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An Old War

David Elfant
Date Published: 
July 14, 2002

Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New “War on Terrorism”
by As ‘ad Abukhalil
Seven Stories Press 2002

In this short book, Abukhalil provides a “primer for better understanding the current crisis,” and challenges the idea that U.S. foreign policy is motivated by the desire to establish democracy and protect human rights.

The book provides a general overview of the source of Osama Bin Laden’s ideology and of U.S. intervention in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Abukhalil starts by pointing out the U.S. government’s double standards toward Muslims: During the Cold War, the US government attributed the “most aberrant political behavior of Muslims … to communism.” And now, they point to Islamic fundamentalism as the new enemy.

He explains that the U.S. funded, trained, and armed Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and elsewhere in order to help fight Soviet influence in the world. During the 1980’s, Dan Rather went to Afghanistan to report on the heroes of the mujahideen who were “bending the knees of the Soviet Empire” (when the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan, the U.S. quickly cut off funding and support to the mujahideen, leaving behind a war-torn country). Now, in contrast, we get Geraldo Rivera promising to kill Bin Laden if he finds him alive.

Abukhalil also exposes the hypocrisy of those who tried to give a feminist cover to the war in Afghanistan; the likes of the Feminist Majority or Barbara Boxer have not protested the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, “perhaps because Saudi arms purchases help California’s economy.”


Describing the strict roots of the Taliban and Bin Laden’s religious beliefs – an “extreme form of theoretical or practiced Islam … that fears progress, change, and cross-cultural influences” – Abukhalil notes that the U.S. made no serious complaints about the Taliban’s oppressive regime before September 11. Rather, the U.S. actually supported the Taliban regime; “the U.S. presidential envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad … had lobbied strongly for U.S. cooperation with the Taliban” because of his connections to Unocal, a multinational oil company involved in constructing a natural gas pipeline across Afghanistan. The U.S. even gave the Taliban several million dollars after they issued a fatwa prohibiting the cultivation of drugs.

Abukhalil details that Bin Laden comes from a prestigious Saudi family, whose ties he severed after the Saudis allowed the U.S. use of their territory to stage the Gulf War. Abukhalil points out that while there is no evidence of mass support in the Arab world for the terrorism of September 11, “many in the region seem to admire his defiance and his uncompromising opposition to the U.S.”

The reason for this is clear: the U.S. has historically focused on access to and control over oil in the Middle East rather than a regard for the people in the region. Abukhalil, however, downplays the U.S. focus on oil, calling it just “another powerful consideration shaping U.S. foreign policy.”

The continued U.S. support of Israel in its brutal oppression of the Palestinians is increasingly driving Arab and Muslim popular opinion against the U.S., as are the sanctions against Iraq, which “are held accountable for ongoing civilian suffering and deaths.”

After tracing this history of U.S. foreign policy, Abukhalil concludes that America’s new “War on Terrorism” is actually not new at all, only “a new stage in a war that has been going on for decades” and “a war without end.”