Steve Chapman

Hasan's views are way outside the mainstream of American Muslims. A 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center found that very few of them hold radical beliefs. Eight percent think suicide bombings can sometimes be justified, which means 92 percent do not. Only 5 percent said they had a favorable opinion of al-Qaida.

Does that sound like a lot? Keep in mind that 13 percent of Americans have a favorable view of North Korea. That's right: North Korea.

Some commentators insist that Islam is inherently aggressive, intolerant or bent on taking over the world by force. But contemporary terrorism, which is supposed to prove that, doesn't. As University of Chicago scholar Robert Pape has documented in his research on suicide attackers, most are motivated mainly by non-religious concerns.

Of 41 people who carried out suicide attacks in Lebanon between 1982 and 1986, he noted in his 2005 book "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," 30 were affiliated with groups (SET ITAL) opposed (END ITAL) to Islamic fundamentalism, including secular communist, socialist and Baath organizations. Three of the attackers were Christians. What the perpetrators shared was not a religion but an intense resentment of an occupation by foreign powers (the United States, France and Israel).

This motive, Pape says, is characteristic of suicide attackers wherever they emerge, including Iraq and Afghanistan. The terrorists' quarrel with the U.S. is not that it is an infidel society but that it's seen as occupying Muslim countries.

Osama bin Laden has made the point himself. Dismissing President Bush's assertion that "we hate freedom," he once said, "Let him tell us why we did not strike Sweden."

The al-Qaida leader likes nothing better than to portray the United States as waging a crusade against Muslims. We would be doing ourselves no favor to confirm the accusation.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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