Our national discourse has blinded itself to the fact that, although the world is full of terrorists, nearly all act on behalf of causes irrelevant to America. Nor do we try to explain how the causes of foreign states and their satellite groups have helped create the wave of terrorism that now washes over us. The following tries to provide that explanation. align=”left” Part three of a special four-part series. Read part one, part two, and part four.
In a nutshell: Some states—for example, Cuba and the Soviet Union/Russia—use terrorism as an adjunct of foreign policy driven partly by ideology. For others, like Iran, terrorist groups such as Hezbollah are straightforward extensions of their apparatus. The Muslim world’s regimes use terrorism instead of open warfare. Politics-by-terrorism is the default mode of the Third World’s domestic politics as well. Saudi Arabia, the munificent mother house of Wahhabism, is in a particular category. Whenever states have used or fostered terrorist groups or motivated terrorists by ideology, they have set in motion people and events that have their own independent dynamics.
Some terrorism was explicitly crafted to go against America. The prime example is the Soviet Union’s Tricontinental Organization, which held its founding conference in Havana in 1965 under a banner of crossed submachine guns and was supported by a bureaucracy in Prague, which involved groups from around the world, including the then-aggressively secular Palestine Liberation Organization and some Islamist groups. The Latin American terrorist groups patronized by Cuba, including Colombia’s FARC, have notable anti-American roots.
But the anti-American focus of the Muslim world’s terrorism is a creature of circumstances, in which the United States itself has played a role. While Islam is foreign to and incompatible with America, there is nothing specifically anti-American about it. The Iranian revolution’s anti-American focus had nothing to do with Shia theology and everything with the fact that it was working against the American-allied Shah with the Soviet Union’s help.
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded to purge the Muslim world of Western influence. Its modern theorist, Sayyid Qutb, saw America as repugnant but he did not necessarily view it as an enemy. Aware of this, the State Department and CIA have bent U.S. policy backward to make friends with Islamists—all to no avail, because America continues to take part in maintaining that influence, sometimes by supporting its geopolitical allies, such as the Saudi monarchy. It was in support of the Saudis that the U.S. government stopped Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. After that, secular Saddam fostered all manner of terrorism against America, cleverly doing so in Islam’s name.
The point here is the Muslim terrorists who were set in motion against America in Islam’s name on behalf of whomever and for whatever raison d’etat often merged religious reasons, secular reasons, and reasons of private interest seamlessly. The U.S. ruling class has never understood this. George W. Bush’s argument that U.S. troops in Iraq were fighting the terrorists there so we would not have to fight them here was willful ignorance.
Post-Saddam Iraq was overrun by terrorists, alright. But they were Sunni and Shia terrorists terrorizing to subdue each other’s communities. In 2003, they had nothing against America. The one out of four Iraqi Arabs who were Sunni, having ruled the Shia (and Kurds) brutally for their own benefit during and before the Saddam era, reacted to the Shia’s new assertiveness by trying to terrorize them into continuing their privileges.
The many groups that made up the Sunni insurgency got structure and support from the remnants of Saddam’s intelligence service under Izzat Ibrahim al Douri, who was well connected with Syria’s ruling Ba’ath party, as well as from Saudi Arabia. Some Sunni groups got money directly from donors in the Persian Gulf or arranged through al-Qaeda. Regardless of pledged allegiance and sources of support, these people had as their main focus the protection of their Sunni friends from Shia and crushing Shia power. None of these Iraqi terrorists became slaves to their outside supporters. The Iraqi Ba’athists, in particular, became the core of ISIS, which took substantial parts of Syria away from Syria’s Ba’ath party.
In fact, notwithstanding our ruling class’s parrot-talk according to which the many terrorists in Syria, Somalia, Libya, etc. are “branches,” “offshoots,” or “affiliates” (whatever that means) of al-Qaeda or ISIS, they are killing and dying for causes vital to themselves but irrelevant to the rest of the world. The relationship between these supposed vines and branches is seldom more than the internet. Moreover their adversaries, in addition to their country’s government, are others like themselves among whom alliances and enmities are fluid.
What Does This Have to Do With Us?
Thus blinkered, U.S. foreign policy is reflexively about supporting just about all central governments against their foes, conveniently labeled “terrorists”—which they often are, but whose relationship with U.S. interests is tenuous if it exists at all.
In Somalia, Al Shaabab (meaning, “the youth”) are Wahhabi Muslims who rose against their government’s corruption in 2006, pledged fealty to al-Qaeda six years later, and are the government’s major opposition. The local ISIS “affiliate” is essentially a northern regional force with local grievances. They are at war with one another. It is doubtful that their fighters had ever heard of America in any meaningful way, before American bombs, dropped in support of Somalia’s central government, started falling on them. The U.S. government imported thousands of Somalis to the Minneapolis area. It would be surprising if their passions regarding Somalia’s civil war did not involve anger toward America.
Libya has three self-proclaimed governments, each a coalition of some 20 semi-independent brigades. Beyond them are an equal number of wholly independent ones that constantly change alliances with one another and with the so-called governments. All, and the components thereof, are based on local ethnic or kinship groups and are supported by some 10 foreign governments as well as al-Qaeda and ISIS. Of course, all are terrorists. The weight of the support, or contracts, with the foreign entities relative to the several groups’ interests changes by the day.
Who burned down the U.S consulate in Benghazi in 2012 and killed the U.S. ambassador? Terrorists, of course. But what kind and why? The U.S government and media’s alternative views of the event—a spontaneous popular reaction to an anti-Muslim video by an American Coptic Christian, or a prelude to terrorism in America itself—are equally ignorant. It seems that the military operation aimed to stop the U.S embassy’s role in transferring Libyan government weapons to America’s favorite factions in the Syrian civil war. Again, the United States got involved in others’ wars and got burned.
Generations of meddling in the Muslim world’s quarrels have placed America foremost in the minds of countless Muslims who otherwise would have thought little or nothing of it. States and groups, for their own purposes, have animated terrorism against America. For the hundreds involved, that terrorism became a way of life. For millions more, anti-American terrorism became part of what they believe should be the proper identity for an Arab or a Muslim.
Terrorism by states and major groups has affected America rarely. But the spread of a terrorist mentality to the Muslims who the U.S government has imported, and among the native U.S. population, is disfiguring the American body politic. That will be the subject of the next essay.
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