Shortly after the July 7 London bombings last summer, I attended a lecture on the rise of “homegrown” extremism. A security expert wove together various threads, including socio-economic factors, radical preachers and racism.

The thesis was striking for its “absence of the obvious.”

Questions came from the floor. What about the trauma of witnessing the genocide of Bosnian Muslims in the heart of Europe a decade earlier? Irrelevant, according to the expert, since the West intervened to save Muslims. This, in spite of research by Harvard’s Jessica Stern that shows this event sparked militancy amongst some British Muslim youth. And the role of British foreign policy in Muslim lands? “It’s the elephant in the room,” replied the expert, refusing further comment. Yet one bomber declared in a posthumous video: “Your democratically elected government continuously perpetuates atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible. . . until we feel security, you will be our targets.”

The “absence of the obvious” was present again following the recent alleged bomb plot at Heathrow Airport. In an open letter to the British government, prominent Muslim leaders brought up the connection between radicalization and British foreign policy. The British Home Secretary angrily dismissed their suggestions (as did a recent Globe editorial).

The American government also refuses to acknowledge any such connection.

The authors of Without Precedence: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission reveal that in the final report, 9/11 commission members were forced to dilute commentary on the “why” of 9/11. Commission vice-chair Lee Hamilton thought it important to acknowledge “a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was vital to America’s long-term relationship with the Islamic world, and that the presence of American forces in the Middle East was a major motivating factor in al-Qaeda’s actions.” Instead, the report made peripheral mention of these issues.

This approach was in line with a 2003 Congressional report aimed at addressing the low opinion of America by Muslims worldwide. The inquiry aimed to find out why, what to do about it, and to marginalize the appeal of extremists. The main recommendation? Do a better job of selling America to the Muslim world. After all, a large proportion of Muslims expressed a desire for social justice, a fair judiciary, honest multiparty elections, freedom of the press and freedom of religion.

The report claimed the oft-voiced opinion “we like Americans but not what the Americans are doing” as unrealistic, since “Americans elect their government and broadly support its foreign policy.” A disingenuous statement, since most voters examine domestic issues.

The official line from London and Washington has been echoed in Ottawa. The Conservatives dutifully repeat the mantra that domestic terrorism is hatched by those who “hate freedom” and everything that “democracy stands for.” But this is not the whole picture.


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