Skip to comments.A New Round of Anger and Humiliation: Islam after 9/11
Posted on 06/10/2002 7:55:44 AM PDT by white trash redneck
Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 2002, pp. 41-61.
"The world has changed" Westerners often say, commenting on the events of September 11, but few Muslims echo that view. In dueling statements issued on October 7, the day the war in Afghanistan began, President George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden exemplified this contrast. While the former referred to the "sudden terror" that had descended on the United States just twenty-seven days earlier, the latter reported that the Muslim world had experienced more than eighty years of "humiliation and disgrace" at American hands, during which its sons were killed and its sanctities defiled. Twenty-seven days versus eighty years sums up the difference between a stunned American sense of ruptured innocence and the brooding militant Islamic feeling of epochal betrayal and trauma. For this and other reasons, the Muslim world was not nearly so jolted by the death of over three thousand Americans as was the West.
More broadly, to understand the impact of September 11 on the Muslim world requires putting aside the response in the West and immersing oneself in Muslim sensibilities. The best place to begin is with an understanding of the deep resentment against the West that bin Laden articulates and so many Muslims share.
Islamic History and Hostility to the West
This anger has deep roots. From the Islamic religions origins in the seventh century and for roughly the next millennium, the career of Muslims was one of consistent worldly success. By whatever standard one judged - power, wealth, health, or education -Muslims stood at the pinnacle of global achievement. This connection between accepting the Islamic message and apparent reward by God endured in so many aspects of life in so many places for such a long time that Muslims readily came to assume that mundane well-being was their due as a sign of Gods favor. To be Muslim meant to be on the winning team.
But then, starting about 1800, things went awry. Power, wealth, health, and education moved elsewhere, and specifically to Europe, a place long scorned as backward. For two long centuries, Muslims have watched as other peoples, especially Christians, surged ahead. Not only did France, England, and the United States do so on the grandest scale, but more recently East Asia has outpaced the Muslim world. As a result, a sense of failure has suffused Muslim life. If Islam brings Gods grace, many Muslims have asked themselves, why then do Muslims fare so poorly? This traumatic of things going all wrong is the key to understanding modern Islam.
It has spurred deep questions about what needs to be done to find the right direction but few satisfying answers. Despite extensive soul-searching, Muslims have not yet found an answer to the question "what went wrong?" Instead, they have bounced from one scheme to another, finding satisfaction in none of them. A succession of false starts have left Muslims deeply perplexed about their predicament, and not a little frustrated. In all, Muslims sense their own conspicuous lack of success in emerging from the humiliation of their current circumstances.
This sense of failure goes far to explain the acute hostility to the West that prevails in most Muslim societies. Muslims vaguely realize that a thousand years ago, as Martin Kramer puts it, "the Middle East was the crucible of world civilization" whereas today, it "sulks on the margins of a world civilization forged in the West."1 That sulking has translated into anger, envy, hostility, irrational fears, conspiracy theories, and political extremism. These emotions go far to account for the appeal of a host of radical ideologies, both imported (fascism, Leninism) and home-grown (Pan-Arabism, Pan-Syrianism). Each of these movements in turn confirms the sense that the West is the enemy.
These days, the strongest vehicle for such emotions is militant Islam (also known as Islamism), a political movement that takes the religion of Islam and turns it into the basis of a totalitarian ideology that shares much with prior versions, namely fascism and Marxism-Leninism. Like them, for example, it seeks to replace capitalism and liberalism as the reigning world system. The appeal of militant Islam goes far to account for the anti-Western hatred coming from Muslims in many places around the world, including Muslims resident in the West itself.
Islamists discern a long list of countries Algeria, Turkey, Egypt, and Malaysia are prominent examples where they believe local Muslim rulers are doing the Wests dirty business in suppressing their movement. They also have another list Kashmir, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Sudan rank high here where they see the West actively suppressing noble Islamist efforts to establish a just society. Whenever Muslims move toward the emergence of an Islamic State, an Islamist explains, the "treacherous hands of the secular West are always there in the Muslim world to bring about the defeat of the Islamic forces."2 Islamists see themselves surrounded and besieged by the West. Around the world, they feel, they are stymied by an arrogant and imperialist West.
