Here we are more than eight years since the 9/11 attacks, and most Americans still don’t understand why so many Islamic extremists want to kill us. For instance, in a recent article for Pajamas Media, Ryan Mauro argues that bin Laden and company have declared war on us simply because we’re not Muslim.
(Don’t feel bad if you don’t know who Ryan Mauro is; I didn’t either. Turns out he’s just another neoconservative who heads a bunch of important-sounding organizations that no one’s ever heard of. But given that his beliefs are shared by many Americans, I thought I’d devote some time to him.)
Mauro takes issue with Congressman Ron Paul, who has spent the last several years trying to explain the concept of blowback to Americans. As Paul famously told Rudy Giuliani in a 2007 presidential primary debate: “Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us? They attacked us because we’ve been over there; we’ve been bombing Iraq for ten years…They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free; they come and they attack us because we’re over there.”
Contrary to Paul, Mauro claims that al-Qaeda would be trying to kill innocent Americans even if we adopted a noninterventionist foreign policy. As proof, he quotes bin Laden himself, who once said:
Our talks with the infidel West and our conflict with them ultimately revolve around one issue—one that demands our total support, with power and determination, with one voice—and it is: does Islam, or does it not, force people by the power of the sword to submit to its authority corporeally if not spiritually?
Yes. There are only three choices in Islam:  either willing submission [conversion];  or payment of the jizya, through physical, though not spiritual, submission to the authority of Islam;  or the sword—for it is not right to let him [an infidel] live. The matter is summed up for every person alive: either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die.
So you see, Mauro goes on to write, this is why they’re at war with us.
It’s not because of who we vote for or because of how we choose to promote our security and values overseas. [Talk about euphemisms.] It’s because the ideology that gives them their sense of purpose commands them to. Extreme anti-Americanism of this kind is the product, not the source, of the radical Islamic ideology. The intent to harm America does not change with policy.
Now I don’t deny that Osama bin Laden would love nothing more than to impose an Islamic order on the entire world. If he got his hands on the ring of power, I’m sure that’s exactly what he’d do. But aside from getting this all-powerful ring, there’s no evidence to suggest that he will continue attacking us until we submit to Islamic rule.
It should go without saying that just because someone desires something doesn’t mean that they’re actually willing to risk their life to bring it about. For example, I’d like to stop paying taxes. And if I had the ring of power, I’d never again give the government a dime. But I know that, given the present state of reality, I’m not willing to face the consequences of not paying taxes. So, alas, I keep paying taxes.
If bin Laden and his compatriots are fighting in order to Islamicize the entire world, then it’s difficult to understand why they offered a truce in 2004. “The truce will begin,” bin Laden said, “when the last soldier leaves our countries.” If these guys have their sights set on world conquest, it’s also difficult to understand why they ended their campaign against the Soviet Union once the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989. As Lawrence Wright recounts in The Looming Tower, bin Laden soon returned to Saudi Arabia. Shortly after the Persian Gulf War began, he made his way to Sudan; once there:
Bin Laden explained that he was through with warfare. He said he resolved to quit al-Qaeda altogether and become a farmer.
He made similar statements to many of his friends. He was at a crossroads. Life in Sudan was pleasantly monotonous. In the mornings he walked to his local mosque to pray, followed by a gaggle of acolytes and admirers; he lingered to study with the holy men, often breakfasting with them before going to his office, or to visit one of the various factories that were part of his expanding portfolio, or to hop on a tractor and plow the fields on one of his massive estates.
There was one galling fact that prevented bin Laden from relaxing into the life of business and of spiritual contemplation that so strongly beckoned: the continued presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia. King Fahd had pledged that the nonbelievers would be gone as soon as the war was over, and yet months after the Iraqi defeat coalition forces were still entrenched in Saudi air bases, monitoring the cease-fire agreement. Bin Laden agonized over what he believed was a permanent occupation of the holy land. Something had to be done.
Similar stories can be told of other terrorists. Like bin Laden, these men might love the idea of a worldwide Taliban-like government. But there’s simply no evidence to suggest that they’ve taken up arms in order to bring this about.
Rather, the evidence suggests that anti-American terrorism is a response to American aggression. Similarly, anti-European terrorism is a response to European aggression. Remember, just as al-Qaeda did not attack the United States until we began occupying Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda did not attack any European country until several of them began sending troops to Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.
(Regarding this latter point, Robert Pape has pointed out that between 2002 and 2003, “Europeans became al-Qaeda’s most frequent target: ten of fifteen suicide attacks during this period were directed mainly at European or Australian citizens.” Of these ten victims, Pape notes that every single one of them came from a country that had troops in Afghanistan or Iraq.)
People like Ryan Mauro can deny the causes of terrorism all they want, but the facts remain the facts. If we want to prevent another 9/11 (which appears more and more inevitable), then we need to stop lying to ourselves. Young Muslims continue flocking to al-Qaeda and trying to kill us, not because we’re Christians, but because we continue occupying their homelands and propping up the autocratic regimes that rule over them. It’s really not so difficult to understand.