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Why terrorists really hate the West

Terrorists hate us for our freedom, right? It’s a bit more complicated than that, writes The Mandarin journalist David Donaldson.

The murder of journalist Steven Sotloff, coming weeks after the murder of journalist James Foley in similar circumstances, seems an incomprehensible act of barbarism and hatred. What has caused Islamic State militants to hate the West so much that they would brutally murder a journalist and broadcast the grisly act worldwide?

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s insistence that terrorists “hate us not for what we’ve done, they hate us for who we are” is misleading. It’s a line periodically wheeled out by politicians wanting to whitewash the West’s history of war and troublemaking in the Middle East, and one that ignores the facts.

On Sunday Abbott told a press conference that “there is a certain type of terrorist organisation which hates us, not because of what we do, but because of who we are and how we live”.

When questioned about whether an intervention in Iraq could increase the potential for terrorism in Australia, Abbott referenced a statement made by ASIO Director-General David Irvine last week: “He said there was, in his professional judgement, no specific correlation between what the Australian government might do in the Middle East and domestic terrorist threats.”

But there is significant evidence to the contrary.

If you listen to what radical Islamist groups have to say beyond all the religious stuff, it quickly becomes clear that one of the main drivers of such movements is a deep sense of injustice at the West’s historical treatment of Muslims. Perhaps the most common gripe is the behaviour of Israel — and the West’s support for the Jewish state in spite of Arabs killed, maimed and displaced.

Middle East correspondent Max Rodenbeck wrote on the release of two books about Osama bin Laden’s life that “the notion of payback for injustices suffered by the Palestinians is perhaps the most powerful recurrent in bin Laden’s speeches”.

The evidence suggests that Western foreign policy plays an important role in pushing a few unstable individuals towards terrorism.”

In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — the man seen as the architect of the September 11 attacks — the 9/11 Commission concluded that his “animus towards the United States stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with US foreign policy favoring Israel”.

The Afghanistan and Iraq wars only fuelled perceptions that the West does not see Muslim lives as valuable. The Tsarnaev brothers said the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were the primary motivations behind the Boston bombings, while the July 7, 2005, London bombers cited Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel.

Closer to home, one of those involved in the Holsworthy terror plot made news by yelling in the courtroom “You call us terrorists. I’ve never killed anyone in my life. Your army kills innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel takes Palestinian land by force.” Melbourne terrorist Abdul Nacer Benbrika told followers they needed to kill at least 1000 citizens to make the Australian government withdraw forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Market research in the Middle East shows that public opinion is nowhere near as negative on the question of Western culture as it is on American foreign policy. A Zogby International poll of five Arab states in 2006 — that is, three years after the invasion of Iraq — found that “in earlier polls, ‘the American people’ were viewed positively in most Arab countries. In 2006, this is only the case in Lebanon.”

Notably, net views on “American freedom and democracy”, “American products” and “American movies and TV” ranged from moderately negative to moderately positive, and “American education” was seen positively in all six countries.

But American policies as regards Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq were seen negatively in all six — extremely so, in most cases. For example, 41% of Saudis expressed positive opinions on “American freedom and democracy” and 31% expressed negative views, but 96% disagreed with American Iraq policy. Australia’s approach towards these countries tends to be very similar to that of the United States.

And while it’s difficult to know whether the absence of these perceived injustices would have altered the outlooks of the terrorists themselves, a widely felt sense of injustice means that it’s more likely that groups like the Islamic State, al-Qaeda or the Taliban will meet with support or at least ambivalence from Muslim-majority publics, increasing the risk of what has occurred in Iraq and Syria.

The evidence suggests that Western foreign policy plays an important role in pushing a few unstable individuals towards terrorism.

And the suggestion that “they” hate “us” for our freedom and not because Western states have killed and mistreated millions of Muslims, Arabs and other people over the past couple of centuries is rubbish. This may be inconvenient — you can’t undo the blunders of the past — but to completely dismiss terrorists’ own stated motivations and public opinion in the Middle East would be a mistake.

