Why do they hate us?
That question was asked continually in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. A shocked and awed population desperately looked for answers as to why such horrors would be inflicted on them, and why so many around the world cheered or thought the attacks were a karmic comeuppance.
President George W. Bush and the mainstream media quickly propagated the explanation that they hate us for our freedoms. That, in essence, it was America’s embrace of liberty and equality that infuriated Al Qaeda and other radical Islamists. The attackers, they claimed, were theocratic terrorists who were so extreme and unreasonable that the United States’ benign practice of freedom at home caused them to take up arms and brutally attack civilians.
The solution, therefore, was to just go back to shopping and disregard anything the attackers said concerning their reasons. They were all crazy and had no real reasons.
This strategy by U.S. elites appeared to be largely successful in pacifying public curiosity surrounding the attacks. Despite the gravity such declarations would theoretically have, Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden’s statements were generally ignored or truncated for domestic media consumption to simply confirm that, yes, the evil doers were still out there and ready to attack at any time—a validation from the enemy itself to stay vigilant in the War on Terror.
This narrative has held through the years. Even critics of the War on Terror appear to mostly accept the claim that the 9/11 attacks were a sheer act of madness driven by religious zealotry.
But on Wednesday, The Miami Herald published an 18-page letter written in 2015 to President Barack Obama by the central planner of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed. The publication was the result of a military judge at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, known as Camp X-ray ordering the letter to be released last month.
In the letter [PDF], Mohammed explicitly details his motivations for planning and executing the 9/11 attacks. None of them included hating the U.S for its “freedoms,” nor does he show any particular interest in dictating how those in the United States live their lives.
Instead, the letter enumerates a host of grievances related to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. In the fifth section, titled “Why did 9/11 Happen? And Why May it Happen Again?,” Mohammed explains why Al Qaeda declared war on the United States in the late 1990s:
In February 1998, when Shaikh Osama Bin Laden (may Allah have mercy on him), Dr. Ayman AlZawahiri (may Allah protect him), and other Mujahedeen issued a fatwa and declared a war against your country and its allies under the banner of “International Islamic Front for Fighting Jews and Crusader”, they were not only representing themselves or certain groups of Mujahedeen, rather they were representing the spirit of each Muslim that feels he or she is occupied and oppressed either directly by you and your allies, or by proxy as a result of Western powers turning his government into a corrupt puppet regime. The call for Jihad was a call to support each Muslim individual, Islamic group, tribe, or ethnic group that has been suppressed by your government, directly or indirectly. Therefore the declaration of Jihad against you was in reality a clarion call from millions who lost their freedom or were expelled from their homes in Palestine, the Philippines, Chechnya, or Iraq or who cannot find employment because of your corrupted Arab regimes which you have turned into a captive market of the Western arms industry.
On one hand you are plundering our oil at the cheapest prices while on the other hand you are selling your useless, worthless weapons at high prices by bribing your agents and monarchical families, thereby creating jobs in your own country’s arms industry factories rather than in Cairo or Karachi or Jakarta. You never stop your crimes in our lands through your agents and dictators, in secrecy and openly.
So, not because we let women drive?
Mohammed opens the letter claiming American presidents and other politicians are “Machiavellian” and lists a series of scandals including Watergate. In section five, he continues with a litany of charges starting with the phrase “On 9/11 you reaped what you sowed.”
Among the charges is the U.S. complicity in Indonesian dictator Muhammad Suharto’s killings of dissidents in 1965, support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and attacks in Lebanon, having military bases on Muslim lands, backing the brutal regime of the Shah of Iran, and the imposing of sanctions on Iraq through the 1990s that killed roughly a million civilians.
Mohammed claims 9/11 was a response to these perceived transgressions, saying “every action has an equal and opposite reaction, as stated in Newton’s law. If you secularists are not content with the laws of the Torah, the Gospel, and the Quran then you have to accept Newton’s Third Law of Motion.”
Mohammed then claims Americans should not be upset with Al Qaeda but Jewish and Christian fundamentalist lobbies that push the U.S. into actions that lead to reactions like 9/11, and cites that Bin Laden offered public warnings about what would happen if the U.S. did not stop its supposed transgressions.
U.S. support for Israel is a constant theme in the letter. Mohammed even attached a map showing Palestinian land loss from 1946-2010, and the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza is referred to incessantly and juxtaposed with those who suffered on 9/11. He also makes the case that 9/11 was an honorable attack because unlike U.S. bombings, it did not destroy schools or churches, just economic and political targets.
The letter concludes with Mohammed labeling the 9/11 terror attacks a “self-defense” of Islam and that the sanctions imposed on Iraq were a form of weapons of mass destruction because they targeted everyone in the country, and that Muslims have the right to fight “any invasion of our lands.” He ends by saying he will be happy to die because he will get to see Osama Bin Laden again.
While there is no doubt Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s narrative on 9/11 is extremely self-serving as well as morally and logically dubious, the central claim on the motivation for the attacks rings true. The issue of concern for Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups is not the U.S. government’s conduct in America or the values Americans uphold among themselves, but the government’s conduct in Muslim countries.
You simply cannot tell the complete story of 9/11 without including the history of U.S. imperial transgressions in the Middle East. It is the primary reason why they hate us. That noting something so obvious leads to charges of being a terrorist sympathizer (and contributes to the hesitancy of mainstream commentators to do so) is a sure sign the cycle of violence will continue.