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Reflections on transnational terrorism
Remembering The Past And Imagining The Future

By Mansour Farhang
September 10, 2002
The Iranian

I fully agree with Afsaneh Najmabadi ["Wrong, regardless"] that we must categorically condemn the calamity of 9/11 in no uncertain terms. Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that many decent people in all Middle Eastern countries, while expressing sympathy for the victims, tend to see the pathological attack on America as an understandable response to U. S. policies in the region.

To the extend that the war on terrorism pursues murderers and murderous organizations, as distinguished from being a ploy to suppress dissent, it must include a concern for the legitimate grievances that provide moral harbor for the random killers.

Over the past year I have lectured on this theme before a dozen university and community groups. Based on the comments I have heard from various audiences, I am convinced that most Americans are anxious to hear explanations on the sources of the resentment many Middle Easterners feel toward Washington. This is a delicate challenge because one has to show the logic of the resentment without sounding soft on terrorists or insensitive to their victims.

Below is an example of my attempts to meet the challenge. It is the text of a speech I gave, under the sponsorship of the Vermont Council on the Humanities, in the Vermont State House in Montpelier on February 6, 2002.

Modern terrorism blurs the distinction between war and crime. The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon represent both an act of war against a sovereign state and a crime against humanity. Terrorism has existed throughout history. The most famous predecessors of modern terrorists are the Zealots who fought the Romans in the first century CE, the Assassins who operated in the Islamic world from 11th to 13th century and the Thugs of India who were active for hundreds of years until the late 19th century. (1)

Contemporary terrorism can be divided into two general groupings, national and transnational. National terrorists represent separatist, independent or liberation objectives. They use violence against innocent individuals as part of a strategy for identifiable political goals. Transnational terrorism, on the other hand, is ideological, religious, apocalyptic and amorphous in its justification or demand. What did the planners and executors of the September 11 attacks expect to accomplish? Psychological explanations may provide a clue to their mindset, but they cannot help us find a rational or negotiable purpose in their acts.

During the 1960s and 1970s only doctrinaire leftists were associated with transnational terrorism. Today, all identified transnational terrorist groups seem to be religious. Terrorists, whether religious or secular, subscribe to an extreme version of consequentialist morality. They believe an act is just if it produces the right results. To prove the rightness of their acts, terrorists are quick to produce a list of grievances and justify their views by referring to sacred texts, ideological tracts, or edicts by deified leaders.

Violence has been a part of both religion and Marxism when used as state ideology. Proponents of both religious and Marxist totalitarianism equally subscribe to the idea that 'there is a time to kill' and a time to praise the martyrs. Religiously motivated terrorists commit their crimes believing that they are emulating God. After all, "The fifth plague with which God punishes the Pharaoh in the story of the Israelites Exodus from Egypt is murrain, a group of cattle diseases that include anthrax." (2)

Apocalyptic prophecies envision a series of catastrophes as signs of the Messiah's imminent appearance or reappearance. The millenarians are convinced that God sets the exact date of the return, but they nevertheless want to speed the process along through prayer, repentance, self-sacrifice and terrorism.

Members of al Qaeda (Arabic for foundation), like all politically motivated terrorists, see themselves as inspired heroes at war against powerful enemies. As a manager of terror, Osama bin Laden claims to speak for Islam and the grievances of Muslims not only against their own governments but, more importantly, against the secular West in general and America in particular. His message has various degrees of resonance among the peoples of the Middle East, not out of sympathy for his terrorism but because the corrupt and cruel regimes ruling them depend on the American power for their survival.

The first definition of terrorism in the Oxford English Dictionary refers to "government by intimidation as carried out by the party in power in France during the Revolution of 1789 - 1797." This definition fits the governing system of nearly all contemporary Middle Eastern states. It is indeed a sad truth that various forms of despotism or autocracy reign in the region. In a spectrum ranging from rule by consent of the governed and rule by coercion, I place Turkey at center right and Iraq at the dead end, one resembling a semi democracy and the other a truly criminal state. Except for Israel, the rest of regimes in the area fall somewhere in between.

Israel is a lively democracy for its Jewish citizens and a semi democracy for its Arab inhabitants, it is a harsh apartheid state for the three million Palestinians who live under its occupation. The separation of regimes from peoples in the Middle Eastern countries and Washington's alliance with such regimes since W. W. II are at the root of popular resentment toward the United States in the region.

