighted as denying the role of religion. I am sorry it is so complex for Mr. Hitchens to keep these two simple ideas in his head at the same time.

  9. Immediately after the disaster, I began thinking about the Old Man of the Mountain. Tomorrow on Sidebar (although it’s irrelevant to the blog itself), I’ll have an essay on the Old Man, who was the progenitor of bin Laden.
    Hitch is right and history bears it out:a particularly crazy type of fundamentalist Islam, a form of which has been lurking around for a thousand years, caused the horror. The monstrous fear people feel at terror attacks has to do with how very few people can cause such destruction — a point well understood by the original Old Man.
    For a decade now I’ve been dismayed by how any advanced understanding of psychosis linked to religion has been deleted from the great debate about why, how, what should we do about it. I.e., how do we stop it, not how do we punish it.
    When I read the excellent NYT series of pieces on the 19 assassins, I was struck by how many showed clear signs of paranoid schizophrenia. I wondered then, and still am wondering, whether a deliberate application of mind-altering drugs had something to do with the inexplicable desire to die.
    If you take a look at tomorrow’s Sidebar, you’ll see why I mention this.

  10. “What would it take to convince you that an attack was motivated largely by faith?”
    Not to deny that faith had something to do with it, it’s a pretty hard sell to go mainly from faith to the targets they did.

    Complex situations need complex answers; the political factors really cannot be ignored, though they may not be the whole story.

  11. I suppose the arguement goes if the perps were poor, oppressed and athiest they would of unlikely flown those planes into the World Trade towers. I still think that poverty feeds faith and the religous use faith to hook those in poverty. As a poor person, I am surrounded by these examples all too frequently. Thus potentially creating willing and vulnerable subjects. But ultimately it was faith and blind obedience to it, that lead to 9/11. Not because those involved where hard up.

  12. I agree with the other commenters.

    This event probably would not have been possible without religion, but it doesn’t begin to explain all of the motivation behind it.

  13. OBL declared war on US and he listed his reasons many times over. Why don’t you listen to him? He has repeated many times why he chooses to target US and it has to do both with religion and politics.

  14. Well, I said:

    More formally: religion is necessary, but not sufficient.

    To which you replied:

    The Qu’ran repeatedly and clearly supports violence against infidels and venerates those who die while doing so.

    My point is that supporting violence against infidels isn’t exclusively Islamic, so there needs to be a reason why any Muslim chooses to be a terrorist, other than just being a Muslim.

    1. So if Christians support violence against infidels and Muslims support violence against infidels, we can’t support Islamic violence to Islam? This just seems like a fallacy.

      1. I’m sorry, but that’s a bit of a non-sequitur.

        I think my point that all religions harbour some kind of violence, so any violence in speficic religions has to be explained by secondary factors still stands.

        1. Let’s be meticulous about this. I want to know why it is that if all religions harbor some kind of violence, than violence in specific religions has to be explained be secondary factors.

          1. Well:

            Holy book A contains violent verse -> Priest of cult A calls for that violence -> nobody acts

            Holy book B contains violent verse -> Priest of cult B calls for that violence -> someone does act

            Why is there a difference? Is religion B more inherently violent? Are its followers more violent? Are there other circumstances?

            1. Okay, now we’re getting into the distinction between a religion’s texts and the behavior of its followers. You’re right that two religions, like Christianity and Islam, can both have violent texts, yet its followers can behave differently (one more, one less violent). But I think we should say non-violence occurs despite the texts themselves, which are the cores of the religion. When Christians refrain from conquering Muslims, do they do so because of, or despite, their religion? I say “despite.” That’s what I say about non-violent Muslims (who constitute the fast majority of Muslims).

              The “despite” has to be accounted for by a wide array of sociopolitical factors that are way beyond our ability to analyze in depth here. There are huge and very complicated reasons why Christian violence has been tempered in a way that Muslim violence has not.

          2. what you’re asking for is entirely explained by one, simple, thing:

            whether the government of any particular country is primarily secular or not.

            where religion is given free reign to control the lives of people, you will find its most violent nuances expressed.

            simple as that.

            there is no inherent difference in any of the Abrahamic traditions otherwise.

            there is only differences in how people choose to govern themselves.

            1. I don’t know about absolutely “no inherent difference” but sure, Christianity and Islam are pretty similar religions on the grand scale of things.

