[OPE-L:5944] Fwd: Addressing the Sources of Middle Eastern Violence Against the United States

From: Paul Zarembka (zarembka@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU)
Date: Tue Sep 18 2001 - 16:43:43 EDT


The analysis below is not an eye-opener for most on this list, but I think
we need to reach out and the article below seems to be a good initial step.
 As I forwarded it to others, I've added a P.S.  

Paul (from Buffalo, New York)

P.S. I have seen estimates of 750,000 dead children of Iraq as a result of
the Gulf War and sanctions.  When asked about it, it has been reported
former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright replied, "I think the price is
worth it".


September 17, 2001

For those wondering WHY?... 


by Steve Niva 

In the wake of the immense tragedy of the recent attacks on American soil
it is difficult to get beyond the horror and shock of what has just
happened and engage in serious reflection on the sources of violence
against the United States. This is understandable given the almost
unbelievable nature of this attack. Yet it is more necessary than ever if
one is to find ways to prevent such attacks in the future. 

What we will see in the next few days and weeks will be further
investigations, arrests of individuals and intense speculation about which
groups or states did this and how the United States should respond.
Unfortunately, if the pattern of past responses to such attacks is
repeated, we will probably not learn a great deal about the reasons behind
why this attack happened, or the broader sources of violence against the
United States over the past decade. Instead the usual array of retired
generals and military analysts will be trotted out to explain the tactical
elements of their favored military response. 

We now have seen substantial evidence of a Middle Eastern connection to
this attack and media coverage has frequently mentioned the name of Osama
bin Laden as the number one terrorist suspect and mastermind of this
operation. As we are inexorably led down the road to military confrontation
in the Middle East, it is necessary to gain clarity about the specific
actors and their motivations before one can even think about how to
respond. For Americans who like their hero's and villains portrayed in
simple dichotomies of good and evil, the result of this kind of clarity
will be disturbing because the United States has created many enemies
through its policies in the Middle East over the past century and bears a
significant amount of responsibility for creating a fertile soil for
anti-American hatred. Any American response that does not address this
truth is doomed to further the cycle of violence. 


The recent attacks on U.S. soil are most likely related to an escalating
series of attacks and bombings on U.S. targets over the past 10 years. In
order, these attacks include: the recent bombing of the USS Cole in
October, 2000 that claimed 17 lives; the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania in which hundreds were killed; the 1996 car-bomb attack
on a U.S. barracks in Dharahan, Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans; the
1995 car-bomb attack on an American National Guard Training center in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that took 4 lives and, of course, the 1993 World Trade
Center truck-bombing that killed 6 people and injured over a thousand

All of these attacks have been attributed to Islamic radicals based in the
Middle East and Central Asia under the rubric of a very hazy notion of
"Islamic fundamentalism." Indeed a number of people from these regions with
links to certain militant Islamic groups have been arrested and charged in
some of these actions. Breathless reports of a shadowy Islamic conspiracy
against the U.S. led by Osama bin Laden have generated a steady stream of
cliché's about this new enemy and its hatred of the U.S., but unfortunately
precious little light has been shed on understanding why this is happening
and what exactly these people believe. Their enmity towards the U.S. is
explained as little more than the product of a fanatical and inherently
anti-Western and anti-American world view. Stephen Emerson, a so-called
terrorism expert who frequently appears in the media, claims that "the
hatred of the US by militant Islamic fundamentalists is not tied to any
particular act or event. Rather, fundamentalists equate the mere existence
of the West-its economic, political and cultural systems-as an intrinsic
attack on Islam." 

Any explanation of Middle Eastern violence that relies upon the notion that
Islam is an inherently violent or inherently anti-Western religion is false
and misleading. First, Islam is one of the world's largest and most diverse
religions and like Christianity or Judaism there are thousands of views
within Islam about the religion and also about violence and the West.
Secondly, there are major differences even among explicitly Muslim
militants and activists regarding these issues-some insist upon non-violent
struggle and others regard violence as a legitimate tool. There is no way
one can generalize about Islam or any religion for that matter. 

