The Theatre of Good and Evil
by Eduardo Galeano

Who is Osama bin Laden?
by Michel Chossudovsky

U.S. Policy Toward Political Islam
by Stephen Zunes

excerpted from the book

September 11 and the U.S. War

Beyond the Curtain of Smoke

Edited by Roger Burbach and Ben Clarke

City Lights Books, 2002


The Theatre of Good and Evil by Eduardo Galeano

In the struggle of Good against Evil, it's always the people who get killed.

The terrorists killed workers of 60 countries in NYC and DC, in the name of Good against Evil. And in the name of Good against Evil President Bush has promised vengeance: "We will eliminate Evil from the world," he announced.

Eliminate Evil? What would Good be without Evil? It's not just religious fanatics who need enemies to justify their madness. The arms industry and the gigantic war machine of the U.S. also needs enemies to justify its existence. Good and evil, evil and good: the actors change masks, the heroes become monsters and the monsters heroes, in accord with the demands of the theatre's playwrights.

This is nothing new. The German scientist Werner von Braun was evil when he invented the V-2 bombers that Hitler used against London, but became good when he used his talents in the service of the United States. Stalin was good during World War Two and evil afterwards, when he became the leader of the Evil Empire. In the cold war years John Steinbeck wrote: "Maybe the whole world needs Russians. I suppose that even in Russia they need Russians. Maybe Russia's Russians are called Americans." Even the Russians became good afterwards. Today, Putin can add his voice to say: "Evil must be punished."

Saddam Hussein was good, and so were the chemical weapons he used against the Iranians and the Kurds. Afterwards, he became evil. They were calling him Satan Hussein when the U.S. finished up their invasion of Panama to invade Iraq because Iraq invaded Kuwait. This was Father Bush s war against Evil. With the humanitarian and compassionate spirit that characterizes his family, he killed more than 100,000 Iraqis, the vast majority of them civilians.

Satan Hussein stayed where he was, but this number one enemy of humanity had to step aside and accept becoming number two enemy of humanity. The bane of the world is now called Osama bin Laden. The CIA taught him everything he knows about terrorism: bin Laden, loved and armed by the U.S. government, was one of the principal "freedom fighters" against Communism in Afghanistan. Father Bush occupied the Vice Presidency when President Reagan called these heroes 'the moral equivalents of the Founding Fathers.' Hollywood agreed. They filmed Rambo 3: Afghani Muslims were the good guys. Now, 13 years later, in the time of Son Bush, they are the worst bad guys.

Henry Kissinger was one of the first to react to the recent tragedy. "Those who provide support, financing, and inspiration to terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves," he intoned, words that Son Bush would repeat hours later.

If that's how it is, the urgent need right now is to bomb Kissinger. He is guilty of many more crimes than bin Laden or any terrorist in the world. And in many more countries. He provided "support, financing, and inspiration" to state terror in Indonesia, Cambodia, Iran, South Africa, Bangladesh, and all the South American countries that suffered the dirty war of Plan Condor.

On September 11, 1973, exactly 28 years before Twin Towers fires, the Presidential Palace in Chile was stormed. Kissinger had written the epitaph for Allende and Chilean democracy long before when he commented on the results of the elections: "I don't see why we have to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people."


Who is Osama bin Laden? by Michel Chossudovsky

A few hours after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the Bush administration concluded, without supporting evidence, that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization were prime suspects. CIA Director George Tenet stated that bin Laden has the capacity to plan "multiple attacks with little or no warning." Secretary of State Colin Powell called the attacks "an act of war" and President Bush confirmed in an evening televised address to the nation that he would "make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." Former CIA Director James Woolsey pointed his finger at "state sponsorship," implying the complicity of one or more foreign governments. In the words of former National Security Adviser, Lawrence Eagleburger, "I think we will show when we get attacked like this, we are terrible in our strength and in our retribution."

Meanwhile, parroting official statements, the Western media has approved the launching of "punitive actions" directed against civilian targets. In the words of William Safire writing in the New York Times: "When we reasonably determine our attackers' bases and camps, we must pulverize them-minimizing but accepting the risk of collateral damage-and act overtly or covertly to destabilize terror's national hosts."

