Category Archives: Terrorism

My son, Osama bin Laden: the al-Qaida leader’s mother speaks for the first time – Martin Chulov.

“He was a very good child until he met some people who pretty much brainwashed him in his early 20s. You can call it a cult. They got money for their cause. I would always tell him to stay away from them, and he would never admit to me what he was doing, because he loved me so much.”

Nearly 17 years since 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s family remains an influential part of Saudi society as well as a reminder of the darkest moment in the kingdom’s history. Can they escape his legacy?

On the corner couch of a spacious room, a woman wearing a brightly patterned robe sits expectantly. The red hijab that covers her hair is reflected in a glass-fronted cabinet; inside, a framed photograph of her firstborn son takes pride of place between family heirlooms and valuables. A smiling, bearded figure wearing a military jacket, he features in photographs around the room: propped against the wall at her feet, resting on a mantlepiece. A supper of Saudi meze and a lemon cheesecake has been spread out on a large wooden dining table.

Alia Ghanem is Osama bin Laden’s mother, and she commands the attention of everyone in the room. On chairs nearby sit two of her surviving sons, Ahmad and Hassan, and her second husband, Mohammed al-Attas, the man who raised all three brothers. Everyone in the family has their own story to tell about the man linked to the rise of global terrorism; but it is Ghanem who holds court today, describing a man who is, to her, still a beloved son who somehow lost his way. “My life was very difficult because he was so far away from me,” she says, speaking confidently. “He was a very good kid and he loved me so much.” Now in her mid-7os and in variable health, Ghanem points at al-Attas a lean, fit man dressed, like his two sons, in an immaculately pressed white thobe, a gown worn by men across the Arabian peninsula. “He raised Osama from the age of three. He was a good man, and he was good to Osama.”

The family have gathered in a corner of the mansion they now share in Jeddah, the Saudi Arabian city that has been home to the Bin Laden clan for generations. They remain one of the kingdom’s wealthiest families: their dynastic construction empire built much of modern Saudi Arabia, and is deeply woven into the country’s establishment. The Bin Laden home reflects their fortune and influence, a large spiral staircase at its centre leading to cavernous rooms. Ramadan has come and gone, and the bowls of dates and chocolates that mark the three-day festival that follows it sit on tabletops throughout the house. Large manors line the rest of the street; this is well-to-do Jeddah, and while no guard stands watch outside, the Bin Ladens are the neighbourhood’s best-known residents.

For years, Ghanem has refused to talk about Osama, as has his wider family throughout his two decade reign as al-Qaida leader, a period that saw the strikes on New York and Washington DC, and ended more than nine years later with his death in Pakistan.

Now, Saudi Arabia’s new leadership, spearheaded by the ambitious 32-year-old heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has agreed to my request to speak to the family. (As one of the country’s most influential families, their movements and engagements remain closely monitored.) Osama’s legacy is as grave a blight on the kingdom as it is on his family, and senior officials believe that, by allowing the Bin Ladens to tell their story, they can demonstrate that an outcast not an agent was responsible for 9/ 1 1. Saudi Arabia’s critics have long alleged that Osama had state support, and the families of a number of 9/ 1 1 victims have launched (so far unsuccessful) legal actions against the kingdom. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.

Unsurprisingly, Osama bin Laden’s family are cautious in our initial negotiations; they are not sure whether opening old wounds will prove cathartic or harmful. But after several days of discussion, they are willing to talk. When we meet on a hot day in early June, a minder from the Saudi government sits in the room, though she makes no attempt to influence the conversation. (We are also joined by a translator.)

Sitting between Osama’s half-brothers, Ghanem recalls her firstborn as a shy boy who was academically capable. He became a strong, driven, pious figure in his early 20s, she says, while studying economics at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, where he was also radicalised. “The people at university changed him,” Ghanern says. “He became a different man.” One of the men he met there was Abdullah Azzam, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who was later exiled from Saudi Arabia and became Osama’s spiritual adviser. “He was a very good child until he met some people who pretty much brainwashed him in his early 20s. You can call it a cult. They got money for their cause. I would always tell him to stay away from them, and he would never admit to me what he was doing, because he loved me so much.”

In the early 1980s, Osama travelled to Afghanistan to fight the Russian occupation. “Everyone who met him in the early days respected him,” says Hassan, picking up the story. “At the start, we were very proud of him. Even the Saudi government would treat him in a very noble, respectful way. And then came Osama the mujahid.”

A long uncomfortable silence follows, as Hassan struggles to explain the transformation from zealot to global jihadist. “I am very proud of him in the sense that he was my oldest brother,” he eventually continues. “He taught me a lot. But I don’t think I’m very proud of him as a man. He reached superstardom on a global stage, and it was all for nothing.”

Ghanem listens intently, becoming more animated when the conversation returns to Osama’s formative years. “He was very straight. Very good at school. He really liked to study. He spent all his money on Afghanistan, he would sneak off under the guise of family business.” Did she ever suspect he might become a jihadist? “It never crossed my mind.” How did it feel when she realised he had? “We were extremely upset. I did not want any of this to happen. Why would he throw it all away like that?”

The family say they last saw Osama in Afghanistan in 1999, a year in which they visited him twice at his base just outside Kandahar. “It was a place near the airport that they had captured from the Russians,” Ghanem says. “He was very happy to receive us. He was showing us around every day we were there. He killed an animal and we had a feast, and he invited everyone.”

Ghanem begins to relax, and talks about her childhood in the coastal Syrian city of Latakia, where she grew up in a family of Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam. Syrian cuisine is superior to Saudi, she says, and so is the weather by the Mediterranean, where the warm, wet summer air was a stark contrast to the acetylene heat of Jeddah in June. Ghanem moved to Saudi Arabia in the mid-1950s, and Osama was born in Riyadh in 1957. She divorced his father three years later, and married al-Attas, then an administrator in the fledgling Bin Laden empire, in the early 1960s. Osama’s father went on to have 54 children with at least 11 wives.

When Ghanem leaves to rest in a nearby room, Osama’s half brothers continue the conversation. It’s important, they say, to remember that a mother is rarely an objective witness. “It has been 17 years now since 9/11, and she remains in denial about Osama,” Ahmad says. “She loved him so much and refuses to blame him. Instead, she blames those around him. She only knows the good boy side, the side we all saw. She never got to know the jihadist side.”

“I was shocked, stunned,” he says now of the early reports from New York. “It was a very strange feeling. We knew from the beginning that it was Osama, within the first 48 hours. From the youngest to the eldest, we all felt ashamed of him. We knew all of us were going to face horrible consequences. Our family abroad all came back to Saudi.” They had been scattered across Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Europe. “In Saudi, there was a travel ban. They tried as much as they could to maintain control over the family.” The family say they were all questioned by the authorities and, for a time, prevented from leaving the country. Nearly two decades on, the Bin Ladens can move relatively freely within and outside the kingdom.

Osama, age 14, in Oxford

Osama bin Laden’s formative years in Jeddah came in the relatively freewheeling 1970s, before the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which aimed to export Shia zeal into the Sunni Arab world. From then on, Saudi’s rulers enforced a rigid interpretation of Sunni Islam, one that had been widely practised across the Arabian peninsula since the 18th century, the era of cleric Muhammed ibn Abdul Wahhab. In 1744, Abdul Wahhab had made a pact with the then ruler Mohammed bin Saud, allowing his family to run affairs of state while hardlihe clerics defined the national character.

The modern day kingdom, proclaimed in 1932, left both sides, the clerics and the rulers too powerful to take the other on, locking the state and its citizens into a society defined by archconservative views: the strict segregation of non-related men and women; uncompromising gender roles; an intolerance of other faiths; and an unfailing adherence to doctrinal teachings, all rubber-stamped by the House of Saud.

Many believe this alliance directly contributed to the rise of global terrorism. Al-Qaida worldview and that of its offshoot, Islamic State (Isis) were largely shaped by Wahhabi scriptures; and Saudi clerics were widely accused of encouraging a jihadist movement that grew throughout the 1990s, with Osama bin Laden at its centre.

In 2018, Saudi’s new leadership wants to draw a line under this era and introduce what bin Salman calls “moderate Islam”. This he sees as essential to the survival of a state where a large, restless and often disaffected young population has, for nearly four decades, had little access to entertainment, a social life or individual freedoms. Saudi’s new rulers believe such rigid societal norms, enforced by clerics, could prove fodder for extremists who tap into such feelings of frustration.

Reform is beginning to creep through many aspects of Saudi society; among the most visible was June’s lifting of the ban on women drivers. There have been changes to the labour markets and a bloated public sector; cinemas have opened, and an anti-corruption drive launched across the private sector and some quarters of government. The government also claims to have stopped all funding to Wahhabi institutions outside the kingdom, which had been supported with missionary zeal for nearly four decades.

Such radical shock therapy is slowly being absorbed across the country, where communities conditioned to decades of uncompromising doctrine don’t always know what to make of it. Contradictions abound: some officials and institutions eschew conservatism, while others wholeheartedly embrace it. Meanwhile, political freedoms remain off-limits; power has become more centralised and dissent is routinely crushed.

Bin Laden’s legacy remains one of the kingdom’s most pressing issues. I meet Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was the head of Saudi intelligence for 24 years, between 1977 and 1 September 2001 (10 days before the 9/ 11 attacks), at his villa in Jeddah. An erudite man now in his mid-70s, Turki wears green cufflinks bearing the Saudi flag on the sleeves of his thobe. “There are two Osama bin Ladens,” he tells me. “One before the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and one after it. Before, he was very much an idealistic mujahid. He was not a fighter. By his own admission, he fainted during a battle, and when he woke up, the Soviet assault on his position had been defeated.”

As Bin Laden moved from Afghanistan to Sudan, and as his links to Saudi Arabia soured, it was Turki who spoke with him on behalf of the kingdom. In the wake of 9/ 1 1, these direct dealings came under intense scrutiny. Then and 17 years later relatives of some of the 2,976 killed and more than 6,000 wounded in New York and Washington DC refuse to believe that a country that had exported such an archconservative form of the faith could have nothing to do with the consequences.

Certainly, Bin Laden travelled to Afghanistan with the knowledge and backing of the Saudi state, which opposed the Soviet occupation; along with America, the Saudis armed and supported those groups who fought it. The young mujahid had taken a small part of the family fortune with him, which he used to buy influence. When he returned to Jeddah, emboldened by battle and the Soviet defeat, he was a different man, Turki says. “He developed a more political attitude from 1990. He wanted to evict the communists and South Yemeni Marxists from Yemen. I received him, and told him it was better that he did not get involved. The mosques of Jeddah were using the Afghan example.” By this, Turki means the narrowly defined reading of the faith espoused by the Taliban. “He was inciting them, Saudi worshippers. He was told to stop.”

“He had a poker face,” Turki continues. “He never grimaced, or smiled. In 1992, 1993, there was a huge meeting in Peshawar organised by Nawaz Sharif’s government.” Bin Laden had by this point been given refuge by Afghan tribal leaders. “There was a call for Muslim solidarity, to coerce those leaders of the Muslim world to stop going at each other’s throats. I also saw him there. Our eyes met, but we didn’t talk. He didn’t go back to the kingdom. He went to Sudan, where he built a honey business and financed a road.”

Bin Laden’s advocacy increased in exile. “He used to fax statements to everybody. He was very critical. There were efforts by the family to dissuade him, emissaries and such but they were unsuccessful. It was probably his feeling that he was not taken seriously by the government.”

By 1996, Bin Laden was back in Afghanistan. Turki says the kingdom knew it had a problem and wanted him returned. He flew to Kandahar to meet with the then head of the Taliban, Mullah Omar. “He said, ‘I am not averse to handing him over, but he was very helpful to the Afghan people.’ He said Bin Laden was granted refuge according to Islamic dictates.” Two years later, in September 1998, Turki flew again to Afghanistan, this time to be robustly rebuffed. “At that meeting, he was a changed man,” he says of Omar. “Much more reserved, sweating profusely. Instead of taking a reasonable tone, he said, ‘How can you persecute this worthy man who dedicated his life to helping Muslims?”’ Turki says he warned Omar that what he was doing would harm the people of Afghanistan, and left.

Taliban leader, Mullah Omar

The family visit to Kandahar took place the following year, and came after a US missile strike on one of Bin Laden’s compounds, a response to al-Qaida attacks on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. It seems an entourage of immediate family had little trouble finding their man, where the Saudi and western intelligence networks could not.

According to officials in Riyadh, London and Washington DC, Bin Laden had by then become the world’s number one counterterrorism target, a man who was bent on using Saudi citizens to drive a wedge between eastern and western civilisations. “There is no doubt that he deliberately chose Saudi citizens for the 9/11 plot,” a British intelligence officer tells me. “He was convinced that was going to turn the west against his home country. He did indeed succeed in inciting a war, but not the one he expected.”

Turki claims that in the months before 9/11, his intelligence agency knew that something troubling was being planned. “In the summer of 2001, I took one of the warnings about something spectacular about to happen to the Americans, British, French and Arabs. We didn’t know where, but we knew that something was being brewed.”

Bin Laden remains a popular figure in some parts of the country, lauded by those who believe he did God’s work. The depth of support, however, is difficult to gauge. What remains of his immediate family, meanwhile, has been allowed back into the kingdom: at least two of Osama’s wives (one of whom was with him in Abbottabad when he was killed by US special forces) and their children now live in Jeddah.

“We had a very good relationship with Mohammed bin Nayef, the former crown prince,” Osama’s half-brother Ahmad tells me as a maid sets the nearby dinner table. “He let the wives and children return.” But while they have freedom of movement inside the city, they cannot leave the kingdom.

Osama’s mother rejoins the conversation. “I speak to his harem most weeks,” she says. “They live nearby.”

Osama’s half-sister, and the two men’s sister, Fatima al-Attas, was not at our meeting. From her home in Paris, she later emailed to say she strongly objected to her mother being interviewed, asking that it be rearranged through her. Despite the blessing of her brothers and stepfather, she felt her mother had been pressured into talking. Ghanem, however, insisted she was happy to talk and could have talked longer. It is, perhaps, a sign of the extended family’s complicated status in the kingdom that such tensions exist.

I ask the family about Bin Laden’s youngest son, 29-year-old Hamza, who is thought to be in Afghanistan. Last year, he was officially designated a “global terrorist” by the US and appears to have taken up the mantle of his father, under the auspices of al-Qaida’s new leader, and Osama’s former deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

His uncles shake their heads. “We thought everyone was over this,” Hassan says. “Then the next thing I knew, Hamza was saying, ‘I am going to avenge my father.’ I don’t want to go through that again. If Hamza was in front of me now, I would tell him, ‘God guide you. Think twice about what you are doing. Don’t retake the steps of your father. You are entering horrible parts of your soul.’”

Hamza bin Laden’s continued rise may well cloud the family’s attempts to shake off their past. It may also hinder the crown prince’s efforts to shape a new era in which Bin Laden is cast as a generational aberration, and in which the hardline doctrines once sanctioned by the kingdom no longer offer legitimacy to extremism. While change has been attempted in Saudi Arabia before, it has been nowhere near as extensive as the current reforms. How hard Mohammed bin Salman can push against a society indoctrinated in such an uncompromising worldview remains an open question.

Saudia Arabia’s allies are optimistic, but offer a note of caution. The British intelligence officer I spoke to told me, “If Salman doesn’t break through, there will be many more Osamas. And I’m not sure they’ll be able to shake the curse.”

ANATOMY OF TERROR. From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State – Ali Soufan.

We can hope that the Islamist movement ignited by Osama bin Laden, fanned into an inferno by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and now fueled, like a vision of hell, by thousands of corpses, will not endure quite as long as the death cult inaugurated by bin Laden’s medieval doppelgénger, Hassan-i Sabbah. But at the same time, let us also recognize that al-Qaeda’s story is far from over.

We have killed the messenger. But the message lives.

FRIENDS AND ENEMIES

On a crisp morning in December of 2001, I picked up a pockmarked clay brick, one of thousands like it littering the site of what only weeks before had been a hideout for the most wanted man on earth. Perhaps, I thought, this very brick had formed part of the wall of Osama bin Laden’s sleeping quarters, or the floor where he habitually sat to receive visitors. As I felt the heft and contour of that brick in my hands, I contemplated the unlikely sequence of eventssome in my lifetime, others over long centuries that had brought me to that extraordinary time and place.

I was born in Lebanon, emigrated to America, and went to college and then grad school in Pennsylvania. I took a double major in political science and international relations, with a minor in cultural anthropology, and followed that up with a master’s in foreign relations. With the Cold War freshly over and America’s position as the world’s only superpower seemingly secure, it was tempting to conceive of the world as a complex but orderly machine, in which nation-states would set rational policies and those rational policies would dictate logical strategies.

Yet there was something fundamentally unsatisfying about this clockwork view of the world. From my graduate studies, one prominent counterexample stuck in my mind, one from 2,500 years ago. The Peloponnesian War pitted Athens’s Delian League against a coalition of states led by Sparta and eventually aided by the mighty Persian Empire. After a quarter century of alarms and reversals, Athens finally surrendered. By paving the way for Alexander’s unification of Greece and his subsequent conquests, the war changed the course of European and world history. But the outcome was by no means foreordained.

I came to see that all the key decisions were based neither on policy nor on strategy but on personalities.

Speeches and emotional appeals consistently carried the day. Half a millennium later, Cato the Younger would mark this same phenomenon in Rome’s rocky transformation from republic to empire. “When Cicero spoke,” he said, “people marveled. When Caesar spoke, people marched.”

Theories are great tools to think with. They open your mind, broaden your perspective. But it is people who make the world go round. Individual human beings, with all their idiosyncrasies and contradictions and baggage, with their ideas sculpted by culture and belief and education and economics and family, are the agents of every grand historical force that future generations will see smoldering in the tangled wreckage of the past.

While I was still a student, I began following through the Arabic press the exploits of a dissident Saudi millionaire named Osama bin Laden and his nascent extremist organization, al-Qaeda, the Base. I marveled at this man’s audacity in declaring war on America, and his charismatic ability to attract followers to his side. But my own calling could not have been more different. Fresh out of grad school, I joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where one of my first assignments was to write a paper on this man bin Laden and his group. My report came to the attention of John O’Neill, the legendary head of the bureau’s counterterrorism section, based in Manhattan. In time, John became my mentor and a close friend. When suicide bombers murdered seventeen American sailors aboard the USS Cole in October 2000, John assigned me to lead the investigation. I traveled to Sanaa, Yemen’s ancient capital, and began running down leads and interrogating suspects.

John O’Neill retired from the bureau in the summer of 2001. I took him out to lunch to celebrate, and told him I was getting married. He gave me his blessing. But this would prove to be our last meeting. On August 23, John became security director for the World Trade Center. Two weeks later, he died rushing back into the south tower, courageous to the very end, determined to do what he had been doing his whole career: save lives.

Three months later, standing with my colleagues in the remains of bin Laden’s bombed out Kabul compound, I felt myself overcome by a strong sense of revenge, for my country, for the thousands murdered, and especially for John. Ever since the attacks, the alQaeda leader had been confidently predicting America’s imminent downfall. Now, bin Laden and his extremist cohorts were learning that the United States and its broad coalition of allies would not give in to terrorism so easily. For now, the sheikh still evaded capture, but the tide had turned. The piles of rubble, the lone wall that remained of a sizable residence, the twisted metal of what had once been a staircase, the smattering of air-dropped leaflets offering twenty-five million dollars for information leading to bin Laden’s capture, all bore witness to the turn of fortune’s wheel. Back home in the United States, some political leaders were already talking about Afghanistan as a future democratic beacon for the region.

In the decade that followed, my life changed utterly. I spent another four years with the FBI, investigating the 9/11 attacks and other terrorist crimes. I got married, left the bureau, and eventually became the father of three very energetic boys. And so it was that, on a Sunday evening in the spring of 2011, I found myself at home, assembling a pair of swing seats for our newborn twins as the television chattered away in the background. At around 9:45 pm, a special announcement broke through the babble: the president would shortly be addressing the nation. Clearly, something big had happened.

It was 11:35 pm. by the time President Obama approached a podium in the East Room of the White House and confirmed to the world that U.S. Navy SEALS had killed Osama bin Laden. As the president spoke of the people bin Laden had murdered, of the families bereaved, of the children left fatherless, my thoughts turned again to John O’Neill and the other friends I had lost along the way. Near the end of his remarks, Obama said, “Justice has been done.” That was certainly true, but the ramifications of bin Laden’s demise had yet to play out.

Would the jihadist edifice simply crumble without its keystone? Or would bin Laden prove more powerful as a martyr than he ever had been as a living leader?

No doubt these questions were on the president’s mind, too. ABC News’s Martha Raddatz had reported “absolute jubilation throughout government.” For my part, I could not help but feel more troubled than jubilant.

Emails began flooding my inbox, from friends and colleagues congratulating me, and from reporters seeking my take on events. An editor from the New York Times asked if I would put my views in an op-ed for the paper. I sat down to analyze the situation. I thought of all the dozens of al-Qaeda acolytes I had interrogated over the years, playing high-stakes games of mental chess with extremists and murderers for the sake of extracting priceless evidence. They had pledged bayat to bin Laden, swearing allegiance neither to the office nor the organization but to the man himself. To whom would zealots such as these now declare fealty?

Osama bin Laden had been uniquely well equipped to lead the network he founded. He had walked away from the wealth and luxury of the Saudi upper crust in order to devote himself to jihad, against the Soviets and then against America. This personal history helped him in two ways. First, his freely chosen asceticism helped inspire fanatical devotion among his followers. Secondly, at the same time, his privileged background endowed him with contacts among wealthy elites willing to bankroll terrorism. Bin Laden’s death would therefore leave a gaping hole in aI-Qaeda’s recruitment and fund-raising efforts.

It seemed likely that bin Laden’s longtime deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, would be named the new emir. If so, I knew that he would struggle. To be sure, Zawahiri is clever and strategic. He is, after all, a fully trained surgeon who honed his militant skills battling the Sadat and Mubarak regimes in his native Egypt. He is also a zealot of uncompromising brutality, responsible more than anyone for justifying the tactic of suicide bombing and by extension for the tragic toll it has taken on innocent Muslims. But for all his intelligence, his cunning, and his zeal, Zawahiri possesses none of the charisma bin Laden had. Indeed, his personality has alienated many people over the years. More importantly still, Zawahiri is an Egyptian. Within al-Qaeda, his appointment would inflame the already tense internecine rivalry between his countrymen and the Gulf Arabs who make up the jihadi rank and file.

As an organization, then, al-Qaeda was in deep trouble. But what of bin Ladenism as an idea? That, I felt, was a different story. I feared that some of the regional groups that bin Laden had worked so hard to keep in line-like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and aI-Shabaab in the Horn of Africa, would split off. They might even intensify their ideology. No doubt they would see the nascent Arab Spring as an opportunity to impose their ideas on their fellow Muslims. In the pages of the New York Times I wrote:

We cannot rest on our laurels. Most of Al Qaeda’s leadership council members are still at large, and they command their own followers. They will try to carry out operations to prove Al Qaeda’s continuing relevance. And with Al Qaeda on the decline, regional groups that had aligned themselves with the network may return to operating independently, making them harder to monitor and hence deadlier.

It brings me no pleasure to see those premonitions borne out. Al-Qaeda has indeed fractured into regional units. Zawahiri, the cold bureaucrat, has struggled to maintain control. Meanwhile, the cancer of bin Ladenism has metastasized across the Middle East and North Africa and beyond, carried by even more virulent vectors. Whereas on 9/11 al-Qaeda had around 400 members, today it has thousands upon thousands, in franchises and affiliates spread from the shores of the Pacific to Africa’s Atlantic seaboard, and that is without even counting the breakaway armed group that calls itself the Islamic State. AI-Qaeda’s Syrian branch alone has more members than bin Laden ever imagined for his entire network. It is striking to note that, in October of 2015, more than fourteen years after the 9/11 attacks, US. forces disrupted what is believed to be the largest al-Qaeda training camp ever, all thirty square miles of it-right in the organization’s historic heartland of Afghanistan.

In the Middle East, the Islamic State, al-Qaeda’s most vicious offshoot to date, employs methods so savage that even hardened terrorists publicly denounce their brutality. Where bin Laden encouraged militants in his network to focus on attacking the West directly rather than hitting regimes in the Muslim world, the Islamic State has successfully done both. It has brought mass murder to the streets of Paris, airports in Brussels and Istanbul, a Russian airliner in the skies over Sinai, and a Christmas market in Berlin. It has killed worshipers at mosques in Yemen and Kuwait, attacked police, soldiers, and border guards in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and bombed political rallies in Turkey. At the same time, it has conquered millions of acres across Iraq and Syria, aided by tens of thousands of foreign recruits. The organization’s formal break with al-Qaeda in 2014 has not stopped the Islamic State from expanding to other troubled regions of the world, most notably Libya. The group has even established a beachhead in remote regions of Afghanistan, where it vies violently for control with al-Qaeda’s longstanding allies, the Taliban, who governed Afghanistan until the United States removed them from power in 2001.

A video popular among Muslims living in the projects of East London, Birmingham, and elsewhere in England shows a man squatting in a Syrian field, his features covered with a ski mask, his rifle at the ready. Fighting in the Levant is “not as easy as pulling out your nine-millimeter on a back road of the streets of London and blasting a guy,” he says in a forthright East London accent. “It’s not as easy as putting up your feet on the couch after a hard day’s work on the corner.”

Inspired by such bin Ladenist propaganda, as many as 38,000 foreigners had joined the fighting in Syria by the end of 2015. Compare that to the Afghan jihad against the Soviets, which attracted “only” 8,000 foreign nationals. And whereas those who made the journey to that conflict came overwhelmingly from Muslim-majority countries, the war in Syria has attracted over 5,000 foreign fighters from the United States and the European Union, as well as many hundreds from Russia. Around 20 to 30 percent of these fighters have already returned home.

Not all of them are plotting violence, by any means; but the numbers are so great that even if only a small proportion of these fighters emerge from the conflict as hardened terrorists, it could spell big trouble for the West. How big? Think of it this way: the islamic State’s attacks on Paris in November of 2015, in which 130 innocent people died, were perpetrated by just 9 men.

My first book, The Black Banners, told the tale of al-Qaeda up to the death of its founder. In this book, I aim to take the story further. True to my conviction that personalities matter, I will focus my story through the eyes of several key individuals, notably bin Laden himself; Saif al Adel, his wily security chief; Ayman al-Zawahiri, his deputy and successor; Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who founded the organization that would become the Islamic State; Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the group’s current “caliph”; and the men (and in bin Laden’s case, the women) of their inner circles. Through these characters, we will trace the transformation of al-Qaeda as an organization, the simultaneous development of bin Ladenism into a far more potent and lethal force, the rise and decline of the Islamic State, and the impending resurgence of al-Qaeda.

In its landmark final report, the 9/11 Commission concluded that the tragic attacks of September 2001 were allowed to proceed in part because of a catastrophic “failure of imagination” on the part of US. intelligence. Analysts commonly asserted that they simply couldn’t imagine someone flying a plane into a building. In a similar vein, a month before the US. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told a Senate panel, “It’s hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam’s security forces and his army.” It took less than two months, and minimal U.S. casualties, to conquer the country; yet eight years, five thousand coalition deaths, and $1.7 trillion were nowhere near enough to “provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq.”

Know your enemy, Sun Tsu admonishes us across the millennia. And yet, time and again, when inquiries are held and hard questions asked, the response amounts to, “We couldn’t conceive, we couldn’t imagine, we couldn’t wrap our heads around the possibility that something like this could happen.” Or, just as bad, we did imagine some worst-case scenario and therefore it was sure to happen, as in the so-called One Percent Doctrine espoused by Vice President Dick Cheney, who told Americans, “If there is a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis. It’s about our response.” That is the high road to an absurd and ruinous waste of finite intelligence, military, diplomatic, and law-enforcement resources.

The key to a more constructive use of our imaginations is empathy, not in the colloquial sense of sharing another person’s perspective, but in the clinical sense of being able to see the world through another person’s eyes. Sadly, after fifteen years of the war on terrorism, we still do not really know our enemy in this deeper sense.

In this book, by delving into the personalities of men who mean us harm, I aim not to create sympathy for them, far from it, but to help point the way to a deeper understanding of their worldview, their motivations, and how best to combat the destructive ideology they represent.

I still have that battered clay brick I picked up in bin Laden’s shattered hideout. A decade and a half later, it sits on a shelf in my office in Midtown Manhattan. Looking at it while I work reminds me of the progress we have made against terrorism since I first picked it up on that winter morning, but also of the missteps we have made along the way, and above all of how far we have still to go.

We have killed the messenger. But the message lives.

PROLOGUE

THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN

Once upon a time, there was a terrorist who dwelled in the mountains. Throughout the Muslim world and beyond, his name became a byword for brutality. Tribal Chieftains, great religious leaders, even sovereign rulers would take extraordinary pains to protect themselves against the terrorist and the cadre of killers he commanded. So loyal were his acolytes to their sheikh, so certain of the Paradise he promised, that they were prepared to die horribly, on his command. His followers claimed to be the most faithful among the faithful. Their aim was twofold: to shield from its perceived enemies the religious sect to which they belonged, and to eliminate from this imperfect world the corrupting influence of apostasy and religious impurity. Their modus operandi was public murder: every death a spectacle, every spectacle a political message.

Niceties such as guilt or innocence did not trouble the terrorist or his men; they operated under a fatwa, an infallible religious ruling, commanding the murder of “infidels”, non Muslims and “apostates”, Muslims who failed to live up to the terrorist’s own austere interpretation of Islam. And, of course, the terrorist and his men arrogated to themselves the right to distinguish between faithful and faithless. It was no surprise, therefore, that the vast majority of the terrorist’s victims were not Christians, Jews, or Zoroastrians but fellow Muslims.

Today, this terrorist is dead, long dead. His name was Hassan-i Sabbah. He was born sometime in the mid-eleventh century and died in 1124. The death cult he founded has long since faded away, but not before outliving its creator by more than a hundred years. Its name has passed into legend around the world, the Assassins. For Hassan-i Sabbah, the most prominent apostates were the Seljuk, the Turkish dynasty that ruled over much of the medieval Islamic world. The principal infidels were the Crusaders, who periodically rode in from western Europe to impose their disfigured version of Christian morality on the Holy Land.

Today’s terrorists see the world in similar terms. Their apostates are the modern-day rulers of the Islamic world, be they secular, like Egypt’s military strongmen, or allied to the West, like the House of Saud. Their infidels are the Christians, the Jews, the Americans, the West in general. They imagine themselves beset by contemporary Crusades, both literal and figurative. Some, like Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Taliban in Afghanistan, see modern, Western-style education as a conspiracy against Islam. Today’s fanatic killers may use suicide bombs instead of poison-tipped daggers, but they deploy eerily similar fatwas to justify their indiscriminate murder of innocent people at the World Trade Center in New York, in neighborhoods of Beirut, on trains in London and Madrid, on a residential street in Baghdad, at a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, in a nightclub in Istanbul, and on and on.

In Hassan-i Sabbah’s day, he and his followers were dismissed as wild outliers, able to execute their murderous missions only because they were stoked on drugs. The very word “Assassin” was said to derive from the Arabic hashishin, meaning “marijuana users.” In the popular imagination, today’s suicide bombers are seen as similarly brainwashed or brain-dead. In reality, many are troubled young people who discern little meaning in their own lives and view their acts as an ultimate expression of faith. Similarly, modern scholarship teaches that the word “Assassin” more likely derives not from any pharmacological association but from the Arabic asas (foundation of the faith). The Assassins were seen as returning to the basic principles of their religion, in other words, as fundamentalists. That is a vital difference, and one with enormous contemporary resonance. Not for nothing is the most notorious modern terrorist group known as al-Qaeda, The Base, or, in an alternate rendering, The Foundation.

