Where Do Little Terrorists Come From #5 - The Middle East

Bin Laden wants the US out of his turf.

The first article in this series attempted to kill off the false notion that terrorism is caused by poverty.  It has been amply documented over and over that terrorism is driven by a variety of religious, economic, and political motives having little to do with poverty.

Unfortunately, the mere fact that terrorists have more education and more wealth than average citizens of their native lands won't stop liberals from making themselves feel good by claiming that spending our money fighting poverty will also fight terrorism.

The American revolution and the French withdrawals from Algeria and from Viet Nam are proof that terrorism and its cousin guerrilla warfare can in fact lead to regime changes which sometimes work in favor of those who initiate the terrorist movements; there should be no difficulty in accepting the concept of terrorism as a means of self-aggrandizement.

The third article introduced definitions of terrorism along with a few historical examples of Islamic terrorism to provide background; the fourth article discussed the terrorist campaign that culminated in American independence from Britain.  The fact that what the American founders did meets most definitions of terrorism says more about the limitations of our definitions than about them; we address definitions later.

This article discusses modern terrorism in the Middle East.  Whether Palestinian children who throw stones at Israeli soldiers are heroes or juvenile delinquents depends on your point of view.

Terroristic techniques can sometimes serve a moral cause: few would fault the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto, for instance, for using Molotov cocktails and what we would now call IEDs in their uprising against the Nazi Army even thought the Nazis were a uniformed, organized military force which served a recognized national government and the Jews weren't.  Regardless of whether you're for or against the goals of a particular terrorist organization, knowing their goals and the goals of whatever powers oppose them makes it easier to understand what's going on.

The Goals of Middle East Terrorism

Terrorism is driven by strong-willed people who see terrorism as a reasonable means to achieve a goal which they consider to be both legitimate and important enough to be worth risking their lives.  Terrorism is hazardous for the terrorist, of course; people don't engage in terror unless they are so powerless with respect to achieving an extremely important goal that terrorism is the only course open to them.

Islamic terrorism as pioneered by Mr. Osama bin Laden is driven by Mr. bin Laden's interpretation of the Koran.  Mr. bin Laden believes that the Koran contains written commands from Allah Himself which are, or should be, unconditionally and universally binding on anyone who calls himself or herself a true Muslim.

In his "Letter to the American People" of November, 2002, Mr. bin Laden opened his message by quoting 8 passages from the Koran.  He declared "jihad," which can be translated as either "holy war" or as "struggle," on America in 1996, citing 16 passages from the Koran. Over time, Mr. bin Laden has stated some clear core beliefs:

  • The Koran requires every Muslim to protect the Holy Places of Islam. In particular, the holy cities of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem are to be cleared of non-Muslims.  Mr. bin Laden is offended that the Saudi government permits unbelieving American combat troops to live in Saudi Arabia near the holy places and that non-Muslim Jews live in Jerusalem in close proximity to the Blue Mosque (Dome of the Rock) which is the 3rd holiest site in Islam.
  • It is every Islamic person's duty to kill American soldiers until they are driven out of Saudi Arabia and to kill Jews until they are driven out of Jerusalem.
  • The Koran requires Muslims to convert all unbelievers to Islam, by force if need be, and to kill any who refuse to convert.
  • The fact that the Saudi government allows American troops in their country proves that the House of Saud is not managing the Holy Sites properly.  Therefore, he would like to replace their insufficiently Islamic rule with his own more devout caliphate.

What the Koran Says About Killing Non-Muslims

The Koran has not been translated as widely as the Bible, but googling "Koran English translation" gives more than 300,000 hits.  Anyone who wants to find out what the Koran actually says should have no difficulty in doing so.

The translation at http://www.islam.tc/ uses "disbelievers" and "idolaters" to mean anyone who is not a Muslim.  The Koran is divided into surahs which are roughly equivalent to Bible chapters; each surah consists of numbered verses.  Surah 2 says:

002.190 Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities.  Lo!  Allah loveth not aggressors.

002.191 And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter.  And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them.  Such is the reward of disbelievers.

To those who claim that Mr. bin Laden is not a true follower of the Koran because his terrorists struck first, he quotes "And slay them wherever ye find them" and retorts that he was defending the holy places from the proximity of a large number of infidels who had not departed despite his polite request of years before.  Sura 9:5 says:

009.005 Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush.  But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free.  Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Various Islamic commentaries state that this passage, which is sometimes called the "verse of the sword," has replaced all earlier verses calling for patience or forgiveness toward Christians and Jews.  The verses supporting tolerance were written at a time when Islam was a small religion threatened with extinction.  When he became more powerful later on, Mohammad commanded his followers to be less tolerant now that he and his followers no longer had to be tolerant.

As Winston Churchill put it,

Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as deadly in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities ... but the influence of the religion paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world.  Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselyzing faith. [emphasis added]

Clear Root Causes

Mr. bin Laden is convinced that obedience to the Koran and thus to Allah requires him to urge Muslims everywhere to kill as many non-Muslims as possible.  It also requires him to cleanse Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem of non-Muslims so that the holy sites will no longer be defiled by proximity to idolaters.

Assuming reasonable rendering of the underlying Arabic into English, the Koranic verses cited above make it clear that regardless of what his critics may say, Mr. bin Laden's interpretation of the Koran is at the very least plausible and quite possibly accurate.

