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Inside the Terrorists' Minds

I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him.

Booker T. Washington


Continuing the analysis of the 9/11/01 terrorist attack on America....

Wild guesses about the terrorists' motivations

These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat.

"President" George W. Bush, speech, 9/11/01

Attackers struck the World Trade Center "because they can't stand freedom."

"President" George W. Bush, speech after 9/11/01

People in the Middle East "see themselves as the world's losers. They'd never admit that. They see us, we have everything. We win everything. They see themselves and think, we should be a great people but we're not. It drives them batty. They hate us for who and what we are."

Dan Rather, Late Night with David Letterman, 9/17/01

Blame-the-U.S. pacifism misses the point. Bin Laden wants to eradicate Western modernity, not liberate Palestine, and the U.S. has no choice but to fight him.

David Rieff, There Is No Alternative to War, Salon, 9/25/01

We are not hated because we support Israel; we are hated because liberal democracy is incompatible with militant Islam. Despite what Hussein and Osama bin Laden and, shamefully, some American clerics have said, America was not punished because we are bad, but because we are good.

William J. Bennett, Faced With Evil on a Grand Scale, Nothing Is Relative, LA Times, 10/1/01

We wage a war to save civilization itself.

We are the target of enemies who boast they want to kill, kill all Americans, kill all Jews and kill all Christians.

"President" George W. Bush, speech, 11/8/01

Ultimately, bin Laden and his supporters seek the destruction of Western civilization by targeting two of its pillars — the United States, the symbol of the West's power and cultural influence in the world; and Israel, the West's sole outpost in the Middle East.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner, Paying a Price for Liberalism, Washington Times, 11/15/01

Ollie North has the answer: Muslim radicals hate us not because we're free and rich nor because U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has been designed to guarantee the unfettered flow of oil.

No, North tells us, Muslim fundamentalists hate us because they "know what the scripture tells us, which is that the only path to God in heaven is through his son, our savior, Jesus Christ."

Nick Schou, Ollie North: ‘Not All Muslims Evil', Orange County Weekly, 11/16-22/01

"We're fighting to protect ourselves and our children from violence and fear," Bush said. "We're fighting for the security of our people and the success of liberty. We're fighting against men without conscience but full of ambition to remake the world in their own brutal images. For all the reasons, we're fighting to win, and win we will."

In describing terrorists as the heirs to fascism, Bush said their goals are virtually indistinguishable from those of the country's World War II enemies.

"They have the same will to power, the same disdain for the individual, the same mad global ambitions. And they will be dealt with in just the same way. . . . Like all fascists, the terrorists cannot be appeased; they must be defeated."

LA Times, 12/8/01

Comment:  So the terrorists are attacking civilization, freedom, modernity, Christianity, or goodness. Or something like that. Whatever they were attacking, apparently we have it and they don't.

One could ridicule these conflicting statements almost indefinitely. For instance, if they want to kill all Christians, why didn't they attack Christians in Africa or Asia? Why didn't they attack the Vatican or a cathedral or church somewhere? If they want to destroy modernity, why didn't they attack Europe or Japan, which are more technically advanced than the US in many respects? If they want to demolish civilization, why didn't they attack Greece or Rome or (again) the Vatican, which are arguably the cradles of Western civilization?

See what the experts have to say about the nonexpert opinions of Bush and Rather.

Putting the argument to rest
More articles put the "they hate freedom" argument to rest. From the New London Day:

Sept. 11 Had Nothing To Do With Attacking Freedom

Published on 7/10/2004

You can never say this without hurting the feelings of at least some Americans, but it needs to be said. At the stone-laying ceremony of July 4th on the site where the World Trade Center towers formerly stood, New York state Gov. George Pataki dedicated the building that is to replace them with the rhetoric that is standard in the United States on such occasions: "Let this great Freedom Tower show the world that what our enemies sought to destroy – our democracy, our freedom, our way of life – stands taller than ever." But 9/11 wasn't really about any of that.

Imagine the scene: it's 1999, and a group of wild-eyed and bushy-bearded Islamist fanatics are pacing a cave somewhere in Afghanistan planning 9/11. "We must destroy American democracy," says one. "An America run by a dictator would be a much better place."

"Yes," says the second, "and we must also curtail their freedom. Americans have too many television channels, too many breakfast cereals, and far too many kinds of make-up to choose from." Then the third chimes in: "While we're at it, let's destroy their whole way of life. I've always hated American football, Oprah Winfrey sucks, and I can't stand Coca-Cola."

No? This scene doesn't ring true? Then why does almost all public discussion in the United States about the goals of the Islamist terrorists assume that they are driven by hatred for the domestic political and social arrangements of Americans? Because most Americans cannot imagine foreigners not being interested in the way they do things, let alone using the United States as a tool to pursue other goals entirely.

Public debate in the United States generally assumes that America is the only true home of democracy and freedom, and that other people and countries are "pro-American" or "anti-American" because they support or reject those ideals. Practically nobody on the rest of the planet would recognize this picture, but it is the only one most Americans are shown – and it has major foreign policy implications.

This is what enables President George W. Bush to explain away why the United States was attacked with the simple phrase "They hate our freedoms," and to avoid any discussion that delves into the impact of American foreign policy in the Middle East on Arab and Muslim attitudes towards the United States. It also blinds most Americans to the nature of the strategic game that their country has been tricked into playing a role in.

So once more, with feeling: the 9/11 attacks were not aimed at American values, which are of no interest to the Islamists one way or another. They were an operation that was broadly intended to raise the profile of the Islamists in the Muslim world, but they had the further quite specific goal of luring the United States into invading Muslim countries.

The true goal of the Islamists is to come to power in Muslim countries, and their problem until recently was that they could not win over enough local people to make their revolutions happen. Getting the United States to march into the Muslim world in pursuit of the terrorists was a potentially promising stratagem, since an invasion should produce endless images of American soldiers killing and humiliating Muslims. That might finally push enough people into the arms of the Islamists to get their long-stalled revolutions off the ground.

Specifically, the al-Qaeda planners expected the U.S. to invade Afghanistan and get bogged down in the same long counter-guerrilla war that the Russians had experienced there, providing along the way years of horrifying images of American firepower killing innocent Muslims. Osama bin Laden and his colleagues were simply trying to relive their past success against the Russians and get some more mileage out of the Afghan scenario. In fact, their plan failed: the United States conquered Afghanistan quickly and at a very low cost in lives, and even now, despite huge American neglect, Afghanistan has not produced a major anti-American resistance movement.

The reason al-Qaeda is still in business in a big way is that the Bush admnistration then invaded Iraq. The Islamists were astonished, no doubt, but they knew how to exploit an opportunity when one was handed to them. And so the real game continues, while the public debate in the United States is conducted in terms that have only the most tangential contact with strategic reality.

Perhaps it's unfair to ask Gov. Pataki to get into any of that at an emotional ceremony that was in part a commemoration of the lives that were lost on 9/11, but when will it be addressed, and by whom? What major American public figure will stand up and say that the United States and its values are not really under attack; that the country and its troops are actually just being used as pawns in somebody else's strategy? Many senior American politicians and military officers understand what is going on, but it's more than their career is worth to say so out loud.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.

An excerpt from the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, 7/21/04:

Anonymous author says thinking terrorists just don't like us is dangerously shortsighted


Knight Ridder Newspapers

(KRT) -- "Imperial Hubris" by Anonymous; Brassey's ($27.50)


Rare is the book that can change the course of an international debate, but "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror" is just such a book.

We are losing the war on terror? Yes, though that's the least of the bad news, says the author, a senior U.S. intelligence official who wishes to remain anonymous. We are losing, and we don't even see that we're losing.

We are losing because U.S. leaders refuse to consider Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and their allies and sympathizers as they are, rather than as they would like them to be, writes Anonymous. We are losing because we underestimate bin Laden's support, his skill and his patience. We are losing because we misunderstand why al-Qaeda and other Muslim extremists are fighting.

And because we misunderstand -- Anonymous would say we hubristically insist on misunderstanding -- we don't consider actions that could make our nation safer. We do exactly what could make us less safe.

"One of the greatest dangers for Americans in deciding how to confront the Islamist threat lies in continuing to believe -- at the urging of senior U.S. leaders -- that extremist Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than for what we do," Anonymous writes. It's not U.S. values, but U.S. policies that are under attack.

What are these inflammatory U.S. policies? Bin Laden has told us many times, writes Anonymous, so here again are the six main ones:

We keep troops on the Arabian Peninsula.

We occupy Iraq and Afghanistan.

We support Russia, India and China in suppressing Muslim militants in their countries.

We support corrupt and tyrannical Muslim governments, such as the royal House of Saud.

We pressure Arab oil producers to keep prices low.

We support Israel in policies that keep Palestinians in the Israelis' thrall.

Anonymous' analysis has one small comfort to it: If this is a war over policy, territory, influence and autonomy -- over power -- then it's a familiar beast, albeit in unfamiliar terrorist clothing.

But if we are under attack because of our policies, then we might have to change our policies. Have you met the politician who would risk suggesting we would be safer if oil prices were higher? Have you met the politician who would risk suggesting we would be safer if we were to forgo the role of Israel's protector? Neither have I, and neither has Anonymous, and we don't expect to meet him or her this election cycle.

But we have met politicians who dismiss bin Laden and al-Qaeda as crazies who hate us just because of who we are. The only possible response to crazies, after all, is to bomb them back to the Stone Age.

From Slate.com:

It's Not Who We Are, It's What We Do
What can terrorists teach us?

By Fred Kaplan
Posted Wednesday, July 20, 2005, at 3:49 PM PT

Three new studies, by very different authors taking very different tacks, reach much the same conclusion about modern terrorism: that its practitioners, especially its foot soldiers, are motivated not so much by Islamic fantasies of the caliphate's restoration and the snuffing of freedom, but rather by resistance to foreign occupation of Arab lands.

Nothing about this conclusion makes terrorist acts more justified, or less abhorrent, or a slighter assault on the bonds of civilization. Understanding is not the same as excusing. Still, understanding can be a useful tool for devising a cogent response and an effective policy.

The most provocative and widely read study is Robert Pape's book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Pape, a military historian and professor at the University of Chicago, catalogued every terrorist suicide bombing from 1983 to 2003—in all, 315 attacks carried out by 462 bombers. He concludes that, except for a couple of dozen random incidents, these bombings were elements of various coordinated campaigns—involving 18 different organizations over a 20-year period—all of which had in common "a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel democracies to withdraw military forces from the terrorists' national homeland."

Demonizing the demon
What Bush and his ilk are trying to do is obvious: demonize Osama bin Laden so they can launch wars, enrich their cronies, and generally amass power. If someone is the devil incarnate, you don't have to understand what motivates him and, more importantly, his millions of followers.

An excerpt from the LA Times, 10/5/01:

Fed by Intrigue, the Myth of Bin Laden Grows

The urge to create a super-villain may obscure an understanding of larger issues.


Slate, the online magazine, framed a Sept. 13 story about the attacks with a spin on Freud's famous query about women: "What Does Osama Bin Laden Want?" Author David Plotz's chilling conclusion was that Bin Laden wants absolutely nothing the West can offer. This characterization of Bin Laden as possessed by a kind of inscrutable, all-consuming malice recalls the aliens' nihilistic one-word response in the movie "Independence Day" when the U.S. president asks what they want earthlings to do: "Die."

In fact, says terrorism expert Rubenstein, Bin Laden has made clear in previous remarks that he is seeking to force a U.S. withdrawal from the Arabian peninsula. He also hopes to destabilize pro-Western regimes in the Middle East and possibly provoke a U.S. military response that will further anger and alienate the Muslim world. "It's actually quite clear what he wants," Rubenstein says. "What makes him different is not what he wants, but the way he proposes to get it."

