Is­lamist ter­ror­ism: Who’s to blame?

Western pow­ers fell for Osma bin Laden’s provo­ca­tion hook, line and sinker in 2001 – and they are still fall­ing for it 16 years later

Cape Breton Post - - Op-ed - Gwynne Dyer Global Af­fairs Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

It hap­pens af­ter ev­ery ma­jor ter­ror­ist at­tack by Is­lamist ter­ror­ists in a Western coun­try: the fa­mil­iar de­bate about who is re­ally to blame for this phe­nom­e­non. One side trots out the weary old trope that the ter­ror­ists simply “hate our val­ues”, and other side claims that it’s re­ally the fault of Western gov­ern­ments for send­ing their troops into Mus­lim coun­tries.

There’s a na­tional elec­tion cam­paign un­der­way in Bri­tain, so the ghastly Manch­ester bomb­ing last week has re­vived this ar­gu­ment. It started when Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn (who voted against the in­va­sion of Afghanistan in 2001, the in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003, and the seven-month bomb­ing cam­paign that over­threw Libya’s dic­ta­tor Muam­mar Gaddafi in 2011) made a speech in Lon­don on Fri­day.

“Many ex­perts, in­clud­ing pro­fes­sion­als in our in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity ser­vices, have pointed to the con­nec­tions be­tween wars our gov­ern­ment has sup­ported or fought in other coun­tries and ter­ror­ism here at home,” he said.

In a later clar­i­fi­ca­tion, Cor­byn added: “A num­ber of peo­ple since the in­ter­ven­tions in Afghanistan and Iraq have drawn at­ten­tion to the links with for­eign pol­icy, in­clud­ing (Bri­tish for­eign sec­re­tary) Boris John­son in 2005, two for­mer heads of MI5 (the Se­cu­rity Ser­vice), and of course the (par­lia­men­tary) For­eign Af­fairs Se­lect Committee.”

With Labour catch­ing up with the Con­ser­va­tives in the polls, Prime Min­is­ter Teresa May leapt at the chance to twist Cor­byn’s words and all but ac­cused him of trea­son. “Jeremy Cor­byn has said that ter­ror at­tacks in Bri­tain are our own fault ... and I want to make some­thing clear to Jeremy Cor­byn and to you: there can never be an ex­cuse for ter­ror­ism, there can be no ex­cuse for what hap­pened in Manch­ester.”

Boris John­son chimed in: “What­ever we do, we can’t fol­low the logic of the ter­ror­ists and start blam­ing our­selves or our so­ci­ety or our for­eign pol­icy. This has been caused not by us – as Jeremy Cor­byn would have us be­lieve – it’s been caused by a sick ide­ol­ogy, a per­verted ver­sion of Is­lam that hates us and hates our way of life.” It’s the old po­lit­i­cal trick of de­lib­er­ately mis­tak­ing ex­pla­na­tion for jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.

But both sides in this ar­gu­ment are wrong. The “Salafi” ex­trem­ists who are called “Is­lamists” in the West (all of them Sun­nis, and most of them Arabs) do hate Western val­ues, but that’s not why they go to the trou­ble of mak­ing ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the West. And it’s not be­cause of Western for­eign poli­cies ei­ther: there were no ma­jor Western at­tacks on the Arab world in the years be­fore the 9/11 atroc­ity in 2001.

There had been plenty of at­tacks in the past: the Western con­quest of al­most all the Arab coun­tries be­tween 1830 and 1918, Western mil­i­tary sup­port for carv­ing a Zion­ist state out of the Arab world as the Euro­pean im­pe­rial pow­ers were pulling out af­ter 1945, Western mil­i­tary back­ing for Arab dic­ta­tors and ab­so­lute monar­chs ever since.

The West turned against one of those dic­ta­tors, Iraq’s Sad­dam Hus­sein, af­ter he in­vaded Kuwait, but it had the sup­port of most Arab coun­tries when it drove him out of Kuwait in the first Gulf War in 1990-91. And be­tween then and 9/11 the West did noth­ing much to en­rage the Arab world. In­deed, it was even back­ing the Pales­tinian-Is­raeli “peace process,” which looked quite promis­ing at that time.

But there was vi­o­lence in many Arab coun­tries as Is­lamist rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, us­ing ter­ror­ist tac­tics, tried to over­throw the lo­cal kings and dic­ta­tors. Up to 200,000 Arabs were killed in these bloody strug­gles be­tween 1979 and 2000, but not one of the re­pres­sive regimes was over­thrown. By the turn of the cen­tury it was clear that ter­ror­ism against Arab regimes was not work­ing. To win power, the Is­lamists needed a new strat­egy.

The man who supplied it was Osama bin Laden. He had missed out on the long ter­ror­ist war in the Arab coun­tries be­cause he went to Afghanistan to fight a Soviet in­va­sion in 1979. But in Afghanistan he fought in a war that Is­lamists ac­tu­ally won: hav­ing lost 14,000 dead, the Rus­sians gave up and went home in 1989. The Afghan Is­lamists (the Tal­iban) came to power as a re­sult.

Bin Laden re­al­ized that this could be a route to power for the Is­lamists of the Arab world as well: pro­voke the West to in­vade Mus­lim coun­tries, lead the strug­gle against the Western oc­cu­pa­tion forces – and when the Western armies fi­nally give up and go home (as they al­ways do in the end) the Is­lamists will come to power.

That was why he founded al-Qaeda, and 9/11 was in­tended to sucker the United States into play­ing the role of in­fi­del in­vader. Western gov­ern­ments have never rec­og­nized this ob­vi­ous fact be­cause they are too ar­ro­gant ever to see them­selves as simply the dupes in some­body else’s strat­egy. Their for­eign pol­icy er­ror was to fall for bin Laden’s provo­ca­tion hook, line and sinker – and they are still fall­ing for it 16 years later.

“There can be no ex­cuse for what hap­pened in Manch­ester.”


A po­lice of­fi­cer wipes away tears as he looks at flow­ers and tributes left in St Ann’s Square in Manch­ester, Eng­land, on Mon­day. Bri­tish po­lice ar­rested a 23-year-old man Mon­day on the south coast of Eng­land, hun­dreds of miles south of Manch­ester, in the widen­ing in­quiry into the deadly con­cert bomb­ing. The ar­rest means that 14 men are now in cus­tody in Bri­tain for sus­pected roles in the May 22 bomb­ing of an Ari­ana Grande con­cert that killed more than 20 peo­ple.

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