What were the causes of 9/11?

Prospect Magazine

What were the causes of 9/11?


Everyone has a theory about the real causes of 9/11. They range from the nutty (it was the US government) to the plausible but flawed (a response to foreign occupation) to the credible (collateral damage from a clash within Islam)

No event in recent times has produced as many explanations as the 11th September attacks five years ago. Within the space of an hour, al Qaeda inflicted more direct damage on the US than the Soviet Union had done throughout the cold war, a cataclysm seen by more people than any other event in history. Yet it took only 19 men armed with small knives to destroy the World Trade Centre, demolish a wing of the Pentagon and kill 3,000 people. This mismatch has led some—especially in the Muslim world—to seek a deus ex machina to explain what otherwise appears inexplicable. The usual suspects have been assembled on 9/11′s grassy knoll: the Jews were behind the attacks; the US government engineered them; the “Cheney-Bush energy junta” planned them so that they could grab the oil fields of central Asia, and so on.

Osama bin Laden himself claims that al Qaeda was solely responsible for 9/11. In 2004, he released a video in which he explained his dealings with lead hijacker Mohammed Atta. After the largest criminal investigation in history, the US government’s 9/11 commission also concluded that al Qaeda was solely responsible for the attacks.

Attributing the sole responsibility for 9/11 to al Qaeda then brings us to the larger question: what caused al Qaeda to launch the attacks? Explanations for the attacks can be sorted into two categories—the seemingly plausible but flawed, and the more credible.

Plausible but flawed theories

Poverty. Many politicians and commentators see the poverty of the middle east as a factor. (Some political leaders even argued that the Doha round of trade talks, launched soon after 9/11, were intended partly to quash terrorism.) This claim is not supported by the evidence. Those who attacked on 9/11 were sons of the middle eastern middle and upper class, not the dispossessed. Throughout recent history, from the Russian anarchists to the German Baader-Meinhof gang in the 1970s, terrorism has largely been a bourgeois endeavour. Al Qaeda is no different.

Madrasas. A related argument to the poverty canard is that madrasas, religious schools that teach the Koran by rote and sometimes instil a simplistic view of jihad, are breeding grounds for terrorists. Quite the opposite. Madrasa graduates have rarely, if ever, carried out major anti-western attacks. None of the 9/11 hijackers attended a madrasa and most had been to college, several of them in the west. Bin Laden went to the European-influenced Al Thagr high school and then studied economics at King Abdulaziz University, both in Jeddah.

They hate us because of the freedom-loving people we are. President Bush has been the principal exponent of this view. In 2004 Bin Laden responded by asking why, if this were true, had he not attacked freedom-loving Sweden?

The CIA. The notion that Bin Laden is a CIA creation, and that the attacks on the Trade Centre and Pentagon were “blowback,” is a standard analysis among leftists around the world. Indian novelist Arundhati Roy has written that Bin Laden was “among the jihadis who moved to Afghanistan in 1979 when the CIA commenced its operations there. Bin Laden has the distinction of being created by the CIA.” This theory is advanced as axiomatic but it has no supporting evidence. The real scandal here is not that the CIA helped to create Bin Laden during the 1980s, but that the agency had no idea of his significance until sometime in 1996, when it set up a special unit to track the Saudi exile.

Weak and failing states. It is a staple of international relations theorists that weak and failed states are attractive bases for terrorists and criminals. That the 9/11 attack was first hatched in 1996 as al Qaeda moved its base from a weak state, Sudan, to a failed state, Afghanistan, seems to underline this theory. Certainly al Qaeda thrived under the incompetent rule of the Taliban. However, much of the 9/11 plot took shape in Hamburg, where most of the pilots and secondary planners of the attack became more radical than they had been while living in their home countries. Although Afghanistan was critical to the rise of al Qaeda, it was the experience that the plotters acquired in the west that made them both more militant and better equipped to carry out the attacks.

