And all this while I have been shopping, I have
Been let us say free
And do they hate me for it
Do they hate me
- The Window, at the Moment of the Flame, Alicia Ostriker
I wasn’t intending on publishing this today but I thought today was a better day than any other. This is meant to provide an explanation as to why ‘they’ hate us – by which I mean, Al Qaeda and its allies. And hate encompasses those who actually hate us and those who take action against us; those like the 19 who flew planes into buildings and those who like Bin Laden supported them. Here is a basic overview of what follows:
- It is wrong to make a distinction between our foreign policy and our values.
- Once you accept this, it is clear that there are things we cannot negotiate on.
- Even then, the foreign policy argument does not make sense by itself.
- This is not to deny foreign policy as an important factor
- The actual significant factor and the empirical support for this position
- Conclusion; drawing multiple causes in separate contexts
1. I’ve written before that I don’t like the ‘foreign policy’ vs. ‘freedom’ debate because it presents a false dichotomy between our foreign policy and our values. This is leaving aside the language one uses to ‘explain’ these attacks. Its worth looking at Al Qaeda’s first attack in 1992: they targeted American soldiers in Yemen heading to Somalia as part of Operation Restore Hope: an effort to deliver humanitarian aid and food to a humanitarian disaster zone. The United Nations noted as a result of the intervention
UNITAF had deployed approximately 37,000 troops in southern and central Somalia, covering approximately 40 per cent of the country's territory. The presence and operations of UNITAF had a positive impact on the security situation in Somalia and on the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance.
2. This is precisely what I mean about the lack of conflation between foreign policies and values: is anyone seriously going to say we should not have intervened in Somalia because of this attack? Incidentally, the Al Qaeda subsidiary Al-Shabab maintains its ban on foreign aid despite the situation there. In the same way, we have to look at the grievances of Al Qaeda to assess whether we really can adjust our foreign policy.
Al Qaeda’s goals aren’t hidden: they want to implement Talibanised regimes across the Middle East. When we intervene, yes, we do become targets but by not intervening, we merely allow the targets to be civilians in their home regimes. This is not suggest a benevolent intention in our foreign policy in toto, but it is sufficient enough to justify our actions.
3. Even then, talking about the higher echelons of Al Qaeda, the “first generation,” it is no use talking of Iraq or Afghanistan because they obviously happened before. Bin Laden was long committed to the ‘global jihad’ long before the settlement of American soldiers in Saudi Arabia and remained committed even after the withdrawal of American soldiers from Saudi Arabia (soldiers who were there by the way, to enforce a no fly zone so the Kurds would not be further brutalised by Saddam). I have even shown in a previous post that the 7/7 bombers were long militant before the Iraq war and in the case of some of them, before 9/11.
It should be clear that the dogmatic foreign policy explanation does not make sense: it does not explain the chronology of Islamist terrorism, it does not explain the lack of a widespread response, it does not explain why the response comes from those unaffected. It is not necessary or sufficient. It is simply illogical. As Roy poignantly asks, “if the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine are at the core of the radicalization, why are there virtually no Afghans, Iraqis or Palestinians among the terrorists?” Even internally, in Iraq, two-thirds of suicide bombers were not Iraqis. Al Qaeda is not even predominantly a response to Western forces, Max Boot points out that for Islamist terrorists in Iraq,
the vast majority of their victims were not Americans, Britons, or other “occupiers” but, rather, Iraqis: either members of the security forces or innocent bystanders. For many of the dead, their only crime was to be of the Shiite faith.
Indeed, it was further Western intervention in the form of the Surge that largely quelled violence in Iraq (see Linda Robinson or Kimberly Kagan – and even if one subscribes to the Douglas Ollivant’s view of the Surge, the argument still holds.).
4. For the second generation, I have previously stated that I believe Iraq to have given momentum to Al Qaeda and this isn’t really a controversial finding. Recently, the former head of MI5, Baroness Maningham-Buller stated in her appearance before the Iraq Inquiry:
Our involvement in Iraq radicalised a generation of young people who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as an attack on Islam. We were... overburdened with intelligence on a broad scale that was pretty well more than we could cope with in terms of plots, leads to plots and things that we needed to pursue.
She made similar remarks in her recent Reith Lecture. (See also the National Intelligence Estimate from 2006). Whats important here is exactly what she is saying; it radicalised people who saw our involvement in Afghanistan (and Iraq) as an attack on Islam. A literal reading would support the view that I take: namely, that it reinforced and increased the people who came to accept this view.
