The text of the recently published coloring book We Shall Never Forget 9/11; The Kids' Book of Freedom, reads: Children, the truth is, these terrorist attacks were done by freedom-hating radical Islamic Muslim extremists.
The book, created by the Really Big Coloring Book company and now being fiercely defended by publisher Wayne Bell, highlights a facet of the Sept. 11 narrative that hasn't left the American psyche since that most infamous day.
That narrative is that the al-Qaida militants who attacked the United Stated did so because they hate freedom.
Freedom-hating was a cliché too often heard ten years ago, during a time when the world struggled to grasp the unfathomable reasoning behind the tragic Sept. 11 attacks.
Saying that terrorists hate freedom was a reckless over-simplification of why Sept. 11 happened, but the thought-process behind such a term is still clear. To the terrorists, both the faceless enemies lurking in the dark and the real-life bad guys in al-Qaida who killed thousands in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, the West was the enemy.
Muslim extremists hate American values, and America values freedom above all else. In killing so many people, the terrorists were trying to kill freedom itself, because they value oppression, freedom's opposite.
Radicals, from places where freedom is not a right, attacked the World Trade Center in the name of a moral code that is categorically against freedom.
What Ultimately Motivated the Terrorists?
Yet, there is too much that gets ignored by the phrase, belittling the sacrifice made by so many in 2001 and in the wars since. How anyone could perpetrate such a terrible attack is beyond explanation, but factors such as the complex socio-economic reality of places like Afghanistan, coupled with political history, a perversion of religious texts and even a primal thirst for violence are more useful considerations than the simple term freedom-hating.
Furthermore, with over-simplification there is the risk of demonizing an entire group of people. Muslims don't hate freedom, of course, and indeed dozens of Muslim-Americans died in the 9/11 attacks.
But, in a theoretical sense, there is a certain accuracy behind the freedom-hating as it applies to the rise of extremism in the world.
In his book Violence, Slovene philosopher Slavoj Žižek attempts to tackle the link between religious fundamentalism and terror. He writes:
If so-called fundamentalists really believed they have found their way to the truth, why should they feel threated by non-believers, why should they envy them? When a Buddhist encounters a Western hedonist, he hardly condemns him. He just benevolently notes that the hedonist's search for happiness is self-defeating. In contrast to true fundamentalists, the terrorist pseudo-fundamentalists are deeply bothered, intrigued, fascinated by the sinful life of the non-believers. One can feel that, in fighting the sinful Other, they are fighting their own temptation.
Envy is an important word in the passage above. Much of Žižek's work deals with the desire for the Other, or more pertinently, what the Other has. To Žižek, envy creates space for the ultimate evil.
People in the United States, as well as every other Western nation, are permitted to recreations and objects that those in the deeply-non-secular world of fundamentalism are not. More than simple jealousy, terrorists -- if we are permitted to generalize -- want to destroy the excesses of the West because they are excesses not afforded to them.
Instead of obtaining the objects they desire, or granting themselves the freedoms Americans enjoy -- which would be on many levels impossible for both economic and religious reasons -- terrorists aim to destroy those freedoms in others. Envy leads to anger, and anger leads to violence.
The problem with [pseudo-]fundamentalists is not that we consider them inferior to us, but, rather, that they themselves secretly consider themselves inferior, Žižek explains.
The problem is not cultural difference, but the opposite fact that the fundamentalists are already like us, that, secretly, they have already internalized our standards and measure themselves by them.
While this is surely a controversial statement on Žižek's part, it would explain the large digital library of pornography found in the Abbottabad compound after the death of Osama bin Laden.
He had manifested his sinful desires in the West, attacking it as the sources of that which was against his personal ethos.
Reaching back to the point of envy, inequality breeds blame and bin Laden chose to call Western culture sinful so he could do God's work in attacking it.
It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail, Gore Vidal once said.
But, perhaps everything can be simplified. Žižek boils the attack on the twin towers down to its most basic, to a place that cannot be disputed:
We are dealing with hatred, pure and simple.