It was not always thus. In fact, Islam began as a liberalizing force. It introduced racial and social equality to an Arab tribal society that had previously enjoyed neither. Islam was supposed to enlighten Arabia and deliver it from the Jahiliyyah, the Days of Ignorance. Through the new faith, women gained the right to inherit property and divorce their husbands 1,300 years before many of their Western sisters would win similar privileges. Ijtihad, independent thinking, was actively encouraged, one large reason why philosophy, literature, and the sciences all flourished throughout the first few hundred years of the faith.

Then, around the tenth century, the political and religious establishments determined that critical thinking posed a direct challenge to their authority, which rested on dogma and ritual. The “Gate of ljtihad” was closed. There was, these rulers said, nothing more to be learned. It was the end of history. It became impossible even to discuss whether the hijab, the head and neck scarf worn by some observant Muslim women, was ordained by law or custom, because that question and thousands of others were supposedly settled for all time centuries ago, and the state would silence anyone who dared say otherwise. In such an environment, there is little scope for constructive progress on the difficult questions of politics and society.

In 1989, the year of revolution against Soviet despotism, the National Interest magazine published an essay by Francis Fukuyama entitled “The End of History?” It captured the spirit of the age. “What we may be witnessing,” Fukuyama wrote, “is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” In terms of governance, this was akin to saying that there was fundamentally nothing more to be learned. Western, free-market liberalism had triumphed; all that was left was for the rest of the world to catch up.

The reality was exactly the reverse. The Cold War, with its four-decade thermonuclear stalemate, did not initiate history’s thrilling denouement; in fact, it functioned more like an intermission. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the movie could begin again. Great screenwriters tell us that, stripped down to essentials, there are only so many basic plots to choose from. Real life is like that, too. Scenarios repeat; roles recur; different actors don the costumes.

A Saudi millionaire dresses like an eleventh-century rebel, takes up arms, and encourages his followers to ascribe divine powers to him. In response to his atrocities, the West becomes mired in Afghanistan, a country whose highways are lined with the carcasses of Soviet tanks, and later in Iraq, a land created arbitrarily one hundred years ago by colonial fiat. After a decade of violence in that country, a shy bookworm from the sticks proclaims himself caliph of the Muslim world, puts on a black turban in imitation of the Prophet Muhammad, and demands the allegiance of all Muslims on pain of death.

This false caliph’s murderous movement draws sustenance from a war in neighboring Syria that bears more than passing similarities to eighteenth-century conflicts between Persian shahs, Russian tsars, and Turkish sultans.

We can hope that the Islamist movement ignited by Osama bin Laden, fanned into an inferno by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and now fueled, like a vision of hell, by thousands of corpses, will not endure quite as long as the death cult inaugurated by bin Laden’s medieval doppelgénger, Hassan-i Sabbah. But at the same time, let us also recognize that al-Qaeda’s story is far from over.

Chapter 1

THE SNAKE WITH BROKEN TEETH

Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).

-TWEET BY SOHAIB ATHAR, @REALLYVIRTUAL, 12.58 AM PKT, MAY 2, 2011

Go away helicopter before I take out my giant SWATTER :-/

-@REALLW|RTUAL, 1.05 AM PKT

A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. lhope its not the start of something NASTY :-$

-@REALLYV|RTUAL, 1.09 AM PKT

Sohaib Athar just wanted to get away from it all. His life in the Pakistani megacity of Lahore had been a dizzying burlesque of stifling heat, filthy air, unreliable power, and the everpresent danger of terrorist attack. After a while, it had all become too much for the young software developer. So he had packed up his laptops and fled for the relative tranquillity of the mountains north of Islamabad. Abbottabad must have seemed a promising place for a new start. The city lies cupped in a high-walled valley in the foothills of what becomes, much farther to the north and east, the outer reaches of the Himalayas. At an elevation of four thousand feet, roughly comparable to that of Salt Lake City, Utah, Abbottabad is known throughout the region for its agreeable hill-station climate. The town’s founder and namesake, the British Army Major James Abbott, waxed poetic about its “sweet air” and twittering birds. Its Anglican church, St. Luke’s, also established by the British, and built in a style that would have been familiar to soldiers homesick for the English countryside, still ministers to parishioners on Jinnah Road in the heart of the old town. Abbottabad was founded as a garrison city, and it remains so today; since Pakistan’s independence, it has been home to the prestigious Kakul Military Academy, the country’s answer to West Point. The academy has trained much of the country’s military leadership, including its former president, Pervez Musharraf. It is also a frequent port of call for top military brass from Pakistan’s allies; General David Petraeus visited in February 2010 while serving as overall commander of US. forces in the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Abbottabad’s relative isolation and strong military presence conspire to create a sense of security that is sorely lacking in so many of Pakistan’s other major cities.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, Sohaib Athar was not alone in seeing Abbottabad as a place of refuge. Throughout the first decade of the twentyfirst century, people had moved there from elsewhere in the country, fleeing earthquakes, flooding, and the violent war against Islamic extremists ongoing in places like Waziristan, a notoriously lawless region in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, two hundred miles to the southwest, along Pakistan’s frontier with Afghanistan. Abbottabad had also sheltered its fair share of less welcome transplants. Umar Patek, a key conspirator in the Bali nightclub bombing that killed more than 200 people in 2002, was arrested in Abbottabad in January 2011, together with Mohammed Tahir Shahzad, an al-Qaeda fixer who had arranged for Patek to travel to Waziristan alongside two French jihadists. it was not inconceivable, therefore, that other aI-Qaeda operatives, perhaps even senior figures, could still be laying low somewhere in Abbottabad.

About a mile and a half across town from where Sohaib Athar plied his screens and keyboards, in a relatively wealthy neighborhood where a few large houses rose over gardens in which residents grew food, there stood a spacious compound of the type known locally as a “mansion.” It consisted of a three-story main house, a guesthouse, and a number of outbuildings, all surrounded by uneven high walls, in places rising to twelve or eighteen feet, and crowned with a two-foot tangle of barbed wire.

The compound had no cable or telephone connections, although it did have a satellite dish. It lacked regular trash pickup; evidently its inhabitants preferred to burn their refuse on site. The balcony on the third floor of the big house, added following an earthquake that occurred in October 2005, was surrounded by an unbroken seven-foot screen wall. The plans for this edifice listed the property’s owner as Mohammed Arshad Naqab Khan. Khan was seldom seen, but when he did appear, he told neighbors that he was a wealthy money changer or gold merchant from the tribal regions, and that he needed high security to protect himself and his family from “enemies” he had made in that business. This seemed plausible enough. Besides, it was not uncommon for pious Pashtun families from the tribal lands to live in large, high-walled properties, to sequester their women and children indoors, and generally to keep to themselves.

But Arshad Khan and his backstory were a fiction, an alias concocted to hide the true identity of the compound’s owner.

Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed aka al-Kuwaiti

Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed was an ethnic Pakistani Pashtun whose family hailed from Shangla, a rugged, sparsely populated district in the mountains northwest of Abbottabad. Ahmed, however, was born and raised in Kuwait, and like many jihadis went by his nisbah, or toponym, al-Kuwaiti. Growing up in the tiny desert emirate, al-Kuwaiti had become the boyhood boon companion of a fellow Pakistani, an ethnic Baluch named Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

KSM, as he later became known to investigators, had been a jihadi since he was sixteen years old. Having fought the Soviets in the 1980s, he would go on to mastermind the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and carry out the beheading of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl the following year.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed also served as al-Kuwaiti’s mentor in jihad. He got his friend a position as emir of an al-Qaeda guesthouse in the city of Karachi, in Pakistan’s deep south, and introduced him to his sheikh, a Saudi militant Chieftain named Osama bin Laden. Not long after this fateful meeting, al-Kuwaiti would begin a long service to bin Laden and his family as courier, domestic servant, and bodyguard. He kept this work, along with his other jihadi duties, a grave secret, even from those closest to him. In 2001, when he was around thirty-five years old, he married a fourteen-year-old girl from his home district and brought her to live with him in Karachi. He explained his frequent absences from the marital home by saying that he often traveled back to the Gulf on business. Throughout this time, al-Kuwaiti remained close to his old friend Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; KSM’s wife hosted a wedding feast for the new couple at her house. But it would be years before aI-Kuwaiti would tell his bride who this mysterious friend was or admit that he, like KSM, was in reality a mujahid of al-Qaeda. By then, there would be no going back.

Following bin Laden’s defeat at the cave complex of Tora Bora in late 2001, the al-Qaeda leader fled over the mountains into hiding in Pakistan, shaving his long beard to evade recognition. Al-Kuwaiti was once again called upon to assist the sheikh in his time of need. In the summer of 2002, he set up a house for bin Laden in Swat, not far from his ancestral homeland in the north of Pakistan. Al-Kuwaiti moved his wife and children there, too, and they were soon joined by his brother, whose name was Abrar, and Abrar’s own growing family. The brothers, both olive-skinned and beardless, but with close-cropped mustaches in the traditional Pakistani style, did not look out of place in their country of origin. In exchange for their hospitality and protection, bin Laden paid the Kuwaiti brothers a salary of 9,000 rupees per month, around $100, which he supplemented from time to time with gifts and zakat (charity).

The Swat house nestled in a pretty stretch of countryside by the banks of a river. To Osama bin Laden, this bucolic setting may have seemed a welcome respite from the relentIess pace of frontline jihad. But any feeling of serenity would prove to be short-Iived. In early 2003, al-Kuwaiti’s old friend Khalid Sheikh Mohammed brought his family to stay at the Swat house for two weeks. Just a month after he left, al-Kuwaiti was watching the news with his wife when KSM’s face unexpectedly flashed onto the screen. The 9/11 planner had been arrested in Rawalpindi, the twin city of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Al-Kuwaiti flew into a panic; KSM was a tough personality and an experienced operative, but there was no telling what secrets he might divulge, knowingly or otherwise, under interrogation. Within a week, al-Kuwaiti, bin Laden, and the other residents of the Swat house had fled. Quickly, the brothers moved them to Haripur, a city to the east surrounded by squalid camps sheltering some of the millions of refugees displaced by a quarter century of conflict in neighboring Afghanistan. Bin Laden’s house in the suburbs, by contrast, was pretty and spacious, with three bedrooms, a lawn, and a roof terrace. But nobody ever visited him there. One neighbor noted that the brothers kept their gates shut, which was unusual for the area. When they needed to make phone calls, they would travel up to ninety miles away to use public call boxes.

By late 2004, aI-Kuwaiti, operating under his assumed identity of Arshad Khan, had begun buying up tracts of land in Abbottabad Cantonment for what would become bin Laden’s mansion. In August of 2005, with construction on the main building complete, bin Laden moved in, together with two of his wives, his son Khalid, and a number of his daughters and grandchildren. Al-Kuwaiti lived with his wife and children in the guesthouse on site, while Abrar and his family occupied the ground floor of the main house. Eventually, the screened-off third floor built after the October earthquake became bin Laden’s living quarters.

Bin Laden always claimed to live in accordance with the ways of the Prophet, and few parallels between their two lives would have escaped him. So it is quite possible that he would have compared his flight from Afghanistan to Pakistan with Muhammad’s Hijra, or migration, from Mecca to Yathrib, the desert settlement that would eventually become Medina. In fact, he often called on his followers to make their own hijra to Afghanistan. Since his arrival in Pakistan, bin Laden’s movements, from Swat to Haripur to Abbottabad, had traced a path roughly due east, deeper and deeper into the country. Four years after 9/11, he had made it roughly two hundred miles from Tora Bora, about the same distance as the Prophet traveled from Mecca to Yathrib. Perhaps this was an auspicious sign.

Everything about the Abbottabad mansion was geared toward privacy and self-sufficiency. The brothers hired a local farmer, a man called Shamraiz, to plow an adjacent field for growing vegetables. There were animals at the site, too, including chickens and a cow. Whatever food and provisions could not be grown, raised, or made on the premises, al-Kuwaiti and Abrar would buy at the bazaar in town. Bin Laden was no stranger to spartan living conditions. Indeed, for decades, he had deliberately sought out a life of privation. Like charismatic leaders before him, including the Assassin leader Hassan-i Sabbah, he cultivated this ascetic image as an important part of his appeal. Frugality came naturally to him; indeed, it seemed to exhilarate him. When he returned to Afghanistan in 1996, he chose a grim, unkempt hideout in the mountains in preference to several much cushier residences, including a former royal palace. Later, in the compound at Kandahar, his house was among the simplest on the base, with not even a carpet on the floor. In 2005, upon his arrival in Abbottabad, bin Laden’s wardrobe consisted of no more than a black jacket, a couple of sweaters, and six shalwar kameez, the traditional Pashtun dress of baggy pants and a long shirt.

In accordance with his fundamentalist reading of Islam, he had always kept the women of his household in strict purdah, separation from men outside their immediate family. In Abbottabad that prohibition became a matter of security as well as religious obligation. Indeed, his rules were so absolute that, from the age of three, the bin Laden women were banned from watching television, so that they would never see an unfamiliar male face. His children and grandchildren were sequestered inside the house almost twenty-four hours a day. The sheikh personally home-schooled them in the bin Laden brand of extreme religion and forbade them from playing with the children of al-Kuwaiti and Abrar, who lived just feet away within the same compound. Such was their isolation that the sheikh did not even allow them to be vaccinated for polio along with the other children. The nearest the bin Laden children came to fun was their occasional competitions to see which of them could grow the biggest vegetables in the garden.

Despite his well known penchant for sports, hiking, and horseback riding, the sheikh’s own health had taken a downturn in early adulthood from which he had never fully recovered. Fortyeight when he began living in Abbottabad, he was practically blind in one eye, the result of a childhood injury he successfully concealed from the public for many years. In his twenties and thirties, during the jihad against Afghanistan’s Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, he had suffered crippling bouts of pain and paralysis, which the former surgeon Ayman al-Zawahiri had treated with a glucose drip. Having inhaled Russian napalm in Afghanistan, he frequently had trouble with his larynx. In Abbottabad he complained of pain in his heart and kidneys, but there was no question of visiting a doctor. Instead, when bin Laden felt ill, he would treat himself with al-tibb al-nabawi, traditional medicine based on the hadith, sayings ascribed to the Prophet. Some believe, for example, that Muhammad recommended barley broth and honey to treat an upset stomach, senna for constipation, truffle water for eye ailments, and henna for aches and wounds. “God has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it,” says one well known hadith, “with the exception of one disease, namely old age.” By his early fifties, Osama Bin Laden had become, prematurely, an old man. In videos made inside the compound, he appears hunched and frail, his face lined, his eyes tired. His beard, salt-and-pepper at the time of the 9/11 attacks, was rapidly turning white, although he was not above dyeing it jet black in video messages meant for public consumption.

In his three decade career of murder and mayhem, Osama bin Laden had gone by many names. His followers called him Azmaray, the sheikh, the emir, the director, Abu Abdullah. His code name at the US. Joint Special Operations Command was Crankshaft, reflecting his vital importance in driving the engine of al-Qaeda. But one final nickname captured the diminished circumstances of his existence in Abbottabad. In the months leading up to bin Laden’s death, observing his daily walks within the bounds of a compound he never seemed to leave, analysts with the Central Intelligence Agency had taken to calling him The Pacer. But Osama bin Laden was no ordinary shut-in, and he was by no means cut off from the world. Far from it: Until the day he died, the sheikh remained in active control of the deadliest terror network in history.

Communication with the outside was difficult, to be sure. Ever since the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed so soon after his visit to the house in Swat, bin Laden had cut off face-to-face contact with other senior jihadis, or, indeed, any al-Qaeda members other than his immediate protectors. No doubt this was a wise precaution for a man with a twenty-five-million-dollar U.S. bounty on his head. Besides, house calls would be an impractical way of governing a network that bestrode much of the Islamic world. But remote means of communication were scarcely any more secure. Email was not to be trusted; bin Laden knew from past experience that the Americans were capable of intercepting such messages, even with encryption. As he himself wrote in August of 2010, “Computer science is not our science and we are not the ones who invented it. . . . Encryption systems work with ordinary people, but not against those who created email and the Internet.” Cellular communication, too, was risky, because it could give away a person’s location and perhaps even call forth one of the hated unmanned “spy planes” that patrolled the skies over northern Pakistan. By this time, al-Kuwaiti had evidently acquired a cellphone; but whenever he needed to place a call, he would drive out from Abbottabad for ninety minutes or more before even placing the battery in his device.

*

from

ANATOMY OF TERROR. From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State

by Ali Soufan

get it at Amazon.com

American Islamophobia. Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear – Khaled A. Beydoun.

I remember the four words that repeatedly scrolled across my mind after the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. “Please don’t be Muslims, please don’t be Muslims,”

These four words reverberated through the mind of every Muslim American that day and every day after, forming a unifying prayer for Muslim Americans after every attack.

This system of inculcating fear and calculated bigotry was not entirely spawned in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks but is a modern extension of a deeply embedded and centuries old form of American hate.

Now more than ever, Islamophobia is not limited to the irrational views or hateful slurs of individuals, but is an ideology that drives the president’s political worldview and motivates the laws, policies, and programs he seeks to push forward.

Crossroads and Intersections

“Nobody’s going to save you. No one’s going to cut you down, out the thorns thick around you. . . . There is no one who will feed the yearning. Face it. You will have to do, do it yourself.” Gloria AnzaldUa, Borderlands/La Frontera

“If you know who you are, nobody can tell you what you are or what you are not.” My momma, Fikrieh Beydoun

I took my seat in the back of the Uber car, plugged in my phone and reclined my head to recharge on the way to the hotel. The road ahead is going to be a long one, I thought as I sank into the backseat, settling in for a temporary respite from the oncoming storm. “As-salamu ‘alaikum,” the young driver greeted me in Spanish-inflected Arabic, abruptly ending my break.

“Wa ‘alaikum aI-salam,” I responded, thoroughly surprised that these familiar words came out of the mouth of my tattooed Latino Uber driver, Juan. Was he Muslim? I pondered, wondering whether his neat beard signified more than a recent fad or fashionable grooming.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Professor,” he said, and continued, “I’m very familiar with your writing and work, and I’m happy you’re here speaking at Cal State LA. I wish I could’ve been there to hear your talk.” Another sign that Juan might in fact be Muslim, given that my work centers on Muslim American identity and, increasingly, Islamophobia.

“Thank you so much,” I responded, taken aback by the fact that he knew who I was, and still contemplating whether he was a recent Muslim convert or born into a Muslim family. As a longtime resident of Los Angeles and a scholar familiar with Muslim American demographics, I was well aware that Latinx Muslims were the fastest growing segment of the Muslim American population. I had attended Friday prayers with sermons delivered en espanol in California and in Florida, where I lived and taught law for two years, and prayed alongside brothers from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico as often as I did next to Muslims from Egypt, Syria, or Pakistan. However, I was still unsure about Juan’s religious identity, and to which destination he might steer this conversation.

I learned, en route from the East Los Angeles campus to my downtown hotel, that Juan was neither born to a Muslim family nor a convert. He was, rather, a man on the cusp of embracing Islam at a moment of unprecedented Islamophobia and rabid xenophobia, of imminent Muslim bans and Mexican walls.

“I have been studying Islam closely for some time now, and try to go to the mosque on some Fridays,” he shared. “I am considering making my shahada,” Juan continued, referencing the oath of induction whereby a new Muslim proclaims that “there is only one God, and Mohammed is his final messenger.” “Everybody assumes that I am a Muslim already,” he said, with a cautious laugh that revealed discomfort with his liminal status. Juan turned down the radio, and the voice of Compton native Kendrick Lamar rapping, “We gon’ be alright,” to engage in a more fluid conversation. And, it appeared, to seek a response from me about his spiritual direction.

“That’s wonderful,” I responded to Juan, who was likely no more than twenty-three or twenty-four years old, trying to balance my concern for the challenges his new religious affiliation would present with the answer that I thought he wanted to hear, and perhaps expected, from a Muslim American scholar and activist whose name and work he recognized.

As he drove, we discussed the political challenges posed by the Trump administration, and specifically, the policies that would directly or disproportionately target Muslim and Latinx communities. Indeed, Trump capitalized heavily on demonizing these vulnerable groups, as evidenced most clearly by the two proposals, the Muslim ban and the Mexico Wall, that became the rallying cries of his campaign. We also discussed how our kindred struggles with poverty complicated our pursuit of education, and how Trump’s economic vision exacerbated conditions for indigent Americans, including the 45 percent of Muslim Americans living below, at, or dangerously close to the federal poverty line. The city’s infamous, slow moving traffic enabled a fast paced conversation between my new friend and me and gave rise to an LA story seldom featured in newspapers or on television.

Juan’s responses focused on his everyday struggles living in LA and the stories of family and friends from his Pico Union neighborhood. He pointed out that the onslaughts on Muslims and Latinx communities were hardly separate and independent, or parallel and segregated. Rather, they were, and are, overlapping, intersecting, and, for him, very intimate.

“As an undocumented Latino from El Salvador living in Pico Union”, a heavily concentrated Latinx community on the margins of downtown Los Angeles, “I am most fearful about the pop-up checkpoints and the immigration raids,” he told me. These fears were more than imminent under the administration of President Obama, dubbed the “Deporter in Chief” by critics who opposed the accelerated mass deportations carried out during the final stages of his second term. But without question, Juan’s fears have become more visceral, more palpable during the Trump administration.

“I think about this every time I drive to school, work, or visit a family member,” Juan recounted, reminding me of the debilitating fear that comes over me after any terror attack. Yet his fear was far more immediate and frequent than mine, and loomed over him at every moment, including this one while he and I weaved through Los Angeles traffic, talking animatedly about politics, faith, and fear. He could be stopped at any time, whether alone or while whizzing customers through the city he knew better than the life lines on his palms.

I thought about the very imminent dangers these xenophobic policies and programs posed for Juan and people in similar situations in Los Angeles and throughout the country. I knew this city well and understood that the armed and irrational fear directed at nonwhite, non-Christian people was intense in LA, descending (among other places) on the city’s galaxy of dense and large Latinx neighborhoods. This armed xenophobia was aimed particularly at those communities gripped by poverty, where Spanish was spoken primarily, and was concentrated on people and families lacking legal documentation, indeed, the very intersection where Juan began and ended each day, and lived most of his hours in between.

Years before I rode with Juan, Los Angeles was my home away from my hometown of Detroit, the city where I began my career as a law professor, earned my law degree, and only two weeks into my first year of law school at UCLA, the setting from which I witnessed the 9/11 terror attacks. I remember the events of that day more clearly than I do any other day, largely because every terror attack that unfolds in the United States or abroad compels me to revisit the motions and emotions of that day.

For Muslim Americans, 9/11 is not just a day that will live in infamy or an unprecedented tragedy buried in the past; it is a stalking reminder that the safeguards of citizenship are tenuous and the prospect of suspicion and the presumption of guilt are immediate.

My phone kept ringing that morning, interrupting my attempt to sleep in after a long night of studying. As I turned to set the phone to vibrate, I noticed that my mother had called me six times in a span of fifteen minutes. My eyes widened. Was something wrong at home? Three hours behind in California, I called her back to make sure everything at home in Detroit was alright, still in the dark about the tragedy that would mark a crossroads for the country, my community, and indeed, my life.

“Turn on the TV,” she instructed, in her flat but authoritative Arabic that signaled that something serious was unfolding: “Go to your TV right now.” I had an eerie sense of what she was alluding to before I clicked the television on and turned to the news, but I could not have imagined the scale of the terror that unfolded that early Tuesday morning. My eyes were glued to the screen as I awoke fully to what it would mean for me, my family, and Muslim Americans at large if the perpetrators of the attacks looked like us or believed like us.

I recall the surreal images and events of that day as if they happened yesterday. And just as intimately, I remember the four words that repeatedly scrolled across my mind after the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. “Please don’t be Muslims, please don’t be Muslims,” I quietly whispered to myself over and again, standing inside my small apartment, surrounded by bags and boxes not yet unpacked, a family portrait of my mother, sister, and brother hanging on an otherwise barren white wall. I was alone in the apartment, far from home, but knew in that very moment that the same fear that left me frozen and afraid gripped every Muslim in the country.

The four words I whispered to myself on 9/11 reverberated through the mind of every Muslim American that day and every day after, forming a unifying prayer for Muslim Americans after every attack.

Our fear, and the collective breath or brace for the hateful backlash that ensued, symbolize the existential tightrope that defines Muslim American identity today. It has become a definitive part of what it means to be Muslim American when an act of terror unfolds and the finger-pointing begins.

Indeed, this united state of fear converges with a competing fear stoked by the state to galvanize hatemongers and mobilize damaging policies targeting Islam and Muslims. That state stoked fear has a name: Islamophobia.

This system of inculcating fear and calculated bigotry was not entirely spawned in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, I have gradually learned, but is a modern extension of a deeply embedded and centuries old form of American hate.

Following 9/11 it was adorned with a new name, institutionalized within new government structures and strident new policies, and legitimized under the auspices of a “war on terror” that assigned the immediate presumption of terrorism to Islam and the immediate presumption of guilt to Muslim citizens and immigrants.

Thousands of miles away from home and loved ones, my world unraveled. Islamophobia and what would become a lifelong commitment to combating it were thrust to the fore. Although raised in Detroit, home to the most concentrated, celebrated, and scrutinized Muslim American population in the country, my activism, advocacy, and intellectual mission to investigate the roots of American Islamophobia and its proliferation after the 9/11 terror attacks were first marshaled on the other side of the country. For me, 9/11 was both a beginning and an end, putting to rest my romantic designs on an international human rights law career for the more immediate challenges unfolding at home.

I left for Los Angeles a wide-eyed twenty two year old in the late summer of 2001. I was the first in my family to attend university an graduate school, the first to pack his bags for another city, not knowing what direction his career or life would take. After three years and three wars, those in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the amorphous, fluidly expanding war on terror on the home front, I was fully resolved to take on the rising tide of Islamophobia ravaging the country and ripping through concentrated Muslim American communities like the one I called home. I learned about the law at a time when laws were being crafted to punish, persecute, and prosecute Muslim citizens and immigrants under the thinnest excuses, at an intersection when my law professors, including Kimberlé Crenshaw, Cheryl Harris, and Devon Carbado, were equipping me with the spirit and skill to fight Islamophobia in the middle grounds it rose from, and even more importantly, at the margins.

On February 22, 2017, more than a decade and a half after 9/11, I found myself back in Los Angeles. I was now a law professor and a scholar researching national security, Muslim identity, and constitutional law. I was to give a series of lectures on Islamophobia at several colleges and community centers in the LA area. My expertise was in high demand as a result of the 2016 presidential election and the intense lslamophobia that followed. I delivered the lectures roughly one month after newly elected President Donald Trump signed the executive order widely known as the “Muslim ban.”

Seven days into his presidency, Trump delivered on the promise he first made on the campaign trail on December 7, 2015, enacting a travel ban that restricted the entry of nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations: Libya, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. To me, the Muslim ban was not merely a distant policy signed into law in a distant city; it was personal in a myriad of ways. First, I am a Muslim American, and second, I had close friends from several of the restricted nations and had visited several of those nations. Moreover, since the war on terror had been rolled out in 2001, all of the countries on the list had been either sites of full-scale American military aggression or strategic bombings.

“The bombs always precede the bans,” my mother said out loud as she watched the news one day, observing a truism that ties American foreign policy to immigration policy, particularly in relation to Muslim majority countries.

The Muslim ban was the first policy targeting Muslims enacted by the man I formally dubbed the “Islamophobia President.” It certainly would not be the last law, policy, or program implemented by the man who capitalized on Islamophobia as a “full-fledged campaign strategy” to become the forty-fifth president of the United States.

President Trump promised a more hardline domestic surveillance program, which he called Countering Islamic Violence; a registry to keep track of Muslim immigrants within the United States; legislation that would bludgeon the civic and advocacy programs of Muslim American organizations; and other measures that would threaten Muslim immigrants, citizens, and institutions. He was poised to integrate Islamophobia fully into the government he would preside over and to convert his bellicose rhetoric into state sanctioned policy.

If Trump demonstrated anything during his first week in office, it was an ability to follow through on the hateful promises most pundits had dismissed as “mere campaign rhetoric” months earlier. He kept his promises. Islamophobia was not merely an appeal for votes, but a resonant message that would drive policy and inform immigration and national security policing. His electioneering was not mere bluster, but in fact a covenant built on Islamophobia, an Islamophobia that motivated large swaths of Americans to vote for him. In exchange, he delivered on his explicit and “dog whistle” campaign messaging by generating real lslamophobic policies, programs, and action.

Trump, like many candidates before him and others who will follow, traded a grand narrative of nativism and hate for votes, which registered to great success at the ballot box.

Memories of the trials and wounds Muslim Americans endured in the wake of 9/11, which I witnessed firsthand and examined closely as a scholar, and those unfolding in this era of trumped-up, unhinged Islamophobia raced through my head as I walked to the Uber waiting for me outside the California State University, Los Angeles campus. Scores of mosques vandalized, immigrants scapegoated and surveilled, citizens falsely profiled and prosecuted, the private confines of Muslim American households violated in furtherance of baseless witch hunts, immigration restrictions and registries imposed, and innocent mothers and children killed.

Yesterday, and with this intensified third phase of the war on terror, again today. I set my bag down in the car, thinking about the turbulent road ahead. I thought about how the challenges ahead compared and contrasted with those that ravaged Muslim Americans following 9/11. More than fifteen years had passed, and the face of the country, the composition of the Muslim American population, and I myself had all undergone radical, transformative change. I had recently bid farewell to and buried my father, Ali, who in 1981 brought his three children and wife to the United States in search of all the things Donald Trump stood against, values his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” sought to erode. Life after loss is never the same, and my season of mourning was punctuated by the fear and hysteria that followed Donald Trump all the way to the White House.

The world and the country were spinning faster and more furiously than ever before, it seemed. Locked in between the two, my life raced forward at a rate I had never experienced. The Black Lives Matter movement unveiled institutional racism that was as robust and violent as ever, as evidenced by the killing of Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castille, Sandra Bland, and a rapidly growing list of unarmed black children, men, and women gunned down by police, all of them memorialized and uplifted as martyrs by youth and adult, black and non-black activists marching up and down city blocks or taking protests to the virtual sphere on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms.

Black Lives Matter inspired mass actions across the country and an ongoing march of social media protests that spawned new generations of activists and trenchant thought leaders. I saw this unfold, in dynamic fashion, on city blocks, in neighborhoods, on college campuses, and on social media feeds. It left an indelible impression on my activism, writing, and worldview.

In the face of a political world seemingly spinning out of control, I decided to write this book. I hope to provide general readers, students, and activists an intimate and accessible introduction to Islamophobia, what it is, how it evolved, how we can combat it in Trump’s America, and most importantly, how to fight it beyond the current administration.

As a Muslim American law professor and civil rights activist, I hope to help readers view Islamophobia through a unique lens. I draw on a range of sources, from court cases, media headlines, and scholarship to my own experiences in walking the walk every day. Along the way, I make links and assertions that might be new to many readers: pointing out how Islamophobia has a long, notorious history in the United States, for example, and showing how the Black Lives Matter movement intersects with, and inspires, activism against Islamophobia. My aim is to offer a succinct, informed handbook for anyone interested in Islamophobia and its prolific growth at this definitive juncture in our country’s history.

I wrote this book at a time when American Islamophobia was intensifying at a horrific clip, giving immediate importance to my research and expertise and simultaneously endangering the people I love most. In addition to examining the roots and rise of American Islamophobia, this book also looks to humanize the individuals and communities impacted by it, so they can be seen beyond the frame of statistics. Many stories are interwoven, some are well known and others are not, to facilitate an understanding of Islamophobia that treats Muslim Americans not as distant subjects of study or analysis, but as everyday citizens. Citizens who, like members of other faith groups, are not only integral and contributing members of society, but are also part of a group that will define the future of the United States moving forward.

