Answering ‘Why Do They Hate Us?’

After the 9/11 attacks when many Americans wondered “why do they hate us?” they were fed pabulum by President George W. Bush about them “hating our freedoms,” as a frightened (or complicit) U.S. news media didn’t dare contradict. That has left a confused American people, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

On Monday, I had 65 students in a “Twentieth Century World” history class ask me what I thought were the origins of the 9/11 attacks. I said I was quite willing to tell them what I thought, but first they had to give me their opinions.

The vast majority believed that Muslim fanaticism led to the tragedy. The only other competitive theory, held by a small minority, was that the attacks were the result of a conspiracy located within the U.S. government itself.

I made it clear that I do not believe in the conspiracy explanation, if for no other reason than it would be impossible to keep that sort of thing secret in a political environment (Washington DC) which leaked information like a sieve.

I was more interested in why they thought Muslim fanaticism caused the attack. They could not answer the question in any specific way. It was just the majority opinion that was somehow “in the air.”

And, indeed, it is what our leaders and the media suggest and it is, by now, part of a shared national consciousness.
Next I inquired why they asked me this question? They answered that as the fellow in the History Department who taught about the Middle East, they saw me as a credible source of information. With that established, I agreed that this was a good and indeed necessary use of class time. So I began.
I told them that Muslim fanaticism did not cause the attack. Clearly the belief that one was acting in a way approved by God made it easier to hijack the planes and crash them into their targets. But that belief was not the motivation for these acts.

Rather the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, were performed as revenge for decades of U.S. foreign policy decisions that had caused enormous suffering in the Middle East. Student reaction was something like: “foreign policy, what foreign policy?”

I told those 65 students that was exactly the right question. It was time (actually it was long past due) that they understood 9/11 in its historical context. I then led them through a brief description of the following events, all of which identified the United States as an enemy of justice and democracy in the Middle East:

1. In 1953, the U.S. overthrow the democratically established government of Iran and installed the Shah’s dictatorship.
2. In 1958, the U.S. landed troops in Lebanon in support of a Maronite Christian president who was seeking to subvert the Lebanese constitution. We repeated the mistake 25 years later, in 1983, when Ronald Reagan once more sent U.S. forces into Lebanon and quickly lost 241 servicemen to a suicide bomber.
3. We have subsequently backed numerous Middle East dictators, among them Mubarak in Egypt, Abdullah in Jordan, the Saudi monarchy in Arabia (where we kept troops on the holiest of Muslim soil), the king of Bahrain, etc. even while selectively opposing others such as those in Syria and Libya.

The U.S. criterion for support is not whether a government is a dictatorship or democracy, but rather whether it cooperates or not with American policies in the region.
4. The notorious regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq was an excellent example of this criterion. For a number of years this dictator was the beneficiary of American support (we sold him his poison gas and biological agents). However, he eventually invaded Kuwait (which the British had lopped off from Iraq in 1913) and the U.S. then turned against him.

Following the First Gulf War a U.S.-sponsored blockade of Iraq resulted in the death of over half a million Iraqi poor people and children. I quoted Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s infamous 1996 confession on the TV program 60 Minutes that she thought all those deaths were “worth it.”

I am sure that Osama bin Laden thought exactly the same way about the deaths of the civilians in the Twin Towers and the hijacked airplanes.
5. And, of course, there is the consistent U.S. support of Israel in its policy of relentless absorption of Palestinian land. Which, in the eyes of many in the Middle East, makes Washington an accomplice in an imperialist and colonialist foreign occupation.

As a function of this support U.S. sought to overturn the 2006 fair and free democratic election of the Hamas government in Palestine.
Finally, I explained to the students that however U.S. officials might rationalize these policies, it is simply naive to expect that those who do not like U.S. behavior will stand by and do nothing. And they haven’t.

As it turns out, most of those who have turned violent against the U.S. are non-state actors such as those associated with Al Qaeda because, over the last 60 odd years, those Middle Eastern governments that opposed the U.S., and also Israel, have been proven impotent.
Historical Ignorance
The vast majority of Americans have no clue about this history of U.S. behavior. And, the truth is that Americans simply cannot think critically about what we do not know.

As a consequence, Americans have no historical context through which to understand the “blowback” such behavior engenders. That being the case they are susceptible to whatever fantasies the media and their leaders feed them, as well as innumerable conspiracy theories.

Most Americans accept the story that the terrorism of Sept. 11 was motivated by religious fanaticism and carried out by those who “hate our freedoms.” (To this contention I reply that those who fight against the U.S. do not care what we Americans do in our country, they care what we do in their countries).

The skeptics gravitate to the conspiracy stories. They too have it wrong though oddly the U.S. government, by acting in the way described above, did engineer the disaster.
In the case of my students I have filled in the knowledge gaps. It is hard to know how deeply they will ponder this new information and what they can do with it if they do think it through.

In any case, as the saying goes, they are but a drop in the ocean. I know that is a depressing thought, but it is an accurate one.
I have come to the conclusion that the United States, for all its ability to project force, is in decline. It is in decline for the same reason that most past empires and power states have faltered. They falter because, over time, their elites become self-deluded and the general public kept in ignorance.

