According to Gunaratna (2003) bitterness in the Arab world about Western military and economic dominance, chronic tensions with Israel, and the rise of fundamentalist Islam combined during the last three decades of the twentieth century to foster an ideology of terrorism, especially in the turbulent Middle East. This bitterness has motivated Islamic extremists to target both Israel and the United States for terrorist attacks.
Motivated by perceptions of victimization, encouraged by religious fanatics, and trained in Osama bin Laden’s terrorist camps, nineteen Muslims hijacked American airliners and attacked New York City and Washington D. C. on September 11, 2001. The 9/11 attacks demonstrated that the United States was vulnerable to foreign attack despite its global military power, and was a profoundly disturbing experience for all Americans.
In order to understand why America was attacked on 9/11, it is necessary to examine the broader issue of Israeli/Arab enmity in the Middle East, for violence between Israelis and Muslims is just one consequence of this historical enmity, which has triggered four Arab/Israeli wars and a multitude of other violent military confrontations, such as the Israeli invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon twenty years ago and the recent fighting in Lebanon between Hezbollah and the Israeli army.
Gunaratna (2003) notes that conflict with Israel has been perpetuated by Muslim extremist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the PLO, who have incited hatred of Israel and relentlessly make “the Zionists” the scapegoats for the suffering and misery of poverty-stricken Muslims throughout the region. They deny Israel’s right to exist and have vowed to destroy the Jewish state. But it is not only terrorists who have vowed this, for the destruction of Israel has been the stated goal of many Arab governments ever since Israel’s founding as a nation in 1948.
In response to this long-term threat to Israel, the United States has provided significant military, economic, and political support to Israel for more than forty years, which has incited hostility towards the United States throughout the Arab world. American military, economic, and diplomatic support for Israel was one of the primary reasons for the 9/11 attacks, and as long as the United States continues to support Israel, it will be a target for Muslim terrorism.
For decades, American presidents have been concerned about tensions and instability in the Middle East, and have successfully established peaceful relations between Israel and Muslim states such as Egypt and Jordan. But since 2001, American foreign policy has been formulated in accordance with neo-con ideology, which advocates the aggressive use of American power in the world, especially in the Middle East. These misguided policies, combined with the incompetent manner in which they have been implemented, have produced disastrous consequences.
In outlining what they perceive as the fundamental problem of terrorist motivations, critics of President Bush have argued that current war against terrorism methods have failed to address the multiple ideological and religious issues that motivate terrorists. According to Ehrenfield (2003) their argument has much merit, for one of the primary causes of terrorism is the dominance of American power and influence in the Middle East, so projecting even more American power and influence in the Middle East is not going to reduce terrorism, it is going to escalate it.
In response, American neo-conservatives argue that these critics fail to acknowledge the fundamental difficulty of dealing effectively with terrorist organizations they consider to be comprised of irrational religious fundamentalist fanatics. They argue that the rejection of the use of military force against terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas by previous American presidents emboldened terrorist leaders and convinced Osama Bin Laden that Al Qaeda could attack the United States with little fear of an effective retaliation.
According to Timmermann, (2003) as these arguments rage back and forth, the ruling Muslim elites in Cairo, Damascus, Riyadh, and Teheran continue to covertly support terrorist ideology and have much more interest in preserving their power than in addressing the root causes of instability and hatred of the West in the Muslim world. They indulge in shameless hypocrisy, and “support” the war on terrorism while inciting the regrettable paranoia that seethes in the Arab street by portraying the United States as an imperialist superpower bent upon domination of the world and Jews as sinister masterminds of American foreign policy.
Neo-conservatives like Rumsfeld (2002) have argued that ultimately, the ideology of mindless hatred that motivates Muslims to blow up innocent people on buses and trains and fly airliners into buildings full of innocent people in the name of “justice” must be repeatedly denounced by every Western government and must be relentlessly discredited through whatever methods necessary. They believe that people who take part in or support such atrocities, or contend that they are legitimate and that their perpetrators are heroic defenders of Islam do not deserve to have their “grievances” addressed by the civilized world.
American neo-conservatives insist that the military occupation of Iraq must continue indefinitely and that Iran and Syria must be attacked for being state sponsors of terrorism, but this approach has had nightmare consequences. The occupation of Iraq is a fiasco, the Middle East has become dangerously destabilized, and there has been an alarming increase in terrorism worldwide. According to Katz (2002) neo-conservatives contend that the West needs to put its inordinate fear of casualties behind it and eliminate the threat of terrorism forever before it is too late.