Saudi financiers. Little or no hard evidence has been proffered for the claim that Saudi financiers were sponsoring al Qaeda, and the 9/11 report determined that there was no evidence that the money for the attacks came from Saudi Arabia. Moreover, money is not the “oxygen” of terrorism. Terrorism is a cheap form of warfare—the first Trade Centre attack in 1993 cost only a few thousand dollars. No amount of money will buy you 19 young men willing to commit suicide in a terrorist operation. According to court documents entered in the trial of the supposed 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, the 9/11 operation cost a little over $200,000, a trivial sum considering the damage it inflicted. The pilots who flew the hijacked planes into two of the world’s most famous buildings saw what they were doing as an act of worship. Al Qaeda’s strength lies not in its material resources, which are small, but in its beliefs.

The Saudis in general. Some commentators have assigned much of the responsibility for the rise of al Qaeda to the Saudis. This is also the contention of many of the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, who have signed on to a class action lawsuit against a range of Saudi institutions and individuals. In this view, the Saudi royal family made an unholy alliance with the purist Wahabbi sect and exported Wahabbism in order to shore up its shaky credibility as the custodian of the holy places of Mecca and Medina. The historian Bernard Lewis has observed: “The custodianship of the holy places and the revenues of oil have given worldwide impact to what would otherwise have been an extremist fringe in a marginal country… Imagine that the Ku Klux Klan or some similar group obtains total control of the state of Texas, of its oil and therefore its oil revenues, and having done so, uses this money to establish a network of well-endowed schools and colleges all over Christendom, peddling their own peculiar brand of Christianity.”

The Saudi export of Wahabbism did eventually bear disastrous fruit in Afghanistan with the advent of the Taliban, a regime that was recognised and supported by only three countries, including Saudi Arabia, and was influenced by Wahabbist doctrines. However, since at least the mid-1990s, al Qaeda’s ultimate goal has been the destruction of the Saudi royal family and so it is a stretch to blame the Saudi state for al Qaeda’s recent activities. Moreover, there are millions of Muslims who follow a Wahabbist version of Islam, yet only a very few turn to violence.

The clash of civilisations. Samuel Huntington famously predicted that clashes between civilisations would replace cold war rivalries, and 9/11 seemed to vindicate his theory. But did it? Most Muslims condemned 9/11, and after the attacks Bin Laden’s attempt to ignite a clash of civilisations fizzled out. It is rather the US war of choice in Iraq that galvanised anti-Americanism among Muslims.

Suicide terrorism, including 9/11, is a response to foreign occupation. In his influential 2005 book Dying to Win, political scientist Robert Pape examined a series of modern suicide campaigns and concluded that they are driven not by religious zeal but by foreign occupations (see review by Peter Nolan and Patrick Belton). Pape pointed out that the secular Tamil Tigers have engaged in one of the most protracted and bloody campaigns of suicide terrorism of the modern era. Pape’s theory might explain why 15 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, as there was a substantial US presence in the Saudi kingdom around that time, but it does not explain the other four hijackers, who were Lebanese, Egyptian and Emirati, none of whose countries were occupied by the US.

Moreover, events in Iraq have undermined Pape’s contention that foreign occupation is the driving force behind suicide attacks, particularly in the Islamic world. Suicide attackers in Iraq are largely foreigners, and half or more are estimated to be Saudis, while the rest are from other middle eastern countries, with a sprinkling of Europeans. Only around 10 per cent of the suicide attacks in Iraq are undertaken by Iraqis. It is not foreign occupation, but rather a globalised culture of martyrdom that is driving suicide attacks in the Muslim world. Indeed, in 2003, US forces in Saudi Arabia—Bin Laden’s original casus belli—were reduced almost to zero, yet Bin Laden and his followers continued to advocate attacking the US.

We are in a clash with a totalitarian ideology, similar to communism. The most serious proponent of this idea is Paul Berman, whose 2003 book Terror and Liberalism places “Binladenism” squarely in the tradition of modern millennial totalitarian ideologies such as fascism and communism: “9/11 was an event in the 20th-century mode. It was the clash of ideologies. It was the war between liberalism and the apocalyptic and phantasmagorical movements that have risen up against liberal civilisation ever since the calamities of the first world war.” While this idea has some attractions, Binladenism does not pose the existential threat to the west presented by the totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century. And although it is certainly an ideology, it has precious little to do with either communism or Nazism, both of which abolished the very notion of God. Binladenism is not just another totalitarian ideology of the kind which we have seen before. Al Qaeda may use modern technology but it is animated by a 7th-century view of the world that has nothing in common with Hitler or Stalin.

