At last, Americans can finally dispense with the fairy tale that terrorists hate us “not for what we’ve done, but for what we stand for, who we are.” Osama bin Laden shattered that myth with his videotaped statement released on October 7th, in which he publicly declared, for all practical purposes, that an unjust U.S. foreign policy is the driving force behind the September 11th terrorist attacks. “Millions of innocent children are being killed in Iraqï¿½Neither America, nor the people who live in it, will dream of security before peace reigns in Palestine, and before all the armies leave the land of Muhammad [Saudi Arabia],” said bin Laden.
Nothing can justify the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on innocent and defenseless civilians, and whoever perpetrated those heinous and barbarous acts must certainly be brought to justice. Muslims around the world agree that killing civilians is not permitted under Koranic law, but bin Laden’s message still resonates with millions of Muslims in the Arab world. It would be foolhardy and dangerous for Americans to dismiss without further examination bin Laden’s stated purpose.
For the past eleven years, the United States has been the driving force behind UN sanctions against Saddam Hussein and the 22 million Iraqi people. Estimates vary, but World Health Organization and UNICEF studies certify that sanctions are responsible for the death of approximately 1 million Iraqi civilians, including over 500,000 children. Denis Halliday, the first of two UN humanitarian coordinators in Iraq to resign the post in protest of the sanctions, has used the term genocide in reference to the sanctions. “It certainly is a valid word in my view when you have a situation where we see thousands of deaths per month, a possible total of 1 million to 1.5 million. If that is not genocide, then I don’t know quite what is,” said Halliday in a 1999 interview.
UN Security Resolution 242 calls for Israel’s territorial withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. However, the PLO has gained sole control over less than one third of the territories. Meanwhile, the Israeli settler population in the occupied territories has reached nearly 200,000. “Without solving the Palestinian problem, we will see a new generation of terrorists threatening world security. It’s a breeding ground for terrorism,” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said after a recent meeting with German officials in Berlin. Jordan’s King Abdullah II said he told President Bush that a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict could lesson terrorism worldwide, removing a key cause taken up by extremists. “I told him that we need a speedy resolution to the Palestinian issue,” the King said. Yet U.S. foreign policy provides $3 billion a year in military aid and nearly unconditional political support to the Israeli government.
The United States maintains approximately 5000 troops in Saudi Arabia, home to two of Islam’s most revered religious sites, Mecca and Medina, and the birthplace of Muhammad. “The country of the Two Holy Places has in our religion a peculiarity of its own,” bin Laden told ABC reporter John Miller in 1998. In his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as the keeper of the holy places in their religion, has a special responsibility.” In a 1999 FRONTLINE interview, Said K. Aburish, a Palestinian born journalist and author of the book Coming Fall of the House of Saud, said that the continued presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia is “religiously unacceptable to Saudis.”
Besides sullying Islamic holy soil, the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia also constitutes, according to bin Laden, an infringement on Arab sovereignty. “America supports the oppressive, corrupt, and tyrannical Saudi regime,” bin Laden told FRONTLINE. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld affirmed U.S. support in an October 3rd press briefing: “In the case of Saudi Arabia, here’s a country with which we have a very good relationship with and we have had it for a very long time.” Said K. Aburish told FRONTLINE, “The Saudi government is not terribly different than Saddam Hussein’s regime. People have no voice in the running of the government. People disappear in the middle of the night, and people are imprisoned without being charged. And the government has squandered the country’s wealth.”
U.S. foreign policy is either contributing to or responsible for gross injustices perpetrated against Iraqi, Palestinian, and Saudi citizens. Americans may see themselves as a good and civilizing force in the world, but the civilians killed or suffering under U.S. foreign policy do not agree. The deep and lasting hatred felt by millions of Muslims towards the United States requires an acceptance that these are forces United States foreign policy has helped set loose.