How should we react to terrorism?

I hadn’t planned on returning to this subject so soon, if ever, because of the distasteful experience of last summer when at least 50 of my subscribers canceled because I said that terrorism carried out by Islamics was to some extent motivated by their religion, an hypothesis rejected by what I see as the “politically correct” who took it to be an unjust attack upon an ancient and noble religion. The fact that I, a leftist, a comrade, would say such a thing was especially hard for them to take.

Since then I have regularly received emails pointing out that neither I nor the media have the right to categorically condemn brutal terrorist actions because the terrorists are reacting to decades of Western, particularly American, violence against the Muslims of the Middle East and elsewhere; and that if only the West would stop their bombing they would stop creating new terrorists. Liberal columnists often echo these sentiments, but at the same time cannot accept the role played by radical Islamic beliefs in instigating the Islamic terror.

Not every American soldier in World War II was a knowledgeable and convinced anti-fascist; nor were all of those fighting in Vietnam knowledgeable and convinced anti-communists; but they deeply believed in American exceptionalism. I proceed from the assumption that Islamic terrorists deeply believe in the leading tenets of Islam though many of them may have been drawn to ISIS for a variety of reasons and may have only a passing knowledge of the Koran and may only rarely enter a mosque.

Why is it that terrorists routinely shout “Allah Akhbar” (“God is great”) while carrying out a bloody attack?

Why is it that so much of Islam teaches that non-Muslims are the enemy, that “disbelievers” are to be executed?

Why do they speak of their duty to perform “jihad,” which is usually defined as a struggle against the enemies of Islam or against the “infidels”?

Why do they speak of “martyrs,” which is often used as an honorific for Muslims who have died fulfilling a religious commandment, especially those who die waging jihad, or historically in the military expansion of Islam?

Why do they speak of martyrs going to paradise after dying and receiving heavenly rewards? Even being resurrected on earth, to once again die as a martyr, going again to paradise.

Yes, yes, I know about the terrible crimes of the IRA Catholics and the Israeli Jews, but on the scale of human moral evolution they don’t compare to the routine cutting off of heads; the whippings; demolishing 2,000-year-old monuments; sternly banning alcohol, music, gays and sex; covering up women’s faces; forcibly imposing religious law; and on and on, including the worst of all: the never-ending horrific suicide bombings. ISIS has done the impossible: It has made American foreign policy look almost halfway decent.

Occasionally I reply to critics with something to this effect: Even if I completely accepted your premises, I’d still feel that it was too late. We can’t undo the harm that US foreign policy and the West have caused. The barn door is wide open and all the horses have escaped. There is an entire generation, or two generations, in the Muslim world totally committed to gaining bloody revenge against the West. It appears to be that it’s either us or them.

Explaining the cause of terrorism is not the same as excusing it.

It might be different if the terrorists focused on killing only those in the West responsible for the horror carried out against their people, but their acts of violence are largely indiscriminate; they attack Westerners at random, often with Muslim victims included; often with only Muslim victims.

As I’ve pointed out in the past, we should consider this: From the 1950s to the 1980s the United States carried out all kinds of very harmful policies against Latin America, including numerous bombings, without the natives ever resorting to the uncivilized, barbaric kind of retaliation as employed by ISIS. Latin American leftists generally took their revenge out upon concrete representatives of the American empire: diplomatic, military and corporate targets—not markets, theatres, nightclubs, hospitals, schools, restaurants or churches.

France, the site of numerous terrorist attacks, has experimented with deradicalization centers in an attempt to combat homegrown extremism. The centers subjected those they housed to intense courses in French history and philosophy. But after five months the experiment has been abandoned as a complete failure. My guess is that one reason for the failure is that French officials, like their American counterparts, were too politically correct when it came to questions of religion. If I were a teacher at one of these centers I would ask the students how they know—I mean really know—that “martyrs” go to paradise. They are, after all, considering sacrificing their lives for this belief. Seriously confronting this question for perhaps the first time ever, the students’ minds may well become somewhat confused, leaving them open for other challenging questions and thoughts.

For the record: I don’t support the US fighting ISIS in Syria. I don’t trust the Pentagon’s motivation, or their choice of bombing targets. They’re probably still into regime change. I’d leave the job to Russia and its allies.

William Blum is an author, historian, and U.S. foreign policy critic. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others.

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