To the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States

Dear Commissioners Kean and Hamilton:

I am writing in response to your invitation to have “a national debate on the merits of what we have recommended.”

I am Canadian Muslim and care a great deal about your country for many reasons. While this is not the time or place to explain them, I hope that you will accept me as –” to cite academic tradition –” “an external reviewer” of your report.

However, I do not know how to immediately fulfill your wish –” as stated in the report –” that you "will participate vigorously in that debate.” Thus, I would encourage you to please consider visiting me in Canada to debate my review points; or, I would be happy to visit you in Washington DC.

First, let me congratulate both of you for the excellent effort and initiative that went into producing this truly historic 585- page document. Projects of this magnitude demand much hard work, dedication, and perseverence.

I want here to focus my critical review of the report upon your recommendations for “long-term success” over “worldwide Islamist terrorism,” which you say demands “the use of all elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy, and homeland defense.” You also noted that “If we favor one tool while neglecting others, we leave ourselves vulnerable and weaken our national effort.”

However, terrorism is a political crime of violence. Like any crime, it cannot be stopped completely, but it can be reduced in frequency and intensity. And to this end, I agree that intelligence, covert action, law enforcement and homeland defense are all effective measures to combat this type of crime.

But as for the remainder of your list, I must ask how diplomacy, economic policy, foreign aid and public diplomacy can help –” and how has it helped the U.S. in the past? In reality, the U.S.-led invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have actually served to increase occurrences of violent political crime, not on the U.S. mainland, but in places like Spain, Indonesia, Marocco, Saudi Arabia, and in the occupied countries themselves. Moreover, violent, politically-motivated crimes affect both Americans and citizens of other countries.

How can this be acceptable? What is the real measure of success in these situations?

The inescapable fact is that terrorism is a political crime of violence that targets entire populations. Does this make it a more, or less, heinous crime than (for example) political assassinations, which violently target specific persons? And how will your advocacy of extreme (even lethal) measures to combat terrorists stop these crimes? It seems to me that your report advocates using one kind of political violence – to "kill" terrorists – to stop another; I fail to see how this will achieve any of your hoped-for “long-term success.”

You mention, for instance, that “our strategy must match our means” in order to prevail in the long term over “the ideology that contributes to Islamist terrorism.”

But what is this strategy? You also mention that “Neither Israel nor the new Iraq will be safer if worldwide Islamist terrorism grows stronger.”

Is there a link between what is happening in Iraq and Israel and what you term “worldwide Islamist terrorism,” and would establishing such a link help the U.S. combat it? I respectfully submit to you that it does not, and would not. Prior to the U.S.-led invasion, Iraq experienced comparatively little organized terrorism against Americans, its own citizens, or other foreign nationals. Does this tell us anything? It should have. Can you list any country in the world today (excluding Israel) where more than 20% of the population admires Americans? And did the list of anti-American countries increase or decrease after the invasion of Iraq? Again, does the answer give any hint? It should have.

I also question the wisdom of telling the Muslim world how wonderful the U.S is by building more American TV networks that target them.
“The Broadcasting Board of Governors has asked for much larger resources,” you said, “It should get them.”

Now, the people of the Muslim world may be poor, but they are not universally stupid. Feeding them propaganda about American excellence on one hand, then denying them visas to visit, study, or work there does not help win friends on the international scene.

Another deep point of contention is the adamant U.S. belief (against all logic and on-the-ground evidence) that Israel can-do-no-wrong. America’s continual commitment to supply it with military hardware to kill Palestinians, and to help deny them basic human rights, speaks volumes. In this context, the highest-paid public relations spin-doctors and media professionals can do very little to ameliorate the U.S. image across the world. As I said, the Muslim world may be poor, but not stupid.

“The enemy is not ‘terrorism’," you said. “It is the threat specifically by Islamist terrorism, by Bin Ladin and others who draw on a long tradition of extreme intolerance within a minority strain of Islam that does not distinguish politics from religion, and distorts both.”

How can the use of terms such as “Islamist terrorism” reassure Muslims who are working to persuade our media and politicians not to use anti-Islam language? What is really achieved by telling everyone that “The enemy is not Islam, the great faith, but a perversion of Islam.” Where, in essence, is the "perversion"?

I would suggest therefore, that America’s war on terrorism should be approached similarly to other social and political disorders, such as the ongoing U.S. war on drugs and drug trafficking. Vigilant policing, law-and-order urban administrations, diligence in bringing organized criminals to justice, and meting out severe penalties, have all shown positive effects as means to slow down crime. They are indeed all necessary means of combat and deterrence, but still not sufficient. We must also study to learn why people commit such crimes; we must address real issues of social justice at home; we must declare and maintain a relentless war on poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and basic medical insurance –” factors that have left millions of Americans living substandard lives in the richest nation on earth.

Thus, your concept of “long term success” in the war on “world Islamist terrorism” is truly conditional upon the building of a fair and consistent American foreign policy toward the people of Muslim countries. It is essential to learn to treat them as equals, to respect their desire to live free of U.S. occupation, intervention, or interference; to pay them fair prices for their natural resources and human skills; to respect their deep longing to achieve peace with justice in Palestine; to acknowledge their centuries-old historical contributions to today’s world-wide civilization (including that of the U.S.) and to global well-being.

This is a tall order of conditions and concerns. But they are all achievable –” if, and only if, the U.S. undergoes a vast paradigm shift in foreign policy. But please, do not wait too long to implement it.


The above letter, first published by The Globe and Mail, was emailed to the Commission on July 28, 2004. The Commission acknowledged receiving it. But no reply yet.