              I basically agree with what you just said, which makes me wonder what you think we’re disagreeing about.

  15. We don’t think consciousness, nor verbal explanations for behavior have evidence of causing much, let alone explaining anything.

    Let’s look in the brains of people who murder others and themselves not into the books they cite.

  16. I’ll have to disagree with Hitchens on this.

    Sure, religion is a component. However, those in the middle east have some genuine grievances that are not being answered. And religion is only part of the cause of those grievances.

    No, I do not blame Bush for what happened on 9/11. But I do blame Bush, Cheney, et al., for the way that they responded.

  17. So, what would it take to convince you that an attack was motivated largely by US meddling in the middle east? This is really not so difficult: Osama, after all, is on the record saying that what made him target the USA is their support for local strongmen he does not like and their military bases close to the holiest sites of his religion in Saudi Arabia. What more evidence do you need?

    Yup, religion is a part of it, but pretending it is ALL of the motivation is really too simplistic, no matter what contortions Hitchens goes through to arrive at his ideologically favoured conclusion.

    1. And before anybody accuses me of, as JAC put it, “a sneaking sympathy for religion that exculpates faith from the most odious attacks in the name of God”, this is not to say that US foreign policy excuses the mass murder of US civilians in any way.

      Of course, in a perfect world and certainly in the one I would wish for, the proximity of US military bases to, specifically, Mekka would lead to a mere “so what? What is so special about that place compared to, say, Cairo?” But people might still take a dim view of military interventions and the propping up of dictators even without religion, and non-religiously motivated people have even been known to commit suicidal acts when fanatical enough, e.g. anarchists or separatists.

  18. Here is a column that cites many actual statements by various Muslim terroists. Yes Islam played a part and formed a backdrop but political factors, aggression on them and occupation were always the specific factors.


    You can google for violence in the Bible and the Koran. Here are a few sites.




    And Jerry still hasn’t answered my question of whether he approves of our tactic of assassinations of nuclear scientists, academics and professionals in other countries. I condemn it, how about you Jerry?

    And how about the bombing of universities such as the bombing by Israel of the Science building and women’s dormitory in Gaza in operation Cast Lead. The pretext was that scientists there might be (but no actual proof) helping in the design of weapons. We also bombed the University in Tripoli, Libya. How many militarily funded grants and contacts does your University have Jerry?

    And no, I am not advocating any violence against American universities. But I think it is a dangerous and risky precedent that we set.

    We have recently finished reading Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth and Jerry’s Why Evolution Is True is top on our reading pile. Bought them both on remainder, best that we could afford. It is just on this issue of running a shabby and expensive military empire and doing so much violence to other people that we disagree.

    1. Have you ever heard of the term “whataboutery”? I first heard it during a talk given by the journalist, Robert Fisk. He was talking about the middle east, but I understand that it may have originated in the Irish conflict. A simple illustration of “whataboutery” is where one defends one’s preferred side in a conflict against an allegation of committing one or more atrocities by pointing to one or more alleged atrocities committed by the other side. It’s a rather unprofitable and stultifying activity, and it never gets to the roots of the matter under discussion.

      1. So are you saying that nothing occurs in a context and that nothing that happened before 11 Sep 2001 has any bearing on the matter?

        Not even, say, the atrocities the Nazis committed against the Jews, which seems to have become entwined with post WWII Mideast history.

        And what is your position on assassinating foreign scientists and bombing foreign Universities? Do you approve it or is it just a matter of not jeopardizing government grants and contracts?

        I wonder what the chances are that a single academic on this blog will make his name known and have the courage to speak against it?

        1. I’m afraid I don’t know what incidents you are referring to, and I’m not an academic. I don’t lack the courage to speak about any topics, but I can’t comment on the ones that you have raised, given my own ignorance of the subject matter. By the way, this is a website, not a blog.

          My reason for raising the subject is I thought that you seemed to be indulging in a bit of whataboutery by asking Jerry to comment on alleged actions by the US against parties who may or may not have had any connection with OBL as some form of counter to the atrocities committed by al Qaida on 9/11.

          1. Goggle assassination of iranian nuclear scientists. For example:


            Also, after we occupied Iraq in 2003 hundreds of Iraqi doctors, professionals and academics were systematically assassinated – by whom I don’t know. But it is a way to degrade a rival nation.

