As we step back and reflect on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Michael Novak places those attacks in a much larger historical context for National Review Online readers.

Thus it happened that suddenly on September 11 of 2001, on a day that already lives in infamy, curtains closed, as it were, on the struggle against atheist totalitarianism. And a far more ancient struggle — but this time on quite different terms — opened up. …

… [T]his renewed phase of an ancient struggle is not primarily religious. It is not only universally human, it is preeminently political. Humans in one part of the world after another are excited by a long, long argument, about what sorts of governments and moral principles they choose to live under, by the reflective and duly constituted choice of the people themselves.

Did no one besides myself notice that in Afghanistan and Iraq, the foes of democracy did all in their power to disrupt civil society, civil governance, constitution-making, and democratic institutions? Their primary motive was clearly not religious: They bombed mosques, assassinated imams, gunned down whole temples of worshippers. Their motives were political, not religious.

And in important ways they showed themselves to be nihilists — by their method of killing others through suicide bombs strapped to certain individuals, and by their wanton destruction of truly ancient monuments of irreplaceable value, except not to their fanatical selves. These modern “revolutionaries” were the first ever to promise no improvements in human lives, or institutions, or practices. They acted out values of death and destruction. Wantonly, as nihilists who are serious do.

Thus we suddenly find ourselves in a wholly new sort of world. It is one in which a dominant world energy springs from living, vital, and growing religions — the two most dynamic of all religions today, and the only two with empirical claims to be thought of as world religions, Christianity and Islam.