Do terrorists hate us because of who we are (our way of life) or what we do (our foreign policy)? During a recent Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, this question, which has been asked and answered many times since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, resurfaced once again. And, once again, Mayor Giuliani gave the right answer.
Mayor Giuliani said that the hatred fueling al-Qaeda and like-minded terrorist groups has “nothing to do with our foreign policy.” Instead, “It has to do with their ideas, their theories, the things that they have done and the way they’ve perverted their religion into a hatred of us.”
For the New York Times, Mayor Giuliani’s remarks were unacceptable. In a follow-up article published last week, the Old Gray Lady counted the mayor’s comments among the many “incorrect, misleading or incomplete” statements made by presidential hopefuls in recent debates. “While the underlying motives of terrorists are manifold and complex,” the Times explained, “American foreign policy has often been one of their complaints.”
The “complaints” referenced by the Times can be found in our terrorist enemies’ propaganda. They are not legitimate concerns about what America does around the world. They are part of a message designed to weaken our resolve in this long war and say nothing about their real motives for attacking us. While Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri may find it convenient to blame America for their terror, we should not buy into their blame game. And we need a president who does not endorse our enemies’ propaganda either.
Raymond Ibrahim explains the difference between our enemies’ propaganda and their real motives in his excellent book, The Al Qaeda Reader. Ibrahim says the theme of our enemies’ propaganda is “always the same.” In its messages to the West, al Qaeda says it “is merely retaliating for all the injustices the West, and the United States in particular, has brought upon Muslims.” However, the rationale al-Qaeda offers in its theological treatises, which were composed to justify their terror “within an Islamic framework,” are very different. In these statements, al-Qaeda’s hatred of everything we stand for shines through.
Democracy, women’s rights, secularism, and the right to pursue the faith of our choice are just some of the aspects of Western society al-Qaeda’s leaders cite as evidence of our supposed moral decay. Indeed, they argue “practically everything valued by the immoral West is condemned under sharia law.” That is, our Western society is wholly at odds with the fascist laws they seek to impose. We are, in al-Qaeda’s words, the “infidels” and the “Great Satan” and deserve to die.
Al Qaeda’s hatred is not new. Islamic terrorists have hated us for decades. One of the most influential jihadist ideologues of the twentieth century, Sayyid Qutb, seethed with hatred for America after studying in Colorado in the late 1940’s. Qutb hated everything about the America he saw, from jazz music to the mingling of the sexes at church dances. Qutb clearly hated us for who we are, and not our supposedly flawed policies. Al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorists around the world are the proud heirs of his hate today. Qutb’s writings are still among the most widely cited in jihadist circles.
Contrary to what our enemies’ propaganda would have you believe, America is not an enemy of Muslims — al-Qaeda and their ilk are. America has repeatedly come to the aid of Muslims around the world. History is replete with examples, but several will suffice: the U.S. assisted Muslims against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s; freed the Muslim nation of Kuwait and prevented the invasion of Saudi Arabia by a supposedly secular tyrant in 1991; and intervened on behalf of Muslims in Somalia and Bosnia in the 1990s.
According to our enemies, none of this counts. Instead, bin Laden and Zawahiri tell us that America is part of a “Zionist-Crusader” alliance, bent on world domination over Muslims. In their propaganda, they reinterpret every American act as part of some elaborate conspiracy against the Muslim world. Such a fantasy is plainly absurd.
The terrorists we confront today do not just hate us. They have perverted their proud religion into a hatred of all who oppose them, including moderate Muslims. In countries the world over, from Afghanistan to Algeria, al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists have repeatedly targeted Muslims who do not adhere to their radical brand of Islam. In Iraq today, al-Qaeda routinely targets Muslims who do not endorse their wicked ideology. It is the al-Qaeda suicide bomber who kills innocent Iraqi civilians without remorse, and not the American soldier.
The truth is our terrorist enemies hate us, and anyone else who opposes them, for who we are. Mayor Giuliani understands this. And more than six years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the New York Times illustrates why his leadership is needed. We have no time to indulge in the conspiratorial “Blame America First” propaganda of our enemies. They alone are to blame for their terror.
– Thomas Joscelyn is the senior terrorism adviser to the Giuliani campaign and a terrorism researcher, writer, and economist living in New York.