On September 11, 2001, I was a left-wing freelance journalist spending a few days in the African ghetto of inner city Johannesburg as an escape from the previous week of antisemitic mayhem at the UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.
I walked into a Bollywood movie at a crowded shopping center at 3 p.m.–which was 9 a.m. in New York–and when I emerged three hours later, I was completely alone.
Two memories from the aftermath stand out for me. First, the way my Muslim landlady and neighbors in a working-class neighborhood in Cape Town made a special effort to tell me how appalled they were at what had happened to America.
Second, the way elite journalists and intellectuals in the international press actually celebrated the 9/11 atrocity, while offering formal condemnations of terror “in all its forms.”That so outraged me that I dashed off an op-ed to the local left-wing weekly:
We are told that the attacks are the necessary outcome of global economic inequality, of American policy in the Middle East, of the Bush administration’s unilateralist approach to diplomacy, and of various features of the “new world order” which the United States has supposedly imposed in the aftermath of the Cold War. It is almost as if these various themes in leftist thought, kept so long in shadow by American prosperity and power, are trying to take root in the rubble, straining towards the sunlight that now streams into southern Manhattan. An event which seems at first sight to be an ideologically motivated, carefully executed attack is instead described romantically as the response of the desperate masses striking back at the American oppressor using the only means at their disposal…
Today’s critics cannot be faulted for wanting a world that is governed along more just principles. But they are wrong to assume that the attackers share that desire… Indeed, their often gleeful criticisms of the United States suggest an underlying jealousy and a sense of impotence that is gratified by the devastating spectacle of the attacks…
Fouad Ajami’s recollections are similar to my own:
Everywhere in that Arab world–among the Western-educated elite as among the Islamists–there was unmistakable satisfaction that the Americans had gotten their comeuppance…
I traveled to Jeddah and Cairo in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. In the splendid homes of wealthy American-educated businessmen, in the salons of perfectly polished men and women of letters, there was no small measure of admiration for Osama bin Laden. He was the avenger, the Arabs had been at the receiving end of Western power, and now the scales were righted. “Yes, but . . . ,” said the Arab intellectual class, almost in unison. Those death pilots may have been zealous, but now the Americans know, and for the first time, what it means to be at the receiving end of power.
I was only slowly realizing that many of my friends on the left were more interested in the false psychological gratification of contrived rebellion against authority, and less interested in actually improving the lives of the downtrodden whom they said they cared about.
Yet I could see that the world was not, in fact, united with America on 9/11. Many of the world’s best, brightest and leftest lacked the basic decency of my Muslim neighbors.