Why did the three young Muslim men convicted this week in Britain of a major terrorist plot decide to kill thousands of people? Two of the men were children of Pakistani migrants. The third was of Jamaican heritage. The plot involved the use of liquid bombs that would have blown up some seven airliners bound for North American cities.

Excerpts from their “martyrdom mission” video recordings all point to one simple theme: “Get out of our lands”.

If this was about religion, we’d have seen many more ordinary British and other Muslims joining such missions. If this were about religion, even 1% of 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide would mean 12 million terrorists located in every corner of the planet. We’d be seeing much more terrorism than we are now.

But suicide terrorism isn’t about religion. If it was, the largest and most successful user of suicide terrorism would not be Sri Lanka’s crypto-Marxist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam. The Tigers believe their traditional lands in the Jaffna Peninsula of Northern Sri Lanka are under occupation. The Sri Lankan government insists the Tigers can be dismissed just by using the “terrorist” label and by focussing on ethnic wedge issues. Distorting genuinely held grievances is as absurd a strategy as ignoring them.

The IRA used terrorism to fight British occupation. The Brits tried to discredit the IRA by using the “t” word, thus trying to divert international attention away from the genuinely held grievances of Irish nationalists.

These young men and their Al-Qaeda masters’s central grievances are no different. In his recently published book Fit To Print: Misrepresenting The Middle East Dutch journalist and Middle East Correspondent Joris Luyendijk reminds us of what he calls “the third dimension” of Osama bin Laden’s message which “has hardly made it to the Western media”.

Luyendijk writes about Western interference in the form of propping up dictatorships “…with money, weapons, and intelligence for decades”:

Bin Laden pointed out this interference in practically every video, and his message could be summarised in two words: sod off … Prominent Westerners often labelled the 9/11 attacks as “a direct assault on Western civilisation”. But whoever looks at Bin Laden’s story will see that he presents his program as one of self-defence … This part of Bin Laden’s message has remained, for the most part, out of the Western news stream, meaning that very few Westerners know about their enemy’s motives.

Yep, our exposure to terrorism is very much linked to our foreign policy. And if the words of an experienced Arabic-speaking journalist like Luyendijk aren’t enough to convince you, consider the findings of Professor Robert Pape who has studied every suicide terrorist attack from 1980 to 2004 and who concludes that “…overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland”.

None of this provides any moral justification for the acts of terror cells and their sponsors. And there’s no doubt that religious leaders also have an enormous responsibility in ensuring that vulnerable young people aren’t sucked into fringe fundamentalist theology used by such groups.

But our politicians also mustn’t be sucked into fringe fundamentalist politics of insisting terrorism happens in a political vacuum and our foreign policies (especially ones that involve our military presence overseas) don’t increase our exposure to terror.