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So there is the President of the United States, Barack Obama, telling us on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks: “It was not a religion that attacked us that September day, it was al-Qaeda – a sorry band of men that perverts religion.”

Then explain to us, Mr. President, what exactly can motivate 19 men to hijack planes and have two of them crash into buildings at hundreds of miles an hour? A commitment to secular humanism? The ultimate expression of the “new” atheism striking a fatal blow against religious superstition?

The Western world refuses to accept that religion had everything to do with 9/11. The Western world insists that al-Qaeda and its band of merry killers are misunderstanding their own religion. The Western world ignores the writings of Islamic radicals (including Osama bin Laden himself)—an extensive literature that can’t be dismissed as the rantings of a “sorry band of men.”

The Islamic conception of the world is far more complicated than Western apologists would have anyone believe. In their view, it’s important to make Islam out to be some benign philosophy that’s been “perverted” by an angry few. They ignore the reality that Islam is not a system of beliefs or dogmas. It encompasses everything in life. To submit, in Islam, is to accept this yoke in all of its manifestations, so there’s virtually no topic that isn’t viewed through an Islamic prism, whether it’s the proper way to perform ablutions, prohibiting charging interest or warfare.

But the mindset in the West is very different. We do not conceive of the world through religious lenses; indeed, we make the distinction between the sacred and the secular. We value personal liberties in the private sphere: our social contract is based on that notion, one that’s been hard-fought over through the centuries. In America, we place great importance on the separation of church and state and view it as the natural expression of living in a democracy. We live with religion but are wary against religiously motivated laws or restrictions: witness the controversy over the Mormon church’s backing of California’s Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage.

So, what do we do when we are faced with a worldview that does not care to make those distinctions? In a strange way, liberal apologists for Islam want to insist that we can understand it only as a religion, and moreover, through the same cultural references and experiences of the West. So we make a mental division between moderates (they’re peaceful like us) and fundamentalists (who never understand their own religion). The West is desperate to treat Islam like it does Christianity, only with far more respect. So nine years ago on September 11 when three thousand people were murdered, various individuals sought to quickly disassociate the religion from the act. One wonders if the nineteen killers did the same.

If Islam is to be understood by the West, then the time must come to take it at face value: it is not merely a religion but a way of life. That is not to suggest that it’s a natural step to hijacking planes or suicide bombings, but an automatic rejection that Islamic radicals “don’t understand their own religion” is a preposterous and dangerous idea. Fundamentalists of all stripes tend to have a better grasp on their scriptures than most; the fact that they arrive at conclusions at odds with secular values doesn’t mean they misunderstand anything.

One other curious byproduct: Western apologists for Islam try to invoke Timothy McVeigh (he of the Oklahoma City mass murder) to show that Christianity can be just as bad. Except that Christian identity movements are small, and want to do politics using religious vocabulary; Islam makes no such distinction. We challenge any Western apologist to show that Timothy McVeigh’s actions were either mainstream Christian teaching, or an integral part of what it means to be a Christian (remember, he didn’t even die in the bombing, so he’s no martyr from that perspective). When dealing with jihad (in all of its meanings in Islam), we are not talking sectarian beliefs or obscure movements that mention it. A kid in the Western world can go to catechism and never learn of the concept of a just war (a Christian conception); a kid going to a madrasa will know exactly what jihad is when he leaves. Are we implying mindless indoctrination leading to violence? No, but it’s pure Western fantasy to think that kid misunderstands it.

Just as it’s pure Western fantasy to continue believing religion had nothing to do with what happened nine years ago.