December 2, 2009 by D Stack
Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber — a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. They want to drive Israel out of the Middle East. They want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa.
– President George W. Bush, September 20, 2001
It has thankfully been a long time since Al Qaeda has been able to launch a direct attack on the United States or one of its interests, but the expansion of the war in Afghanistan by President Obama has brought back memories of why we are in Afghanistan in the first place.
To begin, I agree wholeheartedly with the initial decision to send American troops to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. A sovereign nation has a duty to protect itself and its interests and the government of Afghanistan refused to turn over to the United States the men responsible for those attacks. I’m not 100% convinced our current action is worth the expense in American lives and treasure, but that is a thought for another day.
What I wanted to reflect on is the question asked so much after 9/11 – “why do they hate us?” One of the easiest answers is to say that they hate our freedom. And to be honest, I believe that to be true. For example, Sayyid Qutb, one of the fathers of the Islamist movement, studied in the United States after World War II. He indeed hated the freedoms of the United States. Those who wish to see a government based on Shari’a law are not people who would embrace the multicultural, liberal, and free society of the United States.
But… is that enough to make people want to fly airplanes into buildings? I suppose it might be in some cases, but President Bush was far more accurate, in my opinion, when he said “They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.” The people who are part of Al Qaeda often truly hate their own governments. And to be honest, they very often have good reason to hate their own governments. Elections in Egypt always seem to elect the same person, year after year. Usually because only one person would be on the ballot. Saudi Arabia is ruled by a royal family – not a constitutional monarchy, but all power lying with the royal family. And these governments are often very repressive. Al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s number two, was tortured by the Egyptian government. Often the rulers of these countries live in opulent wealth from oil while the poor of the country have little or no opportunity.
And these governments often receive vast amounts of assistance from the United States, whether in the form of cash or other assistance. Egypt has consistently been the number two recipient of American financial assistance, preceded only by Israel. And the terrorists absolutely despise our support of Israel.
Hatred of Israel (which is in the neighborhood) and of their own governments are more powerful motivations for suicide attacks on the United States then hatred of our loose morals, religious freedoms, and republican form of government.
Note that I am not by any means saying “we had it coming to us” or “we deserved it”. Our foreign policy may indeed be objectionable. That is something that can be debated. But to deliberately target innocents in response? That is something every sensible religion and philosophy condemns.
…if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.
– Al-Qur’an 5:32
Do not let your hatred of a people incite you to aggression.
– Al-Quar’an 5:2
So I agree with former President Bush that members of Al Qaeda do indeed hate our freedom. But I believe their prime motivation is our foreign policy. Does that mean we should change it? No, but I think we can better fight our enemies by understanding what motivates them.
For a far more thorough treatment of this I strongly endorse Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. It is a very readable book that, while explaining the motivation of Islamic terrorists, does not endorse them.