The death rattle of political Islam. Could 9/11 be the last gasp of the radical Islamists? French academic Gilles Kepel has made the point that Islamist states such as Sudan and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan have turned out to be abject failures. In his book Jihad: the Trail of Political Islam, published after 9/11, Kepel argued, “in spite of what many commentators contended in its immediate aftermath, the attack on the US was a desperate symbol of the isolation, fragmentation and decline of the Islamist movement, not a sign of its strength.” However, Kepel was writing before the US occupation of Iraq, the election of Hamas in Palestine, and the present troubles in Lebanon. Today political Islam seems to be on the march around the middle east, and to treat 9/11 as the swansong of militant Islamists seems like wishful thinking.

The most credible explanations

None of the following explanations is alone sufficient to explain the attacks, but together they do help us to understand 9/11. They are ranked in ascending order of importance.

10. Radicalisation caused by the Afghan jihad. While there is no evidence that the CIA trained or funded Bin Laden or his followers, the Afghan war against the Soviet Union nonetheless radicalised a generation of Arab militants. They swapped business cards, gained battlefield experience and came to believe that they had played a big role in the destruction of the Soviet Union. All of these factors would lead to the founding of al Qaeda in 1988, established to take the jihad to other parts of the globe.

9. A particular reading of Islamic texts. In the many discussions of the “root causes” of Islamist terrorism, Islam itself is rarely mentioned. But if you were to ask Bin Laden, he would say that his war is about the defence of Islam. We need not believe him but we should nevertheless listen to what our enemies are saying. Bin Laden bases justification of his war on a corpus of Muslim beliefs and he finds ammunition in the Koran to give his war Islamic legitimacy. He often invokes the “sword” verses of the Koran, which urge unprovoked attacks on infidels. Of course, that is a selective reading of the Koran and does not mean Islam is an inherently violent faith, but to believers the book is the word of God.

8. Decline and stagnation in the middle east and the “humiliation” of the Islamic world. Bernard Lewis is the best-known exponent of the idea that the Muslim world is in a crisis largely attributable to centuries of decline, symbolised by the fate of the once powerful Ottoman empire and its ignominious carve-up by the British and French after the first world war. Lewis also argues that the problems of the middle east were later compounded by the import of two western ideas—socialism and secular Arab nationalism—neither of which delivered on their promises of creating prosperous and just societies. The economic and political failures in much of the Muslim world are underlined by statistics such as the fact that the non-oil revenues of all of the gulf states add up to less than the GDP of Finland.

Three weeks after 9/11, as the US began launching air strikes against Taliban positions, a video of Bin Laden sitting on a rocky outcrop was broadcast on Al-Jazeera. On the tape, Bin Laden said, “What America is tasting now is something insignificant compared to what we have tasted for scores of years. The Islamic world has been tasting this humiliation and this degradation for 80 years… Neither America nor the people who live in it will dream of security before we live in it in Palestine, and not before the infidel armies leave the land of Muhammad.” So in his first statement following 9/11, Bin Laden emphasised the “humiliation” of the Muslim world and the negative effect of US policies in the middle east. In this sense, Bin Laden seems to agree with Bernard Lewis. Indeed, Bin Laden often talks about the “humiliation” suffered by Muslims at the hands of the west. For Bin Laden, the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement that carved up the Ottoman empire between the French and British has the same resonance that the 1919 treaty of Versailles did for Hitler. It must be avenged and reversed.

7. The spread of communications technology. The humiliation felt by some Muslims is amplified by the communications revolution. The umma, the global community of Muslims, is far more aware of conflicts around the Islamic world—and the role of the west in some of those conflicts—than was the case a decade ago. The creation of Al-Jazeera in 1996 coincided with Bin Laden’s first call for a holy war against the US. Since then Arabic satellite channels and jihadist websites have proliferated, sensitising Muslims to the oppression of their co-religionists in Kashmir, Palestine, the Balkans and so on. These grievances have fuelled the spread of al Qaeda’s ideology and underpinned the rage of the 9/11 hijackers.

