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Last Updated: Friday, 23 July, 2004, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
'Islamist terrorism' in 9/11 focus
By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

11 September 2001 attack in New York
The report urges the deat of the ideology that led to the attacks
The report of the US commission investigating the 11 September 2001 attacks calls for a new global strategy to defeat the extremist ideology of al-Qaeda and promote a culture of openness and opportunity in the Muslim world.

The report of the commission does many things:

  • it provides a detailed account of the planning and execution of the devastating attacks against New York and Washington on 11 September 2001

    The commission is, by implication, critical of the Bush administration's "war on terror"

  • it provides a history of al-Qaeda, the radical Islamist network led by Osama Bin Laden which was, by common consent, responsible for sending the 19 hijackers on their fateful mission

  • it recommends ways in which the United States should reorganise its defences and its intelligence agencies to prevent a future attack.

But it also seeks to analyse the phenomenon that it labels "Islamist terrorism" and suggest ways of combating it.

The enemy and the ideology

The commission's report identifies not one enemy, but two:

  • there is al-Qaeda itself, which it characterises as a formidably well-organised, innovative and ruthless enemy;

  • and there is also the radical ideology which al-Qaeda espouses, but which extends well beyond it, and may indeed outlast it.

Report
The enemy, it says, must be clearly defined - which implies the definition is currently a bit fuzzy
The commission is, by implication, critical of the Bush administration's "war on terror".

The enemy, it says, must be clearly defined - which implies the definition is currently a bit fuzzy.

It must be fought by political as much as military means - which implies the current focus may be unduly narrow.

Armies and intelligence agencies, it makes clear, certainly have a role.

The report urges closer scrutiny of the wild and lawless parts of the world which may be present or future sanctuaries for Islamic extremists.

It singles out, predictably, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the Horn of Africa and the southern Philippines - and, less predictably, European cities, especially in eastern and central Europe, which now play host to expatriate Muslim communities.

Hearts and minds

The report emphasises, however, that the US must enlist the help of its diplomats and academics and development experts, as well as its soldiers and spies.

Acknowledging how unpopular America has become in the Muslim world, the report makes plain that successive administrations have done a poor job in promoting the country and its values.

"If the United States does not act aggressively to define itself in the Islamic world," it declares, "the extremists will gladly do the job for us."

The commission suggests that decision-makers need to realise that their choices on such issues as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq have consequences for the battle against Islamic extremism.

There are signs the White House has been caught off guard by the force with which the 9/11 Commission is calling for a fundamental rethinking of an important area of American foreign policy
The report calls for a new and more candid relationship between America and its Muslim allies.

It praises Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for their recent efforts to combat extremism. But it also has harsh words for both.

It says President Pervez Musharraf's government in Pakistan has made little progress towards the return of democracy, and criticises Pakistan's role in nuclear proliferation.

The report calls Saudi Arabia a "problematic ally" in the war against extremism. It urges it to embark on political and economic reform - and favours an end to the secrecy with which US-Saudi relations have traditionally been cloaked.

President Bush is likely to argue that he is already grappling with several of these issues.

He has, for example, launched an initiative to promote democratic reform in the "broader Middle East".

But at the same time, there are signs the White House has been caught off-guard by the force with which the 9/11 Commission is, in effect, calling for a fundamental rethinking of an important area of American foreign policy.




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