Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The notion that, somehow, the cause of Islamist terrorism is “us,” the West, persists. And so this weekend’s thwarted United Kingdom car bombings have prompted yet another “Why do they hate us?” moment. The West’s own preferred answer, it seems, must always be some offense we have committed. London Mayor Ken Livingstone thinks Iraq is driving “disaffected young Muslims” to murderous self-immolation, in apparent ignorance or disregard that three of the suspects are medical doctors. The New York Times refers to a “disenfranchised South Asian population” — this, in one of the world’s free democracies. Others finger Salman Rushdie’s knighthood as an incitement of Muslim outrage. Still others say Israel-Palestine. Others, poverty.

How they know this, except that terrorists themselves promote these notions publicly, and except that Muslim opinion generally tends to be negative on such subjects, is never clear. Much clearer is the characteristic these explanations have in common.

“I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy,” explained ex-terrorist Hassan Butt in yesterday’s Daily Mail. “By blaming the Government for our actions, those who pushed this ‘Blair’s bombs’ line did our propaganda work for us.”

Reviewing what actually took place this weekend, none of these explanations wears very well, except as indicators of their expositors’ ideological blinders. What we do know is this: Would-be terrorist killers struck out at Western civilians, scores or hundreds of whom came all too close to being coldly murdered. In Saturday’s case, the targets were ordinary people at an ordinary airport. In Friday’s case, they were late-night revelers and clubgoers not so different from those killed in the 2002 Bali bombings. The two nightclub bombs were rigged to detonate in a staggered fashion so as to maximize casualties in the street in a hoped-for moment of chaos following the first explosion.

We also know that at least some of the suspects are well-integrated immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia, some working in middle-class or even upper-class jobs. One is a “brilliant” neurologist with the National Health Service, the Daily Mail reports.

There exists a deep urge in the West to look inward, to blame ourselves for Islamist terrorism, for some “root cause.” The terrorists themselves and their abetters are all too happy to indulge this fantasy, which, in the end, says much more about us than it does about the terrorists.

This phenomenon is about more than terrorism. It permeates our relations with much of the Muslim world. As in this recent Reuters dispatch: “U.S. may alienate Muslims over human trade: Malaysia.” It quotes one Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar warning Westerners not to meddle in his country’s poor record on human-trafficking — that is, slavery — on the occasion of a U.S. government human-trafficking report which fingered several majority-Muslim countries. “The U.S. really needs to be friendly to Muslim countries,” he said. Have we now reached a point where our moral objections to slavery are being tempered as “alienating” to some Muslims?

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