6. Authoritarian middle east regimes helped incubate the militants. Sayyid Qutb, the Lenin of the militant jihadist movement, and later Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s number two, were radicalised by their time in the jails of Cairo. It is no accident that so many members of al Qaeda have been Egyptians and Saudis.

5. The alienation of Muslim immigrants in the west. Three of the four 9/11 pilots and two key planners, Ramzi bin al Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, became more militant while living in the west. Perceived discrimination, alienation and homesickness seem to have turned them all in a more radical direction. This is true for other anti-western terrorists. Swati Pandey and I have examined the biographies of 79 terrorists responsible for five of the worst recent anti-western terrorist attacks. We found that one in four of these terrorists had attended colleges in the west.

4. US foreign policies in the middle east, in particular its support of Israel. By Bin Laden’s own account, this is why al Qaeda is attacking America. His critique has never been cultural; he never mentions Madonna, Hollywood, homosexuality or drugs in his diatribes. US support for Israel, especially the support it gave to Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982, first triggered Bin Laden’s anti-Americanism, which during the 1980s took the form of urging a boycott of US goods. He was later outraged by the “defiling” export of 500,000 US troops to Saudi Arabia after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

3. Bin Laden is an astute tactical leader and rational political actor fighting a deeply felt religious war against the west. Like others before him, Bin Laden has made a rational choice to adopt terrorism as a shortcut to transforming the political landscape. It is clear from the 9/11 commission report that Bin Laden intervened to make two key decisions that ensured the success of the attacks. The first was to appoint Mohammed Atta to be the lead hijacker; Atta would carry out his responsibilities with grim efficiency. The second was to rein in Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s plans for ten planes to crash into targets in Asia and on the east coast of America simultaneously. That number of attacks would have been hard to synchronise and might not have succeeded.

2. 9/11 was the collateral damage of a clash within Islam. The view that 9/11 was the result of a conflict within the Muslim world was brilliantly articulated in early 2002 by middle east scholar Michael Scott Doran in a Foreign Affairs essay, “Somebody Else’s Civil War.” Doran argued that Bin Laden’s followers “consider themselves an island of true believers surrounded by a sea of iniquity and think that the future of religion itself, and therefore the world depends on them and their battle.” In particular, Egyptians in al Qaeda, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, hold this view, inheriting it from Sayyid Qutb, who believed that most of the modern middle east is living in a state of pagan ignorance. The Egyptian jihadists believed that they should overthrow the “near enemy”—middle east regimes run by “apostate” rulers. Bin Laden took the next step, urging Zawahiri that the root of the problem was not the “near enemy” but the “far enemy,” the US, which propped up the status quo in the middle east.

1. The 9/11 attacks were the fruit of Bin Laden’s flawed strategic reasoning. Bin Laden’s total dominance of al Qaeda meant the organisation was hostage to his strategic vision. His analysis of US foreign policy was based on the US withdrawal from Lebanon in 1983, after the attack on the barracks that killed 241 American servicemen, and from Somalia in 1993 after 18 US soldiers were killed in Mogadishu. From these retreats, Bin Laden concluded that the US was a paper tiger, capable of withstanding only a few strikes before it would withdraw, leaving client regimes in the middle east vulnerable. But the US response to 9/11 was to destroy the Taliban regime and decimate al Qaeda. Although 9/11 was a tactical success for al Qaeda, it actually threatened the organisation’s future.

Some of the harshest critics of the 9/11 attacks have been al Qaeda insiders such as Abd-Al-Halim Adl, who in June 2002 wrote to the 9/11 operational commander, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, saying: “Today we must completely halt all external actions until we sit down and consider the disaster we caused. The east Asia, Europe, America, horn of Africa, Yemen, Gulf, and Morocco groups have fallen.”

To conclude, 9/11 was collateral damage in a civil war within the world of political Islam. On one side there are those, like Bin Laden, who want to install Taliban-style theocracies from Indonesia to Morocco. On the other side there is a silent majority of Muslims who are prepared to deal with the west, who do not see the Taliban as a workable model for modern Islamic states, and who reject violence. Bin Laden adopted a war against “the far enemy” in order to hasten the demise of the “near enemy” regimes in the middle east. And he used 9/11 to advance that cause. That effort has, so far, largely failed.

