The Institute for Objectivist Studies

Home » Commentary » 9/11: twelve years later

9/11: twelve years later


Here’s some material pertinent to 9/11, twelve years later.

As this not-bad article in USA Today suggests, interest in 9/11 is, naturally enough, waning. I’d argue that it’s been waning for at least five years if not more. To some degree, the focus is now less on the event itself than on our reactions to it.

Here’s something I wrote for a symposium at The College of New Jersey in November 2001–“How Not to Explain September 11“–disputing what I call the “grievance explanation” for 9/11. With the exception of the factual mistake noted in footnote 1, I still stand by it twelve years later.

Here’s a related talk I gave in 2011 to the Association for Core Texts and Courses on teaching Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to the Americans.” Coincidentally, the US military assassinated bin Laden about a week after I gave the talk.

This (translated) set of blog posts by Khalil Ahmad of the Alternate Solutions Institute in Lahore, Pakistan discusses the bin Laden assassination from (what I regard as) a very reasonable Pakistani perspective.

A related piece (for which I lack an electronic or online copy) is “‘Why They Hate Us’: A Pedagogical Proposal,” published in 2010, which discusses what’s required to “understand” 9/11. I’m happy to say that I’m in the process of putting a course together here at Felician based on the proposal.

I likewise lack an electronic or online copy of an essay I co-wrote on 9/11 rumors with Gary Alan Fine of Northwestern University, a well-known sociologist of rumor. But you can see a bit of it via Google Books. The essay explains the prevalence of 9/11 rumors by way of Thomas Nagel’s famous question “What is it like to be a bat?” (in this case, of course, the question becomes, “What is it like to be a terrorist?”).

The immediate impetus for the essay was a (false) rumor to the effect that the Arabs of Paterson, New Jersey had celebrated 9/11 en masse. Arguably, a handful of teenagers in Arab South Paterson had gone out onto Main St, and did some exulting directly after 9/11, or something like it. I’ve queried residents and journalists about it for years and have gotten some credible testimony from residents to that effect. But there was no large-scale celebration.

Here’s an interview I did with The Jewish Standard of Teaneck, NJ  in December 2002 on related issues.

Park51 OpenHouse

Park51 OpenHouse (Photo credit: AslanMedia). Do these people deserve to die? Ask Leonard Peikoff.

Finally, in 2010, I wrote a letter to Reason magazine criticizing the anti-Muslim views of the activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Leonard Peikoff. For whatever reason, Reason published the Hirsi Ali part of the letter but omitted the Peikoff part. The Peikoff part of the letter refers to his deranged views on the (misnamed) “Ground Zero Mosque.” Here’s the letter in its uncut form:

To Reason magazine, Nov. 7, 2010.

I very much appreciated Jesse Walker’s critique of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Leonard Peikoff in “Forced to Be Free” (Nov. 2010). But he understates his case against both of them.

Walker takes issue with Ayaan Hirsi Ali for calling for the abolition of Muslim schools in the United States, and then claims that “at least she speaks with direct experience of the ugly side of Islam.” That’s misleading. I don’t dispute that Hirsi Ali’s life experiences have been horrific, but the fact is, she has almost zero first-hand experience of Muslim life in the U.S., as distinct from Muslim life in East Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Holland. That lack of experience has not prevented her from offering extravagant generalizations about the nature of Muslim-American mosques, schools, and families, a contradiction lost both on Hirsi Ali and her defenders.

As for Leonard Peikoff, Walker quotes Peikoff’s claim that “permission should be refused” for the construction of Park51–the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”– “and if they go ahead and build it, the government should bomb it out of existence, evacuating it first, with no compensation to any of the property owners involved in this monstrosity.”

It’s worth noting that apart from being immoral, Peikoff’s suggestion is incoherent. Recall that Peikoff regards Park51 as fair game for an attack because he regards the United States as at war with all Muslims as such, regardless of their involvement in terrorism. On his view, Park51 is the equivalent of an Islamist military base in New York City. Contrary to Peikoff, however, it makes no sense to evacuate a military base before bombing it. The target in an attack on a military base is not just the base’s infrastructure but its personnel, with non-combatant civilians regarded as collateral damages. If Park51 is the equivalent of a military base, then the same principle must apply to it. If so, Peikoff cannot consistently demand that the building be bombed after evacuation: he must accept the fact that on his own rationale, if Park51 is to be bombed, every person in it is, for purposes of bombing, either a direct target or a regrettable but justified casualty of any bombing. In other words, he ought more forthrightly to face the fact that stripped of its ad hoc rationalizations, what he’s prescribing in the name of freedom is mass murder. The rest of us ought more forthrightly to face it, too.


P.S., 12:17 pm: A quick afterthought to the foregoing. From a certain perspective, the links above seem not to have any real unifying theme; they’re on disparate topics and criticize parties on all sides of various conventional disputes. The motivation that links them is my conviction that–to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens–even when justified, warfare poisons everything. I thought and still think that Bush’s decision to attack Al Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11 was justified. Though I don’t accept the nation-building rationale in Afghanistan or elsewhere, and think we should have left a long time ago, the fact remains that we are there (“we” includes the US and its allies), and vulnerable to attack by the Taliban and Al Qaeda. For that reason, I remain in favor of drone attacks on both. Having said that, even the most justified war creates the dangers of coming to resemble the monsters we’re (justifiably) trying to fight. So if I were to summarize what the links say, it’d be the following:

1. “How Not to Explain 9/11”: Don’t make excuses for Al Qaeda.

2. “Bin Laden’s Letter”: Know the enemy in the strong epistemic sense of “know.”

3. “Letters from Lahore”: Don’t ignore the difficult situation of your allies, but don’t make excuses for them, either.

4. “Why They Hate Us”: Understanding precedes evaluation, so tailor your evaluations even of your enemies to your understanding of them.

5. “Celebrating Arabs”: Rumors are a form of pseudo-knowledge or anti-knowledge. Don’t believe them, and don’t spread them.

6. Jewish Standard interview: Don’t make excuses for racism even if the racists in question are themselves often victims of racism (e.g., Islamic anti-Semitism). (I don’t mean that “Islam” is a race; I mean that Muslims are often victims of racism.)

7. Reason letter: Don’t regard the peaceful citizens of your own country (e.g., Muslim Americans) as the equivalent of your mortal enemies on the basis of stupid stereotypes, over-simplified generalizations, and rhetorical hot air.



  1. Baal Shem Ra says:

    They may have omitted the Peikoff part specifically because the views were so deranged; the terminology of “Ground Zero Mosque” is almost conspiracy theory-esque. Ayaan Hirsi Ali may be worthy of intelligent discussion or debate, but talk of evacuating and bombing a religious site not so much.

  2. irfankhawaja says:

    I think that’s unlikely, because they were the ones who initiated the discussion of Peikoff’s deranged views in the first place. I was just urging them to go further than they had. I think they omitted the Peikoff part either because of length considerations, or the possibility of litigation by Peikoff, or both. My letter is very unflattering to Peikoff, and implies a kind of murderous derangement to his views (however implicit), and that could well be construed (by enterprising lawyers) as predicate for a nice lawsuit. Or at least as a good-enough predicate for the threat of one. I know someone who was on the receiving end of such intimidation (by Peikoff), probably not the only one. Reason might have known as well.


    P.S. I love your website. I’m tempted to say that I worship it, or at it, whatever.

Comments closed

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: