Cause and effect in the “Terror War”

What sentiments do we think we're unleashing in the Muslim world from our still-escalating "five-front" war?

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

Cause and effect in the "Terror War"In this 2001 image made available on Monday Dec. 28, 2009 by teacher Mike Rimmer, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab poses with a group of fellow pupils from Lome's International School, Togo, while on a school trip to London. On Dec. 25, 2009 Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up an airliner over Detroit, an attack claimed to have been coordinated by Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an alliance of militants based in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. (AP Photo)(Credit: AP)

“In all their alleged allegedness, this Administration has an allergy to the concept of war, and thus to the tools of war, including strategy and war aims” — Supreme Tough Guy Warrior Mark Steyn, National Review, yesterday.

“The White House has authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.’s drone program in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, officials said this week, to parallel the president’s decision, announced Tuesday, to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan” – New York Times, December 4, 2009.

“In the midst of two unfinished major wars, the United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen” — New York Times, yesterday.

_______

Actually, if you count our occupation of Iraq, our twice-escalated war in Afghanistan, our rapidly escalating bombing campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, and various forms of covert war involvement in Somalia, one could reasonably say that we’re fighting five different wars in Muslim countries — or, to use the NYT‘s jargon, “five fronts” in the “Terror War” (Obama yesterday specifically mentioned Somalia and Yemen as places where, euphemistically, “we will continue to use every element of our national power”).  Add to those five fronts the “crippling” sanctions on Iran many Democratic Party luminaries are now advocating, combined with the chest-besting threats from our Middle East client state that the next wars they fight against Muslims will be even “harsher” than the prior ones, and it’s almost easier to count the Muslim countries we’re not attacking or threatening than to count the ones we are.  Yet this still isn’t enough for America’s right-wing super-warriors, who accuse the five-front-war-President of “an allergy to the concept of war.”  



In the wake of the latest failed terrorist attack on Northwest Airlines, one can smell the excitement in the air — that all-too-familiar, giddy, bipartisan climate that emerges in American media discourse whenever there’s a new country we get to learn about so that we can explain why we’re morally and strategically justified in bombing it some more.  “Yemen” is suddenly on every Serious Person’s lips.  We spent the last month centrally involved to some secret degree in waging air attacks on that country — including some that resulted in numerous civilian deaths — but everyone now knows that this isn’t enough and it’s time to Get Really Serious and Do More.  

For all the endless, exciting talk about the latest Terrorist attack, one issue is, as usual, conspicuously absent:  motive.  Why would a young Nigerian from a wealthy, well-connected family want to blow himself up on one of our airplanes along with 300 innocent people, and why would Saudi and Yemeni extremists want to enable him to do so?  When it comes to Terrorism, discussions of motive have been declared more or less taboo from the start because of the dishonest equation of motive discussions with justification — as though understanding the reasons why X happens is to posit that X is legitimate and justifiable.  Causation simply is; it has nothing to do with issues of morality, blame, or justification.  Yet all that is generally permitted to be said in such situations is that Terrorists try to harm us because they’re Evil, and we (of course) are not, and that’s generally the end of the discussion.

Despite that taboo, evidence always ends up emerging on this question.  As numerous reports have indicated, the Al Qaeda group in the Arabian Peninsula has said that this attempted attack is in “retaliation” for the multiple, recent missile attacks on Yemen in which numerous innocent Muslim civilians were killed, as well as for the U.S.’s multi-faceted support for the not-exactly-democratic Yemeni government.  That is similar to reports that Nidal Hasan was motivated to attack Fort Hood because “he was upset at the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.”  And one finds this quote from an anonymous Yemeni official tacked on to the end of this week’s NYT article announcing the “widening terror war” in Yemen — as though it’s just an afterthought:

“The problem is that the involvement of the United States creates sympathy for Al Qaeda. The cooperation is necessary — but there is no doubt that it has an effect for the common man. He sympathizes with Al Qaeda.”

As always, the most confounding aspect of the reaction to the latest attempted terrorist episode is the professed confusion and self-righteous innocence that is universally expressed.  Whether justified or not, we are constantly delivering death to the Muslim world.  We do not see it very much, but they certainly do.  Again, independent of justification, what do we think is going to happen if we continuously invade, occupy and bomb Muslim countries and arm and enable others to do so?  Isn’t it obvious that our five-front actions are going to cause at least some Muslims — subjected to constant images of American troops in their world and dead Muslim civilians at our hands, even if unintended — to want to return the violence?   Just look at the bloodthirsty sentiments unleashed among Americans even from a failed Terrorist attempt.  What sentiments do we think we’re unleashing from a decade-long (and continuing and increasing) multi-front “war” in the Muslim war?

There very well may be some small number of individuals who are so blinded by religious extremism that they will be devoted to random violence against civilians no matter what we do, but we are constantly maximizing the pool of recruits and sympathy among the population on which they depend.  In other words, what we do constantly bolsters their efforts, and when we do, we always seem to move more in the direction of helping them even further.  Ultimately, we should ask ourselves:  if we drop more bombs on more Muslim countries, will there be fewer or more Muslims who want to blow up our airplanes and are willing to end their lives to do so?  That question really answers itself.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>