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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Mark Steyn On 9/11, ten years later

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HH: With Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. You can read Mark’s columns at, hear him sit in for Rush, and of course, follow him at National Review. Mark, I’m tempted to go to the Republican debate, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with you. Later in the program, I’m talking with Lawrence Wright. And he’s the go-to guy on al Qaeda. And he has a new edition of the book out, in which he writes the following, and I’d like your comment on it. “The fateful decision of the Bush administration to invade and occupy Iraq in 2003 revivified the radical Islamist agenda.” What do you make of that conclusion?

MS: What was that word, revivified?

HH: Yes.

MS: I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think that what happened in the wake of their defeat in Afghanistan was that the guys holed up in the caves, and they started plotting their new 9/11, and they thought they could defeat the great Satan in Iraq, and threw all their best resources into…jihadists flocked to Iraq in huge numbers. Most of the people running around causing us trouble in the Sunni Triangle were not native Iraqis, but they were from all over the Muslim world. And it was what my compatriot, David Warren, in the Ottawa Citizen, called flypaper. It attracted large numbers of jihadists to Iraq, large numbers of them were killed in Iraq. And in a sense, I think the military side of the jihad died in Iraq. They may well recover Afghanistan, but I think Lawrence Wright is actually wrong on that. That book is a terrific book. It’s a great book for the family tree of modern day jihadism. But I think he’s basically wrong on that. I think ten years on, military jihadism is not a threat to the United States. But there is a much broader socio-cultural jihadism that is actually a threat.

HH: I’ll press him on that, as well as the idea that you know, al-Awlaki is one of our biggest threats, and he is sort of independent of Iraq. He was already at work spreading Islamist poison before Iraq, as I think most of these guys were. And so I don’t understand how Iraq fits into their scheme of things. But on the left, Mark Steyn, it is part of the 9/11 narrative that I discussed it extensively with Dick Cheney yesterday, that we have to push back against almost every day.

MS: Yeah, and I think essentially, they’re determined to shoehorn it into that narrative. I think al-Awlaki is actually a far more typical figure. He’s typical of a lot of the figures that Lawrence Wright writes about in that book. One of the more interesting passages in that book is when they’re plotting 9/11, and they say well, what we really need here is some Westernized Muslims who will be able to get into the United States without attracting a lot of attention. And at that point, Mohammed Atta just happens to come strolling in and asked if there’s anything they could need him for. Al-Awlaki actually fits into that world very precisely. He’s actually a U.S. citizen. He speaks Arabic with an American accent. And one of the great problems we face is that it’s not the goat herd sitting in caves in the Pakistani tribal lands. But it’s the most Western, the most educated Muslims who’ve been exposed, very often, to Western higher education, like Mohammed Atta, like Osama bin Laden at summer school at Oxford, like the guy from the London School of Economics, who was involved in the Daniel Pearl beheading. It’s the most Westernized, middle class Muslims – the Panty Bomber, he basically lived in a mansion. And that’s, I think that’s the real challenge here, that it’s the intersection of the Western Islam, and we’re still not on top of that ten years 9/11.

HH: Do you think the country is in graver danger of a mass attack now than it was ten years ago, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, I don’t think we know that until it happens. I mean, I’m always shocked by the sort of complacency of the reaction. You know, it’s always the same now. The Panty Bomber tries to blow up a plane over Detroit. He gets on the plane, he gets to the bathroom, he gets to light his underwear, but the bomb doesn’t go off. And so we all say ha, ha, look at that guy, what a joke. The Times Square bomber, he tries to blow up Times Square, kill thousands of people. We all say ah, what a joke. Nanny Bloomberg said there’s nothing to worry about, he’s basically, it’s likely to be that he was concerned about Obamacare. The newspapers say oh, well, he was behind on his mortgage, and that’s why he turned to jihadism. It’s some kind of, you know, sub-prime jihad. It’s to do with the fallout of the property market. And all these people are jokes in the same way the 9/11 guys would have been jokes if they’d been caught on that Tuesday morning. They’d been in all those lapdancing clubs the night before. The girls had complained they were the worst tippers in the joint. They would have been a laughing stock if they’d been arrested on that Tuesday morning. And one day, one of these things, one of these guys will get lucky again, and people will die, and we will be serious about it again. But it is not in the nature, alas, of this society to take these guys seriously until they’re successful.

