Middle Eastern Terrorists Hate the U.S.
By William O. Beeman
The Bush administrations
projected war on terrorism is designed to eradicate and de-legitimize
terrorists. Both aims are futile. The grievances of the terrorists
committed the horrendous attacks on New York and Washington on September
11th have deep and persistent roots going back more than 150 years.
The terrorists harbor a hatred that will not die, and their grievances
cannot be de-legitimized through military attacks.
Middle Eastern opposition to the West is far from being a phenomenon
invented by Osama bin Laden, or the Taliban, or for that matter Iran,
Iraq or the Palestinians. It has grown consistently since the beginning
of the 19th century as an effective oppositional force both to the West
and to local secular rulers. Western powers were blind to Middle Eastern
opposition forces throughout the 20th century because they were overshadowed
by great power rivalry during this period.
The original leader of the opposition to the West was Jamalludin Al-Afghani
(1838-1897). Called the Father of Islamic Modernism, Al-Afghani
was educated in Iran, Afghanistan and India. He traveled throughout
the Islamic world promulgating an Islamic reform movement. Using
an Islamic ideology helped him to transcend ethnic differences in the
region, and preach a message all would understand. He sought
to mobilize Muslim nations to fight against Western imperialism and
gain military power through modern technology. Al-Afghani claimed that
Britain, France and Russia in particular were operating in collusion
with Middle Eastern rulers to rob the people of their patrimony through
sweetheart deals for exploitation of natural and commercial resources
in the region.
As a direct result of the efforts of Al-Afghani and his followers, groups
such as the Muslim Brotherhood evolved throughout the region. These
groups generally espoused three methods in their political and religious
activity: personal piety coupled with evangelism, religious modernization,
and political resistance to secular regimes.
The Western nations have committed a litany of crimes against the Muslim
world according to the Islamic opposition. After World War I, the Middle
Eastern peoples were treated largely as war prizes to be divided and
manipulated for the good of the militarily powerful Europeans. The British
and the French without consent or consultation on the part of the residents
created every nation between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf
for their own benefit. This increased the resentment of the fundamentalists
against the West and against the rulers installed by Westerners.
After World War II, the Cold War conflict between the U.S. and the
Soviet Union fought over the Middle East nations like children over
such as those of Egypt, the Sudan, Iraq, and Syria were constantly
pressed to choose between East and West. The choice was often prompted
of military support to sitting rulers. With ready sources of money and
guns in either Washington or Moscow, Middle Eastern rulers could easily
oppress the religious fundamentalists who opposed them. This added even
more to the anger of the religious reformers. At this point the oppositionists
abandoned political action through conventional political processes
and turned to extra-governmental methodsterrorismto make
their dissatisfaction felt.
The U.S. became the sole representative of the West after 1972, when
Great Britain, poor and humbled, could no longer afford to maintain
a full military force in the region. Anxious to protect oil supplies
from the Soviet Union, Washington propped up the Shah of Iran and the
Saudi Arabian government in the ill-fated Twin Pillars strategy.
This ended with the Iranian revolution, leaving America with a messy
patchwork of military and political detritus. When Iran went to war
with Iraq, the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein to prevent Iran from winning.
Anxious about Soviet incursions into Afghanistan, it propped up the
Taliban. These two monstrous forcesSaddam and the Talibanare
very much an American creation.
The final blow came when America finally had to confront its former
client, Iraq, in the Gulf War. Americans established a military base
on Saudi Arabian soilconsidered sacred by pious Muslims. Saudi
officials had been resisting this move for years, knowing that it would
be politically dangerous both for them and for the U.S. This action
was the basis for Osama bin Ladens opposition to the U.S.
All of this meddling only confirms the century-old assertion that the
West was out to rob the people of the Middle East of their prerogatives
and patrimony. The current revolutionaries in the region, including
bin Laden, have political pedigrees leading directly back to the original
reformer, Al-Afghani. Willy-nilly, the U.S. keeps reinforcing these
old stereotypes. It is essential that we find a way to break this pattern,
or we will be mired in these troubled relations forever.
William O. Beeman is an anthropologist teaching at Brown University.
A veteran Middle East researcher, he is author of Language, Status and
Power in Iran (Indiana University Press), and numerous publications
on terrorism and religious fundamentalism. He has been working for the
past four years in Tajikistan. This article is reprinted with kind permission
from the author. (c)2001 William O. Beeman.