The Long Shadow of Bush’s Bushwa

Trying to find a silver lining to the dark cloud of our rout in Afghanistan, I came up with one: a whole new generation of Americans is being forced to recognize the dark reality of Islam. 

Yes, there have been plenty of major acts of Islamic terrorism over the last couple of decades, and each of them provided a vivid picture of Islam’s violence and primitivism. 

But how much of that violence did most people see? Time after time, the mainstream media were careful to show as little of it as possible. 

At the same time, the media sought to put as much distance as possible between these atrocities and the religion of Islam. In some cases (as at Fort Hood, the Orlando Pulse nightclub, the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, and the Manchester Arena), the perpetrator was a single individual, in others a married couple (as in San Bernardino) or two brothers (the Boston Marathon and Charlie Hebdo massacres)—thus making it easy for the media to describe them as lone wolves or folie à deux types, probably mentally ill, whose actions had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. 

On September 11, 2001, the media could hardly hide the scale and brutality of the attacks. No fewer than 19 men, belonging to a terrorist group with scores of members, gave their lives to murder infidels en masse. For days, it was impossible for the media not to cover the events and their aftermath in grisly detail. 

9/11 might have been the day on which Americans got the lesson of their lives about the religion of Islam. A strong, wise president could have done the job with a powerful, pointed speech or two. 

Instead George W. Bush did his best to distance this act of jihad from the religion of jihad.  

In his relatively brief remarks delivered from the White House on September 11 itself, Bush didn’t use the word “Muslim” or “Islam.” Toward the end, he said: “This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace.” Every walk of life? What did that mean? 

Nine days later, in a full-length formal address to Congress and the nation, Bush made it clear exactly what that meant. 

He made a point of mentioning with gratitude “the prayers of sympathy offered at a mosque in Cairo” in the wake of the Twin Tower attacks. And then, after he identified the perpetrators as members of al-Qaeda, came the unforgivable sentence, the sentence he should never have spoken, the sentence that communicated a massive lie, the sentence that paved the way for the next 20 misbegotten years: 

The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.

Imagine Franklin Roosevelt suggesting that Hitler’s form of Nazism was a perversion of a great and peaceful ideology! 

Of course, Bush himself knew little or nothing about Islam. In any event, as president he had no right to pronounce on the degree to which the beliefs of Osama bin Laden were or were not consistent with those of a majority of Muslims or scholars or imams—any more than he had a right to determine whether Roman Catholicism, or some form or other of Protestantism, constitutes “true Christianity.” Or to adjudicate on the relative legitimacy of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism. The very idea is at odds with the basic principles of the U.S. Constitution.   

But that wasn’t all. Even those of us with a smattering of knowledge about Islam knew one thing for sure: that the teachings of Islam were, to a great extent, the very opposite of peaceful. And that to pretend otherwise while prosecuting a war against people motivated by those teachings could not lead to a satisfactory ending. Not for us, anyway. 

Bush wasn’t done. Later in the same speech, he said: 

I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. 

What on earth was this? What right did Bush have to say that Americans respect Islam? He had no way of knowing one way or another whether that was the case. 

In any event, what kind of a way was this to lead a nation into war? America had just been attacked in the name of Islam, and was now going to try to hunt down and kill the mastermind. But instead of going on the offensive—baring his teeth, reading the enemy the riot act—Bush went into this bizarre defensive crouch. Not only was he lying about Islam; he was being weirdly, dangerously apologetic, sounding like a man speaking from a place not of strength and confidence but of timidity and fear. 

He sounded as if he was groveling. And he went on still further: 

The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. 

The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.

So our enemies were “blaphem[ing] the name of Allah.” They were “hijack[ing] Islam.” Was Bush the elected president of a free republic or an imam? Was he leading us into war or conducting a Koran seminar? Was this the United States Congress or a madrassa? 

How telling are those calculated repetitions:  “fringe,” “peaceful,” “friends”!  And the near-synonyms “pervert,” “blaspheme,” and “hijack”! And how offensive to lie about these men hijacking a religion when what they had in fact hijacked was an airplane filled with human beings whom they killed in cold blood.  

This handful of sentences in a single speech by President Bush would prove to be critical—and calamitously consequential. Because in those few sentences, he established the lies by which he and the rest of official America would approach our engagement with our enemy in the years to come. 

