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Why is America the target of militant Islam?

U.S. policymakers, and Saudi and Iraqi dissidents, discuss the reasons for anti-U.S. hatred in the Islamic world. Here are the views of former Senator Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), who served as chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1997 to 2000; Dr. Saad al-Fagih, director of the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia; Edward Walker, former assistant secretary of state for Near-Eastern affairs; Michael Sheehan, former coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department; U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; and Nabeel Musawi, political liaison of the Iraqi National Congress.

Fmr Senator Warren Rudman (R-N.H.)
A former U.S. senator (R-N.H.), he chaired the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1997 to 2000, and co-chaired a bipartisan commission on national security that issued its findings January 2001.

· read rudman's full interview

In some places in the Middle East, [the Sept. 11 terrorist attack] has not been greeted as something to be ashamed of.

Not surprising. Look, the fundamental question is, why did this happen? The American people, I think, now understand what we've written about in our report. There are large numbers of people in this world who don't like us, who would like to hurt us, who don't like our culture, don't like our freedom, don't like our kind of government, don't like our foreign policy, don't like us at all -- and given the chance to hurt us, they will. Those are the plain, unvarnished, unhappy facts.

We have interviewed some of those people and what they say is that in their countries, Egypt as an example, we have an oppressive government that has left the people in poverty. You, the United States, have given them -- I believe the figure is close to $50 billion since Camp David -- mostly military assistance. So you are the friend of our enemy -- our government. Is this a policy problem?

Well, of course, but that's their point of view. There's been a reason for America's policy towards many countries. It's been in our own enlightened self-interest to have strong allies in the Middle East besides Israel. It's important that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, and others, are friendly to us. And that doesn't mean we sign on to everything they do. But the world isn't very pretty out there.

But these terrorists are more than just people who disagree with our policies. These are fundamentally very, very sick people, who believe it is all right to take thousands of lives because they believe that their basic beliefs and geopolitical views are not being observed by the United States government.

Well, I might say that about the, Osama bin Laden, or this gentleman, [Imad] Mughniyah in Hezbollah, or Hamas--

Or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. [Or] Islamic Jihad.

But [the leadership] aren't the suicide bombers. The people who are piloting the airlines, the people who are blowing themselves up -- they believe that we are the enemy. Are they just insane? Are you saying we just have a bunch of insane people out there?

Oh, I think they are essentially borderline insane; absolutely. To do what they did? Of course they are. ...

The question is: Is there something about our policies that have been politically untouchable? We need oil; we need to back Israel. It's hard to raise these issues, because people want low gasoline prices, or people want absolutely support for whatever government is in Israel.

Are you telling me there are people who disagree totally with our foreign policy? You bet there are. You bet there are. And is it a potential contributor to this problem? You bet it is. Question: What do we do about it?

Do we have a debate?

Well, I'm sure, at some point, there will be, but I don't think right now. I don't think any Americans are in the mood to discuss whether our foreign policy should be changed so this won't happen to us again. I think they're too angry, and with good cause. ...

Oh, there are many people who are very angry. The question is, what we do in response to this could make things a lot worse.

Yes. With all due respect, I think if we changed our foreign policy in many ways in the Middle East, it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference. These people hate our culture, they hate our religion, they hate our democracy. They hate us. I'm talking about the fundamentalist Islamic terrorist organizations.

But, they are getting their members from the general population.

Absolutely. Just like Adolf Hitler was able to recruit well-educated people from great families and bring them into the SS and commit some of the most horrible atrocities in the history of the world. Same thing. You explain it. I can't.

An Iraqi dissident, Musawi is the political liaison for the London-based Iraqi National Congress.

· read musawi's full interview

The majority of people in the Middle East view American policy in the region as extremely cynical. While America declares its support for democracy and human rights for Americans and for the First and the Second World, the Third World, which is mainly made of these countries in the Middle East ...


Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Iraq, Kuwait, all these countries, Libya, North Africa. Millions and millions of people see American officials at peace [who] support, prop up extremely corrupt, crumbling regimes in the Middle East, regimes that have no sympathy for any democratic notion in their countries. They have no notion of support in any kind of human rights for their own people.

