I have been watching the French Canal+ film series, Carlos, about Carlos the Jackal, and was thinking about how the golden age of terrorist hijacking that took place in the late 60s and throughout the 70s really had nothing to do with Islam. As a matter of fact – regardless of what Misters Williams and O’Reilly may believe – those terrorist pioneers were led by Arab Christians and a motley crew of international Marxists, all of whom were dressed more like Starsky and Hutch than like Garbed Muslims.
A simple googling of the two leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinians, George Habash and Wadie Haddad, and I was surprised to find that Time – a publication targeting the eight year old audience – had actually written an obituary of George Habash that recognized the Christian and non-Muslim origins of Middle Eastern terrorism. Entitled “Terrorism’s Christian Godfather”, the article reads,
You could call George Habash, a Palestinian leader who died in Amman on Saturday at the age of 82, the godfather of Middle East terrorism. If you assumed that Palestinian or Arab extremism somehow sprung entirely from Islam — from the puritanical Wahabbi intolerance and so forth — take a close look at Habash’s first name. He was a Greek Orthodox Christian, who sang in his church choir as a boy back in the Palestinian town of Lydda. Habash’s life tells us a lot about the long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which seems as intractable as ever, and prompts reflection on the Middle East’s seemingly unstoppable whirlwind of violence.
Habash’s group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), pioneered the hijacking of airplanes as a Middle East terror tactic — one eventually employed by the al-Qaeda hijackers on 9/11 — way back in 1968 when three PFLP armed operatives commandeered an Israeli El Al airliner enroute from Rome to Tel Aviv. Checking in for a flight has never been the same since.
This isn’t to say that there is something inherently Christian at the root of Middle Eastern terrorism. These terrorists, including their international brothers in arms, were part of the post-World War II fall out – either political ideologues caught up in what they perceived to be oppressive capitalist imperialism or those Pan Arabists who fought against the occupation of Palestine. As history would prove, neither caught any traction, and just as the Marxists in Latin America lost their steam towards the end of the 80s, so did Pan Arabism, the latter to be replaced by religious –rather than ethnic – identity. In other words, it wasn’t until the Habashs and Jackals of the era failed that the Jihadists arose to fill the void.
In the very recommendable “It’s the Occupation, Stupid” in Foreign Policy, Robert A. Pape describes how occupation, rather than religion, is at the root of suicide terrorism.
In the decade since 9/11, the United States has conquered and occupied two large Muslim countries (Afghanistan and Iraq), compelled a huge Muslim army to root out a terrorist sanctuary (Pakistan), deployed thousands of Special Forces troops to numerous Muslim countries (Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, etc.), imprisoned hundreds of Muslims without recourse, and waged a massive war of ideas involving Muslim clerics to denounce violence and new institutions to bring Western norms to Muslim countries. Yet Americans still seem strangely mystified as to why some Muslims might be angry about this situation. Continue reading