October 3, 2010

Terrorism Is Not The Whole Story

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Consider what could have happened.  Had the Detroit bomber succeeded, several hundred people would have died.  If Mr. Faisal Shahzad’s Times Square plot was effective, a few hundred more might have perished.  These claims are not meant to scare, and usually when stated by elected officials are nothing more than attempts to end debate by stating the obvious.  Yet these events beg the question, what motivates young men living in the West to train in Pakistan with the aim of murdering as many innocent lives as possible?  The answer to this question is complex and beyond this article’s scope.  The fact that this question is an obvious one though, seems to imply that there is some force at work larger than fundamentalism; a force which extends beyond the basements and caves of Islamic terrorists.

The United States confronts a rather widespread sentiment, which holds that terrorist attacks against the United States and her allies are acceptable.  This view seems to be based in the notion that the West somehow holds back the Arab world through some form of oppression, be it political, economic, or military.  As former UK Prime Minister Blair said, “The problem is not simply the extremism.  The problem is actually a narrative that is shared by a far broader spectrum than we think.”  This is not to say that most people in the Arab world wish to fight in a war against the West or even hope for further attacks.  In fact, the West must make it a priority to support reputable Islamic and Arab leaders who believe that Islam is compatible with a Westernized lifestyle.  However, it does seem that there is a sizeable contingent that at least implicitly accept attacks on the West through support for those groups that carry out these attacks.

Consider the Iranian-funded Lebanese Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah.  It is responsible for numerous attacks on the U.S., including the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut.  It operates a militia group that is at times at odds with the Lebanese army.  Yet, Hezbollah provides social services, enjoys veto power, and holds 13 parliamentary seats.  To be sure, Hezbollah is not universally loved, even within Lebanon.  Support for the terrorist group is largely based in its opposition to Israel.  Nonetheless, it is simultaneously the darling of Shiite radicals and a viable political organization that has murdered innocents.

The dynamic in Pakistan is quite different, but still demonstrates an uncomfortably widespread animosity towards the West.  A poll over the summer indicated that almost 6 in 10 Pakistanis consider the U.S. an enemy, and only 1 in 10 a partner.  54 percent of polled Pakistanis consider the Taliban a threat.  This is despite billions of dollars in both military and civilian aid from America.  The Pakistani army has fought the Pakistan Taliban who pose a threat to the government, yet it is reluctant to fight the Taliban networks that are killing Western soldiers.  AfPak Taliban groups such as the Haqqani network both support locals and kill U.S. soldiers.  Yet, they are relatively safe in Pakistan.  Again, this is not open hatred towards the U.S., but rather something like a latent anger.

Those who believe the U.S. confronts a small, marginalized, and unsophisticated group do not recognize the more widespread and still dangerous anti-West sentiment that manifests itself in support for groups that actually do have the desire and means to kill.  There must be recognition and admission by the Obama administration that the difficulties in the struggle between liberal, Western ideals and reactionary, radical Islamic ones, are broader than killing a few men.  The “with us or against us” mantra of the Bush administration dangerously divided the world between those who fought with us and everybody else.  Yet the current message of a world split between people who either kill or are willingly tolerant to Western ideals is also misguided.  It would be comforting and intellectually honest for those crafting U.S. foreign policy to acknowledge and address the existence of a prevalent, dormant enmity towards the West.

Original Author: Lee Blum