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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 06, 2003

Half of an excellent article

Yesterday's NY Times almost featured a great article. Scott Atran's "Who wants to be a martyr?" started off with some very important debunking.
As logical as the poverty-breeds-terrorism argument may seem, study after study shows that suicide attackers and their supporters are rarely ignorant or impoverished. Nor are they crazed, cowardly, apathetic or asocial. If terrorist groups relied on such maladjusted people, "they couldn't produce effective and reliable killers," according to Todd Stewart, a retired Air Force general who directs the Ohio State University program in international and domestic security.
This point is not new. Daniel Pipes and others have made this point. Still given the numbers of "experts" asserting that suicide terrorism is the result of despair, it's important that this point be made repeatedly.

Unfortunately, Atran didn't dig nearly deep enough.
How do we combat these masters of manipulation? President Bush and many American politicans maintain that these groups and the people supporting them hate our democracy and freedoms. But poll after poll of the Muslim world shows opinion strongly favoring America's forms of government, personal liberty and education. A University of Michigan political scientist, Mark Tessler, finds Arab attitudes to American culture most favorable among young adults (regardless of their religious feeling) — the same population that recruiters single out.

It is our actions that they don't like: as long ago as 1997, a Defense Department report (in response to the 1996 suicide bombing of Air Force housing at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia) noted that "historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States."

Shows of military strength don't seem to dissuade terrorists: witness the failure of Israel's coercive efforts to end the string of Palestinian suicide bombings. Rather, we need to show the Muslim world the side of our culture that they most respect. Our engagement needs to involve interfaith initiatives, not ethnic profiling. America must address grievances, such as the conflict in the Palestinian territories, whose daily images of violence engender global Muslim resentment.
Whereas Pipes notes that there is a need to have an extensive infrastructure behind the suicide terrorists, Atran ignores that. He simply wishes to blame the West for suicide terrorism.

But the terror doesn't happen on a whim. Hatred for the West (and Israel) is not based on our actions, but on who we are. I know that Atran dismisses that because Arabs have a great respect for American freedom. (And Israeli freedom.) But having respect for something doesn't rule out that it can be hated too.

The hatred toward Israel and toward the West that pervades Arab societies in the form of official propaganda. And that propaganda has so little to do with real American and Israeli actions. It is hate plain and simple. (Explain why a Saudi official would claim that Jews use the blood of non-Jews to bake Hamentaschen. It has nothing to do with any occupation.)

In order to give vent to that hatred, the PA has supervised the importation of weapons and explosives. Israel's military offensive has reduced the quantities of arms held by the terrorists as well as the channels of their distribution. Atran is wrong. Israel's efforts have reversed the violence. But the only way to defeat the terror is to stop the arms and stop the hatred.