WHY DO THEY HATE US?
The reasons are many, the history long
'Because we are so big, so powerful'
By Stephen W. Bosworth, 9/16/2001
The events of last week cry out for explanation. It is tempting for us to
explain stamp such terrorism, and those who perpetrate it, as crazy. But few
terrorists are in fact crazy. By their own logic, twisted though it is, they
If we are to begin to deal more effectively with the threat they pose, we
need to try to understand what motivates them, why they hate , and most
especially why they hate us.
Put most simply, the foot soldiers of terrorism believe they have nothing
left to lose. They perceive their lives to be devoid of meaning beyond the
drudgery of day-to-day existence. They are convinced, to some extent
correctly, that they are the victims of history, captives of circumstances for
which they are not responsible.
Many are the human detritus of failed efforts to modernize their
societies. They believe that the failure to achieve modernization for for
which they blame others, not themselves, has destroyed their traditional
culture. As a result , they are left with nothing. They are spiritually empty.
Some of those recruited to terrorism are the product of life in refugee
camps where they have been raised on bitter memories of dispossession the
bitter memories and experience of dispossession passed down from one
frustrated generation to another. In all cases, hopelessness and a sense of
abandonment make these young men and most are young men susceptible to
political extremism and religious zealotry. Hatred, violence , and for some
the lure of martyrdom fill the moral void at the core of their existence.
But why us? Why do these groups hate the United States? To some extent of
course, they hate us because we are so big, so powerful, and always so
visible. But more fundamentally they associate America and American culture
with the materialism and secularism that they see as so threatening to their
religious purity and traditional values. To some extent, these groups strike
at us simply to inflict pain and get revenge for the pain they feel we have
At the same time, however, these terrorist organizations see the United
States as both the Great Satan from which all evil comes and a deus ex machina
from which all solutions are expected. They attribute our failure to act as
they would like to a deliberate and conscious decision by us to deny their
legitimate aspirations. They believe that if they inflict sufficient pain on
us we will change our policies and support them.
However, explanation is not attenuation. There is no excuse for what was
done to us on Sept. 11. There is evil in the world, and those responsible for
Tuesday's events are evil in thought and in deed.\ We don't yet know, of
course, precisely which brand of terrorists struck New York City and
Washington, and we must be careful not to rush to judgment. But it seems
likely they are from the same groups, or like-minded groups, as those
accountable for the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the destruction
of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and other acts of
terror in recent years.
The people and organizations responsible for these particular incidents
have been from the Middle East and Southwest Asia. It would be a mistake to
identify the phenomenon of terrorism exclusively with a particular part of the
world or, even worse, a particular region. The political, economic, and social
conditions that breed a willingness to inflict pain and death on innocent
people for political ends are found in many places, including, of course, in
the United States.
Terrorism of the sort that has just struck here is a particularly
frustrating threat to national security, one very difficult to counter. The
terrorists take advantage of our openness and our cultural diversity. While
they do not necessarily represent a particular country, or act on the behalf
of a particular government, they may receive support from governments. They
are relatively few in number, yet able to do horrendous damage with relatively
unsophisticated weaponry. All of this makes them difficult to identify and
Driven by political and religious fanaticism they are willing - even eager
- to die as martyrs for their cause. They are very, very dangerous, and we
know that we must take them seriously.
The nature of the US response will say something to ourselves and to the
rest of the world about who we are.
That we need to respond with some measure of force seems beyond question.
But we must be certain that the target of our response has responsibility for
what was done to us. Also, our response should be driven not by a thirst for
retribution but by the need to demonstrate that future attacks on us will have
severe consequences. We need to respond in order to deter, not just to punish.
Finally, Americans should feel enormously comforted by the outpouring of
international sympathy and support in the past few days. This is potentially
our most valuable asset for dealing with international terrorism. We should
build this international support into our long-term strategy, conceding to our
chief allies a voice in the formulation of this strategy.
Terrorism is the epitome of a global threat for which there is no purely
national solution. We need to deal with it multilaterally, to deny a safe
haven to terrorist organizations, and to impose severe sanctions on any
government that provides support to international terrorism.
We also need to redouble our efforts to address the underlying political
and social conditions that create the breeding ground for terrorism. It is too
easy at times to throw up our hands in despair at solving intractable
political problems such as in the Middle East. Yet, for us to abandon efforts
at conflict resolution there and elsewhere risks creating more generations of
young men for whom political and religious extremism are so tempting.
Stephen W. Bosworth - a former US ambassador to Tunisia, the
Philippines , and, until earlier this year, South Korea - is dean of the
Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 09/16/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.