Yet Bin Laden and his attacks on the US have shaped an ideological movement that will outlive him. Binladenism has drawn tremendous energy from the war in Iraq, and will probably gain further adherents from the conflict in Lebanon. Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was prescient when he warned in 2003 that the Iraq war would spawn “100 new Bin Ladens.” It is that new generation of militants that is Bin Laden’s legacy.

  1. January 31, 2010


    this is a joke…but it gives people piece of mind

    • March 25, 2013

      Rebecca Olesen

      LMAO – yeah, the article is a complete joke, total propaganda, and the majority of the information related to islam is blatantly false. I wonder if the author was aware of that then or now.

  2. June 3, 2010


    i think that this article is right in many differnt ways but it gets me really mad because why did he have to go and do what he did because now thousands of people are killed. Why couln’t he do something differnt like try working it out with the government because that would be a better outcome then what the outcome is now because we lost something that was very value to us.

    • December 6, 2013


      because he was pissed off at the government for sending in our troops and killing his poeple

  3. August 23, 2010


    I was disapointed to see no mention of the drug war. Even The Washington Times called Osama a “Narco-Terrorist”.

  4. September 18, 2010


    “it has precious little to do with either communism or Nazism, both of which abolished the very notion of God.”

    You’re wrong with regard to Nazism. This ideology was positively infused with theistic references, both pagan and Christian. You might want to correct this glaring mistake in an otherwise brilliant article.

  5. October 8, 2010

    B Jones

    I think the importance of the military base in Saudi Arabia has been vastly under-rated in this article. If you read between the lines in Bin Laden’s comments, you can see that this is part of the “humiliation” that he is talking about. Three years after 9/11 we dismantled the base, and handed Bin Laden his true victory. This attack needs to be avenged by finding and bringing to justice Bin Laden. Ironically, then we can leave Afghanistan.

  6. March 24, 2011


    when it comes to this subject, no one really knows who to blame. it is kind of a touchy subject. is it bush’s fault, or bin laden. there really is no true answer because they both screwed up!

  7. May 2, 2011

    tempo dulu

    Bin Laden became famous because he had access to huge financial resources to fund an extremely ambitious terrorist attack. But there are many like him who hold similar extremist opinions, not just in the Middle East, but also in Europe, where huge numbers of people support religious war, suicide bombings, discrimination and oppression of gays etc.

    • June 10, 2013


      Th article specifically says 9/11 cost $200K to stage, not “vast financial resouces”

  8. September 11, 2011


    Had US Intelligence not been in disarray prior to the 911 attacks, noting like Bin Laden would have successfully attack America. US Intel failed somewhere along the line during the Clinton presidency , and that is why Berger was sent to destroy some documents pertaining to some very damaging evidence of the administration’s lack or failure to heed a dire warning. Those warnings came in the form of the man who knew what was coming. He died in the ruins of the Towers.

  9. September 12, 2011


    “10. Radicalisation caused by the Afghan jihad. While there is no evidence that the CIA trained or funded Bin Laden or his followers, the Afghan war against the Soviet Union nonetheless radicalised a generation of Arab militants.”

    I couldn’t believe I was reading this!!! There were videos on YouTube of Brzezinski hugging bin Laden and explaining how the US supported his attack against the new Afghanistan government. Then there was the interview with Brzezinski translated by William Blum..in which he laughed at how clever he was to draw the Soviet Union into the war in Afghanistan:



  10. April 21, 2012

    John Peterhouse

    Some of the reasons mentioned in this are absolute jokes. As a professor studying Islam it seems this article does come up with some ridiculous accusations.

    May I correct you when you say “sword verses” I believe there is only one “sword verse” when looked at in context tell’s us about history not about guidance.

    I believe as the justification given by bin Laden about it is the support given to Israel and they’re multiple invasions then that is the reason why.

    If he say’s thats why he did it then that is why he did it.

    I dont understand why people want to read around that.

  11. April 23, 2012

    Chris Roberts

    Apathy is a contributing cause, as shown by my following, brief story:

    The Quantico Papers: Three Years before 9/11
    by Chris Roberts

    Mine is a very basic story, one that should have followed a Point A to Point B trajectory. And since that terrible September day, I have wrestled with the could have been or more so, would it have it made a difference. So, finally, I have decided to let the reader decide, to help me make sense of what happened.

