A fairly dishonest discussion about the root causes of Islamist terrorism is being pushed with renewed vigor. It is based on the false claim that American support for Israel fuels the terrorism targeting us.
At best, this is academically dishonest, ignoring a laundry list of grievances that has been used to justify terrorism.
Yet, as Americans celebrated Independence Day, Thaddeus Russell took to the pages of the Daily Beast to argue just that.
In an article titled, "Does Israel Make Us Safer?" Russell puts the issue bluntly: "There was not a single act of Arab terrorism against Americans before 1968, when the U.S. became the chief supplier of military equipment and economic aid to Israel. In light of this fact, it's difficult to credibly sustain the argument that Arab terrorism is spawned by Islam's alleged promotion of violence and antipathy toward American culture or by a 'natural Arab anti-Semitism.'"
That's not exactly true, as others have pointed out. And it ignores the words terrorists themselves have used to explain their motivation.
A look at recent terror attempts finds American support for Israel nowhere in the picture. Instead, terrorists describe their belief that America is at war with Islam. They want to strike back, or to stop Americans from fighting Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, or to punish them for having done so.
That's what would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad said in his defiant guilty plea in federal court last month.
"It's a war," Shahzad told the court. "I'm going to plead guilty a hundred times over because until the hour the U.S. pulls its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and stops the drone strikes . . . we will be attacking the U.S. And I plead guilty to that."
Nidal Hasan gunned down 13 soldiers at Fort Hood because he felt he had to stop them from going to battle zones where they might kill his fellow Muslims.
Hasan's spiritual mentor, radical Yemeni cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, called Hasan "a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people."
Russell is but one voice pushing the theory about American support for Israel despite evidence to the contrary.
During the annual Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) conference July 4 weekend in Chicago, speaker Paul Larudee called the Palestinian issue the most important to resolve, arguing that while "people are constantly talking about terrorism," the Palestinian issue "is at the bottom of many of the problems that our community is facing. It's at the root of the problems we are facing in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, and in the United States."
Fellow panelist Hatem Bazian called Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon "a poster recruitment for terrorism," because "they see that the one-sided U.S. policy is failing them and therefore they feel that militarization and going through terrorism is the only option."
National Islamist organizations have pushed this line for years. At a March 2006 fundraising dinner in Anaheim, "Sami Al-Arian Banquet Dinner," Ali Mazrui of the American Muslim Alliance (AMA) Policy Committee said that Israel's "militarism" triggered the terrorism against it and the United States: "Israeli repression and militarism provoke suicide bombers and give rise to movements like Hamas and al-Qaida. The Israeli atrocities and repression cause terrorism in the United States, and terrorism in turn threatens civil liberties in America . . . The behavior of the state of Israel threatens not merely democracy within the Jewish state; Israel threatens democracy in America as well."
At a January 2009 program at Masjid Omar al Farouk in Anaheim, entitled "Gaza, Jerusalem and Palestine: What You Need to Know," Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) said the perception that America is Israel's "partner in the crimes" against Muslims makes us an enemy ripe for targeting by terrorists.
"We tend to forget that actually the terrorists who committed the Sept. 11 attacks, one of the main grievances they raised, almost the only one they raised, what was it? Palestine. They said it was because of the U.S.' unconditional support of Israel that we're doing this" Ayloush said.
Reading these statements, one would think that the panacea to America's problems — or at least the end of terrorism aimed at America — is simple. Cease support for Israel, even if that allows Islamist extremists to destroy it. After that, radical Islamists and terrorists like al-Qaida will leave us alone.
While Israeli action, or the country's mere existence, may indeed serve as a source of motivation for some terrorists, it is not the primary cause. For proof, look no further than a 1998 fatwa issued by the World Islamic Front, widely considered to be synonymous with al-Qaida, calling on Muslims "to kill Americans and their allies — civilians and military." The primary justifications for the edict?
- "First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.
- "Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, which has exceeded 1 million . . . despite all this, the Americans are once against trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation. So here they come to annihilate what is left of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors.
- "Third, if the Americans' aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aims are also to serve the Jews' petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel's survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the Peninsula."
A plain-text reading of the fatwa suggests that America's support for Israel constitutes one half of one of the three main justifications of terrorism. The fatwa places far more emphasis on justifying terrorism against Americans who are "the crusaders" and are "occupying" and "plundering" Muslim lands such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Even when Osama bin Laden talks about Palestine, analysts believe it is at least partially a cynical play at popular support. He started speaking more exclusively about Palestine in 2008, prompting Nigel Inkster, director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, to note the shift came as al-Qaida in Iraq was defeated.
In addition, many Muslims turned against it after al-Qaida attacks killed so many fellow Muslims.
"Al-Qaida could now be preparing its followers for a strategic failure in Iraq," Inkster told the BBC. "It therefore needs a rallying cry and Palestine is a no-brainer."
A Slate magazine article reached a similar conclusion four years earlier: "Bin Laden continues to emphasize the plight of the Palestinians, as he has since the second intifada broke out in 2000, because he knows that is a bigger winner for him with ordinary Muslims than the corruption of the Saudi monarchy, his old hobbyhorse."
Arguments like Russell's fail to address the threat posed by Islamic terror to Western countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, Australia, Canada, Bosnia, India, and so many others that do not significantly support Israel.
It also ignores the threat of terrorism faced by the Philippines by Abu Sayyaf and to Somalia by al-Shabaab — a violence that is unrelated to Israel but shares a foundation of Islamist extremism.
Then there are the global aspirations for many hardcore Islamists. They want a caliphate, a world ruled by Islamic law, and will do what it takes to create that.
Does such a blood lust die if America abandoned a long-standing ally? Not likely.
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