As it turns out, there have been enough suicide terrorists with known backgrounds that we can subject suicide terrorism to demographic analysis.  The book Dying to Win by Robert Pape, Random House 2005, gives some statistical comparisons which lead him to believe that many Muslims agree with Mr. Bin Laden in their resentment of American military presence in Muslim countries:

The world's five largest Islamic fundamentalist populations without American military presence have produced al-Qaeda suicide terrorists on the order of 1 per 72 million people, while the Persian Gulf countries with American military presence have produced al-Qaeda suicide terrorists at a rate of 1 per million, or 70 times more often.

... the stationing of tens of thousands of American combat troops on the Arabian Peninsula from 1990 through 2001 probably made al-Qaeda suicide attacks against America, including the horrible crimes committed on September 11, 2001, from five to twenty times more likely.

The bin Laden Plan

Assuming that he simply had to cleanse Islamic Holy Places as an overriding moral imperative required by Allah, and that the Koran similarly required the removal of American troops from Saudi Arabia, and given his relative powerlessness at the time, 9-11 was a rational first step for Osama bin Laden.

The goal of political terrorism is to provoke a disproportionate enemy response.  Mr. bin Laden hoped that America would respond by attacking innocent Muslims and that being attacked by Americans would drive Muslims who were not interested in his grand vision of purifying the holy places into his camp.

Just as he had hoped, America attacked the Taliban government in Afghanistan.  Mr. bin Laden had expected America to get bogged down in Afghanistan as the Soviets had; he was amazed when the allied coalition drove the Taliban out of hegemony in Afghanistan in a matter of weeks.

In a way, he had miscalculated.  The scale of the 9-11 destruction was such that the international community was horrified.  The UN condemned the Taliban government, and when the Taliban refused to turn over the perpetrators, the Taliban were deemed an outlaw regime.

The international community had no problem with the Americans putting together a coalition to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan because it was clear that the Taliban government supported terrorism.  No, repeat, no government can afford to be caught supporting terrorists.  Being no fools, other heads of state universally and roundly condemn states which sponsor terrorism because the risks to their own personal safety from government-sponsored terrorism with its forged passports, better training, and better funding are simply too great.

Strategic Errors

Mr. Bush's first major rhetorical blunder was to declare the "War on Terror."  This immediately validated the Taliban, turning them from criminals into combatants.  Stating that we were "at war" subjected Mr. Bush to withering criticism for not observing the Geneva Convention, but he brought that on himself by calling al Qaeda's terrorists warriors instead of branding them the criminals they were.

People expect their government to incarcerate mass murderers, but soldiers captured in combat are an entirely different matter.  Recall that the IRA detainees in the Maze starved themselves to death rather than be branded criminals and that they won great public sympathy during their strike.  By giving the terrorists the status of a legitimate army, the American government conferred the most precious gift a terrorist can ever hope to receive - instant credibility.

We also spent billions of dollars on proactive measures thorough the Department of Homeland Security.  Proactive security is useless against terrorism - targets are simply too plentiful, as witness the attacks on the London subway in the summer of 2005.

The British spent millions of dollars installing security cameras which, as it turned out, caught images of the jihadists as they rode to their assigned targets, but the cameras didn't stop the explosions nor did they inhibit the additional attacks that came later.  Only intelligence work can stop a terrorist; surveillance can't, although it may help in analyzing the disaster after it happens.

The attack on Iraq bogged the US down in the Middle East where it was more convenient for Islamists to kill Americans and more expensive for America to support its operations.  On the other hand, as captured al Qaeda documents illustrate, Iraq has worked as a "terrorist magnet," drawing would-be terrorists there instead of elsewhere.  Reasonable men can differ on whether it's better to be fighting them over there or over here, particularly given that our military presence appears to arouse resentments that help Al Qaeda recruit, but it does have notable advantages over further suicide attacks in the United States.

Over There, NOT Over Here

Even though the terrorists are in fact mostly over there, we've been acting as if they were over here in the same numbers. This led to the worst blunder, which was to assume that the "War on Terror" could not be waged using conventional law enforcement techniques and that it required suspending, or at least fudging, the Constitution in the United States.

Despite an ample history of law enforcement successes in breaking up the Black Panthers, Weather Underground, White Supremacists, KKK, and other terrorist groups, the American government assumed that extraordinary, and even illegal measures, would be justified by the "War on Terror."  Liberals are not alone in using pithy slogans to justify what would otherwise be regarded as utterly unacceptable government abuse of power.

Americans traditionally cut the government a degree of slack with respect to due process in time of legitimate war, but are viewing with increasing alarm the erosion of fundamental liberties in the guise of protecting the public from terrorism, a "war" which may very well go on more or less forever.

Bush started off well by bringing John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban" and a U.S. citizen, back into the United States for a proper civilian trial; he's now serving a twenty year sentence, and has been all but forgotten.  Unfortunately, Yaser Hamdi, another U.S. citizen, was shipped off to Guantanamo and military brigs; this is rightly worrying to the American people, and feeds doubt and fear, although Hamdi was eventually released to Saudi Arabia after renouncing his U.S. citizenship.

Front-page issues like these make the commonplace indignities of the TSA seem more serious even than they are.  The combination is a toxic one.

Suspending due process and other Constitutional rights amounts to an attack on the government's own citizens who should be its natural allies; by provoking this response, al Qaeda has driven a wedge between the American government and the American people.  This amounts to the most spectacular success for a terrorism campaign in modern history.

The next article discusses a more appropriate response to the current terrorist threat.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
The NYT believes that the Taliban may have alienated Pakistanis.

Taliban Stir Rising Anger of Pakistanis
After months of televised cruelties, broken promises and attacks, there is a growing sense that many Pakistanis are turning against the Taliban.
June 5, 2009 7:31 AM
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