The United States is indeed at a crossroads. The rise of mass social protest movements fueled by calls for dignity, justice, and an end to structural racism have been met by an opposing front galvanized by demographic shifts toward a majority minority population and eight years of scapegoating and systematic obstruction of the first black president. Echoing through it all is the dread of an “end of white America,” a fear that politicians on the right readily stoked and fervently fed to the masses.

Much of this opposing front is fully wed to racism and xenophobia, and it backed a businessman who peddled a promise to “Make American Great Again”, a promise that was not just a campaign slogan, but was also a racial plea evoked at a time when whiteness was the formal touchstone of American citizenship and white supremacy was endorsed and enabled by law. Trump dangled before the electorate studies that project that people of color will outnumber whites by 2044, and that over half (50.2 percent) of the babies born in the United States today are minorities, and he inflamed the ever present fear that foreigners are stealing our jobs.

As a cure for these supposed ills, Trump’s campaign offered to a primed and ready audience a cocktail of nativism, scapegoating, and racism; his campaign met with resounding success and helped polarize the nation along the very lines that colored his stump speeches. Much of Trump’s fearmongering centered again on Islam and the suspicion, fear, and backlash directed at its more than eight million adherents living in Los Angeles, Detroit, and big and small American towns beyond and in between.

Islamophobia was intensifying throughout the country, relentlessly fueled on the presidential campaign trail, and after the inauguration of President Trump on January 20, 2017, it was unleashed from the highest office in the land.

Now more than ever, Islamophobia was not limited to the irrational views or hateful slurs of individuals, but was an ideology that drove the president’s political worldview and motivated the laws, policies, and programs he would seek to push forward.

This had also been the case during the Bush and Obama administrations, but the Trump moment marked a new phase of transparency in which explicit rhetorical Islamophobia aligned, in language and spirit, with the programs the new president was poised to implement.

I found myself wedged between the hate and its intended victims. Muslim Americans like myself were presumptive terrorists, not citizens; unassimilable aliens, not Americans; and the speeches I delivered on campuses and in community centers, to Muslims and non-Muslims, cautioned that the dangers Islamophobia posed yesterday were poised to become even more perilous today. The road ahead was daunting, I warned audiences after each lecture, hoping to furnish them with the awareness to be vigilant, and the pale consolation that today’s Islamophobia is not entirely new.

I was feeling alarmed for Juan, my Uber driver, even as I felt I should celebrate his being drawn toward Islam. I could not help but fear the distinct and convergent threats he would face if he embraced Islam. As an undocumented Latino Muslim in Los Angeles, Juan would be caught in the crosshairs of “terrorism” and “illegality.” Los Angeles was not only ground zero for a range of xenophobic policies targeting undocumented (and documented) Latinx communities, but also a pilot city where, in 2014, the Department of Homeland Security launched its counter radicalization program, Countering Violent Extremism, in partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department.

This new counterterror program, which effectively supplanted the federal surveillance model ushered in by the USA PATRIOT Act, deputized LAPD members to function as national security officers tasked with identifying, detaining, prosecuting, and even deporting “homegrown radicals.” Suspicion was disproportionately assigned to recent Muslim converts, particularly young men like Juan, keen on expressing their newfound Muslim identity by wearing a beard, attending Friday prayers, and demonstrating fluency in Arabic, the language tied to Islam, and in line with Islamophobia, terrorism.

I feared for Juan’s wellbeing, whether Muslim or not. I knew that the dangers he dodged every day would be far greater in number and more ominous in nature if he embraced Islam. The president, from inside the White House, was marshaling islamophobia and mobilizing xenophobia to inflict irreparable injury on Muslims, Latinx communities, and the growing population of Latinx Muslims that Juan would be part of if he walked into a mosque and declared that “there is only one God, and Mohammed is his final messenger.” He would be vulnerable to the covert counter-radicalization policing that was descending on Los Angeles mosques and Muslim student associations and simultaneously exposed to the ubiquitous threat of immigration checkpoints and deportation raids. He would also be a prime target for Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, or VOICE, the new catchan-“illegal-alien” hotline installed by President Trump.

This seemed far too much for any one person to endure all at once, and the boundary Juan contemplated crossing by becoming a Muslim, during the height of American Islamophobia, might very well be one that he should drive far away from.

All of this rushed through my head as Juan drove me to my hotel, sharing with me his concerns and fears about the country’s current condition. I remained silent, gripped by the desire, if not the responsibility, to advise Juan to reconsider embracing Islam at this time. I tried to muster up the courage to tell him to postpone his conversion for a later time, when Islamophobic attitudes and policies were abating, when, and if, that time should come. I feared that if he did convert, the ever expanding and extending arms of the state would find him at once, brand him a radical, and toss him from the country, sending him far from the only home he has ever known, and the second home that summoned me back during a fateful moment in his life and mine.

*

Before my conversation with Juan, I’d been gripped by memories of the post 9/11 period. But for those moments in the car, I felt overwhelmed by the dangers that would encircle Juan if he took his shahada. Islam in America has never been simply a religion one chooses. From the gaze of the state and society, Islam was and still is an indelible marker of otherness, and in war-on-terror America, it is a political identity that instantly triggers the suspicion of acts of terror and subversion. The urge to advise Juan against converting reached its climax when the car came to an abrupt stop near Grand Avenue and 11th Street, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, not far from Pico Union.

Juan stepped out to greet me on the right side of the car. “It was an honor to meet and speak to you, Brother Khaled,” he said, extending his hand to bid me farewell.

“Likewise Juan, I wish you the best,” I told him, extending my hand to meet his. I then turned away from the stranger who, after a thirty minute drive through grueling city traffic, had pushed me to grapple with my most pressing fears and had given me an intimate introduction to new fears that I could not turn away from.

I stopped, turned back toward Juan, and mustered up the strength to implore him, “But I ask you to think about whether now is the right time to become a Muslim,” attempting to cloak a desperate plea with the tone and language of evenhanded guidance. This was more difficult than any lecture or presentation I had given during the past several months, and the many more I would give later. “Your status already puts you in a difficult position, and falling victim to Islamophobia would put you in a more dangerous place,” I pled.

Voicing the words released a great weight off my shoulders. At the same time, they felt unnatural because they clashed with the spiritual aim of encouraging interest in Islam. The paradox mirrored the political confusion that gripped the nation. But the challenges and perils I lectured about in university classrooms, community centers, and mosques had to be extended to the street, and to the most vulnerable. My words were met with a look of utter surprise by Juan, who stood there and said nothing.

“Either way, you are my brother,” I closed, before we walked off in opposite directions. He thanked me, circled back to the driver’s seat, and turned right on 12th Street, in the direction of Pico Union, perhaps feeling disappointed in or spurned by the individual whose activism he admired.

I often wondered what decision Juan made, and whether he made his shahada. I also feared the worst, wondering whether he was still in the country. Was he profiled on the grounds of his Latino identity and detained because he was undocumented? Did he embrace Islam and fall victim to the counter-radicalization policing unfolding in Los Angeles? Or had he become a victim of the intersecting xenophobic backlash and Islamophobic violence authorized by Trump’s rhetoric and policies, inflicted by a bigot on or off campus?

My fears were stoked daily by bleak headlines and backward actions taken by the Trump administration, but I tried to remain optimistic. I hoped that Juan was still enrolled in classes, zigzagging his car through the maze of Los Angeles traffic to help his mother make rent, to pay his college tuition, and to drive toward his goal of becoming the first member of his family to earn a college degree. And most importantly, I prayed that he was safe and sound while working toward realizing this and other aspirations, academic, professional, and spiritual, in a country where informants and officers, bans and walls threaten to crush these very dreams and the people precariously holding onto them.

*

from

American Islamophobia. Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear

by Khaled A. Beydoun

get it at Amazon.com

Somali citizens count cost of surge in US airstrikes under Trump – Jason Burke.

The Guardian has investigated scores of reports of US-led strikes targeting al-Shabaab, which have risen to unprecedented levels.

Dozens of civilians have been killed and wounded in Somalia as US-led airstrikes against Islamist militants increase to unprecedented levels, a Guardian investigation has found, raising fears that Washington’s actions could bolster support for extremists.

The escalation in strikes is part of the Trump administration’s broader foreign policy strategy in Africa and the Middle East. There have been 34 US airstrikes in Somalia in the last six months – at least twice the total for the whole of 2016.
Regional allies active in the campaign against Islamic extremists in the east African country have conducted many missions too. These appear to be the most lethal for civilians.

Almost all the strikes target al-Shabaab, the al-Qaida affiliated extremist movement fighting to establish an Islamic state in Somalia for more than a decade.

The Guardian collected and investigated scores of reports of airstrikes over the last 12 months, checking claims in local media with western and local officials, medical staff, witnesses and relatives of victims.

In five attacks since July, more than 50 civilians appear to have been killed or injured. At least two involved US aircraft.
Further casualties are likely to have been caused by other strikes but have gone unreported.
Five civilians were killed and two wounded in an airstrike on a village on 6 December, witnesses and hospital staff said.

In another incident, in October, residents and medics reported up to eight civilians being injured in an airstrike during fierce fighting in Lower Shabelle province.
The previous month, four herders were injured when a water hole near the border with Kenya was bombed.

In August, seven members of a family including small children died in a strike in southern Jubaland, relatives said. Officials said all those killed were extremists.
A month earlier, four people, including three children, were killed and eight wounded in an airstrike on a village near the southern port city of Kismayo, relatives and witnesses said.

The strikes have also killed large numbers of livestock and caused extensive damage done to agricultural infrastructure.

Though the intensity of the recent strikes is unprecedented, the use of air power in Somalia has been steadily increasing since before Donald Trump became US president.

A recent UN analysis described 74 airstrikes between January 2016 and October 2017, resulting in 57 civilian casualties. Only 14 of these strikes were “US supported”, and the report blamed Kenyan forces in Somalia for 42 of those casualties.

Kenya contributes troops and three attack helicopters to Amisom, the 22,000-strong African Union military and policing mission in Somalia. Kenyan forces are also believed to have conducted their own strikes in border areas, though Nairobi denies this.

Most airstrikes hit deep into the territory held by Islamist militants and confirmation of claims of civilian casualties, even when made by relatives of those hurt or killed, is difficult.

Some of the dead or injured may be fighters with armed tribal militias who are technically civilians, though sometimes align with the militants.

Al-Shabaab also routinely exaggerate the number of civilian casualties, and communities are sometimes tempted by the prospect of compensation to support such claims.

The sudden increase in the use of air power in Somalia by the US come after the relaxation of guidelines intended to prevent civilian casualties and a decision by the Tump administration to give local military commanders greater authority in ordering attacks.

A huge bomb that killed 500 people in Mogadishu in October – the latest in a series to target the Somali capital – has added extra impetus to the new US efforts.

Senior humanitarian figures have expressed growing concerns about the potential humanitarian cost of the offensive.

Michael Keating, the UN special representative in Somalia, said: “All those who are using military means in one way or another [in Somalia] claim that they have standards when it comes to the protection of civilians but are not translating their principles into practice. All actors could do more to protect civilians.”

In a phone interview, Ibrahim Mohamed Abdullahi, a resident of Illimey village, which is about 80 miles (130km) south-west of Mogadishu, said a projectile killed five people and injured two others on 6 December.

“Farmers had gathered at a tea shop … when the drone begun to fly over … Some of the victims were passing on the road while some were inside drinking their afternoon tea. Five died on the spot. They are not killing al-Shabaab. They are killing civilians,” he said.

Hospital officials in Mogadishu confirmed two casualties – an 18-month-old girl and a 23-year-old man – had been brought with shrapnel injuries because a clinic nearer Illimey was without electricity.

A five-year-old girl, a 17-year-old girl and three men were killed.

A US spokesperson said there were no US airstrikes in Somalia on 6 December.

The strikes in October in Lower Shabelle took place during fierce fighting between government forces and al-Shabaab. A number of militants were killed, but eight civilians in the village of Awdhegle were also injured, locals said.

Muse Xirey, an elder, said three women, a child and four men were transported to Daru al-Shifa hospital in Mogadishu when their house was hit.

“They were herders and farmers, not al-Shabaab ,” the 56-year-old said.

A doctor at the hospital said two men and a woman injured in “an airstrike between Awdhegle and Barire” were treated.

US officials say a single strike was carried out, 35 miles south-west of Mogadishu.

A third incident took place at the village of Talaka near the border with Kenya after Kenyan troops withdrew. Al-Shabaab fighters moved in shortly afterwards and were bombed, witnesses said. A watering hole some distance away was also attacked. Twenty camels were killed and four herders injured.

Kenyan forces have been blamed for the strike, but deny responsibility.

Between 16 and 17 August, the US conducted three “precision airstrikes against al-Shabaab militants, killing seven fighters” in the Middle Juba region, where there has been heavy fighting between government forces and militants, officials said.

Residents, local media and al-Shabaab-linked outlets reported seven civilians killed by explosions in Ahmed Yare village, about 15 miles outside the town of Jilib, an al-Shabaab stronghold.

In a phone interview from Kismayo, Halima Sheikh Yare said her cousin Sheikh Mohamed, a “renowned cleric”, was killed along with his wife and five male relatives.

The 47-year said her cousin was a farmer as well as religious teacher and local imam, and not, a Somalia officials claim, a local leader of al-Shabaab.

“ Al-Shabaab members are armed, but these were family members who stayed in their house and were not armed,” she said.

Hassan Muhumed, 31, a resident of Jilib who visited Ahmed Yare to check on relatives shortly after the drone strike, said al-Shabaab fighters had visited to address locals a day before the attack but had left shortly afterwards.

“All those killed were civilians,” Muhumed said.

A spokesperson for the US military said an internal investigation had found allegations of civilian casualties near Jilib at this time were “not credible”.

The final incident investigated by the Guardian occurred during the evening of 18 July, in the village of Qabri Sharif, west of Kismayo.

Residents describe “a huge bomb [that] hit several houses”, killing three children and a man. Eight injured adults were transferred to Kismayo hospital, they said.

Muhumed Kuusow, a local elder, said the children were playing inside their house when hit by shrapnel.

“They all died on the spot. The bomb was huge and the whole place was like a deep cave in the ground,” he said.

Dr Hassan Sheikh Ali, who was director of Kismayo hospital at the time, said four casualties – all herders – were brought in.

“They told us there was an airstrike on the village on 18 July, killing several people and many animals,” he said.

Abdinur Mohamed, the provincial information minister, said officials in Kismayo were aware of civilian casualties in the strike, which he said was carried out by Kenyan planes.

A US official said there were no US air strikes in Somalia on 18 July.

The recent UN report found that al-Shabaab killed 1,223 civilians and injured nearly 1,500 others between January 2016 and October 2017. This accounted for 60% of the 2,078 documented civilian deaths and 2,507 injuries in the period reviewed.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said civilian casualties caused by regional or international forces, though only a small proportion of civilian deaths, were of utmost concern because they undermined the Somali population’s trust in the government and the international community, and that this helped extremists.

One problem for the US is that its forces are often blamed for air attacks even when not responsible.

Tricia Bacon, a former counterterrorism expert at the US Department of State who is professor at the American University in Washington DC, said airstrikes have a potent “disruptive effect” on militant organisations, but also risked alienating civilian populations “you needed to turn against them”.

A Kenyan military spokesperson referred the Guardian to Amisom when asked about Kenya’s operations in Somalia. Francisco Madeira, the head of Amisom, said the force had “not been responsible for any airstrikes” in ..Somalia in 2017.

A US military spokesperson said its forces complied “with the law of armed conflict” and took “all feasible precautions … to minimise civilian casualties and other collateral damage”.

The Guardian

‘World’s finest walk’: New Zealand’s Milford Track being spoiled by tourist hordes – Eleanor Ainge Roy.

Epic trail in the wild south was once a path to inner peace but popularity has trampled its tranquillity.

Dawn is hours away on a cool Fiordland night but the packed bunk rooms of Clinton Hut are seething with activity. Tramping boots stomp against wooden floors, bunks creek as their inhabitants fling their bodies around, and an urgent, sleep-fogged crescendo of angry whispers is building in the gloom.

“Shhhhhh,” hisses someone from a top bunk, directing their wrath towards the noisy hiking party who like to tramp in the dark, the New Zealand bush enveloping them in a silent black cloak.
“Shhhhh!” hisses another low voice, from the other side of the hut. “It is against the rules to be so noisy!”

The day before 40 strangers had set off from the tourist hub of Te Anau, full of energy and wearing fresh socks. Final flat whites were sculled at overpriced cafes and out-of-office signatures attached to emails.

In a soft, grey drizzle typical of this remote corner of New Zealand, trampers of varying abilities heaved 20kg packs on to a speedboat proclaiming “Adventure starts here” for the 40-minute journey across Lake Te Anau to the start of the world-famous Milford Track, in Fiordland national park.

Milford has become synonymous with beauty, a 54km, four-day tramp through beech forest, over glacier-fed rivers and up the climatic MacKinnon Pass, an alpine crossing more than 1,100 metres above sea-level.

100 years ago the Spectator magazine declared Milford “the finest walk in the world” – and the name has stuck.

There are nine “great” walks in New Zealand, with Milford the jewel in the crown. But as its popularity has surged so too have fears from New Zealand trampers and conservationists that the pristine natural environment is being spoilt by the hordes of tourists drawn to its beauty and supposed tranquility.

Last year, nearly 120,000 people hiked the great walks; a 12.4% increase on the season before and nearly 50,000 more than a decade ago.
Nearly 8,000 walk Milford in the summer season, which is booked out again this year, and has raised hut fees from NZ$54 to NZ$70 a night. If you choose to tramp privately with Ultimate Hikes, you’ll be paying between NZ$2,000 and $3,500 for your wilderness experience, which includes booze, three-course meals and “total comfort in the last place you would expect it”, according to the website.

Contractors preparing the tracks over the winter season say they’ve barely finished clearing the native bush of human faeces and toilet paper in time for the next deluge of hiking boots about to descend.

“On some of the great walk tracks, you find poos and toilet paper just littered down the side of the tracks,” a contractor told Radio New Zealand. “It’s disgusting.” It is now harder to book a walk on the Milford Track than it is to see Justin Bieber or Adele live in concert in Auckland.

Ross Harraway, 74, has been a Department of Conservation hut warden on the Milford Track for nearly a decade. At close to seven feet tall, Harraway looks like Gandalf the wizard, and in the evenings moves silently through the beech trees with a staff, explaining the local flora and fauna to visitors. “A lot of people aren’t interested in what is around them anymore, that’s what I’ve noticed,” says Harraway, talking to the Guardian from his cosy warden’s hut over a cup of billy tea.“

They are ticking off their bucket list and getting through it as quickly as possible. They have their headphones in, head down, get up on the pass [Mackinnon], take their photos and the tick is over. People do have a lot of different reasons for doing it … but increasingly, people do it because it has become a bit of a status thing. ”Gerard Emery decided to tramp all of the great walks after seeing them advertised on an Air New Zealand flight. He tramps with old friends and they dine lushly every evening – steaks, tin mugs of whisky and creamy puddings for dessert.

Like many trampers, Emery hits the great walks to enforce a digital detox in his life, but he’s been surprised by how few New Zealanders walk the famed tracks any more – and how crowded and tetchy the huts have become.

These days, 67% of trampers on the great walks are foreigners. “My latest adventure is to do the nine great walks, and this is number six of the nine,” says Emery outside Mintaro Hut, where he’s gone to escape the cacophony inside at dinner time.“

I am quite disappointed there aren’t more Kiwis on here … there should be a hell of a lot more Kiwis walking on these tracks; we see very few.” John Kapeleris, an Australian, didn’t get interested in tramping till middle age. He is walking the Milford alone, a solitary, slightly aloof figure who strides ahead of the 40-strong group to try and be alone in nature, no easy feat when there are more than 90 people walking each section of the Milford each day, plus guides, hut wardens, maintenance workers and chopper pilots flying in supplies.

Kapeleris, who booked his Milford walk in 2015, tramps as a way to detox from his intensely urban life; the office-block job, suburban home and long daily commute in Brisbane, Australia.

“For me it is an appreciation of what there is in the world other than urban life … it’s an escape. You can get away from the routine of work, the routine of commitment, the routine of obligation,” he says.

Last season, tickets for the Milford sold out within 90 minutes of being released. Mary, a vet nurse from Australia, tried for three consecutive years to secure a spot on the track. Last year – her fourth attempt – she set her alarm for midnight on the day tickets were released and was successful.

“Its become a highway, a conveyer belt,” says a Department of Conservation worker on the track, who didn’t want to be named. “People come here looking for meaning, searching for some sort of solace. But the bush doesn’t just give that up. In the huts there’s so much squabbling and showing off. To me, Milford isn’t about tramping anymore, at least, not how Kiwis know it. ”

On day three, the 40-strong group rise in the dark after a disturbed night, in which a man who snored loudly was yelled at and booted down to the kitchen.

“It made me feel really self-conscious,” he tells the Guardian later. “I felt ganged up on.”

The climb up Mackinnon Pass is graded but challenging, and swaths of low cloud blow over the mountain, obscuring the view and bringing stinging spits of rain to frozen cheeks.

Along the way you pass signs designated as “Safe stopping areas” and “Bus stops”, and as your thighs begin to ache the beech trees thin and eventually disappear, giving way to mountain buttercups, alpine daisy’s and gentian.

The peak at the top of the pass – 1,154m – brings a brief and united merriment to the disparate and at times fractious group. Selfies are snapped, proud couples embrace and the paying hikers are presented with mugs of hot chocolate and biscuits from their guides.

Soon the wind picks up and the temperature drops dramatically, prompting walkers to slog on to the Mackinnon Pass Shelter, which is split in two – a gas ring for the public walkers, and hot drinks, biscuits, blankets and warm clothes for the Ultimate Hikers.

At the shelter, briefly, there is peace. The clouds sweep north to reveal golden tussock tumbling into the Arthur Valley below, and kea soaring from Mt Balloon to Mt Hart, and Mt Hart to Mt Eliot, their cries piercing and prehistoric in the fleeting reprieve of silence.

Then, another cry, different. A whirr, a bashing, a mechanical stirring of the crisp alpine air. A chopper soars up the valley, swooping down to land outside the shelter. Has someone fallen, been injured – is this a medical evacuation?

A guide from Ultimate Hikes runs out to greet the chopper, carrying a sack in his hand, bent low to avoid the chopper’s blades. Quickly, he throws the bag in the chopper and grabs a similar bag from the pilot; the entire exchange taking less than a minute before the chopper shoots directly upwards and rushes back down the valley.

“What’s in the bag?” I shout to the guide, as he runs to his clients in the shelter, where heaters and steaming mugs of Milo are fogging up the windows.

“Blankets,” he shouts back. “Clean blankets – we’ve just had them washed.”

The Guardian

The Clash of Civilizations – Samuel Huntington, 1993. 

The Clash of Civilizations is a hypothesis that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-colonial War world.

The American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington argued that future wars would be fought not between countries, but between cultures, and that Islamic extremism would become the biggest threat to world peace.

It was proposed in a 1992 lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, which was then developed in a 1993 Foreign Affairs article titled “The Clash of Civilizations?”, in response to his former student Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man.

Huntington later expanded his thesis in a 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

***

The Clash of Civilizations 

by Samuel P. Huntington 

Foreign Affairs Magazine 

September 1993

I. THE NEXT PATTERN OF CONFLICT

WORLD POLITICS IS entering a new phase, and intellectuals have not hesitated to proliferate visions of what it will be — the end of history, the return of traditional rivalries between nation states, and the decline of the nation state from the conflicting pulls of tribalism and globalism, among others. Each of these visions catches aspects of the emerging reality. Yet they all miss a crucial, indeed a central, aspect of what global politics is likely to be in the coming years.

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

Conflict between civilizations will be the latest phase of the evolution of conflict in the modern world. For a century and a half after the emergence of the modern international system of the Peace of Westphalia, the conflicts of the Western world were largely among princes — emperors, absolute monarchs and constitutional monarchs attempting to expand their bureaucracies, their armies, their mercantilist economic strength and, most important, the territory they ruled. In the process they created nation states, and beginning with the French Revolution the principal lines of conflict were between nations rather than princes. In 1793, as R. R. Palmer put it, “The wars of kings were over; the ward of peoples had begun.” This nineteenth-century pattern lasted until the end of World War I. Then, as a result of the Russian Revolution and the reaction against it, the conflict of nations yielded to the conflict of ideologies, first among communism, fascism-Nazism and liberal democracy, and then between communism and liberal democracy. During the Cold War, this latter conflict became embodied in the struggle between the two superpowers, neither of which was a nation state in the classical European sense and each of which defined its identity in terms of ideology.

These conflicts between princes, nation states and ideologies were primarily conflicts within Western civilization, “Western civil wars,” as William Lind has labeled them. This was as true of the Cold War as it was of the world wars and the earlier wars of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. With the end of the Cold War, international politics moves out of its Western phase, and its center-piece becomes the interaction between the West and non-Western civilizations and among non-Western civilizations. In the politics of civilizations, the people and governments of non-Western civilizations no longer remain the objects of history as targets of Western colonialism but join the West as movers and shapers of history.

II. THE NATURE OF CIVILIZATIONS

DURING THE COLD WAR the world was divided into the First, Second and Third Worlds. Those divisions are no longer relevant. It is far more meaningful now to group countries not in terms of their political or economic systems or in terms of their level of economic development but rather in terms of their culture and civilization.

What do we mean when we talk of a civilization? A civilization is a cultural entity. Villages, regions, ethnic groups, nationalities, religious groups, all have distinct cultures at different levels of cultural heterogeneity. The culture of a village in southern Italy may be different from that of a village in northern Italy, but both will share in a common Italian culture that distinguishes them from German villages. European communities, in turn, will share cultural features that distinguish them from Arab or Chinese communities. Arabs, Chinese and Westerners, however, are not part of any broader cultural entity. They constitute civilizations. A civilization is thus the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species. It is defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people. People have levels of identity: a resident of Rome may define himself with varying degrees of intensity as a Roman, an Italian, a Catholic, a Christian, a European, a Westerner. The civilization to which he belongs is the broadest level of identification with which he intensely identifies. People can and do redefine their identities and, as a result, the composition and boundaries of civilizations change.

Civilizations may involve a large number of people, as with China (“a civilization pretending to be a state,” as Lucian Pye put it), or a very small number of people, such as the Anglophone Caribbean. A civilization may include several nation states, as is the case with Western, Latin American and Arab civilizations, or only one, as is the case with Japanese civilization. Civilizations obviously blend and overlap, and may include sub civilizations. Western civilization has two major variants, European and North American, and Islam has its Arab, Turkic and Malay subdivisions. Civilizations are nonetheless meaningful entities, and while the lines between them are seldom sharp, they are real. Civilizations are dynamic; they rise and fall; they divide and merge. And, as any student of history knows, civilizations disappear and are buried in the sands of time.

Westerners tend to think of nation states as the principal actors in global affairs. They have been that, however, for only a few centuries. The broader reaches of human history have been the history of civilizations. In A Study of History, Arnold Toynbee identified 21 major civilizations; only six of them exist in the contemporary world.

III. WHY CIVILIZATIONS WILL CLASH

CIVILIZATION IDENTITY will be increasingly important in the future, and the world will be shaped in large measure by the interactions among seven or eight major civilizations. These include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization. The most important conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault lines separating these civilizations from one another.

First, differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic. Civilizations are differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most important, religion. The people of different civilizations have different views on the relations between God and man, the individual and the group, the citizen and the state, parents and children, husband and wife, as well as differing views of the relative importance of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy. These differences are the product of centuries. They will not soon disappear. They are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes. Differences do not necessarily mean conflict, and conflict does not necessarily mean violence. Over the centuries, however, differences among civilizations have generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts.

Second, the world is becoming a smaller place. The interactions between peoples of different civilizations are increasing; these increasing interactions intensify civilization consciousness and awareness of differences between civilizations and commonalities within civilizations. North African immigration to France generates hostility among Frenchmen and at the same time increased receptivity to immigration by “good” European Catholic Poles. Americans react far more negatively to Japanese investment than to larger investments from Canada and European countries. Similarly, as Donald Horowitz has pointed out, “An Ibo may be . . . an Owerri Ibo or an Onitsha Ibo in what was the Eastern region of Nigeria. In Lagos, he is simply an Ibo. In London, he is a Nigerian. In New York, he is an African.” The interactions among peoples of different civilizations enhance the civilization-consciousness of people that, in turn, invigorates differences and animosities stretching or thought to stretch back deep into history.

Third, the processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity. In much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap, often in the form of movements that are labeled “fundamentalist.” Such movements are found in Western Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as in Islam. In most countries and most religions the people active in fundamentalist movements are young, college-educated, middle-class technicians, professionals and business persons. The “unsecularization of the world,” George Weigel has remarked, “is one of the dominant social factors of life in the late twentieth century.” The revival of religion, “la revanche de Dieu,” as Gilles Kepel labeled it, provides a basis for identity and commitment that transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations.

Fourth, the growth of civilization-consciousness is enhanced by the dual role of the West. On the one hand, the West is at a peak of power. At the same time, however, and perhaps as a result, a return to the roots phenomenon is occurring among non-Western civilizations. Increasingly one hears references to trends toward a turning inward and “Asianization” in Japan, the end of the Nehru legacy and the “Hinduization” of India, the failure of Western ideas of socialism and nationalism and hence “re-Islamization” of the Middle East, and now a debate over Westernization versus Russianization in Boris Yeltsin’s country. A West at the peak of its power confronts non-Wests that increasingly have the desire, the will and the resources to shape the world in non-Western ways.

In the past, the elites of non-Western societies were usually the people who were most involved with the West, had been educated at Oxford, the Sorbonne or Sandhurst, and had absorbed Western attitudes and values. At the same time, the populace in non-Western countries often remained deeply imbued with the indigenous culture. Now, however, these relationships are being reversed. A de-Westernization and indigenization of elites is occurring in many non-Western countries at the same time that Western, usually American, cultures, styles and habits become more popular among the mass of the people.

Fifth, cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones. In the former Soviet Union, communists can become democrats, the rich can become poor and the poor rich, but Russians cannot become Estonians and Azeris cannot become Armenians. In class and ideological conflicts, the key question was “Which side are you on?” and people could and did choose sides and change sides. In conflicts between civilizations, the question is “What are you?” That is a given that cannot be changed. And as we know, from Bosnia to the Caucasus to the Sudan, the wrong answer to that question can mean a bullet in the head. Even more than ethnicity, religion discriminates sharply and exclusively among people. A person can be half-French and half-Arab and simultaneously even a citizen of two countries. It is more difficult to be half-Catholic and half-Muslim.

Finally, economic regionalism is increasing. The proportions of total trade that are intra-regional rose between 1980 and 1989 from 51 percent to 59 percent in Europe, 33 percent to 37 percent in East Asia, and 32 percent to 36 percent in North America. The importance of regional economic blocs is likely to continue to increase in the future. On the one hand, successful economic regionalism will reinforce civilization-consciousness. On the other hand, economic regionalism may succeed only when it is rooted in a common civilization. The European Community rests on the shared foundation of European culture and Western Christianity. The success of the North American Free Trade Area depends on the convergence now underway of Mexican, Canadian and American cultures. Japan, in contrast, faces difficulties in creating a comparable economic entity in East Asia because Japan is a society and civilization unique to itself. However strong the trade and investment links Japan may develop with other East Asian countries, its cultural differences with those countries inhibit and perhaps preclude its promoting regional economic integration like that in Europe and North America.

