Explaining Why ‘They Hate Us’

The big question that President George W. Bush posed after the 9/11 attacks was “why do they hate us?” followed by his ridiculous answer, “they hate our freedoms.” A new book by BBC correspondent Deepak Tripathi offers a more realistic analysis, writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration rolled out its “Global War on Terror.” Although the Obama White House doesn’t use that moniker, many of its policies are indistinguishable from those of its predecessor.  

Both administrations have focused on combating the symptoms of terrorism rather than grappling with its root causes.  

Longtime BBC correspondent Deepak Tripathi was based in Kabul, Afghanistan for 15 months in the early 1990s, where he gained a unique perspective about the genesis of terrorism from his access to Afghan leaders and citizens during the civil war following the expulsion of the communist regime there.

His book Breeding Ground makes a significant contribution toward understanding the origins and triggers of terrorism. Tripathi traces the development of a “culture of violence” in Afghanistan, largely due to resistance against foreign invasion, from the “U.S.-led proxy war” against the USSR to the current U.S. war. Without such historical insight, efforts to make us safe from acts of terror will prove futile.

Absent from the national discourse after 9/11 was a substantive inquiry into why 19 men could hate the United States so much they would blow themselves up and take some 3,000 innocents with them. The source of that hatred can be traced to foreign occupation of Afghanistan as well as resentment of the United States for its uncritical support of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

Tripathi reproduces an Oct. 7, 2001, statement by Osama bin Laden that says, “What America is tasting now is something insignificant compared to what we have tasted for years,” citing “humiliation and degradation.”  

Bin Laden adds, “Millions of innocent children are being killed as I speak. They are being killed in Iraq [from the blockade and sanctions] without committing any sins.”  And he writes, “Israeli tanks infest Palestine . . . and other places in the land of Islam, and we don’t hear anyone raising his voice or moving a limb.”

Bin Laden’s statement mirrors the grievances set forth in a 1998 Al Qaeda declaration, which listed Israel’s control over Jerusalem, the Palestinian problem, and Iraq as its three primary complaints. The declaration cited America’s “occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors and turning its bases into a spearhead” against Muslims.  

It complained of “the huge number of those killed” by the blockade of Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. The declaration described U.S. aims as “religious and economic,” with a desire to serve Israel’s interests by diverting attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and the murder of Muslims in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Tripathi dialectically traces the rise of radical Islam against communism in Afghanistan, U.S. support for the Islamic forces to repel the Soviets, and the later development of terrorism in opposition to American policies once the Soviet Union was expelled from Afghanistan.

In 1979, the USSR invaded Afghanistan and began a ten-year occupation to prop up the struggling Afghan communist government which had come to power the year before. “The rise of communism radicalized the country’s Islamic groups,” Tripathi writes.  

After the invasion, bin Laden moved to the Afghan-Pakistan border to “liberate the land from the infidel invader.”  Supported by the CIA, he created an organization to fight the Soviets.  It became part of the Mujahedeen, which was based in Pakistan and backed by the United States.

The U.S. and its allies financed the war against the Soviet Union with billions of dollars worth of weapons.  American aid was funneled by the CIA to the Mujahedeen via the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) in Pakistan, which received $3 billion in U.S. assistance for its efforts.  

President Jimmy Carter began a policy of active confrontation with the communists by authorizing secret support of the Mujahedeen. When Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency, he made a conscious decision to increase CIA military aid to the Mujahedeen.

By 1987, 65,000 tons of arms and ammunition was going through the CIA pipeline to the Afghan resistance.  

“These fundamentalist fighters were willing to endure extreme hardship and make the ultimate sacrifice, martyrdom,” notes Tripathi.

Many defectors and prisoners of the Mujahedeen were tortured or killed. The ISI had a great deal of influence over Mujahedeen leaders.

“Terror was fundamental in the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan,” according to Tripathi. The occupation lasted until 1989 when the Soviet Union was forced to withdraw from Afghanistan due to its devastating costs.

In the decade of war and brutality, over 1.3 million Afghans were killed and more than a third of the population became refugees.

Bin Laden formed Al Qaeda to overthrow corrupt, heretical regimes in Muslim countries and replace them with Islamic law. “Al Qaeda’s ideology was intensely anti-Western,” Tripathi says, “and bin Laden saw America as the greatest enemy that had to be destroyed.”  

While the United States supported radical Islam against the communists in Afghanistan with money and weapons, it “failed to recognize that the demise of the Soviet empire would leave the United States itself exposed to assaults from groups like al Qaeda,” Tripathi writes. “In time, this failure proved to be a historic blunder.”