13
  • 1
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 3 September 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I can’t understand why “journalists” have to get all the “facts” they need from politicians like Abbott?
    That they don’t have to query the likes of such politicians, wanting to put their own spin on reality?
    Or maybe that sort are more “hacks”?
    Whereas real journalists do research - and query such politics/assertions of personal fantasy? And that trait makes them easy to tell from the pack?

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 3 September 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if there’s picture of Honest John bitch-slapping AFP’s “Slippery” Mick Keelty (over his comments about us being a greater target under Howard’s policies - just before his backward somersault with pike) hanging on the wall in ASIO’s (and any other department’s) head office?

    The Hand That Rocks the Department’s Budget!”?

  • 3
    douglas kirsner
    Posted Wednesday, 3 September 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    It’s really all about Israel and the US? So that’s why IS is slaughtering all the Shi’ites it can, and why there have been nearly 200,000 deaths with 3 million refugees in Syria?

  • 4
    Shirty
    Posted Wednesday, 3 September 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Nice work on that Strawman Douglas. The article is titled “Why terrorists really hate the west” not “Why IS is doing what it’s doing”. The point is not what motivates IS to barbarically hack its way across the Middle East (they barely rate a mention in the article), but whether terrorists hate the west for “what we’ve done” rather than “who we are”

  • 5
    seriously?
    Posted Wednesday, 3 September 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    @douglas kirsner - the article wasn’t about what you reference about syria and isis/iraq - it’s about why do “they” hate the west - is it about resentment of our “freedoms” and “way of life” (as is often trotted out eg abbott), or resentment of the actions and interventions the west (led by the US in recent times) in arab muslim countries. the latter seems far more plausible.

    it’s not too hard to see that the accumulated interventions of western countries in the middle east in modern times has played a major role in the problems and conflicts we see there today.

  • 6
    Mali Edon
    Posted Wednesday, 3 September 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Do not Arabs repeatedly refer to Americans as Crusaders? There may be long memories in play.

  • 7
    Steve
    Posted Wednesday, 3 September 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Having just come back from Malaysia I was interested to note the daily reporting of the conflict from a very pro-Palistinian point of view compared to the more pro-Israel stance in the Australian press. I believe David’s article highlights not so much the motivation of the Muslim groups which is complex and often regional but the support and sympathy that they can draw from Muslim people around the world.

  • 8
    davoid
    Posted Wednesday, 3 September 2014 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I remember quite clearly, following the twin towers going down, and everyone’s thinking What the fuck was that all about, Bin Laden himself then enlightened us: it was largely because of the West’s support of Israel against the Palestinians and their cause. George Bush, however, knew better. He contradicted Bin Laden: they did it because they ‘hate freedom’, and then he decided to invade Iraq.

  • 9
    Christopher Nagle
    Posted Wednesday, 3 September 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    The history of Zionist fundamentalism in Palestine has been THE critical contradiction in the Middle East since 1948. Its application has spread across the Islamic world since the Afghanistan war and deepened in hostility after Iraq. This has produced a latterday version of the 1930s global Jewish conspiracy and there is quite enough evidence for it to give it extensive traction in the Muslim world. Google ‘Shylock in the Twenty-First Century’ for an analysis.

  • 10
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Wednesday, 3 September 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Klewso says: …I can’t understand why “journalists” have to get all the “facts” they need from politicians like Abbott?

    Answer: because journalist are not journalist at all. They are stenographers, they take dictation from politicians and type it verbatim into print.

    A m e r i c a and B r i t a i n …is why terrorists really hate the West. Australia was in there helping as well. Eventually our dear leader(s) wishes will come true, and we Australians too will be hated by all and sundry in the middle east. Moral: …sleep with mangy dogs catch mange and fleas.

  • 11
    Exactly!
    Posted Wednesday, 3 September 2014 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    The West has supported just about every dictator in the Middle East for generations. Absolute monarchs, dictators, military governments, and all classes of bully, murderer, and villain are the West’s firm allies.

    Of course the civilian populations in the Middle East see the direct connection between the US and the brutality of their governments, and hate America for it.

    Historically the active extermination of democracy by these regimes meant the only space in which an opposition could operate was an Islamic space. Islamic activists were tolerated over the years and in some cases used by the US and dictators. All other opposition movements were exterminated with the utmost brutality.