It is important to add that anti-Americanism is not always the result of Washington's action or inaction. America's popular cultural products have penetrated the living spaces of many poor people in distant lands. This phenomenon, emanating from Hollywood, the capital of America's soft power, makes America both a seducer and a menace in many societies throughout the world.

The familiar images of sex, violence and consumer goods are provocative and give rise to the kind of expectations that are bound to be frustrated, which, in turn, causes resentment toward the source of the seductive but inaccessible images. This resentment, however, has nothing to do with terrorism; otherwise we should be facing armies of terrorists from Africa, Asia, Latin America and other places where acute poverty exists. The causes of terrorism are too complex to be reduced to economic deprivation or cultural alienation.

Given the potential of transnational terrorism to restrict freedom of movement and assembly in democratic societies, it is an urgent duty of democratic states to use all the resources at their disposal - military, intelligence, and diplomacy - to deter and punish the perpetrators and supporters of terrorist acts. Counterterrorism is a more accurate term to describe this struggle than the metaphor of war. In conventional warfare there is a known enemy and a prospect for closure. These attributes are absent in countrterrorism, which is a long-term and multidimensional campaign without the expectation of a clear conclusion.

The American government and its allies have done an effective job of responding to the planners and sponsors of the 9/11 attacks. What remains to be done is to address the moral harboring of terrorists. We can eliminate terrorists and their training camps with cruise missiles, precision bombing, and Special Forces, but these instruments are not helpful in attending to the people who provide a base of popular sympathy for terrorists or terrorism. We need to persuade the poor, the frustrated, the humiliated and the oppressed that America does not see them as objects to be manipulated and abused. Cruse missiles can deal with the terrorists, but they cannot remedy the kind of hurt and abandonment that enhance the cultivation of new terrorists.

Sustained transnational terrorism requires self-sacrificing individuals; covert or overt state support and some sympathy among those in whose name cruel acts are committed. Public approval, however silent and implicit, for al Qaeda and other transnational terrorists in the Middle Eastern countries is the focus of my analysis. What is the nature and extend of this support? Where does it come from? Why does it exist? Is it logical in the sense that other human beings with a different religion or cultural orientation could comprehend it?

To understand how ordinary people could come to resent U. S. policies to such an extend that they are willing to overlook the cruelty and criminality of terrorist acts, I will briefly illustrate four instances of American involvement in the political affairs of the region in the course of which common people came to perceive U. S. behavior as callous, insulting and humiliating. The anti Soviet Afghan war, the Iran - Iraq war of the 1980s, the Persian Gulf war 1991 and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are the four cases I will discuss to illustrate my point.

DURING THE ANTI SOVIET AFGHAN WAR, the United States encouraged the formation of the first transnational religious movement against the Soviet Union. According to Milton Bearden, the CIA agent responsible for the agency's covert action in Afghnistan, among the fighters who joined this movement "there were genuine volunteers on missions of humanitarian value, there were adventure seekers looking for paths to glory, and there were psychopaths.

As the war dragged on, a number of Arab states discreetly emptied their prisons of homegrown troublemakers and sent them off to the jihad with the fervent hope that they might not return. Over the ten years of war as many as 25, 000 Arabs may have passed through Pakistan and Afghanistan." (3) This was the time when Osama bin Laden and America were fighting on the same fight.

The United States spent an estimated $6 billion in aid to the mujahedeen (holy warriors) between 1980 and 1992. American funds were matched by Saudi Arabia. Other Islamic countries and a number of European states also made financial contributions to the anti-Soviet struggle. Most of the international aid to the mujahedeen was in the form of lethal modern weaponry given to a simple agricultural people who used it with devastating results.

Prior to the war, militant Islamic fundamentalism had little support in Afghan society. American and Saudi money enabled the Afghan and Pakistani radical puritans to build a movement and wield clout among Afghan warriors. The orphan children of the war were sent to madrasses (religious schools) in Pakistan to study the Koran and learn fighting skills to become future soldiers. Many of these children, often referred to as the children of jihad, were born in Pakistan refugee camps.

