Most of the current acrimony over counterterrorism is stale. The debate is simply a rehash of issues that were discussed and, in fact, resolved early last decade.
Let us review them one more time.
MOST TERRORISTS ARE NOT POOR AND DOWNTRODDEN September 11 taught us that a Mohammed Atta or a Khalid Sheikh Mohammed does not commit mass murder out of hunger, want, illiteracy, or Western oppression.
No doubt Middle Eastern poverty contributes to religious violence. But the poor in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Yemen are no more impoverished than those in the slums of São Paulo, Mexico City, Ho Chi Minh City, or Johannesburg. And the latter, despite their frequent claims against the West, do not feel a need to murder in mass in the name of their particular religion.
A Major Nidal Hasan or an Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab wishes to kill Westerners not because he is poor or even on behalf of the poor, but rather out of a warped sense of pride, hurt, and anger.
Such passions derive from a radical religious creed that insists that comparative failure in the modern Middle East is not self-induced — much less a product of fundamentalism, anti-Enlightenment thinking, autocracy, gender apartheid, tribalism, corruption, and statism. Instead the fact that there is no longer an intercontinental caliphate of rich and powerful believers is due to some sort of contemporary Jewish or Western oppression.
The wealthier, better educated, and more Westernized the radical Muslim, often the greater the sense of shame, alienation, and anger that he and his religion are not shown proper deference. We knew all that in 2001, but have apparently forgotten it during eight years of relative calm.
Hasan hated American soldiers not because our system had discriminated against him, much less because of “secondary post-traumatic-stress syndrome,” or any of the other wacky excuses that followed his crime. Instead, in part he sensed that the American military had bent over backwards for him and accommodated his extremism — and was therefore, in his own distorted worldview, weak, decadent, and deserving of what he would dish out.
THERAPY IS NO ANSWER Radical Islam’s anger is irrational. It is not predicated on the degree of outreach shown by the United States. A contrite and compliant Jimmy Carter, after all, prompted the creation of the slur “The Great Satan.” The year 2009 saw the greatest number of foiled terrorist plots against America since 9/11. Indeed, one-third of all such attempts in the last eight years happened last year — the time of the Obama Al Arabiya interview, the Cairo speech, the bowing to Saudi royals, the promises to close Guantanamo Bay, and the ritual trashing of the Bush anti-terrorism policies.
We need not be gratuitously rude. There surely is a role for sober diplomacy and soft speech. But the degree to which radical Islam will be aggressive toward the West hinges a lot on what it imagines will be our reaction — in terms both of military responses, and of the sense of confidence we project about our own civilization.
Islamists, after all, ignore past American help to, and support for, Islamic peoples in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Indonesia, Iraq, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Somalia — only to pay far more deference to the Chinese and Russians, who have systematically oppressed and often butchered fellow Muslims. Apparently, Dr. Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden would rather recommend reading by Noam Chomsky and Jimmy Carter than offend Vladimir Putin and earn another Grozny.