Were the 9/11 Hijackers evil men?

oww1The immediate and perhaps most intuitive answer is to suggest “yes”, the 9/11 Hijackers were indeed evil, and to say so without any hesitation. After all, how could anybody not evil sacrifice their life for the pursuit of the mass murder of thousands of innocent people.

But it is just not that simple. To label them “evil” is to leap for an instant conclusion that will inhibit any further questions regarding their motivation and so avoids any understanding of what actually went down, it really does warrant some thought and should not be so quickly dismissed.

What should of course be obvious is that the 9/11 guys were religious fanatics who were inspired by a deeply held emotional belief to willingly give up their lives. Inside their heads they perceived themselves to be the good guys, individuals acting on behalf of god, and that their actions were not simply righteous, but was of the highest possible moral standard possible for a human, and would lead to an eternal reward.

Not “True” Muslims?

Another rather common claim often associated with it all is that they were not true Muslims because clearly Islam is a religion of peace … except that is not a factual claim at all.

The Quran itself, like the bible, is a text full of explicit directives that directly demand human blood from those who aspire to embrace such words as “truth”. For example …

Sura (8:12) – I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them

Sura (8:55) – Surely the vilest of animals in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve

Sura (9:29) – “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth

… and there is plenty more like that.

It is about here that the Islamic apologists will leap in and exclaim, “Oh but that really means ...” <insert some non-violent interpretation here>, and that quite frankly is irrelevant because the issue is not how I read it, but rather is how millions of others do, and so this is a discussion that these apologists need to have with them, not with me.

There are 1.57 Billion Muslims

There is of course a vast diversity of Islamic belief, and most who embrace those conflicting and mutually exclusive variations seek no harm to anybody, and so it is also perhaps only a tiny percentage that would read such texts as literal directives to act.

There rests the problem – a tiny percentage of such a large number results in millions – 0.1% of 1.57 billion people is 1.57 million.


If indeed 1.57 million (I’m making that number up) embraced the idea of flying airplanes into buildings as justifiable and appropriate then should we consider them “evil”, and if we did, how should we deal with them?

Is it 0.1%, or lower, or higher?

Here is a scary poll for you to consider, a 2008 survey conducted by the Gallup polling agency found that almost 4 out of 10 Muslims worldwide think that 9/11 was totally, partially or somewhat justified.

  • Let me make this abundantly clear and translate the implications of such a finding for you, on the surface that would appear to be telling us this – 36.6% of 1.57 billion humans support the mass murder of thousands of innocent people.

… except they don’t, because that would be too simplistic a conclusion to reach from such a poll.

The danger here is that we can very rapidly fall into a “them” vs us mode of thinking and will rapidly start to demonise “them”, especially if we freely tag them with words such as “evil”. There is no “Them”, and in reality there is only “us”, for we are the same species – it is the same dreams and hopes that we all share, and the same heart that beats within.

Yes that are indeed some truly bad religious ideas in circulation out there, but those ideas are embraced, not in a binary on/off fashion, but rather as a vastly diverse spectrum of acceptance that ranges from total dismissal all the way through to blind unthinking literal obedience, and between sits a bell curve that is populated by the vast majority who lay claim to one of the almost countless number of degrees of confidence and commitment.

Perhaps the very best summary of it is is this …

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion. – Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize winning Physicist

… and that does indeed nail it.

There is indeed evil at play, and I define the word “evil” as a quick easy term that encapsulates something that is profoundly immoral. The evil is not the individual humans, but rather is that bastion of truly bad ideas – religion – and the psychology behind it that enables it to ensnare good decent humans by tricking some of them into accepting that these bad ideas not only represent the highest moral ground, but also needs to be acted upon.

Arguments and counter arguments

Bristol Plain thinks it best to label them Evil, is highly critical of anybody who might dare to think of them as humans, and asserts that doing so is to buy into their agenda! Er no, pointing out that the ultimate motivator here is a belief system that tricks them into behaving like this is not “buying into their agenda”. I personally do not find her mode of thinking to be a compelling one, but then not only is she is not exactly the sharpest tool in the box, she is also herself highly religious, so will be unable to come to terms with the real harm that such beliefs can inflict.

Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins, when being interviewed in Ireland by well known Irish personality, Gay Byrne, lays it all out very clearly …

1 thought on “Were the 9/11 Hijackers evil men?”

  1. This was a very good article. Thanks.

    It’s really hard to address these issues without sounding prejudice about it, but you did.

    Of course, there will always be people pretending to be victims of persecution when we talk about the bad things religion can bring about, but you made their job more difficult.


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