THE BLOG
01/25/2008 01:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Terrorism 101

Since September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has been in a supposed struggle against what it calls "terrorism." The administration sought to counter the 9/11 attacks by initially invading Afghanistan, which was run by the Taliban and harbored Al Qaeda. Bush then expanded the strategy by identifying three countries -- Iraq, Iran and North Korea -- as part of an "axis of evil, aiming to threaten the peace of the world." He then went on to threaten the peace of the world by attacking Iraq, maintaining a constant stream of threats against Iran, all the while burning the bridges to our important allies. The invasion of Iraq, which of course had nothing to do with 9/11, has become one of the most catastrophic foreign policy disasters in this country's history and has kept the U.S. army in the streets of Baghdad and Fallujah to fight an undefined enemy for an undefined period of time in order to accomplish an undefined mission.

And now, Republican presidential candidates and fanatical figures such as Horowitz, Podhoretz, Dershowitz and Pipes warn us about "Islamofascists," a term invented as a consequence of a pathetic attempt to liken those who attacked us 9/11 or Iraqis who are fighting the invaders on their own streets to the Third Reich and Nazi Germany. We are warned that we were attacked because "they hate us for our freedoms" -- whoever "they" are.

I was 18-years-old when President Bush called Iran as part of an "axis of evil" and I had moved to the United States from Tehran on my own two years prior to pursue my own American dream of living in freedom and having a good life. While I had personally lived under the repressive rule of mullahs in Iran for 16 years, I couldn't quite understand why Bush would include Iran in his list of countries that would threaten the peace of the world when Iran had nothing to do with 9/11 and the then Iranian President Khatami had publicly condemned the attacks. In fact, Iran has not attacked another country in more than a hundred years. But throughout the seven years of the Bush administration, it has become abundantly clear that the reason that the United States has failed to make the world a safer place and address the issue of terrorism is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what terrorism is and what causes it.

The next president of the United States must drastically shift the way Americans are led to think about and eradicate terrorism, and in order to effectively address the issue, he/she must clearly address the following points as part of the process:

1. Define "Terrorism:" Definition the term so overused may at first seem unnecessary. But in order for one to effectively wage a struggle against an element, one first has to define what the struggle is against. And this is certainly easier said than done. For one, any linguist would begin by defining "terrorism" as a tactic and not an ideology, which would mean that one cannot have a war on terrorism because one cannot have a war on or against a tactic. Furthermore, during the Reagan Administration, the head of the White House Terrorism Task Force, Amb. Edward Peck, was tasked to come up with a definition for "terrorism" that could be used throughout the government. He produced six, and each time the administration rejected the definitions because a close reading of each would have included some activities of the United States. If done correctly, the process of finding the best definition to articulate and define terrorism should lead to a conversation about how this country must think about terrorism, and ultimately, what causes terrorism, which brings us to the next step.

2. Identify its Causes: "They hate us for our freedoms," we are told. We are also told by implication that all terrorists are Muslims who have "misunderstood" Islam. And that phenomenon, combined with the fact that "they hate us for our freedoms" leads them to commit terrorism. I am not affiliated with any religion, but the notion that the people of one religion from one region of the world have a monopoly on terrorism is one of the most bigoted and racist assertions embraced by the American government since Japanese internment camps. The currently-used abstract articulation of the causes of terrorism was produced not to express the facts, but to meet certain requirements. The narrative was designed, a) to exclude the United States and all of its closest allies; b) paint all terrorists in history as Muslims without offending the entire Muslim population in the world; c) take any elements of rationality out of anything that can be identified as a "cause" for terrorism; and d) provide the United States with an implied moral authority and the justification to take preemptive action against anyone it considers "terrorists." Based on these requirements, we are left with the explanation of convenience that terrorists are misled Muslims who attack us because they hate us for our freedoms have misunderstood their own religion -- which, we are told, is one of peace.

This explanation may be a nice way of dehumanizing and racially profiling anyone who has ever committed terrorism, but it is not even a close way of rationally examining the real causes behind the tactic. Terrorism can roughly be defined as a tactic used to purposefully kill civilians. Based on that definition, there are multiple instances throughout history where either the U.S. or one of its closest allies committed terrorism. Zionists used terrorism when they were trying to drive the British out of Palestine and establish their own state - for example by bombing King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946 and assassinating UN mediator Folke Bernadotte in 1948, among other acts. In addition, the United States under Reagan mined harbors of Nicaragua to intentionally kill "soft targets." Unless President Reagan was an Islamofascist who hated the Nicaraguan Sandinistas for their freedoms, we may have a problem with Bush's explanation on the causes of terrorism or people who commit it.

3. Address the Causes: A through implementation of step 2 should lead any sensible administration to conclude that every act of terrorism has its own unique reasons and is often committed by a unique group of people for a unique set of reasons. Some of such acts may have been the result of a strategic calculation while others were a pure and irrational expression of frustration and hatred. But one point becomes clear, and that is the fact that there is no blanket analysis that can cover the causes of all acts of terrorism. Each act (or series of acts done by the same organization) must be individually analyzed and addressed. It is possible that some will surely be done by fanatics who do in fact despise the prosperity and fortunes of another society, but the vast majority of terrorist acts in history -- including the attacks on 9/11 -- have been committed by people who have clearly stated the reasons for their actions, and they have nothing to do with our freedoms. To dismiss those confessions and brand all terrorists as confused Muslims with an inherent desire to cause America harm, for which we bear no responsibility, would be a self-defeating strategy.

4. Talk to Your Enemies: By not talking to our enemies, the United States is not isolating those countries; it is isolating itself and impeding its own effort to truly understand the misgivings foreign adversaries harbor against the United States. The next president needs to speak with the leaders of hostile countries without preconditions.

I went to public schools in Iran for 10 years. Under the current regime, the teachers are told what to teach and are highly encouraged to brainwash children with as much anti-American rhetoric as possible. So throughout those years, I heard my teachers express every possible reason one can have to despise "The Great Satan." However, not once did I ever hear a teacher suggest that he hated the United States for its freedoms or even that freedom was a contrary concept to the teachings of any religion. Up to this day after almost three decades since the Islamic revolution, the people continue to chant the following words, however hollow they may ring: "Independence, Freedom, Islamic Republic." There are many repressive countries around the world, and Iran is one of them. But even in countries where freedom is far from the reach of their citizens, the idea of freedom is highly embraced as the pillar of any moral society. This piece has been this blogger's effort to start a long-overdue conversation about terrorism and offer a framework within which the next president should begin to address it.