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On October 7, 2001, less than a month after the devastating attacks carried out by Islamic extremists in New York and Washington, Osama bin Laden announced to the world by videotape that the reason for the terror was to avenge "the humiliation and disgrace" that Islam suffered for "more than 80 years."
In a recent study of the call for "holy war" in Islam, Princeton University scholar Bernard Lewis underscores the fact that bin Laden's Muslim listeners picked up the allusion of the terrorist leader's statement and "appreciated its significance."
In 2001, the events of eight decades ago had nothing to do with the rise of Zionism and the creation of Israel in 1948. The real target of bin Laden's venom had little to do with Jews and Israel and everything to do with the modern history of Islam.
AFTER THE decisive loss of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, war hero Mustafa Kemal led a movement to abolish the power of Islam in Turkey and establish a secular democracy. Among the many reforms of Kemal - better known today as Ataturk, "father of the Turks" - were the abolition of the caliphate and the dismantling of the position of sultan. For more than a millennium, the caliphs had been the religious and political leaders of the Islamic world as successors to Muhammad. The sultan, as the leader of the great Islamic empire of the Ottomans, also represented the political prowess and glory of the Islamic world.
Ataturk, in the eyes of Muslim fundamentalists and extremists, betrayed Islam by robbing the religion of its traditional power and founding a state based on Western models of government and not Shari'a, Islamic law. The murders of September 11, 2001 were carried out as vengeance against the hemorrhaging of Islamic power and the decline of Islamic civilization. The call for jihad in Islam has its roots in medieval Islamic theology and was formulated many centuries before both the rise of Zionism and the domination of the Middle East by European imperialists.
Eight years ago, pundits, academics and news analysts immediately pointed a finger at Israel, blaming the Jewish state's alliance with America for being the cause of the terrorist attacks. No doubt, even if the State of Israel had never existed, Osama bin Laden and the jihadists of 9/11 would still be a reality. Making a scapegoat of Israel is unfair, unjust and a lie.
When will the world come to an understanding that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is part of a much larger picture of a Middle East wracked by violence and internecine conflict?
Within Islam itself, there are so many divisions and conflicts that have little or nothing to do with the State of Israel. The rift between Shi'ite and Sunni in Islam dates back to the death of Muhammad centuries ago. The Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia fought their Turkish overlords long before Lawrence of Arabia appeared on the scene. For eight years during the 1980s, Persian fought Arab in a bloody war in which both sides claimed legitimacy as the true representative of Islam.
AMERICA HAS always tried to be an "honest broker" in the affairs of belligerents in the Middle East. But the reality is grim. America cannot step in and end conflicts based on centuries of civil war among Muslims. Only time will tell whether America has been able to end the murder and factionalism of a divided Iraq.
President Barack Obama is deluding himself if he believes that the end to Jewish settlements is the key to peace in the Middle East. A comprehensive peace - a two-state solution based on the coexistence in peace of a Jewish state and a Palestinian state - will not lead to the end of bloodshed in a region that is a tinderbox. Israel should not be the scapegoat for those who want to blame Jews for all the "troubles" of the Middle East.
There were many reasons for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Israel factor is a very small part of a much larger picture.
This analysis does not preclude the possibility that hatred of Jews played an important part in the 9/11 attacks. German political scientist Matthias Kuntzel has shown that there is a close connection between Nazi racial ideology and the Jew-hatred of Islamic extremists such as Osama bin Laden. The men who carried out the heinous attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon certainly believed in the dangerous fantasy of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. In their warped minds, Jews carried out this conspiracy in the economic sphere in New York and in the government domain in Washington. In the minds of the terrorists, New York was a "Jewish city" at the heart of the global conspiracy.
Hatred of Jews is at the core of the Islamic call for "holy war." In the end, however, based on bin Laden's words only weeks after the attacks, it is clear they are rooted in the decline of Islamic power for the past 200 years and are a response to modern events that have little to do with Zionism or Israel. Zionism and Israel should not be the scapegoat for acts of terror carried out by religious fanatics in the belief that their martyrdom in killing infidels would be rewarded in an Islamic paradise. The threat of the theology of jihadist Islam is at the core of this terrorism, not the existence of a Jewish state in a dangerous and divided part of the world.
The writer is on the faculty of Nova Southeastern University's LifelongLearning Institute in Davie, Florida.