The young Taliban (religious students) grew up knowing nothing about their own country. They lived and were indoctrinated in a community of brothers, without women - mothers or sisters. These orphan boys only studied or memorized the Koranic injunctions and edicts. As Ahmad Rashid has observed:

The mullahs who had taught them stressed that women were a temptation, an unnecessary distraction from being of service to Allah. So when the Taliban entered Kandahar and confined women to their homes by barring them from
working, going to school and even from shopping, the majority of these madrassa boys saw nothing unusual in such measures. They felt threatened by that half of the human race, which they had never known and it was much easier to lock that half away, especially if it was ordained by the mullahs who invoked primitive Islamic injunctions, which had no basis in Islamic law. The subjugation of women became the mission of the true believer and a fundamental marker that differentiated the Taliban from the former mujahedeen. (4)

In its decade long war with the Soviet Union, Afghanistan suffered more than a million dead and 2 million injured. At the end of the war, there were 6 million Afghan refugees in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. Moreover, most of the wealthy and educated Afghans moved to Europe, North America and Australia. In February 1989, the Soviet troops left Afghanistan but their departure, instead of bringing peace to the country, turned out to be the beginning of a national disaster.

Of all the resources the United States devoted to the task of containing the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the amount spent in Afghanistan has to be regarded as the most profitable investment of the period. For the defeat the Afghan fighters inflicted on the Soviet army contributed to and expedited the demise of Communism.

Given the immense human costs the people of Afghnistan paid for their victory, many of them thought Washington would remain engaged in their country at the end of the war and give the competing fighters some incentive for cooperation and reconstruction. After all, President Ronald Reagan had described the mujadedeen as freedom fighters and considered them allies in the struggle to contain Communism.

One could expect that Mr. Reagan's successor would want to help the people who were so generously praised by his boss. Instead, President Bush quit Afghanistan and passively watched it to "spun into anarchy [and become] the home of a new and little understood threat; the grieved Arab extremists." (5)

In early 1990s, the Arab extremists, under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, took sanctuary in lawless Afghanistan and transformed al Qaeda, an already existing militant group in Egypt, into a unique transnational terrorist network. Ben Ladin's financial resources and organizational skill were crucial to al Qaeda's appeal and operation. Thomas Friedman has described Osama bin Laden as a cross between Charlie Manson and Jack Welch. It is hard to improve this description.

Once the United States exited the Afghan scene, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran quickly moved to support their favorite warlords in order to gain sectarian advantage and become influential in the evolving politics and economics of Central Asia. Rivalries among these and other players in the area intensified the ongoing fratricide in Afghanistan and paved the way for the ascendancy of the Taliban and al Qaeda. One could argue that Washington had little leverage to mediate the country's factional rivalries, but the fact that it did not try was a betrayal of the Afghan people. In the decade before September 11 Washington revisited the abandoned land twice, in very contradictory ways.

On August 20, 1998, the United States launched one hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles into Osama bin Laden's residence as retaliation against his presumed involvement in the bombing of U. S. embassy buildings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. And then again in May 2001 the Bush administration gave the Taliban $43 million for supposedly outlawing the cultivation of opium. This was a reward for an ally against the drug war. To my knowledge, Robert Sheer of the Los Angeles Times was the only journalist who wrote a critical article about the gift to the Taliban.

It is worth noting that in the winter of 2000 a scholar connected to the Republican party, Zelmay Khalilzad published an insightful article about Afghanistan in The Washington Quartery, urging American foreign policy makers to reengage in Afghanistan and try to confront Taliban's sponsorship of terrorism and to regional stability. Since Afghanistan was hardly on the American radar screen, it is doubtful that either the Clinton administration or anyone on candidate Bush's foreign policy team even read the article. Mr. Khalilzad is an American of Afghan origin and after the establishment of Hamid Karsai's interim government, President Bush appointed him as his special envoy to Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON'S CALLOUSNESS AND OPPORTUNISM was also on display during the Iran-Iraq war. This war was a feud between two megalomaniacs, Khomeini and Saddam Hussein. It was a clear assault on the interests and sensibilities of the two nations. Nearly a million Iranians and Iraqis died in the fighting and their national economies were devastated, but Washington did everything in its power to prolong the war. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger expressed the essence of United States policy when he said "the ultimate American interest" in the Iran-Iraq war would be served if "both sides lose."

