15 years ago, 15 boys from Saudi Arabia, 2 children from Egypt, 1 boy from Lebanon, and another from the UAE hijacked four large commercial airliners with transcontinental routes and flew them into three buildings.
They accomplished their mission of terror, which was to terrify America into acting against its own self interests. we show no real sign of making this war of terror any shorter than the 132 year long war between the English and the French. I fully expect it to last longer, actually. Neither side has a set territory they are willing to cal, their own. Neither side has a corner they can retreat to when all the blood is shed and decide at long last that this war is not worth it.
In those last 15 years, we pretty immediately gave up a lot of our freedoms as Americans, because any of us could suddenly be terrorists. Also, the best explanation given for why they attacked us was that that they hated us for our freedoms. It follows that reducing freedoms of free association, speech, habeas corpus, and due process should have made them hate us less. Alas, they haven’t.
To find the roots of global Jihad, the crusades are not a very good starting place that was strictly military, not personal. The real root of Jihad is in the colonial period, when European powers began throwing their weight around the world stage in the 1700s. This was happening at eh same time as the enlightenment and the rise of liberal democracy in the west. The irony of increasing freedoms for Europeans and decreasing freedoms for the new serfs in Asia, Africa and the Americas was not lost on the rest.
Fortunately , Islam offered a strictly egalitarian vision of salvation. The notion of equality in the eyes of Allah was a refreshing break form the hierarchy of colonial masters, their tinpot puppet dictators, and the local street thugs and police of the typical middle eastern cities like Damascus or Baghdad. Terrorism, insurgency, and guerrilla warfare is voice by another means. I guarantee the 19 boys thought they were in the right. It is a strategic error to think of them as objectively evil.
Two things have not been lost on the average mid-easterner: The place of the west in propping up these dictators, and the dual morality of the west’s enlightenment preaching of equality at home, and oppression and inequality abroad. This oppression occurs both through familiar and compliant dictators, and for the sake of favorable trade deals. This does not leave a lot of the middle east with a favorable impression of the the Shining City on the Hill. It does leave them with a favorable impression of those who could dare to poke the west in the eye, however. Think of the way we felt between September 12 and October 12: our petty squabbles irrelevant in the face of a common foe. This is the way the people of Iraq and Afghanistan saw us in the next decade. This is the way the citizens of countless villages from Mali to Malaysia see us whenever we kill a dozen or a hundred people to get at one terror suspect.
I was recently challenged to do what the US military has never done: define terms of victory. I would call victory a time when global Islam is every bit as truculent and controversial as global Judaism. Actually, given that there are about 17 million Jews in the world and over 1 billion Muslims in the world, I would already declare “Mission Accomplished” on that merit. We will know that we have won the war on terror when the people of the middle east are happy doing something other than nursing grievances against their governments, the west, or the faceless drones that kill in the name of America.
The solution to that doesn’t look like Jeffersonian Democracy for one very important reason: it wasn’t their idea or their force that liberated the people of Iraq or Afghanistan. If France invaded the British colonies in 1776 with an eye to overthrowing the British power structure, you can bet the colonists would put aside their squabbles with the crown to fight against the greater, common threat.
That is exactly what we did by treating the war of terror as a military war. We made terrorism appealing. The Taliban, Al Qaeda, Daesh, and Salafists have killed way more Muslims than they have westerners in their attacks. They should be outlaws and villains among their own people, outcast and powerless. Except we keep making their cause seem just by our devoted campaign to killing terror suspects mixed in with civilian populations, supporting dictators like Al-Sisi who crush Egyptian freedom to speech, association, and assembly in the name of combating terrorism*, and invading/occupying nations like Iraq and Afghanistan.
I am an American, who values American values and taking my responsibility as a citizen of America and the west. I would rephrase my terms of victory thus: Islam should be as suspicious to Americans as Judaism is today. Americans are not terrified of Jews. There is no reason that we should be terrified of Muslims. That we are is a sure sign that the terrorists are winning.
It was the terrorist’s idea to attack us, however. If they want to quit waging war on us, they need to quit thinking it is worth their while. Every one of our military attacks, every civilian casualty, and every law against the equal rights of Muslims convinces them of the justice of their cause.
The reflexive efforts of Europeans to ban Burkinis and Hijabs only reinforces this seances of alienation; of opposition. The people walking in the street, making their living, are not the people the govern should be harassing. The government only reinforces Daesh’s case that their people are worth opposing, rising up against, and terrifying. The Koran is like any totalizing text that claims to know God, from the Vedas to Dianetics. It can bed used to justify atrocities. What we need is less interest in atrocities, not less interest in Islam.
If we are to convince the mideast that we are not their enemy, we must convince them that they have a stake in the American prospect. The American prospect must in its turn fulfill its rosy** goals as a force for freedom and prosperity, not cynical support of existing wealth and dictatorship. Terrorists hate us because they are not free to hate their own governments. If we want to in this thing we should let them fight for better governance over there, not fight us over here.
* Al-Sisi has long been the darling of Neo-Conservatives, who love the un-self-conscious power of people like him and Putin.
** Not bloody.