Sept. 11, 2001, was undoubtedly a great tragedy. Instead of focusing on the somber lessons learned from the ill-fated day, President Bush opened the new political season by resorting to the politics of fear. His use of ill-defined rhetoric such as “violent Islamic radicalism” sounded much like his earlier faux pas “crusades” and “Islamic fascism.” Bush went on to say, “It is foolish to think you can negotiate with them.” No one ever suggested negotiating with al-Qaeda.
Inquiring minds simply want to ask if there are alternative ways to tackle the problem of terrorism. The trajectory of our current policies appears doomed for failure. Is Iraq the front lines of the war on terror and thus the need to “stay the course,” or is it because we are “staying the course” that Iraq is spiraling into a cauldron of civil war?
Evoking emotionally charged rhetoric like “Islamic fascism” or “Islamic radicalism” may be good politics, but it obfuscates the complexity behind terrorism. By focusing almost exclusively on the views of groups such as al-Qaeda, Bush has granted undeserved legitimacy to extremists. By failing to address the legitimate concerns of the vast majority of Muslims worldwide, the president has marginalized the voices of moderation in the Muslim world who, in overwhelming numbers, disapprove of terrorism as a means for redressing grievances.
Despite common knowledge that all terrorists are not Muslim and that not all Muslims are terrorists, so much of our discourse continues to juxtapose “Islam” and “terrorism.”
A few scholarly works have begun to debunk this mythical link between Islam and terrorism. Robert Pape’s book Dying to Win argues that the real common denominator of suicide-terrorism campaigns is that they are all, in one form or another, responses to occupation or foreign control of a national homeland. Pape is deeply skeptical about the notion that suicide bombers are warriors in a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West. His survey reveals that there is nothing intrinsically “Islamic” about suicide bombers. By such scholarly measures, our presence in Iraq is the cause of terrorism — not the other way around.
Thus, security measures alone are not going to make us safe. We will be safe only when others perceive to be safe from our policies.
[Parvez Ahmed is chairman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America’s leading Muslim civil-liberties and advocacy group.]