On September 11, 2001 Americans were desperate for answers. While they vigilantly watched their television sets, the answers slowly started coming; names, faces, locations, affiliations, motivations, financial backers and the connections between them seemed to ripple outward endlessly. We eliminated enemies only to discover more to replace them. The mythical hydra seemed to be materializing before our eyes. The monster before us appears overwhelmingly complex; however, if we focus on some basic behaviors common to human nature, terrorists become easier to understand, and an enemy understood is an enemy defeated.
Before we address the behaviors, we must identify who the opponents are in this battle. Terrorists is such a broad term, it is difficult to know one when we see one. Bernard Lewis, a professor at Princeton, asserts that the battle exists between the Muslims and the West in an epic clash of civilizations. Ussama Makdisi, a professor at Rice University, insists it is the Arabs and their opposition to the Foreign Policy of the United States. It is Middle Eastern Islamic Fundamentalism and the United States for Fareed Zakaria in his column in Newsweek, and Michael Hirsh in an article in Washington Monthly pits the religious against the secular. It is not Americans themselves that are hated, because the society is too diverse and includes Muslims, Arabs, Islamic Fundamentalists, and religious people. In addition to its national identity, the United States plays a role as a symbol for the West and secularism, which are intangible ideas. “Anti-Americanism is not an ideologically consistent discourse – its intensity, indeed its coherence and evidence, vary across the Arab world” (Makdisi 527). Terrorism is a mindset, not an individual or nation. The terrorists, whose varied frustrations with the West are legion, are centering their forces on a single opponent that is important enough for their attacks to be noticed by the rest of the world.
The terrorists would like us to believe that there is something different about their ideas and their causes, so that we will be off balance and in a defensive position. In reality, they are merely terrorist versions of age old weaknesses in human nature. These include practicing cultural habits that contribute to social instability, blaming others for their condition, stirring up old hatreds to further their rhetoric, and resorting to violence when things don’t go their way. The cultural habits that contribute to their social instability include low productivity and high birth rate. These result in a society where job creation, technology, education lag behind the West (Lewis 521). Their nomadic heritage makes it is difficult to see things in terms of ethnic and territorial identity, so they do not refer to their opponents in those terms. They categorize people as insiders and outsiders. The call to jihad is based on that idea, Muslim (insider) against Non-Muslim Infidels (outsiders).
The behavior of blaming others for their condition creates a victim mentality in their followers. There is plenty of blame to go around, but none of it seems to rest in the laps of those pointing the finger. American missionaries came and made education and medical treatment available to them, and they, in turn, decry the Americanization of their lands. They blame the US for exploiting their resources, but someone allowed the US to build the rigs, refineries and roads, and there were plenty of Arabs making a profit from the production and sale of that oil. Did any of those Arabs contribute to the infrastructure of their country, build schools, start businesses and invest in order to make their lands more prosperous for everyone, or did they wallow in luxury creating a huge disparity in wealth? “Almost the entire Muslim world is affected by poverty and tyranny. Both of these problems are attributed, especially by those with an interest in diverting attention from themselves, to America – the first to American economic dominance and exploitation, now thinly disguised as “globalization”, the second to America’s support for the many so-called Muslim tyrants who serve its purposes” (Lewis 519). It is easier to claim that America is to blame than it is to accept responsibility for their shortcomings and to take risks and invest in making a better future.
Stirring up old hatred to further their rhetoric is a political device as old as humanity itself. Lack of a concise set of grievances gives the terrorists an unlimited quantity of followers. All they have to do is cleverly spin old, ingrained hatreds into their rhetoric, and they have additional soldiers for the cause. Terrorists look into history for how Muslims and Arabs were wronged by the West. Imperialism, The Crusades, the creation of Israel are some of the biggies. Religious hatred, jealousy, racial hatreds, resentments of the rich, any hatred will do. It is the tool of the rhetorically lazy. Unfortunately, it also works, especially on the ignorant and the desperate.
Resorting to violence when things don’t go your way is demonstrated even in the very young. Why grown, educated, wealthy men would fall in the same trap is mystifying. Terrorists want power to change the world, but their reasoning is not persuasive enough to change the minds of men. Instead of strengthening their argument and allowing others to freely exercise their conscience, men with weak arguments turn to weaponry and violence to achieve their ends. This characteristic of human nature has been repeated continuously in the history of mankind. What makes the terrorist unique is their complete disregard for human life. They not only desire to kill their enemies, but they don’t bat an eye if fellow believers or innocent women and children die in the process. That idea is the antithesis of civilized behavior, and it is a major factor in the desire of the United States to attack terrorism. It is incomprehensible to Americans to envision a world where such patent disregard for life is acceptable.
Knowing these elements of human nature, America is left with some important decisions to make. We need to make policies and take actions that will reduce or eliminate terrorist activity. Laws like the Patriot Act and actions like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq seemed to be necessary evils at the time, but the microwave mentality of Americans wants it to be over already. Al Qaeda is counting on our short attention span. If cheap oil is a factor contributing to our national interest in the region, I think that America needs to begin to factor in the cost of Middle Eastern hatred into the cost of that cheap oil. I think it would be better in the long run for America to use its ingenuity to fully utilize our domestic resources and reduce our dependency on foreign oil. I also think that if we as Americans truly believe in the ability of a people to rule themselves, then we should put our money where our mouth is and give Iraq the full responsibility of self rule. A people that is not willing to sacrifice for what they believe in will constantly be ruled by others. Iraq has seen this principle from both sides, and it is time for them to take off the American training wheels and feel the wind in their face as they ride all by themselves.All of the writers made valid arguments for their positions, but they fell short for me when they leaned on one factor contributing to the point of excluding all others. I was drawn to the optimistic outlook of the article by Michael Hirsh and his assertion that Moderate Islam is a check for tyranny. The other essays presented situations in which the US is in a Catch 22 position. There is a big part of me that wants to believe that these people can see beyond the rhetoric and achieve self-rule based on their shared beliefs and values. I believe that when even the ugliest and most evil elements of human nature rear their ugly head, there will be enough good, descent people who are willing to stand up for what is good and descent in the world. I think Iraq can pursue its national interests alongside the United States, but it will require the United States to step back and Iraq to take a stand. (Works Cited Available on Request)