For all of us interested, here's a Times article that attempts to explain Muslim grievances against the U.S. I think this is especially important for Americans to read, as this article argues from the other side of the coin.
October 1, 2001 Vol. 158 No. 15
Roots Of Rage
Grievances over U.S. policy in the Middle East combined with Islamic triumphalism make a toxic mix
Among the signs waved by Pakistanis in demonstrations last week was one in English that read AMERICANS, THINK! WHY DOES THE WHOLE WORLD HATE YOU? Actually, Americans didn't need that exhortation to ask the question, Why?
The reasons are complex and deeply rooted in history. The proximate source of this brand of hatred toward America is U.S. foreign policy (read: meddling) in the Middle East. On top of its own controversial history in the region, the U.S. inherits the weight of centuries of Muslim bitterness over the Crusades and other military campaigns, plus decades of indignation over colonialism.
But to get to the virulence of antipathy exhibited by the kamikaze 19 and their abettors and apologists, another element is required. That element is the idea that the U.S. is not just the enemy of the Arabs or even of Muslims generally but also the enemy of God. It is an idea encouraged by the Ayatullah Khomeini, who proclaimed the U.S. "the Great Satan," spread by Islamic extremists throughout the Arab world and now given potent expression by, it would seem, the biggest player among all such militants today, Osama bin Laden.
Animosity toward the U.S. in the Middle East can be plotted through concentric circles. In the white-hot core are violent ideologues like bin Laden and their acolytes. Then come Arab radicals, including both Islamic fundamentalists and secular nationalists, who are desperate and angry enough to have danced in the streets upon hearing the news of Sept. 11. But the distaste also extends to large numbers of temperate Arabs who were quietly pleased to see American arrogance taken down a notch--business people and family people who smiled and sent messages of congratulations to one another when the Twin Towers fell. The middle sphere forms a substantial recruiting base for the toxic inner hub. It and the outer loop are the reason the U.S. faces an enormous challenge persuading even its allies among Arab governments to sign on to its war against terror. And the entire web of ill will invites the question, Will the U.S. go to war against Middle East enemies and, by that very act, just create more of them?
Certainly the greatest single source of Arab displeasure with the U.S. is its stalwart support of Israel: politically (notably at the U.N.), economically ($840 million in aid annually) and militarily ($3 billion more, plus access to advanced U.S. weapons). To a majority of Arabs, Israel, as a Jewish state, is an unwelcome, alien entity. Even to those who accept its existence, Israel is an oppressor of Arab rights; despite the Oslo peace process, it still occupies most of the Palestinian territories. Particularly egregious to Muslims is Israel's control over Islamic shrines in Jerusalem, the third most sacred city to Islam.
Each time Israel stages an incursion into its Arab neighborhood, it adds a new layer of grievance. Its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the occupation of Lebanon's southern tip for 18 years afterward bred deep antagonism. And the U.S. role in these assaults is never far away: Israel is using American missiles and F-16s in its current struggle against the Palestinians. When it comes time to broker peace in the region, many Arabs are inflamed by the strong U.S. bias toward Israel in negotiations. To Islamic fanatics, including bin Laden, the peace process is of course anathema; for them, Israel is a state to be destroyed, not to be bargained with.
Bin Laden, a Saudi, speaks out frequently against Israel, but for him the real casus belli is the U.S. troop presence in his country dating to the military buildup before the 1991 Gulf War precipitated by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. To bin Laden, as well as many nonradical Muslims, the presence of infidel soldiers in the homeland of the Prophet Muhammad is a sacrilege. Today 7,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed in Saudi Arabia. That the U.S. servicemen are there at the invitation of the Saudi government is irrelevant to bin Laden. He considers the Saudi royals stooges of the U.S.
It is a common refrain among America's critics in the region that the U.S. props up objectionable local leaders out of selfish interests. To protect its access to oil, the U.S. supports repressive princes in the Persian Gulf states. In an effort to contain Islamic extremism, Washington backs the government of Algeria's President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, despite its ironfisted conduct in the civil war against the Armed Islamic Group. The authoritarian regime of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak also enjoys the patronage ($2.7 billion a year) of the U.S., which views him as a bulwark of moderation and stability in the region. Classmates in Egypt of one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Mohamed Atta, told the New York Times he used to blast Mubarak for being an autocrat surrounded by "fat cats." "We want to understand, are you Americans in favor of human rights and freedom? Or is that the privilege of some people and not others?" says Essam El Eryan, a leading member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
America's detractors complain that the U.S. is impervious not only to Arab rights but also to Arab suffering. If the Palestinians are Exhibit A, the Iraqis are Exhibit B. While most Arabs detest Saddam for his own brand of brutality and arrogance, they don't understand why the U.S. continues to insist, 10 years after the Iraqis were forced out of Kuwait, on worldwide sanctions that are devastating the Iraqi people. According to the U.N., some 5,000 Iraqi children die every month of malnutrition and disease because of the sanctions.
