Call the roller of big cigars: Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf is hard at work auditioning for the role of today’s Winston Churchill. Last Monday he declared: “A new iron curtain seems to be falling. This iron curtain somehow is dividing the Muslim world on one side and the West on the other side. This is very dangerous.”
How dangerous? Well, the Islamic world is on the brink of falling into new “depths of chaos and despair.” It seems that “Muslim states are seen as the source of terrorism,” which evidently our new Churchill finds disturbing; I suppose he would prefer that we search for terrorists among the Ohio Amish. Musharraf warns of more “terrorism and an impending clash of civilizations” — unless, that is, the United States goes to what he identifies as the root of the problem: “If you manage to finish off one organization like al Qaeda … you’ve chopped off a branch of that tree, but the tree will still grow. You must identify the root, and the root happens to be political disputes … the root happens also to be illiteracy and poverty.” Many Muslims, he explained, “feel deprived, hopeless, powerless.” This leaves them vulnerable to being “indoctrinated by distorted views of Islam.”
Musharraf is probably not familiar with numerous studies that indicate that the conventional wisdom he is purveying here is actually false. The idea that terrorists are desperately poor, uneducated, and easily enticed by the promise of a few dollars or a bit of manipulative religious twaddle that the cynical power elite purvey but don’t believe in themselves — it flies in the face of the facts. Most recently, Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer, has found through extensive background studies of known Al-Qaeda operatives that most Islamic terrorists are, according to a Knight-Ridder report, “well-educated, married men from middle- or upper-class families, in their mid-20s and psychologically stable ??¢â???¬ ¦ Many of them knew several languages and traveled widely.” Sageman strongly ruled out the idea that terrorists were misfits and sociopaths: “The data suggest that these were good kids who liked to go to school and were often overprotected by their parents.”
Sageman says that for these men, terrorism constitutes “an answer to Islamic decadence – a feeling that Islam has lost its way.” And this sentiment could never be aroused in them if they didn’t already have the idea that Islam’s purity could somehow be restored by violence. The reality is that educated people who begin to get serious about their Islamic faith all too often turn to terrorism because they are taught that acts of violence against unbelievers is part of their religious responsibility.
They are teaching this sort of thing in the new Churchill’s back yard, although all the cigar smoke may be keeping him from seeing this fact. Last March, the acting President of the radical Muslim party Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Qazi Hussain Ahmad, threatened to launch nationwide protests if the curriculum in Pakistan’s Islamic schools (madrassas) were reformed to eliminate verses from the Qur’an that taught violent jihad. “To combat this,” Qazi warned, “a major jihadi campaign has become necessary.” He sent Musharraf a pointed reminder: “the general should note that the country came into existence on Islamic ideology and it could survive on that basis alone.” That ideology is taught daily in many of Pakistan’s 27,000 madrassas. A significant percentage of these, according to Newsweek, “steep their students in the doctrine of holy war and function openly as jihad enlistment centers.”
Will Great Society programs aimed at stamping out Musharraf’s twin bogeymen, illiteracy and poverty, really put an end to all this? When the Ottoman Empire was the richest, most powerful nation in the world, it still pursued jihad against Christian Europe. None of Osama bin Laden’s millions have ever persuaded him that he’d rather haunt the nightclubs of Beirut than the caves of Afghanistan. But Musharraf isn’t alone: few in the West want to face the implications of studies like Sageman’s. It is far easier to imagine that a few dollars and a voucher or two to MIT will put everything right again in the Middle East, than to try to digest the implications of a religion in need of massive reform on a global scale.
But all this obfuscation is ultimately self-defeating: with the root causes of terror left unaddressed, the terrorists are still free to recruit and proliferate. Let Musharraf speak about the real roots of Islamic terror, and he’ll actually deserve that Churchillian mantle.