After the demise of the USSR, which was partially attributable to its loss in the Afghan war, Afghanistan sank into chaos and civil war. Radical Islamic forces came to the fore.  

“Helped by America and its allies, the Afghan resistance generated its own culture of terror, which grew in Afghanistan, and beyond, over time.”  Afghanistan, which generally had been a peaceful country, became identified with global terror in the 1990s.  

Toward the middle of that decade, the Taliban rose to prominence. Comprised of young Afghan refugees from the war against the Soviet Union, many grew up in Pakistan. Most of the Taliban leaders hailed from poor backgrounds. 

Relying on strict Shari’ah law, they promised to restore peace and security to Afghanistan. But it came at a price. Shi’a Afghans, women and ethnic minorities became victims of Taliban atrocities. ISI supplied the Taliban with military equipment and fighters. By 1998, the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan, as “torture and ill-treatment had become systematic.”

The adage, “Be careful what you wish for,” is nowhere more relevant than in Afghanistan. The CIA gave weapons and copies of the Quran to Afghan and Arab groups. The virulent anti-communism of Carter, Reagan and President George H.W. Bush backfired.  

“Al Qaeda and the Taliban’s anti-Western ideology was a grotesque mirror image of the Carter and
Reagan-Bush administration’s anti-Soviet policy,” Tripathi observes. “The rise of Al Qaeda and its Afghan hosts, the Taliban, was as much a reaction to America’s relentless pursuit of an anti-Soviet policy as it was a symbol of the fundamentalists’ will to advance their brand of Islam.”

George W. Bush launched his “war against terror” after the 9/11 attacks by invading and occupying Afghanistan. The dead include 1,672 Americans (among a total of 2,604 coalition troops) and, by the end of 2010, at least ten thousand Afghan civilians.

Under the guise of fighting terror, Bush also attacked and occupied Iraq, which had no connection to Al Qaeda. In Iraq, 4,474 Americans (among a total of 4,792 coalition troops), and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. Those occupations continue to claim lives.

Between 9/11 and 2012, the projected cost of these two wars is $1.42 trillion.

The Bush administration developed a policy of torture and abuse of prisoners, many of whom have been detained for years without evidence of any connection to terrorism. The U.S. prison at Guantánamo became synonymous with the dehumanization of men of Arab and Muslim descent.

Photographs of cruel treatment that emerged from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq sent shock waves around the world. The Guantánamo prison still operates under the Obama administration, which has also increased attacks by unmanned drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. More than 90 percent of those killed have been civilians, according to the Brookings Institution.

Rather than endearing America to the people in these countries, those policies incur hatred against the United States, making Americans more vulnerable to terrorism. Tripathi’s excellent work ends with a call to replace the military strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan with development, reconciliation, and reconstruction. It behooves the United States to heed his wise counsel.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School, past president of the National Lawyers Guild, and editor, most recently, of The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse (NYU Press).

11 comments for “Explaining Why ‘They Hate Us’

  1. Donald A Thomson
    September 4, 2011 at 20:07

    If you want to know why the USA is unpopular, consider Hilary Clinton’s recent warnings to African leaders. China will try to buy from and sell to you. No stupid warning that China would wage a war of aggression against them, just stressing how different they are to the USA.

    Everybody is well aware of weaknesses in US democracy and everybody also knows it’s vastly less democratic in China. That’s irrelevant to whether they’ll attack your country.

    [email protected]

  2. nakba48
    August 30, 2011 at 19:05

    Japan came to grief in WWII for following the same policy we are following–trying to gain total control of the natural resources we use. Japan retooled after the war, reconciled herself to buying what she needs on the world market at the going price. She hasn’t done badly since then.

    What we’re about is based on arrogance and the conceit of power. Our dream of global power is not going to end in landscapes of devastation, but I predict we’re going to come to still greater grief.

  3. Tikitonko
    August 30, 2011 at 16:57

    The real reasons to “Why they hate us” are inconvenient truths. Most of our naive foreign policies in the Middle East were based on oil. Those who have oil must sell them; therefore trying to control them is totally unnecessary and ill advised.

  4. rharwell
    August 29, 2011 at 05:58

    The problem with these truths have to do with the politicians we keep electing to office: They are stupid and getting more dumb. They have all become corporate lackies, dogs on leashes for the profiteers and warmongers. Look at Bachmann and Perry. We thought Bush 2 was an idiot, but he pales in comparison to either of them and MSM is running them both up the flagpoles like Messiahs. I am not a college graduate, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand WHY we are so hated all over the globe. Until the profiteers, until corporate America loses its hold on government, we are going to make enemies. We will become increasingly isolated as we sink into a black hole of greed and avarice. We really are our own worst enemy.

  5. Marc Schlee
    August 27, 2011 at 22:00


    What’s this “us” shit?




  6. August 26, 2011 at 09:45

    The author apparently coherently presented a valid viewpoint that has been accepted by some outside the establishment of elected government officials, many academics and appointed officials who have actively or tacitly lead the nation down the wrong road severely damaging our own economy as well as other nations. The notion of destroying the village to save it is the operative phrase for our government’s and its paid minions. The results of our wars and mangled foreign policy are now affecting domestic programs.

    We have a kind of voluntary dictatorship here under the guise of democracy with the two parties dictating without asking the people what they want. We have over time developed more and more a top down government, instead of a bottom up government.

    Government services for people are never or seldom improved and enhanced, but are curtailed now because they are too costly, without mentioning that expensive endless wars, waste, fraud, corruption and abuse are abundant in government.

    What our modern era proves is that government, if it is too large, is unable to secure effectively and efficiently for the citizenry in services like health, social security, infrastructure maintenance like roads and bridges, and high speed rail development across the country and and cost-effective security. It appears that anything for the people is unable to be funded securely, but is always trouble, but funding for bailouts in the trillions of dollars is done almost instantly like our wars, done almost instantly or very quickly.

    When jobs are tied to health care every down turn in the American economy means the health care of the American people is collateral damage.

    In a word, we have massive mismanagement and mis-allocation of the national resources by government while the citizenry is generally unable to make a coherent and united stand for themselves and their posterity.


  7. August 26, 2011 at 01:09

    Nice article. We have neoliberalism and Cold War policy to blame . Related article if you hav interested, and another that is not related .



  8. Murphy
    August 24, 2011 at 18:47

    No, Mr. Oppenheimer, I am not Hassan. I am first and foremost a Christian, and I subscribe to the oath I took: “First, do no harm”. I believe that, as The Bible teaches, “Whatsoever ye sow, so also shall ye reap.” Please read this little poem by Albrecht Haushoffer, who was murdered by the Nazis:

    I am guilty,
    But not in the way you think.
    I should have earlier recognized my duty;
    I should have more sharply called evil evil;
    I reined in my judgment too long.
    I did warn,
    But not enough, and clear;
    And today I know what I was guilty of.

    May your confession stand you in good stead with The Almighty.

  9. August 24, 2011 at 11:55

    The Military-Industrial Complex is alive and well, even under the Obama administration. War is good for profits, but at what cost ultimately?

  10. Robert Oppenheimer
    August 24, 2011 at 10:13

    Yep we used tactical nukes in AFG and IRQ.

    Dr. Nidal Hassan is that you ?

  11. Murphy
    August 23, 2011 at 18:44

    Reminds me of Robert Fisk’s prescient remark, written to himself in his personal journal of observations while touring a scene of Western devastation wrought upon the Islamic world. The skeletal remains of a treasured and historically significant Mosque that had been senselessly destroyed by Western aggression was the catalyst of that particular ‘epiphany”. He asked himself, “I wonder what they have in store for us?” Shortly thereafter, we found out. The attacks of 9/11 answered his intuitive question.

    Today, on a reading list of news articles tailored for military professionals, I found an article entitled something like, “Why bother talking to the Ghaddaffi’s of the world?” The article insinuated that our President had finally ‘learned’ that it is pointless to negotiate. I choose to have more faith in my President than that.

    I have seen photographs of war casualties from recent Middle-East war casualties circulated by a prominent British trauma surgeon. He insinuates that the nature of these injuries is such that they could only have been produced by banned chemical or nuclear weapons. As a doctor, I am inclined to agree, and my educated opinion (based on the knowledge that you can’t vaporize the flesh off of bone leaving it snow-white and devoid of protein any other way) is that tactical nuclear weapons have been employed.

    I didn’t want to look at those pictures. I spent years in University and in Residency looking at such things, and I know what they imply. It’s so much more pleasant to solve the ordinary ‘Chief Complaints’ of mundane life. You can usually make people feel better in the blink of an eye. But there is no simple solution for a fifteen year old kid who has had all the flesh burned off both of his arms.

    But I looked, and I asked myself the same question Robert Fisk asked: “I wonder what they have in store for us?”

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