    In the late Fall on 1998, I was working in Forest Hills, Queens. To readers unfamiliar with the location, there are five boroughs that make-up New York City proper. Forest Hills is located in Central Queens and has a base of upper-middle class residents and too is known for its many elegant gardens. It also has a diverse ethnic population. The hectic beat of the Manhattan hustle and hustlers couldn’t be further away. Forest Hills is primarily a place to raise families and a palpable sense of community strikes the visitor. The one black cloud that hangs over The Hills is a long stretch of asphalt known as Queens Boulevard. It is the deadliest artery in the city and pedestrians lose their lives every year braving the twelve lane road. So this is sketch of Forest Hills as I knew it in 1998.

    I worked at a three building complex owned by Parman Corporation. I was the Head Gardener. In addition to doing horticultural work, I also maintained the cleanliness of the grounds and the sidewalks that formed a perimeter around the buildings. The latter I did first thing in the morning. I used a plastic container with wheels to perform my task. Once filled I would take it to the dumpsters, which were placed on either side of the complex.

    One morning, very early, I remember because it was still semi-dark out, I came across a cardboard box. I don’t know why I even noticed it, but I did. It was open and filled with papers. I’m a reader and a writer, so, my curiosity was piqued. The top paper appeared to be schematics of some sort. Intrigued now, I looked more carefully. Every paper was marked Quantico, every paper was different, no copies. There was training documents too. The schematics detailed, inside and out, every building. I saw enough and took the box, set it beside me and called the FBI. I spoke with a woman, who took down what I had to say and left my name and contact number. Two days passed, nothing, In the interim, I had told my supervisor about it and left the box of documents in his office. Eventually the FBI contacted my supervisor to say they would pick-up the papers. They never did.

    Quantico is one of the largest U.S. Marine Corps bases in the world. On that information alone, one would say, “Oh, it’s just another military base, only bigger.” Not quite. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s training academy, the FBI Academy, and the FBI Laboratory are on the base.

    Well obviously, the FBI dropped the ball on this. And when the Bureau or any other agency continually disregards signs, warnings and the like you will always have a September morning and even more to come.

  12. May 19, 2012


    The article starts with a tendentious (mendacious?) fallacy. Buddha, Jesus, Ceasar, Ashoka, perhaps most known defenders of the poor were/are middle or upper-class. After reading that para who can trust the rest. You really should do better. That was illiterate or worse.

    • October 6, 2012

      Jon Harris


  13. May 21, 2012


    Americas footprint around the world is fascist
    America is the TERRORIST

  14. June 13, 2012


    The focus on Bin Laden here is interesting but for me the horror was in the response. Three thousand people died in the Twin Towers and that was awful. It was murder on an epic scale. ‘Shock and Awe’ however left me shaking with shock, without any awe, just horror at the genocide against a country which had no connection to 9/11. The response had been immediate and that to me was suspect. The B-L family were near neighbours of the president, and so were also Texas oil folks. The day after the attacks the only planes allowed to fly were the B-L’s private planes taking them back to Saudi. No other planes were allowed to fly. It just didn’t make sense.

    Radical Islam developed in ways that were not rational to an outsider. Who was really behind it all? Who stood to gain from what transpired? This article goes some way to examining the key characters’ roles.

    • October 3, 2012


      can you cite this?? if so, call the main stream media. i know they’d drool over a good bush conspiracy before the election……..

      • May 1, 2013


        The article I read at the time was in a newspaper colour supplement, with photos of the family in front of their Texas mansion – now information is available on line if you want to look up ‘bin laden family texas’.

    • January 24, 2013


      Do you really believe that the US government conspired against its own people to kill 3,000 of its citizens? Come on, you have no business reading this article if that’s what you truly think.

      • March 20, 2013


        America kills thousands of people. Its called War.

        • April 10, 2013


          Interesting comment – America has thriving arms businesses and develops world-class weaponry. The 9/11 bombers were Saudis and an Egyptian. No-one knows what their intentions were, and speculation offers tantalizing fantasies. Nonetheless Iraq was a tragedy for the Iraqis. The Arab Spring has given the Arab countries the Muslim Brotherhood, and roving bands of murderers across the region, loosely affiliated to Al Qaeda, instead of the Western freedoms they fought for. Oil is in the hands of the multi-nationals, and ordinary Iraqis, Libyans and Egyptians look back at an era of stability under a strong leader from a new position with fewer freedoms than they had before.