    If you asked why our democratic freedom loving governments support dictators the answer would be out of the fear that nationalist or social democratic governments would emerge and assert strategic control over the oil. It is the oil that makes us mates with the Saudis.

    But it is not just the oil or the annoyance of Israel.

    The destruction of social democracy is not just US policy in the Middle East but has been applied just about everywhere else, particularly in Latin America, and I am referring to coups in Chile and Guatemala as prime instances.

    Seventy years of Western foreign policy gives a lie to the self professed values of the West. You do not need to be Muslim to see and hate this. More disturbingly it also gives a clear indication where the West is heading on the domestic front.

    If this is what our freedoms mean, I hate them as well.

  • 12
    CML
    Posted Thursday, 4 September 2014 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    Very good article, David.
    I have always thought that until ‘the west’ stops endorsing the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians, and the stealing of their land, Muslims and Arabs have every right to ‘hate’ what we are doing in the Middle East.
    The thing is, do the vast bulk of the Australian people even begin to understand this? Especially the politicians!
    I am distraught by the ‘me too’ attitude of the ALP, on the current policies of the rAbbott and his motley crew!!

  • 13
    GideonPolya
    Posted Thursday, 4 September 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Apart from US state terrorism-supporting Coalition or Labor Right (Lib-lab, Liberal-Laboral) supporters I don’t know any terrorists or terrorist sympathizers and certainly don’t want to. However despite this position of ignorance I have some understanding of human nature and history and as a scientist can analyze the available data.

    Australian state terrorism has been involved in Iraq for 99 years in Iraq - 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the British invasion of Iraq in November 1914 and the commencement of a century of Anglo devastation of Iraq . The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) assisted the British invasion of Iraq in 1915 and its soldiers unwittingly commenced the Palestinian Genocide with the Surafend Massacre in 1918. Australia was involved in the US-led 1990-2003 Sanctions War during which 1.7 million Iraqis died from imposed deprivation and 1.2 million under-5 Iraqi infants died (90% avoidably and due to US Alliance war crimes in gross violation of the Geneva Convention and the UN Genocide Convention). Australian special forces spearheaded the illegal and war criminal US-UK invasion of Iraq in March 2003 that resulted in 2.7 million Iraqi deaths from violence (1.5 million) or violently-imposed deprivation (1.2 million) and a further 0.8 million Iraqi under-5 infant deaths (see “Iraqi Holocaust Iraqi Genocide”: https://sites.google.com/site/iraqiholocaustiraqigenocide/ ; “Muslim Holocaust Muslim Genocide” https://sites.google.com/site/muslimholocaustmuslimgenocide/ ; and Gideon Polya, “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, that includes an avoidable mortality-related history if every country since Neolithic times and is now available for free perusal on the web: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/body-count-global-avoidable-mortality_05.html ).

    Iraq is just 1 of 70 countries that have been invaded and devastated by the US since 1776 . The UK has invaded about 172 countries and France has invaded 80 . Australia as a UK ally or (since 1941) a US ally has invaded scores of countries in Africa, Europe, Asia and Australasia. Australia has been involved in all post-1950 US Asian wars, atrocities that have been associated with 40 million deaths from violence or war-imposed deprivation. Australia is still involved in the US War On Muslims that has killed 12 million Muslims through violence or violently-imposed deprivation since 1990 “Muslim Holocaust Muslim Genocide” https://sites.google.com/site/muslimholocaustmuslimgenocide/ ). Indeed Australia ‘s joint facility at Pine Gap is intimately and crucially involved in targeting war criminal US drone operations across the Muslim world from French-occupied Mali to US-occupied Afghanistan and US-bombed Pakistan.

    It is hardly surprising that the victims of US state terrorism from Central America to the Philippines would “hate” the mass murder of their relatives and countrymen or that Muslim origin non-state terrorists would “hate” the xenophobic and now Islamophobic Western state terrorism that dates from Charlemagne’s forcible conversion of the Saxons in the 9th century AD and the Anglo-Saxon Genocide perpetrated by the Norman conquerors after 1066.

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