If you listen to some political pundits these days, on both sides of the aisle, you might get the mistaken impression that terrorism against the West only began with the creation of Israel, and only exists because of the West’s support for Israel. This claim routinely appears on college campuses by students parroting Middle East Studies professors. It’s an attractive viewpoint because it implies that if only the U.S. and European countries adopt an anti-Israel position that the terrorism would end.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it’s false. It ignores some 1400 years of Islamic doctrine of Jihad, warfare against non-believers in order to establish an Islamic state, ruled by Islamic law, known as Sharia. This is a common goal, shared by Al Qaeda, HAMAS, Hezbollah, Lashkar e Taiba, Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, ISIS, and others, which transcends any localized disagreements over borders and pure politics.
The doctrine behind global jihad is over a thousand years old. Tragically, it is one of the most successful “exports” in the world.
The obligation to wage Jihad to establish Sharia motivated the Umayyad Caliphate to conquer Spain and attack the Franks at the Battle of Tours in 732. And Even today Al Qaeda claims they will restore Islamic rule to “Al-Andalus.” It motivated the Ottomans to attack Vienna in 1529 and 1683. It motivated the Barbary states to seize American merchant shipping and enslave their crew, provoking the Barbary wars in 1801 and 1815. The obligation to wage Jihad was used to justify the Armenian genocide in 1915.
Likewise, it motivated Boko Haram to kidnap 300 young Christian schoolgirls in Nigeria 2014. Abu Sayyaf to kill 21 innocent Filipino civilians in 2015, Chechen terrorists to massacre 334 people, mostly children, in Beslan, Russia Federation in 2004.
None of these attacks had anything to do with Israel. All of them were about waging Jihad.
This is not to say that the Jewish people haven’t faced particular vitriol from jihadists across the ages. Islamic doctrines of antisemitism are as ancient and established as that of jihad, and also predate the modern state of Israel. Even if Israel evaporated tomorrow the overriding goal of establishing rule by sharia would not change, as long as there are those who take the obligation to impose sharia by force of arms seriously.
Jihadists target America not because it backs Israel but because it represents the biggest obstacle to achieving their global goal. That is why Iran refers to the US as the Great Satan and Israel as the Little Satan.
It is the height of arrogance to assume our enemies are motivated only by what we do. It’s a bizarre reverse bigotry that assumes that our opponents lack any agency or will of their own.
It is satisfying to believe that jihad is the fault of our own policy, because it gives us the mistaken belief that we are fully in control of our own fate and can end attacks against us just by making some policy changes.
The truth is Jihadists are not motivated only by our actions, but rather by their own doctrine. That means jihadists can only be temporarily deterred and must be defeated every time they rear their head. The quicker our politicians—both Democrat and Republican—gain a full understanding of this, the better.
Senior Analyst and Director of State Outreach. X: @CHoltonCSP
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— Nick Sortor (@nicksortor) October 31, 2023
EDITORS NOTE: This Center for Security Policy is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.