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Published: Monday, 5/17/2010

Belief in anti-American narrative unites jihadists

CALL it temporary schizophrenia. Each time a Muslim commits or attempts an act of terrorism against the United States, the Muslim community goes into overdrive to condemn such acts.

"Ours is a peaceful religion," they say in unison, before they scurry off to perform ritual ablution and pray. They'd be better off using the ritual water to douse the smoldering fires of terrorism in their own homes.

Why do they become complacent between incidents of terror? Faisal Shahzad's botched attempt to set off a car bomb in Times Square in New York City brings into sharp focus the split personalities exhibited by Muslims and Pakistanis in this country.

Shahzad does not fit the profile of a jihadi. He has an undergraduate degree in engineering and a master's degree in business administration. He has more in common with Major Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of going on a deadly shooting rampage at Fort Hood last November, than the ragtag jihadis coming out of madrassas (religious schools) in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But they all share a deep distrust of and animosity toward the United States, considering it their religious duty to inflict injury on this country. The question is: Why?

Since 9/11, a powerful counter-narrative has seeped into the psyches of most Muslims. According to this narrative, propagated relentlessly by media, preachers, and even teachers in Muslim countries, the United States has declared war on Islam and Muslims. The purpose of this war is to destroy Islam, subjugate Muslims, take control of their natural resources, and spread Christianity.

As proof, they point to the plight of the Palestinians at the hands of Israel, the unprovoked attack on and occupation of Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan. They also point to the festering issues of Kashmir, Chechnya, and, to a lesser extent, the Balkans. They believe America is carrying out this crusade on behalf of Israel.

There is a measure of truth, but not the whole truth, in this narrative. Never mind that the United States intervened on behalf of Bosnian Muslims in 1999 and is still trying to bring the culprits of atrocities there to justice.

Never mind that the United States always responds to international disasters, including those in the Muslim world. And never mind that the United States remains the destination of choice for the very people who never tire of talking about the unfairness of this country.

Earlier this year, while lecturing at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates, I was taken aback by the comments of the students and their teacher after my formal remarks. Though my topic was the past glories and current challenges facing the Arab world, they sidestepped these issues to question American policies that they said create havoc in Muslim and Arab nations.

When I pointed out the dismal state of science in Muslim countries, and the few scientists of international repute among Arabs and Muslims, they were quick to blame the West for that too. The same excuse was offered when it was pointed out that few Arabs and Muslims have earned Nobel Prizes.

Those prizes, one student contended, were biased in favor of America and Europe. I had the feeling most of them were convinced that the West has put a chokehold on their intellectual capabilities.

The blame game is not limited to people overseas, but also is evident, though not prevalent, among Muslims living in the United States. When casual dinner-table conversation incorporates the incendiary narrative, it is no wonder that some children decide to do something about it.

There is no magic formula that would change the hearts and minds of people in the Islamic world, but the United States can start by addressing some of the genuine concerns of Arabs and Muslims.

At the top of that list is the festering Palestinian problem, which the Obama Administration seems to be doing something about. That alone would take the wind out of the sails of jihadist propaganda.

If Muslim and Pakistani parents want to prevent their children from being trapped in a self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecy, they should distance themselves from the Shahzads and Hasans at the family dinner table - before an attack happens - rather than in front of microphones after terrorism strikes.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

Contact him at: aghaji@bex.net



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