Hatred of the United States
In particular, Islamists see the United States as an aggressive force that seeks to steal Muslims resources, exploit their labor, and undermine their religion. A wide consensus exists that Washington and Hollywood have joined forces to establish a hegemony over the world (the "new world order"). In the words of Ayatollah Khomeini, perhaps the most influential modern interpreter of Islam: "The danger that America poses is so great that if you commit the smallest oversight, you will be destroyed. . . . America plans to destroy us, all of us."3 In the words of an Egyptian, the Americans "have us by the throat."
This outlook has the crucial implication that violence against Americans is viewed as defensive in nature. That in turn justifies Muslim attempts to harm Americans or even destroy the United States. Ikrama Sabri, Yasir Arafats man running the Palestinian Authoritys religious hierarchy in Jerusalem, often inveighs against the United States in his Friday sermon at Al-Aqsa mosque, a prestigious and influential position. For example, he made this choice plea to God in 1997: "Oh Allah, destroy America, her agents and her allies!"4
To dehumanize Americans, fundamentalists portray them in beast-like terms - vermin, dogs, and bacteria - thereby making these into enemies deserving of extermination. The Westerner, in the view of Adil Husayn, a leading Egyptian writer, is "nothing but an animal whose major concern is to fill his belly."5 Immoral, consumerist, and threatening, he deserves to die. The conspiracy theories that so many Middle Eastern religious establishments espouse also dehumanize Americans, turning them into cunning plotters grasping at Muslim lands, wealth, and women.
One result is the expression of delight on hearing about American fatalities. Ahmad Jibril, a Palestinian leader, publicly shared his joy on hearing about the loss of life due to the San Francisco earthquake in 1989, then added: "I dont know how I would have managed to take revenge on the United States, but it seems that God did it for me."6 One also finds such vicious views expressed by Muslims living in the United States itself: responding to the news of a U.S. Air Force accident not long after, Islam Report, a San Diego-based publication, published a headline that read, "O ALLAH, LOCK THEIR THROATS IN THEIR OWN TRAPS!"7
This litany of statements points to two facts: Osama bin Laden is not a unique figure but echoes views promoted by some of the most authoritative and influential Islamic authorities; and this viewpoint resonates among Muslims around the world, even including some living in the West.
This context helps explain why the Muslim world responded as it did to the September 11 atrocities, even before it was clear who had perpetrated them. In most of the world, initial reactions to this news was mournful. Peoples and governments alike responded with heartfelt grief and with the sense of common humanity. But among Muslims, the killing of thousands of Americans prompted less a sense of grief than one of pleasure.
"Bulls-eye," commented Egyptian taxi drivers as they watched reruns of the World Trade Center collapse. "Its payback time," said a Cairene. Other Egyptians expressed a wish for George W. Bush to have been buried in the buildings or exulted that this was their most happy moment in decades. And so it went around the Middle East. In Lebanon and the West Bank, Palestinians shot guns into the air, a common way of showing delight. "Were ecstatic," said a Lebanese. In Jordan, Palestinians handed out sweets in another expression of joy.
Outside the Middle East, a good many Muslims expressed the view that Americans got what they deserved. Nigerian papers reported that the Islamic Youth Organisation in Zamfara province organized an event to celebrate the attacks. "Whatever destruction America is facing, as a Muslim I am happy," came a typical quote from Afghanistan. A Pakistani leader said that Washington is paying for its policies against Palestinian, Iraqi, Bosnian, and other Muslims, then warned that the "worst is still to come."
Around the Muslim world, nearly identical anti-American slogans were heard over the next weeks: "U.S., Go to Hell!" (Indonesia), "Go To Hell America" (Malaysia), "Death to America" (Bangladesh), "Death to America" (India), "America is the enemy of God" (Oman). "America is a great Satan" (Yemen), "U.S. go to hell" (Egypt), "Down, down USA!" (Sudan).
