Reflections on 9-11





Mr. Troy is Professor of History at McGill University, and the author, most recently, of Hillary Rodham Clinton: Polarizing First Lady and Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s. He is a member of the advisory board of HNN.

The passage of time, and the frustrations from Iraq have blurred memories of September 11, six years ago when the World Trade Center crumpled in an apocalyptic cloud of dust, ash, and fire. Many assumed “our world would never be the same.” Yet, Osama Bin Laden’s Islamicist terrorists failed to derail Western society. Life for most of us in the West continued with little interruption.

Of course, for the victims’ families, for the soldiers subsequently deployed, life changed dramatically. But for most Canadians and Americans -- especially on campus --  9/11 was not the turning point many assumed it would be. Increasingly, our campuses are filled with 9/11 babies, students whose first major news story was 9/11; today’s 22-year-old seniors were 16. These students appear far more influenced by the iPod and YouTube than by al Qaeda and Bin Laden. Similarly, judging by the down-is-up tendency among  many colleagues to blame the United States for being attacked, few academics changed their worldviews, let alone their lifestyles.

This imperviousness to what so many labeled this era’s defining event reflects great strength – and weakness. Bin Laden’s fatwas, with their grand if perverted ambitions, show how dramatically he and his henchmen failed. Bin Laden expected the West, not just the U.S., to collapse as quickly as the Twin Towers did. Claiming credit for bringing down the Soviet Union via the Afghan war, thinking in sweeping historical terms about the Crusaders’ fall, Bin Laden hoped to destroy Western civilization. His unholy war continues.  Still, for all the troubles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan since, despite lethal terrorist bombings periodically, Western society continues to thrive, as do the individual countries the Islamicists hate, which, contrary to much conventional wisdom here.

Despite the anguish terrorism causes and the attention terrorists attract, terrorism overall has been militarily insignificant. Cars and cancer kill many more people; even tiny Israel has over 100,000 births a year, dwarfing the number of terror victims.   Moreover, modern democratic capitalist consumer societies like the United States and Canada are incredibly stable. Consider, as only one of many indicators, the multi-decade mortgages unsentimental bankers offer. This phenomenon, which we take for granted, reflects our world’s blessed steadfastness.

Stability is addictive. Constancy can easily lead to complacency. Our growing immunity to 9/11 as a warning signal is doubly problematic. For starters, in a world with chemical and nuclear weapons, complacency could be lethal. The failure during the 1990s to take Osama Bin Laden’s words seriously resulted in the 9/11 tragedy; the Islamicist movement’s volatile mixture of religious millenarianism, political fantasy, and ever-escalating violence demands vigilance. Just because Iraq has been mishandled does not mean the West can ignore the problem of Islamicist extremism. The recent arrests in Germany and Great Britain suggest how widespread, central and broadly threatening Islamicism is – despite the amoral, intellectually reprehensible and politically dangerous trend to equate Islamicism with Jewish and Christian fundamentalism.

Complacency can also be enervating, individually and communally. President George W. Bush failed by not channeling the surge of public concern after 9/11 into a broader redefinition of the American – and Western -- mission in the twenty-first century. The ease with which partisans from all sides resumed their usual stances, the growing individuation and selfishness of our wireless worlds, reflect disturbing tendencies toward political polarization, intellectual sclerosis, and moral disengagement that are inimical to democracy – and to a vital university life.

Here, then, is probably our great failure as academics over the last six years – and longer. Six years ago history disrupted our reverie. Rushing to return to normal, we, like George Bush, missed a great opportunity. We need to make our campuses centers of political creativity, intellectual daring, and moral grandeur. We need to think more broadly and more deeply about our role and our students’ role in the world. We need to do this to help face the terrorist threat to the West more seriously and effectively; but we also must do this to make sure that our universities are not merely credentialing factories mass producing the complacent careerists of tomorrow but are cutting edge centers of active and engaged learning nurturing the leading problem-solving citizens of today – and tomorrow.   

Related Links

  • HNN Hot Topics: Teaching 9/11
  • HNN Hot Topics: 9/11: Five Years Later

  • This article will appear later this week in the McGill Reporter.


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    Dalek S Wu - 9/13/2007

    "I am less concerned with Professor Troy's domestic policies in Canada or the U.S. than I am about his foreign policies."