Common culture, in contrast, is clearly facilitating the rapid expansion of the economic relations between the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the overseas Chinese communities in other Asian countries. With the Cold War over, cultural commonalities increasingly overcome ideological differences, and mainland China and Taiwan move closer together. If cultural commonality is a prerequisite for economic integration, the principal East Asian economic bloc of the future is likely to be centered on China. This bloc is, in fact, already coming into existence. As Murray Weidenbaum has observed,

Despite the current Japanese dominance of the region, the Chinese-based economy of Asia is rapidly emerging as a new epicenter for industry, commerce and finance. This strategic area contains substantial amounts of technology and manufacturing capability (Taiwan), outstanding entrepreneurial, marketing and services acumen (Hong Kong), a fine communications network (Singapore), a tremendous pool of financial capital (all three), and very large endowments of land, resources and labor (mainland China). . . . From Guangzhou to Singapore, from Kuala Lumpur to Manila, this influential network — often based on extensions of the traditional clans — has been described as the backbone of the East Asian economy. n1

n1 Murray Weidenbaum, Greater China: The Next Economic Superpower?, St. Louis: Washington University Center for the Study of American Business, Contemporary Issues, Series 57, February 1993, pp. 2-3.

Culture and religion also form the basis of the Economic Cooperation Organization, which brings together ten non-Arab Muslim countries: Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. One impetus to the revival and expansion of this organization, founded originally in the 1960s by Turkey, Pakistan and Iran, is the realization by the leaders of several of these countries that they had no chance of admission to the European Community. Similarly, Caricom, the Central American Common Market and Mercosur rest on common cultural foundations. Efforts to build a broader Caribbean-Central American economic entity bridging the Anglo-Latin divide, however, have to date failed.

As people define their identity in ethnic and religious terms, they are likely to see an “us” versus “them” relation existing between themselves and people of different ethnicity or religion. The end of ideologically defined states in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union permits traditional ethnic identities and animosities to come to the fore. Differences in culture and religion create differences over policy issues, ranging from human rights to immigration to trade and commerce to the environment. Geographical propinquity gives rise to conflicting territorial claims from Bosnia to Mindanao. Most important, the efforts of the West to promote its values of democracy and liberalism to universal values, to maintain its military predominance and to advance its economic interests engender countering responses from other civilizations. Decreasingly able to mobilize support and form coalitions on the basis of ideology, governments and groups will increasingly attempt to mobilize support by appealing to common religion and civilization identity.

The clash of civilizations thus occurs at two levels. At the micro-level, adjacent groups along the fault lines between civilizations struggle, often violently, over the control of territory and each other. At the macro-level, states from different civilizations compete for relative military and economic power, struggle over the control of international institutions and third parties, and competitively promote their particular political and religious values.

IV. THE FAULT LINES BETWEEN CIVILIZATIONS

THE FAULT LINES between civilizations are replacing the political and ideological boundaries of the Cold War as the flash points for crisis and bloodshed. The Cold War began when the Iron Curtain divided Europe politically and ideologically. The Cold War ended with the end of the Iron Curtain. As the ideological division of Europe has disappeared, the cultural division of Europe between Western Christianity, on the one hand, and Orthodox Christianity and Islam, on the other, has reemerged. The most significant dividing line in Europe, as William Wallace has suggested, may well be the eastern boundary of Western Christianity in the year 1500. This line runs along what are now the boundaries between Finland and Russia and between the Baltic states and Russia, cuts through Belarus and Ukraine separating the more Catholic western Ukraine from Orthodox eastern Ukraine, swings westward separating Transylvania from the rest of Romania, and then goes through Yugoslavia almost exactly along the line now separating Croatia and Slovenia from the rest of Yugoslavia. In the Balkans this line, of course, coincides with the historic boundary between the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires. The peoples to the north and west of this line are Protestant or Catholic; they shared the common experiences of European history — feudalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution; they are generally economically better off than the peoples to the east; and they may now look forward to increasing involvement in a common European economy and to the consolidation of democratic political systems. The peoples to the east and south of this line are Orthodox or Muslim; they historically belonged to the Ottoman or Tsarist empires and were only lightly touched by the shaping events in the rest of Europe; they are generally less advanced economically; they seem much less likely to develop stable democratic political systems. The Velvet Curtain of culture has replaced the Iron Curtain of ideology as the most significant dividing line in Europe. As the events in Yugoslavia show, it is not only a line of difference; it is also at times a line of bloody conflict.

Conflict along the fault line between Western and Islamic civilizations has been going on for 1,300 years. After the founding of Islam, the Arab and Moorish surge west and north only ended at Tours in 732. From the eleventh to the thirteenth century the Crusaders attempted with temporary success to bring Christianity and Christian rule to the Holy Land. From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, the Ottoman Turks reversed the balance, extended their sway over the Middle East and the Balkans, captured Constantinople, and twice laid siege to Vienna. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at Ottoman power declined Britain, France, and Italy established Western control over most of North Africa and the Middle East.

After World War II, the West, in turn, began to retreat; the colonial empires disappeared; first Arab nationalism and then Islamic fundamentalism manifested themselves; the West became heavily dependent on the Persian Gulf countries for its energy; the oil-rich Muslim countries became money-rich and, when they wished to, weapons-rich. Several wars occurred between Arabs and Israel (created by the West). France fought a bloody and ruthless war in Algeria for most of the 1950s; British and French forces invaded Egypt in 1956; American forces returned to Lebanon, attacked Libya, and engaged in various military encounters with Iran; Arab and Islamic terrorists, supported by at least three Middle Eastern governments, employed the weapon of the weak and bombed Western planes and installations and seized Western hostages. This warfare between Arabs and the West culminated in 1990, when the United States sent a massive army to the Persian Gulf to defend some Arab countries against aggression by another. In its aftermath NATO planning is increasingly directed to potential threats and instability along its “southern tier.”

This centuries-old military interaction between the West and Islam is unlikely to decline. It could become more virulent. The Gulf War left some Arabs feeling proud that Saddam Hussein had attacked Israel and stood up to the West. It also left many feeling humiliated and resentful of the West’s military presence in the Persian Gulf, the West’s overwhelming military dominance, and their apparent inability to shape their own destiny. Many Arab countries, in addition to the oil exporters, are reaching levels of economic and social development where autocratic forms of government become inappropriate and efforts to introduce democracy become stronger. Some openings in Arab political systems have already occurred. The principal beneficiaries of these openings have been Islamist movements. In the Arab world, in short, Western democracy strengthens anti-Western political forces. This may be a passing phenomenon, but it surely complicates relations between Islamic countries and the West.

Those relations are also complicated by demography. The spectacular population growth in Arab countries, particularly in North Africa, has led to increased migration to Western Europe. The movement within Western Europe toward minimizing internal boundaries has sharpened political sensitivities with respect to this development. In Italy, France and Germany, racism is increasingly open, and political reactions and violence against Arab and Turkish migrants have become more intense and more widespread since 1990.

On both sides the interaction between Islam and the West is seen as a clash of civilizations. The West’s “next confrontation,” observes M. J. Akbar, an Indian Muslim author, “is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from the Meghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will begin.” Bernard Lewis comes to a regular conclusion:

“We are facing a meed and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations — the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both. n2

n2 Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 266,September 1990, p. 60; Time, June 15k 1992, pp. 24-28.

Historically, the other great antagonistic interaction of Arab Islamic civilization has been with the pagan, animist, and now increasingly Christian black peoples to the south. In the past, this antagonism was epitomized in the image of Arab slave dealers and black slaves. It has been reflected in the on-going civil war in the Sudan between Arabs and blacks, the fighting in Chad between Libyan-supported insurgents and the government, the tensions between Orthodox Christians and Muslims in the Horn of Africa, and the political conflicts, recurring riots and communal violence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. The modernization of Africa and the spread of Christianity in Nigeria. The modernization of Africa and the spread of Christianity are likely to enhance the probability of violence along this fault line. Symptomatic of the intensification of this conflict was the Pope John Paul II’s speech in Khartoum in February 1993 attacking the actions of the Sudan’s Islamist government against the Christian minority there.

On the northern border of Islam, conflict has increasingly erupted between Orthodox and Muslim peoples, including the carnage of Bosnia and Sarajevo, the simmering violence between Serb and Albanian, the tenuous relation between Bulgarians and their Turkish minority, the violence between Ossetians and Ingush, the unremitting slaughter of each other by Armenians and Azeris, the tense relations between Russians and Muslims in Central Asia, and the deployment of Russian troops to protect Russian interests in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Religion reinforces the revival of ethnic identities and re-stimulates Russian fears about the security of their southern borders. This concern is well captured by Archie Roosevelt:

Much of Russian history concerns the struggle between Slavs and the Turkish peoples on their borders, which dates back to the foundation of the Russian state more than a thousand years ago. In the Slavs’ millennium-long confrontation with their eastern neighbors lies the key to an understanding not only of Russian history, but Russian character. To under Russian realities today one has to have a concept of the great Turkic ethnic group that has preoccupied Russians through the centuries. n3

n3 Archie Roosevelt, For Lust of Knowing, Boston: Little, Brown, 1988, pp. 332-333.

The conflict of civilizations is deeply rooted elsewhere in Asia. The historic clash between Muslim and Hindu in the subcontinent manifests itself now not only is the rivalry between Pakistan and India but also in intensifying religious strife within India between increasingly militant Hindu groups and India’s substantial Muslim minority. The destruction of the Ayodhya mosque in December 1992 brought to the fore the issue of whether India will remain a secular democratic state or become a Hindu one. In East Asia, China has outstanding territorial disputes with most of its neighbors. It has pursued a ruthless policy toward the Buddhist people of Tibet, and it is pursuing an increasingly ruthless policy toward its Turkic-Muslim minority. With the Cold War over, the underlying differences between China and the United States have reasserted themselves in areas such as human rights, trade and weapons proliferation. These differences are unlikely to moderate. A “new cold war,” Deng Xaioping reportedly asserted in 1991, is under way between China and America.

The same phrase has been applied to the increasingly difficult relations between Japan and the United States. Here cultural difference exacerbates economic conflict. People on each side allege racism on the other, but at least on the American side the antipathies are not racial but cultural. The basic values, attitudes, behavioral patterns of the two societies could hardly be more different. The economic issues between the United States and Europe are no less serious than those between the United States and Japan, but they do not have the same political salience and emotional intensity because the differences between American culture and European culture are so much less than those between American civilization and Japanese civilization.

The interactions between civilizations vary greatly in the extent to which they are likely to be characterized by violence. Economic competition clearly predominates between the American and European sub civilizations of the West and between both of them and Japan. On the Eurasian continent, however, the proliferation of ethnic conflict, epitomized at the extreme in “ethnic cleansing,” has not been totally random. It has been most frequent and most violent between groups belonging to different civilizations. In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders.

V. CIVILIZATION RALLYING

THE KIN-COUNTRY SYNDROME GROUPS OR STATES belonging to one civilization that become involved in war with people from a different civilization naturally try to rally support from other members of their own civilization. As the post-Cold War world evolves, civilization commonality, what H. D. S. Greenway has termed the “kin-country” syndrome, is replacing political ideology and traditional balance of power considerations as the principal basis for cooperation and coalitions. It can be seen gradually emerging in the post-Cold War conflicts in the Persian Gulf, the Caucasus and Bosnia. None of these was a full-scale war between civilizations, but each involved some elements of civilization rallying, which seemed to become more important as the conflict continued and which may provide a foretaste of the future.

First, in the Gulf War one Arab state invaded another and then fought a coalition of Arab, Western and other states. While only a few Muslim governments overtly supported Saddam Hussein, many Arab elites privately cheered him on, and he was highly popular among large sections of the Arab publics. Islamic fundamentalist movements universally supported Iraq rather than the Western-backed governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Forswearing Arab nationalism, Saddam Hussein explicitly invoked an Islamic appeal. He and his supporters attempted to define the was as a war between civilizations. “It is not the world against Iraq,” as Safar Al-Hawali, dean of Islamic Studies at the Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca, put it in a widely circulated tape. “It is the West against Islam.” Ignoring the rivalry between Iran and Iraq, the chief Iranian religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for a holy war against the West: “The struggle against American aggression, greed, plans and policies will be counted as a jihad, and anybody who is killed on that path is a martyr.” “This is a war,” King Hussein of Jordan argued, “against all Arabs and all Muslims and not against Iraq alone.”

The rallying of substantial sections of Arab elites and publics behind Saddam Hussein called those Arab governments in the anti-Iraq coalition to moderate their activities and temper their public statements. Arab governments opposed or distanced themselves from subsequent Western efforts to apply pressure on Iraq, including enforcement of a no-fly zone in the summer of 1992 and the bombing of Iraq in January 1993. The Western-Soviet-Turkish-Arab anti-Iraq coalition of 1990 had by 1993 become a coalition of almost only the West and Kuwait against Iraq.

Muslims contrasted Western actions against Iraq with the West’s failure to protect Bosnians against Serbs and to impose sanctions on Israel for violating U.N. resolutions. The West, they allege, was using a double standard. A world of clashing civilizations, however, is inevitably a world of double standards: people apply one standard to their kin-countries and a different standard to others.

Second, the kin-country syndrome also appeared in conflicts in the former Soviet Union. Armenian military successes in 1992 and 1993 stimulated Turkey to become increasingly supportive of its religious, ethnic and linguistic brethren in Azerbaijan. “We have a Turkish nation feeling the same sentiments as the Azerbaijanis,” said one Turkish official in 1992. “We are under pressure. Our newspapers are full of the photos of atrocities and are asking us if we are still serious about pursuing our neutral policy. Maybe we should show Armenia that there’s a big Turkey in the region.” President Turgut Ozal agreed, remarking that Turkey should at least “scare the Armenians a little bit.” Turkey, Ozal threatened again in 1993, would “show its fangs.” Turkey Air Force jets flew reconnaissance flights along the Armenian border; Turkey suspended food shipments and air flights to Armenia; and Turkey and Iran announced they would not accept dismemberment of Azerbaijan. In the last years of its existence, the Soviet government supported Azerbaijan because its government was dominated by former communists. With the end of the Soviet Union, however, political considerations gave way to religious ones. Russian troops fought on the Side of the Armenians, and Azerbaijan accused the “Russian government of turning 180 degrees” toward support for Christian Armenia.

Third, with respect to the fighting in the former Yugoslavia, Western publics manifested sympathy and support for the Bosnian Muslims and the horrors they suffered at the hands of the Serbs. Relatively little concern was expressed, however, over Croatian attacks on Muslims and participation in the dismemberment of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the early stages of the Yugoslav breakup, Germany, inan unusual display of diplomatic initiative and muscle, induced the other 11 members of the European Community to follow its lead in recognizing Slovenia and Croatia. As a result of the pope’s determination to provide strong backing to the two Catholic countries, the Vatican extended recognition even before the Community did. The United States followed the European lead. Thus the leading actors in Western civilization rallied behind its coreligionists. Subsequently Croatia was reported to be receiving substantial quantities of arms from Central European and other Western countries. Boris Yeltsin’s government, on the other hand, attempted to pursue a middle course that would be sympathetic to the Orthodox Serbs but not alienate Russia from the West. Russian conservative and nationalist groups, however, including many legislators, attacked the government for not being more forthcoming in its support for the Serbs. By early 1993 several hundred Russians apparently were serving with the Serbian forces, and reports circulated of Russian arms being supplied to Serbia.

Islamic governments and groups, on the other hand, castigated the West for not coming to the defense of the Bosnians. Iranian leaders urged Muslims from all countries to provide help to Bosnia; in violation of the U.N. arms embargo, Iran supplied weapons and men for the Bosnians; Iranian-supported Lebanese groups sent guerrillas to train and organize the Bosnian forces. In 1993 up to 4,000 Muslims from over two dozen Islamic countries were reported to be fighting in Bosnia. The governments of Saudi Arabia and other countries felt under increasing pressure from fundamentalist groups in their own societies to provide more vigorous support for the Bosnians. By the end of 1992, Saudi Arabia had reportedly supplied substantial funding for weapons and supplies for the Bosnians, which significantly increased their military capabilities vis-à-vis the Serbs.

In the 1930s the Spanish Civil War provoked intervention from countries that politically were fascist, communist and democratic. In the 1990s the Yugoslav conflict is provoking intervention from countries that are Muslim, Orthodox and Western Christian. The parallel has not gone unnoticed. “The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina has become the emotional equivalent of the fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War,” one Saudi editor observed. “Those who died there are regarded as martyrs who tried to save their fellow Muslims.”

Conflicts and violence will also occur between states and groups within the same civilization. Such conflicts, however, are likely to be less intense and less likely to expand than conflicts between civilizations. Common membership in a civilization reduces the probability of violence in situations where it might otherwise occur. In 1991 and 1992 many people were alarmed by the possibility of violent conflict between Russia and Ukraine over territory, particularly Crimea, the Black Sea fleet, nuclear weapons and economic issues. If civilization is what counts, however, the likelihood of violence between Ukrainians and Russians should be low. They are two Slavic, primarily Orthodox peoples who have had close relationships with each other for centuries. As of early 1993, despite all the reasons for conflict, the leaders of the two countries were effectively negotiating and defusing the issues between the two countries. While there has been serious fighting between Muslims and Christians elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and much tension and some fighting between Western and Orthodox Christians in the Baltic states, there has been virtually no violence between Russians and Ukrainians.

Civilization rallying to date has been limited, but it has been growing, and it clearly has the potential to spread much further. As the conflicts in the Persian Gulf, the Caucasus and Bosnia continued, the positions of nations and the cleavages between them increasingly were along civilization lines. Populist politicians, religious leaders and the media have found it a potential means of arousing mass support and of pressuring hesitant governments. In the coming years, the local conflicts most likely to escalate into major wars will be those, as in Bosnia and the Caucasus, along the fault lines between civilizations. The next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civilizations.

VI. THE WEST VERSUS THE REST

THE WEST IS NOW at an extraordinary peak of power in relation to other civilizations. In superpower opponent has disappeared from the map. Military conflict among Western states is unthinkable, and Western military power is unrivaled. Apart from Japan, the West faces no economic challenge. It dominates international economic institutions. Global political and security issues are effectively settled by a directorate of the United States, Britain and France, world economic issues by a directorate of the United States, Germany and Japan, all of which maintain extraordinarily close relations with each other to the exclusion of lesser and largely non-Western countries. Decisions made at the U.N. Security Council or in the International Monetary Fund that reflect the interests of the West are presented to the world as reflecting the desires of the world community. The very phrase “the world community” has become the euphemistic collective noun (replacing “the Free World”) to give global legitimacy to actions reflecting the interests of the United States and other Western powers. n4 Through the IMF and other international economic institutions, the West promotes its economic interests and imposes on other nations the economic policies it thinks appropriate. In any poll of non-Western peoples, the IMF undoubtedly would win the support of finance ministers and a few others, but get an overwhelmingly unfavorable rating from just about everyone else, who would agree with Georgy Arbatov’s characterization of IMF officials as “neo-Bolsheviks who love expropriating other people’s money, imposing undemocratic and alien rules of economic and political conduct and stifling economic freedom.”

n4 Almost invariably Western leaders claim they are acting on behalf of “the world community.” One minor lapse occurred during the run-up to the Gulf War. In an interview on “Good Morning America,” Dec. 21, 1990, British Prime Minister John Major referred to the actions “the West” was taking against Saddam Hussein. He quickly corrected himself and subsequently referred to “the world community.” He was, however, right when he erred.

Western domination of the U.N. Security Council and its decisions, tempered only by occasional abstention by China, produced U.N. legitimation of the West’s use of force to drive Iraq out of Kuwait and its elimination of Iraq’s sophisticated weapons and capacity to produce such weapons. It also produced the quite unprecedented action by the United States, Britain and France in getting the Security Council to demand that Libya hand over the Pan Am 103 bombing suspects and then to impose sanctions when Libya refused. After defeating the largest Arab army, the West did not hesitate to throw its weight around in the Arab world. The West in effect is using international institutions, military power and economic resources to run the world in ways that will maintain Western predominance, protect Western interests and promote Western political and economic values.

That at least is the way in which non-Westerners see the new world, and there is a significant element of truth in their view. Differences in power and struggles for military, economic and institutional power are thus one source of conflict between the West and other civilizations. Differences in culture, that is basic values and beliefs, are a second source of conflict. V. S. Naipaul has argued that Western civilization is the “universal civilization” that “fits all men.” At a superficial level much of Western culture has indeed permeated the rest of the world. At a more basic level, however, Western concepts differ fundamentally from those prevalent in other civilizations. Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures. Western efforts to propagate each ideas produce instead a reaction against “human rights imperialism” and a reaffirmation of indigenous values, as can be seen in the support for religious fundamentalism by the younger generation in non-Western cultures. The very notion that there could be a “universal civilization” is a Western idea, directly at odds with the particularism of most Asian societies and their emphasis on what distinguishes one people from another. Indeed, the author of a review of 100 comparative studies of values in different societies concluded that “the values that are most important in the West are least important worldwide.” n5 In the political realm, of course, these differences are most manifest in the efforts of the United States and other Western powers to induce other peoples to adopt Western ideas concerning democracy and human rights. Modern democratic government originated in the West. When it has developed colonialism or imposition.

n5 Harry C. Triandis, The New York Times, Dec. 25, 1990, p. 41, and “Cross-Cultural Studies of Individualism and Collectivism,” Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, vol. 37, 1989, pp. 41-133.

The central axis of world politics in the future is likely to be, in Kishore Mahbubani’s phrase, the conflict between “the West and the Rest” and the responses of non-Western civilizations to Western power and values. n6 Those responses generally take one or a combination of three forms. At one extreme, non-Western states can, like Burma and North Korea, attempt to pursue a course of isolation, to insulate their societies from penetration or “corruption” by the West, and, in effect, to opt out of participation in the Western-dominated global community. The costs of this course, however, are high, and few states have pursued it exclusively. A second alternative, the equivalent of “band-wagoning” in international relations theory, is to attempt to join the West and accept its values and institutions. The third alternative is to attempt to “balance” the West by developing economic and military power and cooperating with other non-Western societies against the West, while preserving indigenous values and institutions; in short, to modernize but not to Westernize.

n6 Kishore Mahbubani, “The West and the Rest,” The National Interest, Summer 1992, pp. 3-13.

VII. THE TORN COUNTRIES

IN THE FUTURE, as people differentiate themselves by civilization, countries with large numbers of people of different civilizations, such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, are candidates for dismemberment. Some other countries have a fair degree of cultural homogeneity but are divided over whether their society belongs to one civilization or another. These are town countries. Their leaders typically wish to pursue a band-wagoning strategy and to make their countries members of the West, but the history, culture and traditions of their countries are non-Western. The most obvious and prototypical torn country is Turkey. The late twentieth-century leaders of Turkey have followed in the Attaturk tradition and defined Turkey as a modern, secular, Western nation state. They allied Turkey with the West in NATO and in the Gulf War; they applied for membership in the European Community. At the same time, however, elements in Turkish society have supported an Islamic revival and have argued that Turkey is basically a Middle Eastern Muslim society. In addition, while the elite of Turkey has defined Turkey as a Western society, the elite of the West refuses to accept Turkey and such. Turkey will not become a member of the European Community, and the real reason, as President Ozal said, “is that we are Muslim and they are Christian and they don’t say that.” Having rejected Mecca, and then being rejected by Brussels, where does Turkey look? Tashkent may be the answer. The end of the Soviet Union gives Turkey the opportunity to become the leader of a revived Turkic civilization involving seven countries from the borders of Greece to those of China. Encouraged by the West, Turkey is making strenuous efforts to carve out this new identity for itself.

During the past decade Mexico has assumed a position somewhat similar to that of Turkey. Just as Turkey abandoned its historic opposition to Europe and attempted to join Europe, Mexico has stopped defining itself by its opposition to the United States and is instead attempting to imitate the United States and to join it in the North American Free Trade Area. Mexican leaders are engaged in the great task of redefining Mexican identity and have introduced fundamental economic reforms that eventually will lead to fundamental political change. In 1991 a top adviser to President Carlos Salinas de Gortari described at length tome all the changes the Salinas government was making. When he finished, I remarked: “That’s most impressive. It seems to me that basically you want to change Mexico from a Latin American country into a North American country.” He looked at me with surprise and exclaimed: “Exactly! That’s precisely what we are trying to do, but of course we could never say so publicly.” As his remark indicates, in Mexico as in Turkey, significant elements in society resist the redefinition of their country’s identity. In Turkey, European-oriented leaders have to make gestures to Islam (Ozal’s pilgrimage to Mecca); so also Mexico’s North American-oriented leaders have to make gestures to those who hold Mexico to be a Latin American country (Salinas’ Ibero-American Guadalajara summit).

Historically Turkey has been the most profoundly torn country. For the United States, Mexico is the most immediate torn country. Globally the most important torn country is Russia. The question of whether Russia is part of the West or the leader of the Slavic-Orthodox civilization has been a recurring one in Russian history. That issue was obscured by the communist victory in Russia, which imported a Western ideology, adapted it to Russian conditions and then challenged the West in the name of that ideology. The dominance of communism shut off the historic debate over Westernization versus Russification. With communism discredited Russians once again face that question.

President Yeltsin is adopting Western principles and goals and seeking to make Russia a “normal” country and a part of the West. Yet both the Russian elite and the Russian public are divided on this issue. Among the more moderate dissenters, Sergei Stankevich argues that Russia should reject the “Atlanticist” course, which would lead it “to become European, to become a part of the world economy in rapid and organized fashion, to become the eighth member of the Seven, and to particular emphasis on Germany and the United States as the two dominant members of the Atlantic alliance.” While also rejecting an exclusively Eurasian policy, Stankevich nonetheless argues that Russia should give priority to the protection of Russians in other countries, emphasize its Turkic and Muslim connections, and promote “an appreciable redistribution of our resources, our options, our ties, and our interests in favor of Asia, of the eastern direction.” People of this persuasion criticize Yeltsin for subordinating Russia’s interests to those of the West, for reducing Russian military strength, for failing to support traditional friends such as Serbia, and for pushing economic and political reform in ways injurious to the Russian people. Indicative of this trend is the new popularity of the ideas of Petr Savitsky, who in the 1920s argued that Russia was a unique Eurasian civilization. n7 More extreme dissidents voice much more blatantly nationalist, anti-Western and anti-Semitic views, and urge Russia to redevelop its military strength and to establish closer ties with China and Muslim countries. The people of Russia areas divided as the elite. An opinion survey in European Russia in the spring of 1992 revealed that 40 percent of the public had positive attitudes toward the West and 36 percent had negative attitudes. As it has been for much of its history, Russia in the early 1990s is truly a torn country.

n7 Sergei Stankevich, “Russia in Search of Itself,” The National Interest, Summer 1992, pp. 47-51; Daniel Schneider, “A Russian Movement Rejects Western Tilt,” Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 5, 1993, pp. 5-7.

To redefine its civilization identity, a torn country must meet three requirements. First, its political and economic elite has to be generally supportive of and enthusiastic about the move. Second, its public has to be willing to acquiesce in the redefinition. Third, the dominant groups in the recipient civilization have to be willing to embrace the convert. All three requirements in large part exist with respect to Mexico. The first two in large part exist with respect to Turkey. It is not clear that any of them exist with respect to Russia’s joining the West. The conflict between liberal democracy and Marxism-Leninism was between ideologies which, despite their major differences, ostensibly shared ultimate goals of freedom, equality and prosperity. A traditional, authoritarian, nationalist Russia could have quite different goals. A Western democrat could carry on an intellectual debate with a Soviet Marxist. It would be virtually impossible for him to do that with a Russian traditionalist. If, as the Russians stop behaving like Marxists, they reject liberal democracy and begin behaving like Russians but not like Westerners, the relations between Russia and the West could again become distant and conflictual. n8

n8 Owen Harries has pointed out that Australia is trying (unwisely in his view) to become a torn country in reverse. Although it has been a full member not only of the West but also of the ABCA military and intelligence core of the West, its current leaders are in effect proposing that it defect from the West, redefine itself as an Asian country and cultivate close ties with its neighbors. Australia’s future, they argue, is with the dynamic economies of East Asia. But, as I have suggested, close economic cooperation normally requires a common cultural base. In addition, none of the three conditions necessary for a torn country to join another civilization is likely to exist in Australia’s case.

VIII. THE CONFUCIAN-ISLAMIC CONNECTION

THE OBSTACLES TO non-Western countries joining the West vary considerably. They are least for Latin American and East European countries. They are greater for the Orthodox countries of the former Soviet Union. They are still greater for Muslim, Confucian, Hindu and Buddhist societies. Japan has established a unique position for itself as an associate member of the West: it is in the West in some respects but clearly not of the West in important dimensions. Those countries that for reason of culture and power do not wish to, or cannot, join the West compete with the West by developing their own economic, military and political power. They do this by promoting their internal development and by cooperating with other non-Western countries. The most prominent form of this cooperation is the Confucian-Islamic connection that has emerged to challenge Western interests, values and power.

Almost without exception, Western countries are reducing their military power; under Yeltsin’s leadership so also is Russia. China, North Korea and several Middle Eastern states, however, are significantly expanding their military capabilities. They are doing this by the import of arms from Western and non-Western sources and by the development of indigenous arms industries. One result is the emergence of what Charles Krauthammer has called “Weapon States,” and the Weapon States are not Western states. Another result is the redefinition of arms control, which is a Western concept and a Western goal. During the Cold War the primary purpose of arms control was to establish a stable military balance between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies. In the post-Cold War world the primary objective of arms control is to prevent the development by non-Western societies of military capabilities that could threaten Western interests. The West attempts to do this through international agreements, economic pressure and controls on the transfer of arms and weapons technologies.

The conflict between the West and the Confucian-Islamic states focuses largely, although not exclusively, on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, ballistic missiles and other sophisticated means for delivering them, and the guidance, intelligence and other electronic capabilities for achieving that goal. The West promotes nonproliferation as a universal norm and nonproliferation treaties and inspections as means of realizing that norm. It also threatens a variety of sanctions against those who promote the spread of sophisticated weapons and proposes some benefits for those who do not. The attention of the Wests focuses, naturally on nations that are actually or potentially hostile to the West.

The non-Western nations, on the other hand, assert their right to acquire and to deploy whatever weapons they think necessary for their security. They also have absorbed, to the full, the truth of the response of the Indian defense minister when asked what lesson he learned from the Gulf War: “Don’t fight the United States unless you have nuclear weapons.” Nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and missiles are viewed, probably erroneously, as the potential equalizer of superior Western conventional power. China, of course, already has nuclear weapons; Pakistan and India have the capability to deploy them. North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Algeria appear to be attempting to acquire them. Atop Iranian official has declared that all Muslim states should acquire nuclear weapons, and in 1988 the president of Iran reportedly issued a directive calling for development of “offensive and defensive chemical, biological and radiological weapons.”

Centrally important to the development of counter-West military capabilities is the sustained expansion of China’s military power and its means to create military power. Buoyed by spectacular economic development, China is rapidly increasing its military spending and vigorously moving forward with the modernization of its armed forces. It is purchasing weapons from the former Soviet states; it is developing long-range missiles; in 1992 it tested a one-megaton nuclear device. It is developing power-projection capabilities, acquiring aerial refueling technology, and trying to purchase an aircraft carrier. Its military buildup and assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea are provoking a multilateral regional arms race in East Asia. China is also a major exporter of arms and weapons technology. It has exported materials to Libya and Iraq that could be used to manufacture nuclear weapons and nerve gas. It has helped Algeria build a reactor suitable for nuclear weapons research and production. China has sold to Iran nuclear technology that American officials believe could only be used to create weapons and apparently has shipped components of 300-mile-range missiles to Pakistan. North Korea has had a nuclear weapons program under way for some while and has sold advanced missiles and missile technology to Syria and Iran. The flow of weapons and weapons technology is generally from East Asia to the Middle East. There is, however, some movement in the reverse direction; China has received Stinger missiles from Pakistan.