But they see Americans appeasing them. They see Americans supporting them -- and I'm talking about the American officials here, many administrations. This is not only restricted to the current administration. So they view this as an act of hostility towards the people of these countries.

And that causes this groundswell of anti-American acts?

Exactly. The dislike of American policy in the region did not start with the bombing of Iraq. Pre-1991, there was still that feeling. In the 1980s, in the 1970s, in the 1960s. Because it's always been American policy [to support] regimes that they know if they pull the plug on them, they'll fall. It's as simple as that. If they pull the plug on their support of the Kuwaitis or the Saudis, they won't be able to survive for two years in power.

But then we worry that we won't be able to have the oil we need or that Europe needs or Japan.

But you see, people in the region can't drink oil. They have to sell it. And it is the world that consumes it. It's as simple as that. Having democracy there does not prevent you from getting the oil. ... What are we going to do with the oil buried underground? We need the money. We need your money. And you need our oil. It's a simple exchange. ...

Do you agree that U.S. policy in relationship to the Palestinians and Israel is also another cause?

Oh, absolutely. It's the cynicism. Sometimes it's perceived as bias by the United States.

Bias towards Israel?

Bias towards Israel, bias towards dictatorship in general. Why allow murderous regimes like Saddam Hussein to stay in power? Why not help the democratic forces?

... The corruption of the Saudi and Egyptian regimes and others; the tilting towards the Israelis and, let's say, an acceptance of people like Sharon, who represents to many people in the Arab world, if you will, a mass murderer. That's from their perspective. Sounds like a lot of the list of grievances that I read in Osama bin Laden's [fatwa].

That's right. That's right. And that's why despite people's outrage at what happened [on Sept. 11] ... there is also this attitude that, you know, they had it coming. You can't go on decade after decade running this policy in the region and not expect some payback. The existence of the likes of Osama bin Laden and the people who carried out the Sept. 11 attack is a direct result of policies in the region.

I travel quite a lot to the United States. This attitude that everything is happening across the ocean, we're far from it, anytime we feel like it we shut our air space and we're immune -- this myth has been destroyed forever now. America is part of this world, and you need to play fair. You're the godfather now. You're the superpower. So you have an obligation to play fair. If you play an imbalanced policy in the region, this is what happens. This is the outcome. ...

We have a new world order.

We have a new world order. We accept that. But that carries a high degree of responsibility. You're not going to be a superpower and respected as a superpower, and dealt with as a superpower, unless you fulfill the obligations that you've have towards the people in the street.

A Saudi Arabian dissident living in exile in London, he heads the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia.

· read al-fagih's full interview

... There's an important point here that this hate is not the natural hate people have to a prosperous superpower. It's not that sort of hate. It's very specific hate for the sake of policies in the Middle East, which people perceive or understand that those policies are very much directed against them in terms of their identity, being Arabs and Muslims.

They ask themselves why, for God's sake, America sacrificed its interests for the case of defending Israel. The interests of America are in oil in the Gulf and other areas. Why would America lose money and lose face and get continuous embarrassment for the sake of defending the aggressive, very, very bad policies of Israel, and keep declaring that nobody should touch the security of Israel, and stand in a way in which America with all its huge machine becomes a tool for Israel to manipulate?

If it has interests in the region and it hates Saddam Hussein, why does [America] not contain Saddam alone and leave the people alone? Let the people eat and drink. Why should America starve 20 million people and [former Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright stand up and say it is the price? ...

You're talking about continuing the embargo of Iraq.

Yes. She said killing half a million children is a price worth paying. She's justifying the killing of civilians. Not only killing them -- starving them to death, and forbidding medicine and food from them.

If they see this going on and going on and going on, that will continue feeding terrorism hate to America. Not because it is a prosperous superpower; it's because of what they believe. They may be wrong, but they believe that it is intentional damage to them and their identity.