Prime suspect in the New York and Washington terrorists attacks, branded by the FBI as an "international terrorist" for his role in the African U.S. embassy bombings, Saudi-born Osama bin Laden was recruited during the Soviet-Afghan war "ironically under the auspices of the CIA, to fight Soviet invaders." In 1979, "the largest covert operation in the history of the CIA" was launched in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in support of the pro-Communist government of Babrak Kamal. With the active encouragement of the CIA and Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) who wanted to turn the Afghan jihad into a global war waged by all Muslim states against the Soviet Union, some 35,000 Muslim radicals from 40 Islamic countries joined Afghanistan's fight between 1982 and 1992. Tens of thousands more came to study in Pakistani madrassahs. Eventually more than 100,000 foreign Muslim radicals were directly influenced by the Afghan jihad.

The Islamic jihad was supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia with a significant part of the funding generated from the Golden Crescent drug trade. In March 1985, President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 166, which authorized stepped-up covert military aid to the mujahideen, and it made clear that the secret Afghan war had a new goal: to defeat Soviet troops in Afghanistan through covert action and encourage a Soviet withdrawal. The new covert U.S. assistance began with a dramatic increase in arms supplies-a steady rise to 65,000 tons annually by 1987, as well as a "ceaseless stream" of CIA and Pentagon specialists who traveled to the secret headquarters of Pakistan's ISI on the main road near Rawalpindi, Pakistan. There the CIA specialists met with Pakistani intelligence officers to help plan operations for the Afghan rebels.

The CIA, using Pakistan's ISI, played a key role in training the mujahideen. In turn, the CIA-sponsored guerrilla training was integrated with the teachings of Islam: Predominant themes were that Islam was a complete socio-political ideology, that holy Islam was being violated by the atheistic Soviet troops, and that the Islamic people of Afghanistan should reassert their independence by overthrowing the leftist Afghan regime propped up by Moscow.

Pakistan's Intelligence Apparatus

Pakistan's ISI was used as a go-between. The CIA covert support to the jihad operated indirectly through the Pakistani ISI-the CIA did not channel its support directly to the mujahideen. For these covert operations to be successful, Washington was careful not to reveal that the ultimate objective of the jihad consisted of destroying the Soviet Union.

In the words of the CIA's Milton Beardman, "We didn't train Arabs." Yet according to Abdel Monam Saidali, of the Al-aram Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo, bin Laden and the "Afghan Arabs" had been given "very sophisticated types of training that was allowed to them by the CIA." CIA's Beardman confirmed, in this regard, that Osama bin Laden was not aware of the role he was playing on behalf of Washington. In the words of bin Laden (quoted by Beardman): "Neither I, nor my brothers saw evidence of American help."

Motivated by nationalism and religious fervor, the Islamic warriors were unaware that they were fighting the Soviet Army on behalf of Uncle Sam. While there were contacts at the upper levels of the intelligence hierarchy, Islamic rebel leaders in theatre had no contacts with Washington or the CIA. With CIA backing and the funneling of massive amounts of U.S. military aid, the Pakistani ISI had developed into a "parallel structure wielding enormous power over all aspects of government." 6 The ISI had a staff composed of military and intelligence officers, bureaucrats, undercover agents and informers, estimated at 150,000.

Meanwhile, CIA operations had also reinforced the Pakistani military regime led by General Zia ul Haq: "Relations between the CIA and the ISI [Pakistan's military intelligence] had grown increasingly warm following [General] Zia's ouster of Bhutto and the advent of the military regime." During most of the Afghan war, Pakistan was more aggressively anti-Soviet than even the United States. Soon after the Soviet military invaded Afghanistan in 1980, Zia ul Haq sent his ISI chief to destabilize the Soviet Central Asian states. The CIA only agreed to this plan in October 1984. Both Pakistan and the United States took the line of deception on Afghanistan with a public posture of negotiating a settlement while privately agreeing that military escalation was the best course.

