Al-Qaida types did not just spring from the soil of Islam; they were fertilized by decades of shortsighted U.S. policies, argues civil rights lawyer KAMRAN MEMON
America, which has a long history in the Muslim world, is at war with a violent, self-proclaimed Islamist movement. As a result, thousands of Americans and Muslims have died in recent years, and thousands more will die.
Just last week, it was reported that the most comprehensive intelligence assessment of the threat to the United States since 9/11 had found that al-Qaida and related groups have grown stronger.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Many Americans believe that American foreign policy toward the Muslim world had nothing to do with 9/11. They argue that al-Qaida would have attacked America even if America had no contact with Muslims because al-Qaida seeks to establish a worldwide caliphate.
It’s true that al-Qaida wants an Islamic caliph to rule the planet, but why does al-Qaida attack powerful Western countries which have intervened in the Muslim world, rather than weaker Western countries which have had neutral relations with Muslims? And why do some Muslims sacrifice their wealth and lives to launch these attacks?
If America had not provided military support over the decades to help keep the Saudi monarchy in power, and if the Saudi people had been permitted to govern themselves, anti-American hostility would not have been widespread in Saudi Arabia today. Instead, a frustrated Saudi Arabia produced Osama bin Ladin and 15 of the 9/11 hijackers. The same is true of American support for Egyptian dictators; Egypt ultimately produced much of bin Ladin’s inner circle and one of the 9/11 hijackers.
If America had not helped overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953 and replaced it with a pro-American dictator, there probably would have been no Islamic Revolution (and no American hostages) in 1979. Today, it’s entirely possible that a democratic Iran would have been a friend of America.
If America had been an honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians over the decades, showing genuine sympathy for both sides, much of the Muslim world would not have concluded that America loathes Muslims.
And of course, if America had not invaded Iraq after 9/11 and instead had set out to repair relationships with Muslims, it is likely that the threat from al-Qaida and like-minded groups would be shrinking instead of growing.
America has had its reasons for the decisions it has made. But decisions have consequences; if America had made other decisions, and if America had chosen to simply trade with Muslims instead of meddling so forcefully in their politics, a more developed Muslim world probably would have been pro-American today.
In a Muslim world focused on economic and political development, there would have been no popular support for attacking Americans. If a would-be caliph had asked for volunteers to hijack planes and fly them into the World Trade Center, he would have found no takers. Why would Muslims want to fight an old friend?
Yes, it’s true that there are verses in the Koran (or Recitation) which can be interpreted to call for world domination. Yes, it’s true that, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, early Muslims fought wars and expanded the Islamic empire. Yes, it’s true that, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, Muslim pirates attacked American ships near North Africa for religious and economic reasons.
But the vast majority of Muslims do not believe that the Koran demands world domination, and there had been no effort to attempt it for well over a century — until American intervention angered the Muslim world.
Now, as America faces off against a deadly enemy, understanding how we got to this point could help America drive a wedge between al-Qaida and its Muslim supporters.
Does understanding history mean that I’m excusing the actions of terrorists who kill innocent Americans? Does understanding history mean I think America should be soft on terrorists plotting to blow up American trains or buses or shopping malls?
No and no. I’m an American Muslim by choice. I ride trains and buses, and I shop in malls. I don’t want to die or have my limbs blown off.
But it’s frustrating to see the political discourse dominated by American elites who pretend that American foreign policy toward Muslims has had nothing to do with the amount of anger in the Muslim world. If Muslims attack America, these elites argue, it’s solely because of who the Muslims are, not because of what America has done to them. Or, as President Bush has put it, “They hate us for our freedom.”
This point of view marginalizes anyone who seeks to understand America’s relationship with the Muslim world. For example, at a recent debate among Republican presidential candidates, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani mocked Rep. Ron Paul of Texas for saying that al-Qaida attacked America on 9/11 in reaction to prior American intervention in the Muslim world. The audience cheered Mr. Giuliani, and the other candidates piled on.
By burning bridges to the Muslim world over the decades, these elites have made me and my family, and all other Americans, less safe.
It may not be too late to rebuild them. But time is running short and the casualties are mounting.
Kamran Memon is a Chicago civil rights attorney and founder of Muslims For A Safe America ( muslimsforasafeamerica.org ).
Also publised Sunday, July 22, 2007 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette