The assumption that America was attacked by Muslims on 9/11 also lies behind the widespread perception of Islam as an inherently violent religion and therefore of Muslims as guilty until proven innocent. This perception surely contributed to attempts to portray Obama as a Muslim, which was lampooned by a controversial cartoon on the July 21, 2008, cover of The New Yorker.
Is it conceivable that this assumption might be false? Insofar as Americans and Canadians would say "No," they would express their belief that this assumption is not merely an "assumption" but is instead based on strong evidence. When actually examined, however, the proffered evidence turns out to be remarkably weak. I will illustrate this point by means of 16 questions.
1. Were Mohamed Atta and the Other Hijackers Devout Muslims?
The picture of the hijackers conveyed by the 9/11 Commission is that they were devout Muslims. Mohamed Atta, considered the ringleader, was said to have become very religious, even "fanatically so."2 Being devout Muslims, they could be portrayed as ready to meet their Maker---as a "cadre of trained operatives willing to die."3
One might, to be sure, rationalize this behavior by supposing that these were momentary lapses and that, as 9/11 approached, these young Muslims had repented and prepared for heaven. But in the days just before 9/11, Atta and others were reported to be drinking heavily, cavorting with lap dancers, and bringing call girls to their rooms. Temple University Professor Mahmoud Ayoub said: "It is incomprehensible that a person could drink and go to a strip bar one night, then kill themselves the next day in the name of Islam. . . . Something here does not add up."5
In spite of the fact that these activities were reported by mainstream newspapers and even the Wall Street Journal editorial page,6 the 9/11 Commission wrote as if these reports did not exist, saying: "we have seen no credible evidence explaining why, on [some occasions], the operatives flew to or met in Las Vegas."7
2. Do Authorities Have Hard Evidence of Osama bin Laden's Responsibility for 9/11?
Whatever be the truth about the devoutness of the hijackers, one might reply, there is certainly no doubt about the fact that they were acting under the guidance of Osama bin Laden. The attack on Afghanistan was based on the claim that bin Laden was behind the attacks, and the 9/11 Commission's report was written as if there were no question about this claim. But neither the Bush administration nor the Commission provided any proof for it.
Two weeks after 9/11, Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking to Tim Russert on "Meet the Press," said he expected "in the near future . . . to put out . . . a document that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking [bin Laden] to this attack."8 But at a press conference with President Bush the next morning, Powell reversed himself, saying that although the government had information that left no question of bin Laden's responsibility, "most of it is classified."9 According to Seymour Hersh, citing officials from both the CIA and the Department of Justice, the real reason for the reversal was a "lack of solid information."10
That same week, Bush had demanded that the Taliban turn over bin Laden. But the Taliban, reported CNN, "refus[ed] to hand over bin Laden without proof or evidence that he was involved in last week's attacks on the United States." The Bush administration, saying "[t]here is already an indictment of Osama bin Laden" [for the attacks in Tanzania, Kenya, and elsewhere]," rejected the demand for evidence with regard to 9/11.11
Blair's report, however, began by saying: "This document does not purport to provide a prosecutable case against Osama Bin Laden in a court of law." This weakness was noted the next day by the BBC, which said: "There is no direct evidence in the public domain linking Osama Bin Laden to the 11 September attacks. At best the evidence is circumstantial."13
After the US had attacked Afghanistan, a senior Taliban official said: "We have asked for proof of Osama's involvement, but they have refused. Why?"14 The answer to this question may be suggested by the fact that, to this day, the FBI's "Most Wanted Terrorist" webpage on bin Laden, while listing him as wanted for bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, makes no mention of 9/11.15