Most Muslim governments were on best behavior after September 11, decrying the loss of American lives. But here too, there were cracks. Iranian officialdom, for example, found it very hard to be sympathetic to Americans and insisted on bringing the Arab-Israeli conflict into the discussion. Some analyses connected the terrorism to Americas "blind support of the Zionist regime" and others actually accused Israel of organizing the attacks, in a supposed effort to deflect world opinion from its own conflict with the Palestinians. (This subsequently became an accepted verity in many Muslim countries, with elaborate conspiracy theories about the Mossads role.) In Iraq, not surprisingly, the state-controlled media approved of the violence, commenting that the "the American cowboys are reaping the fruit of their crimes against humanity." It also announced that the "myth of America was destroyed along with the World Trade Center."
Love of bin Laden
Even before September 11, Osama bin Laden enjoyed a very high reputation due to his unremitting hostility to the United States. His biographer, Simon Reeve, wrote in 1999 that "Many who had never met him, whose only contact was through one of his interviews, a radio broadcast or Internet homepage, pronounced themselves ready to die for his cause."8 Hasan at-Turabi, the powerful Sudanese leader, found that bin Laden had developed "as a champion, as a symbol of Islam for all young people, in the whole Muslim world."9
When he emerged as the man behind the September 11 attacks, his reputation soared to extraordinary heights around the Muslim world. "Long live bin Laden" shouted five thousand demonstrators in the southern Philippines. In Pakistan, bin Ladens face sold merchandise and massive street rallies left two persons dead. Ten thousand marched in the capitals of Bangladesh and Indonesia. In northern Nigeria, Bin Laden had (according to Reuters) "achieved iconic status"10 and his partisans set off religious riots leading to two hundred deaths.11 Pro-bin Laden demonstrations took place even in Mecca, where overt political activism is unheard of.
Everywhere, the Washington Post reported, Muslims cheered on bin Laden "with almost a single voice."12 The Internet buzzed with odes to him as a man "of solid faith and power of will."13 A Saudi explained that "Osama is a very, very, very, very good Muslim."14 A Kenyan added: "Every Muslim is Osama bin Laden."15 "Osama is not an individual, but a name of a holy war," read a banner in Kashmir.16 In perhaps the most extravagant statement, one Pakistani declared that "Bin Laden is Islam. He represents Islam."17 In France, Muslim youths chanted bin Ladens name as they threw rocks at non-Muslims.
Palestinians were especially enamored. According to Hussam Khadir, a member of Arafats Fatah party, "Bin Laden today is the most popular figure in the West Bank and Gaza, second only to Arafat."18 A 10-year-old girl announced that she loves him like a father.19 Nor was she alone. "Everybody loves Osama bin Laden at this time. He is the most righteous man in the whole world," declared a Palestinian woman.20 A Palestinian Authority policeman called him "the greatest man in the world our Messiah" even as he (reluctantly) dispersed students who marched in solidarity with the Saudi.21
Survey research helps understand these sentiments. In the Palestinian Authority, a Bir Zeit poll found that 26 percent of Palestinians considered the September 11 attacks consistent with Islamic law.22 In Pakistan, a Gallup found a nearly identical 24 percent reaching this conclusion.23 Even those who consider the attacks on September 11 an act of terrorism (64 percent of both Palestinians and Pakistanis) showed respect for these as acts of political defiance and technical prowess. "Of course were upset that so many died in New York. But at the same time, were in awe of what happened," said a young Cairene woman.24 An online survey of Indonesians found 50 per cent seeing bin Laden as a "justice fighter" and 35 per cent a terrorist.25 More broadly, I estimate that bin Laden enjoyed in those first weeks the emotional support of half the Muslim world.
With the exception of one government-staged anti-bin Laden demonstration in Pakistan and very few prominent Islamic scholars, hardly anyone publicly denounced him in September or October 2001. The only Islamic scholar in Egypt who unreservedly condemned the September 11 suicide operations admitted that he is completely isolated. 26 Further, not a single Muslim government came out publicly in support of the American bombings against him. American officials were waiting in vain for Muslim politicians to speak up. "Itd be nice if some leaders came out and said that the idea the U.S. is targeting Islam is absurd," notes one U.S. diplomat.27 They did not do so because to so meant to contradict bin Ladens wide adulation.
But then a remarkable change took place.