That is the dangerous consequence we will have now. The people are perceiving the American response to the incident, the Tuesday incident, the New York incident -- they perceive it as if it is a matter of identity. They see all this political campaign, military campaign, whatever President Bush does to deny that it has nothing to do with Islam. They have a blind eye, a deaf ear on that. They understand it's a campaign again Muslims. If America wants to deal with terrorism, it has to go to the roots, to the reasons, why did this phenomenon take place? ...

It is an irony that most of the resentment in the Arab world to America is not from the very poor countries. It's coming from Saudi Arabia itself, where allegedly it's a better life than the poorer countries.

I would not be exaggerating if I say hate to America in Saudi Arabia is more than hate to America in Palestine. The reason for that -- and that's why I say there is a complete failure of American human intelligence in Saudi Arabia -- has got a lot to do with Saudi politics, Saudi culture, the Saudi way of life, and the current and recent events in the country.

It goes like this. You've got a fairly religious country. Many people are devout Muslims and they look at their land as a holy land, a sacred land prohibited from non-Muslim groups or units or buddies to settle on it, let alone military units with domination. So even if you are not military, even if you are a community staying alone in a non-Muslim community, according to Muslim text, you are not allowed to settle in the Arabian Peninsula. But if it is a military unit, then it is a huge and massive insult and humiliation to Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula to accept this sort of presence. That is one factor.

The other factor, which is also specific to Saudis, is that they always look at America as conspiring with their leaders, with the royal family in looting the country's resources. Who can believe that a country pumping nine million barrels a day with a small population, between 15 million and 20 million, is in a $200 billion debt now? Why would this country go into this debt? This country has had an income of $3 trillion in the last 25 years, 20 or 25 years. Why would we end up with a $200 billion debt, 130 percent of our GNP?

Why would this happen unless their people say unless there is a massive loot of our resources by a conspiracy between the royal family and the Americans? So that is a specific reason for hate inside Saudi Arabia.

Walker was assistant secretary of state for Near-Eastern affairs from 2000 to 2001. He also served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt from 1994 to 1997.

· read walker's full interview

... When we hear reports that there is an undercurrent of support for bin Laden, or at least that there's an undercurrent of anti-Americanism ... in the Islamic world, what's that about?

I would be careful not to ascribe that to support for bin Laden, because I don't think that's very strong, but there is definitely an element of anti-Americanism that is prevalent out in the region right now, and there are a lot of reasons for it.

The region is from Algeria to Indonesia and the Philippines.

All the way across, right. There are a lot of reasons for it. There's some specialized reasons in the Gulf area, two of them being the Palestinian issue which is very much on the minds of the people there, and the other is the treatment of the Iraqi people and our policy towards Iraq. You've got people who are every day getting in their living rooms and their television sets footage from the occupied territories or from Iraq, showing people that are suffering or being shot, things like this, and that's having an enormous impact.

... That kind a freedom to see outside television or uncensored television was never there in the past, so it was easier for governments to control the situation. Now there is an independent feeling on the street and they react to fellow Arabs being in a situation where they're suffering or they're being shot.

The second issue is that the people in the region were extremely happy at the election of President Bush. They associated him with his father ... and they felt that he would be highly sympathetic. And for totally unrelated reasons, the president and the national security team did not engage, immediately, in the Palestinian issue. People thought that we were turning our back on the problem that was most critical to them. ...

[What about] our bombing of Iraq?

... They feel that if we really wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein we'd do it. ... So why do we want him there? So that we can keep our troops in the Gulf. That's the kind a convoluted logic that is very popular on the street.

And our backing of what many perceive as anti-democratic regimes, the Saudi royal family, or Mubarak [in Egypt].

Well, I think that there are a number of people who would like to have greater liberties, particularly in the area of free speech and in academic freedom and so on. That's particularly true in Egypt, and there is resentment that the United States is allied with regimes which are not providing these freedoms. ...

Democracy is a very delicate tool, and if you try to impose democracy without the basic civil society that supports it, you get yourself into a serious problem. ...

Michael Sheehan
From 1998 to 2001, Michael Sheehan was the coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State.