A Confucian-Islamic military connection has thus come into being, designed to promote acquisition by its members of the weapons and weapons technologies needed to counter the military powers of the West. It may or may not last. At present, however, it is, as Dave McCurdy has said, “a renegades’ mutual support pact, run by the proliferators and their backers.” A new form of arms competition is thus occurring between Islamic-Confucian states and the West. In an old-fashioned arms race, each side developed its own arms to balance or to achieve superiority against the other side. In this new form of arms competition, one side is developing its arms and the other side is attempting not to balance but to limit and prevent that arms build-up while at the same time reducing its own military capabilities.

IX. IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WEST

THIS ARTICLE DOES not argue that civilization identities will replace all other identities, that nation states will disappear, that each civilization will become a single coherent political entity, that groups within a civilization will not conflict with and even fight each other. This paper does set forth the hypotheses that differences between civilizations are real and important; civilization-consciousness is increasing; conflict between civilizations will supplant ideological and other forms of conflict as the dominant global form of conflict; international relations, historically a game played out within Western civilization, will increasingly be de-Westernized and become a game in which non-Western civilizations are actors and not simply objects; successful political, security and economic international institutions are more likely to develop within civilizations than across civilizations; conflicts between groups in different civilizations will be more frequent, more sustained and more violent than conflicts between groups in the same civilization; violent conflicts between groups in different civilizations are the most likely and most dangerous source of escalation that could lead to global wars; the paramount axis of world politics will be the relations between “the West and the Rest”; the elites in some torn non-Western countries will try to make their countries part of the West, but in most cases face major obstacles to accomplishing this; a central focus of conflict for the immediate future will be between the West and several Islamic-Confucian states.

This is not to advocate the desirability of conflicts between civilizations. It is to set forth descriptive hypotheses as to what the future may be like. If these are plausible hypotheses, however, it is necessary to consider their implications for Western policy. These implications should be divided between short-term advantage and long-term accommodation. In the short term it is clearly in the interest of the West to promote greater cooperation and unity within its own civilization, particularly between its European and North American components; to incorporate into the West societies in Eastern Europe and Latin America whose cultures are close to those of the West; to promote and maintain cooperative relations with Russia and Japan; to prevent escalation of local inter-civilization conflicts into major inter-civilization wars; to limit the expansion of the military strength of Confucian and Islamic states; to moderate the reduction of counter military capabilities and maintain military superiority in East and Southwest Asia; to exploit differences and conflicts among Confucian and Islamic states; to support in other civilizations groups sympathetic to Western values and interests; to strengthen international institutions that reflect and legitimate Western interests and values and to promote the involvement of non-Western states in those institutions.

In the longer term other measures would be called for. Western civilization is both Western and modern. Non-Western civilizations have attempted to become modern without becoming Western. To date only Japan has fully succeeded in this quest. Non-Western civilization will continue to attempt to acquire the wealth, technology, skills, machines and weapons that are part of being modern. They will also attempt to reconcile this modernity with their traditional culture and values. Their economic and military strength relative to the West will increase. Hence the West will increasingly have to accommodate these non-Western modern civilizations whose power approaches that of the West but whose values and interests differ significantly from those of the West. This will require the West to maintain the economic and military power necessary to protect its interests in relation to these civilizations. It will also, however, require the West to develop a more profound understanding of the basic religious and philosophical assumptions underlying other civilizations and the ways in which people in those civilizations see their interests. It will require an effort to identify elements of commonality between Western and other civilizations. For the relevant future, there will be no universal civilization, but instead a world of different civilizations, each of which will have to learn to coexist with the others.

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Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations Revisited

David Brooks, New York Times, March 2011

Samuel Huntington was one of America’s greatest political scientists. In 1993, he published a sensational essay in Foreign Affairs called “The Clash of Civilizations?” The essay, which became a book, argued that the post-cold war would be marked by civilizational conflict.

Human beings, Huntington wrote, are divided along cultural lines — Western, Islamic, Hindu and so on. There is no universal civilization. Instead, there are these cultural blocks, each within its own distinct set of values.

The Islamic civilization, he wrote, is the most troublesome. People in the Arab world do not share the general suppositions of the Western world. Their primary attachment is to their religion, not to their nation-state. Their culture is inhospitable to certain liberal ideals, like pluralism, individualism and democracy.

Huntington correctly foresaw that the Arab strongman regimes were fragile and were threatened by the masses of unemployed young men. He thought these regimes could fall, but he did not believe that the nations would modernize in a Western direction. Amid the tumult of regime change, the rebels would selectively borrow tools from the West, but their borrowing would be refracted through their own beliefs. They would follow their own trajectory and not become more Western.

The Muslim world has bloody borders, he continued. There are wars and tensions where the Muslim world comes into conflict with other civilizations. Even if decrepit regimes fell, he suggested, there would still be a fundamental clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. The Western nations would do well to keep their distance from Muslim affairs. The more the two civilizations intermingle, the worse the tensions will be.

Huntington’s thesis set off a furious debate. But with the historic changes sweeping through the Arab world, it’s illuminating to go back and read his argument today.

In retrospect, I’d say that Huntington committed the Fundamental Attribution Error. That is, he ascribed to traits qualities that are actually determined by context.

He argued that people in Arab lands are intrinsically not nationalistic. He argued that they do not hunger for pluralism and democracy in the way these things are understood in the West. But it now appears as though they were simply living in circumstances that did not allow that patriotism or those spiritual hungers to come to the surface.

It now appears that people in these nations, like people in all nations, have multiple authentic selves. In some circumstances, one set of identities manifests itself, but when those circumstances change, other equally authentic identities and desires get activated.

For most of the past few decades, people in Arab nations were living under regimes that rule by fear. In these circumstances, most people shared the conspiracy mongering and the political passivity that these regimes encouraged. But when the fear lessened, and the opportunity for change arose, different aspirations were energized. Over the past weeks, we’ve seen Arab people ferociously attached to their national identities. We’ve seen them willing to risk their lives for pluralism, openness and democracy.

I’d say Huntington was also wrong in the way he defined culture.

In some ways, each of us is like every person on earth; in some ways, each of us is like the members of our culture and group; and, in some ways, each of us is unique. Huntington minimized the power of universal political values and exaggerated the influence of distinct cultural values. It’s easy to see why he did this. He was arguing against global elites who sometimes refuse to acknowledge the power of culture at all.

But it seems clear that many people in Arab nations do share a universal hunger for liberty. They feel the presence of universal human rights and feel insulted when they are not accorded them.

Culture is important, but underneath cultural differences there are these universal aspirations for dignity, for political systems that listen to, respond to and respect the will of the people.

Finally, I’d say Huntington misunderstood the nature of historical change. In his book, he describes transformations that move along linear, projectable trajectories. But that’s not how things work in times of tumult. Instead, one person moves a step. Then the next person moves a step. Pretty soon, millions are caught up in a contagion, activating passions they had but dimly perceived just weeks before. They get swept up in momentums that have no central authority and that, nonetheless, exercise a sweeping influence on those caught up in their tides.

I write all this not to denigrate the great Huntington. He may still be proved right. The Arab world may modernize on its own separate path. But his mistakes illuminate useful truths: that all people share certain aspirations and that history is wide open. The tumult of events can transform the traits and qualities that seemed, even to great experts, etched in stone.

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The Invasion of Iraq and the Clash Within Civilizations

Khaled Diab, Huffington Post, 2013

This year marks not only the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq but also the 20th anniversary of the clash of civilizations theory which made it possible. But Samuel P. Huntington was wrong.

A decade has passed since the blood-drenched invasion of Iraq began, unleashing a wave of destruction not seen in that part of the world since at least the Mongol sacking of Baghdad in the mid-13th century.

Unsurprisingly, the 10th anniversary has prompted immense media attention, in the United States and Europe, as well as in Iraq itself and the broader Middle East. In light of the carnage that has ensued following that fateful decision to invade, a lot of the public debate has focused on whether the war was justified and worthwhile.

The cheerleaders of the war argue that the invasion was just, the subsequent carnage was an unfortunate but collateral consequence of a benign act of goodwill, and that errors were made in the execution of the campaign but the principle was essentially sound.

Critics, like myself, see the wholesale destruction of Iraq and the chaos besetting it — which was chillingly illustrated by the deadly car bombings which rocked Bagdad on the 10th anniversary — as clear proof that U.S.-led intervention was not only unjustified but flawed.

In order to understand why, we need to rewind another 10 years, back to another important anniversary which has largely fallen under the media’s radar. Through some fluke of history, the theory which largely justified the Iraq war and provided it with its ideological underpinning was formulated exactly a decade earlier.

In an incredibly influential essay published 20 years ago in Foreign Affairs, the late Samuel P. Huntington first outlined his clash of civilizations theory which he later elaborated on and fleshed out in a book published in 1996.

Huntington argued that “the fundamental source of conflict” in the post-Cold War era would be not ideological or economic but “cultural”. “The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future,” the Harvard professor argued.

Huntington divided the world into some half a dozen major civilizational groups which, he posited, would clash at two levels: local “fault line conflicts” where civilizations overlap and “core state conflicts” between the major states of different civilizations.

On the 20th anniversary of this controversial theory and given how influential it has been and remains, it is useful to analyze whether or not Huntington was right. Has a clash of civilizations emerged, as Huntington predicted, over the past two decades?

Supporters of Huntington’s hypothesis answer with an unequivocal “yes”. They point to the inhumane atrocities committed in the United States by Islamic extremists on 11 September 2001, the subsequent clash with al Qaeda, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the rise of Islamist parties during the “Arab Spring” as confirmation that a clash is underway.

Critics, like the scholar Noam Chomsky, have maintained that the clash of civilizations is simply the symptom of an empire, i.e. Pax Americana, in search of another justification for its imperial aspirations after the Cold War paradigm fell apart with the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

The late Edward Said, the renowned author of Orientalism, saw in Huntington’s theory an extension of the pseudo-scientific Orientalist scholarship which had been used for at least a couple of centuries to justify European and Western hegemony. In an essay entitled The Clash of Ignorances¸ published shortly after 9/11, Said argued that Huntington ignored “the internal dynamics and plurality of every civilization” and “the fact that the major contest in most modern cultures concerns the definition or interpretation of each culture”.

Personally, I find that, though the idea, in one form or another, of a clash of civilizations is as old as the hills — examples include the historical notions of jihads and crusades, not to mention the idea of “civilization” versus “barbarity” espoused by most dominant powers throughout the centuries — this does not make it any more valid or true.

Far more often than not, what has been dressed up as a clash of values is really just a clash of interests parading as something less selfish than it actually is. Although culture and ideology can, on rare occasions, lead to conflict, for the most part, societies enter into conflicts due to clashes of interests.

And in such a context, proximity is traditionally a far greater cause of friction than culture. That is why conflicts within self-identified cultural or civilizational groups are often greater than those between them. Over the centuries, Christians and Muslims have gone to war and killed more of their coreligionists than each other, as the carnage of two world wars in Europe shows all too clearly.

That would explain, for instance, why the United States decided to invade Saddam Hussein’s secular Iraq, even though it was a sworn enemy of al Qaeda and jihadist Islam, yet is bosom buddies with Saudi Arabia, the hotbed of reactionary Wahhabism, which it exports around the region and the world, and the home of most of the hijackers who took part in the September 11 attacks.

And alliances which cut across supposed civilizational lines have an ancient pedigree. Examples include the Arabs allying themselves with the British and the French against the Turks, or the Ottomans fighting alongside the Germans in World War I against the British, French and Russians. In fact, throughout its centuries as a major power, the Ottoman Empire’s alliances shifted between various Christian European states, including France, Poland, as well as the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic House of Habsburg.

Moreover, Huntington’s hypothesis is further undermined by what I like to call the “mash of civilizations”. Each so-called civilization is actually a volatile, constantly changing hybrid of ideas and cultural influences.

In fact, if we must group civilizations together, then I would place the West and Islam in the same group because they both share common roots in the Abrahamic tradition, not to mention the Greek and Hellenistic, Mesopotamian and Egyptian influences, as well as the modern importance of the Enlightenment, not just for Western reform movements but also for secularising and modernising movements in the Middle East. I would go so far as to say that Europe and the Middle East, especially the Mediterranean countries, have more in common with each other than they do with their co-religionists in Africa and further east in Asia.

So, if there has not been a clash of civilizations, what has emerged since the end of the Cold War?

At one level, there are the brewing clashes of interests between the great powers, as America tries to hold on to its waning global reach, Russia tries to claw back the influence it lost following the implosion of the Soviet Union and China, after years of quiet growth in the background, begins to flex its muscles on the foreign stage, both to advance its emerging “strategic interests” and for prestige.

On another level, cultures have clashed, but not between civilizations, as Huntington believed they would, but within them. This clash within civilizations is currently playing itself out most visibly in the Middle East.

In addition to the sectarian monster unleashed by the anarchy in Iraq, the revolutionary wave that has swept through the region has brought to the fore, and into sharp relief, the major fault lines and clashes within each society and, to a lesser extent, between them. There are the conflicts between the secular and religious, between majorities and minorities, between women and men, between the young and old, between modernists and traditionalists, between the haves and have-nots, and so on.

Although less pronounced, at least for the time being, these same internal tensions are being witnessed in the West, as reflected in the rising influence of Christian fundamentalism in the United States and the extreme right in Europe, as well as the large-scale social protests, from years of street battles in Greece to the Occupy Wall Street movement of the “99%”.

In Europe, particularly, class conflict is intensifying on the back of the economic crisis triggered by neo-liberal excess, as the poor and middle-classes are forced, through bailouts and austerity, to finance what has effectively become a welfare state for the rich. This is putting in jeopardy not only the much-vaunted European social model but also the EU enterprise itself.

If the European Union is not reinvented along more equitable lines and emerges out of this crisis, instead, much weakened, then it will likely leave a petty-nationalistic sized hole in the European arena which could eventually cause the conflicts currently taking place within individual countries to spill across borders.

In the second decade of the 21st century, a major challenge facing us all is not the clash of civilizations but the clash within civilizations. This internal cultural struggle is largely caused by the growing socio-economic inequalities that have emerged in just about every country in the world.

If these inequities are not addressed effectively, at both the local and global levels, then intolerance will grow and conflicts will continue to consume individual societies, with the danger that they will spill over into other countries, potentially spiraling out of control.

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The looming tower. Al-Qaeda’s Road to 9/11 – Lawrence Wright. 

Prologue

On Saint Patrick’s day, Daniel Coleman, an agent in the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation handling foreign intelligence cases, drove down to Tysons Corner, Virginia, to report for a new posting.

The sidewalks were still buried under gray banks of snow from the blizzard of 1996 a few weeks before. Coleman entered an undistinguished government office tower called the Gloucester Building and got off the elevator at the fifth floor. 

This was Alec Station. Other stations of the Central Intelligence Agency are located in the various countries that they cover; Alec was the first “virtual” system station, situated only a few miles from the headquarters building in Langley. On an organizational chart it was labeled “Terrorist Financial Links,” a subsection of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, but in practice it was devoted to tracking the activities of a single man, Osama bin Laden, whose name had arisen as the master financier of terror. 

Coleman first heard of him in 1993, when a foreign source spoke about a “Saudi prince”who was supporting a cell of radical Islamists who were plotting to blow up New York landmarks, including the United Nations, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, and even 26 Federal Plaza, the building where Coleman worked. Now, three years later, the bureau had finally found time to send him to look over the intelligence the agency had compiled to see if there was any reason to pursue an investigation. 

Alec Station already had thirty-five volumes of material on bin Laden, consisting mostly of transcripts of telephone conversations that had been sucked up by the electronic ears of the National Security Agency. Coleman found the material repetitive and inconclusive. Still, he opened an intelligence case on bin Laden, largely as a placeholder in case the “Islamist financier” turned out to be something more than that. 

Like many agents, Dan Coleman had been trained to fight the Cold War. He joined the FBI as a file clerk in 1973. Scholarly and inquisitive, Coleman was naturally drawn to counterintelligence. In the 1980s, he concentrated on recruiting communist spies in the populous diplomatic community surrounding the United Nations; an East German attaché was a particular treasure. 

In 1990, however, when the Cold War had just ended, he found himself on a squad devoted to Middle Eastern terrorism. There was little in his background that prepared him for this new turn—but that was true of the bureau as a whole, which regarded terrorism as a nuisance, not a real threat. It was difficult to believe, in those cloudless days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that America had any real enemies still standing. 

Then, in August 1996, bin Laden declared war on America from a cave in Afghanistan. The stated cause was the continued presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia five years after the first Gulf War. “Terrorizing you, while you are carrying arms in our land, is a legitimate right and a moral obligation,” he stated. He presumed to speak on behalf of all Muslims, and even directed some of his lengthy fatwa to U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry personally. “I say to you, William, that: These youths love death as you love life…. These youths will not ask you for explanations. They will sing out that there is nothing between us that needs to be explained, there is only killing and neck-smiting.”

Other than Coleman, few in America—even in the bureau—knew or cared about the Saudi dissident. The thirty-five volumes in Alec Station painted a picture of a messianic billionaire from a sprawling, influential family that was closely connected to the rulers of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He had made a name for himself in the jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation. 

Coleman had read enough history to understand the references in bin Laden’s war cry to the Crusades and the early struggles of Islam. Indeed, one of the striking features of the document was that time seemed to have stopped a thousand years ago. There was now and there was then, but there was nothing in between. It was as if the Crusades were still going on in bin Laden’s universe. The intensity of the anger was also difficult for Coleman to grasp. What did we do to him? he wondered.

Coleman showed the text of bin Laden’s fatwa to prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. It was droll, it was weird, but was it a crime? The lawyers puzzled over the language and found a rarely invoked seditious conspiracy statute from the Civil War era that forbids instigating violence and attempting to overthrow the U.S. government. It seemed a stretch to think that it might be applied to a stateless Saudi in a cave in Tora Bora, but on the basis of such meager precedent, Coleman opened a criminal file on the figure who would become the most wanted man in the FBI’s history. He was still working entirely alone. 

A few months later, in November 1996, Coleman traveled to an American military base in Germany with two U.S. attorneys, Kenneth Karas and Patrick Fitzgerald. There in a safe house was a jittery Sudanese informer named Jamal al-Fadl, who claimed to have worked for bin Laden in Khartoum. Coleman carried a briefing book with photographs of bin Laden’s known associates, and Fadl quickly identified most of them. He was selling a story, but he clearly knew the players. 

The problem was that he kept lying to the investigators, embroidering his tale, depicting himself as a hero who only wanted to do the right thing. “So why did you leave?” the prosecutors wanted to know. Fadl said that he loved America. He had lived in Brooklyn and he spoke English. Then he said he had run away so he could write a best-selling book. He was keyed up and had a hard time sitting still. Obviously, he had a lot more to tell. It took several long days to get him to stop confabulating and admit that he had run off with more than $100,000 of bin Laden’s money. When he did that, he sobbed and sobbed. It was the turning point in the interrogation. 

Fadl agreed to be a government witness should a trial ever occur, but that seemed unlikely, given the modest charges that the government lawyers were considering. Then, on his own initiative, Fadl began talking about an organization called al-Qaeda. It was the first time any of the men in the room had ever heard the term. He described training camps and sleeper cells. He talked about bin Laden’s interest in acquiring nuclear and chemical weapons. He said that al-Qaeda had been responsible for a 1992 bombing in Yemen and for training the insurgents who shot down the American helicopters in Somalia that same year. He gave names and drew organizational charts. 

The investigators were stunned by his story. For two weeks, six or seven hours a day, they went over the details again and again, testing his responses to see if he was consistent. He never varied. When Coleman got back to the bureau, no one seemed particularly interested. Fadl’s testimony was chilling, they agreed, but how could they corroborate the testimony of a thief and a liar? Besides, there were other more pressing investigations. 

For a year and a half, Dan Coleman continued his solitary investigation of bin Laden. Because he was posted to Alec Station, the bureau more or less forgot about him. Using wiretaps on bin Laden’s businesses, Coleman was able to draw a map of the al-Qaeda network, which extended throughout the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Central Asia. He was alarmed to realize that many of al-Qaeda’s associates had ties to the United States. He concluded this was a worldwide terror organization dedicated to destroying America, but Coleman couldn’t even get his superiors to return his phone calls on the matter. 

Coleman was left to himself to puzzle out the questions that would later occur to everyone. Where had this movement come from? Why had it chosen to attack America? And what could we do to stop it? He was like a laboratory technician looking at a slide of some previously unseen virus. Under the microscope, al-Qaeda’s lethal qualities began to reveal themselves. The group was small—only ninety-three members at the time—but it was part of a larger radical movement that was sweeping through Islam, particularly in the Arab world. The possibilities for contagion were great. 

The men who made up this group were well trained and battle hardened. They apparently had ample resources. Moreover, they were fanatically committed to their cause and convinced that they would be victorious. They were brought together by a philosophy that was so compelling that they would willingly—eagerly—sacrifice their lives for it. In the process they wanted to kill as many people as possible. 

The most frightening aspect of this new threat, however, was the fact that almost no one took it seriously. It was too bizarre, too primitive and exotic. Up against the confidence that Americans placed in modernity and technology and their own ideals to protect them from the savage pageant of history, the defiant gestures of bin Laden and his followers seemed absurd and even pathetic. And yet al-Qaeda was not a mere artifact of seventh-century Arabia. It had learned to use modern tools and modern ideas, which wasn’t surprising, since the story of al-Qaeda had really begun in America, not so long ago. 

*

The Martyr 

In a first-class stateroom on a cruise ship bound for New York from Alexandria, Egypt, a frail, middle-aged writer and educator named Sayyid Qutb experienced a crisis of faith. “Should I go to America as any normal student on a scholarship, who only eats and sleeps, or should I be special?” he wondered. “Should I hold on to my Islamic beliefs, facing the many sinful temptations, or should I indulge those temptations all around me?”

It was November 1948. The new world loomed over the horizon, victorious, rich, and free. Behind him was Egypt, in rags and tears. The traveler had never been out of his native country. Nor had he willingly left now. The stern bachelor was slight and dark, with a high, sloping forehead and a paintbrush moustache somewhat narrower than the width of his nose. His eyes betrayed an imperious and easily slighted nature. He always evoked an air of formality, favoring dark three-piece suits despite the searing Egyptian sun. 

For a man who held his dignity so close, the prospect of returning to the classroom at the age of forty-two may have seemed demeaning. And yet, as a child from a mud-walled village in Upper Egypt, he had already surpassed the modest goal he had set for himself of becoming a respectable member of the civil service. His literary and social criticism had made him one of his country’s most popular writers. It had also earned the fury of King Farouk, Egypt’s dissolute monarch, who had signed an order for his arrest. Powerful and sympathetic friends hastily arranged his departure. 

At the time, Qutb (his name is pronounced kuh-tub) held a comfortable post as a supervisor in the Ministry of Education. Politically, he was a fervent Egyptian nationalist and anti-communist, a stance that placed him in the mainstream of the vast bureaucratic middle class. The ideas that would give birth to what would be called Islamic fundamentalism were not yet completely formed in his mind; indeed, he would later say that he was not even a very religious man before he began this journey, although he had memorized the Quran by the age of ten, and his writing had recently taken a turn toward more conservative themes. 

Like many of his compatriots, he was radicalized by the British occupation and contemptuous of the jaded King Farouk’s complicity. Egypt was racked by anti-British protests and seditious political factions bent on running the foreign troops out of the country—and perhaps the king as well. What made this unimposing, midlevel government clerk particularly dangerous was his blunt and potent commentary. He had never gotten to the front rank of the contemporary Arab literary scene, a fact that galled him throughout his career; and yet from the government’s point of view, he was becoming an annoyingly important enemy. 

He was Western in so many ways—his dress, his love of classical music and Hollywood movies. He had read, in translation, the works of Darwin and Einstein, Byron and Shelley, and had immersed himself in French literature, especially Victor Hugo. Even before his journey, however, he worried about the advance of an all-engulfing Western civilization. Despite his erudition, he saw the West as a single cultural entity. The distinctions between capitalism and Marxism, Christianity and Judaism, fascism and democracy were insignificant by comparison with the single great divide in Qutb’s mind: Islam and the East on the one side, and the Christian West on the other. 

America, however, stood apart from the colonialist adventures that had characterized Europe’s relations with the Arab world. At the end of the Second World War, America straddled the political chasm between the colonizers and the colonized. Indeed, it was tempting to imagine America as the anticolonial paragon: a subjugated nation that had broken free and triumphantly outstripped its former masters. The country’s power seemed to lie in its values, not in European notions of cultural superiority or privileged races and classes. And because America advertised itself as an immigrant nation, it had a permeable relationship with the rest of the world. 

Arabs, like most other peoples, had established their own colonies inside America, and the ropes of kinship drew them closer to the ideals that the country claimed to stand for. And so, Qutb, like many Arabs, felt shocked and betrayed by the support that the U.S. government had given to the Zionist cause after the war. Even as Qutb was sailing out of Alexandria’s harbor, Egypt, along with five other Arab armies, was in the final stages of losing the war that established Israel as a Jewish state within the Arab world. 

The Arabs were stunned, not only by the determination and skill of the Israeli fighters but by the incompetence of their own troops and the disastrous decisions of their leaders. The shame of that experience would shape the Arab intellectual universe more profoundly than any other event in modern history. “I hate those Westerners and despise them!” Qutb wrote after President Harry Truman endorsed the transfer of a hundred thousand Jewish refugees into Palestine. “All of them, without any exception: the English, the French, the Dutch, and finally the Americans, who have been trusted by many.”

The man in the stateroom had known romantic love, but mainly the pain of it. He had written a thinly disguised account of a failed relationship in a novel; after that, he turned his back on marriage. He said that he had been unable to find a suitable bride from the “dishonorable” women who allowed themselves to be seen in public, a stance that left him alone and unconsoled in middle age. 

He still enjoyed women—he was close to his three sisters—but sexuality threatened him, and he had withdrawn into a shell of disapproval, seeing sex as the main enemy of salvation. The dearest relationship he had ever enjoyed was that with his mother, Fatima, an illiterate but pious woman, who had sent her precocious son to Cairo to study. His father died in 1933, when Qutb was twenty-seven. 

For the next three years he taught in various provincial posts until he was transferred to Helwan, a prosperous suburb of Cairo, and he brought the rest of his family to live with him there. His intensely conservative mother never entirely settled in; she was always on guard against the creeping foreign influences that were far more apparent in Helwan than in the little village she came from. These influences must have been evident in her sophisticated son as well. 

As he prayed in his stateroom, Sayyid Qutb was still uncertain of his own identity. Should he be “normal” or “special”? Should he resist temptations or indulge them? Should he hang on tightly to his Islamic beliefs or cast them aside for the materialism and sinfulness of the West? Like all pilgrims, he was making two journeys: one outward, into the larger world, and another inward, into his own soul. “I have decided to be a true Muslim!” he resolved. But almost immediately he second-guessed himself. “Am I being truthful or was that just a whim?”

His deliberations were interrupted by a knock on the door. Standing outside his stateroom was a young girl, whom he described as thin and tall and “half-naked.” She asked him in English, “Is it okay for me to be your guest tonight?” Qutb responded that his room was equipped with only one bed. “A single bed can hold two people,” she said. Appalled, he closed the door in her face. “I heard her fall on the wooden floor outside and realized that she was drunk,” he recalled. “I instantly thanked God for defeating my temptation and allowing me to stick to my morals.”

This is the man, then—decent, proud, tormented, self-righteous—whose lonely genius would unsettle Islam, threaten regimes across the Muslim world, and beckon to a generation of rootless young Arabs who were looking for meaning and purpose in their lives and would find it in jihad. 

Qutb arrived in New York Harbor in the middle of the most prosperous holiday season the country had ever known. In the postwar boom, everybody was making money—Idaho potato farmers, Detroit automakers, Wall Street bankers—and all this wealth spurred confidence in the capitalist model, which had been so brutally tested during the recent Depression. Unemployment seemed practically un-American; officially, the rate of joblessness was under 4 percent, and practically speaking, anyone who wanted a job could get one. Half of the world’s total wealth was now in American hands. 

The contrast with Cairo must have been especially bitter as Qutb wandered through the New York City streets, festively lit with holiday lights, the luxurious shop windows laden with appliances that he had only heard about—television sets, washing machines—technological miracles spilling out of every department store in stupefying abundance. Brand-new office towers and apartments were shouldering into the gaps in the Manhattan skyline between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Downtown and in the outer boroughs, vast projects were under way to house the immigrant masses. 

It was fitting, in such a buoyant and confident environment, unprecedented in its mix of cultures, that the visible symbol of a changed world order was arising: the new United Nations complex overlooking the East River. The United Nations was the most powerful expression of the determined internationalism that was the legacy of the war, and yet the city itself already embodied the dreams of universal harmony far more powerfully than did any single idea or institution. 

The world was pouring into New York because that was where the power was, and the money, and the transforming cultural energy. Nearly a million Russians were in the city, half a million Irish, and an equal number of Germans—not to mention the Puerto Ricans, the Dominicans, the Poles, and the largely uncounted and often illegal Chinese laborers who had also found refuge in the welcoming city. The black population of the city had grown by 50 percent in only eight years, to 700,000, and they were refugees as well, from the racism of the American South. Fully a fourth of the 8 million New Yorkers were Jewish, many of whom had fled the latest European catastrophe. Hebrew letters covered the signs for the shops and factories on the Lower East Side, and Yiddish was commonly heard on the streets. 

That would have been a challenge for the middle-aged Egyptian who hated the Jews but, until he left his country, had never met one. 

For many New Yorkers, perhaps for most of them, political and economic oppression was a part of their heritage, and the city had given them sanctuary, a place to earn a living, to raise a family, to begin again. Because of that, the great emotion that fueled the exuberant city was hopefulness, whereas Cairo was one of the capitals of despair. 

At the same time, New York was miserable—overfull, grouchy, competitive, frivolous, picketed with No Vacancy signs. Snoring alcoholics blocked the doorways. Pimps and pickpockets prowled the midtown squares in the ghoulish neon glow of burlesque houses. In the Bowery, flophouses offered cots for twenty cents a night. The gloomy side streets were crisscrossed with clotheslines. Gangs of snarling delinquents roamed the margins like wild dogs. 

For a man whose English was rudimentary, the city posed unfamiliar hazards, and Qutb’s natural reticence made communication all the more difficult. He was desperately homesick. “Here in this strange place, this huge workshop they call ‘the new world,’ I feel as though my spirit, thoughts, and body live in loneliness,” he wrote to a friend in Cairo. “What I need most here is someone to talk to,” he wrote another friend, “to talk about topics other than dollars, movie stars, brands of cars—a real conversation on the issues of man, philosophy, and soul.”

Two days after Qutb arrived in America, he and an Egyptian acquaintance checked into a hotel. “The black elevator operator liked us because we were closer to his color,” Qutb reported. The operator offered to help the travelers find “entertainment.” “He mentioned examples of this ‘entertainment,’ which included perversions. He also told us what happens in some of these rooms, which may have pairs of boys or girls. They asked him to bring them some bottles of Coca-Cola, and didn’t even change their positions when he entered! ‘Don’t they feel ashamed?’ we asked. He was surprised. ‘Why? They are just enjoying themselves, satisfying their particular desires.’”

This experience, among many others, confirmed Qutb’s view that sexual mixing led inevitably to perversion. 

America itself had just been shaken by a lengthy scholarly report titled Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, by Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues at the University of Indiana. Their eight-hundred-page treatise, filled with startling statistics and droll commentary, shattered the country’s leftover Victorian prudishness like a brick through a stained-glass window. 

Kinsey reported that 37 percent of the American men he sampled had experienced homosexual activity to the point of orgasm, nearly half had engaged in extramarital sex, and 69 percent had paid for sex with prostitutes. The mirror that Kinsey held up to America showed a country that was frantically lustful but also confused, ashamed, incompetent, and astoundingly ignorant. Despite the evidence of the diversity and frequency of sexual activity, this was a time in America when sexual matters were practically never discussed, not even by doctors. One Kinsey researcher interviewed a thousand childless American couples who had no idea why they failed to conceive, even though the wives were virgins. 