The Reagan operatives' diligent pursuit of this "ultimate American interest" led to secret arms deal between the White House and the two protagonists; it also intensified the fighting and contributed to the massive buildup of the Iraqi military machine. Forty-two states sold arms to the uncontested despots in Tehran and Baghdad; and twelve, including all five members of the United Nations Security Council, sold arms to both sides. According to the United Nations envoy charged with negotiating an end to the war, in July 1988, days before a cease-fire agreement was to be signed by the warring states, Secretary of State George Schultz made a bold attempt to halt the U. N. mediation. (6)

When Iraq dropped chemical bombs on Iranian troops, Washington chose to be mute. A number of European states and international human rights organizations raised the issue but the Reagan administration remained indifferent. Saddam Hussein was considered an asset at the time and Washington chose to overlook the incident. Days after the ceasefire took effect in August 1988, Iraq used poison gas against its own Kurdish population and Washington did not object. Thousands of civilians died as a result of Iraq's repeated use of chemical weapons, but there was no talk of U.S. or UN sanction against Iraq. Washinton's silence in the face of Iraq's use of chemical weapons gave Saddam Hussein the impression that he could continue his weapons program unimpeded.

It is necessary to remember America's accommodating treatment of Iraq during the 1980s, if we want to understand why Saddam Hussein decided to invade Kuwait in August 1990. The turning point in this sorry history was the 1982 decision of the Reagan administration to take Iraq off the list of countries known to sponsor terrorism, making it eligible to receive high-tech items generally denied to those on the list. Since the end of the Persian Gulf War of 1991, the US has repeatedly accused Iraq of maintaining a program to develop "nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the missiles to develop them." (7) What most of us do not know is that the US supplied Iraq with much of the raw material for creating a chemical and biological warfare program. (8)

During the 1980s, US companies sold Iraq more than 1 billion dollars worth of the components needed to build nuclear weapons and diverse types of missiles, including the infamous Scud. According to a 1994 Senate report, private American suppliers licensed by the US Department of Commerce, exported a variety of biological and chemical materials to Iraq from 1985 through 1989. As the Senate report states, "these biological materials were not attenuated or weakened and were capable of reproduction. It was later learned that these microorganisms exported by the United States, were identical to those the United Nations inspectors found and removed from the Iraqi biological warfare program." The exports continued to at least November 28, 1989, despite evidence that Iraq had used chemical and biological weapons as early as 1984. In short, Saddam Hussein interpreted the attitude of the Reagan and Bush administrations toward him as a green light to pursue his own expansionist agenda.

THE PERSIAN GULF WAR OF 1991 is the third example I wish to use to develop my argument. In the early days of America's confrontation with Saddam Hussein, President George Bush generated the hope of a new dawn in United States policy toward the Middle East when he repeatedly referred to Saddam as "Baghdad's dictator." Such condemnation had an unsettling sound. We all knew the despotic character of the Iraqi leader, but hearing it from Bush, who until the day of the invasion had viewed him as a person with whom he could work, was somewhat mystifying. After all, the eight Arab states participating in the coalition against Iraq had a bloody record of suppressing dissent in their respective countries. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates were family or tribal dictatorships; Egypt showed a touch of political tolerance in those days but since then it has become increasingly repressive. The eighth ally was Syria under Hafez Assad, a man not much different from Hussein.

In mid-February 1991, when the United States began its bombing of Iraq's military and industrial targets, President Bush made an explicit call for Saddam Hussein's overthrow.
American planes dropped millions of leaflets on Iraqi cities, towns and villages calling on people to rise up against their rulers. A CIA sponsored clandestine radio station in Saudi Arabia, broadcasting in Arabic, sent the same message to the Iraqis during the war. This announced American objective reverberated among the Shiites and Kurdish people of Iraq, who apparently concluded that if they rebel against Saddam Hussein the United States would support them.

In early March 1991 heavy clashes in Basra, a city in southern Iraq, were reported between Shiites and the Republican Guards, Saddam Hussein's elite troops. The next day Iraq expelled all foreign news reporters from the country and acknowledged that it was facing an internal rebellion. After the signing of the cease-fire agreement between Iraq and the U. S. led alliance, we also learned that Baghdad's 300,000 strong Republican Guard had largely survived the war. When the Republican Guards used helicopter gunships and shelled the civilian demonstrators in Basra and Karbala in southern Iraq, president Bush declared that Iraq's use of the helicopters to suppress the rebellion violated the cease-fire agreement but he did nothing about it.