The tabloids also have picked up the pop-psychological narrative thread. Last week, in one of the more improbable hypotheses, the Globe reported that Bin Laden "suffers from a medical condition that left him with underdeveloped sex organs, and his hatred of the United States began when an American girl laughed at his problem."

While childhood trauma or—who knows?—sexual dysfunction may be part of the equation, Reeve, a former reporter for the Sunday Times of London, says he doesn't think that "Americans really understand the true nature of the threat, and I think [people] are looking for relatively simplistic analyses."

Michael Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., echoes his point. "It's easier for Americans to personalize a very difficult phenomenon," Klare says, than decipher its root causes.

Whichever psychological profile of Bin Laden one chooses, Reeve suggests, it needs to take stock of his political evolution and the global context that has shaped him. "Perhaps it's easier for us to imagine [Bin Laden] as the devil incarnate, who's always had these extreme views. But if we are to have a chance of preventing these kind of attacks in the future, we [need to] understand the mentality of the kind of person who would commit these attacks."

More on Bin Laden's motivations

...[I]t was only at the end of Gaudin's week of exhausting interviews with Al-'Owhali that the agent asked him what so many Americans are groping to understand now.

"What would it take for this fighting to stop, you know, how can we prevent this? How can we end this?" Gaudin said he asked Al-'Owhali.

What Gaudin got was boilerplate Al Qaeda: Stop supporting Israel; pull all U.S. forces out of the Arabian Peninsula; and stop "preventing Muslims from instituting sharia [Islamic law] worldwide."

LA Times article on the FBI's interrogation of Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali, the would-be suicide bomber who survived the embassy blast in Nairobi, 9/24/01

...[I]f Osama bin Laden is behind the New York massacre, it's worth remembering one of his aims: not just to evict the U.S. from the Middle East but to overthrow the Arab regimes loyal to Washington.

Saudi Arabia was top of the list when I last spoke to him, but President Hosni Mubarak's Egypt and Jordan, ruled by King Abdullah II, were among his other enemies. He talked about how the Muslims of these nations would rise up against their corrupt rulers. A slaughter by the U.S. in retaliation for the New York and Washington bloodbaths might just move the Arab masses from stubborn docility to the point of detonation.

Within the region, the suicide bomber is now admired. Not because he is a mass killer but because something invincible, something untouchable, something that has always dictated the rules without taking responsibility for the results, has now proved vulnerable. It was the same when the first suicide bombers struck in Lebanon.

The Lebanese could scarcely believe that Israeli soldiers could die on this scale. The Israeli army of song and legend had been brought low. So, too, the reaction when the symbols of America's pride and power were struck. The vile, if small, Palestinian "celebrations" were a symptom of this, albeit unrepresentative. They matched the "bomb Baghdad into the Dark Ages" rhetoric we heard from the American public a decade ago.

Robert Fisk, "Glorious Death: The Kamikaze Impulse," LA Times, 9/16/01

Osama bin Laden's ultimate objective is not to kill Americans or topple the U.S. government. His objective is to topple the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, etc., through internal revolutions fanned by fundamentalist rage at an ill-considered and overly broad U.S. response to his cowardly terrorism.

Bin Laden is a modern-day Charlie Manson hoping to create "helter skelter" in the Muslim world. Whether he is successful is now largely within our control. We must resist the urge to take politically appealing, quick, hot and broad responses.

Mr. President, when you serve up revenge for me, make sure it's narrowly targeted and righteous. And serve it ice-cold.

John L. Jurewitz, letter, LA Times, 9/21/01

In your Sept. 21 editorial, you note that "the president also offered his explanation of why groups like Al Qaeda hate the United States. 'They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.' " However, after giving this excerpt, you move on, without addressing the validity of what the president claimed.

The terrorists did not attack us because they hate our freedom of religion or speech or any other freedom. They could not care less about these things or about anything else that goes on within our own borders. They attacked us for a few very specific reasons, of which two are preeminent: the ongoing presence of our troops in Saudi Arabia and our Israeli/Palestinian policies.

Bush and his team, of course, know this, though obviously they would rather the American public not think about these things.

Daniel Baig, letter, LA Times, 9/23/01

Buried in Bush's surprising eloquence Thursday evening was an applause line rife with irony and entirely too much hubris, even for him: "They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed." A brash statement, indeed, from a man who lost the popular vote decisively and who remains the first and only American president named by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ken Greenberg, letter, LA Times, 9/23/01

>> This is part of what I was talking about Bin Laden's desire for world conquest.

Toppling of Arab Regimes Called Wider Goal of Terror <<

If toppling Arab regimes is the wider goal, Bin Laden's goals fall well short of world conquest. You can say his goal is world conquest only if toppling Arab regimes is the narrower goal.

>> Bin Laden seems as intent on toppling Arab regimes as on weakening the United States—though he clearly sees the two goals as interconnected. <<

This is what I've been saying: that Bin Laden's coldly calculated goals are the antithesis of madness. You can label it "evil" to try to topple Arab regimes and weaken the US, but I don't see how that helps any. We need to make Bin Laden's goals impossible to achieve—i.e., unthinkable. How? By winning the world's people to our side through policies that live up to America's alleged ideals.

Rob, e-mail exchange, 11/7/01

All of this man's fatwas, declarations of war and videotaped pronouncements have shown a consistent logic. By waging war on the "Zionist-Crusader alliance", he hoped to inspire an uprising against all the "puppet" regimes of the Muslim world that are friendly to the West and have failed to interpret Islam to his satisfaction. But in spite of knocking down the twin towers, he has failed to knock down the governments of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, which were his chief targets.

The War on Terror: Six Months On, The Economist, 3/7/02

Comment:  That Bin Laden failed at his goals doesn't alter the goals themselves. The highly-respected Economist concurs with the other analysts. Bush's talk of a threat to "freedom" or "civilization" has been so much propaganda for gullible Americans.