"Would we tolerate this kind of boycott, the starving of Czechs, for example?" asks A. Kevin Reinhart, professor of religion at Dartmouth. "No. We've done some specific things that are perceived as reflecting either an indifference to or a hostility to Muslims." Islamic radicals keep a list of what they consider our casual cruelty, although their definition of who is inflicting the pain sometimes includes all of Christendom. They list the U.S. sanctions against Syria, Libya, Iran and Sudan--all Muslim countries (and all, not coincidentally, considered by the State Department to be sponsors of terrorism). They list the U.S. missile strikes in 1998 on a bin Laden camp in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan (Washington originally claimed the plant was making chemical weapons but has quietly backed off the charge). They believe Western powers tolerated for too long--from 1992 until the NATO bombings in 1995--the ethnic cleansing by Christian Serbs of Bosnian Muslims and the later killings by Serbs of ethnic Albanian Muslims in Kosovo. Another grievance is the fact that the U.S. has done little to stop Russia's savage war against separatist Muslims in Chechnya because it considers the conflict an internal matter for Moscow. To Americans, all these matters are proof that it is a messy world out there. To many Muslims, it looks like a conspiracy against their fellow believers.
Underlying all these laments is a deep resentment that the Arab world is not the geopolitical player it feels entitled to be. The wound is aggravated by a historical memory of grandeur, of Islam's expansion from Arabia in the 7th century to the conquest of the Levant, northern Africa and much of Europe, culminating in a final rebuff at the gates of Vienna 10 centuries later. The question many Arabs ask the U.S. and the West in general, says Professor Jean Leca of the Institute of Political Science in Paris, is, "Why are you leaning so heavily on us when we already had a civilization while you were still living in caves?"
The brutality of Christendom's efforts to conquer the Holy Land from the Muslims in the Crusades of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries is not forgotten in the Middle East (making President Bush's early use of the word crusade to describe America's antiterror effort an unfortunate choice). An even greater sore is the sense that, in the centuries since, so much dignity has been lost, and to an inferior people. In Islamic belief, Muhammad is God's last prophet; he built upon the revelations of Moses and Jesus to propound a superior, perfect faith. But the world that faith created was broken apart: after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the colonial powers of France and Britain carved the Middle East into arbitrarily drawn mandates and states governed by handpicked local leaders. "Many Arabs and Muslims feel they had 10 centuries of great cultural achievement that ended with European colonialism," says John Esposito, director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. "Now they feel impotent. The West, they feel, looks at them as backward and is only interested in their oil. Their sense of self-worth and identity is wounded."
Colonialism and the advance of Western modernity have nurtured the modern version of Islamic fundamentalism: if Islam is perfect and its kingdom is in retreat, it must be that its practitioners have strayed from the fundamentals of the faith. This notion gained increasing currency after 1979, when a popular uprising overthrew the corrupt, Westernizing, U.S.-backed Shah of Iran and paved the way for the Ayatullah Khomeini to launch an Islamic revolution in Iran and beyond. Khomeini called Muslims to violence to conquer "the land of the infidel."
Khomeini's export project had limited success, given that the Iranians, as Shi'ites, belong to a sect of Islam disdained by the majority Sunnis. But the Iranian revolution nevertheless inspired Muslims all over the Arab world to action. Egyptian writer Abd al-Salam Faraj wrote their manifesto, a pamphlet called The Neglected Duty, in which he argued that holy war was necessary to defend not just Muslims but Muslim dignity. Faraj, like many other Muslim radicals, singled out those parts of the Koran and the Hadith, the collected sayings and deeds attributed to Muhammad, that seemed to support his argument.
Bin Laden has come to fulfill the Neglected Duty. He talks a lot about dignity. Of the terrorists who killed 24 U.S. servicemen and two Indians in attacks in 1995 and 1996 in Saudi Arabia, he once said, "They have raised the nation's head high and washed away a great part of the shame that has enveloped us." Bin Laden fancies himself a modern-day Saladin, the Muslim commander who liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders. "I envision Saladin coming out of the clouds," bin Laden says in a videotape released earlier this year to his supporters. "Our history is being rewritten."
It's a powerful message to many Arabs who otherwise see a future bereft of pride. "Islam Is the Solution" is the slogan of the Islamic movement, and to many it seems a better bet than the Arab nationalism that has brought them poverty, corrupt governments or both. Even if the U.S. succeeds in routing bin Laden and his network, the message will continue to resonate, especially given new resentments kicked up by any U.S. military action.
On the other hand, it is the triumphalist religious convictions of bin Laden that make him and his followers so dangerous. "This is not violence in the service of some practical program," says Steven Simon, a former member of the National Security Council who is writing a book on religiously inspired terrorism. "It is killing infidels in the service of Allah. To a secular person, it's crazy. How can that be an end in itself? The facts speak for themselves: there is one objective here, to kill an enormous number of people and humiliate the Satanic power. There is no claim of responsibility because there is only one audience, and that is God." With a God they perceive to be admiringly urging them on, bin Laden's associates have no self-restraint. They are limited only by their capabilities, which the U.S. has now decided it has no choice but to destroy.