Cliff May

Nine years ago this week, I began a series of discussions about terrorism with Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick and a small group of concerned philanthropists. Since Saturday is the ninth anniversary of the 9/11/01 atrocities, that won’t surprise you. What might: Our first conversation took place before, not after, terrorists hijacked passengers jets and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Those with whom I met grasped this: While America was happily cashing in the post-Cold War “peace dividend,” terrorists were bombing the World Trade Center (for what turned out to be the first time), slaughtering American troops at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, bombing two American embassies in Africa, and driving an explosive-laden boat into the USS Cole. Most political leaders, intelligence analysts, academics and journalists did not see much significance in this pattern.

In the weeks that followed, we organized the Foundation for Defense of Democracies to undertake research to better understand terrorism and the forces driving it, develop useful policy options, and help educate the public.

Among the most significant lesson I’ve learned: Terrorism is not the core of the problem. It is merely the weapon of choice for some of the regimes, movements and ideologies that are waging a war against the U.S. and other democratic societies.

The terrorists regard themselves as “jihadis” -- heroic Islamic warriors and conquerors. They see their enemies as “infidels” -- enemies of Allah who deserve death and would be better off dead.

Yes, the jihadis and those who support them have grievances against America, Europe, India and, of course, Israel. But resolving policy differences is not their goal. Their goal is to humiliate, defeat and subdue the West, and to restore to Muslims the power and glory they enjoyed in the distant past and which, they are confident, they are destined to enjoy again in the not-too distant future.

Not all those who seek this restoration engage in acts of terrorism or even support them. There are those – call them “Islamists” -- who are not militants. They believe non-violent strategies can more effectively hasten the transition from the rule of law as constructed by men to the rule of law as ordained by Allah, along with the transfer of global dominance from Judeo-Christian and secular societies to “the Muslim world.”

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.