Gaining an Historical Perspective on the Antagonism Between the "Muslim Nation" and the West

The Historian's Perspective

James A. Reilly, historian in the Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto wrote in Ottawa Citizen, Sept. 7, 1998, "The Distorted Images of Islam":

We must move away from an obsession with "Islam" and toward a critical examination of the role of the U.S. in the Muslim world, especially the Middle East. Anti-American slogans and militancy resonate widely, especially among the educated and among young people. Yet fifty years ago there was a considerable amount of goodwill toward the United States in the Muslim world. Even in the 1960s many Arabs and other Muslims were willing to give the United States the benefit of the doubt, despite the CIA's overthrow of a parliamentary government in Iran (1953) and Eisenhower's military intervention in Lebanon (1958). 

Today, however, there is near-universal disquiet in the Muslim Middle East regarding the U.S. In this environment an obscure figure like Osama Bin Laden, whose name was little known until the Clinton Administration spotlighted him, can become an overnight hero to thousands, if not millions, of people. Many who reject Bin Laden's militant methods and ideology nevertheless find themselves admiring him as a symbol of "struggle" against the United States a role that Saddam Hussein briefly filled during the Kuwait war of 1991. By elevating him to the status of "public enemy number one," the U.S. actually encourages other militants to emulate Bin Laden's struggle. Popular alienation from the U.S. in much of the Middle East, not Bin Laden or his doctrines, are what really need explanation. In the absence of such alienation, militants like Bin Laden would have no audience and possess little ability to move people. 

Today, however, there is near-universal disquiet in the Muslim Middle East regarding the U.S. In this environment an obscure figure like Osama Bin Laden, whose name was little known until the Clinton Administration spotlighted him, can become an overnight hero to thousands, if not millions, of people. Many who reject Bin Laden's militant methods and ideology nevertheless find themselves admiring him as a symbol of "struggle" against the United States a role that Saddam Hussein briefly filled during the Kuwait war of 1991. By elevating him to the status of "public enemy number one," the U.S. actually encourages other militants to emulate Bin Laden's struggle. Popular alienation from the U.S. in much of the Middle East, not Bin Laden or his doctrines, are what really need explanation. In the absence of such alienation, militants like Bin Laden would have no audience and possess little ability to move people. [emphasis added]

The United States today is widely seen as a bulwark of an unjust and highly exploitative order in the Middle East. America is the principal arms supplier to the region, and it is closely identified with narrowly based authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. It invokes international law when convenient (e.g. the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait), and ignores it at other times (e.g. Israel's policies of territorial annexation and colonization). According to this jaundiced view, Arab and Muslim societies seem mainly to exist in Washington's eyes as densely populated live-fire testing grounds for America's latest weaponry (southern Lebanon, Iraq), or as untrustworthy custodians of a non-renewable resource (oil) whose extraction Washington wants to control. [emphasis added] The militarization of U.S. policy in the Arab and Muslim worlds, starkly demonstrated by the recent cruise missile attacks, does nothing to dispel these impressions. Osama Bin Laden's xenophobic fulminations against "Jews and Crusaders" thus will continue to fall on receptive ears, and we do not have to go to the Quran to understand why.

The Need for Realism

"My administration has a job to do and we're going to do it. We will rid the world of the evil-doers," he said.
President George W. Bush. (CNN, 9/16/01, "Bush Vows to Rid the World of 'Evil-Doers'")

One can understand the U.S. needing to prevent attacks. I have no objection to bin Ladin spending the rest of his life in prison for encouraging the killing of innocent people. 

However, we must also come to terms with the source of bin Ladin's power. How is it possible for a considerable number of people to work diligently and sacrifice their lives to commit the attacks? The simplest answer is to say that bin Ladin's followers are evil.

However, to take this simplistic route is to reproduce the very structure of bin Ladin's thought: to view the world as a theater in which that which is 100% good struggles against that which is 100% evil. This is the structure of the chessboard. One can turn the board around to command the white pieces as easily as the black. The board is flat. There is no historical dimension. Lacking the dimension of the past, this mechanistic way of looking at things fails to prepare us for the future.