            All of this ends up closing our own society. I used to walk into the NIST library in Gaithersburg, MD. Just sign in at the desk. After 9/11 I no longer have access, even though I’m an elderly native born American. Scientists are retreating behind walls. Will blowback from our actions cause the same isolation at our Universities?

            My only access to a scientific journal was Science magazine at our local library. It was taken out by a number of people because I often had to wait to get a copy. With our economic downturn (partly caused by our trillion dollar per year empire) the magazine was dropped. What happened to outreach to the general public?

            All of this imperial hubris is affecting scientific and intellectual life in America – in a negative way. It is too costly both economically and morally. It will have a negative impact on the funding of science and its acceptance by the public.

            Don’t you people care, or do you think the good life will just go on for ever?

      2. I would say the appropriateness of “whataboutery” (a combination of ad hominem and non sequitor fallacies, I suppose) depends on the context.

        If the question is “was al Qaeda in the right to attack America?”, then “whataboutery” responses are non sequitors, unless someone can make a plausible case that they were acting in self-defense.

        However, if the question is “is religion to blame for terrorism?”, and the chief evidence for the affirmative is that religious zealots are the primary perpetrators of terrorism, then I think it is valid to point out counter-examples of actions which might arguably be called terrorism but were perpetrated without religious motivations.

        Further, if the question is turning to one of ultimate (rather than proximate) causes, then it is valid to delve into a discussion of mindset and actions that the aggrieved parties may have done to exacerbate the situation.

        For example, if we were discussing the causes of World War I and were only concerned with the proximate cause, then we could stop at the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by an Anarchist. But to say that Anarchists caused World War I would be ignorant. If we want an educated understanding of the causes of World War I, it requires the additional mental effort of looking beyond proximate causes, researching the political complexities of the early 20th century European nation states, imperialism, military technology, and a fair bit of interpretations that lend themselves to controversy. It’s so easy to stop at Ferdinand, or to draw simplistic ideological conclusions such as ‘the Germans did it’ (a conclusion which didn’t work so well when codified into the Treaty of Versailles); but I think most of the readers here are not satisfied with easy but ignorant conclusions.

  19. Couldn’t it be religion and politics that motivate terrorists?

    Is there anything wrong with advocating against both cruel/unjst US policies as well as violent religious fundamentalism?

    My $.02

  20. Hitch isn’t saying (as Jerry does) that 9/11 was uncomplicatedly due to Religion. He says it was uncomplicatedly due to al Queda.

    … the Muslim world did not adopt Bin-Ladenism as its shield against reality. Very much to the contrary …

    It seems to me that Hitch’s criticisms have always been directed at specific evils done by specific persons, not just a carpet bombing of the entire zone. Consequently, much more appealing to this Pragmatist.

    1. thanks for that viewpoint; I find it a better summary of Hitch’s position on this matter than Jerry’s in this case.

      Not that I haven’t found many of Hitch’s early proclamations after 9/11 to be a bit short on the “thoughtful” side of things.

  21. There are certainly certain religious schools which justify violence (including terrorism as well as violent oppression) more than others. There are political movements as well (various Maoist groups, far right nationalists like Anders Behring Breivik, etc.).

    Certainly, the 9/11 attacks were conducted by a group of Wahabist zealots and directly inspired by a particular interpretation of Islam. The hijackers considered themselves to be doing God’s work, not resolving socio-political imbalances (except through the miracle of jihad, perhaps).

    Nevertheless, there are plenty of religious people who are not inspired to perform terrorist acts, so blaming all religious thought (misguided as it may be) for such violence is painting with a little too broad of a brush. Many charities are driven by religious belief too, and not always for proselytizing or in-group charity purposes; so should we also credit charitable acts to religion? I wouldn’t.

    Al Qaeda and their admirers are militant, terrorist groups seeking to spread their religious interpretation, no doubt about it. If we are only looking to place blame for past deeds like 9/11 then we can stop the story there. However, if we’re interested in actually preventing future attacks, going after all religious people seems logistically challenging. Maybe in that case it’s worth investing a little more to learn why some religious people turn to violent acts when others don’t, so that we can (a) try to prevent the conditions under which such people become violent, and (b) keep an eye out for such conditions when they can’t be prevented, so we know who is a greater risk.

