At present, little is known of the circumstances which give birth to terrorists. The periodic reports issued by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (National Commission), for instance, are bereft of clues for diminishing terrorist recruits. Until this dearth of knowledge is overcome, the best way to handcuff terrorism is by killing, capturing and punishing terrorists period, with no commas, semicolons or question marks. To paraphrase Churchill on democracy, it is a poor counterterrorism policy, except for all others that have been imagined or attempted.
Terrorism is the employment of indiscriminate violence to cow or intimidate a civilian population to achieve a morally squalid political objective. The scourge has plagued mankind from the beginning. Its incidence has both climbed and fallen at various intervals without self-evident explanations. In contemporary times, Islamic terrorism has surged, but short of monopolizing the terrorism landscape. Timothy McVeigh did not bomb the Oklahoma City courthouse to honor the Holy Koran. But the predominance of Islamic terrorists justifies a corresponding counterterrorism exploration of their motivations.
The United States’ support for Israel has been said to explain the September 11 abominations and complementary terrorist attacks against United States citizens and property. But that Israeli support stretches back 56 years to 1948, the year of Israel’s birth in conjunction with a United Nations authorized Palestinian state. In 1973, then-President Richard M. Nixon placed the military on high alert to deter Soviet assistance to Egypt during the Yom Kippur war. Yet no retaliatory Islamic terrorism ensued. Resort was had to a non-violent oil embargo. In contrast, the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City unfolded in 1993, the same year the Oslo Accords promised a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The United States awakened no applause in the Islamic world for preventing Israeli counterattacks against Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf war. And according to the National Commission, even the Taliban’s Mullah Omar opposed the September 11 terrorism despite the U.S.-Israeli connection. It amplified: “Although bin Laden wanted the operation to proceed as soon as possible, several senior al Qaeda figures thought they should follow the position taken by their Afghan host, Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who opposed attacking the United States.” In sum, United States support for Israel does not persuasively correlate with Islamic terrorism.
Neither does poverty or an absence of education. Osama bin Laden himself is wealthy and sophisticated. Four key Western-educated September 11 conspirators were privileged. The National Commission elaborates: “The four were Mohamed Atta, Marwan al Shehhi, Ziad Jarrah and Ramzi Binalshibh. Atta, Shehhi and Jarrah would become pilots for the 9/11 attacks, while Binalshibh would act as a key coordinator for the plot.
“Atta … was born in Egypt in 1968 and moved to Germany to study in 1992 after graduating from Cairo University. Shehhi was from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and entered Germany in 1996 through a UAE military scholarship program. Jarrah was from a wealthy family in Lebanon and went to Germany after high school to study at the University of Greifswald. Finally, Binalshibh, a Yemeni, arrived in Germany in 1995.”
The foot soldiers or “muscle hijackers” of September 11 sported variegated backgrounds. Aged between 20 and 28, many were unemployed and without higher education. But a few had commenced university studies. Some were pious, while others consumed alcohol and abused drugs. The National Commission adds: “It has not been determined exactly how each of them was recruited into al Qaeda, but most of them apparently were swayed to join the jihad in Chechnya by contacts at local universities and mosques in Saudi Arabia.”
John Walker Lindh, “American Taliban,” was more coddled than deprived. Ramzi Yousef, a lead operative in the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and the foiled Manila plot to blow up a dozen U.S. commercial aircraft in 1995 was not the child of misery.
Terrorism against the United States is neither ignited by economic hardship nor by illiteracy. And even if these correlations were established, the United States would be generally impotent to cure these ills in Islamic nations, for example, Pakistan or Indonesia.
Neither the foreign nor domestic policies of the United States explain Islamic terrorism. Muslims have been militarily defended in Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo. Humanitarian aid was showered on Somalia. Under the aegis of the United States, the governing charters of Afghanistan and Iraq celebrate Islamic tenets as the supreme law of the land. Russian human rights violations in Chechnya are regularly denounced.
In the aftermath of September 11, the Federal Bureau of Investigation established a special unit to investigate crimes against Muslim citizens or residents in apparent revenge for September 11. Women may wear headscarves or other signature Islamic garb in public or private places, in contrast to the school restrictions in France. Law enforcement resources devoted to counterterrorism have focused on Muslims only in proportion to the Islamic percentage of all terrorist related crimes. Abuses have been investigated and frequently sanctioned.
Terrorists have not been motivated by cravings for democracy.
On February 23, 1998, bin Laden and the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Ayman Zawahiri, published a fatwa announcing a “ruling to kill Americans and their allies,” both “civilians and military.” The chilling decree added that it was “an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.” The fatwa omitted any list of grievances ala the Declaration of Independence purporting to justify such savagery. Neither did bin Laden then nor thereafter specify actions of the United States that would trigger a cessation of anti-American al Qaeda terrorism, for example, an ending of support for non-democratic Islamic regimes that govern in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Indeed, no Islamic terrorist has claimed democratic freedoms and the rule of law as objectives. Taliban’s Afghanistan was the antithesis of democracy. Turkey has not been spared from Islamic terrorism despite its blossoming democratic dispensation and a prime minister whose Muslim credentials are above suspicion.
Al Qaeda and brother terrorists and sympathizers live in a demonic intellectual and moral world alien to western civilization. A substantial percentage daftly insists that September 11 was perpetrated by the CIA and Jews. Since reasoning is futile, killing, capturing and punishing is the only moral answer to the terrorism wickedness.
Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Bruce Fein & Associates and The Lichfield Group.