HH: Laughing stocks are protected by a maze of political correctness, as with Major Hasan. And that brings me to the 9/11 commemorations themselves, Mark Steyn. I don’t know what to believe about what Nanny Bloomberg has decided. But if half of what I read is true, that there will be no preachers, prayers, religious portion of this commemoration, I will think we have just absolutely lost our collective minds in Manhattan. What do you understand to be what’s planned for 9/11, and its implications, if any?

MS: Well, I think there will be eunuch celebrations. They will be equivolist and mired in a kind of cultural relativism that says the real lesson we need to learn from 9/11 is that we need far more multicultural outreach. I think that’s the reason, by the way, that Nanny Bloomberg isn’t having any members of the clergy there, because if he had a Catholic preacher, or an Episcopalian, or whatever, there would probably be pressure on him to have a Rabbi. And then if he has a Rabbi, he’s probably got to have a big shot Imam. And then if he had a big shot Imam at the service, there would be people who would be objecting to him standing next to an Imam at the 9/11 commemoration. And that’s a good example of where we’ve come, by the way, because I don’t think if you’d had a sort of multi-faith civic service before 9/11, anyone would have thought you needed necessarily to have some big shot Imam in on the party. And the fact that 9/11, we are such a perversely, self-loathing culture, that the lesson we are supposed to draw from 9/11 is we need to be nicer to the people in whose faith 3,000 people died, I think gets to the heart of the 9/11 question. It’s not about them, it’s about us.

HH: Well now, I want to switch, before we run out of time, to the self-loathing party’s debate last night, because the Republicans have to hate themselves to turn their debates over to MSNBC and Politico, Mark Steyn. And it started with the first question, and it never stopped. What is wrong with the GOP that they always give the sword to the guys on the left? And they’re nice, charming people on the left, Brian Williams and John Harris, but they’re lefties.

MS: Yeah, and I think it’s interesting. I wouldn’t mind if you were to question the assumptions behind every question. I think that would actually be a fun exercise, because it was clear, for example, after the debate, Chris Matthews basically said he couldn’t understand why Social Security was even an issue. There’s no problem there. What on Earth are we talking about it for? And I think in a sense, Brian Williams, when he framed the question, even did it that way. I think there would be an argument to be made for appearing with these people if you were to actually question the way a lefty channel like MSNBC frames the debate. But when you just largely string along with it as they did last night, I don’t think that is, I don’t think that is terribly helpful. And I think actually, the way we frame the issues next November is going to be absolutely critical to the future of this Republic.

HH: With a minute and twenty seconds left, Mark, what was Brian Williams saying with his Catholic question? As a Catholic, I was offended, because I think he was saying you Catholics don’t do what you should do for the poor, but I want to test that out with one of you Anglo-Catholics.

MS: (laughing) Well, you know, I don’t think, I mean, I think the best response to that question is actually to slap it down as impertinent and improper. I mean, the thing about this the double standard. And the double standard comes into play, because Republicans by and large sit there politely and explain themselves. It doesn’t matter when it’s Michele Bachmann, or it’s Rick Perry or any of them. And Barack Obama sat in the pews of an absolutely disgusting, loathsome, repellant creature for 20 years, let this guy marry him and his wife, let this guy be responsible for the religious upbringing of his children. Nobody asked him about that. In fact, CNN kind of apologizes if the name Jeremiah Wright even creeps out onto its airwaves. You can’t have it both ways. And in this election, this election is a serious election. And Brian Williams should have had that question stuffed down…he thought that was his ace. They should have whacked that ace back down his gullet until these guys realize that if they’re going to ask these stupid questions again, they’re just going to make themselves look fools in front of the American people.

HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure,, the new book is After America. Get it at

End of interview.


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