    Think of it like this: Malaria kills people. We can spend our time railing on about malaria, we can focus our efforts on trying to eradicate all mosquitos, or we can focus on the Malaria hot spots in the world, drain some swamps, raise some mosquito nets, build some plumbing. One of those options requires a little more thought and a little more resources, but it’s bound to be a lot more effective than the others.

    1. why?

      all it does is point out how easy it is to utilize emotional religious passages to manipulate people, it doesn’t at all attest to what the driving factors underlying the operation itself were.


  22. If religion was the overriding motivation, then you have to ask why they chose the particular targets they did (the WTC and the Pentagon) rather than just killing infidels closer to home, where it would undoubtedly be easier.

    There’s nothing in the Quran as far as I know that would lead them to choose those specific targets. Any attempt to answer the question of why they chose the targets they did will have to consider political and other factors.

    1. Or perhaps it should be broadened to why did they attack New York and Washington rather than, say, Boston and Chicago? I would think that Washington’s being the centre of government makes it a potential target but New York, well, perhaps its position as the US financial center may have counted for something, but maybe there were other reasons.

  23. I must agree with Hitchens, it was and still is religion. You paraphase is OK but I had to print the whole of “Simple Evil” so I can file it in my “Religion Destroys Everthing” binder started when Hitch wrote God is Not GREat. I recently had to go back and read Geoffrey Robertson’s “The Case of the Pope” because I see nothing lately about Ratzi’s omerta operation of the last 30 years. I have decided that omerta did not orginate in Sicily in the 1500’s to oppose Spanish rule. It originated in the early origins of “The Church”. Why do I see this as true? Because it was carried to the Eastern Greek Orthadox Rite afer the Great Schism in ancient times way before 1500’s and copied in the Islands by the Greeks in oposition to Mainland rule. I now call it the Catholic Cosa Nostra which has covered up the evils of the church “fathers(?)” mysoginistic domination.

  24. “I’m not suggesting you’re wrong, but can you tell me which other religions support violence against infidels and venerate those who die while doing so?

    A loaded question that presupposes the answer. A cheap and highly dishonest rhetorical device. Islam isn’t a monolithic religion where all 1.4 billion Moslems believe the same thing. I’m sure the number that “support violence against infidels and venerate martyrs” is about the same as US xianity.”

    There are countless websites full of fundie xian morons calling for a the elimination or persecution of Moslems. Rod Parsley, Hagee, Scarborough, Bryan Fischer, AFA, most of the leaders of xian death cults. Who knows how many Americans support them but it is a lot. I see them spouting off on the web quite often whenever the word Islam or Moslem occurs.

    Much like you are doing.

      1. No, let me spare you the effort:

        Joey Frantz said: The Qu’ran repeatedly and clearly supports violence against infidels and venerates those who die while doing so.

        Bas replied: True, but so do a whole lot of other religions, including Christianity.

        My inference is that if Joey and Bas are both correct, then there will be other texts like the Koran which “repeatedly and clearly support violence against infidels and venerate those who die while doing so.”

        I would be interested to know which are those texts. This is not a loaded question, and I don’t know the answer which is why I asked the question in the first place.

        1. Jesus Luke 19:27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.

          Jesus says when he come back he will have all the nonxians killed.

          40% of US xians believe jesus will show up by 2050 and they will help him kill 5 billion people.

          There are pages and pages of similar passages in the bible. The fact that you are babbling like an idiot rather than looking them up shows what you are. A troll.

          1. Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black. You’re still not addressing the question that I asked but instead seem to be beating up a little straw man.

      2. Bullshit. Read the comments that led to my original statement again before firing off this sort of crap.

        What I thought. A troll. A routine Moslem hater from one of the fundie xian death cults.

  25. Well:

    Holy book A contains violent verse -> Priest of cult A calls for that violence -> nobody acts

    Holy book B contains violent verse -> Priest of cult B calls for that violence -> someone does act

    Why is there a difference? Is religion B more inherently violent? Are its followers more violent? Are there other circumstances?

    Oh c’mon, this is too obvious. We in the West spent hundreds of years putting xianity in a box. The Enlightenment. It wasn’t easy and took a lot of brave people and a lot of effort.