The evidence explicated
The Pape study above proves Islamic terrorists are sending a message in the worst way possible. But for those who still don't quite get it, I summarized the available evidence on what these terrorists seek. I sent the following letter to the LA Times on 12/7/01:

The Terrorists' Objective

George W. Bush's claims that the Al Qaeda terrorists want to destroy freedom and democracy are nonsense. Let's look at what they've attacked and what it represents:

The USS Cole: Our military presence in the Middle East. US foreign embassies: Our political presence in the region. The World Trade Center: Our global economic leadership. The Pentagon: Our military leadership.

Significantly, the terrorists haven't attacked our computer and communications networks, our physical infrastructure, or our citizenry in general. It seems clear the terrorists are trying to send us a message, not to destroy our country or its capabilities. (If they are trying to destroy our country or its capabilities, they're doing a poor job of it.)

On the issue of attacking people, architectural experts have said the Twin Towers shouldn't have collapsed. This unexpected collapse is what killed most of the victims. If the terrorists had wanted to kill lots of Americans, any college football game would've offered 10-20 times the targets. Officials have indicated the anthrax attacks are probably the work of homegrown criminals such as anti-abortionists.

The terrorists' message seems to be: Stop imposing your military, economic, and political might on us. Not coincidentally, that's also what Osama bin Laden and others have said in their writings and interviews. And that's what the rest of the world has been telling us for years, in one form or another.

While we don't have to heed this message, it would be stupid to pretend it doesn't exist. We can continue to pursue the killers while addressing the underlying grievances it represents. Or we can take the prewar Bush approach and continue to give the world the finger.

From the horse's orifice
But why speculate on Bin Laden's motivations when he's stated his aims many times? Here are some excerpts from his past writings and interviews. From the LA Times, 9/16/01:

"After the end of the Cold War, America escalated its campaign against the Muslim world in its entirety, aiming to get rid of Islam itself. ... However, our gratitude to Allah, their campaign was not successful, as terrorizing the American occupiers is a religious and logical obligation."

"The Afghan government has not asked" us to leave the country. ... Our relationship with our brother moujahedeen in Afghanistan is a deep and broad relationship where blood and sweat have mixed, as have the links over long years of struggle against the Soviets."

November 1996

"We have declared jihad against the U.S. ... [Is it] directed against U.S. soldiers, the civilians in [Mecca and Medina] or against the civilians in America [?]. We have focused our declaration on striking at the soldiers .... "

March 1997

"We predict a black day for America and the end of the United States as United States. [They] will be separate states and will retreat from our land and collect the bodies of their sons back to America."

"We do not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians; they are all targets in this fatwa.

May 1998

[The U.S. Embassy explosion in Nairobi] was a painful blow. [The Americans] had not sustained such a blow since the blowing up of the Marines in Lebanon. .... They deserved it. It made them taste what we tasted during the massacres committed [against us].

June 1999

Comment:  Although one might infer a threat against "freedom" and "democracy" in America, the main goal is to remove our influence in Islamic countries. Although our Islamic allies don't support this goal, they aren't hunky-dory with our military, economic, and cultural hegemony in the Middle East, either. If Bin Laden's goals and methods are wrong, we still need to address why he's much more popular than we are in the Islamic world.

More from the horse's orifice
From the LA Times, 10/7/02:

Bin Laden Is Reportedly on Tape

Terrorism: Voice says 'youths of God' are planning more attacks against the U.S.

From Times Wire Services

CAIRO — The Arab satellite station Al Jazeera broadcast an audiotape Sunday in which a male voice attributed to Osama bin Laden says the "youths of God" are planning more attacks against the United States.

"By God, the youths of God are preparing for you things that would fill your hearts with terror and target your economic lifeline until you stop your oppression and aggression" against Muslims, the voice on the tape says.

It wasn't immediately clear when the tape was made. The short message was broadcast with a picture of Bin Laden in the background.

In Washington, a White House official said: "We're aware of the tape and its contents. We will be reviewing it."

The man on the tape says his message is addressed to the American people, whom he urges to "understand the message of the New York and Washington attacks which came in response to some of your previous crimes."

"But those who follow the activities of the band of criminals in the White House, the Jewish agents, who are preparing for an attack on the Muslim world ... feel that you have not understood anything from the message of the two attacks," he says.

"So let America increase the pace of this conflict or decrease it, and we will respond in kind," he says. The reference appeared to be to the U.S.-Iraq confrontation, which could date the tape to recent weeks.

Al Jazeera has become known for its broadcasts of audiotapes and video footage of Al Qaeda leaders.

Comment:  Bin Laden's latest words echo what he's said before. "...until you stop your oppression and aggression," "which came in response to some of your previous crimes," "we will respond in kind." If you read most of his comments, Bin Laden believes he's responding to US aggression and he'll fight until the aggression stops—not until the US is destroyed.

The evidence of Bin Laden's intentions is directly above. Bush's claims that he wants to destroy the US or freedom or democracy are a sham and a lie. Dubya wants to justify his endless war against anyone he doesn't like.

Fanaticism? Not necessarily
From the LA Times, 9/16/01:

Religion Isn't Sole Motive of Terror


John V. Parachini is a policy analyst in the Washington office of Rand. The views expressed here are his own

What would motivate anyone to crash airplanes into buildings with thousands of people inside?

Attributing religious motivations to the 50 or so people federal authorities report may have been involved in this operation is too simplistic.

Similarly, describing the attackers as crazy does not appreciate the character of their twisted logic. They operated according to a way of thinking that we neither approve nor fully understand, but it made sense to them. An examination of the motives of the conspirators who sought to bring down the World Trade Center towers in 1993 may offer some insight.

After the bombing in 1993, the bombing conspirators wrote to the New York Times. They justified their attack as a way to transfer the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians to the American homeland and argued that Americans would only diminish their support for Israel when they suffered in the same way as Palestinians and other people like them in moderate Arab countries.

