"We are at war. We are at war against al-Qaida, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people and that is plotting to strike us again."
Thus did Barack Obama clear the air as to whether we are at war, and with whom and why.
Following his remarks, during a White House briefing by National Security Council aide John Brennan, Helen Thomas asked a follow-up question to which we almost never hear an answer:
Why is al-Qaida at war with us? What is its motivation?
It was Osama bin Laden himself, in his declaration of war in 1998, published in London, who gave al-Qaida's reasons for war:
First, the U.S. military presence on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia. Second, U.S. sanctions causing terrible suffering among the Iraqi people. Third, U.S. support for Israel's dispossession of the Palestinians. "All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on God, his Messenger and Muslims," said Osama.
He began his fatwa quoting the Koran: "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war."
To Osama, we started the war. Muslims, the ulema, must fight because America, with her "brutal crusade occupation of the (Arabian) Peninsula" and support for "the Jews' petty state" and "occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there" was waging war upon the Islamic world.
Terrorism, the direct killing of civilians for political ends, is al-Qaida's unconventional tactic, but its war aims are quite conventional.
Al-Qaida is fighting a religious war against apostates and pagans in their midst, a civil war against collaborators of the Crusaders and an anti-colonial war to drive us out of the Dar al-Islam. On Sept. 11, they were over here -- because we are over there.
Nothing justifies the massacre of Sept. 11. But these are the political goals behind the 9/11 attack, and this is why Islamists fare well in elections in the Middle East. Tens of millions of Muslims, who may despise terrorism, identify with the causes for which Osama declared war -- liberation of Muslim peoples from pro-American autocrats and Israeli occupiers.
Americans are being killed for the reasons Osama said we should be killed -- not because of who we are, but because of where we are and what we do.