    The hallmark of a civilized society is not letting your religious kooks run around loose. The kooks really hate that and are always trying to break their leash.

    Islam hasn’t done this yet. No Reformation, no Enlightenment. They may eventually do so, or may not. Who knows?

    FWIW the bible is just as bloodthirsty as the Koran or more so. The first third of it is god’s chosen people genociding the Canaanite tribes and stealing their land, women, and stuff. Before that the Sky Monster invented genocide by drowning all but 8 people once.

    Xianity has a well known history soaked in blood for 2,000 years. Tens of millions have been killed in crusades, witch hunts, sectarian wars, and so on. A few centuries ago, secular people got tired of it and slowly took away their worldly power.

    And xian terrorism has been a well known problem in the US for decades. 2/3 of all terrorist incidents since 9/11 have involved xians or right wing extremists.

    1. OK, but what has this got to do with my question about the other religions apart from Christianity and Islam (both of which were covered by Joey Frantz and Bas)?

      1. Xianity and Islam? Really? No-one has mentioned Shinto as a prime example of how only religion can motivate kamikaze attacks yet? Why is that?

  26. FWIW, quite a few xian death cult leaders have advocated persecuting or eliminating Islam.

    Rod Parsely wants to start a war to eliminate Islam, 2 billion xians against 1.4 billion Moslems. I’m sure that will set the entire world back a few generations unless, as is likely, it went nuclear. Killing 1.4 billion people would also really overtake the current record for genocide, at least numerically. The Sky Monster still wins percentagewise.

    These are the leaders, not pariahs hiding out in caves in Canada or somewhere.

    McCain’s Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam | Mother Jones
    motherjones.com/politics/…/mccains-spiritual-guide-destroy-islam – CachedSimilar
    You +1’d this publicly. Undo

    Mar 12, 2008 – Televangelist Rod Parsley, a key McCain ally in Ohio, has called for eradicating the “false religion. … to wage a “war” against the “false religion” of Islam with the aim of destroying it. … The Muslim prophet Muhammad, he writes, “received revelations from … Provoking people to holy war is another matter. …

    1. I must say you’re a mine of information about Christian death cults. I’m honestly not familiar with such organizations.

  27. religioustolerance.org

    Overview of violence in the Hebrew Bible:
    Biblical scholar Raymond Schwager:

    “… has found 600 passages of explicit violence in the Hebrew Bible [a.k.a. Old Testament], 1000 verses where God’s own violent actions of punishment are described, 100 passages where God expressly commands others to kill people, and several stories where God irrationally kills or tries to kill for no apparent reason. Violence … is easily the most often mentioned activity in the Hebrew Bible.”

    Violence, murder, and genocide are the most common activities in the OT.

    The NT isn’t any better. It ends with Revelation, when jesus comes back, destroys the earth, and kills 7 billion people. The only way to top this example of mass murder is if we discover UFO aliens. Then jesus can kill them too.

  28. Much as I love The Hitch. I have to say he’s oversimplifying here for reasons similar to those already pointed out.

    I fully agree that the religious environment that produced radical Wahabis had not been there, these attacks would be unlikely.

    While I am aware of American imperialism, I don”t think it wholly explains things either. I think John Powers said it best: “They hate us because we don’t even know why they hate us.” Ignorance resulting from indifference is more enraging than any actual wrongs done.

    I also blame the Saudis. Look at the wealth they have and how little they have done with it. Until the 70’s The Kingdom was in complete disarray. No garbage pickup, poor sanitation, few roads. Like the film Network said, the money has to flow back. And for a while a lot of did. They built roads, hospitals, and have fairly decent sanitation. But they stopped there.

    The Saudi Royals ceased building up their own country. They turned to foreign investments. They could have built schools, and invested in industries. Nothing fancy, just basic education and a cut cut or two above sweatshop level jobs. That would be a huge step up for a lot of Saudis. After developing basic industries they could build colleges, medical schools, and more advanced industries. And they could do this all without having to attract foreign investment as they always have the revenue stream from oil. There is no reason shere should not be smart phone assembly plants in Saudi Arabia if they started with basic industries and education in the early seventies. And yeah, give women more freedom too while you’re at it .