The bombers argued that "the American people must know that their civilians who got killed are not better than those who are getting killed by the American weapons and support."

The 1993 bombers were also motivated by delusions of grandeur and a sense of moral superiority. They claimed to be engaged in a war against the United States and that hundreds of others would join them in the fight. By casting their actions as part of a broader struggle, they legitimized their attempt at mass murder.

Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, whom U.S. prosecutors described as the mastermind of the bombing, justified the attack as "necessary to use the same means against you because this is the only language which you understand."

Yousef's expertise with explosives fed his vainglorious sense of self.

In an interview before his sentencing, Yousef stated that he was a "genius" and an "explosives expert." Bombers crave the psychic thrill of explosions like arsonists crave fires. By planting a bomb in the underground garage of the World Trade Center, Yousef hoped to establish himself as the greatest bomber in history.

Yousef also justified the bombing as revenge for what he saw as U.S. crimes of history.

In his courtroom statement, he cited the bombing of Japan, the Vietnam War and the trade embargoes against Cuba and Iraq as U.S. acts that warranted punishment. He was historical judge, jury and executioner.

Conspicuous by its absence from the New York Times letter and all Yousef's statements was any religious justification for the bombing. While some of Yousef's co-conspirators articulated religious themes in their courtroom declarations of innocence, Yousef's statements all lacked religious content. Even when he was specifically asked about his religious views, he was evasive. He did not conduct the bombing to achieve religious martyrdom.

Yousef's words reveal that he was a cold-blooded killer who was proud to describe himself as a terrorist.

The 1993 World Trade Center bombers were motivated by a combination of political, personal and religious notions. Likewise, last week's attacks as well probably were motivated by more than religion. The suicide hijackers undoubtedly viewed themselves as warriors in a modern crusade against the United States—a much more grandiose characterization than mass murders of innocent people.

Failure to appreciate the complexity of the terrorists' motivation may cause us to miss important clues that may help round up remaining terrorists and prevent similar attacks in the future.

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times

From the LA Times, 10/3/04:


Social Bonds Pull Muslim Youth to Jihad, Expert Says

After examining 172 case studies, a CIA veteran turned forensic psychiatrist argues that religion isn't the main factor in radicalization.

By Sebastian Rotella
Times Staff Writer

October 3, 2004

PARIS -- Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks forced the West to seek an overnight education in Islamic extremism, the myths endure.

The militants are impoverished and uneducated. Lifelong religious fervor drives them to embrace jihad. Al Qaeda aggressively recruits and brainwashes the men.

Those ideas are tempting but incorrect, argues Marc Sageman, a CIA veteran turned forensic psychiatrist. In a book based on 172 case studies of so-called holy warriors, Sageman concludes that social bonds are a more vital force than religion in molding extremists.

Mohamed Atta and his fellow hijackers were a classic example of this "bunch of guys" theory: educated, upwardly mobile but alienated immigrants who formed a tight-knit clique in Hamburg, Germany.

Powerful friendships drove their radicalization, Sageman says. In long talks about Islam, their love for one another mixed with hate for the West, propelling them finally into Al Qaeda.

"It's a group phenomenon. To search for individual characteristics in order to understand them is totally misleading. It will lead you to a dead end."

Sageman came to Paris last month to discuss his book, "Understanding Terror Networks," with scholars and law enforcement officials who are among the West's foremost experts on radical Islam.

His work has struck a chord here because it searches for scientific answers to questions that haunt the world with each new act of bloodshed: Why? Who are the terrorists? What makes them kill?

Like many European investigators, Sageman emphasizes the fluid, spontaneous nature of the global jihad and Osama bin Laden's hands-off leadership, based largely on providing money and inspiration.

The Al Qaeda network has not engaged in active recruitment or "mind control," he argues. Instead, extremist cliques made up of friends and relatives seek out "brokers," usually veteran jihadis who can channel them to training camps and other gateways to the network, he says.

"Joining the jihad is more akin to the process of applying to a selective college," Sageman writes. "Many try to get in, but only a few succeed, and the college's role is evaluation and selection rather than marketing." His theses have been disputed.

In 2002, the Dutch intelligence service found that Al Qaeda had "explicitly instructed" recruiters to base themselves in Europe and troll for aspiring jihadis in prisons, mosques and other gathering places. Recruiters used psychological techniques such as isolating recruits and assigning them a "buddy" to serve as a continuous influence, according to a report by the intelligence service.

And from the LA Times, 9/23/01:

What is particularly chilling is to understand that these are perfectly normal individuals. I've just finished a study, interviewing 35 incarcerated Middle Eastern terrorists, including about 18 radical Islamists. And what is very striking is their normality....They have been led to subordinate their individuality to a radical clerical leader who tells them that this is not only not immoral, it is a sacred requirement, an obligation.

This is really a war for people's minds. Bombs and missiles are not going to lead people to be afraid who are willing to give up their lives. The real issue is how do we take alienated youth in the Arab world and persuade them, help lead them to the path of moderate political activism rather than feeling that the only path is to give their lives for their causes.

Jerrold M. Post in an interview with Canada AM's Rod Black on Sept. 17

Meet the terrorists

Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world," but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): Whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Sept. 11's slaughter, they were not cowards.

Susan Sontag, New Yorker

Some excerpts from Some People Push Back:  On the Justice of Roosting Chickens by Ward Churchill:

The men who flew the missions against the WTC and Pentagon were not "cowards." That distinction properly belongs to the "firm-jawed lads" who delighted in flying stealth aircraft through the undefended airspace of Baghdad, dropping payload after payload of bombs on anyone unfortunate enough to be below—including tens of thousands of genuinely innocent civilians—while themselves incurring all the risk one might expect during a visit to the local video arcade. Still more, the word describes all those "fighting men and women" who sat at computer consoles aboard ships in the Persian Gulf, enjoying air-conditioned comfort while launching cruise missiles into neighborhoods filled with random human beings. Whatever else can be said of them, the men who struck on September 11 manifested the courage of their convictions, willingly expending their own lives in attaining their objectives.

