Hussain Osman, one of the men alleged to have participated in London's failed bombings on July 21, recently told Italian investigators that they prepared for the attacks by watching "films on the war in Iraq," La Repubblica reported. "Especially those where women and children were being killed and exterminated by British and American soldiers...of widows, mothers and daughters that cry."
It has become an article of faith that Britain was vulnerable to terror because of its politically correct antiracism. Yet Osman's comments suggest that what propelled at least some of the bombers was rage at what they saw as extreme racism. And what else can we call the belief -- so prevalent we barely notice it -- that American and European lives are worth more than the lives of Arabs and Muslims, so much more that their deaths in Iraq are not even counted?
It's not the first time that this kind of raw inequality has bred extremism. Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian writer generally viewed as the intellectual architect of radical political Islam, had his ideological epiphany while studying in the United States. The puritanical scholar was shocked by Colorado's licentious women, it's true, but more significant was Qutb's encounter with what he later described as America's "evil and fanatic racial discrimination." By coincidence, Qutb arrived in the United States in 1948, the year of the creation of the State of Israel. He witnessed an America blind to the thousands of Palestinians being made permanent refugees by the Zionist project. For Qutb, it wasn't politics, it was an assault on his identity: Clearly Americans believed that Arab lives were worth far less than those of European Jews. According to Yvonne Haddad, a professor of history at Georgetown University, this experience "left Qutb with a bitterness he was never able to shake."
When Qutb returned to Egypt he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to his next life-changing event: He was arrested, severely tortured and convicted of antigovernment conspiracy in an absurd show trial. Qutb's political theory was profoundly shaped by torture. Not only did he regard his torturers as sub-human, he stretched that categorization to include the entire state that ordered this brutality, including the practicing Muslims who passively lent their support to Nasser's regime.
Qutb's vast category of subhumans allowed his disciples to justify the killing of "infidels" -- now practically everyone -- in the name of Islam. A movement for an Islamic state was transformed into a violent ideology that would lay the intellectual groundwork for al Qaeda. In other words, so-called Islamist terrorism was "home grown" in the West long before the July 7 attacks -- from its inception it was the quintessentially modern progeny of Colorado's casual racism and Cairo's concentration camps.
Why is it worth digging up this history now? Because the twin sparks that ignited Qutb's world-changing rage are currently being doused with gasoline: Arabs and Muslims are being debased in torture chambers around the world and their deaths are being discounted in simultaneous colonial wars, at the same time that graphic digital evidence of these losses and humiliations is available to anyone with a computer. And once again, this lethal cocktail of racism and torture is burning through the veins of angry young men. As Qutb's past and Osman's present reveal, it's not our tolerance for multiculturalism that fuels terrorism; it's our tolerance for the barbarism committed in our name.
The real problem is not too much multiculturalism but too little. If the diversity now ghettoized on the margins of Western societies -- geographically and psychologically -- were truly allowed to migrate to the centers, it might infuse public life in the West with a powerful new humanism. If we had deeply multi-ethnic societies, rather than shallow multicultural ones, it would be much more difficult for politicians to sign deportation orders sending Algerian asylum-seekers to torture, or to wage wars in which only the invaders' dead are counted. A society that truly lived its values of equality and human rights, at home and abroad, would have another benefit too. It would rob terrorists of what has always been their greatest recruitment tool: our racism.
The ability to write an article like this without giving the slightest amount of blame to the people who actually plan terror attacks is nothing short of amazing. I suppose that Naomi Klein has just given carte blanche to black people or native Americans to start blowing up other Americans at shopping malls because of historic racism - and she would be the first to defend them.
She likes the theme that the West perceives that "American and European lives are worth more than the lives of Arabs and Muslims." What she glaringly fails to address is that American and European lives are worth more to the terrorists than the lives of Arabs and Muslims. How else to explain the entire idea of suicide bombing? (I know, she must consider it noble.) How else to explain the huge number of Muslims killed by other Muslims? How else to explain the concept of Jihad as it is normally used - as a holy war against the infidels? (And is she writing as many words about deaths in Africa and Indonesia as she is on Arabs and the West? Perhaps there is a little racism there, too, according to her "logic"?)
Her other points supposedly supporting her thesis are nothing short of absurd. Qutb was tortured by Nasser's thugs and she somehow uses his Colorado experiences to blame the West.
And not a word that Muslim extremism may be, just maybe, fueled partially by an interpretation or misinterpretation of the Koran? Nope...they might as well be secularists; religion cannot enter the worldview of this uber-liberal because religion is only a corrupting evil when practiced by Westerners; in the Third World it is some sort of civilizing factor that couldn't possibly be included in the calculus of terror. Nope...that's all our fault. (I wonder if Klein's vision of "deeply multi-ethnic societies" have as much room for Christian fundamentalists or West Bank settlers as they do for extremist mosques.)
So the words of a Muslim terrorist said to a Western reporter about a propaganda film launches this poor excuse for an opinion piece in The Nation. The only thing noteworthy about this is that anyone can write any claptrap that fits the editorial line of the magazine and get published.
(Of course, this also applies to some conservative publications as well. Over the years I have found way too many things written that said nothing but just filled space in partisan publications; they could have been written by a 'bot. Critical analysis by partisan editors is way too rare.)