Despite boasting a highly sophisticated security apparatus, the US continues to be haunted by the spectre of terrorist attacks on its soil. Today, an attack within the US without the involvement of Americans looks like a farfetched idea. In spite of having within their grasp the ‘American dream’ of a better, richer and happier life, that has lured millions around the world to this land of opportunity, it is fascinating to see how naturalised or American-born citizens of Muslim origin feel attracted to a militant ideology that espouses terror and violence as its primary means to achieve its objectives. Thus, on more than one occasion, American citizens have been found involved in activities that constitute the gravest of crimes in the American lexicon — terrorism.
The recent botched attempt to bomb Times Square, New York, and the arrest of an American citizen of Pakistani origin in connection with the bombing calls for introspection why would a happily settled individual do something that could potentially destroy life for him and, most likely, his family. It is not to suggest that only Americans are involved in such activities; the spread of militant extremism has emerged as a global phenomenon, which continues to inspire individuals around the world, including Americans.
The most recent cases of Americans indulging in terrorist activities are those of Nidal Malik Hasan and David Headley. Hasan was a US Army major serving as a psychiatrist at a military base in Fort Hood, Texas, where he opened fire at his colleagues, killing 13 and wounding more than 30 in November 2009. Of Palestinian origin, Hasan had been born and brought up in the US. David Headley, formerly Daood Sayed Gilani, was born in the US in 1960 to an American mother and a Pakistani father and spent his early years in Pakistan after his parents split. Headley has been charged with conspiring to launch the 2008 attack in Mumbai and providing material support to Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT).
It boggles the mind what is there in the seemingly mindless frenzy of Islamist violence that lures perfectly sane and educated individuals into its fold. But the fog gradually dissipates as one looks at the broader picture. Western countries’ policies generally and the US policies particularly have caused anger and resentment in the Third World for decades now. Although the US had projected a relatively better stance in supporting decolonisation since 1918, when US President Woodrow Wilson backed the right of self-determination of colonised countries in his Fourteen Points, its real motives behind this policy became apparent once the old order was dismantled and the new order gave a pre-eminent place to the US. The objective was to expand US influence and control in a neo-colonial system. This was the great transition that took place after World War II.
One aspect of the neo-colonial US policy was very aggressive military campaigns and invasions during and after the Cold War, and toppling of foreign governments through covert support. From Latin America and Indo-China to the Middle East and South East Asia, overt and covert US military interventions have left their scars and invoked anger throughout the Third World, regardless of religious, cultural and ethnic affiliations and geographic location.
Is the American military posture an accident or aberration? Contrary to what the US would like us to believe, this posture is part of the American system. The US military and defence industry is a major component of the economy. No less a person than President Dwight D Eisenhower, who can hardly be accused of being a radical, said in his farewell speech in 1961: “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Who could know this better than the ex-Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe who later became the Supreme Commander of NATO in 1951? The American system requires wars and foreign arms sales, which also spark off wars, in order to keep its economy going. The inherent contradiction in that economy is that the productive capacity is more than the market demand, which fuels the constant need for more weapons and more wars.
Armed struggles, political movements and other kinds of resistance to American hegemony and its aggressive military posture have taken place throughout the neo-colonial period. Issues like Palestine have specifically angered Muslim opinion against blatant US support for repeated Israeli aggressions against the Palestinians and Arab countries on its periphery. The bruised Muslim sentiments have been aggravated by the senseless invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq at the turn of the new millennium.
The rise of militant ideology, seen in this background, makes perfect sense. It is not surprising then that Americans themselves become influenced by this ideology. It has past precedents. Even during the Vietnam War, arguably, without the increasing support of the American people, especially young people, who revolted against that war, the Vietnamese would not have won. Draft-card burning, going underground, and radical movements such as Students for a Democratic Society and Black Panthers were a reaction to the aggressive, military posture the US had demonstrated in Indo-China in the most brutal fashion.
When the US indulges in military adventures abroad, it is not free of reaction at home. People within the US have been influenced by an increasing appreciation of what their country represents to the outside world. The US aggressive policy is systemic, not accidental, and the injustices that have followed in the wake of that aggressive intent are being exposed. It should not come as a surprise that Americans resent this. There was reaction against the Iraq war and increasingly people are fed up with American involvement in Afghanistan.
Whereas the majority opposition to the Iraq war is very much in the American democratic mainstream, there will always be radical offshoots of such resentment. Why are these radical offshoots opting for a completely different path? Why are middle class, seemingly removed Americans influenced by Islamic extremism? Because in the marketplace of ideas, currently militancy and extremism are the only available items, which have filled the existing vacuum of ideas. The perception is that the old ideas, be they national liberation, socialism, or non-alignment, which informed resistance movements post-World War II, have failed. People seeking some way to express their anger, resentment and resistance to the American posture are increasingly influenced by the Islamist militant ideology. This is the periphery of the general rejection of American imperialism and explains the phenomenon of the Americans turning against America in a violent manner.