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On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked by al Qaeda. The United States declared a war on terrorism, which was the basis for undertaking a major expansion of the U.S. military presence in the Muslim world. Major efforts to undermine the financing of al Qaeda’s operations were instituted. Years later it is unclear how much this effort has achieved. While in the run-up to 9/11 al Qaeda had been waning, it has subsequently renewed its strength and is operating throughout the Muslim world, from North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula to Pakistan to Indonesia.1 There is no sign that it is reaching the end of its resources. It continues to receive a steady flow of funding. It has been building up new “franchises” in Yemen and in Somalia in the last two to three years. Most significant, it continues to have a steady flow of new recruits ready to commit to jihad and to martyr themselves on command. This study has explored some of the reasons why. Al Qaeda has succeeded in being the lead formulator of a narrative that has been accepted by a large majority of Muslims. According to this narrative, the United States is oppressing the Muslim people. It dominates and exploits Muslim society and is seeking to undermine Islam. This merges with a broader narrative of Western encroachments into the Muslim world going back to 194 What the United States Can Do 9 09-0559-8 CH 9:0305-1 3/3/11 2:00 PM Page 194 the Crusades. American claims to be governed by universal principles of respect for national sovereignty, international law, and human rights are dismissed as subterfuge. As previous chapters have shown, many Muslims do not approve of al Qaeda, and large majorities disapprove of such tactics as attacking civilians . As long as the society as a whole, however, embraces the narrative of oppression that fuels anger at America, there is likely to be a steady flow of recruits who are ready to express that anger in violent forms. Such anger at America is not new. In the post-9/11 period, however, it appears to have worsened. Advancing American military forces into the Muslim world has increased the sense of threat. The perception of the United States as violating international norms by going to war with Iraq and in its treatment of terrorism suspects has amplified the anxiety about the United States as an unconstrained superpower. The discriminatory treatment of Muslims seeking to visit the United States has exacerbated the belief that the United States is hostile to Muslims. According to al Qaeda’s leaders, this was the desired effect of its attacks on America. Frustrated that Muslims were not clearly seeing the insidious nature of America’s domination of the Muslim world, they sought to provoke America into revealing its true nature: domineering, violent, and hostile to Islam. This study reveals the success of this effort. The narrative of Muslim oppression by the West has been renewed, and al Qaeda has been elevated as its prime articulator. This puts the United States in something of a bind. Naturally, it must seek to eliminate the al Qaeda leadership, especially since it plays such a key role in sustaining the narrative. But much of what it has done— expanding it military presence, killing and capturing suspected al Qaeda affiliates, controlling immigration from Muslim countries—has provoked a negative reaction in the Muslim world as a whole, added fodder to the narrative of American oppression, and improved the recruitment environment for al Qaeda. It is not clear that the United States has achieved any net gains, while the costs have been high. The image of the United States as in conflict with the Muslim world— as seen through the lens of al Qaeda’s narrative—also has a harmful consequence at a much more subtle level. As has been shown, most Muslims are drawn toward the idea of greater integration with the West—something potentially beneficial for the West as well for Muslims. At the same What the United States Can Do 195 09-0559-8 CH 9:0305-1 3/3/11 2:00 PM Page 195 time, they fear being overwhelmed by Western influences. This creates an ambivalence, which, as long as it is experienced as an internal conflict, has the potential for being progressively resolved. However, to the extent the conflict is experienced as an external one— with the United States as...


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