Disappointment with bin Laden
The U.S. government began its military campaign in Afghanistan on October 7. For a month, there were no visible results. As late as the morning of November 9, the Taliban regime still ruled the territories that had been under its control for several years or almost 95 percent of Afghanistan. But then the Taliban rule collapsed. Days later it controlled just 15 percent of the country and by December 7, it had lost control of Kandahar, its last city, and was on the run in the hills and the caves of Afghanistan, a spent force repudiated widely by joyous Afghans.
This quick change of fortunes resulted in large part from the powerful use of air power by the United States, but also to the lack of perseverance on the part of Taliban troops. Awed by American power, many of them switched sides to the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance. According to one analyst, "Defections, even in mid-battle, are proving key to the rapid collapse across Afghanistan of the formerly ruling Taliban militia."28 American muscle and will made militant Islam a losing proposition. The force that had ruled their country was disintegrating before their eyes and the Talibans own forces realized they were on the losing side, having no desire to go down with it, and decided to do something.
This readiness to switch sides fit into a larger pattern that became evident within days of November 11; Muslims around the world sensed the same shift of power away from militant Islam and they responded similarly.
This was especially evident in Pakistan, where enthusiasm for the Taliban cause had been extremely high in September and October 2001. Here is a report, in the Los Angeles Times, starting with an account of the scene in Quetta, near the border with Afghanistan, on Oct. 8, or one day after hostilities began. After demonstrators "burned effigies of the American and Pakistani presidents, set fire to cars, stormed the police station and smashed shop windows," firebrand religious leaders addressed 10,000 people in Ayub Stadium each Friday. They
had vengeance in their bellies, they had outrage in their hearts, their anger came out in such a flood of words that some of them got hoarse. "The time will come when the American heads are on one side and our guns are on the other!" one shouted. "Prepare yourself for jihad, and I assure you that success will be ours!"But then, as American military success became clear, the anti- American zealots lost their nerve. The same stadium that a month earlier held 10,000 two months later had less than 500 people. "A lone, badly wrinkled poster of Osama bin Laden bobbed in the front row. After a parade of religious leaders fumed at the microphone about jihad, or holy war, the crowd, which had sat almost silent through two hours of speeches, could barely muster a chorus of Allahu akbar (God is great) at the end." In Swat Valley, some 20 percent of the 10 to 15 thousand men who were inspired by cries of jihad to go off to fight the United States in Afghanistan did not return. In some cases, the losses were much higher: one Pakistani reported that 41 out of 43 of his comrades lost their lives in Afghanistan.29 These losses generated intense resentment of the militant Islamic leaders who prodded them to go off to war, unprepared and even unwelcome, while they themselves stayed back in the comfort of their native villages.
The battle fervor that swept this region at the beginning of the war has largely evaporated, as thousands of foreign volunteer fighters - many of them Pakistani - were left in the gun sights. In these frontier communities, where the mullahs have always had more pull than the government, there is a deepening resentment of the religious leaders who called away so many young men to a certain death.31To put it mildly, this is hardly the expected reaction to the American air campaign in Afghanistan, which many analysts predicted would convulse Pakistani society and perhaps even lead to an overthrow of the government by those sympathetic to militant Islam. Instead, a convincing demonstration of U.S. power led to the cowering and retreat of militant Islam.
nearly two months into an intense military campaign, and halfway through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Arab "street," or public opinion, appears to have responded to bin Ladens call for an anti-Western uprising in the same way it has reacted to similar calls in the past from Islamic militants, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and others - by changing the channel and proceeding with business.33In fact, the mood rapidly shifted in the opposite direction. For example, in Kuwait, where the law code was close to being brought into line with Islamic requirements and punishments before September 11, the reality of U.S. strength led to a rapid change in mood. "Americas swift reaction to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and the scenes of Afghan joy at abolishing the very same religious restrictions, quickly damped enthusiasm" for such changes, reported the Wall Street Journal.34 A leader of Kuwaits militant Islamic party forthrightly acknowledged the connection: "The secular people, they are triumphant now, they feel they are getting power. Now, the secular people want to abolish all Islamic rules that are applied in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. There are even some voices about permitting alcohol."
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To be Muslim meant to be on the winning team.
It's a one-way ticket to hell.