          Lenin’s paper ‘What is to be done’ teaches all revolutionary movements how to prime the toppling of a dictatorship and prepare for power. The Muslim Brotherhood would seem to have taken their lessons well in advance of the Arab Spring. Democracy is only as good as the choices on the table at the time of voting.

  15. September 11, 2012


    Interesting comments. Keep in mind that America has invaded more than one country and has killed a significantly larger number of people, who are just as innocent as the citizens who lost their lives in the towers. There is more sides to the story than one.

  16. September 16, 2012


    Muslims arent terrorists, but Terrorists are Muslim.

  17. September 25, 2012


    Analyses of mr Berger is comprehensive but alittle diffused because seems unable to nerrowing down on tthe most likely causes for this tragedy.it is my considered view onthe basis of interaction with muslim daispora in the west that following three causes stand out in shedding light on the kind of behavior displayed by the highjackers; alienation and discrimination alongwith abnormal fear of being swallowed by as percieved by them a sinful culturual practices.,Sufferings of Pelestinians,US policy in the Middle East found to be unjustly tilted in favour of israil

  18. October 6, 2012

    John Ellis

    Most of the reasons bear mulling over by western governments.

  19. December 10, 2012


    Eastern or western, Christian, Muslim, Jew or atheist, any sane person will quite naturally loath terror by anyone on anyone.
    Your article is very much like the five blind men who went to see an elephant. The one who felt the tail thought the elephant was like a broom. The second who felt the leg thought the elephant was like a pillar. The third who felt the trunk thought the elephant was like a rather large fleshy hose pipe. The fourth felt the tusk, thought the elephant was like a curved wooden rod a bit rounded at the end. The last one felt the ear, he thought the elephant was a big fleshy leaf. The western perception of Al-Qiada and its motivation is no different to blind mans perception of an elephant.
    You are looking for answers in the Islamic east, but the answer lies in the Christian west. Does the tyranny of hegemonic western actions in the Islamic east make any sense. Obviously not; that is one direction you absolutely refuse to consider.
    George Bush on the television asked the question, why do they hate us? That question can only be answered by those that hate; instead George lied through his teeth by providing the answer; they hate us because the hate our freedom.

  20. January 9, 2013


    The real cause of the actual 9/11 disaster itself is lack of security, but we weren’t prepared that the human race can produce such warped minds that actually plan to use aircraft as flying bombs and kill innocent people on the plane in cold blood first,. we SHOULD have known that somewhere, for whatever cause, there must be a nutter that will dream up this horrific plan and we are careful to ensure that this is not a viable way to murder anymore but there has to be, statistically, a chance that there is someone out there who will try new ways to commit mass murder as our technology and population increases. It took 50 years since jet engines , there was a plane before that hit the empire state building accidentally but did not kill so many as modern jets can. So there may well be further “9/11″s in the coming centuries perhaps nuclear, committed by new nutters who find ways to use our technology against us and we must be prepared to minimise risk everywhere I don’t think targetting Islam is helpful. I don’t think the cause is so important to examine, it is sadly inevitable..

  21. January 27, 2013

    John Doe

    How the hell can you say that it was not caused by a century of American intervention in the Middle East. It is so incredibly ignorant and ironically typical of America to blame it on the Quran and Islam. Yes this was an awful event and there is no real excuse for it, but just to put into perspective, we are responsible for hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq alone. The US needs to wake up and realize that their arrogant policy of “It works for us so it has to work for them” is not working and is only fueling the growing hatred of Western society.

    • May 23, 2013


      If it was the ‘Cheny-Bush energy junta’, as one of the proposals in this article suggests, would it then undermine the terrorist movement if also included was the premiss of a Faustian pact with Bin Laden, to divide up the world’s oil between the leading scions of Saudi Arabia in partnership with other leading oil-producers, who can be cut in on the deal?

