A Reality Check On Terrorism
Date: Thursday, November 16 2006
Nov. 16, 2006. 01:00 AM
While there is by now a full comprehension of the disaster that is Iraq, there is still not enough understanding of the parallel bankruptcy of the greater war on terrorism and the political and media discourse that has accompanied it.
We have been in denial for the last five years about the reasons for Muslim terrorism.
What we have had, instead, is a war of words against Muslims and Islam, which has created a dangerous polarization between the West and the Muslim world.
This tension is the topic of a just-released report by a cross-cultural United Nations panel of 20 eminent citizens, including Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Sponsored by Catholic Spain and Muslim Turkey, the group has arrived at the same realistic conclusion reached by increasing number of governments, think-tanks and experts: The causes of the conflict are not religious, but political.
Yet for the last five years, the West has been, in the phrase of French Orientalist Maxime Rodinson, theologocentric: seeing Muslims only through the prism of their religion.
This tendency, coupled with the tactics of deflecting attention away from American foreign policy, goes a long way in explaining why most of the rationales offered for Muslim terrorism have been found wanting.
When 15 of the 19 terrorists of 9/11 turned out to have been Saudi citizens, several experts blamed Wahhabism or Salafism, the austere interpretation of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia.
The problem with the formulation was that the Saudi ruling family, the patrons of Wahhabism, remains a staunch ally of the U.S. and the chief guarantor of the energy needs of the West.
Blame was also laid at the doorstep of madrassas, religious schools, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But the bombers of Bali, Jakarta, Karachi, Islamabad, Jeddah, Riyadh, Ankara and other spots were not products of such schools.
Those who carried out the 2004 Madrid bombing and the 2005 London bombings were Europeans, born or raised and educated there. Three of the four British attackers were second-generation British. The 18 Canadians charged with terrorist-related crimes are graduates of Canadian public schools and universities.
Another post-9/11 theory was that suicide bombers were hoping for virgins in Paradise. That promise may have motivated some but not others, certainly not women bombers such as the "black widows" of Chechnya, who had no such sexual favours to look forward to in heaven.
So we must return to earthly reasons for Muslim terrorism.
An official British report on the subway bombing concluded that the culprits were "ordinary British citizens with little known history of extremist views," but who were radicalized by injustices committed by the West against Muslims.
A report by the Royal Institute of International Affairs also linked the bombings to British involvement in Iraq.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on November 17, 2006]