Comparing October 7th and 9/11 is misleading — and dangerous.
The more you unpack this comparison, the more you realize that it is actually a misleading, inaccurate, and potentially hazardous one.
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I am sure that you have heard several people and talking heads compare 9/11 to the “Black Sabbath” in Israel on October 7th, 2023 — when Palestinian terrorists infiltrated the Jewish state and massacred, beheaded, burned to death, and kidnapped more than 1,000 babies, kids, women, the elderly, and Holocaust survivors.
The comparison makes sense in some ways: radical Islam-inspired terrorism, more than a thousand innocent people disgustingly targeted and murdered, and a justifiably furious response from the West.
Sure, I get it, the comparison between 9/11 and October 7th helps people quickly understand just how terrifying and unprecedented the “Black Sabbath” was.
But the more you unpack this comparison, the more you realize that it is actually a misleading, inaccurate, and potentially hazardous one. Primarily for Israel, the Jewish People, and the West’s ability to effectively deal with the aftermath — so that such an atrocity never happens again in Israel or anywhere else. And so that radical Islam does not emerge more fortified and more entrenched in our world.
For now, the comparison between 9/11 and October 7th follows this logic: If these two atrocities are relatively similar, then the responses to them, and the lessons learned from post-9/11 efforts and missteps, should be applied here as well, right?
This is known as reasoning by analogy, which starts with an observation that two or more things are similar in some aspects, and ends with the conclusion that they therefore must be similar in many (if not all) aspects. As a result, this alarmingly creates analogies that are misleading, inaccurate, taken too far, and overgeneralized.
For example, if students want to learn about flying an airplane, reasoning by analogy means that they might start with studying how birds fly. Certainly there are some similarities between birds and airplanes, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that birds and airplanes aren’t one in the same.
A more effective way to compare and contrast is called “first principles thinking” — in which you break down complicated issues into fundamental truths, and then reassemble them from the bottom up. In many ways, this is the opposite of reasoning by analogy, a top-down approach that begins with comparing and contrasting things which are known.
As it pertains to 9/11 and October 7th, we know that there are some similar fundamental truths between these two events, and we also know that there are many different fundamental truths. And because there are many different fundamental truths, the reaction and response to October 7th must be markedly different.
If not, the consequences could become something unimaginably frightening that our world has never experienced in modern history.
But before we dive into the appropriate reactions and responses to October 7th, let’s take a look at some of the different fundamental truths between it and 9/11.
First, the terrorists who executed 9/11 were operating covertly during the attacks, while terrorists who executed October 7th were operating overtly. They literally GoPro’d the attacks and broadcasted them on social media platforms, disseminating these atrocities in real-time.
For at least a few hours after 9/11, it was unclear who perpetrated the attacks in the United States. Al Qaeda was ultimately blamed, although it wasn’t exactly clear who orchestrated the attacks. On October 7th, we knew exactly who orchestrated the attacks — because they (Palestinian terrorists from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other factions) have been trying to annihilate us, the Jewish state, for decades (more on this below).
Second, the so-called enemy of the United States during 9/11 was in the Middle East — far, far away from mainland America — while Israel’s enemy is literally a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Jewish state’s capital.
Third, the 9/11 attacks were comprised of hijacked airplanes purposely flown into symbolic infrastructure, killing thousands of people. The October 7th attacks, meanwhile, were mainly comprised of a ground infiltration enabled by cutting through the security fence that separates Gaza from Israel.
This is to say that hijacking airplanes is incredibly difficult to replicate, especially after 9/11 and the tremendous security measures that were immediately imposed on air travel. But a ground infiltration from Gaza into Israel is absolutely replicable, given the Palestinians’ highly complex terror tunnel network in Gaza, as well as other conditions that unfortunately enabled October 7th to happen in the first place.
Fourth, the perpetrators of 9/11 were not, to my understanding, realistically seeking to conquer or take over the United States, whereas the perpetrators of October 7th have, for decades, made their goals publicly available: to completely destroy the Jewish state of Israel.
This is why people in the Palestinian territories and at “pro-Palestinian” rallies across around the world chant: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” This means from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, where some six million Jews live. Where I live. They mean it will be free of Jews. And free of Jews is exactly the attempt you saw on October 7th.
Fifth, 9/11 was carried out by Al Qaeda, a Sunni pan-Islamist militant organization led by Salafi jihadists. To public knowledge, there was not a country directly behind or in obvious support of Al Qaeda’s attacks. Meanwhile, October 7th was carried out by Palestinian terrorists directly supported by Iran, and many indications are that Iran both knew about this attack and even helped these terrorists plan for it.