The elites come to mistake their own perceptions, limited by narrow interest and/or distorted by ideologies, for objective reality. None of them have ever seen fit to integrate a “devil’s advocate” into their deliberations.

Those who can see the world objectively are more likely than not to be ignored or outright fired. Without such people in the halls of power and the offices of the media we are blind. And, as the English poet Gerald Massey once observed, “in blindness we gather thorns for flowers.”

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

13 comments for “Answering ‘Why Do They Hate Us?’

  1. September 23, 2011 at 17:33

    The articles posted by this website and expanded by its commentators are always very enlightening and critically educational. They exemplify the main role that our most courageous, responsible, and articulate citizens can feel proud of in this dismal period of American “Denial” and and “Escape” from recognition repudiation of our arrogant and often genocidal foreign policies.

    I wish I was still earning money so that I could show my support by contributions.

    One of the aspects of our terrifying imperialism that is a tabooed area for analysis is the unconscious power of “capital” in shaping the most ugly and dangerous results of our American Century Neo-con strategies.

    Well informed critics are aware of how tightly the corporate-molded mass- media have prevented the vast majority of our fellow patriots from understanding the dominionist over-arching profit-motive that outweighs all the other factors that are blamed for our arrogant permanent warfare realities. The competitiveness of our culture has an unchecked combination of state-Calvinism and biological evolution working for it. The inevitable result has driven us to where we are now and has set our trajectory on global control by any means necessary. Hundreds of sociologists like C.W. Mills and morality idealists like Chris Hedges are needed if we are not to be mechanized like the culturally advanced citizens of Germany were in their World Wars.

    The next round of “improved” nuclear weapons has already been endorsed and funded by President Obama and will be followed by other major powers like Russia. The sanctified Big Game of the “Power Elites” is being ignored and covered up by the political parties game we are fed every day of the week.

    Hardly anyone is conscious of and activated by the real possibility that a major nuclear war could make the earth so covered by radioactive fall-out that it will be uninhabitable for 4.5 billion years. Small wars have in the past generated world wars, especially when global imperialisms were the contestants.

  2. September 21, 2011 at 22:42

    I agree over all with this article However, a small rogue element,
    who operate strictly for their own insider interests, would indeed
    be involved in a conspiracy, all the players of which would be
    radical muslims. Bush and the Bin Laden family have close ties, and
    IF any unusual technology or explosives were used as back up to the
    planes, the planes were still there and any such backup element
    would be a small elite element who won’t talk.

    Personally, I think the whole 9-11 Truther movement has been hijacked,
    because the focus is HOW and not WHO-IN-THE-BACKGROUND. The Bin Laden
    family may have disowned Osama publically, but it is interesting that
    one of his goals was the overthrow of the Saudi royal family. And of
    course, who would fill that vaccuum? Most likely the Bin Laden family
    would make a bid for power.

  3. September 21, 2011 at 13:09

    What is so surprising is that George Washington in both his Farewell Address and other statements made it clear that America should not entangle itself in the affairs of other countries, we should be neutral. After World War II the United States increased its involvement throughout the world from Vietnam to the Middle East. It shows that the elites controlling foreign policy whether they be Democrats to Republicans are in unison with an expansionist and meddlesome foreign policy. The Peace Corps is one thing, optional wars are another.

    There is no doubt that our foreign policy establishment is now so inbred that their decisions and actions are harmful to the nation and the American people. The country did not have to go to war to kill or capture Osama bin Laden.

  4. Bob Marshall
    September 19, 2011 at 02:26

    Countries in which the US used depleated uranium in their bombs, missles and mutions. Bosnia, Yuogslavia,Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya and now it has been discovered being used in Syria. Israel used DU in Gaza and Lebanon.

  5. E.A. Blair
    September 18, 2011 at 18:14

    I wasn’t fooled. Ten years ago, my first reaction on that Tuesday was, “our chickens have come home to roost.”

  6. John Puma
    September 16, 2011 at 18:12

    Here’s a detailed list of US global “interventions” up to Iraq (II):

  7. Howard C Lucas
    September 16, 2011 at 15:29

    Lawrence Davidson is exactly right.He is an acurate critical thinker. As for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; I was a GI on the chinese mainland ready to invade Japan when the bombs were dropped. In July 1945 we had fire bombed Tokyo and killed 200,000 Japanese-no big deal. It is alright to burn people to death but 50,000 to 70,000 killed by a nuclear bomb is worse??

    It took this shock to end the war. If we had invaded Japan many times more Japanese would have been killed and also many of our soldiers. There is nothing good that can be said about war.

  8. David Hamilton
    September 16, 2011 at 15:26

    “foreign policy, what foreign policy?” and “events, all of which identified the United States as an enemy of justice and democracy in the Middle East”

    Here is why I think “fanatics” hate us, and have become extraordinarily provoked. It happened about a generation ago:

    My own awakening occured in late 1990, when the first Bush revealed his true, savage dismissiveness toward Iraqis in particular and Arab Muslims in general. That is when he turned on his old buddy, Saddam Hussein. Saddam never suffered, though, only his Muslim, colonialized people did: nearly the entire population of Iraq.

