It seems to be a ritual we go through, every few months, when a lone gunman commits an act of terror: talking heads ask why he did it and then immediately provide a simple answer. The shooting of two American servicemen in Frankfurt yesterday by Arif Uka, a 21-year-old Kosovar, is already being called an act of terrorism, with various pundits stressing that the suspect is Muslim.
Robert Spencer, for instance, called the shooting a “jihad attack” and said that Al Qaeda has been active in Kosovo “for over a decade.” The Washington Post helpfully identified him as “devout Muslim” who had shouted “Allahu Akbar” before firing at a bus full of American soldiers.
If these details feel familiar, it’s because they form part of a story we’ve been given frequently over the last few years. Neo-conservative thinkers have consistently argued that it is an inherent hatred of “our freedoms” that causes young men to kill people who have done them no harm. This hatred stems solely and directly from the Islamic faith, a faith, the public is reminded at every opportunity, whose holy book promotes violence against non-believers. These men, the argument goes, are merely taking what Richard Dawkins once called the “logical path” between religion and violence.
This theory was used to explain why Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who came from a wealthy Nigerian family, went to a private school in Togo, and received a degree in mechanical engineering from University College London, disguised a syringe and explosive powder in his underwear and then attempted to detonate them as his airplane approached Detroit Airport on Christmas Day in 2009. But the trail of posts to social networking sites he left behind did not suggest he was angry with “our freedoms,” and still less with modern technology. His grievances appeared to be nebulously political, though powerful enough to get him to seek out terrorist training.
Meanwhile, some on the left have argued that it is Western involvement in Muslim countries—including, but not limited to, the propping up of dictators and monarchs throughout the Middle East; the unconditional support for Israel; the military bases; the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and now Yemen; the use of torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay—that motivates young men to become suicide bombers. In this view, the bombers are soldiers in a war not just against Western governments but also against the leadership of many Muslim countries.
Such an explanation was put forth when Shehzad Tanweer, Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay and Mohammad Sidique Khan blew up a double-decker bus and three underground trains in London on July 7, 2005. In a video he left behind, Tanweer stated that he wanted British troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and that attacking fellow Britons was justified so long as the government “continues to oppress our mothers, children, brothers and sisters in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya.”