So who are the perpetrators and what drove them to carry this horrendous
act? The most likely perpetrators of these attacks are related to an
extremely small and fringe network of militants whose motivations do not
derive from Islam so much as from a common set of experiences and beliefs
that resulted from their participation in the U.S. backed war against the
Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980's. These militants were recruited
by the CIA and the Saudi Arabian and Pakistani intelligence services to
fight against the Soviet Union during the 1980's. They came largely from
the poor and unemployed classes or militant opposition groups from around
the Middle East, including Algeria, Egypt, Palestine and elsewhere in order
to wage war on behalf of the Muslim people of Afghanistan against the
communist enemy. 

Among the many coordinators and financiers of this effort was a rich young
Saudi named Osama Bin Laden, who was the millionaire son of a wealthy Saudi
businessman with close contacts to the Saudi royal family. Although
accounts vary regarding his actual participation in the war, he played an
important role in helping these groups recruit volunteers and build
extensive networks of bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan after 1984. 

This network of conservative Sunni Muslim militants, who became known as
"the Afghans" in the Middle East, also served another purpose for the U.S.
and its allies in the region. Not only were they anti-Communist due to
their rejection of its atheism, they were also opposed to the brand of
Islamic radicalism promoted by the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and its
leader Ayatollah Khomeini largely because it was based on Shiite rather
than Sunni Islamic doctrine, a major doctrinal cleavage within Islam. The
revolution had had toppled a major ally of the U.S., the Shah of Iran, who
played a major role as a pillar of U.S. hegemony in the oil rich Persian
Gulf and was threatening key U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and
other oil rich states. Therefore, the clear aim of U.S. foreign policy
therefore was to kill two birds with one stone: turn back the Soviet Union
and create a counter-weight to radical Iranian inspired threats to U.S.
interests, particularly U.S. backed regimes who controlled the massive oil


But this policy has now turned into a nightmare for the U.S. and has likely
led to the recent attacks against the U.S. in New York and Washington D.C.
After the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan in 1989 the "Afghan" network
became expendable to the U.S. who no longer needed their services. In fact,
the U.S. actively turned against these groups after the Gulf War when a
number of these militants returned home and moved into the violent
opposition against U.S. allied regimes and opposed the U.S. war against
Iraq in 1991. They were particularly opposed to the unprecedented
positioning of U.S. ground troops in Saudi Arabia on the land of the
Islamic holy sites of Mecca and Medina. As a result, in the past decade
there has been a vicious war of intelligence services in the region between
America and its allies and militant Muslim groups. Many Egyptian Islamists
believe the U.S. trained Egyptian police torture techniques like they did
the Shah and his brutal Savak security police. Moreover, the CIA has sent
snatch squads to abduct wanted militants form Muslim countries and return
them to their countries to face almost certain death and imprisonment. 

The primary belief of this loose and militant network of veterans of the
Afghanistan war is that the West, led by the United States, is now waging
war against Muslims around the world and that they have to defend
themselves by any means necessary, including violence and terrorism. They
point to a number of cases where Muslims have born the brunt of violence as
evidence of this war: the Serbian and Croation genocide against Bosnian
Muslims, the Russian war in Chechnya, the Indian occupation of Kashmir, the
Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, the UN sanctions against Iraq and
the U.S. backing of dictatorships in Algeria, Egypt or Saudi Arabia, for
example. They claim that the US either supported the violence or failed to
prevent it in all of these cases. It is these beliefs that enable them to
justify not only targeting U.S. military facilities but also its civilians.

It should be clear that this network is only a very radical fringe of
militants who have decided that they must use armed tactics to get their
message out to the U.S. and others. They differ in important ways with the
wider current of Islamic activism in Arab world and more globally which in
addition to its Islamic orientation has an agenda about social justice and
social change against the dictatorships and corruption in many of the
pro-Western countries in the region. They are anti-Iranian. They are now
anti-Saudi. Their actions have sometimes even been condemned by militant
Muslim organizations ranging from the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt to the
FIS in Algeria to HAMAS in Palestine. They are somewhat disconnected from
these movements in that they do not locate their struggle in a national
context, but rather in a global war on behalf of Muslims. Nevertheless,
they certainly share many common sentiments with this wider current of
Islamic activism. There is no question that the one-sided U.S. support for
Israel, the U.S. sponsorship of sanctions against Iraq as well as U.S.
support for dictatorships across the region have created a fertile ground
for some sympathy with such militancy. 