Nevertheless, the Shiites managed to take control of Hilla, a town about a hundred miles south of Baghdad. During the same period, the Kurds rebelled in the northern part of country and claimed control of wide areas, including Kirkuk, a major oil-producing center and fourth largest city in Iraq. After a week of vacillation and issuance of vague threats, it was reported on March 27 that President Bush had decided to let Hussein put down the rebellions rather than splintering Iraq. After suppressing the Shiites in the south, the Republican Guards went north to attack the Kurds. As the Kurdish irregulars faced Saddam's superior forces, hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled into the snow-covered mountains, facing the threat of death from starvation and disease. In short, the United States incited the rebels and then deserted them, accepting the annihilation of tens of thousands of Kurds and Shiites. The result was that the rebels' praise for Bush turned to curses. Many came to believe that Washington purposely betrayed them.

It is now evident that when allied forces expelled Iraqi troops from Kuwait in late February 1991, the Bush administration had to choose between two unattractive options: either to disarm the Baathist machine, force Saddam Hussein into exile, help a coalition of anti-Saddam Iraqis to rescue their country from the inevitable chaos of the postwar political environment and be ready for an uncertain outcome, or keep Hussein in power, leave him enough weapons and troops, tolerate his decimation of the Kurds and the Shiites, watch him restore order, and then try to use him, once again, in the regional balance of power game.

Both alternatives involved uncertainty. President Bush chose the second path because it promised to restore American policy to its prewar status. In this scenario, Bush would have liked to replace Hussein with another strongman, but the nature and organization of the Baathist regime precluded such as possibility. The first choice could have shocked the Persian Gulf dictatorships because it would have implied that the United States was willing to cope with the unpredictability of popular political competition. It is no wonder, then, that the president embraced the second option and quickly informed his critics that the war "was not about democracy."

Indeed, it soon became evident that Bush's characterization of Hussein as "Baghdad's dictator" was intended more to please the American public than to condemn dictatorship in the Middle East. However one might disagree with the decision to let Hussein reconsolidate his power, it was not too difficult to see the cold logic of the move in persuading Washington's allies in the Persian Gulf to see American military presence in the area necessary for their security. In this regard, the emasculated Saddam Hussein has been quite useful to U. S. strategy over the past decade.

THE AMERICAN POSITION IN THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN ONFLICT is the most intense and widespread source of resentment toward the United States among the ordinary peoples of the Middle East. The Oslo peace agreement implicitly promised the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but Israeli settlements in the occupied territories never stopped expanding.

From the very beginning Ariel Sharon, a militant and influential promoter of the settlements, rejected the idea and set out to destroy it. Sharon was opposed to both the Israeli-Egyptian and the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaties. He was also opposed to the withdrawal of Israeli army from Lebanon. American officials acknowledge that Israeli settlements are a violation of the UN Security Counsel Resolutions 242 and 338, but they fall short of admitting that the settlements will negate the central promise of the Oslo accord in regard to the creation of a sovereign and viable Palestinian state.

The counsel of Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza considers peace talk with Palestinians to be a betrayal of the Jewish faith. The right-wing Israelis who regard Yigal Amir, the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a hero and a martyr, have become a strong force in Israeli politics. They demand Israeli control over the West Bank and the Gaza strip and regard giving up any part of the biblical land as heretical. After Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo accord in 1993, he and his wife Leah, discussed the possibility of violent reprisal against the Prime Minister from members of Hamas, but they could not imagine that a Jew would attack him. In the words of Leah Rabin, "we simply did not think it possible that one Jew would even think of killing another." (9)

Rabin's killer expressed 'no regret' for his deed and simply claimed that he had "acted on orders from God." On the Palestinian side, Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement), the promoter and organizer of terror against Israeli civilians, immerged in the late 1980s from the poorer segments of Palestinian society. There is a parallel development between the growth of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and the expansion of Hamas as an organization. In early 1990s, Hamas was a marginal group with limited political influence. Today, it has become a popular movement easily capable of recruiting suicide bombers.

The news reports of uprising in the occupied territories often give the impression that Palestinian resistance or violence is caused by religious zeal or hatred. Another way to understand why individual Palestinian demonstrators endure beatings and imprisonment in violent encounters with Israeli Defense Forces is to consider the socioeconomic and psychological factors that make life under military occupation intolerable. According to Israeli historian Benny Morris, "a few months before the [1987] Intifada (Arabic for 'shaking off') broke out, an Israeli study used two images to describe Gaza: 'a cancer,' which would eat away at the Israeli polity, and 'a time bomb,' economic, social, and demographic, of almost unimaginable potency." (10)

Another "researcher compared the Gaza Strip on the eve of the Intifada to a pressure cooker, containing 'overcrowding, poverty, hatred, violence, oppression, poor sanitation, anger, frustration, drugs and crime'" (11) Fifteen years ago, 2500 Israelis settled in the Gaza Strip controlled 28% of the land. Today, the number of settlers has increased to 6500, and they keep increasing their control of the land.

