Like locating fault lines to determine where earthquakes are apt to develop, examining the history of the affected peoples, particularly who did what to whom, helps explain the advent of terrorism perpetrated by extreme Muslim fundamentalist groups against the West and against the United States in particular. When Russian, American, or European leaders condemn Muslim terrorism and terrorists, they rarely if ever mention the behavior of Russia and European countries towards Muslim ones in the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.
Almost every Muslim country on the planet was conquered and colonized by Europeans or Russians. Most of those countries became free of the colonizer only since the end of World War II, with many gaining independence in the 1960s. In every Muslim country that experienced colonization, there are still substantial numbers of the populace living today who also lived under colonization. Although most Muslims living today were born after World War II (and even after 1980), colonization has cast a long, dark shadow.
Just as abolishing de jure discrimination has not eliminated de facto racial discrimination in the United States, the simple act of becoming independent does not immediately eliminate the attitudes, customs, and institutions of either the colonizer or the colonized. After casting off the yoke of white minority rule in South Africa, the government is nonetheless finding it particularly difficult to grapple with the issues of unemployment and underemployment, economic development, and the AIDS pandemic, not to mention transitional justice. Nelson Mandela’s declaration that the new South African constitution put to rest the 500 years of colonization starting with the Portuguese has not in and of itself made South Africa a stable or a prosperous country.
The United States never colonized a Muslim nation. But US policy in the Middle East since World War II - its support for the dictatorial regimes in the oil states, its single minded anti-communist policies, and its support of Israel - made the United States appear to Muslims as a quasi colonial power. The Muslims, however, were not the only people in the region to experience conquest and its consequent humiliation and discrimination. The Christian West has practiced virulent discrimination against Jews for over 2,000 years. Laying the foundation for such discrimination, early Christian leaders claimed the Jewish people were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus, a claim that was repeated down through the centuries by Christian clerics, not to be repudiated by the Catholic Church until 1965.
The two-millennia history of persecution of Jewry has made an overwhelmingly compelling case for a Jewish homeland, a place which would serve, at the very least, as refuge for every Jew on the planet who feels at risk of being persecuted. That the United States has supported the creation of a Jewish State in the Middle East is a recognition of the suffering the Jewish people have endured through the centuries and in particular during the Nazi inflicted Holocaust, which the United States helped end.
Muslims, however, had governed the area now occupied by Israel since the seventh century C.E. The conquest of the Ottoman Empire in World War I and Britain’s de facto colonization of Palestine (as a "trust" territory) after that conflict permitted the modern state of Israel to emerge. Historians indicate that the Jewish People, though at times subject to Babylonian rule, Assyrian rule, Greek rule, and Roman rule, had governed Israel for over a millennium, namely, from about 1200 B.C.E-1000 B.C.E. to 135 C.E.
Other peoples had governed there from the second century up until the end of World War I. Thus both the Israelis and the Muslims have suffered conquest and colonization or banishment from the territory which is now Israel. This work does not attempt to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are Muslim, but only to observe that the forces and consequences of conquest, colonization, and banishment, both ancient and relatively recent, are very much still in play.
When confronted with a mega-terrorist event, governmental officials may be tempted to ignore the lessons of history and concentrate on getting vengeance and on achieving maximum security regardless of cost. Their electorate will probably demand such a response. Perhaps only leaders with exceptional judgment, strength, and integrity, and with an understanding of the world and world affairs, could withstand such a political onslaught in reaction to such monstrous violence. Consequently, governmental officials, in the face of such an attack, may cast aside both domestic and international law that restricts how the government carries out counter-terrorism policy. History generally shows that such an approach is not only questionable legally and morally, but also questionable practically. Here, for example, Arab and Muslim peoples have an understandable, and to a certain extent justifiable, reservoir of resentment against the West in general and against the United States in particular. In other words, changing the rules may be perceived as applying a double standard to Muslims, resulting in that people supporting rather than isolating extreme fundamentalist groups that have targeted the West. Little evidence suggests that the administration in power on September 11, 2001 appreciated how violating international law might ultimately affect the reputation of the United States and its ability to stem the violence wrought by al Qaeda and its allies. This book will explore this issue, examining whether international law is an obstacle or a guide in the continuing struggle against transnational terrorism.
Thomas M. McDonnell, The West's Colonization of Muslim Land and the Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, in The United States, International Law, and the Struggle Against Terrorism (2010), available at http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/lawfaculty/833/.