For all their philosophical differences, Republican/Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul and President Obama have found an area of agreement: terrorism is a reaction to flawed American foreign policy. To them, it is a political reaction that then lends itself to extremism, rather than an ideology that makes followers view current events with as much perversion as they view everything else.
On December 28, during a debate on Larry King Live, Paul said that “they are terrorists because we are occupiers.” On January 5, President Obama said that Guantanamo Bay was “an explicit rationale for the formation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” the affiliate responsible for the Christmas airliner plot. This actually isn’t accurate, but this statement still substantiates the arguments of terrorists that they are simply responding to the actions of the U.S. and the key to stopping them is to stop provoking their anger. The truth is that al-Qaeda was already in Yemen before the controversy over the prison even began, and the terrorist group was targeting us long before Guantanamo Bay was even cited as an example of injustice.
Americans, surrounded for the most part by debate based on rational-thinking philosophy, struggle to understand totalitarian ideologies like that of radical Islam. In America, people generally react with violence only under the most extreme stress and provocation, so there is an inclination to assume that we did something to spark this reaction. This leads to the mistaken but common belief that somehow anger at American policy naturally results in terrorism as an act of final resort to change it, but political opposition does not translate into supporting theocracy, the killing of civilians, and the other extremist tenets of radical Islam.
Most of the world opposes American policy, yet this disagreement does not turn into suicide bombings and beheadings outside of the Islamic world. Without this inherently dangerous ideology in place, this dispute does not result in extremism of this kind. Without the ideology glorifying such attacks, this progression does not occur, and even if our foreign policy was changed to not be so “aggressive” in the eyes of the world, the nature of the ideology means the end result would be the same. For all his claims that he’s simply trying to stop American imperialism, Osama bin Laden himself admits this. Let’s look at how he handled the question of whether he was solely motivated by politics, as quoted in Raymond Ibrahim’s The Al Qaeda Reader.
Bin Laden says:
Our talks with the infidel West and our conflict with them ultimately revolve around one issue — one that demands our total support, with power and determination, with one voice — and it is: does Islam, or does it not, force people by the power of the sword to submit to its authority corporeally if not spiritually?
He then answers his own question:
Yes. There are only three choices in Islam:  either willing submission [conversion];  or payment of the jizya, through physical, though not spiritual, submission to the authority of Islam;  or the sword — for it is not right to let him [an infidel] live. The matter is summed up for every person alive: either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die.
That quote above is why bin Laden and those sharing similar beliefs wage jihad. It’s not because of who we vote for or because of how we choose to promote our security and values overseas. It’s because the ideology that gives them their sense of purpose commands them to. Extreme anti-Americanism of this kind is the product, not the source, of the radical Islamic ideology. The intent to harm America does not change with policy.
The U.S. intervened to protect Saudi Arabia from Saddam Hussein. The U.S. intervened to protect the Muslims of Kosovo. The U.S. condemned Russia’s invasion of Chechnya and enabled the Afghan mujahideen to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. The U.S. may send arms to Israel, but U.S. pressure was a critical factor in forcing Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. U.S. aid and taxpayer money flow to the Islamic world. Unlike the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, these actions are not opposed by any Muslim I have heard.
The ideology flourishes because of a few reasons. The first is that tyrannical governments have spent billions to promote it and, without freedom, debate that could limit its expansion is prohibited. This is done by governments to create soldiers against their perceived enemies, to give a pretext with which to carry out internal repression to solidify their rule, and a way to blame their citizens’ grievances against their governance on the influence of the non-Muslims.
Like in the other monotheistic religions, there is a significant guilt factor that must be dealt with as everyone inevitably fails to meet the standards their faith calls for. Blaming the corrupting influence of the non-Muslims or the heretics is a great way of explaining one’s own moral failures, allowing all that anguish to be converted into anger against those holding them back from being pure, and causing a renewed determination to go to extreme lengths to achieve that level of righteousness and, ultimately, salvation. State-controlled media facilitate this process by blaming virtually all domestic problems on the evil Zionist Jews, the Americans, Muslims falling away from their faith, etc.
It also needs to be asked how the hanging of gays, beating of women, and other acts of oppression that occur under radical Islam are a reaction to American policy. When terrorists bomb places like Casablanca and Bali, and al-Qaeda kills eight times as many Muslims as non-Muslims, what does that have to do with Israel, the U.S., and the other so-called imperialistic countries? The common denominator here is that al-Qaeda views anyone challenging its view, Muslims it views as apostates as well as non-Muslims, as enemies needing to be subjugated.
The fact that this ideology relies upon force, state support, and a monopoly on thought shows it lacks merit and will not survive the intellectual combat that comes with a free media, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the other rights that come as part of democracy. The West fears promoting democracy for fear of creating further instability, and indeed we need to take domestic political dynamics into consideration with how we push liberal reform. But in the end, competing ideas must be allowed to flourish in order for this conflict to end.
The statements made by Paul and Obama distort the ideology we are facing. They are not militants fighting for national liberation or people who have been driven to embrace a brutal last resort out of their Western-caused misery. They are jihadists motivated by an ideology with goals that are ultimately not influenced by the policy decisions of non-Muslims — unless, of course, that policy is submission to Sharia law.