During the same period, the number of Israeli settlers on the West Bank increased from fewer than 30,000 to over 200,000. So much of the underground water reserves in both the West Bank and Gaza are diverted toward the settler areas that the settlers use twelve times as much water as do Palestinians. As a consequence, the amount of irrigated Arab land in the occupied territories has drastically declined. Even in East Jerusalem, writes Amos Elon, former senior editor of Ha'aretz, "despite repeated warnings that unfair treatment of Palestinian Jerusalemites in providing education, housing, sanitation, and other social services might lead to disaster, the discrimination against them Öcontinued to this day." (12)

Avishai Margalit, in a revealing article about the political, economic and security implications of the settlements, reminds us that " Sharon, more than anyone else, was the prime mover in building the existing settlements as the minister in charge of the occupied territories in the Begin and Shamir governments. He has talked of 42 percent of the West Bank being allotted to the Palestinians, the rest to Israel - a huge expansion of Israeli territory." (13) It is no wonder then, suggests Professor Avishai Margalit of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, that:

over 40 percent of the population in the settlements is employed by the state - 38 percent in public services, the rest in security - in comparison to the 26 percent of the population of Jerusalem, where all the major state institutions are located. The rate of unemployment in the settlements is nearly zero, as compared with the current overall rate in Israel of about 9 percent. (14)

Since the occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem began in 1967, the population of these areas has more than doubled. This means that the mindset, the perceptions and the sensibilities of nearly 90% of Palestinians living in the territories are shaped by the harsh and humiliating conditions of life under military occupation. Palestinians want their own state. They resent being stateless and ruled by foreign military occupiers who plan to make their lives so miserable that they would choose to leave in mass. It may well be that an independent Palestine will become another dictatorship in the region.

As the sorry human rights record of the Palestinian Authority shows, citizens of the future Palestine may have to initiate a new democracy movement against their own entrenched rulers. In such eventuality some Palestinians will probably continue to blame outside powers for their plight, but this type of scapegoating is a symptom of post-colonial mentality and largely benign. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about nationalism and occupation. Terrorism is largely a bi-product of the stalemate in the conflict.

In 1993, when the Oslo accord was made public, 90% of Palestinians were hopeful that negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority could result in the creation of a sovereign Palestine and peaceful coexistence with Israel. Today, over 90% have lost all hope in negotiation with Israelis. They are convinced that Israel intends to expel them from their land. The continuation of the confrontation can only serve the religious fundamentalists of both sides who reject the idea of a peaceful solution to their conflict as sinful treason.

As a general rule, terrorism helps the position of right-wing elements in the target country. Conversely, the hard-line policy of a right-wing government toward the aggrieved population enhances the popularity of violent resistance. Benjamin Natanyahu's success in the 1996 Israeli elections was made possible by a series of Hamas suicide attacks on Jerusalem buses. Before the bombings, Natanyahu's rival, Shimon Peres, successor to the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, held 20% lead in the polls.

Ariel Sharon's landslide victory in the 2001 elections was also the result of terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. Similarly, the growing popularity of Hamas in the occupied territories is the result of settlement expansion and Sharon's policy of assassination and bombing. In Israel, the violence of the last two years has led to the development of a mutually reinforcing perception and perspective between Hamas and Likud hardliners.

The important point to bear in mind is that the hardliners on each side hold to their views irrespective of what the other side does or says. A religious mission motivates the Jewish fundamentalists who promote land confiscation in the occupied territories. As Thomas Friedman observed in the wake of Rabin's assassination:

Yigal Amir, Mr. Rabin's assassins, was a product of the best religious -Zionist schools in Israel. How could that system have produced such a person, and his accomplices? The answer, say some religious-Zionist scholars, is that too many of their schools and rabbis give more emphasis to the value of land than to the value of life. They stress Jewish teachings about preserving sovereignty over the land of Israel more than Jewish teachings that say he who sheds the blood of another human being destroys the image of God in the world. (15)

When Palestine Liberation Organization under Arafat's leadership began negotiation with Israelis in 1991, Hamas and Islamic Jihad issued leaflets 'denouncing the impending 'conference of surrender' and the 'sell-out of Palestine'" (16) The leaders of these organizations have repeatedly rejected the idea of Israel as a sovereign state.