Qutb was familiar with the Kinsey Report, and referenced it in his later writings to illustrate his view of Americans as little different from beasts—“a reckless, deluded herd that only knows lust and money.” A staggering rate of divorce was to be expected in such a society, since “Every time a husband or wife notices a new sparkling personality, they lunge for it as if it were a new fashion in the world of desires.” The turbulent overtones of his own internal struggles can be heard in his diatribe: “A girl looks at you, appearing as if she were an enchanting nymph or an escaped mermaid, but as she approaches, you sense only the screaming instinct inside her, and you can smell her burning body, not the scent of perfume but flesh, only flesh. Tasty flesh, truly, but flesh nonetheless.”

The end of the world war had brought America victory but not security. Many Americans felt that they had defeated one totalitarian enemy only to encounter another far stronger and more insidious than European fascism. “Communism is creeping inexorably into these destitute lands,” the young evangelist Billy Graham warned, “into war-torn China, into restless South America, and unless the Christian religion rescues these nations from the clutch of the unbelieving, America will stand alone and isolated in the world.” 

The fight against communism was being waged inside America as well. J. Edgar Hoover, the Machiavellian head of the FBI, claimed that one of every 1,814 people in America was a communist. Under his supervision, the bureau began to devote itself almost entirely to uncovering evidence of subversion. When Qutb arrived in New York, the House Un-American Activities Committee had begun hearing testimony from a Time magazine senior editor named Whittaker Chambers. Chambers testified that he had been part of a communist cell headed by Alger Hiss, a former Truman administration official, who was one of the organizers of the United Nations and was then president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

The country was riveted by the hearings, which gave substance to the fears that communists were lurking in the cities and the suburbs, in sleeper cells. “They are everywhere,” U.S. Attorney General Tom Clark asserted, “in factories, offices, butcher shops, on street corners, in private businesses—and each carries with him the germs of death for society.”

America felt itself to be in danger of losing not only its political system but also its religious heritage. “Godlessness” was an essential feature of the communist menace, and the country reacted viscerally to the sense that Christianity was under attack. “Either Communism must die, or Christianity must die, because it is actually a battle between Christ and the anti-Christ,” Billy Graham would write a few years later—a sentiment that was very much a part of the mainstream Christian American consensus at the time. 

Qutb took note of the obsession that was beginning to dominate American politics. He was himself a resolute anti-communist for similar reasons; indeed, the communists were far more active and influential in Egypt than in America. “Either we shall walk the path of Islam or we shall walk the path of Communism,” Qutb wrote the year before he came to America, anticipating the same stark formulation as Billy Graham. 

At the same time, he saw in the party of Lenin a template for the Islamic politics of the future—the politics that he would invent. In Qutb’s passionate analysis, there was little difference between the communist and capitalist systems; both, he believed, attended only the material needs of humanity, leaving the spirit unsatisfied. He predicted that once the average worker lost his dreamy expectations of becoming rich, America would inevitably turn toward communism. Christianity would be powerless to block this trend because it exists only in the realm of the spirit—“like a vision in a pure ideal world.” Islam, on the other hand, is “a complete system”with laws, social codes, economic rules, and its own method of government. Only Islam offered a formula for creating a just and godly society. 

Thus the real struggle would eventually show itself: It was not a battle between capitalism and communism; it was between Islam and materialism. And inevitably Islam would prevail. 

No doubt the clash between Islam and the West was remote in the minds of most New Yorkers during the holiday season of 1948. But, despite the new wealth that was flooding into the city, and the self-confidence that victory naturally brought, there was a generalized sense of anxiety about the future. “The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible,” the essayist E. B. White had observed that summer. “A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions.” White was writing at the dawn of the nuclear age, and the feeling of vulnerability was quite new. “In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning,” he observed, “New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.” 

Soon after the new year began, Qutb moved to Washington, where he studied English at Wilson Teachers College. “Life in Washington is good,” he admitted in one letter, “especially as I live in close proximity to the library and my friends.” He enjoyed a generous stipend from the Egyptian government. “A regular student can live well on $180 a month,” he wrote. “I, however, spend between $ 250 and $ 280 monthly.”

Although Qutb came from a little village in Upper Egypt, it was in America that he found “a primitiveness that reminds us of the ages of jungles and caves.” Social gatherings were full of superficial chatter. Though people filled the museums and symphonies, they were there not to see or hear but rather out of a frantic, narcissistic need to be seen and heard. The Americans were altogether too informal, Qutb concluded. “I’m here at a restaurant,” he wrote a friend in Cairo, “and in front of me is this young American. On his shirt, instead of a necktie, there is a picture of an orange hyena, and on his back, instead of a vest, there is a charcoal picture of an elephant. This is the American taste in colors. And music! Let’s leave that till later.”

The food, he complained, “is also weird.” He reports an incident at a college cafeteria when he saw an American woman putting salt on a melon. He slyly told her that Egyptians preferred pepper. “She tried it, and said it was delicious!” he wrote. “The next day, I told her that some Egyptians use sugar on their melons instead, and she found that tasty as well.” He even grouched about the haircuts: “Whenever I go to a barber I return home and redo my hair with my own hands.”

In February 1949 Qutb checked into the George Washington University Hospital to have his tonsils removed. There, a nurse scandalized him by itemizing the qualities she sought in a lover. He was already on guard against the forward behavior of the American woman, “who knows full well the beauties of her body, her face, her exciting eyes, her full lips, her bulging breasts, her full buttocks and her smooth legs. She wears bright colors that awaken the primitive sexual instincts, hiding nothing, but adding to that the thrilling laugh and the bold look.” One can imagine what an irresistible object of sexual teasing he must have been. 

News came of the assassination of Hasan al-Banna, the Supreme Guide of the Society of the Muslim Brothers, on February 12, in Cairo. Qutb relates that there was a hubbub in the street outside his hospital window. He inquired about the reason for the festivities. “Today the enemy of Christianity in the East was killed,” he says the doctors told him. “Today, Hasan al-Banna was murdered.” It is difficult to credit that Americans, in 1949, were sufficiently invested in Egyptian politics to rejoice at the news of Banna’s death. The New York Times did report his murder. “Sheikh Hasan’s followers were fanatically devoted to him, and many of them proclaimed that he alone would be able to save the Arab and Islamic worlds,” the paper noted. 

But for Qutb, lying in his hospital bed in a strange and distant country, the news came as a profound shock. Although they had never met, Qutb and Banna had known each other by reputation. They had been born within days of each other, in October 1906, and attended the same school, Dar al-Ulum, a teacher-training school in Cairo, although at different times. Like Qutb, Banna was precocious and charismatic, but he was also a man of action. He founded the Muslim Brothers in 1928, with the goal of turning Egypt into an Islamic state. Within a few years, the Brothers had spread across the country, and then throughout the Arab world, planting the seeds of the coming Islamic insurgence. 

Banna’s voice was stilled just as Qutb’s book Social Justice in Islam was being published—the book that would make his reputation as an important Islamic thinker. Qutb had held himself pointedly apart from the organization that Banna created, even though he inclined to similar views about the political uses of Islam; the death of his contemporary and intellectual rival, however, cleared the way for his conversion to the Muslim Brothers. 

This was a turning point, both in Qutb’s life and in the destiny of the organization. But at this pregnant moment, the heir apparent to the leadership of the Islamic revival was alone, ill, unrecognized, and very far from home. 

As it happened, Qutb’s presence in Washington was not completely overlooked. One evening he was entertained in the home of James Heyworth-Dunne, a British Orientalist and a convert to Islam, who spoke to Qutb about the danger of the Muslim Brothers, which he said was blocking the modernization of the Muslim world. “If the Brothers succeed in coming to power, Egypt will never progress and will stand as an obstacle to civilization,” he reportedly told Qutb. Then he offered to translate Qutb’s new book into English and pay him a fee of ten thousand dollars, a fantastic sum for such an obscure book. Qutb refused. He later speculated that Heyworth-Dunne was attempting to recruit him to the CIA. In any case, he said, “I decided to enter the Brotherhood even before I left the house.”

Greeley, Colorado, was a flourishing agricultural community northeast of Denver when the recuperating Qutb arrived in the summer of 1949 to attend classes at the Colorado State College of Education. At the time, the college enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most progressive teaching institutions in America. Summer courses were always swollen with teachers from around the country who came to take advanced degrees and enjoy the cool weather and the splendid mountains nearby. 

In the evenings, there were symphonies, lectures, Chautauqua programs, and outdoor theatrical presentations on the leafy commons of the college. The college set up circus tents to house the spillover classes. Qutb spent six months in Greeley, the longest period he stayed in any one American town. Greeley offered an extreme contrast to his disagreeable experiences in the fast-paced cities of New York and Washington. Indeed, there were few places in the country that should have seemed more congenial to Qutb’s sharpened moral sensibilities. 

Greeley had been founded in 1870 as a temperance colony by Nathan Meeker, the agricultural editor of the New York Tribune. Meeker had formerly lived in southern Illinois, near Cairo, above the convergence of the Ohio and the Mississippi, in the “Little Egypt” portion of that state. He had come to believe that the greatest civilizations were founded in river valleys, and so he established his colony in the rich delta between the Cache la Poudre and the South Platte rivers. Through irrigation, Meeker hoped to transform the “Great American Desert” into an agricultural paradise—just as Egyptians had done since the beginning of civilization. 

Meeker’s editor at the Tribune, Horace Greeley, vigorously supported the idea, and his namesake city soon became one of the most highly publicized planned communities in the nation. Greeley’s early settlers were not youthful pioneers; they were middle class and middle-aged. They traveled by train, not by wagon or stagecoach, and they brought their values and their standards with them. They intended to establish a community that would serve as a model for the cities of the future, one that drew upon the mandatory virtues required of every settler: industry, moral rectitude, and temperance. 

Surely, on such a foundation, a purified and prosperous civilization would emerge. Indeed, by the time Sayyid Qutb stepped off the train, Greeley was the most substantial settlement between Denver and Cheyenne. Family life was the center of Greeley society; there were no bars or liquor stores, and there seemed to be a church on every corner. The college boasted one of the finest music departments in the country, with frequent concerts that the music-loving Qutb must have enjoyed. In the evenings, illustrious educators spoke at the lyceum. James Michener, who had recently won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Tales of the South Pacific, returned to teach a writing workshop at the school where he had studied and taught from 1936 to 1941. 

At last Qutb had stumbled into a community that exalted the same pursuits that he held so dear: education, music, art, literature, and religion. “The small city of Greeley that I now reside in is beautiful, beautiful,” he wrote soon after he arrived. “Every house is like a flowering plant and the streets are like garden pathways. One observes the owners of these homes toiling away in their leisure time, watering their yards and manicuring their gardens. This is all they appear to do.”

The frantic pace of life that Qutb objected to in New York was far away. There was a front-page article in the Greeley Tribune that summer chronicling a turtle’s successful crossing of a downtown street. 

And yet even in Greeley there were disturbing currents under the surface, which Qutb soon detected. A mile south of campus there was a small community of saloons and liquor stores named Garden City. Here the teetotalers of Greeley held no sway. The town got its name during the Prohibition era, when local rumrunners hid bottles of liquor inside watermelons, which they sold to students at the college. Whenever there was a party, the students would visit “the garden” to stock up on supplies. Qutb would have been struck by the disparity between Greeley’s sober face and the demimonde of Garden City. Indeed, the downfall of America’s temperance movement earned Qutb’s disdain because he believed that the country had failed to make a spiritual commitment to sobriety, which only an all-encompassing system such as Islam could hope to enforce. 

America made him sharply aware of himself as a man of color. In one of the cities he visited (he doesn’t say where) he witnessed a black man being beaten by a white mob: “They were kicking him with their shoes until his blood and flesh mixed in the public road.” One can imagine how threatened this dark-skinned traveler must have felt. Even the liberal settlement of Greeley was on edge because of racial fears. There were very few black families in the town. Most of the Ute Indian population had been run out of the state after a battle that left fourteen cavalrymen dead and Nathan Meeker, the founder of Greeley, without his scalp. 

In the twenties, Mexican labor was brought in to work in the fields and slaughterhouses. Although the signs forbidding Mexicans to remain in town after dark had been taken down, the Catholic church still had a separate entrance for nonwhites, who were supposed to sit upstairs. In the handsome park behind the courthouse, Anglos kept to the south side and Hispanics to the north. 

The international students at the college occupied an uneasy place in this charged racial environment. Students from Africa, Latin America, and Asia, as well as a number of Hawaiians, formed the core of the International Club, which Qutb joined. The college also hosted a small Middle Eastern community, including recent Palestinian refugees and several members of the Iraqi royal family. For the most part, they were well treated by the citizens of Greeley, who often invited them into their homes for meals and holidays. 

Once, Qutb and several friends were turned away from a movie theater because the owner thought they were black. “But we’re Egyptians,” one of the group explained. The owner apologized and offered to let them in, but Qutb refused, galled by the fact that black Egyptians could be admitted but black Americans could not. 

Despite the tensions of the town, the college maintained a progressive attitude toward race. During the summer sessions students from the Negro teachers colleges of the South came to Greeley in abundance, but there were only a couple of black students during the regular school year. One of them was Jaime McClendon, the school’s star football player, who was a member of the International Club and roomed with one of the Palestinians. 

Because the barbers in Greeley refused to serve him, he had to drive to Denver every month to get his hair cut. Finally, several of the Arab students escorted him to the local barbershop and refused to leave until McClendon was served. Qutb would later write that “racism had brought America down from the summit to the foot of the mountain—taking the rest of humanity down with it.” 

The 1949 football season was a dismal one for the Colorado State College of Education. McClendon sat out the season with an injury, and the team lost every game, including a memorable defeat (103–0) to the University of Wyoming. The spectacle of American football simply confirmed Qutb’s view of its primitiveness. “The foot does not play any role in the game,” he reported. “Instead, each player attempts to take the ball in his hands, run with it or throw it to the goal, while the players on the other team hinder him by any means, including kicking in the stomach, or violently breaking his arms or legs…. Meantime, the fans cry out, ‘Break his neck! Crack his head!’”

It was the women, however, who posed the real threat to this lonely Egyptian bachelor. Far more than most settlements in the American West, Greeley expressed a powerfully feminine aesthetic. The city had not been settled by miners or trappers or railroad workers who lived in a world largely without women; from the beginning, Greeley had been populated by well-educated families. The female influence was evident in the cozy houses with their ample front porches, the convenient and well-ordered shops, the handsome public schools, the low-slung architecture, and the comparatively liberal political climate, but nowhere was it more powerfully expressed than in the college itself. 

Forty-two percent of the 2,135 students enrolled during the fall semester were women, at a time when the national average of female enrollment was about 30 percent. There were no departments of business or engineering; instead, three great schools dominated the college: education, music, and theater. City girls from Denver and Phoenix, country girls from the farms and ranches of the plains, and girls from the little mountain towns—all of them were drawn to the college because of its national reputation and the sense of entitlement that women were awarded on its campus. Here, among the yellow-brick buildings that embraced the great commons, the girls of the West could sample the freedom that most American women would not fully enjoy for decades to come. 

In this remote Western town, Sayyid Qutb had moved ahead of his time. He was experiencing women who were living beyond most of their contemporaries in terms of their assumptions about themselves and their place in society—and consequently in their relations with men. “The issue of sexual relationships is simply biological,” one of the college women explained to Qutb. “You Orientals complicate this simple matter by introducing a moral element to it. The stallion and the mare, the bull and the cow, the ram and the ewe, the rooster and the hen—none of them consider moral consequences when they have intercourse. And therefore life goes on, simple, easy and carefree.” The fact that the woman was a teacher made this statement all the more subversive, in Qutb’s opinion, since she would be polluting generations of young people with her amoral philosophy. 

Qutb began his studies in the summer, auditing a course in elementary English composition. By fall, he was sufficiently confident of his English to attempt three graduate courses in education and a course in elocution. He was determined to master the language, since he harbored the secret goal of writing a book in English. One can appreciate the level of his achievement by examining an odd and rather disturbing essay he wrote, titled “The World Is an Undutiful Boy!”, which appeared in the student literary magazine, Fulcrum, in the fall of 1949, only a year after he arrived in America. 

“There was an ancient legend in Egypt,” he wrote. “When the god of wisdom and knowledge created History, he gave him a great writing book and a big pen, and said to him, ‘Go walking on this earth, and write notes about everything you see or hear.’ History did as the god suggested. He came upon a wise and beautiful woman who was gently teaching a young boy: History looked at her with great astonishment and cried, “Who is it?” raising his face to the sky. “She is Egypt,” his god answered. “She is Egypt and that little boy is the world …” 

Why did those ancient Egyptians hold this belief? Because they were very advanced and possessed a great civilization before any other country. Egypt was a civilized country when other peoples were living in forests. Egypt taught Greece, and Greece taught Europe. What happened when the little boy grew up? When he grew up, he had thrown out his nurse, his kind nurse! He struck her, trying to kill her. I am sorry. This is not a figure of speech. This is a fact. This is what actually happened. 

When we came here [presumably, to the United Nations] to appeal to England for our rights, the world helped England against the justice. When we came here to appeal against Jews, the world helped the Jews against the justice. During the war between Arab and Jews, the world helped the Jews, too. Oh! What an undutiful world! What an undutiful boy! 

Qutb was quite a bit older than most of the other students at the school, and he naturally held himself somewhat apart. There is a photograph of him in the campus bulletin showing a copy of one of his books to Dr. William Ross, the president of the college. Qutb is identified as “a famous Egyptian author” and “a noted educator,” so he must have been accorded some respectful notice by his peers on the faculty, but he socialized mainly with the foreign students. 

One evening, the Arab students held an International Night, where they prepared traditional Arabian meals, and Qutb acted as host, explaining each dish. Otherwise, he spent most of his time in his room listening to classical records on his turntable. There were polkas and square dances in town several times a week, and the college brought in well-known jazz bands. Two of the most popular songs that year were “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Bali Hai,” both from the musical South Pacific, based on Michener’s novel, and they must have been in the air constantly in Greeley. 

It was the end of the big band era; rock and roll was still over the horizon. “Jazz is the American music, created by Negroes to satisfy their primitive instincts—their love of noise and their appetite for sexual arousal,” Qutb wrote, showing he was not immune to racial pronouncements. 

“The American is not satisfied with jazz music unless it is accompanied by noisy singing. As the volume increases, accompanied by unbearable pain to the ears, so does the excitement of the audience, their voices rising, their hands clapping, till one can hear nothing at all.”

On Sundays the college did not serve food, and students had to fend for themselves. Many of the international students, including Muslims like Qutb, would visit one of the more than fifty churches in Greeley on Sunday evening, where, after services, there were potluck dinners and sometimes a dance. “The dancing hall was decorated with yellow, red and blue lights,” Qutb recalled on one occasion. “The room convulsed with the feverish music from the gramophone. Dancing naked legs filled the hall, arms draped around the waists, chests met chests, lips met lips, and the atmosphere was full of love.” 

The minister gazed upon this sight approvingly, and even dimmed the lights to enhance the romantic atmosphere. Then he put on a song titled “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” a sly ballad from an Esther Williams movie that summer, Neptune’s Daughter. “The minister paused to watch his young charges swaying to the rhythms of this seductive song, then he left them to enjoy this pleasant, innocent night,” Qutb concluded sarcastically.

In December a new tone entered his letters to his friends. He began talking about his “estrangement,” in both soul and body. By then he had withdrawn from all his classes. 

Sayyid Qutb spent another eight months in America, most of that time in California. The America he perceived was vastly different from the way most Americans viewed their culture. In literature and movies, and especially in the new medium of television, Americans portrayed themselves as sexually curious but inexperienced, whereas Qutb’s America was more like the one sketched by the Kinsey Report. 

Qutb saw a spiritual wasteland, and yet belief in God was nearly unanimous in the United States at the time. It was easy to be misled by the proliferation of churches, religious books, and religious festivals, Qutb maintained; the fact remained that materialism was the real American god. “The soul has no value to Americans,” he wrote to one friend. “There has been a Ph.D. dissertation about the best way to clean dishes, which seems more important to them than the Bible or religion.”

Many Americans were beginning to come to similar conclusions. The theme of alienation in American life was just beginning to cast a pall over the postwar party. In many respects, Qutb’s analysis, though harsh, was only premature. 

Certainly the trip had not accomplished what Qutb’s friends in Egypt had hoped. Instead of becoming liberalized by his experience in America, he returned even more radicalized. Moreover, his sour impressions, when published, would profoundly shape Arab and Muslim perceptions of the new world at a time when their esteem for America and its values had been high. 

He also brought home a new and abiding anger about race. “The white man in Europe or America is our number-one enemy,” he declared. “The white man crushes us underfoot while we teach our children about his civilization, his universal principles and noble objectives…. We are endowing our children with amazement and respect for the master who tramples our honor and enslaves us. Let us instead plant the seeds of hatred, disgust, and revenge in the souls of these children. Let us teach these children from the time their nails are soft that the white man is the enemy of humanity, and that they should destroy him at the first opportunity.”

Oddly, the people who knew Qutb in America say he seemed to like the country. They remember him as shy and polite, political but not overtly religious. Once introduced, he never forgot anyone’s name, and he rarely voiced any direct criticism of his host country.

Perhaps he kept the slights to himself until he could safely broadcast them at home. It is clear that he was writing not just about America. His central concern was modernity. Modern values—secularism, rationality, democracy, subjectivity, individualism, mixing of the sexes, tolerance, materialism—had infected Islam through the agency of Western colonialism. America now stood for all that. 

Qutb’s polemic was directed at Egyptians who wanted to bend Islam around the modern world. He intended to show that Islam and modernity were completely incompatible. His extraordinary project, which was still emerging, was to take apart the entire political and philosophical structure of modernity and return Islam to its unpolluted origins. For him, that was a state of divine oneness, the complete unity of God and humanity. 

Separation of the sacred and the secular, state and religion, science and theology, mind and spirit—these were the hallmarks of modernity, which had captured the West. But Islam could not abide such divisions. In Islam, he believed, divinity could not be diminished without being destroyed. Islam was total and uncompromising. It was God’s final word. Muslims had forgotten this in their enchantment with the West. Only by restoring Islam to the center of their lives, their laws, and their government could Muslims hope to recapture their rightful place as the dominant culture in the world. That was their duty, not only to themselves but also to God. 

Qutb returned to Cairo on a TWA flight on August 20, 1950. Like him, the country had become more openly radical. Racked by corruption and assassination, humiliated in the 1948 war against Israel, the Egyptian government ruled without popular authority, at the whim of the occupying power. Although the British had nominally withdrawn from Cairo, concentrating their forces in the Suez Canal Zone, the hand of empire still weighed heavy on the restive capital. The British were present in the clubs and hotels, the bars and movie theaters, the European restaurants and department stores of this sophisticated, decadent city. 

As his people hissed, the obese Turkish king, Farouk, raced around Cairo in one of his two hundred red automobiles (his were the only cars in the country allowed to be red), seducing—if one can call it that—young girls, or else sailing his fleet of yachts to the gambling ports of the Riviera, where his debauchery tested historic standards. 

Meanwhile, the usual measures of despair—poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and disease—grew recklessly out of control. Governments revolved meaninglessly as stocks fell and the smart money fled the teetering country. In this rotten political environment, one organization steadily acted in the interests of the people. 

The Muslim Brothers created their own hospitals, schools, factories, and welfare societies; they even formed their own army and fought alongside other Arab troops in Palestine. They acted less as a countergovernment than as a countersociety, which was indeed their goal. Their founder, Hasan al-Banna, had refused to think of his organization as a mere political party; it was meant to be a challenge to the entire idea of politics. 

Banna completely rejected the Western model of secular, democratic government, which contradicted his notion of universal Islamic rule. “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations, and to extend its power to the entire planet,” he wrote. The fact that the Brothers provided the only organized, effective resistance to the British occupation ensured their legitimacy in the eyes of the members of Egypt’s lower-middle class, who formed the core of Brothers membership. 

The government officially dissolved the Muslim Brothers in 1948, following the killing of the hated police chief Salim Zaki during a riot at the medical school of Cairo University; but by that time the Brothers had more than a million members and supporters—out of a total Egyptian population of 18 million. 

Although the Brotherhood was a mass movement, it was also intimately organized into cooperative “families”—cells that contained no more than five members each, giving it a spongy, clandestine quality that proved difficult to detect and impossible to eradicate. 

There was a violent underside to the Society of the Muslim Brothers, which would become deeply rooted in the Islamist movement. With Banna’s approval, a “secret apparatus” formed within the organization. Although most of the Brothers’ activity was directed at the British and at Egypt’s quickly dwindling Jewish population, they were also behind the bombings of two Cairo movie theaters, the murder of a prominent judge, and the actual assassinations—as well as many attempts—of several members of government. By the time the government murdered Banna, in an act of self-protection, the secret apparatus posed a powerful and uncontrollable authority within the Brotherhood. 

In retaliation for raids against their bases, British forces assaulted a police barracks in the canal city of Ismailia in January 1952, firing at point-blank range for twelve hours and killing fifty police conscripts. 

Immediately upon hearing the news, agitated mobs formed on the streets of Cairo. They burned the old British haunts of the Turf Club and the famous Shepheard’s Hotel. The arsonists, led by members of the Muslim Brothers’ secret apparatus, slashed the hoses of the fire engines that arrived to put out the flames, then moved on to the European quarter, burning every movie house, casino, bar, and restaurant in the center of the city. 

By morning, a thick black cloud of smoke lingered over the ruins. At least 30 people had been killed, 750 buildings destroyed, fifteen thousand people put out of work, and twelve thousand made homeless. Cosmopolitan Cairo was dead. 

Something new was about to be born, however. In July of that year, a military junta, dominated by a charismatic young army colonel, Gamal Abdul Nasser, packed King Farouk onto his yacht and seized control of the government, which fell without resistance.

For the first time in twenty-five hundred years, Egypt was ruled by Egyptians. Qutb had taken up his old job in the Ministry of Education and returned to his former home in the suburb of Helwan, which was once an ancient spa known for its healing sulfur waters. He occupied a two-story villa on a wide street with jacaranda trees in the front yard. He filled an entire wall of his salon with his collection of classical music albums. 

Some of the planning for the revolution had taken place in this very room, where Nasser and the military plotters of the coup met to coordinate with the Muslim Brothers. Several of the officers, including Anwar al-Sadat, Nasser’s eventual successor, had close ties to the Brotherhood. If the coup attempt failed, the Brothers were to help the officers escape. 

In the event, the government fell so easily that the Brothers had little real participation in the actual coup. 

Qutb published an open letter to the leaders of the revolution, advising them that the only way to purge the moral corruption of the old regime was to impose a “just dictatorship” that would grant political standing to “the virtuous alone.” Nasser then invited Qutb to become an advisor to the Revolutionary Command Council. Qutb hoped for a cabinet position in the new government, but when he was offered a choice between being the minister of education or general manager of Cairo radio, he turned both posts down. 

Nasser eventually appointed him head of the editorial board of the revolution, but Qutb quit the post after a few months. The prickly negotiation between the two men reflected the initial close cooperation of the Brothers and the Free Officers in a social revolution that both organizations thought was theirs to control. In fact, neither faction had the popular authority to rule. In a story that would be repeated again and again in the Middle East, the contest quickly narrowed to a choice between a military society and a religious one. Nasser had the army and the Brothers had the mosques. 

Nasser’s political dream was of pan-Arab socialism, modern, egalitarian, secular, and industrialized, in which individual lives were dominated by the overwhelming presence of the welfare state. His dream had little to do with the theocratic Islamic government that Qutb and the Brothers espoused. The Islamists wanted to completely reshape society, from the top down, imposing Islamic values on all aspects of life, so that every Muslim could achieve his purest spiritual expression. That could be accomplished only through a strict imposition of the Sharia, the legal code drawn from the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, which governs all parts of life. Anything less than that, the Islamists argued, was not Islam; it was jahiliyya—the pagan world before the Prophet received his message. 

Qutb opposed egalitarianism because the Quran stated: “We have created you class upon class.” He rejected nationalism because it warred with the ideal of Muslim unity. In retrospect, it is difficult to see how Qutb and Nasser could have misunderstood each other so profoundly. The only thing they had in common was the grandeur of their respective visions and their hostility to democratic rule. 

Nasser threw Qutb in prison for the first time in 1954, but after three months he let him out and allowed him to become the editor of the Muslim Brothers magazine, Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin. Presumably Nasser hoped his display of mercy would enhance his standing with the Islamists and keep them from turning against the increasingly secular aims of the new government; he may also have believed that Qutb had been chastened by his time in prison. Like the former king, Nasser always underestimated his adversary’s intransigence. 

Qutb wrote a number of sharply critical editorials calling for jihad against the British at the very time Nasser was negotiating a treaty that would nominally end the occupation. In August 1954 the government shut the magazine down. By that time, ill will between the Brothers and the military leaders had hardened into cold opposition. It was clear that Nasser had no intention of instituting an Islamic revolution, despite his highly publicized pilgrimage to Mecca that same month. 

Qutb was so infuriated that he formed a secret alliance with the Egyptian communists in an abortive effort to bring Nasser down. 

The ideological war over Egypt’s future reached a climax on the night of October 26, 1954. Nasser was addressing an immense crowd in a public square in Alexandria. The entire country was listening to the radio as a member of the Muslim Brothers stepped forward and fired eight shots at the Egyptian president, wounding a guard but missing Nasser. 

It was the turning point in Nasser’s presidency. Over the chaos of the panicked crowd, Nasser continued speaking even as the gunshots rang out. “Let them kill Nasser! What is Nasser but one among many?” he cried. “I am alive, and even if I die, all of you are Gamal Abdul Nasser!” 

Had the gunman succeeded, he might have been hailed as a hero, but the failure gave Nasser a popularity he had never enjoyed until then. He immediately put that to use by having six conspirators hanged and placing thousands of others in concentration camps. Qutb was charged with being a member of the Muslim Brothers’ secret apparatus that was responsible for the assassination attempt. Nasser thought he had crushed the Brothers once and for all. 

Stories about Sayyid Qutb’s suffering in prison have formed a kind of Passion play for Islamic fundamentalists. It is said that Qutb had a high fever when he was arrested; nonetheless, the state-security officers handcuffed him and forced him to walk to prison. He fainted several times along the way. For hours he was held in a cell with vicious dogs, and then, during long periods of interrogation, he was beaten. “The principles of the revolution have indeed been applied to us,” he said, as he raised his shirt to show the court the marks of torture. 

Through confessions of other members of the Brotherhood, the prosecution presented a sensational scenario of a planned takeover of the government, involving the destruction of Alexandria and Cairo, blowing up all the bridges over the Nile, and numerous assassinations—an unprecedented campaign of terror, all in the service of turning Egypt into a primitive theocracy. The testimony also demonstrated, however, that the Brothers were too disorganized to accomplish any of these dreadful tasks. 

Three highly partisan judges, one of them Anwar al-Sadat, oversaw these proceedings. They sentenced Qutb to life in prison, but when his health deteriorated, the sentence was reduced to fifteen years. Qutb was always frail. He had a weak heart, a delicate stomach, and sciatica, which gave him chronic pain. After a bout of pneumonia when he was thirty years old, he suffered from frequent bronchial problems. He experienced two heart attacks in prison, and bleeding in his lungs, which may have been an effect of torture, or tuberculosis. 

He moved to the prison hospital in May 1955, where he stayed for the next ten years, spending much of his time writing a lucid, highly personal, eight-volume commentary called In the Shade of the Quran, which by itself would have assured his place as one of the most significant modern Islamic thinkers. But his political views were darkening. 

*

from his book:

The looming tower. Al-Qaeda’s Road to 9/11

by Lawrence Wright

get it at Amazon.com

A Brief History of Book Burning, From the Printing Press to Internet Archives – Lorraine Boissoneault. 

