If it is taboo to discuss how America's actions in the Middle East cause Terrorism -- and it generally is -- that taboo is far stronger still when it comes to specifically discussing how our blind, endless enabling of Israeli actions fuels Terrorism directed at the U.S. An article in yesterday's New York Times examined the life of Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian who blew himself up, along with 7 CIA agents, in Afghanistan this week. Why would Balawi -- a highly educated doctor, who was specifically recruited by Jordanian intelligence officials to infiltrate Al Qaeda on behalf of Western governments -- want to blow himself up and murder as many American intelligence agents as possible? The article provides this possible answer:
He described Mr. Balawi as a "very good brother" and a "brilliant doctor," saying that the family knew nothing of Mr. Balawi’s writings under a pseudonym on jihadi Web sites. He said, however, that his brother had been "changed" by last year’s three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians.
Students and administrators at the institute said Abdulmutallab was gregarious, had many Yemeni friends and was not overtly extremist. They noted, however, he was open about his sympathies toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel's actions in Gaza.
. . . In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright claimed that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta signed his "martyr's will" from Al Qaeda on the day in 1996 when Israel attacked Lebanon, and he did so due to "outrage" over that attack. There's just no question that the U.S.'s loyal enabling of (and support for) Israel's various wars with its Muslims neighbors contributes to terrorist attacks directed at Americans. . .
Yet even in the face of all of that, it is bewilderment and confusion that reign when our media stars and political figures talk about attempts to attack Americans. Why would they possibly want to do this? They must be crazy, or drunk with religious fervor, or consumed by blinding, inhumane hatred. Much of that is probably true for individuals willing to blow themselves up in order to slaughter as many innocent civilians as possible. But it's equally irrational to think that you're going to spend a full decade bellowing WE ARE AT WAR! to the world, send bombs and troops and all forms of death to multiple Muslim countries (both directly and through Israel), and not have that directed back at us. That's what happens when a country is "at war" -- it doesn't just get to blow up things and people in other countries, but its own things and people sometimes get blown up as well. That's how "war" works. . .
Again, these facts do not, standing alone, prove that we ought to change these policies. The mere fact that Islamic radicals object to what we do does not prove we should stop, as there may be net benefits to those actions or they may be morally justifiable. But at the very least, rational discussions require that these costs and benefits be weighed, and that can only happen if we acknowledge the costs. But when it comes to our own actions in the Muslim world, and especially our undying devotion to supporting everything Israel does, acknowledging the costs (to say nothing of the morality) is exactly what we steadfastly refuse to do.
UPDATE: Today's Haaretz -- in an article headlined: "Report: Al-Qaida CIA bomber was furious over Gaza war" -- also reports: "The Jordanian national that attacked a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, killing 7 CIA agents, was furious over the Israel's Gaza offensive, the London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported on Thursday." Phil Weiss asks about the connection between America's Israel policy and Terrorist attacks aimed at the U.S.: "I wonder how long the mainstream media will continue to treat this angle as a sidelight and not a main event"? Actually, treating it as a "sidelight" would be an upgrade from what they do now: ignore it completely and pretend it doesn't exist. As usual, these discussions can appear more freely in Israeli newspapers like Haaretz than they can in American ones.
UPDATE II: The Yemeni government today warned that any direct U.S. military action in that country "could bolster the popularity of Islamic militants" and "would strengthen Al Qaeda." For reasons that should be obvious, that's how it works: not only in Yemen, but generally.
UPDATE III: Time reports that Balawi (the Jordanian doctor) had been a genuine intelligence asset for the U.S., working to help the U.S. find and bomb Al Qaeda sites, but was completely transformed at some point into an Al Qaeda sympathizer and ultimately a suicide bomber who killed 7 CIA agents. Part of the reason for the conversion? Because of "his outrage at the high number of civilian casualties inflicted in the resulting strikes"; he "had become enraged at the Americans for killing a high number of civilians in their hunt for al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders." Relatedly, Spencer Ackerman notes that Balawi's Internet writings reflect a growing commitment to violence due to American and Israeli attacks on Muslims ("They have not left any excuse for any Muslim with a hint of honor to remain hesitant and accept the shame of staying away from the honor of participating in jihad").
Just contemplate how many Balawis there are in the world: Muslims who begin with sympathy towards the U.S. and hostility towards Al Qaeda who are completely transformed into the opposite as a result of the constant civilian death we and Israel bring (regardless of intent) to that part of the world.
Glenn Greenwald's fine post should be required reading for members of Congress and for the mindless pundits reading the latest spin coming out of their various shops. The operative word is "outrage."
Jihadis' outrage cannot justify their mindless attacks that kill innocents, whom they generalize and define as the "near" or "far" enemy. Nor can we make endless war in Muslim lands without understanding the larger consequences of our own decisions that kill innocents.
Escalating U.S. counterterrorism efforts makes more sense to me than military intervention ("stabilization" and "nation-building"). We must not delude ourselves that U.S. military forces physically going to a country or territory and staying there is not seen by ordinary populations as "occupation."
Try to imagine a reverse situation in the United States homeland. How would we feel if Mexico decided that our BATF was incapable of keeping guns from being smuggled into their country? And they decided to send the Mexican military across our border to "help us do better?"
Humans are territorial, they are prone to religion, they all need the bare basics to sustain life. We have a strong sense of sovereignty that we fail to appreciate in other nations. Think about the outrage of Palestinians as Israel expands settlements into the West Bank or Jerusalem. Think about Pakistani citizens experience of drone attacks. We continue to occupy Iraq. On to Yemen. We do not seem to have a clue!
We must upgrade our capacity for taking at least minimal responsibility to put ourselves in others' shoes.