“Good evening,” a stern-faced George Bush told a stunned American nation 20 years ago tomorrow. “Today,” he said, “our way of life, our very freedom came under attack,” and thus suggested that Islamism’s war is on the West. It isn’t. Like Pearl Harbor 60 years earlier, September 11 would also live in infamy, as Franklin Roosevelt said of the Japanese attack, and it too made every American feel personally attacked. Yet that is where the similarities end. In 1941 the US faced a country that unleashed a conventional army driven by an imperial agenda. In 2001 the US faced neither a country nor an army, and its attackers’ aim was not to expand an existing empire’s borders, waters or resources.
Instead, the new enemy lacked a country, a government or an army, deployed a handful of minimally armed warriors, and was driven by a religious faith, or rather its most fanatic version. This much the American people were not told. Instead Americans were told they were fighting “the war on terror.” It was like telling the British during the Battle of Britain that their enemy is not Nazism, but the Messerschmitt. Now, as the war enters its third decade it is time to call the enemy by its name, define the war’s cause, harness its allies and declare its aims.