As long as there have been books, people have burned them, but over the years, the motivation has changed. 

When Al-Qaida Islamists invaded Mali, and then Timbuktu in 2012, among their targets were priceless manuscripts, books that needed to be burned. But the damage could’ve been much worse if not for men like Abdel Kader Haidara, who risked their lives to protect the medieval works. He and others succeeded in smuggling out 350,000 manuscripts, proving not only how much the books were valued, but also the lengths to which ordinary people were willing to go to save them. It was a remarkable victory in the long history of books threatened by would-be arsonists, and a relatively rare one at that.

Books and libraries have been targeted by people of all backgrounds for thousands of years, sometimes intentionally and sometimes as a side-effect of war. In 213 B.C., Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang (more widely remembered for his terracotta army in Xian) ordered a bonfire of books as a way of consolidating power in his new empire. According to historian Lois Mai Chan “His basic objective was not so much to wipe out these schools of thought completely as to place them under governmental control.” Books of poetry, philosophy and history were specifically targeted, so that the new emperor couldn’t be compared to more virtuous or successful rulers of the past. Although the exact amount of information lost is unknown, Chan writes that the history genre suffered the greatest loss.

Qin was only one in a long line of ancient rulers who felt threatened enough by the ideas expressed in written form to advocate arson. In Livy’s History of Rome, finished in the 1st century A.D., he describes past rulers who ordered books containing the predictions of oracles and details about celebrations like the Bacchanalia be outlawed and burned to prevent disorder and the spread of foreign customs; philosophers Giordano Bruno and Jan Hus both took positions counter to the Catholic church, the former for his work on Copernican cosmology, the latter for attacking church practices like indulgences. Scholar Hans J. Hildebrand writes that the executioner charged with killing heretics like Bruno and Hus was often the same person who put flame to their books.

But for Rebecca Knuth, author of Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century and Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction, Qin and religious leaders like him are only a small part of the early book-burning equation. “A lot of ancient book burning was a function of conquest,” Knuth says. Just look at one of the most famous examples of burning, the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. The famed building had its contents and structure burned during multiple periods of political upheaval, including in 48 B.C. when Caesar chased Pompey to Egypt and when Caliph Omar invaded Alexandria in 640 A.D.

What changed everything was the printing press, invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440. Not only were there suddenly far more books—there was also more knowledge. “With the printing press you had the huge rise of literacy and modern science and all these things,” Knuth says. “And some people in authoritarian regimes, in a way they want to turn back the effects of the printing press.”

According to Knuth, the motives behind book burning changed after the printing press helped bring about the Enlightenment era—though burning through the collateral damage of war continued to arise (just consider the destruction of the U.S. Library of Congress during the War of 1812 or all the libraries destroyed across Europe during World War II). People saw knowledge as a way to change themselves, and the world, and so it became a far more dangerous commodity, no longer controlled exclusively by the elite. What better way to reshape the balance of power and send a message at the same time than by burning books?

The unifying factor between all types of purposeful book-burners in the 20th century, Knuth says, is that the perpetrators feel like victims, even if they’re the ones in power. Perhaps the most infamous book burnings were those staged by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, who regularly employed language framing themselves as the victims of Jews. Similarly, when Mao Zedong took power in China and implemented the Cultural Revolution, any book that didn’t conform to party propaganda, like those promoting capitalism or other dangerous ideas, were destroyed. More recently, the Jaffna Public Library of Sri Lanka home to nearly 100,000 rare books of Tamil history and literature, was burned by Sinhalese Buddhists. The Sinhalese felt their Buddhist beliefs were under threat by the Hinduism of Tamils, even though they outnumbered the Tamils.

Even when the knowledge itself isn’t prevented from reaching the public, the symbolic weight of burning books is heavy. “Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them as to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are,” wrote John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, in his 1644 book Areopagitica. “Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature… but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself—” an idea that continues to be espoused in modern culture, like in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door,” one character warns another in Bradbury’s story, arguing for why they must be burned and their knowledge erased. “Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?”

Or, as author Barbara Tuchman said in her 1980 address at the Library of Congress, “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible.”

Today, with new technological advances offered by the Internet, the possibility of digitizing written documents seems to offer books a new immortality. But not so fast, Knuth says. “We have technology to preserve so much knowledge, we just have to be careful. If you don’t keep morphing it to an updated form of technology, it doesn’t matter if you made copies if you can’t access them.”

This is a problem archivists at the Smithsonian Institution regularly tackle, including electronic records archivist Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig.

“There are software companies that have gone away or gone out of business, and some of that software just stops being used,” Schmitz Fuhrig says. “And there’s not only the issue of software, but also hardware and operating systems that may not work with these older files.”

The archivists try to use formats that have been around for a long time and stood the test of time, like PDF for documents, but even keeping up with the changing technology doesn’t guarantee safety. Schmitz Fuhrig says one of the biggest challenges now is storage space. “A few years ago we were talking about gigabytes and then terabytes and now we’re getting into the area of petabytes.”

Even though the technology exists, transferring written documents to digital archives requires time and money—resources that aren’t always available. Sometimes doing so is counter to the beliefs of whoever happens to be in power. Just consider that under President George W. Bush EPA libraries were threatened with closure in 2006, spurring the American Library Association and scientists working at the EPA to put pressure on Congress to ensure the EPA’s budget could cover the cost of maintaining the libraries (although some libraries were closed, they reopened in September 2008). Or look at the scientific research documents that were locked away or destroyed under the Stephen Harper government in Canada in 2014, which had a chilling effect on the topics that could be researched and the studies that were published. As scientist Steven Campana, who spent decades working for Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, told Smithsonian.com, “Although we still kept our jobs, we basically were prevented from actually doing any science.” Though the methods may be different (and less visible) than in the past, the results are the same: knowledge is purposefully taken from the public.

Technology has undoubtedly changed the way we share and save information, but Knuth argues that the core motivations for book burning, in whatever form the act takes, remain the same: prioritizing one type of information over another.

“That’s why power is so scary,” Knuth says. “Because power allows you to put into effect the logic of your own beliefs.”

***

Lorraine Boissoneault is a staff writer for SmithsonianMag.com covering history and archaeology. She has previously written for The Atlantic, Salon, Nautilus and others. She is also the author of The Last Voyageurs: Retracing La Salle’s Journey Across America. Website: http://www.lboissoneault.com/

Smithsonian.com

Unlearning the Myth of American Innocence – Suzy Hansen. 

My mother recently found piles of my notebooks from when I was a small child that were filled with plans for my future. I was very ambitious. I wrote out what I would do at every age: when I would get married and when I would have kids and when I would open a dance studio.

When I left my small hometown for college, this sort of planning stopped. The experience of going to a radically new place, as college was to me, upended my sense of the world and its possibilities. The same thing happened when I moved to New York after college, and a few years later when I moved to Istanbul. All change is dramatic for provincial people. But the last move was the hardest. 

In Turkey the upheaval was far more unsettling: after a while, I began to feel that the entire foundation of my consciousness was a lie.

Who do we become if we don’t become Americans? If we discover that our identity as we understood it had been a myth?

My years as an American abroad in the 21st century were not a joyous romp of self-discovery and romance. Mine were more of a shattering and a shame, and even now, I still don’t know myself.

The politics I heard about as a kid had to do with taxes and immigrants, and not much else. Bill Clinton was not popular in my house.

We were all patriotic, but I can’t even conceive of what else we could have been, because our entire experience was domestic, interior, American. We went to church on Sundays, until church time was usurped by soccer games. I don’t remember a strong sense of civic engagement. Instead I had the feeling that people could take things from you if you didn’t stay vigilant. Our goals remained local: homecoming queen, state champs, a scholarship to Trenton State, barbecues in the backyard. The lone Asian kid in our class studied hard and went to Berkeley; the Indian went to Yale. Black people never came to Wall. The world was white, Christian; the world was us.

We did not study world maps, because international geography, as a subject, had been phased out of many state curriculums long before. There was no sense of the US being one country on a planet of many countries. Even the Soviet Union seemed something more like the Death Star – flying overhead, ready to laser us to smithereens – than a country with people in it.

We were free – at the very least we were that. Everyone else was a chump, because they didn’t even have that obvious thing. Whatever it meant, it was the thing that we had, and no one else did. It was our God-given gift, our superpower.

By the time I got to high school, I knew that communism had gone away, but never learned what communism had actually been (“bad” was enough). Religion, politics, race – they washed over me like troubled things that obviously meant something to someone somewhere, but that had no relationship to me, to Wall, to America. I certainly had no idea that most people in the world felt those connections deeply. History – America’s history, the world’s history – would slip in and out of my consciousness with no resonance whatsoever.

Racism, antisemitism and prejudice, however – those things, on some unconscious level, I must have known. They were expressed in the fear of Asbury Park, which was black; in the resentment of the towns of Marlboro and Deal, which were known as Jewish; in the way Hispanics seemed exotic. Much of the Jersey Shore was segregated as if it were still the 1950s, and so prejudice was expressed through fear of anything outside Wall, anything outside the tiny white world in which we lived. If there was something that saved us from being outwardly racist, it was that in small towns such as Wall, especially for girls, it was important to be nice, or good – this pressure tempered tendencies toward overt cruelty when we were young.

I was a child of the 90s, the decade when, according to America’s foremost intellectuals, “history” had ended, the US was triumphant, the cold war won by a landslide. The historian David Schmitz has written that, by that time, the idea that America won because of “its values and steadfast adherence to the promotion of liberalism and democracy” was dominating “op-ed pages, popular magazines and the bestseller lists”. These ideas were the ambient noise, the elevator music of my most formative years.

I came across a line in a book in which a historian argued that, long ago, during the slavery era, black people and white people had defined their identities in opposition to each other. The revelation to me was not that black people had conceived of their identities in response to ours, but that our white identities had been composed in conscious objection to theirs. I’d had no idea that we had ever had to define our identities at all, because to me, white Americans were born fully formed, completely detached from any sort of complicated past. Even now, I can remember that shiver of recognition that only comes when you learn something that expands, just a tiny bit, your sense of reality. What made me angry was that this revelation was something about who I was. How much more did I not know about myself?

It was because of this text that I picked up the books of James Baldwin, who gave me the sense of meeting someone who knew me better, and with a far more sophisticated critical arsenal than I had myself. There was this line:

But I have always been struck, in America, by an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep, that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life.

And this one:

All of the western nations have been caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism; this means that their history has no moral justification, and that the west has no moral authority.

And this one:

White Americans are probably the sickest and certainly the most dangerous people, of any colour, to be found in the world today.

I know why this came as a shock to me then, at the age of 22, and it wasn’t necessarily because he said I was sick, though that was part of it. It was because he kept calling me that thing: “white American”. In my reaction I justified his accusation. I knew I was white, and I knew I was American, but it was not what I understood to be my identity. For me, self-definition was about gender, personality, religion, education, dreams. I only thought about finding myself, becoming myself, discovering myself – and this, I hadn’t known, was the most white American thing of all.

I still did not think about my place in the larger world, or that perhaps an entire history – the history of white Americans – had something to do with who I was. My lack of consciousness allowed me to believe I was innocent, or that white American was not an identity like Muslim or Turk.

Of this indifference, Baldwin wrote: “White children, in the main, and whether they are rich or poor, grow up with a grasp of reality so feeble that they can very accurately be described as deluded.”

Young white Americans of course go through pain, insecurity and heartache. But it is very, very rare that young white Americans come across someone who tells them in harsh, unforgiving terms that they might be merely the easy winners of an ugly game, and indeed that because of their ignorance and misused power, they might be the losers within a greater moral universe.

In 2007, after I had worked for six years as a journalist in New York, I won a writing fellowship that would send me to Turkey for two years. I had applied for it on a whim. No part of me expected to win the thing. Even as my friends wished me congratulations, I detected a look of concern on their faces, as if I was crazy to leave all this, as if 29 was a little too late to be finding myself. I had never even been to Turkey before.

In the weeks before my departure, I spent hours explaining Turkey’s international relevance to my bored loved ones, no doubt deploying the cliche that Istanbul was the bridge between east and west. I told everyone that I chose Turkey because I wanted to learn about the Islamic world. The secret reason I wanted to go was that Baldwin had lived in Istanbul in the 1960s, on and off, for almost a decade. I had seen a documentary about Baldwin that said he felt more comfortable as a black, gay man in Istanbul than in Paris or New York.

When I heard that, it made so little sense to me, sitting in my Brooklyn apartment, that a space opened in the universe. I couldn’t believe that New York could be more illiberal than a place such as Turkey, because I couldn’t conceive of how prejudiced New York and Paris had been in that era; and because I thought that as you went east, life degraded into the past, the opposite of progress. The idea of Baldwin in Turkey somehow placed America’s race problem, and America itself, in a mysterious and tantalising international context. I took a chance that Istanbul might be the place where the secret workings of history would be revealed.

In Turkey and elsewhere, in fact, I would feel an almost physical sensation of intellectual and emotional discomfort, while trying to grasp a reality of which I had no historical or cultural understanding. I would go, as a journalist, to write a story about Turkey or Greece or Egypt or Afghanistan, and inevitably someone would tell me some part of our shared history – theirs with America – of which I knew nothing. If I didn’t know this history, then what kind of story did I plan to tell?

My learning process abroad was threefold: I was learning about foreign countries; I was learning about America’s role in the world; and I was also slowly understanding my own psychology, temperament and prejudices. No matter how well I knew the predatory aspects of capitalism, I still perceived Turkey’s and Greece’s economic advances as progress, a kind of maturation. No matter how deeply I understood the US’s manipulation of Egypt for its own foreign-policy aims, I had never considered – and could not grasp – how American policies really affected the lives of individual Egyptians, beyond engendering resentment and anti-Americanism. No matter how much I believed that no American was well-equipped for nation-building, I thought I could see good intentions on the part of the Americans in Afghanistan. I would never have admitted it, or thought to say it, but looking back, I know that deep in my consciousness I thought that America was at the end of some evolutionary spectrum of civilisation, and everyone else was trying to catch up.

American exceptionalism did not only define the US as a special nation among lesser nations; it also demanded that all Americans believe they, too, were somehow superior to others. How could I, as an American, understand a foreign people, when unconsciously I did not extend the most basic faith to other people that I extended to myself? This was a limitation that was beyond racism, beyond prejudice and beyond ignorance. This was a kind of nationalism so insidious that I had not known to call it nationalism; this was a self-delusion so complete that I could not see where it began and ended, could not root it out, could not destroy it.

In my first few months in Istanbul, I lived a formless kind of existence, days dissolving into the nights. I had no office to go to, no job to keep, and I was 30 years old, an age at which people either choose to grow up or remain stuck in the exploratory, idle phase of late-late youth. Starting all over again in a foreign country – making friends, learning a new language, trying to find your way through a city – meant almost certainly choosing the latter. I spent many nights out until the wee hours – such as the evening I drank beer with a young Turkish man named Emre, who had attended college with a friend of mine from the US.

A friend had told me that Emre was one of the most brilliant people he had ever met. As the evening passed, I was gaining a lot from his analysis of Turkish politics, especially when I asked him whether he voted for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party (AKP), and he spat back, outraged, “Did you vote for George W Bush?” Until that point I had not realised the two might be equivalent.

Then, three beers in, Emre mentioned that the US had planned the September 11 attacks. I had heard this before. Conspiracy theories were common in Turkey; for example, when the military claimed that the PKK, the Kurdish militant group, had attacked a police station, some Turks believed the military itself had done it; they believed it even in cases where Turkish civilians had died. In other words, the idea was that rightwing forces, such as the military, bombed neutral targets, or even rightwing targets, so they could then blame it on the leftwing groups, such as the PKK. To Turks, bombing one’s own country seemed like a real possibility.

“Come on, you don’t believe that,” I said.

“Why not?” he snapped. “I do.”

“But it’s a conspiracy theory.”

He laughed. “Americans always dismiss these things as conspiracy theories. It’s the rest of the world who have had to deal with your conspiracies.”

I ignored him. “I guess I have faith in American journalism,” I said. “Someone else would have figured this out if it were true.”

He smiled. “I’m sorry, there’s no way they didn’t have something to do with it. And now this war?” he said, referring to the war in Iraq. “It’s impossible that the United States couldn’t stop such a thing, and impossible that the Muslims could pull it off.”

Some weeks later, a bomb went off in the Istanbul neighborhood of Güngören. A second bomb exploded out of a garbage bin nearby after 10pm, killing 17 people and injuring 150. No one knew who did it. All that week, Turks debated: was it al-Qa’ida? The PKK? The DHKP/C, a radical leftist group? Or maybe: the deep state?

The deep state – a system of mafia-like paramilitary organisations operating outside of the law, sometimes at the behest of the official military – was a whole other story. Turks explained that the deep state had been formed during the cold war as a way of countering communism, and then mutated into a force for destroying all threats to the Turkish state. The power that some Turks attributed to this entity sometimes strained credulity. But the point was that Turks had been living for years with the idea that some secret force controlled the fate of their nation.

In fact, elements of the deep state were rumoured to have had ties to the CIA during the cold war, and though that too smacked of a conspiracy theory, this was the reality that Turkish people lived in. The sheer number of international interventions the US launched in those decades is astonishing, especially those during years when American power was considered comparatively innocent. There were the successful assassinations: Patrice Lumumba, prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1961; General Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, also in 1961; Ngo Dinh Diem, president of South Vietnam, in 1963. There were the unsuccessful assassinations: Castro, Castro, and Castro. There were the much hoped-for assassinations: Nasser, Nasser, Nasser. And, of course, US-sponsored, -supported or -staged regime changes: Iran, Guatemala, Iraq, Congo, Syria, Dominican Republic, South Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina. The Americans trained or supported secret police forces everywhere from Cambodia to Colombia, the Philippines to Peru, Iran to Vietnam. Many Turks believed that the US at least encouraged the 1971 and 1980 military coups in Turkey, though I could find little about these events in any conventional histories anywhere.

But what I could see was that the effects of such meddling were comparable to those of September 11 – just as huge, life-changing and disruptive to the country and to people’s lives. Perhaps Emre did not believe that September 11 was a straightforward affair of evidence and proof because his experience – his reality – taught him that very rarely were any of these surreally monumental events easily explainable. I did not think Emre’s theory about the attacks was plausible. But I began to wonder whether there was much difference between a foreigner’s paranoia that the Americans planned September 11 and the Americans’ paranoia that the whole world should pay for September 11 with an endless global war on terror.

The next time a Turk told me she believed the US had bombed itself on September 11 (I heard this with some regularity; this time it was from a young student at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University), I repeated my claim about believing in the integrity of American journalism. She replied, a bit sheepishly, “Well, right, we can’t trust our journalism. We can’t take that for granted.”

The words “take that for granted” gave me pause. Having lived in Turkey for more than a year, witnessing how nationalistic propaganda had inspired people’s views of the world and of themselves, I wondered from where the belief in our objectivity and rigour in journalism came. Why would Americans be objective and everyone else subjective?

I thought that because Turkey had poorly functioning institutions – they didn’t have a reliable justice system, as compared to an American system I believed to be functional – it often felt as if there was no truth. Turks were always sceptical of official histories, and blithely dismissive of the government’s line. But was it rather that the Turks, with their beautiful scepticism, were actually just less nationalistic than me?

American exceptionalism had declared my country unique in the world, the one truly free and modern country, and instead of ever considering that that exceptionalism was no different from any other country’s nationalistic propaganda, I had internalised this belief. Wasn’t that indeed what successful propaganda was supposed to do? I had not questioned the institution of American journalism outside of the standards it set for itself – which, after all, was the only way I would discern its flaws and prejudices; instead, I accepted those standards as the best standards any country could possibly have.

By the end of my first year abroad, I read US newspapers differently. I could see how alienating they were to foreigners, the way articles spoke always from a position of American power, treating foreign countries as if they were America’s misbehaving children. I listened to my compatriots with critical ears: the way our discussion of foreign policy had become infused since September 11 with these officious, official words, bureaucratic corporate military language: collateral damage, imminent threat, freedom, freedom, freedom.

Even so, I was conscious that if I had long ago succumbed to the pathology of American nationalism, I wouldn’t know it – even if I understood the history of injustice in America, even if I was furious about the invasion of Iraq. I was a white American. I still had this fundamental faith in my country in a way that suddenly, in comparison to the Turks, made me feel immature and naive.

I came to notice that a community of activists and intellectuals in Turkey – the liberal ones – were indeed questioning what “Turkishness” meant in new ways. Many of them had been brainwashed in their schools about their own history; about Ataturk, Turkey’s first president; about the supposed evil of the Armenians and the Kurds and the Arabs; about the fragility of their borders and the rapaciousness of all outsiders; and about the historic and eternal goodness of the Turkish republic.

“It is different in the United States,” I once said, not entirely realising what I was saying until the words came out. I had never been called upon to explain this. “We are told it is the greatest country on earth. The thing is, we will never reconsider that narrative the way you are doing just now, because to us, that isn’t propaganda, that is truth. And to us, that isn’t nationalism, it’s patriotism. And the thing is, we will never question any of it because at the same time, all we are being told is how free-thinking we are, that we are free. So we don’t know there is anything wrong in believing our country is the greatest on earth. The whole thing sort of convinces you that a collective consciousness in the world came to that very conclusion.”

“Wow,” a friend once replied. “How strange. That is a very quiet kind of fascism, isn’t it?”

It was a quiet kind of fascism that would mean I would always see Turkey as beneath the country I came from, and also that would mean I believed my uniquely benevolent country to have uniquely benevolent intentions towards the peoples of the world.

During that night of conspiracy theories, Emre had alleged, as foreigners often did, that I was a spy. The information that I was collecting as a journalist, Emre said, was really being used for something else. As an American emissary in the wider world, writing about foreigners, governments, economies partaking in some larger system and scheme of things, I was an agent somehow. Emre lived in the American world as a foreigner, as someone less powerful, as someone for whom one newspaper article could mean war, or one misplaced opinion could mean an intervention by the International Monetary Fund. My attitude, my prejudice, my lack of generosity could be entirely false, inaccurate or damaging, but would be taken for truth by the newspapers and magazines I wrote for, thus shaping perceptions of Turkey for ever.

Years later, an American journalist told me he loved working for a major newspaper because the White House read it, because he could “influence policy”. Emre had told me how likely it was I would screw this up. He was saying to me: first, spy, do no harm.

The Guardian

How Islamic State nearly stumbled on the ingredients for a ‘dirty bomb’ – Joby Warrick and Loveday Morris. 

On the day the Islamic State overran the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014, it laid claim to one of the greatest weapons bonanzas ever to fall to a terrorist group: a large metropolis dotted with military bases and garrisons stocked with guns, bombs, rockets and even battle tanks.

But the most fearsome weapon in Mosul on that day was never used by the terrorists. Only now is it becoming clear what happened to it.

Locked away in a storage room on a Mosul college campus were two caches of cobalt-60, a metallic substance with lethally high levels of radiation. When contained within the heavy shielding of a radiotherapy machine, cobalt-60 is used to kill cancer cells. In terrorists’ hands, it is the core ingredient of a “dirty bomb,” a weapon that could be used to spread radiation and panic.

continues … NZ Herald

The Middle East’s Next War – Joschka Fischer. 

With the retaking of Mosul in northern Iraq, the Islamic State (ISIS) could soon be a thing of the past. But the defeat of ISIS and the demise of its self-proclaimed Iraqi-Syrian caliphate won’t bring peace to the Middle East, or even an end to the Syrian tragedy. Rather, it is likely to open a new chapter in the region’s bloody and chaotic history – one no less dangerous than the previous chapters since the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I.

The continuation of this violent pattern seems almost certain because the region remains unable to resolve internal conflicts on its own, or to create anything like a resilient framework for peace. Instead, it remains trapped somewhere between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Western powers are hardly blameless for the Middle East’s woes. Any mention of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, by which Great Britain and France partitioned the post-Ottoman territories, still incites such rage in the Arab world that it seems as if the plan, devised in secret in 1916, had been conceived only yesterday.

Nor should we forget Czarist Russia’s role in the region. Following World War II, its successor, the Soviet Union, and its Cold War rival, the United States, began their multiple interventions.

Indeed, the US may be the most significant contributor to today’s regional turmoil. America’s interest in the Middle East was originally based on its need for oil. But, with the onset of the Cold War, economic interest quickly morphed into a strategic interest in preventing the emergence of anti-Western, Soviet-friendly governments. America’s effort to maintain decisive influence in the region was then supplemented by its close security partnership with Israel, and finally by the two large military interventions of the two Gulf Wars against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

America’s involvement in Afghanistan, too, has had profound repercussions for the Middle East. The US-backed insurgency of the 1980s, launched under the banner of jihad against the occupying Soviet Union, transformed two close American allies – Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – into strategic threats. This became clear on September 11, 2001, when it emerged that 15 of the 19 attackers sent by al-Qaeda were Saudi citizens. And it was Pakistan that created the Taliban, which provided al-Qaeda a haven for hatching its plots against the US and the West.

The success of the first Gulf War, launched in January 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, was fatally undermined 12 years later by his son, President George W. Bush, whose own Gulf War caused a regional catastrophe that continues to this day. Whereas the senior Bush had pursued the limited objectives of liberating Kuwait and didn’t seek regime change in Iraq, his son’s aims were far more ambitious.

The idea was to topple Saddam Hussein and bring about a democratic Iraq, which would catalyze comprehensive change throughout the Middle East and transform it into a democratic and pro-Western region. Within the younger Bush’s administration, imperial idealism prevailed over hardheaded realism, resulting in sustained destabilization of the Middle East as a whole and helping to place Iran in a position to expand its influence.

After the Islamic State’s demise, the next chapter in the history of the Middle East will be determined by open, direct confrontation between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran for regional predominance. So far, this long-smoldering conflict has been pursued under cover and mostly by proxies. The two global powers active in the region have already clearly positioned themselves in this conflict, with the US siding with Saudi Arabia and Russia with Iran.

The current “war on terror” will increasingly be replaced by this hegemonic conflict. And with Saudi Arabia and four Sunni allies imposing isolation on Qatar, in part owing to the Qataris’ close relations with Iran, this conflict has reached its first potential tipping point at the very center of the region, the Persian Gulf.

Any direct military confrontation with Iran would, of course, set the region ablaze, greatly surpassing all previous Middle East wars. Moreover, with the fires in Syria still smoldering, and Iraq weakened by the sectarian struggle for power there, ISIS or some successor incarnation is likely to remain active.

Another destabilizing factor is the reopening of the “Kurdish question.” The Kurds – a people without a state – have proven to be reliable fighters against ISIS and want to use their new political and military clout to make progress toward autonomy, or even an independent state. For the countries affected – first and foremost Turkey, but also Syria, Iraq, and Iran – this question is a potential casus belli, because it affects their territorial integrity.

Given these unresolved questions and the escalation of the hegemonic conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the next chapter in the region’s history promises to be anything but peaceful. Yes, the US may have learned from the Iraq disaster that it cannot win a land war in the Middle East, despite its vastly superior military power. President Barack Obama sought to withdraw US forces from the region, which proved difficult to achieve both politically and militarily. That’s why he ruled out military intervention – even from the air – in the Syrian civil war, leaving a vacuum that Russia quickly filled, with all of the known consequences.

Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, also campaigned on a promise to withdraw from the region. Since the election, he has launched cruise missiles at Syria, entered into more comprehensive commitments toward Saudi Arabia and its allies, and escalated America’s confrontational rhetoric vis-à-vis Iran.

Trump clearly faces a steep learning curve when it comes to the Middle East – a region that won’t wait for him to master it. There is no reason to be optimistic.

***

Joschka Fischer was German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998-2005, a term marked by Germany’s strong support for NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999, followed by its opposition to the war in Iraq. Fischer entered electoral politics after participating in the anti-establishment protests of the 1960s and 1970s, and played a key role in founding Germany’s Green Party, which he led for almost two decades.

Project Syndicate

Over 30,000 Muslims in the UK Marched Against ISIS, Of Course You Didn’t Hear About It – Sarah A. Harvard. 

More than 30,000 Muslims from around the world congregated at a farm in the United Kingdom for a three-day event protesting ISIS and religious extremism.

The protest was part of the 50th annual Jalsa Salana, an annual convention and gathering for Ahmadiyya Muslims.

The Ahmadiyya sect was founded in India in 1889 and faced persecution and violence from religious extremists in countries abroad. Despite their plight, the religious movement’s official motto is “Love for all, hatred for none” and their philosophy is rooted in tolerance over extremism.

Mic

Why do some young people become jihadis? Psychiatry offers answers – Kamran Ahmed. 

There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, the overwhelming majority of whom abhor Isis and the evil it represents. So what is driving a handful of extremists to commit horrific acts of mass murder in the name of Islam?

One contributing factor might be a concept drawn from the world of cultural psychiatry: acculturation – the process of balancing two competing cultural influences.

There can be a number of possible outcomes to this process:

Deculturation, when a migrant loses all touch with their culture of origin.

Assimilation, when they retain some loose association with it but fully adopt the culture of the host nation.

Integration, when they retain strong ties with their culture of origin but are fully functioning members of society.

Rejection, when they reject the host-nation culture completely in favour of their culture of origin.

Trying to meet the cultural expectations of parents while trying to fit in with peers; dealing with experiences of racism; balancing religious and western values, it poses a challenge for many Muslim youths living in western countries today.

For those who find themselves at odds with the culture of their parents, and yet are met with hostility from the culture of the society they live in, exiting the acculturation paradigm to embrace a third culture that provides them with a sense of belonging may be an appealing option. In this case their minds become fertile ground for radicalisation.

This is akin to the pathway into gang culture for young people around the world – a sense of alienation from family and society at large delivers them into the hands of older gang leaders. The counterculture for young Muslim men at odds with society nowadays is not gang culture but radical extremist factions that offer self-esteem and identity in exchange for allegiance to a violent and morally bankrupt manifesto. Once they are members of the subversive peer group, alarming ideas and behaviours can become normalised very quickly indeed.

Perhaps the low self-esteem brought on by marginalisation is the mediator here, traded readily by some disaffected Muslim youths for the perceived sense of purpose and status associated with being a jihadi.

Those most likely to make the transition from radical to terrorist are the exceedingly vulnerable, who are highly susceptible to jihadi rhetoric, and narcissistic psychopaths, who might revel in the notoriety of being a terrorist.

Collective community action has been a prominent feature in anti-gang strategies around the world, and may prove effective in opposing this new type of thuggery, starting with closer ties and cooperation between Muslim and non-Muslim communities and a concerted effort to open a dialogue with at-risk individuals.

The media must present a counter-narrative to Isis propaganda, showing young Muslims they are accepted in the west and can find their sense of belonging here.

Muslim parents should be flexible in their demands that their children follow their cultural values and traditions where these are unlikely to lead to a favourable acculturation outcome for them.

Nothing can be worse for a Muslim immigrant parent who builds a new home in the west, with hopes and dreams for their family, than to see their child become a murderous suicide bomber.

We must take action to address the factors that underlie this problem if we are to prevent further suffering.

Terrorists seek to divide us; the only way we can defeat this evil is by working together.

***

Kamran Ahmed, psychiatrist and filmmaker

The Guardian

Now the truth emerges: How the US fuelled the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq – Seumas Milne. 

The war on terror, that campaign without end launched 14 years ago by George Bush, is tying itself up in ever more grotesque contortions. On Monday the trial in London of a Swedish man, Bherlin Gildo, accused of terrorism in Syria, collapsed after it became clear British intelligence had been arming the same rebel groups the defendant was charged with supporting.

The prosecution abandoned the case, apparently to avoid embarrassing the intelligence services. The defence argued that going ahead with the trial would have been an “affront to justice” when there was plenty of evidence the British state was itself providing “extensive support” to the armed Syrian opposition.

