The Islamist Syndrome of Cultural Confrontation

The September 11 attacks on America prompted those who tried to make sense of the tragedy to take a fresh look at two documents authored by Osama bin Laden for insight into the worldview and immediate motives of the perpetrators. The first of these, the 22-page “Declaration of War,” composed in 1996, explains bin Laden’s views towards the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, the land of his birth. The presence of American troops in the Saudi kingdom, the statement reads, amounts to nothing less than a military occupation the ultimate purpose of which is to spread “unbelief” (kufr) in “the land of the two sanctuaries.” The statement goes on to relate how the Saudi government and the religious scholars who support it are complicit in this American purpose. By opening Saudi Arabia to “Zionist-Crusader” forces and by choosing not to implement a complete and authentic version of the Shariah (Islamic law), the ruling family cannot be counted as bona fide members of the worldwide community of believers. They ought, therefore, to be resisted. The second document, a self-styled fatwa issued in the name of the “World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders,” details the form this resistance should take. The killing of Americans and their allies, it declares, is an “individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible.” Bin Laden does not spell out in either of these documents an overarching strategic goal. Some have suggested that by calling for attacks upon U.S. citizens bin Laden hoped to provoke an American withdrawal from the Persian Gulf, thus paving the way for the eventual overthrow of the House of Saud.

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