by Victor Davis Hanson
Chicago Tribune Co.
As the third recent Middle East election nears in Iraq, Americans are still puzzled over why well-off Islamic fundamentalists crashed planes into skyscrapers and now send mercenaries to the Sunni Triangle to slaughter us as we sponsor democracy. Yet since Sept. 11, we have grasped that Muslim fascists understood that the course of American-led world history — democracy and globalized capitalism — was leaving them behind. Thus they strike the United States before they are made irrelevant.
America symbolized the onset of a hated modernism and its breakdown of religious, gender and ethnic hierarchies that were so treasured by Islamicist patriarchs. As this war wore on, we also fathomed the pathological partnerships of tyrannies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria with al-Qaida and other terrorist cadres. Both groups scapegoated the superpower United States for their own failures. In addition, killers in bin Laden’s mafia and other terrorist planners from Iran to the West Bank turned out not to be the impoverished, but more often the pampered of the middle class — like the Saudi suicide zealot who just blew up Americans in Mosul.
Yet in the gloom over postwar Iraq, ex-CIA agents and moody public intellectuals have recently doubted this “They hate us for who we are” explanation. Instead, they have reintroduced the notion of “They hate us for what we do” — as if there are legitimate grievances that logically earn such violent attacks organized by petro-heirs, doctors and crackpot mullahs. Even a toned-down bin Laden is quoted as witness. He recently joked that al-Qaida is going after America, not liberal Sweden: had we just shrunk to the stature of the politically correct Scandinavians, then our problems would vanish.
But would they?
Not at all. First, the Islamofascists of the Middle East, like all autocrats, cannot be believed since they neither allow criticism nor tolerate self-reflection. Lying is their bible. Did poor Tojo and Hitler really have cause to gobble up their neighbors? Was Stalin’s postwar Soviet Union that overran Eastern Europe unfairly stigmatized because of purported anti-communist frenzy? Of course not.
Second, alleged sins against Islam transform monthly. Americans have been murdered with near impunity all over the Middle East for a near quarter-century on a variety of pretexts. Sometimes fatwas and infomercials cited the “loss” of Jerusalem. Then there were the U.S. troops in the Land of the Holy Shrines or the U.N. embargo of Iraq — such gripes still persisting long after withdrawal of American soldiers from Saudi Arabia and massive aid to, not boycotts of, Iraq. Do not forget hurt over the expulsion of the Moors from Spain or the Crusades — as if the Islamicists alone can nurse centuries-old wounds. What unites this tired victimization is never logic, but always a preexisting antipathy toward Western liberalism, tempting and repelling the fundamentalists all at once.
Third, bin Laden and various mujahideen distort history. American beneficence — saving Kuwaitis, protecting Bosnians, feeding Somalis, or billions in aid for Egyptians — means nothing, while Islamic internecine murder is excused. The unspoken truth is that the killers of the Middle East have mostly been other Middle-Eastern Muslims: the Kurdish holocaust, millions butchered in the Iranian-Iraqi war, Iraq’s rape of Kuwait, Syrian obliteration of Hama, Algerian massacres or the genocide in the Sudan. Land, oil, religion or ethnic hatred — not America — prompted such slaughter.
Fourth, terrorists still imperil liberal Europe that subsidized Hamas, armed Saddam and chastised America for its pro-Israel policy. After Spain fled from Iraq, it was rewarded with further terrorist threats. France is under intimidation for scarves, Holland for films and England still for Salman Rushdie.
Fifth, al-Qaida’s hatred is opportunistically selective. The United States is slurred with allegations of petrol imperialism. But why no charges against a cutthroat nuclear China that is hungrier for Arab oil than is America and digested Tibet? Israel purportedly occupies Palestinian land, but Syria gobbled up Lebanon to the silence of the Arab League. We earn loathing for billions given to Israel, but why not gratitude for matching that amount to Egypt and Jordan?
It is humane to send massive aid to Southeast Asia after the tsunami. Yet the idea that the fundamentalist Muslim world in recompense will temper its hatred of the United States because we give far more than Saudi Arabia or China is sadly mistaken. If Israel were to disappear, or America were to give the Middle East $100 billion, the deductive hatred from radical Islam would persist.
The United States has adopted a rational strategy against Islamic fascism: kill the terrorists, remove illegitimate regimes that aid the extremists, foster democracies in their places and alter American policy from tolerance of the corrupt status quo to calls for reform. Yet we cannot finish the Islamicists’ war unless we understand why they started it. For that answer, look at who Americans are and what we represent — not at what we supposedly have done.
©2005 Victor Davis Hanson