The Golden Crescent Drug Triangle

The history of the drug trade in Central Asia is intimately related to the CIA's covert operations. Prior to the Soviet-Afghan war, opium production in Afghanistan and Pakistan was directed to small regional markets. There was no local production of heroin." In this regard, Alfred McCoy's study confirms that within two years of the onslaught of the CIA operation in Afghanistan, "the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands became the world's top heroin producer, supplying 60 percent of U.S. demand. In Pakistan, the heroin-addict population went from near zero in 1979. . . to 1.2 million by 1985-a much steeper rise than in any other nation." CIA assets controlled this heroin trade. As the mujahideen guerrillas seized territory inside Afghanistan, they ordered peasants to plant opium as a revolutionary tax. Across the border in Pakistan, Afghan leaders and local syndicates under the protection of Pakistan Intelligence operated hundreds of heroin laboratories. During this decade of wide-open drug dealing, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Islamabad failed to instigate major seizures or arrests. U.S. officials had refused to investigate charges of heroin dealing by its Afghan allies because U.S. narcotics policy in Afghanistan has been subordinated to the war against Soviet influence there. In 1995, the former CIA director of the Afghan operation, Charles Cogan, admitted the CIA had indeed sacrificed the drug war to fight the Cold War. "Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets. We didn't really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade.... I don't think that we need to apologize for this. Every situation has its fallout.... There was fallout in terms of drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan."

In the Wake of the Cold War

In the wake of the Cold War, the Central Asian region is not only strategic for its extensive oil reserves, it also produces three quarters of the World's opium, representing multibillion dollar revenues to business syndicates, financial institutions, intelligence agencies and organized crime. The annual proceeds of the Golden Crescent drug trade (between 100 and 200 billion dollars) represents approximately one third of the worldwide annual turnover of narcotics, estimated by the United Nations to be of the order of $500 billion. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a new surge in opium production has unfolded. (According to U.N. estimates, the production of opium in Afghanistan in 1998-99-coinciding with the build-up of armed insurgencies in the former Soviet republics-reached a record high of 4600 metric tons. Powerful business syndicates in the former Soviet Union allied with organized crime are competing for the strategic control over the heroin routes.

The ISI's extensive military-intelligence network was not dismantled in the wake of the Cold War. The CIA continued to support the Islamic jihad out of Pakistan. New undercover initiatives were set in motion in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans. Pakistan's military and intelligence apparatus essentially "served as a catalyst for the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of six new Muslim republics in Central Asia".

Meanwhile, Islamic missionaries of the Wahhabi sect from Saudi Arabia had established themselves in the Muslim republics as well as within the Russian federation, encroaching upon the institutions of the secular State. Despite its anti-American ideology, Islamic fundamentalism was largely serving Washington's strategic interests in the former Soviet Union. Following the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, the civil war in Afghanistan continued unabated. The Taliban were being supported by the Pakistani Deobandis and their political party the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). In 1993, JUI entered the government coalition of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Ties between JUI, the Army and the ISI were established. In 1995, with the downfall of the Hezb-I-Islami Hektmatyar government in Kabul, the Taliban not only instated a hard-line Islamic government, they also "handed control of training camps in Afghanistan over to JUI factions."

And the JUI, with the support of the Saudi Wahhabi movements, played a key role in recruiting volunteers to fight in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union. Jane's Defense Weekly confirms in this regard that "half of Taliban manpower and equipment originate[d] in Pakistan under the ISI." In fact, it would appear that following the Soviet withdrawal both sides in the Afghan civil war continued to receive covert support through Pakistan's ISI.

In other words, backed by Pakistan's military intelligence (ISI) which in turn was controlled by the CIA, the Taliban Islamic State was largely serving American geopolitical interests. The Golden Crescent drug trade was also being used to finance and equip the Bosnian Muslim Army (starting in the early 1990s) and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). In last few months, there is evidence that mujahideen mercenaries are fighting in the ranks of KLA-NLA terrorists in their assaults into Macedonia.

No doubt, this explains why Washington had closed its eyes on the reign of terror imposed by the Taliban, including the blatant derogation of women's rights, the closing down of schools for girls, the dismissal of women employees from government offices and the enforcement of "the Sharia laws of punishment."

