Why do terrorists hate us?

Don't Panic!... Your war questions answered

First things first: If some of the letters I get about my columns are to be believed, terrorists don't hate me. They love me! Apparently, it's because I hate America and love terrorists. So maybe the question above should be "Why do terrorists hate I>youP>?"

However you want to phrase it, I'm gonna answer the question with a question.

Which of the following condensed, metaphorical, comically oversimplified explanations makes the most sense to you?

Explanation No. 1 — Islamic fundamentalist terrorists hate us because American men and women work and mingle together, because the Constitution permits Eminem to rap about his penis and what he likes to do with it, because state and federal legislators are elected by popular vote, because CVS sells Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa wrapping paper, and because I can listen to Rush Limbaugh in the afternoon and rent a Michael Moore DVD in the evening.

Explanation No. 2 — Islamic fundamentalist terrorists hate us because we support Israel and they hate Israel and its policies and because we support thoroughly undemocratic governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and the handful of Persian Gulf states due to the fact that those governments keep Islamic fundamentalists away from the reigns of power, helping to ensure short-term political stability and relatively low oil prices.

A lot of people say that the answer is No. 1. Addressing Congress and the nation immediately after 9/11, President Bush said of terrorists: "They hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

Is he serious? Does he really think that the assholes who run al Qaeda pace back and forth in their caves and bitch to one another about our freedom to assemble? "Ha-ha! Now that we have toppled their World Trade Centers, they will never assemble freely again. Ah-hahahahahaa!!" Does President Bush think that bin Laden ordered 9/11 because he's ticked off at Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson because they never seem to agree with each other on Crossfire?

As idiotic as explanation No. 1 is, it's still the government's public explanation of preference. In fact, since 9/11, people who've so much as flirted with considering explanation No. 2 have been routinely labeled the "hate America first" crowd by Bush backers, as if attempting to understand the motives of Jihadis and the opinions of the larger Muslim societies from which they're recruited is tantamount to condoning them. That's like suggesting that understanding that Timothy McVeigh was motivated in part by the horrific incompetence of the government's Branch Davidian house siege in Waco, Texas is the same thing as condoning the Oklahoma City bombing.

Those us of who are more inclined to Explanation No. 2 recently got some important backing in the form of the Department of Defense's "Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication"(which I'd be happy to e-mail to you in its entirety if you ask me nicely). When you get your copy, flip to page 40. That's the page that says, "Muslims do not 'hate our freedoms' but rather they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States." That very same page notes, "Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to the Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy."

The report goes on to cite a Zogby International poll from June that shows favorable Arab opinions of the U.S. declining since 2002. Broken down into specific issues, the polls show general support for things like our freedom, our democracy, our technology and even our movies, but 78 to 95 percent disapproval for our policies on Palestinians, Iraq and the War on TerrorTM.

It gets worse. The report also says,"American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims."

Boy, that's a harsh critique of American policy. I wonder how those America-haters got jobs at the Pentagon.