    Then you missed the whole point of his post, which was that, six years after the fact, America remains largely unprepared, through complancency, for a second attack. And if you are foolish enough to think that a second attack is impossible, I strongly suggest you read Captain Dick Marcinko's "Rogue Warrior" series, Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," Dr. Bernard B. Fall's "Streets Without Joy," Colonel Rogert Trinquier's "La Guerre Moderne," General Paul Aussaresses' "The Battle for the Casbah," and General Giap's memoirs.

    We are not dealing with a conventional enemy here, but a guerilla who attacks at his convenience. As Dr. Fall said "A dead guerilla is spontaneously replaced by his environment. A dead special forces sergeant is not."

    That being said, although Islamic fundamentalism is a mortal enemy of America, that does not mean all Muslims are ipso facto enemies of America. Muslims have, in the past, been willing to fight alongside the West against common enemies (eg. Franco's Morrocan Tabors in the fight against Communism, the British Arab Legion against the Axis in 1939-45, and the Harkis of the French Army in WWII, Indochina and Algeria--see the film "Indgenes" for details on the latter.) In fact, the one-time C-in-C in Iraq, General John Abizaid, is a Muslim, and he wholeheartedly supports the war on terror. So does renowned self-defense expert and Concord, NH Police Captain Massad Ayoob.

    "Troy’s politics are best set forth on YouTube in his video version of Why I am a Zionist, which dovetails quite easily with the Podhoretz book."

    To put Troy in the same class as Podhoretz is quite a stretch. In fact, it exaggerates his importance. For one thing, he is only a university professor. Unlike Max Boot or the Kagan brothers, he does not hold a government position and, to my knowledge, never has. Are you really suggesting that Troy has the same juice with the government that Friedrich Kagan (the force behind the surge) does? How influential is he really when compared to highly popular anti-war Jews like Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and Seymore Butts?

    More to the point, if even Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh are unable to convince a majority of Americans that the war in Iraq is the right thing, what makes you think that Gil Troy, who is far lesser known than the former two can convince Americans of the necessity of "World War IV," (which I have never seen him do in over a year of listening to him)?

    Troy does, however, have the right to express his opinion.

    "For those who think that Professor Troy is some disinterested intellectual striving for a view of the past and merely interested in being a good teacher, I would suggest that you look at the video tape(s) of Troy as he lays out his Zionist vision"

    Troy has never made any secret of his extracurricular politics, including his Zionism. In fact, his book "Why I am a Zionist" appears prominently on his personal website.

    You seem to be arriving at the conclusion that, just because Troy advocates for Zionism when he is not on the clock, that he is somehow anti-Muslim. The fact that he vociferously and on more than one occasion condemned restrictions on Muslims in Quebec, including the Herouxville anti-stoning law, as "racist," clearly shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is not biased against Muslims.

    Also, if one uses your rationale, one could also say that Noam Chomsky, by engaging in politics, has drastically overstepped his place as a MIT Professor of linguistics (the study of the science of languages) and that Richard Dawkins, by engaging in theological questions, has drastically overstepped his place as a Professor of Biology. Are you prepared to go that far?


    Tim Matthewson - 9/13/2007

    I am less concerned with Professor Troy's domestic policies in Canada or the U.S. than I am about his foreign policies. In this regard, I would lump him together with the so-called neocons, a groups of former Democrats turned conservative Republicans who have aligned themselves with the Bush administration and who favor an aggressive, indeed Napoleonic foreign policy. Their vision could best be seen, in its most extreme form, as a radical Napoleonic agenda that seeks to impose American power everywhere in the world. Convinced of America’s perfection and infallibility, neocons like Norman Podhoritz, envision the future as World War IV, a period when international politics will be characterized as a conflict centering on Islamofascism, an agenda set forth in Podhoretz’ World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism. Troy’s politics are best set forth on YouTube in his video version of Why I am a Zionist, which dovetails quite easily with the Podhoretz book. For those who think that Professor Troy is some disinterested intellectual striving for a view of the past and merely interested in being a good teacher, I would suggest that you look at the video tape(s) of Troy as he lays out his Zionist vision on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdrtZOW60TU) but more important, I suggest that you take a look at the video of Troy (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dSHl3C9kgY&;mode=related&search=) during his violent and vitriolic attacks on Jews who oppose Zionism, which is also available on YouTube.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdrtZOW60TU

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dSHl3C9kgY&;mode=related&search=


    Dalek S Wu - 9/13/2007

    Tim Matthewson,

    First, I have had Professor Troy as a teacher. He very strongly disagreed with the thesis of and the position I took in one of my papers for him, yet he gave me a high grade because he valued my analysis and the way I structured my argument.