The War in Chechnya

With regard to Chechnya, the main rebel leaders Shamil Basayev and Al Khattab were trained and indoctrinated in CIA-sponsored camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to Yossef Bodansky, director of the U.S. Congress's Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, the war in Chechnya had been planned during a secret summit of Hezbollah International held in 1996 in Mogadishu, Somalia. The summit was attended by Osama bin Laden and high-ranking Iranian and Pakistani intelligence officers. In this regard, the involvement of Pakistan's ISI in Chechnya "goes far beyond supplying the Chechens with weapons and expertise: the ISI and its radical Islamic proxies are actually calling the shots in this war."

Russia's main pipeline route transits through Chechnya and Dagestan. Despite Washington's perfunctory condemnation of Islamic terrorism, the indirect beneficiaries of the Chechen war are the Anglo-American oil conglomerates which are vying for control over oil resources and pipeline corridors out of the Caspian Sea basin.

The two main Chechen rebel armies (respectively led by Commander Shamil Basayev and Emir Khattab) estimated at 35,000 strong were supported by Pakistan's ISI, which played a key role in organizing and training the Chechen rebel army: In 1994, the ISI arranged for Basayev and his trusted lieutenants to undergo intensive Islamic indoctrination and training in guerrilla warfare in the Khost province of Afghanistan at Amir Muawla camp, set up in the early 1980s by the CIA and ISI and run by famous Afghani warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In July 1994, upon graduating from Amir Muawia, Basayev was transferred to Markaz-i-Dawar camp in Pakistan to undergo training in advanced guerrilla tactics. In Pakistan, Basayev met the highest ranking Pakistani military and intelligence officers: Minister of Defense General Aftab Shahban Mirani, Minister of Interior General Naserullah Babar, and the head of the ISI branch in charge of supporting Islamic causes, General Javed Ashraf (all now retired). High-level connections soon proved very useful to Basayev.

Following his training and indoctrination stint, Basayev was assigned to lead the assault against Russian federal troops in the first Chechen war in 1995. His organization had also developed extensive links to criminal syndicates in Moscow as well as ties to Albanian organized crime and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). In 1997-98, according to Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) "Chechen warlords started buying up real estate in Kosovo . . . through several real estate firms registered as a cover in Yugoslavia."

Basayev's organization has also been involved in a number of rackets including narcotics, illegal tapping and sabotage of Russia's oil pipelines, kidnapping, prostitution, trade in counterfeit dollars and the smuggling of nuclear materials (See "Mafia linked to Albania's collapsed pyramids.") Alongside the extensive laundering of drug money, the proceeds of various illicit activities have been funneled towards the recruitment of mercenaries and the purchase of weapons.

During his training in Afghanistan, Shamil Basayev linked up with Saudi born veteran mujahideen commander "Al Khattab" who had fought as a volunteer in Afghanistan. Barely a few months after Basayev's return to Grozny, Khattab was invited (early 1995) to set up an army base in Chechnya for the training of mujahideen fighters. According to the BBC, Khattab's posting to Chechnya had been "arranged through the Saudi Arabian based [International] Islamic Relief Organization, a militant religious organization, funded by mosques and rich individuals which channeled funds into Chechnya."

Concluding Remarks

Since the Cold War era, Washington has consciously supported Osama bin Laden, while at same time placing him on the FBI's "most wanted list" as the world's foremost terrorist. While the mujahideen are busy fighting America's war in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, the FBI, operating as a U.S.- based police force-is waging a domestic war against terrorism, operating in some respects independently of the CIA which has since the Soviet-Afghan war supported international terrorism through its covert operations.

In a cruel irony, while the Islamic jihad featured by the Bush Administration as "a threat to America" is blamed for the terrorist assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, these same Islamic organizations constitute a key instrument of U.S. military-intelligence operations in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the truth must prevail to prevent the Bush Administration together with its NATO partners from embarking upon a military adventure which threatens the future of humanity.



U.S. Policy Toward Political Islam by Stephen Zunes

The perceived growth of radical Islamic movements throughout the Middle East and beyond has not only caused major political upheaval in the countries directly affected but has placed political Islam at the forefront of concerns voiced by U.S. policy makers. One unfortunate aspect of this newfound attention has been the way it has strengthened ugly stereotypes of Muslims already prevalent in the West. This occurs despite the existence of moderate Islamic segments and secular movements that are at least as influential as radicals in the political life of Islamic countries.

Even though the vast majority of the world's Muslims oppose terrorism, religious intolerance and the oppression of women, these remain the most prevalent images of the Muslim faith throughout the Western world. Such popular misconceptions about Islam and Islamic movements-often exacerbated by the media, popular culture and government officials-have made it particularly difficult to challenge U.S. policy.

To be able to respond effectively to Islamic militancy, the U.S. must clearly understand the reasons why a small but dangerous minority of Muslims have embraced extremist ideologies and violent tactics. These movements are often rooted in legitimate grievances voiced by under-represented and oppressed segments of the population, particularly the poor. And the U.S. is increasingly identified with the political, social and economic forces that are responsible for their misery. Many Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere are exposed not to the positive aspects of U.S. society-such as individual liberty, the rule of law and economic prosperity-but to the worst traits of American culture, including materialism, militarism and racism.

Although scientific and other advances from the Muslim world helped Europe emerge from the Dark Ages, the West has generally viewed Islamic peoples with hostility. From the time of the Crusades through the European colonial era to the ongoing bombing and sanctions against Iraq, Western Christians have killed far more Muslims than the reverse. Given the strong sense of history among Muslims, Washington's use and threat of military force, its imposition of punitive sanctions and its support of oppressive governments result in a popular reaction that often takes the form of religious extremism.

When a people have lost their identity-whether it be due to foreign occupation, war-induced relocation, the collapse of traditional economies, or other reasons-there is a great pull to embrace something that can provide the structure, worldview and purpose through which to rebuild their lives. The mosque is one of the few constants in Muslim countries undergoing great social disruption. Islam is a faith that offers a clear sense of social justice, a feeling of empowerment, and an obligation by individuals to challenge those who cause the injustice. Although there has been a decidedly reactionary orientation to some Islamic movements, other currents within Islam have been clearly progressive.

Washington has used the threat of Islamic fundamentalism as a justification for keeping a high military, economic and political profile in the Middle East. Yet it has often supported Muslim hard-liners when they were perceived to enhance U.S. interests, as they did in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Often, extremist Islamic movements arise in direct response to U.S. policies. The 1953 overthrow by the CIA of the moderate constitutional government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, followed by years of support for the brutal regime of the Shah, led directly to the rise of the Islamic revolution in that country. U.S. support for the regime of Jafaar Nimeiry during most of his repressive 16-year rule of Sudan led to the destruction of much of that country's civil society, resulting in the 1989 coup by hardline Islamist military officers who overthrew that country's brief democratic experiment. During the 1970s and 1980s, the destruction of moderate Muslim-led factions in Lebanon by U.S.-backed invasions and occupations from Syria and Israel-and later military intervention by the U.S. itself- led to a vacuum filled by more sectarian groups such as Hezbollah, even as most of the other militias that once carved up the rest of the country were disarmed by a revived central government and its Syrian backers.

The roots of Islamic radicalism stem from economic inequality, military occupation and authoritarianism. Given that U.S. policy in the Middle East and elsewhere has often perpetuated such injustices, responsibility for the rise of radical Islamic movements can often be traced to the U.S. itself.

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

The U.S. has supported hardline Islamic movements and governments, such as the Saudi Arabia regime, which have encouraged extremist movements elsewhere. U.S. support for repressive governments makes democratic and nonviolent options for the Islamic opposition extremely difficult. Neoliberal economic development strategies-vigorously encouraged by the U.S.-have resulted in widespread economic dislocation, which has in turn encouraged the growth of radical Islamic movements.

Ironically, the U.S. has at times been a supporter of hardline Islamic movements and governments. For example, Washington armed extremist Islamic groups in Afghanistan during the 1980s during the popular uprising against that country's communist regime backed by Soviet occupation forces. Some of the most notorious Islamic terrorists today-including many followers of Osama bin Laden-originally received their training from the CIA during that period.

Despite horrific reports from Afghanistan about the Taliban government's totalitarian theocracy, which has far surpassed the brutality of the communist regime of the 1980s, the U.S. voiced little opposition to the regime until it refused to extradite bin Laden for trial on terrorism charges.

Currently, the U.S. maintains close strategic cooperation-including massive arms transfers, training and logistics, and a permanent military presence-with Saudi Arabia, one of the most extreme states in the Muslim world considering its strict interpretation of Islamic codes, repression of women and political orientation. The Saudis have used their vast oil wealth to encourage like-minded movements throughout the Islamic world. Some of the Islamic-identified governments and movements the U.S. has found most troubling-the Hamas of Palestine, the Taliban of Afghanistan, the FIS of Algeria and the military government of Sudan-all had backing from the Saudis at some point in their development.

Perhaps the most serious problem with U.S. policy has been Washington's support for repressive allied governments that suppress even moderate Islamic opposition groups. This often leads to a backlash against any U.S. presence by Islamists reacting to American support of what they perceive as an illegitimate government. The U.S. has rationalized its support for several regimes engaging in patterns of gross and systematic human rights violations as a regrettable but necessary means of suppressing an Islamic opposition that Washington fears would be even worse if it came to power. In many respects, this policy closely parallels the decades of support during the cold war of repressive right-wing governments in the name of anticommunism. The result is similar: the lack of open political expression encourages suppressed sectors to ally with an underground- and often violent and authoritarian-opposition movement.

In some cases-such as in Tajikistan and other former Soviet republics-the U.S. has even allied with old-line Communist Party bosses as a means of countering the growth of Islamic movements. This occurs despite the fact that the Islamic movements in much of Central Asia are actually quite progressive and moderate (in part because of the strong Sufi influence) when compared with some of their Middle Eastern and North African counterparts.

Another factor fueling radical Islamic movements has been the perceived U.S. culpability in the deaths of Muslim civilians. From Washington's initial failure to respond to the Serbian slaughter of Bosnian Muslims to the sanctions against Iraq to the support of Israeli repression against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, U.S. foreign policy has laid itself open to this accusation.

Extremist Islamic political forces have also arisen in areas where there has been large-scale dislocation due to war. U.S. support for Israel's ongoing occupation and repression in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has contributed to the rise of Hamas and other radical Islamic movements, despite the fact that Palestinians historically had been more pluralistic and tolerant than many of their Arab neighbors. Islamic extremists were never much of a factor in Lebanese politics until after the U.S.-backed 1982 Israeli invasion and Israel's 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon.

Social dislocation can also result from uneven economic development, as has been encouraged by the U.S. insistence on globalization according to a neoliberal economic model. Largely unregulated Western economic penetration in Egypt, Tunisia, the Philippines and elsewhere has exacerbated gross wealth inequalities and triggered disruptive internal migration, giving rise to these countries' Islamic extremists.

It would certainly be simplistic to blame the U.S. exclusively for the rise of violent and extremist Islamic political movements. Autocratic and misguided socialist policies in Algeria-which has had very little U.S. influence-also resulted in an Islamic reaction similar to movements triggered by autocratic and misguided capitalist policies elsewhere. And in other countries, the colonial legacies of the French and British along with certain domestic factors have spawned extremist Islamic groups. Yet U.S. policies have unquestionably fueled the development of this dangerous political trend.

Military solutions-apparently preferred by the U.S. and many of its allies-will not succeed in countering the rise of militant Islamic movements. Nevertheless, Washington has successfully encouraged the NATO alliance, in a desperate attempt to justify its existence at the end of the cold war, to place challenging Islamic movements among its top strategic priorities. NATO has already begun a dialogue with some North African regimes regarding mutual security arrangements against a perceived Islamic threat.

Over the past two decades, the U.S. has bombed Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan in an effort to challenge Islamic movements and governments viewed as antithetical to U.S. interests. Such air strikes have not only been contrary to international law but have also resulted in fueling anti-American hatred, particularly when they have caused civilian casualties.

Trying to impose military solutions to what are essentially political, economic, and social problems is doomed to fail.

Toward a New Foreign Policy

The U.S. must shift from supporting repressive governments to encouraging greater democracy and pluralism in the Islamic world. The U.S. must demand an end to Israel's illegal occupation of Arab East Jerusalem and other Palestinian territories and promote a peace agreement that recognizes the city's importance to all three monotheistic faiths. The U.S. should support sustainable economic development in the Islamic world, so that the benefits of foreign investment and globalization can be more fairly distributed with minimal social disruption.

To effectively challenge the threat from radical Islamic movements, the U.S. must shift its focus from trying to crush such movements to pursuing policies that discourage their emergence. Similarly, the U.S. must recognize that not all Islamic movements are contrary to the development of political pluralism or good relations with the United States.

From Afghanistan to Algeria and beyond, radical Islamic movements have grown to prominence where there has been great social dislocation in the population, whether it be from war or misguided economic policies. Policies designed to minimize such traumatic events will be far more successful than military threats in encouraging moderation in Islamic countries.

The U.S. must cease its support for autocratic regimes and encourage greater political pluralism. In countries like Jordan, Turkey, and Yemen, where Islamic parties have been allowed to compete in a relatively open political process, they have generally played a responsible-if somewhat conservative-role in the political system. The more radical elements observable in many Islamic movements are usually a reflection of the denial of their right to participate in political discourse. Many radical Islamic movements, such as those in Egypt, Palestine, and Algeria, include diverse elements. Were they no longer under siege and instead allowed to function in an open democratic system they would likely divide into competing political parties ranging across the ideological spectrum.

It is noteworthy that the FIS in Algeria competed fairly and nonviolently during that country's brief political opening in the early 1990s, only to have its anticipated election victory stolen in a military coup. In the aftermath, the radical GAM emerged to launch its campaign of terror against foreigners and broad segments of Algerian society.

Indeed, no extremist Islamic movements have ever evolved in democratic societies. Supporting democracy would therefore be a major step in the direction of moderating political Islam. The U.S. must stop considering Islam to be the enemy and instead encourage Islamic movements by working for justice and economic equality.

Washington must support the Palestinians' right to statehood in the West Bank and Gaza, including a shared Jerusalem that would serve as the capital of both Israel and Palestine. Both Congress and the executive branch should rescind resolutions and past statements that imply support for Israel's unilateral annexation of Arab East Jerusalem and surrounding Palestinian lands. Washington must instead recognize the city's importance to all three monotheistic faiths. Not only would such a policy shift bring the U.S. in line with international law, U.N. Security Council resolutions and virtually the entire international community, but it would also remove a highly emotional and volatile issue from the arsenal of Islamic extremists, who exploit the widespread anger about U.S. support for the illegal Israeli occupation of a city that Muslims also see as holy.

The U.S. should stop pushing for radical economic liberalization in Islamic countries, since such policies increase inequality and result in rising materialism and conspicuous consumption for elites at the expense of basic needs of the poor majority. Instead, the U.S. must support sustainable economic development, so that the benefits of foreign investment and globalization can be more fairly distributed with minimal social disruption. Although some Islamic traditions have proven to be relatively tolerant of autocratic governance, the presence of corruption and a lack of concern about social injustice by a country's leadership are generally seen by Muslims as a violation of a social contract and must be resisted.

In many respects, political Islam has filled a vacuum that resulted from the failure of Arab nationalism, Marxism, and other ideologies to free Islamic countries both from unjust political, social and economic systems and from Western imperialism. Just because radical Islamic movements have embraced tactics and ideologies reprehensible to most Westerners does not mean that the concerns giving rise to such movements are without merit.

Only by addressing the legitimate grievances of these movements will there be any hope of stopping their often illegitimate methods and questionable ideologies. Otherwise, the U.S. may find itself dealing with a series of conflicts that could eclipse the bloody surrogate cold war battles that ravaged the third world in previous decades.


Stephen Zunes is an Associate Professor of Politics and chairperson of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. Zunes is also a senior analyst and the Middle East and North Africa editor at Foreign Policy In Focus. This article was originally published in the June 2001 issue of Foreign Policy in Focus.


September 11 and U.S. War

Index of Website

Home Page