By: Ryan Mauro
After the attacks of September the 11th, many questioned, “Why do they hate us?” While any deliberate attack on innocent civilians is deplorable, it is important to find the cause of radical Islamic terrorism. Many people point to the sources of anti-Americanism as the cause of terrorism, but anti-Americanism does not translate into an acceptance of, and willingness to participate in, suicide bombings. It is not fair to blame anti-Americanism (and thus American policy causing anti-Americanism) as the cause of the sickness, because hatred of one country’s policy does not lead most people to justify killing innocents. After all, most of Western Europe and Latin America is anti-American, but they aren’t participating in terrorism. The deliberate massacring of civilians, although conducted by many groups over history, is currently unique to the Islamic world, specifically the Middle East and North Africa. What is going in the region that is causing Islamic terrorism to blossom?
All terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda, rely upon sponsorship by governments to be effective. This is the most important reason that terrorism has blossomed. Terrorists do not rely upon the support of populations, but of support from governments. At the time of 9/11, the State Department designated the following countries as state sponsors of terrorism: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Cuba. Most people would add Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to that list, although that probably wasn’t done for political reasons. The Pakistanis and Saudis have played both sides a bit. If terrorism is not the inevitable result of offending people, but rather is an instrument of enemy states, then that means declaring War on Terror doesn’t strike the source of the problem. It’d be as if the colonists declared a “War on Bows and Arrows” during their fight with the Indians.
While self-criticism will be necessary in assessing how to combat terrorism, we have to be careful to not blur the lines between what’s acceptable and what is unacceptable. I find it strange that people ask themselves what we did to deserve being targeted by Islamists. Is that not the same thing as victims of abortion clinic bombings asking what they did to deserve being bombed? Sometimes there are just philosophical differences, and people who use those differences as a way to find a purpose in life, even if it means dedicating themselves to killing innocents over those disagreements.
While American policy surely causes anti-Americanism, and policy should be fixed to reduce that, there are limits. For example, Islamists may condemn our culture, but does that mean we eliminate our freedoms to sooth their anger? Islamists, and the governments that promote them, deliberately manipulate the feelings of the population. Their hatred comes from half-truths. One only needs to take a quick glance at American foreign policy to see that terrorism does not emanate from an objective critique of our actions.
For example, while Islamists condemn our support for Israel and presence in Saudi Arabia, they make no mention of what we have done for Muslims. During the Cold War, we staunchly opposed any Soviet interference in the Middle East. In the 1980s, the mujahideen in Afghanistan were backed by America to defeat the Soviets. In 1990, the U.S. freed Kuwait from the Iraqis, and defended Saudi Arabia, Islam’s holy land, from his probable scheme to invade. In 1995 and 1999, we fought on the side of the Muslims to protect them against the Serbs and Croatians, who were Christians! In 1999, the US hurt relations with Russia by criticizing their action in Chechnya. And it was American pressure that caused Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, forcing Jewish families from their homes, so the Palestinians could make it a homogenous area for themselves. While the U.S. does sell arms to Israel, we do the same for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and its Arab enemies. Just like the radical Muslims manipulate the interpretation of the Quran for evil ends, they also manipulate the interpretation of American policy for evil ends.
Likewise, while anti-Semitic feeling is real in the Islamic world, Israel is also a scapegoat in many cases. Few people know that Israel actually treats the Palestinians better than any Arab country does. The entire Palestinian problem was created by Arab nations refusing to allow the Palestinians into their country, and even today, Palestinians are denied citizenship and rights in the Arab world. There are religious disputes, of course, but we must question why this translates into violence and a demand that one side simply not exist. Israel allows Muslims to visit their Holy Sites and even lets them vote in municipal elections (Bard, 221-223). This isn’t to say Israel is perfect or their positions are correct, but one must ask why Israel, which is the least oppressive in the region (even towards Muslims), is the target.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid, a former Al-Qaeda terrorist and associate of Ayman al-Zawahiri, also disagrees that American policy is what caused 9/11. In his book, he describes how he was taught not to think, how all misery was blamed on the infidels, and how 72 virgins awaited him in heaven, which was a treasure because sex before marriage, masturbation, and even looking at a woman in certain ways were strictly forbidden. Dr. Hamid describes how verses of the Koran are used to teach their students to kill the infidel, arguing that these verses are what cause terrorism, not current events. He also describes the history of violent political Islam, highlighting how it goes back to before the establishment of either the state of Israel or the United States. Hamid’s thesis is that all Islamic terrorism emanates from “purists” who forcefully took control of the Arabian Peninsula, thus controlling the heart of Islam (and able to shape it to their mold), and then during the 20th century, they exported this form of Islam using the oil wealth. He also notes that more Muslims have been killed by Islamic terrorism than Americans or Israelis, so the idea that the Israel issue is the primary motivator is false.