Osama bin Laden is not the mastermind of these attacks as is often claimed
in the media; he just facilitates these groups and sentiments with
logistics and finances, as do others. He is simply a very visible symbol of
this loose network and the U.S. obsession with him most likely works to
increase his standing as an icon of resistance to the U.S. The network with
which he is linked has no geographical location or fixed center; it appears
to be a kaleidoscopic overlay of cells and interlinkages that span the
globe from camps on the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands to immigrant
communities in Europe and the U.S. 

The rise of this militant network and their adoption of violence against
the United States represents a clear failure of U.S. strategy in the
region, especially the U.S./Saudi/Pakistani model of alliance between
conservative Sunni Islamic activism and the West. The problem is that US
has no alternative political strategy because they see all Islamic
activists as their enemy and refuse to address the root causes of
anti-American sentiments in the region. Moreover, the U.S appears to have
no long-term strategy to address the sources of grievances that the radical
groups share with vast majority of Muslim activists who abhor using violent
methods that would include, for starters, a more balanced approach to the
Israeli/Palestinian conflict, ending the sanctions on Iraq, moving U.S.
military bases out of Saudi Arabia, and supporting the legitimate
aspirations of regional peoples for democracy and human rights. 


Many of us accept the premise that terrorism is a phenomenon that can be
defeated only by amelioration of the conditions that inspire it.
Terrorism's best asset, in the final analysis, is the anger and desperation
that leads people to see no alternative to violence. 

While only a fringe element has seized upon violence as their solution,
many of the world's 1.2 billion Muslim people are understandably aggrieved
by double standards. The U.S. claims that it must impose economic sanctions
on certain countries that violate human rights and/or harbor weapons of
mass destruction. Yet the U.S. largely ignores Muslim victims of human
rights violations in Palestine, Bosnia, Kosovo, Kashmir and Chechnya.
What's more, while the U.S. economy is propped up by weapon sales to
countries around the globe and particularly in the Middle East, the U.S.
insists on economic sanctions to prevent weapon development in Libya,
Sudan, Iran and Iraq. In Iraq, the crippling economic sanctions cost the
lives of 5,000 children, under age five, every month. Over one million
Iraqis have died as a direct result of over a decade of sanctions. Finally,
the U.S. pro-Israel policy unfairly puts higher demands on Palestinians to
renounce violence than on Israelis to halt new settlements and adhere to
U.N. resolutions calling for an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian lands. 

That anger cannot be extinguished by Tomahawk missiles or military
operations. The present U.S. strategy for ending the threat of terrorism
through the use of military force will only exacerbate this anger and
desperation. When innocent U.S. citizens are killed and harmed by blasts at
US embassies or bases, or used as cannon fodder for suicide hijackings, the
U.S. government expects expressions of outrage and grief over brutal
terrorism. But when U.S. Cruise missiles kill and maim innocent Sudanese,
Afghanis, and Pakistanis, the U.S. calls it collateral damage. Even if
Osama bin Laden is killed or captured, the fertile soil that creates such
figures will still be there. Moreover, any attacks may simply serve to
inflame passions and create hosts of new volunteers to their ranks 

There is no justification for the horrendous attacks on innocent American
civilians in New York or Washington. These attacks have served no cause;
they have likely set back efforts to build popular movements and
international solidarity that, in the final analysis, are the best chance
of achieving social justice and change in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Yet, at this difficult time, Americans should critically examine policies
with which Arabs, Muslims and many others have legitimate grievances.
Instead our leaders refuse to admit the flaws in their policies and find it
easier to demonize those in the Arab world who oppose them as a way of
diverting attention from their own mistakes. 

Military solutions to the problems in the Middle East and the terrorism
that has resulted from these problems is not a policy but a recipe for more
violence and bombings. 

Steve Niva teaches International politics and Middle East Studies at the
Evergreen State College.

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