Many Americans and other Westerners are still confused. They don’t understand “why they hate us” or “why they attack us.” Many trump it up to pure craziness, or it comes from an inherent flaw in Islam which is somehow making them attack the West, so there’s nothing we can do but bomb them. But there are actually many basic things the United States can do to end Islamic terrorism.
Terrorism is a tactic used to advance one’s cause. It follows, then, that we should pay attention to what that cause is so we can better deal with it. When you label people as crazy, you deny them agency and remain blind as to why they do what they do.
The reality is that Islamic terrorists have been quite explicit in why they attack the West. Osama bin Laden identified three chief grievances against the United States in 1998:
First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples. Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, which has exceeded 1 million…despite all this, the Americans are once against trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation. Third, if the Americans’ aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there.
In short, bin Laden is complaining about: occupation of Muslim lands and support for the Saudi tyranny, the horrific sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, and arming and supporting Israel in its oppression of the Palestinians.
Similarly, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, “specifically cited the U.S. war in Iraq” and Afghanistan as motivation for the bombings. He wrote a note explaining his actions as retribution for the wars. “When you attack one Muslim, you attack all Muslims,” he said.
Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst and head of the bin Laden unit at the CIA, explains in Imperial Hubris that the reasons terrorists attack the United States have nothing “to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but have everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world.” Indeed, “the United States, and its policies and actions, are bin Laden’s only indispensable allies.” Intervention in Muslim lands only contributes to a perception in the region that the United States is there to oppress them.
The real solution, then, is to stop doing that. Escalating conflicts with more violence only validates jihadist beliefs in the region, and is a terrorist recruitment tool. Here are eight things the United States can do to end most Islamic terrorism against it:
1. Stop supporting tyrannies in the region
The United States supports numerous tyrannies in the region; the big one being Saudi Arabia. Many jihadis believe them to be apostate regimes whom are puppets of the United States. Despite its atrocious human rights record, the United States sends billions of dollars worth of arms to the Saudis. This is despite the fact that Saudi Arabia is “the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups.” The U.S. is directly helping to create new terrorists by arming and supporting the Saudis and indirectly by engendering hatred for the U.S. amongst local Muslim populations who resent the Saudi regime.
Sometimes support for these regimes is defended on practical grounds, i.e. that’s where the oil is and it sustains our economy. But the United States only gets 8.1% of its oil from Saudi Arabia and 12.9% overall from the Persian Gulf area. The United States gets most of its oil from itself, Canada, and Latin America. It’s less about access to the oil than it is about control of the oil and making sure governments in the region remain loyal client states.
The United States should immediately end support for these regimes.
2. End the war in Afghanistan
The war is supposedly winding down, but Obama wants to maintain a residual force in the country. The pretext is that Afghanistan will need our “help” for the foreseeable future. Of course, the real reason is that Afghanistan is located in a very strategic location. It’s near Russia and China. Again, it all comes down to domination and control. Obama wants to make sure Afghanistan stays firmly in the U.S. orbit. But by staying in the country, it will only create further resentment and problems. Obama should pull out every last troop and close every base; in the same way he was forced to do in Iraq.
3. Close all military bases in the region & bring all forces home
In the same vein as Afghanistan, the United States should close all its military bases in the entire region and bring all the troops home from those countries as well. The United States has over one hundred military forces in each of the following countries in the region: Bahrain, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Nobody else has such a vast worldwide system of military forces and bases. They only lend credence to the belief that the United States is there to occupy Muslim lands (because we are).
4. Stop aiding Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory
The United States gives Israel a huge amount of foreign military aid every year. Israel then uses this to finance its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. The United States covers for Israel at the United Nations, where it blocks all resolutions calling for Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories.
Many people have a misunderstanding of this conflict: they presume that “both sides” are at fault; that since it has been going on for so long there is no solution; that the United State is an honest broker. None of this true. The crux of the problem is that Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian territory and it continues to expand its settlements in those areas. The United States bankrolls all of this and enables Israel to continue its practices. This leads to widespread resentment of both Israel and the United States. Terrorist attacks on the part of Palestinians are a reaction to the illegal occupation of their land.
Again, there is a widespread belief in the region (because it is accurate) that the United States doesn’t care for the Palestinians and enables Israel’s occupation to continue. The solution is to stop blocking the solution that is on the table (a two-state settlement) and let Israel know the jig is up.
If Israel and the United States were serious about their own security, they would withdraw the illegal settlements from Palestinian territory and announce the occupation is over.
5. Stay out of Syria
Right now, the United States is funding and arming rebel groups in Syria in the hopes they somehow outdo both government forces and the Islamic forces. This cannot end well. Anyone who thinks these weapons won’t end up in the hands of jihadis is a fool. The sad reality is that this conflict is likely to continue for some time, and there’s not much anyone can do about it. Rather than contributing to the violence, the United States should stay out of it. U.S. involvement only contributes to the perception that it is trying to dominate the region (which it is).
6. Strop droning people
If Russia were doing what the United States is doing with its global drone campaign, there would be total outrage. In any case, the drones only engender further resentment and hatred towards the United States. In fact, the drone strikes fuel “one [of] the jihadis’ main arguments: that the infidel US imperialists are killing Muslim civilians” (because we are). The drone strikes are an extremely short-sighted policy even from a strategic point of view. It’s true the drone strikes have killed numerous militant figures, but in the long-term it’s clear it only creates hatred and contempt for the United States (and were those militant figures really threats to “national security,” or were they people the government just doesn’t like?).
Also, the idea that drone strikes are necessary for national security cannot be taken seriously. There has not been a drone strike conducted in Pakistan since December 2013, when they were halted in an attempt to allow peace talks to continue between the Taliban and the government of Pakistan. The U.S. government tries to claim that they only drone people who pose an “imminent” threat. Well, obviously we are all still here. If drone strike were really necessary, why hasn’t there been an attack coming from Pakistan since the end of the drone strikes there?
7. Apologize to the Muslim world and announce plans for reparations
The United States government (and other Western powers) should apologize for its deplorable record of interference, invasions, and atrocities against Muslim countries. These include the 1953 coup in Iran, support the for Shah and his secret police, aiding Israel and its atrocities against Palestinians, support for tyrannical regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, support for Saddam Hussein, the genocidal sanctions against Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, bombing Libya, torturing and locking people up for decades without trial, the drone strikes, and so on.
After apologizing the United States should begin reparation payments to affected groups for these actions.
8. Use the proper international channels to deal with terrorists
The previous steps should radically reduce the threat of Islamic terrorism. Of course, due to the bombings and invasions, some jihadis will still likely target the United States. Instead of bombing and intimidating other countries, the United States should utilize the proper international channels to apprehend and charge suspects and give them fair trials.
Some claim that this “unrealistic.” However, this cannot be the case because the Bush administration explicitly rejected offers from the Taliban to extradite Osama bin Laden in 2001. They were looking for an excuse to bomb – which only leads to further resentment toward the United States, which leads to more terrorism, and the cycle continues. The way to break this cycle is to cease the violence against Muslims and deal with their genuine grievances.