By Barry Rubin*
A dozen words spoken at his trial by Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square would-be bomber, are worth studying very carefully. When asked why he targeted American civilians in the streets of New York, Shahzad replied:
"Well, the [American] people select the government. We consider them all the same."
On one level, this is a standard terrorist position, used against countries from India to Israel and beyond. Significantly, it can only be applied only against democratic countries. Everyone is a legitimate target precisely because the country is a free one. Of course, the terrorist is attacking on the basis of a totalitarian ideology which he wants to impose everywhere possible. In this case, in the statement, "We consider them all the same," the word "all" refers to the people.
But that's not the main point I want to make.
The word "all" also refers to the governments they elect. In this case, the government the American people elected is that of Barack Hussain Obama, a president determined to prove to Muslims that he is their friend no matter what that costs.
No doubt, some are so convinced. According to public opinion polls, however, the change in the views of those in Muslim-majority countries has been--despite his efforts--pretty small. Many of them are going to consider any American government to be "all the same." That's not something that applied just to George W. Bush. The decision to carry out what became the September 11 attacks, the planning, and much of the implementation took place when William Jefferson Clinton was president.
As for the revolutionary Islamists--be they al-Qaida, Hamas, Hizballah, the Taliban, and the Muslim Brotherhoods--or the radical regimes--be they Iran, Syria, the de facto Islamic Republic of Gaza, or others--all the U.S. governments are definitely the same. Indeed, they make this point explicitly in their declarations and media every day.
To them, the American people are "all the same" and the American governments are "all the same." The argument between liberals and conservatives on this point is irrelevant. They hate the United States because of its values and they also hate the United States because of its policies.
But the policies aspect is not over the details--military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq--nor is it over just support of Israel, since it is equally so regarding the support of any existing regime in a non-radical Muslim-majority state. There is no conceivable U.S. policy that will satisfy the revolutionaries, save perhaps a full withdrawal from the Middle East and abandonment of support for any government in the region.
There is, however, a best-possible policy for the United States: fight the revolutionary Islamists and support, to an appropriate degree, all the non-radical regimes being attacked by Islamists , be it Algeria or the Philippines, Thailand or Morocco, Israel or India, Saudi Arabia or Egypt. And this includes the opposition in Turkey and Iran, as well as democratic forces in Lebanon that oppose domination by Iran, Syria, and Hizballah.
In contrast to the Islamists, in the case of Muslim-majority countries, they don't select the government and we don't consider them to be all the same. The differentiation we should make is that between enemies--revolutionary Islamists and radical anti-Western nationalists--and the rest, who might not be warm allies but are people who can be worked with to prevent their own countries, the region, and perhaps even the world from being drowned in blood and violence.
*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org. You can read and subscribe to his blog at http://www.rubinreports.blogsp