The hard-line elements opposed to dialogue and reconciliation used to represent a small part of the population on both sides of the divide, but in recent years their political clout has been increasing along with settlement expansion and mounting casualties in violent encounters. The more fearful and frustrated people feel in their everyday life, the more the hard-line fanatics influence their perception, behavior and expectation. Today, the hardliners control both the Israeli government and the Palestinian struggle against the occupation.

In this confrontation, the United States government is neither neutral nor an honest broker. It supports Israel politically and militarily with deeds, while expressing empty concern for the plight of Palestinians. It overlooks or justifies the Israeli violence against Palestinians, while condemning the Palestinian violence in no uncertain terms. I happen to believe that the strategic alliance between the United States and Israel is a necessity. It is imperative that Washington remains committed to the safety and territorial integrity of Israel, even if Israel is militarily superior to the combined forces of the despots who rule the states of the region.

The problem in the U. S. - Israeli alliance arises when the men with most influence over the actual Israeli design for the occupied territories claim to have a religious mission to control the 'biblical land' of Israel; and they quote the Genesis to prove their case: "to your offspring I assign the land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates" (Genesis: 15:18.) The question facing American foreign policymakers is whether they should finance and defend the enactment of revealed edicts. We need an answer soon because the government of Israel is currently using U. S. military equipments to fulfill the mission. There is another voice in Israel to which we should all listen with care. It is the voice represented by Amos Oz:

Perhaps it is only human that underneath the shock and the pain there is a small voice in some of us here in Israel, which says, "now at last they will all understand what we are going through" or "now they will all finally take our side" (17)

But this small voice is extremely dangerous for us: it may easily seduce us into forgetting that with or without Arab terrorism, there is no justification whatsoever for the lasting occupation and suppression of the Palestinian people by Israel. We have no right to deny Palestinians their natural right to self-determination. Two huge oceans could not shelter America from terrorism; the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel has not made Israel secure - on the contrary, it makes our self-defense much harder and more complicated. The sooner this occupation ends, the better it will be for Palestinians and Israeli alike.

IT HAS BECOME A TRUISM TO REFER TO AMARICA as the only superpower in the world. To appreciate the global concerns of the United States, it is helpful to see America as the world's last imperial power as well. The American empire is not legally or formally constituted, but it is a de facto reality nevertheless. How else can we describe a nation that commands more than 60 military base complexes in 20 different countries?

The CIA coined the term 'blowback,' but it is now widely used in writings on international relations and American foreign policy. In his new book, Blowback, Chalmers Johnson defines the term as "the unintended consequences of policies that were kept from the American people." Then he goes on to add that "what the daily press reports as the malign acts of 'terrorists' or 'drug lords' or 'rogue states' or 'illegal arms merchants' often turn out to be blowback from earlier American operations." (18)

In the four cases discussed above U. S. policies benefited the despotic regimes or armed extremists, while aggravating the predicament of the oppressed populace. Needless to say, the American government did not wish such results, but in each case it chose a course of action or inaction that made the eventual disasters largely predictable. In other words, during the 1980s and 1990s American policies in the cases examined resulted in harming the potential for civility in the affairs of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Palestine by strengthening, however paradoxically and unintentionally, the hands of the Taliban, Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, Hamas and the expansionist right-wing Israelis.

Managers of imperial America maintain that their decisions are informed by realism or pragmatism, as distinguished from idealism or visionary aspirations. I have tried to show how 'realism' or Realpolitik in theory can become nihilism in practice. Evidence suggests that infatuation with quick pay off in the foreign policy arena tends to neglect the costs and consequences of likely consequences decisions beyond their instant reward. Such reflections have little appeal to imperial officials because they see little value in remembering the past and imagining the future. For as a general rule, it is the circumstances at hand that absorb the bulk of their attention and energy. They are compelled to remember the past only when the blowbacks come to embarrass them.