Indeed, the first observation an historical perspective is likely to give us is the insight that the United States, and specifically, the CIA, trained bin Ladin in the art of warfare. After 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to gain proximity to oil in the Gulf, it became expedient for the United States to support bin Ladin's mujahedin, a group with members willing to die to thwart the Soviet Union's attempt to annex Afghanistan, the CIA failed to provide bin Ladin with a U.S.-friendly mission after he had succeeded in doing our bidding.

Thus our machinations in the Cold War lead to our suffering in the post-Cold War. In hindsight, it might have been better to allow the Soviet Union to absorb Afghanistan into the Iron Curtain's pro-industrialist, secular view of the world. If so, by now, we might be happily building McDonald's Hamburger restaurants there, as we are in the former Soviet Union.

In any case, it is our responsibility to recognize that if we condone the CIA training sophisticated killers, those killers might someday use the skills we gave them against us.

Limits of the Melting Pot

Much of the Islamic world poses a problem for Western laissez-faire capitalism ("freedom"). Muslims do not consume in the ways that Hollywood television advertising demands. Muslims do not celebrate birthdays, so they do not purchase birthday presents. Muslims avoid anything resembling idolatry, so they often tend to avoid purchasing images of people, which can even extend to limitations on the circulation of magazines, movies, and videos. In some Muslim countries, people use a stick from the branch of a certain tree to cleanse their teeth, and these people are not likely candidates to purchase Colgate toothpaste. If the consumption of goods is the engine of Western prosperity, the Islamic World poses a problem for our economic machine, and for our ideological machine.

We take great pride in our melting pot heritage. No nation can absorb so many people of so many backgrounds, religions, and languages into a shared dream, the American Dream. Therefore, it is painfully puzzling and disconcerting when a major portion of the world just doesn't see things the way that we do. Hollywood does such a good job of cranking out dreams that we are ill equipped to understand those who think outside of our Melting Pot Dream in which the whole world could be free and happy if it only gave up its identity and tried to be like us. 

Causes of the Anger

Unless we understand the causes of the anger that led to the terrorist attacks, we will have no way to address and rectify the anger. If we choose exclusively to repress the agents that express the anger, but do not alleviate the cause of the symptoms, the anger will express itself later.

Medieval Crusades

From 1095 to 1270, the Catholic Church instigated Europeans to invade the Middle East to "liberate" it from "Mohammedanism", a misnomer for Islam, a monotheistic religion that worships Allah, not Mohammad, and considers the Catholic "Holy Trinity" a form of polytheism.

bin Ladin invoked the Western barbarism of the Crusades in his religious declaration (fatwa) of 1998, in which he labeled the West to continue to be "crusaders": bin Ladin's statement

George W. Bush, lacking an historical perspective, does not realize that whenever he speaks the language of "good fighting evil", he is falling into bin Ladin's trap: repeating the rhetoric of the crusader, and thereby willing converts to bin Ladin's cause!

Western Colonialism

A search on Kuwait history at the U.S. Library of Congress , informs us of how what George W.'s daddy called "The Legitimate Government of Kuwait" is actually an illegitimate government based on British protection of a murderer:

Kuwait came into the British sphere of influence at the end of the nineteenth century when Mubarak sought British support against Ottoman forces. The Ottomans were backing allies of Mubarak's brothers, Kuwait's previous rulers, whom Mubarak had killed on taking power in 1896. Uneasy about Ottoman intentions, Mubarak reversed his predecessors' pro-Ottoman policy and approached Britain, seeking a more formal alliance. Britain, concerned with growing European interests and notably with an Ottoman concession to Germany for construction of a Berlin-to- Baghdad railroad--with a proposed spur line to Kuwait--agreed. Britain signed a treaty with Kuwait in 1899 that promised Mubarak British support and, in return, gave Britain control of Kuwait's foreign policy. This treaty governed relations between the two states until Kuwait's independence in 1961. It granted Britain tremendous influence, most notably in foreign and economic policy.

Although the CIA would like you to think that Saddam Hussein was an abrupt rogue in claiming Kuwait, that claim is not new, and dates back to 1961 when Britain released Kuwait from the British Protectorate.