    Singapore is a dictatorship that has done quite well in spite of having zero resources. I’m not saying I’d want to live in Singapore, and I sure as hell wouldn’t live in my enlightened Saudi Arabia, but at least there would be hope there.

    Just something to think about. Sorry for no references. Just knew a lot of families that contracted in Saudi. My grandfather was there for a while in the fifties, and I was friends with the son and daughter of a low level staff member of the Saudi consulate who thought it would be cool if his kids went to a large US public school.

  29. The US engaged in understandably scorned interventions in the Middle East, that bin Laden and his ilk viewed as an attack on Islam. If you read bin Laden’s Feb 1998 fatwa against the US, he clearly cites the US invasion of Iraq, the sanctions against Iraq, and thirdly, US support for the Israeli occupation:

    “All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on Allah, his messenger, and Muslims. And ulema have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries.”

    There is little point in arguing whether jihad or anti-imperialism was the sole prime motivator, since in the eyes of al Qaeda they were one and the same.

    Placing the blame solely on Islam (while dismissing US intervention) is a good strategy for apologists of US violence, which sadly includes Hitchens.

  30. This is slightly off-topic, but on re-reading Hitchens’ article, I was led to think of the analysis of a fictional character in literature. In Othello, Shakespeare depicts a man who is, upon close examination, a purely evil person. Iago destroys Othello’s life through his hatred for the man. In the course of the play, he soliloquizes on why he hates Othello giving reasons such as his belief that he’s been passed over for promotion or his hearing a rumour that Othello has been sleeping with his wife. He doesn’t know if the rumour is true, but to be safe, he will “do as if for surety.” A more detailed analysis suggests, however, that Iago has no clear reason for doing what he did and that the reasons that he has given to himself are inadequate to understand properly his actions. He simply hates Othello, and that’s all that can be said on the matter. When, at the end of the play, Othello asks why Iago has “ensnared my soul and body”, he answers, “Demand me nothing; what you know, you know.”

  31. Yes, let’s all continue to ignore the role of our Imperialism Lite foreign policy in Bin Laden’s motivations to specifically target the US. That way we can continue our Imperialism Lite foreign policy.

    Is Belief in Imaginary Beings a major component of the 9/11 attacks? Of course. Bin Laden, from the mid 90’s and on, has painstakingly enunciated Why He Specifically Attacked Us (which most of us ignore), and almost all of those reasons concern some slight to Islam; but those slights, whether imagined or real, are the result of Imperialism Lite, or, “There’s Oil In Them Sands!”

    Someone previously made an analogy that has been in my mind for the past decade- would we welcome, or blithely ignore, Chinese troops and Intelligence services in our Country, all in the name of Chinese National Security and Self Interest?? Of Regional Stability? Etc. Of course not. Those of us who are especially barbaric and still own firearms would promptly use them. Yet we in the West see no problem with interfering in the business of other sovereign nations. In fact we take pride in it, because we are The Good Guys, the Sheriff Who Sets Things Right. How many innocent civilians have died as a result of our direct or indirect meddling in the affairs of other nations? A meddling that for the most part has more to do with National Interests than National Security.

    Compared to many other countries, we aren’t that bad. And sometimes our Imperialism Lite is well intentioned. But we would all be better off if We Minded Our Own Goddamn Business and quit trying to mold the globe into a shape of our own choosing.

    1. in Laden, from the mid 90′s and on, has painstakingly enunciated Why He Specifically Attacked Us (which most of us ignore

      funny, anyone can look up the wiki on the issue.

      five bucks says it’s YOU who has ignored all the reasons listed for the attacks there.

  32. OBL seemed like the type who might well have been motivated (unconsciously) by the prospect of self-aggrandizement and by a more conscious desire to market his brand of crazy. What better target than the WTC to accomplish both goals? Does anyone think he didn’t enjoy seeing his name in the headlines the next day? Isn’t that kind of the definition of evil?

    1. I thought along the same lines, but as it turns out Bin Laden was a True Believer in the most pious sense of the phrase. Yes, he was crazier than a shit-house rat but in that general sense of crazy that comes with Belief In Imaginary Being, only turned up Eleven. But after reading
      “The Osama Bin Laden I Know” by Peter Bergen (yes, it sounds tacky) I changed my mind. He certainly isn’t vindicated in any of his actions, but I admire his personal principles in the same way I admire all fundamentalists who at least walk the walk (which is rare in all religions) proscribed by their fairy tale texts.

