Consider, if you will, the following statement: "Oh God, strengthen the will of our leaders and lend us your power so that we will be able to crush our enemies." And the following: "the conflict in the middle-east has nothing to do with politics or economics, but it is all about religion. Religion is the cause of the war between the Arabs and Jews, because it is written in the book of God. And in the end, there will be a mighty apocalypse and God's law will reign supreme in the world. Oh God, may there be war sooner than later."
Had a Mullah or Imam uttered these words in any part of the Muslim world - from Morocco to Indonesia - he would have immediately been labeled a Muslim fundamentalist extremist and fanatic. His name would probably have been recorded, and his image would adorn the TV sets of the world. The man would have been elevated to 'terrorist threat no.1' and a lot would have been done to track him down and arrest (or eliminate) him as a threat to global peace and security.
But these were the words of a right-wing Christian fundamentalist, and they were uttered not in some cave or grotto in Afghanistan, Sudan or Iran- but in the heartland of the United States of America, 'home of the free'. What is more, the blonde and blue-eyed priest in question was not speaking from some dimly-lit basement or bunker in the American Bible belt, but live on television and his words were heard by thousands, if not millions of others.
Lest we forget, America remains the home of the world's biggest fundamentalist industry. In his book '9-11' the American academic and dissident activist Noam Chomsky noted that contrary to its image as a modern, liberal and secular society, "the US is one of the most extreme fundamentalist cultures in the world, not the state, but certainly its culture." This is certainly true when one is forced to sit and watch American television these days.
The growth of terrorist and militant networks in the West is nothing new, and 11 September has not taught us anything different. Indeed, as far back as the mid-1990s there has been ample evidence of the growth of extremism and militancy in the Western world, but this was not taken too seriously as a 'global threat' for the simple reason that most of these lunatics were homegrown.
After the 1995 bombing of the Alfred O. Murrah building in Oklahoma city by the ex-Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh, there were numerous reports of crackpots and lunatics operating all over middle America. McVeigh's act of terror (which was originally blamed on Muslims, one should remember) brought to the surface the legions of militants and fundamentalists who were already living and working freely under the protection of the American constitution.
The list of militant organizations was a long one indeed: In Michigan there was the Michigan Militia Corps (MMC) led by the Baptist minister Norman Olson. The MMC claimed to have more than 12,000 members all over the state and in other parts of the country. Their aim was to oppose the US government, which they claimed was about to hand over the United States to the UN and to surrender the rights of US citizens.
In Idaho the Aryan Nations White Supremacists (ANWS) movement was led by another priest, the Reverend Richard Butler, who called on all whites of pure Aryan stock to unite against the federal government which he accused of betraying the country by allowing the United States to be 'flooded' by non-whites from Asia, Africa and Latin America. The group formed close working links with other white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Christian fundamentalist groups in Western Europe as well.
In Indiana the American Justice Federation (AJF) was led by Linda Thompson, a lawyer by training. The AJF also wanted to declare war on the United States government, which it claimed had betrayed the interests of the public. It threatened to stage an armed march on the capital and to execute members of the US congress whom they regarded as traitors.
In North Carolina the extremist leader Albert Esposito leads the Citizens for the Reinstatement of Constitutional Government (CRCG) movement, whose motto was the 'three Bs': Bibles, Bullets and Beans. A survivalist outfit that prepares for the coming nuclear apocalypse and the end of the world, the CRCG combined both racist rhetoric with a fundamentalist reading of Christian millenarianism.
These groups have operated in the open for decades: Using and abusing the rights entitled to them by the American constitution they have spread their message of religious intolerance, racism and xenophobia openly- via the television, radio, internet, magazines and newspapers. They have also exploited the bounties of globalization to the full, using the latest communications technology to forge coalitions with like-minded groups elsewhere in the country and beyond. Some have resorted to the use of violence and openly transgressed the laws of the country by setting up militia camps and settlements of their own, illegally.
Taking these factors into consideration, one wonders why the American media is so obsessed with countries like Pakistan or Afghanistan, which it thinks, are the main training grounds for terrorist networks and militant organizations. As far as role models, teaching modules, equipment and training are concerned, one would think that the United States is still the best 'open university' for any terrorist or militant to enroll in. After all, if maverick organizations like the ones named above can operate openly in the US, why should anyone travel all the way to desolate and inhospitable countries like Afghanistan for militia training? (One could at least stop for a burger and coke in the American mid-west, something that is quite difficult to do in the drier climes of Afghanistan these days.)
The tragic events of 11 September have shown the world that extremism and terror can and does strike anywhere and at any time. It is, however, interesting to note that most of the alleged terrorists were themselves middle-class and professional Arabs who were, after all, trained and educated in the West (most notably the United States itself). Perhaps the time has come for us to trace the linkages here, between Arab frustration and anger and the culture of violence and extremism that has been spawned in the West itself. If the United States is one of the world's biggest producers of violent images (in cinema, television, popular culture) and weapons of war, could it not simply be the case that its own industrialization and promotion of this culture of terror and violence has finally turned against itself? The terrorists who hijacked the planes and crashed them on 11 September were simply following the example that had been set for them by the media of the United States, a nation that is quick to point to the extremism of others while remaining seemingly oblivious to the lurking terror within itself.
Dr. Farish A. Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist.