In the wake of the terrible terrorist bombing in Boston, there has been a great deal of discussion in the news about Islamic extremism; much of it is unfortunately ill-informed.
However strongly we may disagree with Muslim terrorists and their deeds, it is important for us in the West to try to understand the basic worldview that underlies these movements.
A primary goal of Jihadists — militant Muslim extremists — is to free all Muslims from foreign domination. Jihadists believe, with some reason, that the modern political boundaries of the Middle East are arbitrary lines set up by European colonial powers after World War I to facilitate their domination of the region.
Jihadists seek to unite all Muslims into a single unified Islamic state, restoring the ancient caliphate, which was the greatest empire in the world in the eighth and ninth centuries.
If all Muslims unite, they believe, they would form a world power that could rival the United States, Russia or China.
From the Jihadists' perspective, the fight against the Russians in Chechnya, the Israelis in Palestine, or American troops in Afghanistan are all one: the struggle to free Muslims from foreign domination.
From the extremist perspective, the continual presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia since the Gulf War in 1991 is particularly infuriating.
From the U.S. perspective, our troops are stationed in Saudi Arabia as allies at the request of the legitimate government. We sincerely believe we are trying to help.
From the Jihadist perspective, however, the Saudi government is the hopelessly corrupt puppet of the United States, which maintains troops in the region only to control the oil wealth.
The recent U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan merely serves as further evidence to Jihadists that the U.S. is seeking to dominate the Middle East to control its petroleum reserves.
Likewise, Israel is seen as a foreign Western colonial power occupying Muslim land.
The Jihadists claim that without the support of U.S. policies, arms and money, the Israelis would have been driven from Palestine years ago.
If Israel is ever to be defeated, they maintain, the U.S. must first be convinced that the price we pay for supporting Israel is too high.
The Jihadist worldview is in many ways apocalyptic. They believe that God will grant victory to the Muslims if they have enough faith and the courage to die as martyrs.
Jihadists see the success of their policies of terrorism and guerrilla warfare in the defeat of Soviets in Afghanistan in 1989.
They believe their victories in Afghanistan laid the foundation for the collapse of the Soviet empire two years later.
Those same tactics are now being turned against the U.S. with precisely the same ultimate goal in mind.
Our ongoing military withdrawal from Afghanistan is viewed, rightly or wrongly, as another in a string of global Jihadist victories.
Radical Islamists believe that the U.S. lacks the will to resist a perpetual guerrilla and terrorist war, and may even eventually collapse and fragment in precisely the same way the Soviet Union did.
We want to make it clear that we are not attempting to defend Islamic extremism, nor any form of religious extremism for that matter.
We do, however, believe that we in the West will not succeed in eliminating the problem of Islamic terrorism simply through drone missions that kill the perpetrators of horrendous terror crimes.
We must deal with the root causes of Jihadist extremism and terrorism and address those problems with long-term solutions.
There will not be peace and stability in the Middle East until there is justice in the Middle East.
The major responsibility for the resolution of these problems rests in the hands of the Muslim peoples themselves.
America cannot solve their problems for them, but we must be willing to offer positive help whenever possible.
And we can help solve these problems only if we accurately understand their real nature.
Professor Daniel C. Peterson is editor of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative and a blogger for Patheos. Professor William Hamblin is co-author of "Solomon's Temple: Myth and History." Their views do not necessarily represent those of BYU.
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