Yesterday’s New York Times had an interesting news story about a young Pakistani man named Umar Khundi, who was recently killed in a shootout with police. He had been attending medical school but he ended up becoming a militant who participated in terrorist attacks in Pakistan.
The element in American society that claims that terrorism has nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy would undoubtedly point to Kundi’s terrorist activity as proof that Muslims are engaged in a worldwide campaign of violence in the quest to establish a global caliphate, as required, they say, by the Koran.
Yet, when one gives a careful read to the Times’ story, a different, more realistic picture emerges, one that is consistent with what libertarians have been saying for years: that Islamic terrorism, including both the 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center and the 9/11 attacks, is “blowback” or retaliation for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
Why did the 29-year-old Kundi abandon medical studies to become a terrorist?
NYT: “Al Qaeda has harnessed their aimless ambition and anger at Pakistan’s alliance with the United States, their generation’s electrifying enemy.”
Now, notice that there’s nothing in that sentence about wanting to establish a worldwide caliphate or that the Koran requires Muslims to embark on a quest to conquer the world. Notice also that the anger is directed toward their own government — a Muslim government — and because of its alliance with the United States.
NYT: “Such jihadi groups had become part of mainstream society in Pakistan in the 1980s, when the United States was financing Islamic radicals fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, and when an American-supported Pakistani general, Muhammad Zia al-Haq, empowered hard-line mullahs and injected Islam into school textbooks.”
Now, that’s an important paragraph because it raises a point that the Caliphate Crowd never addresses and actually just ignores when one brings it up. When it was the Soviet Empire that was occupying Afghanistan, that didn’t sit well with the U.S. Empire. So, the U.S. Empire partnered with Osama bin Laden and other Islamic extremists who were determined to oust the Soviet occupiers from Afghanistan. In fact, that U.S. foreign policy intervention actually sowed the seeds for what ultimately became al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups who many years later were just as determined to end the U.S. Empire’s interventions as they were to end the Soviet Empire’s interventions.
Was the Caliphate Crowd opposing the U.S. Empire’s partnership with bin Laden and other Islamic extremists? Were they saying, “Don’t do this. The Muslims are trying to establish a worldwide caliphate, with the U.S. as their headquarters. The Koran requires them to do this.”?
No, they were either fully supportive of the partnership or remained silent about it. The Caliphate/Koran/Conquest position didn’t arise until the militants began opposing the U.S. Empire’s interventions and retaliating against such interventions with terrorist attacks.
Moreover, re-read the part about the U.S. government’s support of Pakistani President Zia. He took power in a coup. That made him a dictator — a military dictator — one who brutalized his own people and was fully supported by the U.S. Empire.
NYT: “Despite [Kundi’s] zeal for jihad, it was a relatively quiet time in Pakistan. The war against the Soviets was long over, and most of the country’s jihadi groups were drifting. All that changed when the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, jolting young Pakistani jihadis who saw it as a war against Muslims.”
NYT: “‘That was the beginning,’ said a security official in Karachi. ‘They went from small local targets, to a much bigger global one, the United States.’”
NYT: “When Al Qaeda came to Pakistan, Mr. Kundi did not have to go far to find it. The American invasion had pushed many of its leaders over the border, including Abu Zubaydah, a member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle. In 2002, he surfaced in Allied Hospital in Faisalabad, where Mr. Kundi was working. He was seeking treatment and preaching against Pakistan’s government for supporting the United States. His audience loved it, Muhammad said.”
The good news is that the Caliphate/Koran/Conquest position remains the fringe position in America. After all, not even the U.S. Empire takes the position that Muslims are engaged in a Koran-mandated holy war of conquest against the world. The Empire’s justifications for its interventions in the Middle East are partly based on its purported love and concern for the well-being of Muslims. The sanctions, invasions, occupations, and embargoes, Empire officials say, are intended to bring “freedom and democracy” to Muslims, or at least those who survive the interventions. Moreover, let’s not forget that the Empire continues to provide millions of dollars in foreign aid to regimes in Muslim countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt. Would the Empire be doing that if it bought into the Caliphate/Koran/Conquest position?
The better news is that increasing numbers of Americans are now embracing the libertarian position on foreign policy, one that is fully consistent with the NYT’s story about Umar Khundi and his fellow militants. U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, both before and after 9/11, has produced the anger and hatred for the United States among Muslims, which has manifested itself in the form of terrorist retaliation. As Kundi himself would have said had U.S. foreign policy not diverted him from a medical career to the life of a militant, arriving at a correct prescription for a problem inevitably depends on arriving at a correct diagnosis of it.