I mentioned here how the war on terrorism, and more specifically its extension to Iraq (based or not on real facts about terrorism), has been counterproductive and has probably produced more (potential) terrorists than it has eliminated. The two ongoing wars in Muslim countries have enraged many Muslims and have turned their attention to the “American Criminal” and away from the criminals within. They have united the Muslim world, and this unity has reduced the ability and willingness of Muslims to criticize the extremists within their community.
These wars have also offered battleground experience to extremists, including experience in group formation and group discipline. They undoubtedly have led to stronger ties between extremists from different countries who otherwise would never have met.
The wars themselves have to some extent been counterproductive, but the way they have been conducted has made things even worse. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib will be rallying calls for generations of terrorists.
The anti-Americanism of many Muslims has been encouraged by the wars on terrorism, but also by the anti-islamism or islamophobia that seems to be increasingly widespread in the West (see here and here). In fact, and despite the recent assurances of President Obama, the war on terrorism is often merged with or morphed into a war on Islam; not a military war per se, but an ideological war.
The specter of “EUrabia” (based on the EU’s supposedly lax immigration policy combined with the high fertility rates among immigrants), of Western Shari’a, of the incompatibility of Western and Muslim morals and ethics (see here), of sleeper cells etc. all seem to produce a widespread rejection of a caricature version of Islam. Islam is reduced to an objectionable monolith on the basis of extremely rare but photogenic outliers.
No wonder many in the Muslim world feel rejected and turn inwards. And inwards often means towards a more pure and therefore more radical form of identity. They in turn make a caricature of western culture and reject it as a whole because of some aspects of it that they deem objectionable. Another way in which anti-terrorism shoots itself in the foot.
Another point: the fear of militant and political Islam convinces western governments to back some brutal Middle East dictatorships. These are believed to be a lesser evil compared to islamists taking over political power and using it to support terrorists. However, a brutal dictatorship may well be an important cause of terrorism. An interesting parallel with the time of communism, by the way:
David Gardner asks a provocative question in this weekend’s Financial Times: Is the West’s fear of political Islam condemning the Middle East to a generation of poor leadership? Political Islam is the new communism, he argues; the United States fears it so much that it prefers despots to even the most moderate Islamists. The Middle East, by implication, might be going through the same bout of poor leadership that afflicted Latin America and Africa as the Cold War contest played out in their regions. Elizabeth Dickinson (source)