Failure to Implement the Balfour Declaration

In July 1922, the League of Nations approved of Britain's request to implement the Balfour Declaration:

"His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine [emphasis added] ..."

In particular, the Palestinians feel that they, like the Jews, have unfairly been the victims of Nazi aggression. How so? The Palestinians feel that it is unfair that the exodus of Jews from Germany, starting in 1933, should result in the Palestinians losing much of the land that had been their native homeland. So that by the 1950's, Palestinians became, and remain today, prohibited from renting or purchasing much of the land they had lived on for thousands of years.

Failure to Consistently Obey Directives of the United Nations

Only when it is feasible and convenient does the United States military await the approval of the United Nations. Repeatedly, the United States has ignored United Nations directives that seek to balance the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

The current Republican administration has given the right-wing of Israel carte blanche to dispose of the Palestinians as it sees fit. This unquestioning alliance, this fusion of U.S. foreign policy with the domestic Jewish lobby, is what makes it possible for Muhammed Nabil to perceive an historical irony, "Some people say Israel is an American state, but I say America is an Israeli state." [New York Times, 9/13/01, "Arafat Angrily Insists Palestinians Didn't Rejoice"]

Neo-Colonialist Influence

Alternative Insight's web site reveals a strong pattern of U.S. foreign policy failures. The Afghanistan crisis is just one of many:
Afghanistan 1980 to Present
A feature of U.S. foreign policy is that the United States has at times armed its eventual enemies to combat perceived antagonists. One example is our assistance to the Mujaheedin in Afghanistan. The Soviet Unions's intervention in the internal conflicts of Afghanistan may have been improper, but it did not contain elements of economic exploitation or seizing of territory. Efforts to contain the internal political frictions, prevent a Civil War from creating anarchy that could undo the economic progress of previous governments, and a desire to maintain the status quo in East-West spheres of influence, impelled the Soviet Union to supply troops from 1980-1986 to assist Babrak Kamal's Afghan regime. They may have been doing the U.S. a favor. The Afghan internal politics, the Civil War, and the Soviet Union intervention did not directly affect U.S. world hegemony. The Mujaheedin, whom the U.S. supported, consisted of a radical Islam that had already shown itself to be hostile to the U.S. The objectives for which the Soviets strived would have certainly created a more acceptable Afghan government than those that followed. During the struggle, the United States, through Pakistan, provided arms, material and finances to the Mujaheedin that eventually assured their temporary victory. Published estimates show that 15,000 Soviets and 350,000 Afghans died in the Civil War. After the Soviets left Afghanistan in Feb. 1989, the United States had an opportunity to let the war play out among Afghans. Continued U.S. arms shipments through Pakistan to the Mujaheedin forced the Najibullah government, that tried to carry out some democratic reforms and create a coalition government of reconciliation, to fall in 1992. After a continuing civil war of many factions caused more than 50,000 additional deaths, the Taliban, a reactionary Islamic religious group by U.S standards, gained control of Afghanistan. The Mujaheedin, characterized as freedom fighters and brought to fighting capability by U.S. arms, destroyed Afghanistan, caused an immense number of deaths, could not compromise among themselves to form a government, and became responsible for the Taliban emergence and their control of Afghanistan. They also trained major terrorist groups that have brought death to Americans and destruction to U.S. facilities. The only remaining vestige of U.S. intervention in the Afghanistan Civil War is Ibn Ben Laden.

Particularly abhorrent to bin Ladin is the military presence of U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia, the land of Mecca, the holy city to which every Muslim who possibly can is religiously required to make pilgrimage. In the current state of affairs, bin Ladin is not allowed to fulfill his religious duty of making pilgrimage to Mecca, and yet any non-believer in the U.S. military can go to Saudi Arabia.

The United States should be sophisticated enough to find non-U.S. troops who can represent U.S. interests without having to have its own troops directly stationed in Saudi Arabia. 

Actually, it's quite remarkable that the United States could consider Saudi Arabia an ally. Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, are the only three nations that recognize the Taliban regime that shelters bin Ladin as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. (Note that U.S. newspapers do not report this embarrassing fact: the U.S went to war to protect bin Ladin's protector!)