The implication is clear: There is no substitute for victory. If the U.S. government wishes to weaken its strategic enemy, militant Islam, it must take two steps. First, continue the war on terror globally, using appropriate means, starting with Afghanistan but going on to wherever militant Islam poses a threat, in Muslim-majority countries (such as Saudi Arabia), in Muslim-minority countries (such as the Philippines), and even in the United States itself. As this effort brings success, secondly Washington should promote moderate Muslims. Not only will they represent a wholesome change from the totalitarianism of militant Islam but they, and they alone, can address the trauma of Islam and propose ideas that will ease the way for one sixth of humanity fully to modernize.
as "Islamo-apologist crap"? Pipes has always been a hard liner in the Mideast.
I "understand" the impact, allright, and I do it just fine without the touchy-feely New Age BS.
I am as "Immersed" as I need to be....Now.
I was always receptive to other points of view, but as of September 11, 2001, I do not wish to hear one thing from a (deleted) murder cult, except "Goodbye".
As if they have even SEEN a "Response from the West" yet!
It's not the nature of democracy (France is a democracy)-- it's the nature of AMERICA!!!!
Hmmm......sounds like wishful thinking to me.
Read the whole article.
"Know yourself and know your enemy, and in a hundred battles you will never be in peril." Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Yup, they provoked the "American Street."
Bad move. They should have consulted Yamamoto.
"In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success."
Great post. Bookmarked, and probably emailed to everyone I know :)
"the Muslim world had experienced more than eighty years of 'humiliation and disgrace' at American hands, during which its sons were killed and its sanctities defiled."
the Muslim world had experienced more than eighty years of 'humiliation and disgrace', during which its sons were killed and its sanctities defiled, and the Muslims themselves are to blame. No one else.
The sooner Muslims realize that they are responsible for their own destiny--for their own humiliation and disgrace--for the death of their sons and the defiling of their sanctities--for their poverty and backwardness--the better off they're going to be.
And the September 11 massacre, the dancing in the streets afterward, the Muslim terrorism have defiled Islam even further--have brought nothing but disgrace to Islam and Muslims--have been a profound humiliation to them before history and all the world.
Muslims can thank themselves.
"...a sense of failure has suffused Muslim life. If Islam brings Gods grace, many Muslims have asked themselves, why then do Muslims fare so poorly? "Because Islam does not bring God's grace. The best thing for these benighted people to do is to repudiate Islam and convert to Christianity.
"Despite extensive soul-searching, Muslims have not yet found an answer to the question 'what went wrong?"That's easy. They worshipped a false "idol" insead of God. They accepted a phoney "religion". Their entire commitment was to baloney. They need to convert.
"They have bounced from one scheme to another, finding satisfaction in none of them."They're trying everything except the one thing that is the answer: Abandon Islam. Convert to Christianity.
"Islamists see the United States as an aggressive force that seeks to steal Muslims resources,"No.
" exploit their labor,"No.
" and undermine their religion. "Yes. A worthy goal.
All the problems that plague the unfortunate souls can be solved by their conversion to Christianity.
Islam is the problem. They are worshipping a false "idol". Whether they know it or not--and on some level they probably do--they have been worshipping Satan--not God.
They need to turn to God--not Satan.
God will help them. He is the answer.
Strange, isn't it, that this change of heart came at the same time the regime changed from Clinton to Bush? This happened because Bush is a man of principle, not an empty moral and ethical suit like Clinton, and not from gaining confidence from a successful military campaign. The successful military campaign resulted from the same man's resolve.
And so, militant Islamists prove to be an immature group flashing juvenile tempers and fashioning impotent responses when faced with adult challenges. Their main problem is that as the world moved to from tyranny to the liberty of a republic, they remained, and still remain focused on an afterlife continuing to subject themselves to the will of those claiming to control access to that afterlife.
The latter half of the second millenium has shown that tyrannies are no match for republics, although they can cause a great deal of damage when left unchecked. Muslims will find their lives much more rewarding and the world a whole lot more friendly and understanding once they ditch their overlords.
True. To know is good. To sympathize, however..... :-)
There was a tone of "Compassionate understanding" beneath the surface that put me off.
You clearly didn't read the whole article. Please do so.
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