    Furthermore, I had Professor Troy as a teacher over the course of two semesters. (And while we are on the subject, let me also declare that I never as much as requested, much less received, a letter of recommendation from Troy. In all probability, he does not even remember me.)I knew of his extracurricular positions before I took his courses, positions with which, it must be said, I do not 100% agree. Not once in what amounts to a full year of hearing him lecture did I hear Professor Troy as much as mention his extracurricular political opinions.

    The notion, therefore, that he would "impose his brand of politics on North American universities" is patently absurd.

    So is the very thought that he is capable of "calling for a Crusade." Anyone who has spent enough time with him knows that, although he is certainly religious, he is 100% committed to a secular, civic society. This may not be well known in America, but Troy, who teaches at a Canadian University, also writes for Canadian newspapers. Last winter, a poll in Quebec (the province where Troy teachers) revealed that the majority of the residents are hostile to the fact that they have to make "reasonable accomodations" to foreigners residing in the province. This poll coincided with the passing of a law banning the stoning of women in the city of Herouxville, Quebec (something not even Michael Bloomberg of New York has done.) Troy has condemned the opposition to "reasonable accomodations" as well as the Herouxville anti-stoning law as "racist", even though it is Muslims, not Jews or Christians, who are most directly affected by the situation.

    This is very far from being a "crusader," one would think.

    Furthermore, Troy's post stands by itself. He is quite accurate when he says that 9/11 has changed very little in North America for those who are not military or who did not lose a loved one or friend on 9/11. For one thing, the US Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a US Army Special Forces General named Henry Hugh Shelton, was retired a couple of months after the attack and replaced with an Air Force jet jockey with zero understanding of ground operations, let alone counterinsurgency. By contrast, when the German Empire went to war in 1914, she recalled the retired Genneral von Hindenbourg to the colours, even though he had first seen action in 1871, some four decades before.

    For another, after 9/11, New York City's "Conservative Republican" Mayor Bloomberg slashed the salary of NYPD MOS (Members Of the Service, or what civilians call "Police Officers") to a paltry $25,000 a year--despite the fact that NYC is a massive prot of entry to the US. For comparison, Nassau County Police Officers, just next door to NYC, make $100,000 a year, and the eternally strike-threatening Canadian mailmen make $40,000 a year.

    A third proof of Troy's accuracy is that the NYPD as a whole were not instructed to wear mourning bands yesterday, and some individual MOS who did wear them were threatened with disciplinary action.


    Tim Matthewson - 9/11/2007

    Professor Troy wants us to believe that terrorists are a serious threat and should provoke us to convert our universities from great credentialing factories mass producing the complacent careerists of tomorrow but should be transmogrified into centers of active and engaged learning nurturing the leading problem-solving citizens of today – and tomorrow.
    That is Professor Troy apparently wants to impose his brand of politics on North American universities, transforming them into centers of struggle and mission, much like the crusades of earlier centuries, that should seek to impose a kind of Wilsonian agenda on the 23 Arab Muslim societies of the middle east. I wonder wonder if Troy would agree with Ann Coulter, who once advocated the military occupation of Arab Muslim societies and their forced conversion to Christianity.
    Is bin Laden a serious threat to the US and our democratic, consumerist allies? Obviously, Troy thinks so, but one wonders if the Bush administration and the Federal Government believe that it is, for as Troy states, President Bush missed an opportunity, in the response to 9/11 by not channeling the surge of public concern after 9/11 into a broader redefinition of the American – and Western -- mission in the twenty-first century.
    As critics of the Iraq war have repeatedly pointed out, President Bush has only devoted enough time and resources to the Iraq war to provoke the Arab Muslim countries but not enough to carry thru to successful completion of the war. In other words, Bush himself does not consider the war important enough call for a renewal of the draft, raise taxes, insist that American make sacrifices to the common good, define some national mission in the middle east, and the like. Instead, President Bush as called on American to go shopping.
    The US has made only a weak and half hearted response to 9/11 and Gil Troy finds this frustrating and dangerous because our complacent agenda could be lethal in a world with chemical and nuclear weapons. Here we are back in 2001 facing the danger of WMD and our goal should be the transformation of American universities. We should be propagandizing/teaching American students about the dangers of the world they will inherit and lead them to develop a militant response to the future. Troy sounds as if he is issuing a call for the renewal of the Crusades and the imposition of our culture and values on foreign peoples. He sounds like he favors an agenda of saving the world from itself and said agenda could only have been developed by a persons who is absolutely convinced of his own perfection and infallibility.