Nothing could be further form the truth. Long before the United States stepped foot in Iraq, al-Qaeda agents spent their days thinking about how to rip apart Western culture. They claimed innocent lives in Madrid, Bali, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kenya, Tanzania, Yemen, Turkey, Egypt, and yes, New York on September 11. The war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestine conflict—these are flashpoints in the war; they are not the cause or effect. Remember, terrorist attacks were planned during the Clinton administration, when the United States was engaging in the most active efforts to facilitate Middle East Peace Talks. In 1998 Al Qaeda blew up the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, killing 224 individuals. In 2000 they detonated a bomb alongside the USS Cole in Yemen, killing 17 servicemen. These terrorists declared war on our way of life long before we entered Iraq. So it would be naïve to think that pulling out of Iraq, or changing our policies regarding the Middle East peace process, would somehow stem the violence.
The problem is larger than Iraq. It is larger than Israel or Palestine. It’s not about political polices. It’s about the fact that for much of modern history, the Muslim world has occupied a dominant role on the world stage. This is no longer the case. Over the past 200 years, the Muslim world has fallen far behind the Western world in terms of military power, science, and economic prosperity. In a very real way, the Muslim world has had to confront the reality of having lost a war—of having witnessed the slow recession of their culture.
What’s particularly disgusting and disgraceful is the way that Muslim leaders repudiate America and Europe, but cannot bring themselves to find fault in the Muslim dictatorships that are responsible for so much of their poverty and death. Instead, the spokesmen for Islamic extremism refer to their terror attacks as part of a holy war. This rhetoric gives young people the feeling that they are liberating their homeland (they are not). This sort of pathology is maintained through social and religious myths that indoctrinate the youth to extremism. School rooms are decorated with pictures of suicide bombers, who are praised and glorified by teachers. One of the most popular pastimes amongst school kids is a card game called “how to be a suicide bomber.” From a young age, these children are taught to blame the ruin of their lives on a nexus of crippling political decisions handed down by America, Europe and Israel. In a land where large pluralities of the populace are starving and lack a sense of future possibilities, this kind of social conditioning holds a special appeal. It suggests an alternative to their poverty.
The only way this will change, is if we facilitate democracy throughout the region. The only way to marginalize the Jihadist ideas is to make sure the people have access to alternative viewpoints. We cannot defend against every terror attack. But if we break the stranglehold of ideas in the Muslim world, then maybe children will stop strapping bombs to their bodies and detonating themselves in our subways and on our streets.