Nor were they "fanatics" devoted to "Islamic fundamentalism."

One might rightly describe their actions as "desperate." Feelings of desperation, however, are a perfectly reasonable—one is tempted to say "normal"—emotional response among persons confronted by the mass murder of their children, particularly when it appears that nobody else really gives a damn (ask a Jewish survivor about this one, or, even more poignantly, for all the attention paid them, a Gypsy).

That desperate circumstances generate desperate responses is no mysterious or irrational principle, of the sort motivating fanatics. Less is it one peculiar to Islam. Indeed, even the FBI's investigative reports on the combat teams' activities during the months leading up to September 11 make it clear that the members were not fundamentalist Muslims. Rather, it's pretty obvious at this point that they were secular activists—soldiers, really—who, while undoubtedly enjoying cordial relations with the clerics of their countries, were motivated far more by the grisly realities of the U.S. war against them than by a set of religious beliefs.

And still less were they/their acts "insane." Insanity is a condition readily associable with the very American idea that one—or one's country—holds what amounts to a "divine right" to commit genocide, and thus to forever do so with impunity. The term might also be reasonably applied to anyone suffering genocide without attempting in some material way to bring the process to a halt. Sanity itself, in this frame of reference, might be defined by a willingness to try and destroy the perpetrators and/or the sources of their ability to commit their crimes. (Shall we now discuss the US "strategic bombing campaign" against Germany during World War II, and the mental health of those involved in it?)

Which takes us to official characterizations of the combat teams as an embodiment of "evil."

Evil—for those inclined to embrace the banality of such a concept—was perfectly incarnated in that malignant toad known as Madeline Albright, squatting in her studio chair like Jaba the Hutt, blandly spewing the news that she'd imposed a collective death sentence upon the unoffending youth of Iraq. Evil was to be heard in that great American hero "Stormin' Norman" Schwartzkopf's utterly dehumanizing dismissal of their systematic torture and annihilation as mere "collateral damage." Evil, moreover, is a term appropriate to describing the mentality of a public that finds such perspectives and the policies attending them acceptable, or even momentarily tolerable.

Hence, it can be concluded that ravings carried by the "news" media since September 11 have contained at least one grain of truth: The peoples of the Mideast "aren't like" Americans, not least because they don't "value life' in the same way. By this, it should be understood that Middle-Easterners, unlike Americans, have no history of exterminating others purely for profit, or on the basis of racial animus. Thus, we can appreciate the fact that they value life—all lives, not just their own—far more highly than do their U.S. counterparts.

Churchill's perhaps-naive conclusion:

More bluntly, the hope was—and maybe still is—that Americans, stripped of their presumed immunity from incurring any real consequences for their behavior, would comprehend and act upon a formulation as uncomplicated as "stop killing our kids, if you want your own to be safe."

More on what the terrorists want


Being Blind to the Past Clouds the Future
We are likely to be faced with angry regimes all over the Middle East.

Amy Wilentz. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif.: Mar 23, 2003. pg. M.3

In other countries, foreign policy has long been the domain of the cynic, the sophisticate, the hypocrite. Only Americans aspire to innocence when it comes to foreign policy. In keeping with that tradition, President Bush has insisted in recent months on the perfect blamelessness of past and current American behavior in the Middle East, and the pure goodness of our aggression — first against Afghanistan and now against Iraq — with a determined disregard for the complications of history, much less truth.

Bush and his team have repeatedly asserted that the U.S. has clean hands when it comes to the Middle East, and that it is performing a moral duty by going to war against Iraq. No attempt has been made to help Americans understand the roots of our troubled relationships with the nations of the region.

When he issued his final ultimatum to Saddam Hussein last week, Bush claimed that "the U.S. ... did nothing to deserve or invite this threat [of terrorism], but we will do everything to defeat it." His message was clear: Like the people who went to work in the twin towers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, America is an innocent target of terror. For some unknown reason, bad people have chosen America for destruction. This insistence on disregarding or trivializing our involvement in Middle Eastern affairs — and what it has meant to the Arab world — is curious but not inexplicable.

Just after the attack on the World Trade Center, there was a small explosion of articles in the media posing the question, "Why do they hate us?" Obvious reasons were suggested: resentments over the West's carving up of the Middle East in the first quarter of the last century; the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, where the holy city of Mecca is located; U.S. control of oil in the Persian Gulf; past American machinations in upholding unpopular, autocratic leaders; and, finally, American support of Israel. The articles also pointed to less obvious underpinnings of Arab anger: embarrassment over the Arab world's comparative lack of success in the modern era, the comparative decline of Arab military power and a precipitous decline in visible intellectual progress after a fabled history of invention, creativity and scientific advance.

American conservatives and supporters of the Bush administration were not happy with such delvings into the past. When the provocateur Susan Sontag wrote in the New Yorker that the events of Sept. 11 came "as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions" — which is hard to argue with for those who know anything about the Middle East — conservatives, and even many reflexive liberals, were outraged. A month after Sept. 11, editors at the New York Post wondered: "Has there ever been a culture more burdened with well-paid preachers of self-doubt and defeatism than America's? ... Indeed, the right response when someone asks why bloody-handed killers like Osama bin Laden hate America is: Who cares?" People think that asking why we are hated is tantamount to saying the attacks were justified.

Since the initial questions were shouted down, reporting on the history of our problems with the Arabs has been minimal in the mainstream press, and the walk up to the war with Iraq has further diverted attention from that history. But failing to ask tough questions is perilous. "Causes of anti-American hatred are not fully understood," James A. Thomson, president of the Rand Corp., wrote recently, "so the United States has no good idea of what to do about it.... We believe that a careful, systematic inquiry into the causes of anti-Americanism is needed in order to find solutions."