In their minds, an uncompromising war against Middle East terrorism, even if it involves attacks on Iran and Syria and incites a major war in the region, may be a necessary evil that has to be accepted in order to prevent an even greater evil. But escalating the war on terrorism by attacking accused state sponsors of terrorism is far more likely to spread and escalate the terrorist attacks this neo-con policy is intended to prevent. Bringing democracy to Arab countries in the Middle East is not going to be achieved by invading and occupying them.
Bush Administration policy makers claim that democratization is their goal, but their blunders have dangerously destabilized the entire region and have empowered terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas instead of diminishing their power and influence. Threatening to attack Iran and Syria is pouring fuel on an already raging fire and is convincing millions of moderate Muslims that American political and economic hegemony over the Middle East is the Bush Administration’s actual agenda, and that democratization is just a facade for American imperialism.
The United States will continue to be a target for terrorism because of the Bush Administration’s occupation of Iraq. Tens of millions of Muslims do not believe the United States is trying to establish democracy in Iraq, they believe that Operation Iraqi Freedom is just a facade for American imperialism. The chaos and carnage in Iraq is inciting hatred of the United States across the Middle East, and more terrorism is going to be the inevitable consequence.
Moussalli (2003) explains that there are barriers to the development of democracy in Islamic states, for Muslims have long debated the problematic relationships between political priorities, societal priorities, and individual priorities. When religious traditions, international tensions, and globalization are added to the mix, the complexity that ensues can be overwhelming. Unable to understand these complexities, many Muslims are turning to Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other extremist groups and are embracing Holy War against the United States and Israel as the only solution.
It is evident that the Bush Administration’s proclaimed goal of democratization as the solution to Middle East instability rests upon the flawed assumption that the adoption of democracy by Muslims will lead to the establishment of pro-Western Muslim governments. This is demonstrably false, for Iran has established militant, revolutionary Islam within a framework of democratic institutions, Palestinians have elected a Hamas government, and Hezbollah’s confrontation with Israel has won it unprecedented public support throughout the Muslim world.
According to Timmermann, (2003) these developments reflect the fundamental cause of the 9/11 attacks—Muslim anger over American interference in the Middle East. Muslims want to choose their own form of government, based upon Islamic social, cultural, religious, and political traditions. They do not want Western style democracy, Western economic systems, and Western culture forced upon them. Many Muslims see the West as decadent and abhorrent, and consider terrorism to be a justified response to Western dominance of much of the world, which they believe is exploitive and destructive.
Tragically, events since September 11, 2001 have proven that using military force to “fight terrorism” and “establish democracy” in the Middle East is just inciting further terrorism and discrediting democracy. For example, before the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Iran was making significant progress towards establishing democratic institutions, but the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has radicalized millions of Iranians and led to the election of a religious extremist president.
Ominously, this backlash against the United States has not been confined to Iran alone, for it is spreading throughout Iraq and the rest of the Middle East and is posing the greatest threat to world peace since the darkest days of the Cold War. In recent months, tensions between the United States and Iran have intensified, powerful American naval forces have been deployed to the Persian Gulf, and military conflict appears to be a distinct possibility. Ultimately, the history and ideology of Islamic terrorism indicate that the anti-terrorism policies of the American and Israeli governments have some merit and justification.
But as Timmerman (2003) notes, the leaders of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have rejected accusations of terrorism, and insist that they are simply defending the rights of Muslims against American and Israeli aggression. There is truth in both positions, for the philosophical observation that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter certainly applies in the context of current Middle East violence. Islamic fundamentalist extremists have emerged in recent decades because Muslims have been victims of injustice, but they perpetrated further injustice by killing three-thousand innocent civilians in New York City and Washington D.
C. on 9/11, which triggered American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, which have lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. Tragically, aggressive and counterproductive American foreign policies, combined with endemic political, economic, military, religious, and ideological problems in the Middle East continue to incite religious extremist groups like Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas to plot attacks on the United States and Israel.
Their ideology and tactics have led concerned Israeli and American policy makers to condemn Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist groups, to support the elimination of the leaders who control the networks which carry out such attacks, and to take threaten military action against Lebanon, Iran and Syria. But as the war in Iraq and the recent fighting in Lebanon have demonstrated, these American and Israeli policies have been counterproductive, for they have radicalized millions of Muslims, who have responded with unprecedented support for terrorist groups.
These developments have made a major war in the Middle East and another 9/11 increasingly likely, for no one appears to have any interest in forging compromises or pursuing negotiations. In conclusion, terrorism has increased over the last thirty years because of bitterness in the Arab world about Western political, economic, and military dominance, Muslim disputes with Israel, and the emerging power of Muslim fundamentalists. This bitterness motivated nineteen Muslims to hijack American passenger jets and attack New York City and Washington D. C. on September 11, 2001.