In those sentences, by refusing to be honest about the core tenets of Islam, and by speaking vaguely of its “good and peaceful” teachings, Bush was drawing a cordon sanitaire around them. 

He was also implicitly misrepresenting 14 centuries of history—not just the history of Islamic belief, manners, and mores in general, but, specifically, of Islam’s never-yielding effort (over many generations, and in total accord with the directives in its scriptures) to conquer the West, and of the many battles in which Christian Europeans had fought desperately to save their lives and families and civilizations from bloodthirsty Arab Muslims who were out to subdue them. 

Instead of explaining this history, Bush acted as if 9/11 was a one-off—a freak attack by, yes, a “fringe” group that had betrayed Islam. 

Bush’s duplicity about these crucial facts—established from the get-go and reinforced repeatedly by him and others in the government, schools, and media in the years that followed—made it impossible for Americans to properly understand the nature of our struggle against Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, and other Muslim groups. 

Moreover, those of us who did try to tell the truth about Islam found ourselves demonized as bigots and frozen out of mainstream media and institutions. 

So it was that Bush led his people into war with eyes blinkered and one hand tied behind their backs. In accordance with his lies, the training courses offered to GIs grotesquely sugarcoated the reality of Islam. During World War II, the U.S. government had commissioned films for soldiers and civilians alike with titles like Know Your Enemy. Now Americans—along with the citizens of other Western countries—were being taught to misunderstand their enemy. 

And so it has continued. Yes, multitudinous lovely details have been added along the way to Bush’s prettified picture of Islam. Islam apologists like Karen Armstrong and Reza Aslan have been celebrated. Newspapers like the New York Times have made heroes of “bridge-building” liberal imams who, on closer inspection, turned out to be as vile as any member of the Taliban religious police. 

Thanks to the mentality set forth by George W. Bush after 9/11, authorities in several British cities refused even to address that most despicable of crimes—child sexual abuse—because the gangs perpetrating it were composed of Muslim men whose religion had taught them contempt for uncovered female infidels.  

Meanwhile, Americans who’d have voted differently if only they’d understood a fraction of the truth about Islam elected Represenatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) to Congress. 

Only the other day, after the Taliban retook Kabul, a female member of Parliament, Stella Creasy, stood up in the British House of Commons and lamented that professional Afghan women were already being denied their right to work and Afghan girls were being kept from school and forced into marriages. This, she said, is “a humanitarian disaster and a human rights one.” 

True enough. But then she added: “This is not Islam. Islam is not the reason why people are clinging to planes to save their lives. That is brutalism and terrorism, and we must not let people divide ourselves here or abroad in our fight for those values.” 

So we are expected to believe that the newly declared “Islamic emirate” has nothing to do with Islam. 

Similarly, Sir Nick Carter, who is Britain’s General of Defence Staff, refused on Sky News this week to call the Taliban the “enemy,” describing them as “country boys” who live by a “code of honor” that makes them hostile to “corrupt governance” but inclines them to govern in an “inclusive” manner. 

In making these statements, Creasy and Carter are doing nothing more than parroting the Bush bushwa. If our president had taken us all down a different route in the days after 9/11, telling us the difficult truth and holding to it, nobody in the positions held by Creasy and Carter would ever be saying such ridiculous things 20 years later. But these two were only clinging to an orthodoxy.  

The one hope we can have, in these grim days, is that the recent images from Kabul—the frightened people chasing a U.S. Air Force plane on a runway, the desperate young men clinging to that plane’s landing gear as it took off and then falling to their deaths—will wake up at least some of the young Americans and other Westerners who were born after 9/11 and who’ve spent their entire lives hearing George W. Bush’s “religion of peace” mantra. 

Perhaps these horrific spectacles will lead some young Westerners to rethink their own obsession with “microaggressions,” a concept that could arise only among the privileged and naïve. Perhaps they’ll re-examine their hatred for America, the country for which those people at the Kabul airport were prepared to risk their lives to escape to. 

And perhaps, just perhaps, these developments of the last few days will finally plant in at least some of their minds a hint, just a little hint, that Islam may not be the extraordinarily beautiful thing that they’ve been told it is, over and over again, since they were children. 


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