That didn’t only include the “non-lethal assistance” boasted of by the government (including body armour and military vehicles), but training, logistical support and the secret supply of “arms on a massive scale”. Reports were cited that MI6 had cooperated with the CIA on a “Rat Line” of arms transfers from Libyan stockpiles to the Syrian rebels in 2012 after the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

Terrorism is now squarely in the eye of the beholder. And nowhere is that more so than in the Middle East, where today’s terrorists are tomorrow’s fighters against tyranny – and allies are enemies – often at the bewildering whim of a western policymaker’s conference call.

The Guardian

The Terrorist’s Son, A Story Of Choice. This is the story of a boy trained to hate, and a man who chose a different path. – Zak Ebrahim. 

A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes. – Gandhi

New York, November 5, 1990

The TV stations are updating the story constantly. An hour ago, while my sister, brother, and I slept away the last seconds we had of anything remotely resembling a childhood, my mother overheard the name Meir Kahane and looked up at the screen. The first thing she saw was footage of the Arab gunman, and her heart nearly stopped: it was my father.

The dark suits have so many questions that it’s like my mother is caught in a hailstorm. She will remember two questions above all others: What is your current home address? And, Did you know your husband was going to shoot Rabbi Kahane tonight?

She tells the policemen the truth about the shooting: She’d known nothing about it. She hadn’t heard a single syllable. Nothing.

She abhors talk of violence. Everyone at the mosque knows better than to agitate in her presence.

She answers a barrage of follow-up questions, head high, hands motionless on her lap. But all the while one thought is banging inside her head like a migraine: She must go to my father. She must be at his side.

Finally, my mother blurts out: “I heard on TV that Sayyid is going to die.” The dark suits look at each other, but do not answer. “I want to be with him. I don’t want him to die alone.” Still no answer. “Will you take me to him? Please? Will you take me to him, please?” She says it again and again. Eventually the dark suits sigh and put away their pencils.

My mother rushes to my father’s bed. Ibrahim drifts in slowly behind her to give her space. Baba is unconscious, his body badly swollen and stripped to the waist. He’s attached to a half-dozen machines by wires and tubes, and he’s got a long, stitched-up wound on his neck from where the postal police officer shot him. It looks like there’s a giant caterpillar on his neck. Nurses work hurriedly at my father’s bedside. They are not happy about the interruption.

My mother reaches out to touch Baba’s shoulder. His body is hard and his skin so cold that she recoils. “He’s already dead?” she asks, her voice trembling. “Ya Allah, he’s already dead!” “No, he’s not dead,” one of the nurses says, not bothering to hide her annoyance. The family of an assassin. “And keep your hands off him. You can’t touch him.” “He’s my husband. Why can’t I touch him?” “Because we have rules.” My mother is too upset to understand, but later she’ll decide that the nurses were afraid she would tear out the tubes and wires and let my father die. She puts her hands at her sides now. She leans down to whisper in his ear. She tells him that it’s okay, that she is there beside him, that she loves him, that—if he’s just been holding on for her—it’s okay, she is there, she loves him, he can let go. When the nurses are not looking, she kisses his cheek.

A doctor tells my mother that my father is going to live. The doctor is the first kind person she has encountered all night and—comforted by his empathy, uncomplicated and humane—she cries for the first time. He waits for her to gather herself before he says anything more. The doctor says Baba lost most of the blood in his body, and was given a transfusion. He still has a bullet somewhere in his neck but, because his carotid artery was nearly severed, they didn’t want to risk probing around for it. The fact that the bullet never exited my father’s body is what saved his life.

My mother consoles herself with two things. One is that, whatever possessed my father to commit such a monstrous act, he will never hurt anyone again. The other is that his survival is a gift. On both counts, she is wrong.

***

There’s a reason that murderous hatred has to be taught—and not just taught, but forcibly implanted. It’s not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is a lie. It is a lie told over and over again—often to people who have no resources and who are denied alternative views of the world. It’s a lie my father believed, and one he hoped to pass on to me.

What my father did on November 5, 1990, decimated my family. It tipped us into a life of death threats and media harassment, nomadic living and constant poverty, a thousand “fresh starts” that almost always led to something worse.

His was an infamy of an entirely new kind, and we were collateral damage. My father was the first known Islamic jihadist to take a life on American soil. He worked with the support of a terror cell overseas that would ultimately call itself Al-Qaeda.

And his career as a terrorist was not over yet.

In early 1993, from his prison cell at Attica, my father helped plan the first bombing of the World Trade Center with his old associates from the Jersey City mosque.

On February twenty-sixth of that year, a Kuwaiti-born man named Ramzi Yousef and a Jordanian named Eyad Ismoil carried out the plot, driving a yellow Ryder van full of explosives into the parking garage below the WTC. Their horrible hope, and my father’s, was that one tower would knock over the other and the death toll would be stratospheric. They had to settle for a blast that tore a hole one hundred feet wide through four levels of concrete, the injury of more than a thousand innocents, and the deaths of six people, one of them a woman seven months pregnant.

Between my mother’s attempts to protect her children from the awful knowledge of their father’s actions and my own little-kid desperation not to know, it would be many years before I internalized the full horror of the assassination and the bombing. It would take me just as long to admit how furious I was with my father for what he had done to my own family. At the time it was too much to take in. I carried fear, anger, and self-loathing around in my gut, but couldn’t even begin to process them. I turned ten after the first World Trade Center bombing. Emotionally, I was already like a computer powering down. By the time I was twelve, I’d been bullied so much at school that I thought about suicide. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I met a woman named Sharon who made me feel like I was worth something—and that my story was, too. It’s the story of a boy trained to hate, and a man who chose a different path.

***

I’ve spent my life trying to understand what drew my father to terrorism, and struggled with the knowledge that I have his blood in my veins. By telling my story, my intention is to do something hopeful and instructive: to offer a portrait of a young man who was raised in the fires of fanaticism and embraced nonviolence instead. I can’t make any grand claims for myself, but all our lives have themes, and the theme of mine so far is this: Everyone has a choice.

Even if you’re trained to hate, you can choose tolerance. You can choose empathy.

The fact that my father went to prison for an unfathomable crime when I was seven just about ruined my life. But it also my made my life possible. He could not fill me with hate from jail. And, more than that, he could not stop me from coming in contact with the sorts of people he demonized and discovering that they were human beings—people I could care about and who could care about me. Bigotry cannot survive experience. My body rejected it.

My mother’s faith in Islam never wavered during our trials as a family, but she, like the vast majority of Muslims, is anything but a zealot. When I was eighteen and had finally seen a sliver of the world, I told my mom I could no longer judge people based on what they were—Muslim, Jewish, Christian, gay, straight—and that starting right then and there I was only going to judge them based on who they were. She listened, she nodded, and she had the wisdom to speak the six most empowering words I have ever heard:

“I’m so tired of hating people.”

My father is now in the United States penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, having been sentenced to life plus fifteen years with no chance of parole for, among other things, seditious conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, attempted murder of a postal officer, use of a firearm in the commission of a murder, use of a firearm during an attempted murder, and possession of a firearm. To be honest, I still feel something for him, something that I haven’t been able to eradicate, some strand of pity and guilt, I guess, though it’s thin as spider’s silk. It’s hard to think of the man I once called Baba living in a cell, knowing that we have all changed our names out of terror and shame.

I have not visited my father in twenty years. This is the story of why.

Amazon.com


JFK’s Nephew Blows the Whistle on Syria. ISIS is a Product of US Intervention for Oil – Claire Bernish. 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. delivered a searingly astute summation concerning the truth behind the U.S.’ presence in the Middle East — its subservience to the fossil fuel industry’s most precious commodity: OIL.

“As we focus on the rise of ISIS and the search for the source of the savagery that took so many lives in Paris and San Bernardino, we might want to look beyond the convenient explanations of religion and ideology and focus on the more complex rationales of history and oil, which mostly point the finger of blame for terrorism back at the champions of militarism, imperialism and petroleum here on our own shores,” Kennedy advised in an editorial for Ecowatch.

Kennedy’s critical look at the United States’ history of meddling, interventionism, and hegemony — almost exclusively to maintain the flow of oil — makes apparent its role in destabilizing the entire Middle East, particularly Syria. Indeed, more than fifty years of violent intercession — ultimately in the interest of the fossil fuel industry — has stoked enormous resentments. Essentially, American geostrategic corporatism — under the guise of militaristic peacekeeping — created the same violent Islamic Jihadism the U.S. now battles against.

Beginning during the Eisenhower Administration, Arab sovereignty and the Middle East nations’ Cold War neutrality were perceived as threats to American access to oil.

First in the order of business for Eisenhower’s Presidency was Iran’s first elected leader in 4,000 years, President Mohammed Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh’s desire to renegotiate Iran’s unfavorable oil contracts with British Petroleum led to a failed coup by British intelligence — whom he promptly expelled from the country. Despite Mosaddegh’s favorable view of the U.S. — a model of democracy he sought to employ for Iran — Eisenhower, with the aid of the notorious Allan Dulles, ousted the leader. “Operation Ajax” deposed Mosaddegh and replaced him with Shah Reza Pahlavi — a leader whose bloody reign culminated in the Islamic revolution of 1979 “that has bedeviled our foreign policy for 35 years,” Kennedy wrote.

Perhaps one of the larger threats lay in Syria’s reluctance to approve the Trans Arabian Pipeline — intended to cross Syria in order to connect Saudi oil with ports in Lebanon. When the democratically-elected, secular Syrian president balked, the CIA engineered a coup in an attempt to replace him.

“The CIA’s plan was to destabilize the Syrian government, and create a pretext for invasion by Iraq and Jordan, whose governments were already under CIA control,” explained Kennedy. It did not work. An astonishing failure, anti-American riots and violence erupted across the region. Syria barred several American attaches, and then outted and executed all officials who harbored pro-American sentiment. Indeed, the U.S. very nearly sparked all-out war with Syria over the incident.

Repercussions from that attempted coup — as well as more successful installments of puppet regimes elsewhere — still play out in foreign policy and geopolitical dealings in the present. A more ‘successful’ leader removal and replacement involved a name everyone in the U.S. is familiar with: Saddam Hussein. 

After failed attempts to depose Iraq’s leader, the CIA ultimately installed Hussein and the Ba’ath Party to power. As Kennedy noted, Interior Minister Said Aburish once said of that plot, “We came to power on a CIA train.” James Critchfield, the CIA Station Chief in charge of the both the successful and failed coups, later said the CIA had essentially “created Saddam Hussein” — also supplying him weapons, intelligence, and chemical and biological weapons.

“At the same time, the CIA was illegally supplying Saddam’s enemy — Iran — with thousands of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to fight Iraq, a crime made famous during the Iran Contra scandal … [M]ost Americans are unaware of the many ways that ‘blowback’ from previous CIA blunders has helped craft the current crisis.”

While Americans widely believe the mainstream press’ and governmental narrative that the current U.S. role in Syria amounts to humanitarian goals, beginning with the Arab Spring in 2011, “Instead, it began in 2000 when Qatar proposed to construct a $10 billion, 1,500km pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey,” Kennedy explained. 

“The proposed pipeline would have linked Qatar directly to European energy markets via distribution terminals in Turkey which would pocket rich transit fees. The Qatar/Turkey pipeline would have given the Sunni kingdoms of the Persian Gulf decisive domination of world natural gas markets and strengthen Qatar, America’s closest ally in the Arab world.”

The E.U. currently gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia, Kennedy noted, and “Turkey, Russia’s second largest gas customer, was particularly anxious to end its reliance on its ancient rival and to position itself as the lucrative transect hub for Asian fuels to E.U. markets. The Qatari pipeline would have benefited Saudi Arabia’s conservative Sunni Monarchy by giving them a foothold in Shia dominated Syria […]

“Wikileaks cables from as early as 2006 show the U.S. State Department, at the urging of the Israeli government, proposing to partner with Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt to foment the Sunni civil war in Syria to weaken Iran. The stated purpose, according to the secret cable, was to incite [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad into a brutal crackdown of Syria’s Sunni population.

“As predicted, Assad’s overreaction to the foreign-made crisis — dropping barrel bombs onto Sunni strongholds and killing civilians — polarized Syria’s Shia/Sunni divide and allowed U.S. policymakers to sell Americans the idea that the pipeline struggle was a humanitarian war.”

Kennedy’s lengthy historical context for the current imbroglio absolutely warrants a thorough perusal. Its unmistakable message should serve as a critical reminder that the United States government and its mouthpiece in mainstream press — as convincing as they may seem — are never telling you the whole story.

The Free Thought Project

Why It’s So Hard to Understand That the Violence Your Country Exports Is Terrorism – Vijay Prashad. 

In psychology, an attribution bias or attributional bias is a cognitive bias that refers to the systematic errors made when people evaluate or try to find reasons for their own and others’ behaviors. People constantly make attributions regarding the cause of their own and others’ behaviors; however, attributions do not always accurately mirror reality. Rather than operating as objective perceivers, people are prone to perceptual errors that lead to biased interpretations of their social world.

– – –

On 23 March 2017, Khalid Masood ploughed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, stabbed a police officer with a knife, and then was shot dead. He killed four people in the rampage, which injured an additional forty people and disturbed the equanimity of a major Western city. Masood, who was born in Dartford (Kent, United Kingdom), had run afoul of the law for many years—mainly because of acts of violence and possession of weapons. The gap between the act of Masood and a common criminal is narrow.

Two months ago, the head of the Metropolitan Police said that “warning lights are flashing” over the rise of violent crime across England and Wales. The preferred weapon, said Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, was the common knife. Violent crime had risen by twenty-two percent, with the last quarter of 2016 registering 30,838 crimes committed with knives. Masood’s crime could well have been read alongside this data, as a serious problem of an increase in violence with knives as the weapon of choice.

Instead, the media and the British political class offered a sanctimonious lesson in civics. This was, said UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, “an attack on our democracy, the heart of our democracy.” UK Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons that despite this attack, “we will move forward together, never giving in to terror. And never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.” One newspaper suggested that Boris Johnson’s statement was “Churchillian.”

ISIS, which has been under serious threat in Iraq and Syria, has called upon people around the world to conduct acts of criminal violence in its name. There is no evidence yet that Masood acted on the instructions of ISIS or that he was following the ISIS edict to attack people in public areas in the West. What is known is that right after the attack, ISIS took credit for it, calling Masood its “soldier.” ISIS social media celebrated the attack. There is a form of delirium at work here—a group weakened now seeks to glorify itself by a pathetic attack by a man with a criminal record, using an old car and a knife.

Attribution bias is a familiar theme in the literature of modern psychology. It refers to the problem that occurs when people evaluate the actions of themselves or others based not on the facts but on attributions transferred from inherent biases. Fritz Heider, who first developed this theory in The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations (1958), suggested that attributions are made mostly to preserve one’s self-concept—namely one’s sense of self. Rather than evaluate one’s own behavior in a bad situation, one tends to blame others and to disregard the constraints that others operate under. This is typically considered to be a “self-serving bias”—the winner of an election says, “I won because the people voted for me,” whereas the loser says, “I lost because of voter fraud.”

Masood’s act has already been pinned on ISIS, and ISIS has already adopted him as one of its combatants. Both decisions are self-serving—the one to deny any native role for the production of Masood and the other to uplift a flagging insurgency. Masood’s own convulsions with racism, his own desire to seek glory above his miserable situation: these are not taken seriously. “Home-grown” terrorists have ‘home-grown’ problems. But the term ‘terrorist’ allows the “home-grown” person to be exported—as it were—to other countries, to defer blame to them—to ISIS, in this case.

Al-Mansoura

Three thousand miles southeast of London sits the town of al-Mansoura, near the city of Raqqa (Syria). Aerial bombardment by the United States in the area around Raqqa had pushed about fifty families to take shelter in the al-Badia school in the town. The US bombings had come to soften up ISIS positions in the towns around Raqqa as hundreds of US forces take their positions in its periphery. The US forces—and their allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces—have sought to seize a major dam on the Euphrates River at the town of Tabqah. This dam is essential to the water supply for Raqqa. The battle over Tabqah, one of the last remaining conduits into and out of Raqqa, will be essential before the US and its allies turns its firepower against ISIS’s “capital.”

On 22 March 2017, hours before Khalid Masood conducted his terror attack in London, US aircraft bombed the school. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London, says that thirty-three civilians died in this bombing run. Hamoud Almousa of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently says that the number might be as high as 101 civilians. The day before, on 21 March, US aircraft bombed the town of Tabqah, hitting the Maysaloon school, a field hospital and homes on al-Synaa street—killing twenty civilians. A week before, US aircraft bombed the town of al-Jineh (near Aleppo), hitting a mosque and killing forty-six civilians. Col. John Thomas of the US Central Command said that the US aircraft did not hit a mosque. “We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike,” he said. This statement always suggests that the Central Command knows that it hit civilians, but does not want to make a direct statement one way or another.

AirWars, a non-profit group that maintains a record of casualties from aerial bombardment, says that in March alone there have been over a thousand civilian non-combatant deaths in Iraq and Syria as a result of what it calls “Coalition actions”—with the US aircraft inflicting the bulk of the casualties. This considerable spike has led AirWars to suspend its investigation of Russian-inflicted casualties (fifty in March) and to divert its staff to look at those inflicted by the Coalition aircraft alone.

The Western media focused on the actions of Khalid Masood and remained silent on these deaths. Brief notes of this or that massacre appeared, but without the focus and intensity of the kind of coverage given to the attack by Masood. No front page story with a large picture, no “Breaking News” coverage on television with correspondents insisting that spokesperson for US Central Command give them more than pabulum. It is as if we live in two alternative universes—one, where terror confounds the population with moral indignation and two, where large deaths from jet fighters are treated as the necessary side-effects of war. One is terrorism; the other is an accident.

It does not feel accidental to the people of al-Mansoura or al-Jineh.

Binaries

I have spent decades thinking about the asymmetry of reactions to these sorts of incidents in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. I have written about them, indignation as the mood of these essays. But this is spitting into the wind. It is futile on Facebook, for instance, to make the suggestion that the 2016 Karrada bombings in Baghdad (Iraq), which killed over 300 people, should have driven people to turn their profile pictures into Iraqi flags (as the world had done after the 2015 Paris attacks, when 137 people were killed). “Je Suis Charlie” is easy to write, but not #AmiAvijit. Eyes roll when these gestures are urged, whether through bewilderment at their meaning or exhaustion at their sanctimoniousness. After all, the eye-roll suggests, how could one compare a satirical French magazine with obscure Bangladeshi bloggers who have been hacked to death? It takes an immense act of will to push editors to run stories on tragedies that seem distant even from the places where they occur. All eyes focus on the latest attack in Molenbeek, but few turn with the same intensity to look at the tragedies in Beirut or in Cairo.

Over the years I have settled on some binaries that operate to blind thinking about violence in the world. Our days have become hallucinations, with violence always at the edge of consciousness. But violence is understood through these binaries in ways that befuddle those who believe in a universal humanity, those who believe—in concrete terms—that people in Kabul deserve empathy and sympathy as much as people in Berlin. In fact, the scale of the violence in Kabul is so much greater than in Berlin that you would imagine greater sympathy for those in far more distress. But actually the logic of these binaries moves consciousness in the opposite direction.

Eastern Malevolence / Western Benevolence

There is standard belief amongst reporters—for example—that Western actions are motivated by the highest values and are therefore benevolent. The loftiest values of our time—democracy and human rights—are sequestered inside the concept of the West. The East—bedraggled—is treated as a place without these values. It is bereft, a bad student. There is what Aimé Césaire calls “shy racism,” for it suggests that Easterners cannot be given the benefit of doubt when they act, or that Westerners could not also be malevolent in their objectives. The way this logic runs it is the Eastern bombing of Syria’s Aleppo, conducted by the Oriental despot Bashar al-Asad, that is inhumane, while it is the Western bombing of Iraq’s Mosul (250 to 370 civilians killed in the first week of March) that is humane. It would pierce the armor of Western self-regard to admit that its armed forces could—without sentiment of care—bomb mosques and schoolhouses.

What about Hitler? Is he not the epitome of Western malevolence? Hitler is the madman, much as white terrorists in the West are madmen. They do not define the society or the culture. No one asks after their attacks for Christianity to answer for their crimes or for Western Civilization to stand condemned. They are not compared to Hitler. The modern analogues of Hitler are always to be found in the East—Saddam, Bashar, Kim Jong-un—but not in the West.

It took some guts for the Indian politician Shashi Tharoor to remark that “Churchill was no better than Hitler” —a statement that has led to the routine objections from the British political class. US President Donald Trump insisted on returning his bust to the Oval Office, where he showed it with great aplomb to the UK Prime Minister Theresa May (she gave him a copy of a Churchill speech during her visit). It does not bother either Trump or May that Churchill was a racist, who believed that the “Aryan stock is bound to triumph.” Cliches are mobilized to defend him: he was a man of his time, when such ideas were commonplace. But such ideas were being vigorously challenged from the colonies and from within Britain. Hitler’s Endlösung was not of a different quality from Churchill’s Bengal Famine of 1943. Tharoor’s comparison of Churchill to Hitler will not stick. It will eventually be swept away. Far easier to see Hitler in Bashar al-Assad or in Kim Jong-un than in Churchill or George W. Bush. Hitler was Europe’s aberration, not—as Césaire pointed out—the logical culmination of colonial brutality.

State Legality / Non-State Illegality

States do not normally act outside the confines of international law. If they do, then it is in error. Or there are some states that are not proper states, but “rogue states” that do not behave according to the principles of civilization. Normal states, not rogue states, the logic of shy racism goes, never intentionally violate the laws of war and behave in a barbaric way. Their acts of murder are always unintentional because it would be too costly for them to intentionally murder civilians.

When the United Nations Human Rights Council wanted to investigate NATO’s 2011 bombing of Libya, based on UN Security Council resolution 1973, its Brussels headquarters stalled. NATO’s legal adviser, Peter Olson, wrote to the United Nations saying that NATO deserved immunity. “We would be concerned if NATO incidents were included in the commission’s report as on par with those which the commission may ultimately conclude did violate law or constitute crimes,” Olson wrote. What NATO would like, he concluded, was for the UN commission to “clearly state that NATO did not deliberately target civilians and did not commit war crimes in Libya.” In other words, without any investigation, the UN Human Rights Council should give NATO a certificate of high moral character.

If civilians are killed, then it is either entirely accidental or it is because the enemy has used them as human shields. Strange illogical statements emerge from the power centers of the West to befuddle criticism. US President Obama’s drone strike policy allowed his operators to strike at crowds of people who looked like enemies (the “signature strike”). If, later, the intelligence services determined that some of them were not indeed enemies then those civilians would be ‘posthumously exonerated’. But they would—of course—be dead, murdered by a state actor that is not seen to be rogue and that sees itself as abiding by international law.

Rogue states and rogue non-state actors do not abide by the protocols of the laws of war, and therefore they are the only ones who violate them intentionally. The violence of the rogue state and the rogue non-state actor is always worse than that of those who are deemed to be legitimate states and legitimate non-state actors. The nuclear weapons of India, Israel and Pakistan are acceptable, but Iran’s nuclear energy program is a grave threat to humanity. A ‘knife attack’ by a Palestinian child is horrendous and it is taken to define not only the Palestinian liberation movement, but Palestinian culture in general. The bombing of four young Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach is accidental and not definitive of either Israeli state action or of Israeli culture. This asymmetry of evaluation is fundamental to the ruling ideas of our time.

Violence to Heal / Violence to Hurt

When the US military conducted its massive bombing run against Iraq in March 2003 under the name “Shock and Awe,” it was considered to be in the service of human rights and security. But the language used by its architects was genocidal. Harlan K. Uliman, who developed the theory of “Shock and Awe,” said in 2003, “You take the city down. You get rid of their power, water. In two, three, four, five days, they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted.” A Pentagon official said of the actual bombing runs, “There will not be a safe place in Baghdad. The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.” Hundreds of cruise missiles rained on Baghdad. Eventually, after a decade of war and occupation, the violence of the war would claim at least a million Iraqi lives.

But yet, the language to define the war is muted. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said of the war that “from the [UN] charter point of view, it was illegal.” This should mean that US President George W. Bush and his coterie are war criminals. But his successor, US President Barack Obama refused to open an investigation and the world followed suit. Bush’s language about bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq became the anthem. If a million people died, so be it. It was all to heal Iraq, to free Iraq.

The violence of the Iraqi insurgency, on the other hand, was immediately considered to be violence intended to hurt, to create problems not only for the United States, but for Iraq itself. The violence of the West is prophylactic, while the violence of the East is destructive.

Precious Life / Disposable Life

When news broke of the failed US raid on the village of al-Jineh (Yemen), the Western media concentrated on the death of Ryan Owens who was a Seal Team 6 member. There was a great deal of discussion on his death and little mention of the civilians who were killed by Owens’ comrades in that raid. If they were mentioned it was as a number: twenty-eight or thirty. There were no names in the stories, no way to make these people into human beings. Nothing about Mohammad Khaled Orabi (age 14), Hasan Omar Orabi (age 10), Ahmad Nouri Issa (age 23), Mustapha Nashat Said al-Sheikh (age 23), Ali Mustapha (age 17), Abd al Rahman Hasim (age 17), and not even Nawar al-Awlaki (age 8) whose father and brother had been killed in earlier raids. No mention of the names of the forty-two Somali refugees gunned down by a Saudi helicopter gunship, a weapons system provided by the United States. To offer these names would be to give these people humanity.

When twenty thousand or more people died because an US-owned factory exploded in Bhopal, Michael Utidjian, medical director of American Cyanamid said in 1984, it is sad but needs to be seen in context. What is that context? Indians do not have the “North American philosophy of the importance of human life.” They do not mind when people die, it seems. They have a different standard of humanity. Their lives are disposable. They are not precious. Thirty-three dead here, forty-two dead there. Sad yes, but not tragic. Tragedy is only possible if one has the “North American philosophy of the importance of human life.”

Legible Narrative / Illegible Narrative

It would be an illogical narrative to suggest that Western generals want to raze cities. That is not their motivation. When the US flattened Fallujah (Iraq) in 2004, under the command of then Major General James Mattis of the 1st Marine Division, this was not the intent. That the use of Depleted Uranium led to cancer rates fourteen times higher than in Hiroshima (Japan) after the atom bomb was dropped there was incidental, not deliberative. It is impossible to imagine an American, for instance, being cruel in military strategy. On the other hand, it is easy to imagine a Syrian general, such as General Issam Zahreddine, being systematically vicious. It is not possible to see both as ferocious. It would be an illegible narrative if these two stories were set side by side. One is so obviously a better man (Mattis) than the other (Zahreddine). The character of the man of the West always surmounts the character of the man of the East.

Violent Shock

Who needs censorship when you have ideology? When anything outside the governing ideology tries to make an appearance it is dismissed as the rants of a conspiracy theorist or as “alt-facts.” Terrorism is terrorism and counter-terrorism is counter-terrorism. To break down the distinctions between them is a scandal against civilization itself. Of course al-Qa‘ida is bad and the US military is good! That is ipso facto, the essence of reality.

None of this is the blame of individual reporters or editors or indeed of individual readers of the press reportage. It is not something restricted to the West, for these attitudes are shared widely around the world. This is not a consequence of the impact of CNN or of BBC, but of much earlier, much deeper attitudes with deep roots from colonial times. It was an old colonial view that the violence of the imperial armies must have some Enlightenment logic behind them, whereas those of the darker world came motivated by messianism, tribalism, millenarianism or other illogical views of older times.

When in the 1950s the British violently crushed the aspirations of the Kenyans, sending thousands to concentration camps and killing—as the historian Caroline Elkins argues – a hundred thousand people, this was done for rational reasons. The Empire had to be protected. The uprising of the Mau Mau, which they were countering in Kenya, could not be allowed to succeed. Indeed, it could not succeed—the British suggested—because it was merely the eruption of older African instincts. Even the name of the group powerfully allowed the British to paint their insurgency in diabolical colors. The rebels called their outfit the Kenya Land and Freedom Army. The use of the words ‘land’ and ‘freedom’ suggested a link to the national liberation movements of that decolonization era. They also suggested a rational political platform, to distribute land to the colonized population in a free Kenya. The British insisted on calling them the Mau Mau—the name carrying for a British audience the full flavor of traditional Africa in its sound, the rhythm of a drum, the call from deep in the forest, the sly racism of the denial of the more traditional national liberation force. In the name Mau Mau appeared the forest and in it would dissolve the accusations of concentration camps and mass killings. It was not the British that did those killings, but the Mau Mau. Always the Mau Mau, never Lord Evelyn Baring who wrote that the British had to inflict “violent shock” against the Kenyans or else the British Empire would be defeated in Kenya.

From Lord Baring’s Violent Shock to George W. Bush’s Shock and Awe: this cannot be terrorism. It is the business of rational states. Terrorism is what the others do. Always.

– – –

Vijay Prashad is professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

AlterNet

The refugee crisis fills us with despair but it can be a chance for hope and kindness. 

For three years during the Syrian civil war, Nisreen gave her children a tranquilizer every night so they might sleep through the airstrikes. Secretly, she preferred for them to die in their sleep than live every day in such incapacitating fear. 

When Islamic State took over his school, Ahmad pretended to be dead while his classmates were first raped and subsequently burned alive. He was in third grade.

Nisreen and Ahmad are two of the 2.7 million refugees now living in Jordan – a small country with a population of slightly less than 10 million. Accepting such a great number of people, now comprising a substantial proportion of our population, has taught us a few lessons. We’ve learned of humans’ gut-wrenching ability to go to extreme lengths to hurt, destroy and deny others their humanity. We’ve seen refugees’ indelible marks of torture and heard their stories of adversity.

On the other hand, we’ve also learned of refugees’ incredible resilience and sense of hope against all odds – their ability to acclimate to a new environment and still feel committed to do what they can to be of service to others. Today Nisreen resides in a refugee camp in Jordan and leads group therapy for women with persistent trauma symptoms. By speaking about her own experience every day, she’s encouraging others to do the same. The Guardian 

Isis used drone to kill Kurdish fighters and wound French troops. 

No Martyr’s Required. 

In a possible first-of-its-kind attack on Western forces, Isis used a drone loaded with explosives to strike a Kurdish and French position in northern Iraq earlier this month, according to a report in the French newspaper. NZ Herald 

“No, I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.” GW Bush, 9/11/2001

​For George W. Bush, 9/ 11 was the second major watershed of his life. “This is what I was put on earth for,” he said early on. “I’m here for a reason.” Just as his coming to Christ in his late thirties gave meaning to what had been an aimless and dissolute life, so the war on terror became his sacred mission. “Our responsibility to history is clear,” said the president at the National Cathedral on September 14. “To answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.” Believing he was the agent of God’s will, and acting with divine guidance, George W. Bush would lead the nation into two disastrous wars of aggression. It is no surprise that he initially referred to America’s effort as a crusade, a messianic image evoking Christian knights battling infidels for control of the holy land.

Jean Edward Smith, from his book ‘Bush’ 

“It would be interesting to see if the book was for sale in the Bush library in Dallas. I doubt it.”

Jean Edward Smith

BUSH: buy it in Amazon.com

How Religion Drove George W. Bush’s Decisions

​An Interview with Biographer Jean Edward Smith

The bulk of the book is devoted to Bush’s presidency and his disastrous foreign policy.
Bush, not his seasoned advisors, made the decisions to invade Iraq and to prolong the war after “Mission Accomplished,” and then to allow, among other actions, widespread surveillance, torture, and rendition of suspected terrorists, all while testing the bounds of domestic and international law and often ignoring the concerns of military and diplomatic experts. Huffington Post

Amid the horror of 9/11, taking this photograph changed my life

​Fifteen years after the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, a photographer tells the dramatic story behind her famous image of the day all hell broke loose. The Guardian

24 Hard Facts About 9/11 That Cannot Be Debunked

​One third of Americans do not believe the official story. In other parts of the world, the number of skeptics reaches upwards of 90% of the population. Collective Evolution