Some say Islamic terrorism comes from being poor or uneducated. This is also untrue. Bangladesh is the poorest Islamic country, but few terrorists come from there. Saudi Arabia, the richest Muslim country, has the highest number of terrorists. It also doesn’t come from a lack of education, because terrorist organizations rely upon highly educated Muslims to operate (Hamid, 78-79).About three-fourths of Al-Qaeda terrorists who have been captured come from the upper or middle class, and the remaining one-fourth come are mostly immigrants who went to Europe and due to the welfare state in Europe, and “by the standards of the Third World, these people are not poor” (Miniter, 127).
I personally feel the theory that best explains Islamic terrorism is the one advocated by Dr. Bernard Lewis. He noticed that most terrorists emanate from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan. These are countries that are American allies, yet are corrupt and deny freedom and rights to their citizens. Saudi Arabia funds Wahhabism, the strand of radical Islam closest to Bin Laden’s ideology, and Pakistan created the Taliban. Egypt’s state press is anti-American, eager to blame America (rather than the government) for their ills. For example, a majority of Egyptians believe “the Jews” did 9/11, not Bin Laden (Bard, 254). Lewis’ theory is that America is targeted not because of our advocating of freedom (or, “imposing our way of life” as some say) but because of our hindering of freedom. These three countries are failed states, but the rulers are rich. The people of these countries hate their governments, and when they see America allied with their governments, they see a conspiracy to oppress them. The governments of the people, whom wish to remain in power, must project their anguish upon an external enemy, with America being the easiest scapegoat because we have the wealth, power, and prestige. You can see this in the state-controlled press of these countries. Additionally, such as in the case of the Saudis, their internal enemies leave the country to fight the West. Thus, a cycle is created. Although terrorists hate these governments which ally with the West, they rely upon them. The governments, who fear the terrorists, export them outwards, and at the same time, crush any hopes of freedom because any referendum will result in their loss of power. Lewis then concludes that political freedom, allowing people to control their own lives and channel their talents into productive causes, is the antidote to radical Islam which emanates from oppressive governments.
There’s one more part to his theory. Oppressive governments then, which are opposed by the United States, govern populations that are pro-American. He says, “It’s interesting that pro-American feeling is strongest in countries with anti-American governments. But the anti-American feeling is strongest in those countries that are ruled by what we are pleased to call ‘friendly governments.’ And it is those, of course, that are the most tyrannical and the most resented by their own people.” (Lewis, 1).
The evidence shows he is right. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the people quickly allied themselves and embraced democracy despite the attempts by terrorists and state sponsors of terror to sabotage it. In Iran, the people despise the regime. I attended a conference of Middle Eastern democratic leaders at Seton Hall a few weeks ago. Amir Abbas Fakhravar, a top student leader who was imprisoned by the regime for his anti-mullah demonstrations, described how the people of Iran want the mullahs gone, and many have American flags hidden in their homes. Farid Ghadry, the leader of the Reform Party of Syria, described the same thing in Syria. Eblan Farris from Lebanon also described it. The people there support America because we have stood up to the regimes that oppress them.
In conclusion, I think that we should listen to the former terrorists and the democratic leaders in the Middle East as to what caused terrorism. They know it better than we do, as they have lived in or amongst terrorist organizations. Their feelings about the cause of terrorism are unanimous. It is caused by state-sponsors who use it as an instrument of warfare, and we are merely caught in the cross-fire of an Islamic civil war between those who favor democracy, freedom, human rights and those who favor Islamic “purity,” oppression, and a denial of those values that every human possesses. Their solution is also unanimous: That the United States must stand with those who stand for freedom and reform in the Islamic world, assisting them by various means, and against the state sponsors of terrorism who simultaneously threaten their citizens and our own.
Bard, Mitchell G. (2002). Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Chevy Chase: American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise.
Hamid, Dr. Tawfik. (2005). The Roots of Jihad: An Insider’s View of Islamic Violence. Top Executive Media.
Jeffrey, Dr. Grant R. (2002). War on Terror. Toronto: Frontier Publications.
Lewis, Dr. Bernard. (2006). Bring Them Freedom, Or They Destroy Us. Retrieved April 21, 2007 from http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2006/09/bring_them_freedom_or_they_des.html.
Miniter, Richard. (2005). Disinformation: 22 Media Myths That Undermine the War on Terrorism. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing.