At Large

Blame it on Baghdad

It is convenient, intellectually lazy, and wrong to blame Islamic terror on the Iraq War.

By 9.28.06

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Years ago I read a series of Peanuts cartoons in which Lucy is teaching her younger brother Linus the etymology of plant names: "The palm tree got its name because the average person can put his palm all the way round the tree trunk," she says. Charlie Brown, listening to Lucy's absurd comments from a distance, becomes so agitated that his stomach begins to ache.

Like poor old wishy-washy Charlie Brown, I feel nauseated when pundits charge that Islamism began -- or, alternatively, accelerated -- with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. I always suspected that Lucy -- in her typical ornery fashion -- was purposely spreading misinformation. I'm less suspicious when it comes to the masterminds behind the partially released National Intelligence Estimate's "classified" document, a study that reportedly makes the case that the Iraq War is fueling terror, which is like making the case for oxygen. Our spooks are damn efficient when it comes to discovering the blinding obvious. They're less effective doing, well, clandestine intelligence work.

The War in Iraq serves rather effectively as terror's all-purpose fall guy and universal scapegoat, though in reality pretty much everything the West does can be blamed for increasing the threat of Islamic terror. These days it's easier to give offense to a fundamentalist Muslim than it is to a bi-polar Mafia don. Indeed, today's Islamists make Tommy De Vito (the Joe Pesci character in Goodfellas) look positively mellow.

A more accurate New York Times' headline would have read: "Iraq War among many, many factors fueling terror." What had the Danish cartoon riots to do with the Iraq War? Filmmaker Theo van Gogh was not butchered and Dutch Parliamentarian Aayan Hirsi Ali forced into hiding because the U.S. overthrew Saddam Hussein. Van Gogh was murdered because his 11-minute film Submission was an insult -- not so much to good taste and the art of cinematography, though it was that too -- but to Islam. Certainly, the 9/11 hijackers did not pilot jets into skyscrapers and government buildings because they foresaw the Iraq War in a visionary dream. Osama bin Laden ordered the murdering of innocents, mainly because of the first Gulf War, the sanctions on Iraq, and the U.S. troops that remained behind polluting the sands of the "Land of the Two Mosques" (Saudi Arabia). Similarly, al Qaeda had been rehearsing for its big London gig for nearly a decade before the subway attacks on 7/7. And I'm still waiting to hear from someone -- anyone -- who can come up with one good link between the recent Hezbollah-Israeli conflict and the Iraq War.

IN TODAY'S HYPER news cycle it's easy to forget what we knew just a few short years ago. A December 2002 poll conducted for the BBC found that 44 percent of British Muslims believed al Qaeda's attacks on 9/11 were a justified response to "American aggression." Following the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Talibanistan, 70 percent of British Muslims maintained the U.S. and the UK had "declared war on Islam."

We're talking about an alleged "American aggression" that commenced long before the Iraq invasion, mind you. To the Islamist mindset American aggression might mean halting the rape of Kuwait by Saddam's Republican Guard, or protecting the Kurds from retaliation by instituting a no-fly zone over Kurdistan. Aggression, too, is when your government does not favor the Hamas-governed Palestinians over the Israeli state. The A-word being the operative one because, according to the Muslim holy book, "aggression" justifies holy war.

At most the War in Iraq has sped up the process of Islamic radicalization begun in the early 20th century with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Brothers Qutb (Sayyid and bin Laden's mentor Mohammed). Like many of today's British Muslims, Sayyid Qutb believed that the West was waging war against Islam, and the only way to defeat the Crusaders was to return to 7th-century Islam, a time when mighty Muslim armies were on the march conquering large swaths of the Persian, Roman, and Byzantine empires. The one bright spot in the intelligence report suggests that terrorist recruitment can be halted, even reversed, by putting an end to the insurgency. But that will take a commitment of troops and resources from the Bush Administration that we have yet -- and I for one don't expect -- to see.

On the way into work Monday I heard former chairman of the National Intelligence Council Robert Hutchings complain to an NPR reporter that the U.S. was "prosecuting the war on terror in a military way." Only some fancy wheel-work kept me from driving straight into an overpass. However, after that near-death experience everything became suddenly clear. No wonder the intelligence report's findings were so bleak. We're going about this war-thing all wrong. Beat them swords into ploughshares, boys, and send them off to developing countries where they can be melted down to make...well, third-rate, third-world swords.

If this is what passes for American "intelligence," President Bush might want to consider modifying his education program's slogan from "No Child Left Behind" to "No Child Left."

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.