Between 1989 and September 11, 2001, Washington quite accurately considered its support for the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviet army a success story. During this period, Afghanistan was hardly an issue on the American foreign policy agenda. Feminist groups in Europe and North America and international human rights organizations repeatedly condemned the cruelties of the Taliban, but they were hardly noticed in the circles of power. Only 3 countries had recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, but the non-recognition was more the result of an abstract contempt for the medieval ways of the Taliban then out of concern for their victims.

So long as repressive regimes rule in the Middle Eastern countries, publicists of violence and sectarianism can find enough desperate listeners who could come to see terrorism as an answer to their frustration and political impotence. We should also bear in mind that high technology weapons have continued to flow unabated to the area since the end of the Cold War. With dictators remaining in power, it is simply a matter of time before weapons of mass destruction are added to the arsenals of various despots. Thus the struggle against moral harboring of terrorists must include human rights advocacy and promotion of democracy.

There is a significant middle class with a modern education and a secular orientation in nearly all nations in the region. These middle classes are currently silenced or marginalized, but sooner or later they will become influential actors in the politics of their respective countries. The worldwide democracy movement is bound to reach the gates of the Middle East and Washington, in the interest of America's national security and democratic values, ought to encourage and be identified with this eventuality. The paradox and its challenge are clear: the United States has to acknowledge the dilemma and begin to search for an innovative approach to the unique circumstances of each country in the region.

I WISH TO CONCLUDE MY REMARKS by noting that the media and the vast majority of American political and religious leaders ought to be complimented for dismissing as false and demagogic the attempt to blame the Arabs or Muslims as a people in the September 11 terrorist attacks. When stereotypical clichés like 'Muslim mindset' and 'Arab character' are used for judgmental purposes, they are intended, consciously or otherwise, to exclude and discriminate against a collectivity.

The crimes of September 11 were committed by a group of psychopaths, not a people or a nation. Such creatures are rare but known to all human groups regardless of race, religion or nationality. Fanaticism can plague both believers and non-believers; cruel actors are not bound by metaphysics in justifying their acts. In the age of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, the cruelty of terrorism is the ultimate threat we face. Thus while the assault on the agents and sponsors of terror continues, we should do our utmost to deprive the terrorists of the popular sympathy they receive. We must deal with the conditions and circumstances that produce this sympathy. American foreign policymakers can lead the world in meeting this challenge by becoming more sensitive to the daily humiliation and resentment of those who live under the rule of cruel governments.


Mansour Farhang is professor of Diplomatic History/International Relations at Benningtron College, Vermont. He received his B.A. from the University of Arizona in 1965 and Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate School in 1970. He served as revolutionary Iran's first ambassador to the United Nations, resigning in protest when Khomeini regime refused to accept U.N. Commission of Inquiryís recommendation to release American hostages in Teheran. Early in Iran-Iraq war served as envoy in negotiations with international peace missions. Current advisory board member of Middle East Watch, a branch of Human Rights Watch.


1 - Rapoport, David C., "Fear and Trembling: Terrorism in Three Religious Traditions," The American Political Science Review, Vol. 78, September 1984, No. 3, pp. 658 ó 677.

2 - Stern, Jessica, The Ultimate Terrorists, Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 70.

3 - Bearden, Milton, "Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empire," Foreign Affairs, November/December 2001, p. 24.

4 - Rashid, Ahmad, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism In Central Asia, Yale University Press, 2000, p. 33.

5 - Bearden, p. 24.

6 - Giandomenico Picco, Man Without A Gun: One Diplomatís Secret Struggle to Free the Hostages, Fight Terrorism, and End a War, Times Book, 1999, pp. 88 ó 90.

7 - Blum, William, "Anthrax for Export: U.S. companies sold Iraq the ingredients for a witchís brew" The Progressive (April, 1998).

8 - Ibid.

9 - Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, University of California Press, 2000, p. 47

10 - Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist ó Arab Conflict, 1881 ó 2001, Vintage Books, p. 564.

11 - Ibid.

12 - Amos Elon, "The Deadlocked City," The New York Review of Books (2001), p. 10.

13 - Avishai Margalit, "Settling Scores," The New York Review of Book (September 20, 2001), p. 24.

14 - Avishai Margalit, p. 23.

15 - Thomas L. Friedman, "Land Or Life?" New York Times (November 19, 1995), Sec. 4, p.15

16 - Morris, p. 615.

17 - Amos Oz, "Struggling Against Fanaticism," New York Times (September 14, 2001), opinion page.

18 - Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, Owl Books, 2000, p. 8.

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