Sixth, when Westerners think about 9/11, many of them think about the two failed wars that succeeded the attacks, in Iran and Afghanistan — resulting in trillions of dollars in wasted money, thousands of deaths on all sides, and the tarnishing of the United States’ global “brand.”
This stream of thought leads such Westerners to believe that Israel’s impending invasion of Gaza, with the goal of eradicating the Palestinian terrorist groups there, will lead to the same or similar results.
Israel’s impending invasion is not the same as the United States’ invasion of Iran and Afghanistan, though. It’s true that Israel’s invasion will cost tons of money that is needed in many other places, and it will very probably (and unfortunately) lead to many deaths on all sides. No one wants this, of course.
But from what we can tell today, Israel is not planning to force-feed democracy to Gazans, nor is Israel planning on staying in Gaza for years to come.
In addition, Iraq and Afghanistan’s landmass and terrain are far different than those of Gaza, which should result in a speedier operation in Gaza, and thus less death and destruction on all sides.
Perhaps the most hopeful outcome here is that the Palestinians in Gaza will be left with greater security, safety, and prosperity — immensely greater than they’ve had since Hamas rose to power in 2007. (This is presuming that the Palestinians in Gaza want these things.)
Seventh, the wars in Iran and Afghanistan that succeeded 9/11 manufactured great instability in the Middle East and North Africa, leading to unprecedented migration of everyday citizens from these regions to Europe.
Today, radical Islam is ripe in Europe, and Europe is lost in many ways. It will take a stupendous strategy and plan of action for European leaders to weed out extremists in their communities who preach intolerance, hate, and terrorism.
With regard to Israel and Gaza, it is hard to imagine a situation in which unprecedented migration of everyday citizens to Europe, from the Middle East and North Africa, would transpire. Likely because European countries will plan against and repel it.
Lastly, we can confidently say that nothing about these failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan risked the United States’ existence as a country. If Israel fails in this war — that is, if Israel is not resoundingly successful in achieving its stated goals for this war — it is very much an existential threat for the Jewish state.
I am not implying that Israel will cease to exist immediately following a failed war, but the writing is very much on the wall. For the first time, there would be a dangerous precedent of Israel losing a war in its 75-year history, prompting Palestinian terrorists and other actors to perceive October 7th as successful, and begin planning the next attacks.
A failed war could very well generate substantial brain-drain, since thousands of Israelis will no longer feel safe living in Israel. Many of them, what I call Israel’s “best and brightest,” will be sure to find career opportunities abroad, or take their existing jobs with them.
Israel’s political instability that started in 2022 will ensue and become exponentially worse than it was prior to October 7th. At best, this would continue to roil the country’s social fabric, and at worst it would end up in a destructive civil war.
We would also see a sharp rise in the number of Jews across the world who will cease to view Israel as a safe haven for the Jewish People, which could also result in more and more antisemitic attacks across the world, thus creating a situation in which Jews return to their pre-Israel state of mind — that there is really no place where it feels safe to be Jewish and live any kind of a Jewish life.
What would follow is pretty apparent: Jews will again unapologetically become the scapegoat in many countries, which in turn would seriously endanger other minority groups — just as it did in Nazi Germany, and in the many countries that Nazi Germany overtook during the Second World War.
This is all to say that, right now, the Western world is at an extraordinary fork in the road. Do we want to keep progressing forward, in which values that we all cherish, like pluralism and autonomy, remain staunchly protected? Or do we want to reverse course and head backwards, in which unadulterated totalitarianism and paralyzing communism will reign supreme?
To ensure the Western world does not implode as a dire consequence of the Israel-Hamas war, we ought to follow in Israel’s footsteps. For it is Israel that has found a way to survive in the radical Islam-infested Middle East. These footsteps might include:
Consistently supporting Israel and its fight to eradicate radical Islam
Distinguishing Palestinian terrorists, inspired by radical Islam, and innocent Palestinians, whom Palestinian terrorists don’t represent
Minimizing domestic turmoil in countries across the world by arresting and levying significant fines and other repercussions against people who support or endorse radical Islam (In Israel, the grounds of these repercussions is a law about disturbing public order; I’m sure other countries have similar laws.)
Deporting people who demonstrate they support radical Islam
Mandating that social media companies and other digital platforms remove and prevent the posting and spreading of content related to radical Islam, and levying fines and other significant penalties against companies that do not cooperate
Quickly isolating (economically, politically, and otherwise) countries which support or endorse radical Islam
The events of 9/11 and their aftermath surely changed the world, and they are still very much in our memories, as they should be. October 7th, however, hasn’t just changed the world; it could very well be the beginning of the end of the world as we know it.
Hence why, at once, we must stop comparing 9/11 to October 7th, and strategize accordingly.