      1. Turns out BL was a fairly business savvy, marketing type that really didn’t have that much influence on anything but was a great self-promoter. We fell for it!

        New information has been analysed — he was marginal in AQ but had a lot of money and was great salesman.

        1. Actually, it really doubleplus-true turns out that Bin Laden had originally targeted the godless havens of Northern Europe (with their atheistic dope smokin’ prostitutionality) for skyscraper plowing, but was convinced by his Nefarious Henchmen that Chevy Trucks, Baseball, Apple Pie, and FREEDOM offended Allah much more than the unapologetic godless lifestyle of the Norsemen.

          1. Look for the research, BL was all hype.

            Would that “FREEDOM” include being black or darker skinned, gay, having an abortion, freedom to go to the worst schools and be poor for life, not to have healthcare unless working for a corporation, be Muslim in America, etc.?

            1. If you can’t understand or refuse to understand that Bin Laden attacked us because he hates FREEDOM, then there is nothing more I can say, except that Bin Laden attacked us because of our FREEDOMS.

              1. Yeah, freedom for Dick Cheney to invade a sovereign country for political advantage and to get at the oil. Please. Just freedom to bully the rest of the world.

              2. If you can’t understand or refuse to understand that Bin Laden attacked us because he hates FREEDOM, then there is nothing more I can say,

                I think you better get checked at the docs.

                all that kool aid can lead to a serious case of diabetes.

  33. I’d really like to know why no-one here is pointing to Shinto and kamikaze as an example of how it takes fanatical devotion to a violent religion for people to use planes in suicide attacks.

    1. Though there is that secular example of suicide pilot Joe Stack, who was quite critical of the “monsters of organized religion” and the “vulgar, corrupt Catholic church” in his manifesto. He didn’t mention God as a motivation.

  34. “What would it take to convince you that an attack was motivated largely by faith?”

    Here’s what it would take for me.

    An analysis of Arab/Muslim terrorist attacks that showed most such attacks directed at highly devout non Muslim religious groups or countries, like most of South America, as opposed to attacks against countries and peoples with a long history of interference in the internal affairs of Arab/Muslim countries.

    Usama bin Laden stated on several occasions that the attacks on the US were in retaliation for the interference in the affairs of Muslims. And any student of 20th century history knows full well that the Saudi family was put in control by the US and British, and it is kept in power by the US Navy’s aircraft carrier battle groups. Any student also knows that the CIA put the Shah in power in Iran, and that the US provided military support to Saddam. They also know the history of US interference in the affairs of Egypt.

    Of course religion plays a role. Just look at the situation between Pakistan and India, or Ireland and Britain. But to ignore or pooh pooh the role of money, oil and the bullying of imperialist states such as the US and UK seems to me like willful ignorance.

      1. Say it again. It can’t be said enough. Too bad most Americans refuse to accept it. It’s a sick, willful ignorance that only serves to trap us in the old rut of Imperialism Lite.

  35. OK, Jerry, maybe people who argue that it wasn’t exclusively religion inspiring the 9/11 attacks are being soft on religion. Then again, maybe you’re being soft on your own implicit culpability in the fact that the U.S. government has done everything in its power to disenfranchise people in the middle east and make life miserable for them. Please remember that most of the middle eastern tyrants were put there by the U.S. government in the first place.

    “Politics has nothing to do with it” makes about as much sense as “we need to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam” from the people who put Saddam in power in the first place.

  36. “all that kool aid can lead to a serious case of diabetes.”

    You guys need to turn on your sarcasm meters. What is sad is not that you aren’t picking up on my sarcasm, but that you probably actually have heard those statements made in all seriousness by others.

    I think I used to believe that too at one time, till I read “American Hubris” and “The Osama Bin Laden I Know.”

  37. ‘What would it take to convince you that an attack was motivated largely by faith?’

    He could always try reading article by Andrew Brown explaining that wars cannot be understood apart from their theological component.

  38. Why would anyone believe any explanation given by mentally ill people who kill themselves and others?

    Like always, talk about religion is just marketing spin. If I do bad stuff and claim religion made me do it millions of sympathetic souls are immediately “sold” on my criminal behavior.

    Typical criminal BS.

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