Before I begin let me state that I agree completely with assessments made by the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on “Trends in Global Terrorism.” One thing that struck me, however, was the following conclusion:
“Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq “jihad;” (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims-all of which jihadists exploit”
I have two points: First, the report ignorantly uses the word “jihad” to define a set of circumstances which counter what Muslims traditionally view to be a jihad. As Dr. Ahmed Sheikh, President of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) correctly notes:
“Terrorism is not a jihad, killing civilians is not a jihad, bombing peaceful cities is not a jihad. The people who are practicing these kinds of evil acts are causing more harm to Islam than the benefit we are getting. Jihad is a defensive act which we need to apply when we are targeted in our countries with lots of conditions put by the Prophet. When the Prophet was sending his companions to Jihad, he said do not kill an elderly person a child, do not cut a fruitful tree or kill a non-combatant. These are the ethics and the high moral values which he taught his companions.”
By identifying the current conflict as a “jihad” the report alienates Muslims by mischaracterizing their religion for malicious ends.
Second, the judgments, or at least the key sections we received, do not fully detail the extent and cause of anti-US sentiment. I wonder whether the entire report cites the US’s unconditional support for Israel and totalitarian Arab governments as the most fundamental reasons for anti-Muslim sentiments. If we are going to address the root causes of terrorism and threats to America, and one of those threats is “pervasive anti-US sentiment amongst Muslims” then it seems to me beneficial to discuss the roots of those sentiments.
To ignore US support for Israel and Arab regimes (in light of their grave and continuing human rights abuses) is to ignore the fundamental basis upon which terrorists draw their inspiration. Now I already understand how people are going to react: “we should never change our positions just to appease the terrorists!” “we should stand for what is right and never sway in light of violence!” But that’s the problem, unconditional support for Israel is not just. Support for Arab dictators is not just. This is a human rights issue which transcends terrorism but fuels it at the same time. The bases of terrorism are social and political conditions, all of which are generally fueled from perceived or actual injustice.
In almost every instance in which a terrorist organization has arisen there has been a subjective and (often) objective notion of injustice coupled with it. With al-Qaeda, it had to do with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and ensuing mistreatment by the USSR. The Irish Republican Army grew because of continued occupation by Britain. The Tamil Tigers began because of the oppression felt by Tamil minorities by the Sri Lankan government. And on and on and so forth.
The fact is that the root of all these causes is social and political injustice. This clearly doesn’t justify terrorism, for there is no justification for terrorism. However, what it signals is that to avoid an endless cycle of terrorism you have to address the root abuses. The US has to address its unconditional support for Israel and the human rights abuses that the state continuously causes against Muslims around the Middle East. The US also has to address its support for Arab dictators. Without addressing these concerns we will lose the War on Terror and continue breeding new terrorists. Our wrongs will eventually come back to us with greater wrongs. That is the lesson of 9/11 which this country continues to refuse to grasp.
Nema Milaninia is a law student at UC Hastings College of Law, executive editor of the International Studies Journal, and editor of the group blog IranianTruth.com