But importantly, Iraq is not the single or necessary or sufficient cause – even in the new generation: it requires something before, another factor. As Shiraz Maher, a former member of Hizb-ut Tahrir notes, ‘there will always be a grievance. And where there’s no grievance, Islamists manufacture a grievance’ to the end of their desired Caliphate.
This is to understate the effect of Iraq. It did lead to a rise in the risk we faced but for those who seek to attack us, it is merely part of their worldview. It is worldview that includes Afghanistan, Somalia, the existence of the state of Israel, the Danish cartoons, womens’ rights, human rights, humanitarian intervention in Libya and so on. None of these are these we can negotiate on. True, for the second generation, Iraq is one of the more significant factors but the key to their actions is that very worldview.
5. And that worldview is triggered by a feeling of domination and exclusion. Oliver Roy states that
they felt excluded from Western society... They find [a cause] in the dream of a virtual, universal ummah, the same way the ultraleftists of the 1970's (the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Italian Red Brigades) cast their terrorist actions in the name of the "world proletariat"... they are a lost generation, unmoored from traditional societies and cultures, frustrated by a Western society that does not meet their expectations.
It is a globalisation of ideas and human rights that penetrates through to certain alienated individuals. This is view echoed by Phillip Bobbitt, ‘[Al Qaeda’s] vision is a reaction to the globalisation of human rights-democracy, the rule of secular law, the protection of women’s rights.’ It is this that they find averse. Lawrence Wright expresses the point better:
This sense of displacement is also better understood as being marginal the culture... Because if you look at the recent plots in Britain, these were second and third generation British citizens. They were part of that culture but they had a feeling of alienation and marginality. Now, I don't see that as a clash of civilisation but a clash of identities within a civilisation.
Empirical support for this view is cited by Wright in the lecture cited above where he quotes an Egyptian study from the 70s. Further support is quoted below as part of the Prevent strategy. Gartenstein-Ross and Grossman also give support in their study of the process of radicalisation in UK Islamist terrorists provide six manifestation of radicalisation. One of which is the affiliation with a global Ummah at the expense of the West:
As homegrown terrorists radicalize, they often come to perceive an inherent schism between Islam and the West—believing that the two are at odds, and perhaps even incapable of coexistence. This perception can be expressed in a number of ways. In some cases, individuals attempt to isolate themselves from Western society physically. In others, these individuals will explain the perceived schism between Islam and the West to friends, family, or conspirators.
Indeed, five (including the quoted above) out of the six manifestations have nothing to do with the political situation but the social and religious conditions. According to the study it is most likely that religious awakening (the five religious manifestations) occurs before any political radicalisation (which also includes ‘perceived perversity and moral backwardness of the West. The U.S. is seen as forcing values of secularism, feminism, and gay rights’). This is precisely why the British government Prevent strategy overview should be greeted with applause: because it understands that rootlessness is part of the equation of terrorism. As the Prevent Strategy notes:
There is evidence to indicate that support for terrorism is associated with rejection of a cohesive, integrated, multi-faith society and of parliamentary democracy. [Thus we recommend working] to deal with radicalisation will depend on developing a sense of belonging to this country and support for our core values
6. This is of course not say that this will be the case in every single terrorist: but it does form a persuasive significant explanation. This is also not to deny that foreign policy is not a factor when working in culmination with others such as the lack of belonging. Indeed, my whole point is that distinguishing foreign policy from domestic and constitutional policy is wrong. Iraq did allow for an increased recruitment. But to be within the grounds of recruitment requires an aversion (or openness to an aversion) to a free society of consent.
Foreign policy seems comparable to the civil political situation of certain nations; Kruger (2007) finds that a lack of civil liberties is a contribution to Islamist terrorism. However this doesn't explain the phenomenon of Western homegrown terrorism or, again, the lack of a response from the masses. Indeed, as I’ve pointed out before, the people of the Middle East have rejected the ideology of Al Qaeda. But it does provide one of many factors for the first generation – but a factor which, like Iraq, is not sufficient without alienation, cultural marginality and aversion to the West or their right actions in the Middle East.
On the subject of baseless ‘causes,’ poverty can also be thrown away; poverty has little to do with partaking in terrorism or even supporting terrorism. In fact, the relationship seems to point to the other way. Krueger and Maleckova (2003) give their own results and several previous studies that support this proposition.
It’s not about “hating us for our freedom” or “hating is for our foreign policy.” Its about hating us, in all that we are, which embodies a resistance to the forces which would plunge societies into a Medieval abyss. There’s no use blaming the victims, ‘whether in New York or Nairobi, Bali or Belfast, Mumbai or Manila, or Lahore or London.’