· read sheehan's full interview

The arguments that come from terrorists, that they're against the United States because we support regimes in the Middle East that are friendly to us, I find to be completely nonsense. These are not democrats that are expressing a frustration with the regimes. These are people with a very radical political agenda. So I don't give that much credence.

Obviously, there are certain issues we have with governments around the world regarding their democracy, their political institutions ... the way they organize their economies, corruption, or distortions in wealth, and we work on those issues with countries around the world all the time. But that's not to say that our relationship with a country would then give a terrorist reason to attack the United States.

Well, I'm not saying that it's rational, or that it's justifiable. But when we read bin Laden's pronouncements, or when we listen to this associate of the blind sheik, in a sense, what he's saying is that we are supplying the water in the swamp that helps create them, and breed them, and give them a reason to be doing these things to us. Do you take that into consideration when assessing what to do?

I think in the longer term -- and again going back to my previous issue, that the strategy must be political -- we have to be sensitive to the perceptions that fuel the flames of hatred in some of these areas, that pour water back into the swamp. Whether or not they're legitimate or not, we have to understand them. Some understand the concerns that people in these parts of the world have about U.S. policy, whether it be about the Middle East conflicts, the Iraq war, the situation in Kashmir, or other areas where they perceive that Islam is under attack from the West -- that Islamic people are being crushed by the strength and power of the West, whether it be cultural, militarily, or with alliances with other countries.

We have to understand that, and factor that into our political strategy as we move forward, because the alliances that we make with the countries that are going to join us in the attack do live in that world, and live with that reality. And we have to better understand that, and how all those other foreign policy actions affect our counterterrorism strategy.

He is the U.S. deputy secretary of state and previously served as a special emissary to Jordan's King Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War and assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs from 1983 to 1989.

· read armitage's full interview

Yes, we bomb Iraq. Iraq invaded a neighbor, killed women and children, raped, murdered and plundered, and would have gone on to do that further in the Gulf if not faced by a mighty coalition.

I think what Osama bin Laden does is to take the fact that some people lack hope and lack opportunity, and twist it to his own ends, and that's what you're seeing. I would suggest you don't play ball in his court. ...

[It seems to be a grievance in Saudi Arabia that we have troops there.] People are very sensitive to this fact.

Well, we have troops in Kuwait as well. Saddam Hussein has several times attempted to, at least made feints toward, the oil-rich regions of the Persian Gulf. We're not satisfied and confident that absent U.S. troops, [he] would be content to leave the neighborhood alone.

And it's so essential to us geographically to have them there?

I'd say geo-politically. It's very essential that we protect the survival of those states, that we protect our access to the oil which flows out of the Persian Gulf, and it's been seen by successive administration and successive Congresses as being in our interest to have troops stationed there.

Even though we hear from all kinds of people in the Islamic world that it is something that makes them very nervous, that there are infidels that close to their holy sites?

Oh, you know, we're all people of the book, whether you're a Jew, whether you're a Christian, or whether you're an adherent of Islam, and I don't think there's really a place for terms like "infidels," et cetera. I think what concerns the people is their own stability and their own security. That's been the overriding concern, and I can't gainsay that there are voices that want us gone, but I would say that the majority appear to want us to stay. ...

But I'm talking about [whether] we provide, if you will, a political base for the organizing of this anti-American sentiment -- which is not a small group of people in this part of the world -- by backing regimes who we would find distasteful ourselves? I mean the Saudi royal family as an example, I don't think, can be described as democratic or ecumenical in any form.

Perhaps not ecumenical. I think the definition of democracy, depending on how the 7,000-plus princes make their decisions, may leave you open to some criticism. I think we realize that there are situations in states that are not the way we do business, and as I say, we constantly try to apply the lessons of democratic governance and transparency and things of that nature. I think if you look over the grand swath of time, that you do see changes in the behavior of states, and we take some credit for this, and we're going to continue at it.

There are going to be critics -- and even in some cases, a large number of critics -- of our relationship with any given state. But as I say, successive Congresses, both Democrat and Republican-dominated, have endorsed the way successive governments in the United States have gone about business with these states.

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