All Writings
September 24, 2001

We Must Deal With The Root Causes Of Terrorism

Striking back at Osama bin Laden and other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and destroying, to the extent we can, their training facilities and infrastructure are necessary for two reasons. First, the perpetrators of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks must be punished for their horrific crimes. Second, we must satisfy the American people's emotional and psychological need to right the wrong, albeit inconclusively, and so begin the nation's healing process. But beyond the initial punishing military strikes, while the United States must pursue systematic destruction of terrorist organizations globally, we must also particularly address the root causes of terrorism, if we are ever to stand a chance of eliminating it as a threat to our way of life.

In his televised address to the joint session of Congress, President Bush forcefully stated our resolve to fight terrorism while preparing Americans for the scope of the campaign ahead: "Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there." The closest the President came in his address to dealing with the long-term problem of terrorism was when he said: "The only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it and destroy it where it grows."

But how? Terrorism cannot and will not be defeated, I believe, unless we acknowledge and effectively address its root causes. We can incarcerate every criminal we know, but we cannot eradicate crime unless we address the socio-economic conditions that breed and nurture new criminals. Between 4 November 1979, when Islamic students stormed the U.S. embassy in Iran, and 12 October 2000, when the USS destroyer Cole was bombed in the port of Aden, 19 terrorist attacks were committed against United States' interests and citizens, killing nearly 500 Americans and hundreds of nationals from other countries while injuring close to 7000. Terrorism was staring us in the face then, but because we refused to recognize its deadly potential, we were ill-equipped to foil the disastrous attacks of 11 September. I mention these grim statistics because we may now be lured in to committing similar or even worse errors by concentrating solely on fighting existing terrorist organizations. It is urgent for us to develop new strategies toward several Arab and Muslims countries, some of which are our friends, for it is here from the soil of desperate conditions and shattered dreams that the next generation of terrorists is being created.

That said, we must distinguish between (1) irrational terrorism motivated by intense hatred and enmity to the United States and nurtured by blind religious zeal. Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network belongs to this category, and (2) defiant terrorism, motivated by long-term, dismal and debilitating socio-economic conditions. Hamas, Al-Gama's al-Islamiyya and some other Jihad groups belong to this group. The differing agendas of these two groups calls for different approaches. The bin-Laden's seek to completely dislodge the United States from the Middle East and from any other Arab and Muslim country, force us to disassociate ourselves from Israel, and, make us stop supporting "corrupt" Arab states. No rational discourse can be established with these type of fanatics, and we may be left with no option except towage relentless war until they are destroyed. Ironically, they may prove easier to extinguish than the second type organizations whose roots are fed by hopelessness and despair. The main problem is that the second group, through their shared ties of religion and hate, provides a natural reservoir of recruits for the Bin-Laden, as most recently discovered in Gaza.

Of the roughly 86 known terrorist organizations globally only about a dozen, mostly Arab and Muslim, have targeted American interests or citizen. Those organizations include; Al Qaeda, headquartered in Afghanistan but with cells scattered in as many as 35 countries in South East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas; Egypt is the home for Al-Gama's al-Islamiyya and Al-Jihad with fairly extensive network of cells in Sudan, Jordan, Lybia and Yemen; 9 terrorist organizations in Syria, the most potent being the Democratic Front for the Liberation of PalestineHizbullah organization which is headquartered in Lebanon but sanctioned by Syria and is financed primarily by Iran. Three organizations in Iraq of which the most active is Palestine Liberation Front. Two organizations make their home in the West Bank and Gaza, of which Hamas is the most visible. Several cells of these organizations are scattered in Jordan, the Sudan and in some of the Gulf States including Saudi Arabia. and the

Several of these organizations are motivated by religious zeal, and like Hamas and the Jihad, oppose Israel's existence and hate the United States for what it represents and for supporting Israel. They see their lot as being one of misery, economic dislocation and no prospects for the future. They blame their governments for subservience to the United States, feel oppressed by their rulers and do not trust that anything will change. They resort to terrorism to make a statement, but with dramatic and positive changes in their living conditions they can and will change their alliances, especially if the alternative is assured destruction.

Although we must have no sympathy for terrorism regardless of its source or cause, the United States must tailor its approach to the specific situation of each of the countries and peoples involved: the most prominent among them, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the Sudan and the Palestinians. The overall goal must be to fight terrorism successfully, but to do this, we must change the conditions on the ground in order to diminish anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments and eventually substantially reduce, if not eliminate, the source of new recruits. The Bush Administration will quickly discover that to achieve our goals we must drastically adopt new policies befitting the time and the circumstances in which we live. For example, we must find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and end five decades of hostilities that have dehumanized both sides, constantly refueling Arab and Muslim hatred against ourselves as Israel's closest ally. Our 2 billion dollars in annual economic and military assistance to Egypt should go in its entirety toward economic development. No one is threatening Egypt militarily, but we are threatened by the festering poverty of the Egyptian masses, making this country a fertile breeding grounds for new terrorists. As complicated as that may be, in return for their joining our war against terrorism, we must normalize relations with Syria and Iran and by these actions eliminate a critical source of extremism from the left and the right. We must ease the plight of the Iraqi people by adopting a new policy that will either bring down Saddam Hussein or persuade him to accept a viable inspection regime to eliminate weapons of mass destruction; either way we must lift the sanctions. The list of what we must do with and for each of these nations is long and the task formidable. But if we want to successfully battle international terrorism, there are no shortcuts or single approach.

The war against terrorism is also an ideological war. We cannot win it by merely eliminating the terrorists we know. We won the Cold War largely because of our values and our way of life. We can win this war only when America is seen by the countries affected by our policies as caring, evenhanded and willing to constructively engage in there building of their torn societies. This is the only way we can enlist Arab and Muslim governments to work with us without courting tremendous public backlash. Indeed, only when there is a real hope and opportunity for the millions of despondent young men will they reject terrorism and martyrdom to embrace the prospect for a better future.