At least one think tank reports that, while funds have flowed freely to study many aspects of terrorism, no one wants to fund a study that looks at why America is resented. We have been fooled into believing that what we do in our own economic or hegemonic interests is also somehow always good and right and democratic, and we are reluctant to examine those assumptions too closely.

And now comes war with Iraq, and with it a new set of questions about our motivations and chances for long-term success. But those questions too raise issues that many would prefer to leave unexamined. The Bush administration does not want to ask anything that might cause Americans to reconsider blanket support for Israel, or to contemplate in a serious way how deeply the future of the American oil industry depends on the future character of the Arab states. We are not supposed to believe that the war in Iraq has anything to do with the security of America's oil supply. (Why do they talk so little about this?) Finally, the president doesn't want Americans to think about how the U.S. has propped up autocrat after autocrat in the Middle East in order to ensure stability, only to discover (big surprise here) that in the Middle East, autocrats engender rebellions, often of a fundamentalist kind (as in Iran).

The Arab world is in transition. Since the end of the First World War, it has become increasingly obvious that the West cannot simply mold the Arab world as it might wish. Even Turkey, the most Western of the Muslim nations, is not precisely what we would desire. Nor is Israel. What will Iraq become if it turns into another of the Arab world's American puppets? Will it be another failure, overturned by a fundamentalist rebellion, a future kingdom of a future Taliban? Bin Laden encourages terror to counter Bush's war on Iraq. He sees Iraq, and our war against it, as fertile ground for his movement. He may reason that, the way things are going, one day he will be the new ayatollah of Iraq.

Continuing along the path Bush has set out for us, we will in all likelihood be faced in the future with angry regimes all over the Arab world, unless we are willing to follow up shock and awe against Iraq with shock and awe against every Arab nation that displeases us. Watching Bush describe and frame his inexorable campaign against Baghdad, one is forced to ask: Who is the close-minded believer? Maybe Americans are prepared for perpetual war in the Middle East. That is what Bush's incurious, ahistorical policy leaves us with: a future of peril and violence into which we have walked blindly.

From a book review of The Road to Martyrs' Square: A Journey Into the World of the Suicide Bomber. In the LA Times, 1/30/05:

So what draws tens of thousands of young men (and growing numbers of women) to an elaborate death cult? The statistics are shocking enough. The U.S. Agency for International Development — hardly a pro-Palestinian pressure group — reported in 2002 that one in five young children in the Palestinian territories suffers from malnutrition. For more than 13% of children under 5 in the Gaza Strip, the problem is so acute that it will affect their growth and mental development.

Even this misery is not enough to explain (let alone justify) blowing oneself up to kill Israelis. Yet political ideas are viral. They spread in debased conditions and — whatever the other causes — there can be no question that decades of Israeli military occupation created a soil in which jihadism would thrive.

When the authors first arrived, most Palestinians subscribed to a nationalist ideology. Nationalists revere the peasant and the shepherd and talk in a romantic way about the land. Islamists revere the hajj, the religious pilgrim who relinquishes his earthly possessions to fulfill the commands of God. Nationalism is, of course, far easier to deal with, because nationalists are merely bidding — however aggressively — for real estate.

Jihadism, by contrast, bids for souls. It is also far more corrosive of Palestinian society. The greatest victims since the rise of Hamas' influence on Palestinian life have been not just Israeli civilians but also Palestinian women like Nuha, a female friend of the authors who had once dreamed of going to college and studying poetry but now is "not allowed" to leave the house. When they visit her, she has not stepped outside for several years. "She lived ... behind a heavy iron door that opened only when [her husband] Muhammed came and went."

By decoding the graffiti that reveres suicide bombers and interviewing the families of such "martyrs," the authors have pried open the imaginative universe of the jihadist youth. A suicide bomber, they explain, "sees himself not only as an avenging Ninja, but also as something of a movie star, maybe even a sex symbol — a romantic figure at the very least, larger than life."

These killers seek "ecstatic obliteration" because of disturbingly familiar human flaws: superstitious delusion, vanity, tribal identification and rage. Oliver and Steinberg quote a videotaped "final testament" by one suicide bomber from occupied Gaza: "We have seen the dunya [physical world], and ... it doesn't amount to anything."

This vision of Gaza and the West Bank may seem strangely familiar to Los Angelenos: graffiti, tribal warfare, random violence, misogyny, reverence for death and the lionizing of young men who lived fast and died young. When the young men of South-Central Los Angeles are choked off from economic opportunity, when they have no way to advance but through crime, when they feel they have no safe space to call their own, they form gangs, create alternative value structures and behave like maniacs.

Perhaps the most revealing moment in "The Road to Martyrs' Square" is when the authors' friend Ali watches a pirated copy of the movie "Boyz N the Hood." Ali is entranced; afterward, he refers to his own slice of the West Bank as his "hood," without a trace of irony. Are Hamas and the militant group Islamic Jihad so different from the Bloods and the Crips? Or do the Palestinians operate in even more desperate circumstances?

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times

From "Beneath Bombast and Bombs, a Caldron of Humiliation" by Jessica Stern. In the LA Times, 6/6/04:

For the last six years I have interviewed terrorists, trying to discover what makes people join a holy-war organization and what makes them stay. Although the terrorists have described a variety of individual grievances, there was one common thread: their overwhelming feelings of humiliation.

The former leader and founder of the Muslim Jambaz Force, a Kashmiri militant group, told me that he established his organization because he wanted to re-create the golden period of Islam and "recover" what had been lost. "Muslims have been overpowered by the West," he said. "Our ego hurts. We are not able to live up to our own standards for ourselves."

A man involved in the violent wing of the anti-abortion movement told me that he had been "vaginally defeated" but that now he was "free," by which he meant that although he had once been controlled by overpowering women, he was now celibate and beyond their influence.

An Identity Christian cultist told me he had been so sickly as a child that he was forced to attend the girls' physical education classes. "I don't know if I ever got over the shame and humiliation of not being able to keep up with the other boys," he said, "or even with some of the girls." He said the first time he felt strong was when he was living in an armed compound surrounded by armed men.

Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, describes globalization and the new world order as deeply humiliating to Muslims. That's why, he says, he encourages the youth of Islam to carry arms and defend their religion with pride and dignity rather than submit to the humiliation of globalization.

Halfway through my study, I asked a terrorist leader if I was getting it right. I laid out for him what I'd heard again and again, that terrorists were motivated by their perceived humiliation, relative deprivation and fear — whether personal, cultural or both. I told him how this seemed to me to be what motivated terrorists around the world, including American ones, and that everything else was just sloganeering and marketing.

After a silence that stretched almost to the point of discomfort, my interlocutor finally responded. "This is exactly right," he said. "Sometimes the deprivation is imagined, as in America. In Kashmir, it's real. But it doesn't really matter whether it's real or imagined."

Holy wars take off when there is a large supply of young men who feel humiliated and deprived; when leaders emerge who know how to capitalize on those feelings; and when a segment of society is willing to fund them. They persist when organizations and individuals profit from them psychologically or financially. But they are dependent first and foremost on a deep pool of humiliation.

From "A Poverty of Dignity and a Wealth of Rage" by Thomas L. Friedman. In the NY Times, 7/15/05:

Part of what seems to be going on with these young Muslim males is that they are, on the one hand, tempted by Western society, and ashamed of being tempted. On the other hand, they are humiliated by Western society because while Sunni Islamic civilization is supposed to be superior, its decision to ban the reform and reinterpretation of Islam since the 12th century has choked the spirit of innovation out of Muslim lands, and left the Islamic world less powerful, less economically developed, less technically advanced than God 2.0, 1.0 and 0.0.

"Some of these young Muslim men are tempted by a civilization they consider morally inferior, and they are humiliated by the fact that, while having been taught their faith is supreme, other civilizations seem to be doing much better," said Raymond Stock, the Cairo-based biographer and translator of Naguib Mahfouz. "When the inner conflict becomes too great, some are turned by recruiters to seek the sick prestige of 'martyrdom' by fighting the allegedly unjust occupation of Muslim lands and the 'decadence' in our own."

This is not about the poverty of money. This is about the poverty of dignity and the rage it can trigger.

From All the Wrong Places by Rosa Brooks. In the LA Times, 9/10/06:

IN June 2005, Karl Rove came up with an effective new quip: Liberals, he declared, wanted to respond to terrorism by offering "therapy." In the White House advisor's view, "Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said: we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said: we must understand our enemies." Today, it's hard to regard Rove's remark with anything but heartsick disgust. Despite the five years that have passed since the Sept. 11 attacks, we're nowhere near defeating our enemies — in large part because we've never made the slightest effort to understand them.

Three new books highlight these failures. In "What Terrorists Want," Louise Richardson, executive dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, distills decades of research on terrorist movements around the globe and concludes that post-9/11 U.S. policy is based on deep misconceptions about how terrorists function. In "Without Precedent," Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, co-chairmen of the Sept. 11 commission, describe the Bush administration's relentless stonewalling of their efforts. And in "Not a Suicide Pact," federal appellate judge Richard A. Posner asks whether the terrorist threat justifies restrictions on civil rights.

Lucid and powerful, Richardson's book refutes the dangerous idea that there's no point in trying to understand terrorists. She offers rare firsthand knowledge of how terrorists think: Raised in Ireland in a Catholic republican family, she was 14 at the time of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, when British troops fired on Irish protesters. She recalls her girlhood diaries, "filled with invective against the latest example of Britain ... exploiting and brutalizing Ireland.... The extremism I imbibed came ... from the air around me."

As a university student, she watched many of her idealistic friends turn to the Irish Republican Army — and although she did not join, she recognizes that those who did "were like me in almost every respect."

Drawing on interviews and primary source materials from dozens of such movements, Richardson reminds us that despite the awfulness of their acts, most terrorists are neither "insane" nor even unusually cruel. On the contrary, their acts are rationally calculated, and most terrorists believe themselves to be altruistic and noble, Davids fighting Goliaths.

This is a simple insight with profound implications for counter-terrorism policy. The rhetoric of "evil" prevents us from understanding how terrorists think and alienates those who may be torn between sympathy for the political aims of such movements and disapproval of terrorism as a tactic.

And these are precisely the people Richardson says we can least afford to alienate. Although terrorist movements thrive when they are based in what she calls "complicit communities," they fizzle out when they lose community support. Thus, understanding the grievances of those drawn to terrorism is crucial to designing effective policies to halt its spread.

By refusing to consider that terrorists may have any legitimate grievances, the Bush administration has radicalized moderates throughout the Islamic world and has wasted opportunities to deprive terrorists of the community support so critical to their survival. From the war in Iraq to the abuse of detainees, U.S. anti-terror tactics have backfired, driving more and more recruits into the arms of Al Qaeda.

At the same time, the rhetoric of the "war" on terror has played into Osama bin Laden's hands. Terrorists long for legitimacy: They want to be seen as courageous soldiers forced to adopt brutal tactics in the face of the enemy's superior resources. Here Richardson is blunt: "For the United States to declare war on a bunch of radical extremists living under the protection of impoverished Afghanistan is to elevate their stature in a way that they could not possibly hope to do themselves."

Despite her grim assessment of the U.S. record since Sept. 11, Richardson holds out hope for containing terrorism and halting the spread of Islamic militancy. She urges talks (even if covert) with terror groups, to better understand their motivations and aims. Similarly, she advocates policies and foreign aid designed to address the political grievances that spur terrorists — not out of any "illusions that these actions would impress, much less mollify, the perpetrators of the violence" but because they are vital to depriving terrorists of the complicit communities that sustain them.

More on what the terrorists want
"Radicals seek to drive home the point that Americans should never contemplate...visiting American military force against the Muslim world ever again."

Related links
Terrorism:  "good" vs. "evil"
America's exceptional values
Winning through nonviolence
America's cultural mindset

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