You'll remember that shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush said the motivation of the hijackers was that they hated freedom. Hating freedom seemed then and now to be a pretty weak reason to give up one's own life to inflict death and destruction on others. People who had been paying attention knew what the real reasons for the Islamist radicals' actions were -- Osama bin Laden himself had laid them out in detail. They included America's support of Israel in its subordination of the Palestinians and its attacks on Lebanon; the propping up of pro-American kleptocracies in Muslim lands; and the presence of U.S. forces on the "sacred soil" of Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War.
In an audiotape released on Sept. 13, a voice attributed to bin Laden said President Obama is no different than his predecessor and warned that anti-American attacks will not cease unless the United States ends its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to The New York Times of Sept. 15, the message, which appeared on an Arabic-language Web site, was reported and translated by two groups in the U.S. that monitor jihadist Web sites. The message offered reasons for al-Qaeda's attacks on New York and the Pentagon, and offered advice on how the conflict between it and the United States could come to a close: "The time has come for you," said the purported voice of Mr. bin Laden, "to liberate yourself from fear and the ideological terrorism of neoconservatives and the Israeli lobby; the reason for our dispute with you is your support for your ally, Israel, occupying our land in Palestine."
There you have it, from the horse's mouth. Yet even now, with the president asking Congress to fork over another $33 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on top of the record $708 billion requested for the Defense Department next year, we get more misleading propaganda about what motivates al-Qaeda and its allies. In the wake of the embarrassing security lapses that allowed a young Nigerian to try to set off his "underwear bomb" aboard an airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day, the president pledged to do better on such things and then turned the stage over to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and counter-terrorism honcho John Brennan, who said nothing believable about what inspired such a suicide mission. As they took questions from reporters, feisty old Helen Thomas, the doyenne of the White House press corps, asked the question none of her younger colleagues would dare to ask: why the Nigerian would do what he did.
"What is the motivation?" she asked. "We never hear what you find out on why."
Mr. Brennan's reply: "Al-Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. ... They attract individuals like Mr. [Umar Farouk] Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al-Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he's [sic] able to attract these individuals. But al-Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death."
On it went, for about two minutes, until Secretary Napolitano and Mr. Brennan decided to ignore any further queries from Ms. Thomas. Kudos to her for cutting to the chase while her colleagues were busily jotting down the official garbage about no-fly lists, how we need more of those expensive full-body scanners, promises to fix the "intelligence streams," and so on, which they dutifully pass on to the public as "news." The American people should be given enough credit by its leaders to be told the truth about why we are in this "long war" with Islamic extremists, a war that is hastening our bankruptcy, just as Osama bin Laden dreamed it would.
We proclaim our innate goodness, our pure motives, while decrying "terrorism" and never conceding that to the bulk of the world's Muslims, the greatest terrorism is the destruction of Iraq, a war we started that has seen the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and the displacement of more than 4.5 million from their homes. To them, understandably, the bombings from American drones, now killing Afghans and Pakistanis by remote control, are acts of terror. To them, the plight of the Palestinians under siege in Gaza is the result of American-supported Israeli terrorism. This is widely understood around the world, except for the purposefully misled American public.
Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL .com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.