How the United States Can Guarantee Its Safety From Further Attack

  1. Learn to think in more complex terms than "good versus evil" so as to perceive that there is a mixture of right and wrong on all sides of conflicts. This would mean to refuse to consider the Nazi Holocaust "The Absolute Evil" or "The Unique Evil" in light of other crimes against human rights that have occurred in history, including but not limited to the medieval Crusades, the United States committing genocide upon the Native Americans, the United States building its economy upon slavery, and Israel's displacement of Palestinians.
  2. Learn history towards reconciliation from thinkers such as Columbia University's Professor Edward Said. 
    See Palestinians under Siege.
  3. Correct the U.S. media's bias and laziness, so that the citizens of the United States (and its President), become aware of a modicum of world geography and history.
  4. Distance U.S. foreign policy from two nations:
  1. Develop the ability to understand how much of the world views Zionism as a form of racism that commits apartheid of one Semitic people (the Palestianians) from their brethren (the Jews).
  2. Use United States' enormous influence to nudge Israeli into a more mature, responsible, reformed Zionism that acknowledges the historical priority of Palestinians to Palestine, while also respecting the "pre-historical" heritage of Judaism in the same, general region.
  3. Acknowledge the existence of Palestinians as a people instead of denying them any status by labeling them "non-Jews".
  4. Reform the policy of "Judaization" that permits a Jew born anywhere in the world "The Right of Return", but denies this right to Palestinians who were born in Palestine!
  5. Enable the average Muslim to perceive the United States as truly a nation that stands for fairness, and thereby eliminate bin Ladin's easy access to volunteers. For example, recognize that the economic sanctions against Iraq do nothing to remove Saddam Hussein from power, but do anger Muslims by making innocent people suffer from the lack of material goods that the U.S. has in excess. 
  6. Convert the U.S. spending of $4 billion per year to arm the Israeli military into peace money for:


I do not condone violence and killing of any kind. Indeed, I fear that rash actions on the part of the U.S. military could further alienate Muslims and polarize the two worlds to the point that the U.S. becomes vulnerable to an truly unconventional cycle of terrorism that could include horrors such as chemical and biological weapons, planting bombs in school buses and hospitals, and poisoning the U.S. food and water supply. Therefore, I wish to provide some long term constructive criticism for President George W. Bush, who is:

Historical Note: George W.'s grandfather broke U.S. law by aiding Nazi Germany:

by Richard N. Draheim, Jr.

On October 20, 1942, the US Alien Property Custodian, under the "Trading With the Enemy Act," seized the shares of the Union Banking Corporation (UBC), of which Prescott Bush was a director and shareholder. The largest shareholder was E. Roland Harriman. (Bush was also the managing partner of Brown Brothers Harriman, a leading Wall Street investment firm.)

The UBC was established to send American capital to Germany to finance the reorganization of its industry under the Nazis. Their leading German partner was the notorious Nazi industrialist Fritz Thyssen, who wrote a book admitting much of this called "I Paid Hitler."

Among the companies financed was the Silesian-American Corporation, which was also managed by Prescott Bush, and by his father-in-law George Herbert Walker, who supplied Dub-a-Ya with his name. The company was vital in supplying coal to the Nazi war industry. It too was seized as a Nazi-front on November 17, 1942. The largest company Bush's UBC helped finance was the German Steel Trust, responsible for between one-third and one-half of Nazi iron and explosives.

Prescott Bush was also a director of the Harriman Fifteen Corporation, (this one owned largely by Roland's brother, Averell Harriman), which owned about a third of the Consolidated Silesian Steel Corporation, the rest owned by Friedrich Flick, (a member of Himmler's "Circle of Friends" who donated to the S.S.).

Republican Presidential candidate Bush's great-grandfather, Bert Walker, helped organize the Harriman investment in the Hamburg-America Line of ships, of which grandfather Prescott became a director. It was seized on August 28, 1942 because it was used to give free passage to Nazi propaganda and propagandists, and had earlier shipped guns to the Nazi's private armies to assist their takeover of Germany.

Historical Coincidence: The day of attacks perpetrated by hijackers who appear to be linked to a fundamentalist Islamic organization that bans alcohol, Bush's daughter succeeded in having removed from her police record her arrest for possessing alcohol while a minor.