Hussain Osman, one of the men alleged to have participated in London’s failed bombings on July 21, recently told Italian investigators that they prepared for the attacks by watching “films on the war in Iraq,” La Repubblica reported. “Especially those where women and children were being killed and exterminated by British and American soldiers…of widows, mothers and daughters that cry.”
It has become an article of faith that Britain was vulnerable to terror because of its politically correct antiracism. Yet Osman’s comments suggest that what propelled at least some of the bombers was rage at what they saw as extreme racism. And what else can we call the belief–so prevalent we barely notice it–that American and European lives are worth more than the lives of Arabs and Muslims, so much more that their deaths in Iraq are not even counted?
It’s not the first time that this kind of raw inequality has bred extremism. Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian writer generally viewed as the intellectual architect of radical political Islam, had his ideological epiphany while studying in the United States. The puritanical scholar was shocked by Colorado’s licentious women, it’s true, but more significant was Qutb’s encounter with what he later described as America’s “evil and fanatic racial discrimination.” By coincidence, Qutb arrived in the United States in 1948, the year of the creation of the State of Israel. He witnessed an America blind to the thousands of Palestinians being made permanent refugees by the Zionist project. For Qutb, it wasn’t politics, it was an assault on his identity: Clearly Americans believed that Arab lives were worth far less than those of European Jews. According to Yvonne Haddad, a professor of history at Georgetown University, this experience “left Qutb with a bitterness he was never able to shake.”
When Qutb returned to Egypt he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to his next life-changing event: He was arrested, severely tortured and convicted of antigovernment conspiracy in an absurd show trial. Qutb’s political theory was profoundly shaped by torture. Not only did he regard his torturers as sub-human, he stretched that categorization to include the entire state that ordered this brutality, including the practicing Muslims who passively lent their support to Nasser’s regime.
Qutb’s vast category of subhumans allowed his disciples to justify the killing of “infidels”–now practically everyone–in the name of Islam. A movement for an Islamic state was transformed into a violent ideology that would lay the intellectual groundwork for Al Qaeda. In other words, so-called Islamist terrorism was “home grown” in the West long before the July 7 attacks–from its inception it was the quintessentially modern progeny of Colorado’s casual racism and Cairo’s concentration camps.