    You could see the seeds being sown for future blowback, which would repay us for the horrible, enduring overkill visited upon Iraq for its “trespass”.

    What was that trespass? It’s all clouded in the fancy words used to describe his sin: aggressing against a neighbor, Kuwait, or getting away with setting a precedent for other would-be invaders. Or threatening the good Arabs in Saudi Arabia (which turned out to be another false story).

    What it boiled down to was taking the whole of Kuwait instead of the largely unpopulated oil-rich border region, for which Bush and his ambassador had given a green light. Bush’s reaction was clearly a back stab. So was the clever rejection of Saddam’s capitulation – a retreat offer somehow deemed by Bush to not be feasible in a timely manner. But I could see that Americans didn’t care if you betrayed a despot.

    It doesn’t take a genius to realize that some tribal Muslim princes are going to become very agitated at the idea of their (neo-)colonial overlords unsympathetically setting them up for sacrifice. Who wants to go to their grave being an empire’s lesson to the world about maintaining order? That these vengeful (or defensive?)princes may have resided in neighboring Saudi Arabia, and not in Iraq itself, or may have felt empowered by God, is irrelevant. The fact is you just knew (or should have known)they were going to come from somewhere. Standard military planning – anticipate the counterattack.

    And yes, they didn’t give a damn about how we lived our life over here, they just wanted us out of the Middle East. Albeit, some of them may have felt that the selfish libertinism or oppressive crony capitalism here contributes to our disposition to injustice – which happens to be the central tenet of Islam, by the way. Freedom to them is freedom from just such Herodian styles of injustice, which Jews of Jesus’ time also endured. Such was the purpose of the Prophet Mohammad’s revolution. Such was the purpose of Bin Laden’s desire to organize the force that would expel the wicked Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

    But Americans ended up doing it, not Bin Laden, and we saw how that turned out!

    My conclusion was that our treatment of these people lacked any compassion, justice, or mercy. Double standards were everywhere: how could America justify a half million slaughtered or sickened to death on “we have to enforce U.N. resolutions”, all the while the elephant in the room is Israel’s seizing of Palestine being excused, with no effort to enforce the same kind of U.N. resolutions to expel Israel.

    All this “policy” looked like it would backfire as the purported mission of peace to establish a new world order that it was declared to be. Our foreign policy makers have really failed – over the top. They should have known better.

    Americans can’t figure out that shooting fish in a barrel for unsound reasons is probably going to bring on revenge, and plunge us into the vicious cycle of violence and recrimination. This is the foreign policy we adopted, whether we like it or not, whether we feel righteous about it or not. This is the foreign policy of the Cheneys of the nation: showing that our use of force and punishment is “credible”. But with it, we can know that we will be hit back.

    It would be wise to pay attention. I’m sorry if it’s hard.

    Watch out for “moral wars”. And if any person or nation knows about God’s law – that you reap as you sow – they would know that the ugly, rotten punishment of Iraq for crossing Mr. Bush would not turn out well for America. It is depressing, really, but I don’t feel sorrow for Americans anymore. Many are sadists. They were asking for it on 9/11, though they may not have known it, and I’m not just talking about the leaders.

  9. Jym Allyn
    September 16, 2011 at 15:22


    What Truman failed to realize was the canonization of Orthodox Judaism by Israel.

    It gives Orthodox Jews (20% of the population) free education and exemption from military duty by “virtue” of being Orthodox. It also exempts them from the responsibility of their actions and decisions.

    As long as Orthodox Judaism runs Israel there will never be peace because of that lack of accountability or responsibility.

    It is the same as the oligarchy rule that is keeping the majority of the Arab/Muslim population in poverty and ignorance frequently by “blaming the Jews” for their problems when the major source of their problems is their own “leaders.”

    And thank you for your comments and explanation. One of the great travesties of American politics was when Senator Max Cleland was voted out of office for “being a traitor.”

  10. Jim Robinson
    September 16, 2011 at 14:49

    I have been expressing this truth for many years but no one asks: Why?

    Well I also blame President Truman for recognizing the Zionist state after he said no state should be founded on religious grounds.

  11. William Grubbs
    September 16, 2011 at 14:29

    Thank you very much. I get asked this question many times. Your wrote it clearly & distinctly so most will understand. Thanks for the order of events regarding middle east. I would just add Curtis LeMay’s horrific WWII “Strategic Bombing” to the list of our bombing record during WWII. Thanks again for giving us simple answers to difficult questions, William Grubbs, Rowland Heights, CA

  12. rosemerry
    September 15, 2011 at 15:55

    What the US public is told rarely shows any criticism of US policies. Sven Lindqvist, among many examples in his “A History of Bombing”, shows how a Smithsonion Institute exhibition on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 50th anniversary, in 1995, was so bulldozed into ignoring any death or injury by the atomic bombs that the whole exhibition had to be cancelled. Veterans, and their Congressional supporters, just did not allow the horrors of the only atomic bombs droppped on civilians to be debated in a scholarly exhibition fifty years later.
    Any Noam Chomsky book will give your students well-researched food for thought.

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