      To hear terrorists spouting fascist theocracy as their justification to commit crimes, seems to be missing the point. If the initial war on terror had instead been prosecuted as mass murder, instead of a justification for invading Iraq, the world would be a very different place.

  22. January 28, 2013


    For the sake of world peace and order in the galaxy, don’t make any more generalisations that cannot be substantiated.

  23. March 2, 2013


    I still dont understand why they needed to do this. America should probably stay in their own business. I am doing a report on Pearl Harbor and the similarties between the two attacks are undescribable. Because something so similar happened once sont you thing the country should’ve learned?

  24. September 9, 2013


    What country started a war in the USA (9/11)

  25. September 20, 2013

    Wendy Orange

    I tend to avoid most, not all, conspiracy theories. As to 9/11 I have several points that make me wonder what Bush had to do with this:

    1) The usa flights that could have intercepted the World Trade Center horror were all off duty that day?
    2) The way the three buildings fell suggest to experts that it was dynamite not the planes that caused so much damage.
    3) The fact that George W. heard the news and stayed in a schoolroom reading “My Pet Goat.”
    4) The way that Bush and Cheney benefitted from the war in the ‘wrong’ country: Iraq. War made them even richer. A sane response?
    5) The cozy relations between the Bushes and Saudi Arabi as financial partners.
    6) The fact as said above that the Bin Laden’s in USA were flown out without being questioned.
    7) The warnings ignored by intelligence agencies.

    I don’t have any certainty one way or another. But Bush and Cheney so benifitted from 9/11 makes me wonder if they didn’t at least turn their sight from those in Intelligence who in Aug 2001 warned of this terrorism. Anyone? Much of the above but not all of it comes from Michael Moore’s 9/11. The rest comes from watching videos of how the three building all fell. I’d love someone to respond. Because I simply do not know what is in the category of haphazard or what might be us criminal actions.

  26. October 18, 2013


    The root cause of the radicalism in Muslim world (including 9/11) is the Israeli occupation of Arab lands and Western world’s blinded support for this Israeli hegemony. The day west would realise the cause and rectify it, ninety nine percent of the terrorism in the world would disappear overnight. But thanks to Zioist and Neocons partnership, western world will continue to blame everything and everybody other than addressing the the root cause of the problem.

    • February 26, 2014


      Khalid the problem is people like you spouting boilerplate BS. Look at a map of the Middle East. Who occupies WHOM? Israel is a 21st century democracy the size of a postage stamp that is only firing back against 7th century barbarism intent on destroying it. AQ attacked America because OBL was upset the Saudis refused him and turned to Bush 41 for protection against Saddam. If Israel is the problem why did AQ blow up trains in Madrid? Sorry pal, you’re delusional. Israel isn’t going anywhere. And even if it did your buddies wouldn’t stop their global mass slaughter of innocents.

  27. January 11, 2014


    I couldn’t read anymore after the first paragraph. A bunch of muslims planning the attack out of a cave is just as nutty as the US government doing a false flag operation.

  28. March 27, 2014


    No I don’t believe in terrorism. But the news should at least show the way of us seeing for ourselves.

  29. March 27, 2014

    Cambridge Student

    I like the section on credible explanations, actually. But I think you are reducing your own credibility, by not giving the “nutty” theories a proper rebuttal and historical context. For example, it is striking that numerous American wars have had one trigger event – and several of those have been shown to be instigated (Vietnam, WWI) or provoked (first Iraq war).

    I think there are considerable leads pointing to the US at least allowing 9/11 to happen. And while I’m not at all convinced by them, I think ignoring these consipracy-ish theories (that so, SO many people believe in) makes your article very weak indeed.

    Regards from Cambridge University.

  30. March 28, 2014


    Cambridge it was first thought that there were possibly 30,000+ people in those towers when they were struck. If you think the US was complicit or allowed the mass murder of its own citizens in any way, shape or form your parents should choose another avenue through which to waste their money other than tossing it away on your studies.

Leave a comment

  1. ??????? « Mukti10-05-12
  2. United States and the Taliban 9/11 « sebastian96610-16-12
  3. 'What were the causes of 9/11?' - US Message Board - Political Discussion Forum05-20-13


Peter Bergen

Peter Bergen is a senior fellow and the co-director of the Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency Initiative at the New America Foundation. 

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