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COMMON IDEOLOGY: Members of a jihadist group fighting the government near Aleppo, Syria.
Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images
COMMON IDEOLOGY: Members of a jihadist group fighting the government near Aleppo, Syria.

A sober anniversary

Terrorism | Twelve years after 9/11, the enemy is the same in New York, Boston, Benghazi, or Damascus

Issue: "50 years after the bomb," Sept. 21, 2013

By the time you read this America may be embroiled in another war in the Middle East. Whether or not America bombs the Assad regime in Damascus cannot be a result of an analysis of Syria, its president Bashar al-Assad, or human rights abuses occurring within the country. The violence in Syria is inextricably linked to the events that occurred on 9/11, to the attacks on the 9/11 anniversary last year in Benghazi—an attack that led to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his security detail—as well as to the Patriot’s Day bombing in Boston that killed three and wounded over 200. As we approach another 9/11 anniversary, the common factor behind these events is jihadi ideology and its direct impact on the national security of the United States. It is a factor we have closed our eyes to as a nation for far too long. 

In September 2011, at the highest levels of the U.S. government, the decision was made to purge all counterterrorism training within the Departments of Defense and Justice of any mention of religion or jihadi ideology. This decision—which was, in effect, censorship—led to the banning of core training materials and the blacklisting of many of America’s leading experts within both the FBI and numerous military institutions.  

Since that time, a system has been put in place whereby nameless officials serve as the arbiters of what can and cannot be said about al-Qaeda and its deadly allies. The identity of these gatekeepers remains secret, and what’s more, should an individual run afoul of the censors, there is no recourse and no appeal. As a result, official talk of the enemy has become vague and amorphous. The official label for events such as the Boston bombing became “violent extremism,” and the Fort Hood shooting became designated “workplace violence.”

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The connective tissue between 9/11, Benghazi, Boston, and Damascus is indeed an ideology of violent extremism, but a very specific kind. It is a totalitarian and absolutist vision of a future in which only one religion is permitted, and all dissenters must be killed or subjugated.  

Despite what we would wish, the Islamist fighters in Syria are not fighting for a secular state in which all citizens have equal rights regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, or religion. The terrorists who killed Ambassador Stevens, the Tsarnaev brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon, and the jihadists in Syria are committed to the victory of a theocratic system where Islam reigns supreme. And now we want to help the latter take over the government of another nation in the Middle East. As if the Muslim Brotherhood electoral victories across the region over the last two years were not enough!

After 9/11 we searched for the answer to “why they hate us?” It’s who we are and not what we do that’s the problem, whether in Boston, Benghazi, or Damascus. As long as America continues to stand for freedom, equality, protection of the weak, and religious liberty for all, we will be targeted by those who believe in the supremacy of Islam. 

The only way to make Americans safe is once again to allow our military and federal law enforcement agents to study and understand the common ideological link behind all these violent events. Eight years ago the 9/11 Commission was clear: The 19 original hijackers were able to do what they did because we had failed to “connect the dots.”  

Today for political reasons it’s forbidden to make those connections needed to prevent the next mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil.

As long as we continue to deny the existence of the ideology that motivates the enemy, we will continue to fail in identifying those who wish to do us harm before they do so, and, as in Syria, we run the even greater risk of empowering those who wish to see our destruction.

—Sebastian Gorka is the Military Affairs Fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracy and teaches irregular warfare to the U.S. military and federal law enforcement. The views above do not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or any other government body. He can be reached at


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