By James Haught
James Haught is editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He is 87-years-old and would like to help secular causes more. This series is a way of giving back.
The most startling event of our lifetime still partly baffles most Americans. We know many details about the historic Muslim suicide terror attack of Sept. 9, 2011, but few people can answer deep questions at the heart of the tragedy:
Why did 19 young men want to kill 3,000 defenseless strangers who had done them no harm?
Why did they desire it so fervently that they sacrificed their own lives to accomplish it?
As they lived in America, plotting the mass murder, why didn’t they feel empathy for surrounding people and families — but instead felt only a compulsion to kill them?
The 9/11 attack was insanity — but were the killers insane?
Normal people can’t answer these questions, I think, because normal people can’t understand fanatics. We can’t comprehend hate mixed with religion. It’s too contradictory for our minds to grasp. Yet that was the deadly driving force behind the worst murder in American history.
The best clue to the killers’ motive is found in their own rallying call, a handwritten exhortation found in their luggage after the horror. Over and over, it beseeched the zealots to kill for God and give their lives gladly, confident that they would be transported to a magical heaven where each would enjoy an allotment of adoring virgins. Here are a few passages, translated from Arabic:
“When the taxi takes you to the airport, remember God constantly…. Smile and be calm, for God is with the believers, and the angels protect you…. And say, ‘Oh Lord, take Your anger out on them, and we ask You to protect us from their evils.’ And say, ‘Oh Lord, block their vision from in front of them, so that they may not see.’… God will weaken the schemes of the non-believers….
“Be happy, optimistic, calm, because you are heading for a deed that God loves and will accept. It will be the day, God willing, that you spend with the women of paradise…. Remember that this a battle for the sake of God, as He said in His book: ‘Oh Lord, pour Your patience upon us and make our feet steadfast to give us victory over the infidels….
“Know that the gardens of paradise are waiting for you in all their beauty, and the women of paradise are waiting, calling out, ‘Come hither, friend of God.’ They have dressed in their most beautiful clothing…. Remind your brothers that this act is for Almighty God.”
Astounding! They saw Americans only as “infidels” — and they believed that killing infidels along with themselves would guarantee them eternal pleasure with houri nymphs. They were driven by adolescent male sex fantasies, plus heaven-seeking. It was mass murder as a route to paradise.
The terrorists obeyed a “fatwa” (holy edict) issued in 1998 by Osama bin Laden, which said in part: “We call on every Muslim who believes in God and hopes for reward to obey God’s command to kill the Americans and plunder their possessions…. Launch attacks against the armies of the American devils and against those who are allied with them among the helpers of Satan.”
What idiocy, to be impelled by “God’s command to kill the Americans.” Only sickos think God wants them to kill people.
The 9/11 tragedy wasn’t unique. Throughout history, twisted, fermented, supernatural beliefs have caused a wide variety of horrors — from human sacrifice to the Crusades, from the Inquisition to holy wars, from witch-burnings to bloody pogroms, from Jonestown to the David Koresh compound, from nerve gas planted in Tokyo subways by cultists to salmonella planted in Oregon restaurant salad bars by different cultists. Murders at abortion clinics are part of the spectrum. To varying extent, so are assassinations in Ulster, religious riots in India and suicide bombings in Israel.
I think every Sept. 11 should be a special day to reflect on the peril posed by crackpot extremists. England still celebrates Guy Fawkes Day to mark the thwarting of a 1605 Catholic plot to blow up Protestants in Parliament. America’s tragedy was vastly worse. Sept. 11 should be preserved as a global day of warning, cautioning humanity to beware of the ghastly mix of religion and hate.
This column appeared in his newspaper on Aug. 14, 2002, and was syndicated nationally. This was distributed by Knight-Ridder-Tribune syndicate.
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists,American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e Agnósticos/Brazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
Image Credit: James Haught.