From the Herald http://www.theherald.co.uk/
What do the terrorists want? It seems a simple enough question, but the answer depends on who you ask. The global nature of Islamist militancy and its shifting, loose structure continues to confound and bewilder many in the west.
Some believe they know the answer, but often those answers are contradictory. At one end of the spectrum are those who insist the bombers, or would-be bombers, have a clearly defined grievance. America's support for Israel, its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the detention of prisoners without trial, are blamed for fomenting terror. As America's chief ally, Britain makes itself a proxy target. More sophisticated versions of this analysis cite US duplicity: support for autocratic Arab governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan while advocating democracy. There is also the west's avarice regarding Middle Eastern oil reserves and pipelines.
The supporters of this position include much of the British Left, The Muslim Council of Britain and respected regional experts such as the journalist Robert Fisk, who last week asked why we were obsessed with alleged terrorists when the real (Israeli) terrorists were bombing innocents in Lebanon.
At the other extreme is the "psychopathic criminal" interpretation, as exemplified by the Foreign Office minister Kim Howells's remarks at the weekend. Tony Blair believes these criminals are also motivated by a "warped" version of Islam. Blair and Bush insist the terrorists also belong to a well-organised global network intent on attacking our freedoms.
Ultimately, they desire an Islamic state, or Caliphate, which will encompass the traditional Arab lands, Europe, or the whole world - depending on which fanatical preacher you listen to. Supporters of the Blair/Bush view point to al Qaeda's activities in the 1990s as evidence that Iraq has nothing to do with current terror attacks. That was also the decade in which Nato forces went to the aid of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Further evidence of the fanatical criminality argument is provided in the Bali bombings. What did the gentle Balinese do wrong except welcome tourists and reject the religion which dominates the rest of Indonesia?
So what do the terrorists want? The answer is ambiguous because it can be found in both these positions. Back in 2001, after the attack on the Twin Towers, conservatives and many liberals offered the same analysis. The bombers were nearly all wealthy Saudis, indoctrinated at universities in the Kingdom. These were not the impoverished children of squalid refugee camps, demanding the return of the West Bank and Gaza. Besides, the Palestinian struggle up to that point was seen as a political problem, led by the essentially secular PLO.
So events of 9/11 were interpreted as a clash of civilisations. Several western newspapers ran headlines alluding to a world at war. "Why do they hate us?" asked the man and woman in the mid-west mall. The answer seemed simple. The bombers loathed western values. They despised our tolerance of difference, sexual freedom enjoyed by women and the licence we give to artists. Why should non-believers enjoy such material success? To these people, the collapsing towers were a symbol of Islam's resurgence: the start of the fight back.
All of this is confirmed in the writings of bin Laden and supporters of his project. In February 1998 he was one of five signatories to a document titled "Jihad Against Zionists and Crusaders". It opens with a verse of the holy book, urging the faithful to "fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them". It quotes the prophet as saying, "I have been sent with the sword between my hands to ensure that no-one but Allah is worshiped".
So Islamic hegemony is definitely on the wish-list, but it's not all the terrorists want. The document also contains more earthly demands. It calls for withdrawal of American troops then based in Saudi Arabia. It mentions the sanctions against Saddam's Iraq and the sufferings of the population there. It condemns what it sees as US determination to undermine Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan. The document also cites America's support for Israel and singles out the latter's occupation of Jerusalem, home to one of Islam's holiest shrines.
America, it insists, has declared war on Allah, and so it is the religious duty of Muslims to attack America and its allies. Bush's response to 9/11, to pursue the same foreign policy with more aggression, has played straight into the hands of these extremists. It defies common sense to suggest the invasion of Iraq, the torture of prisoners and the rape of young women by crazed US marines has not radicalised some young British Muslims desperate for a sacred cause.
Tony Blair's shameful position on Lebanon will, at this moment, ensure more willing martyrs.
The Jihadists, aided by American foreign policy, have successfully strengthened the sense of global Islamic identity. It appeals to third- generation Pakistanis in pockets of Britain, who feel alienated from both this country and the land of their grandfathers. The ideology allows unconnected events to be brought together under the vast umbrella of Islamic grievance.
So the suffering of "brothers and sisters" in Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine, Kosovo, Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq is somehow all connected. Any difficult contradictions are smoothed away: the massacre of Shia Muslims by Sunni al Qaeda supporters in Iraq and Pakistan is ignored. So is the slaughter of Muslim Africans by Muslim Arabs in Darfur, Sudan.
The sufferings of "brothers and sisters" in the human family merit no mention. Religious fanatics know where their loyalties lie.
Some aims of the global Caliphate, say the extremists, could be achieved through a series of steps intended to radicalise believers around the world. This is the premise of a recent book by the Jordanian writer Fouad Hussein called Al-Zarqawi - Al Qaeda's Second Generation". Hussein, who has interviewed many Islamist leaders and spent time in prison with them, says 9/11 was the first stage in a plan to provoke the US into declaring war on the Islamic world. This is known as "the awakening". It is followed by "the opening of eyes" of Muslims around the world. Further steps include direct attacks on Israel. Eventually the final clash of civilisations results in triumph for Islam.
It sounds far fetched, particularly as bin Laden is wasting away in a cave, his global command structure in tatters. But does it matter if al Qaeda now only exists as an inspiration? Our celebrity culture focuses on the personality and influence of bin Laden and his movement. But there are numerous groups around the world who share and preach similar views, sometimes in village Madrassas, sometimes through the internet. If there is a network of terror, it is loose, but no less effective.
Five years on, the fallout from 9/11 defines our new century. The Caliphate will never come to pass, though innocent blood will be shed in trying to establish it. The dreadful thing is that America, aided by Britain, has fuelled the flames of this madness. Perhaps the question we should really ask is "Why?"