Osama bin Laden's November 12 audiotape claimed that one reason for the brutal bombings in Bali last month was Australia's role in protecting East Timor and allowing it to separate from Indonesia's clutches. Typically, most analysts ignored this. The Washington Post even printed the relevant paragraph with this section missing, and with no ellipses to indicate its absence.
This continues a pattern in which our media and political leaders ignore the forthright and articulate religious motives and ideology that drive al Qaeda and its allies. We are engaged in a war in which we resolutely ignore our enemies' stated goals.
On September 11, we were attacked by explicitly religious terrorists who said their prayers before going out to slaughter infidels. The movement they represent consistently outlines its goals through a plethora of books, websites, and videos, and gives a clear and articulate theology and view of history to justify and explain its actions.
Bin Laden's 1998 al Jazeera interview stressed this point: "There are two parties to the conflict: World Christianity, which is allied with Jews and Zionism, led by the United States, Britain, and Israel. The second party is the Islamic world." His 1998 merger with Egypt's Islamic Jihad formed the "World Islamic Front for Holy war against Jews and Crusaders," al Qaeda's real name, and he has described President Bush as fighting under the "sign of the cross."
Al Qaeda's manual begins by recalling "the fall of our orthodox Caliphates on March 3, 1924." Bin Laden's November 3, 2001, videotape proclaims, "Following World War I, which ended more than 83 years ago, the whole Islamic world fell under the Crusader banner…." Their grievance, continually expressed, is the collapse of the Islamic world in the face of "Christendom," a collapse that can only be explained by Muslims' apostasy from Islam and only be reversed by returning to their version of Islam.
Hence al Qaeda and a network of extremist groups from Algeria to the Philippines consistently fight to impose their version of Islam on Muslims and, then, the rest of the world. They want a restored caliphate in which each country will submit to their version of Islamic sharia law. The Taliban wanted a Caliphate in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan's IMU in Central Asia, the Philippines' Abu Sayyaf and Indonesia's Jamaah Islamiya and Laskar Jihad in southeast Asia. Al Qaeda wants one for the whole world.
Yet in fighting these enemies we ignore these clear goals and filter their acts through a grid of western nostrums about alienation, economics, and the Middle East. We are told that al Qaeda's primary grievance is America, "the West," or freedom, or the plight of the Palestinians.
But though al Qaeda has made it crystal clear that, in its own view, it is attacking, inter alia, Christians, whom it calls "crusaders," as well as Jews (and Hindus and Buddhists), American analysts, inside and outside the government, insist that its agenda is not religiously based but is simply anti-American.
Thus when, in August, newly acquired bin Laden videotapes explicitly denounced "crusaders and Jews," CNN claimed that he was really targeting "the United States and the West," while CBS described his foes as "Americans," and the Associated Press asserted, without argument, that "Bin Laden has used the term 'crusaders' to refer to Westerners."
In September, after the latest massacre of Pakistani Christians, in Taxila, Pakistan's center of Christianity since the second century, the New York Times called it an assault on "western targets," and Reuters headlined "Pakistan attack seen aimed at West, not Christians." Meanwhile, the attackers themselves said, they "planned to kill Christians" and that they "killed the nonbelievers."
In October, the statement claiming credit for attacking an oil tanker off Yemen referred to a "crusader oil tanker." Despite this explicit religious reference to al Qaeda's purported Christian enemies, the Washington Post declared that they were opposed to the U.S. and have "often referred to the United States as 'crusaders.'" This attempt to equate crusaders with the United States is especially confusing since the tanker in question was French.
The Oct 12 bombing in Bali was also described by the media as directed at "the West," though it took place in Indonesia's only Hindu majority territory and coincided exactly with bombings on the Philippine consulate in Manado, a Christian area hundreds of miles away. Al Qaeda affiliates in Indonesia had already orchestrated the bombing of 36 Christian schools and churches in Indonesia during Christmas 2000, while its allies have massacred thousands of Christians in eastern Indonesia, the latest assault being the August 12 destruction of the Christian village of Sepe.
The November 12 bin Laden audiotape says that Australian victims were picked partly because of Australia's "despicable effort to separate [Catholic] East Timor" from Indonesia, thus undermining the hoped-for Southeast Asian Islamic state. Meanwhile, in the Philippines itself, Abu Sayyaf continues to massacre local Christians.
Similar tales can be told of the world's bloodiest conflict, in Sudan; of the slaughter of over 100,000 moderate Muslims by extremists in Algeria; of attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh, on Buddhists in Thailand, and on Hindus and Buddhists in Afghanistan; of the over six thousand dead in the conflict over the introduction of Islamic sharia law in Nigeria; of the Chechens' release of the Muslims amongst their Russian hostages in Moscow; and of attacks on Jews throughout the world. The largest death tolls from Islamist extremism do not occur in America or the West or Israel, but in Sudan, Algeria, and Indonesia.
America has become a focus of Islamist rage because, when the terrorists seek to wreak their havoc around the world, whether in Israel, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, or Afghanistan, we stand in their way, thwart their intentions, and defeat their fighters. We also undercut their beliefs by urging the equality of women and individual and religious freedom. They are rendered impotent in all but death as long as American military might and American cultural power stands in their way.
Now, as Islamist terrorists repeat endlessly, their strategic goal must now be to make the United States retreat so that they can achieve Islamist rule elsewhere. Thus the chief demand of the November letter, ostensibly from al Qaeda, is that America end its support of those throughout the world who fight radical Islam: "Leave us alone or expect us in Washington and New York."
What does this mean for our current war against extremist Islam? First, that we are not fighting merely "terrorist" groups but a worldwide Islamist insurgency. Second, that our enemies are not driven simply by opposition to U.S. policy on Israel or the Middle East. They must be faced as an aggressive, expansionist, global ideological movement with its sights set also on Africa and Asia.
Third, the attacks on America are explicitly designed to strike fear in us in order to keep us from interfering with Islamist attempts to impose their will throughout the world. Hence any American withdrawal from conflict with extremist Islam, whether in the Middle East or Asia, will not guarantee peace and harmony. It will be a victory for Islamist terrorism, the fulfillment of their first strategic goal, and a prelude to expanded attacks elsewhere.