Counter-Terrorism: Guantanamo Bay And The Future Of Islam

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January 30, 2015: Since it was established in 2002 the United States has sent nearly 800 Islamic terrorism suspects to Guantanamo Bay prison. Since then only about one percent have been tried and convicted but 80 percent have been released. Of those released 29 percent returned to Islamic terrorist activity. Those in Guantanamo came from 40 countries but most were from the Middle East and about a quarter were from Saudi Arabia. Add Yemen and a few other Persian Gulf countries and that means 40 percent came from the Arabian Peninsula. Another quarter came from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The rest of the Middle East and North Africa accounted for nearly 20 percent. The rest came from 27 other countries, including some in the West (like nine Moslem from Britain although were born in Moslem nations or had parents were born there.) The questions always was, why some many Islamic terrorists from a region newly wealthy because it owns most of the planet’s oil?

While many detainees came from a poverty, many did not. Most of the forty percent that came from Arabia (Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Gulf States) were economically well off. While Yemen has not got much of the oil wealth the rest of Arabia possesses, Yemenis have shared in that wealth. At least they did until 1991, when Yemen declared its support for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Saudi Arabia then expelled a million Yemenis who were working in Saudi Arabia. Ever since Saudi Arabia became oil rich, relations with Yemen have been bad. For thousands of years, Yemen was more populous and wealthy than what is now Saudi Arabia. That's because Yemen is the only part of Arabia that gets enough rainfall to support agriculture (and a larger population.) Yemeni ports have long prospered from trade between India, Egypt and Africa. But with the oil wealth, those nomad hicks up north were suddenly wealthy. Very wealthy and very unpopular with the envious Yemenis. But many bright and ambitious Yemenis moved north and prospered. Many of these did not get expelled in 1991 because they had become citizens. Among those was the bin Laden family, which had become wealthy in the construction business. But like many of these newly wealthy families, some of the kids wanted a cause and business was not enough. World conquest under the banner of Islam was more attractive and that’s who so many of these children of affluence turned to mass murder for fulfillment.

The problem with all the new oil wealth was that it did not bring fundamental change to Arabia. Most of the money went to consumption, not investment in education, good government and the economy. Much of the money was stolen by corrupt government officials and members of the Saudi Royal family. The aristocrats that ran the other Gulf States were not much different in that respect, although some were more responsible than others.

The oil wealth first hit the Gulf in the 1950s, but really got going in the 1970s after OPEC was formed and oil prices greatly increased. The generation that came of age during that period noted that the Arab Gulf states were still far behind the West in terms of economic and military power. Until recently, it was easier to speak of the problem in religious terms (the Christian "crusaders" were somehow holding back Moslem development by persecuting Islam) than in political ones (the corruption and inept governments). This has led to Arab terrorism, al Qaeda and the idea that the Moslem social problems will be solved by creating Islamic republics and converting the entire world to Islam.

In response to this some Moslems educated in the West and Arab intellectuals and journalists in general began to point out that war with the West, especially a war of religious conquest, was absurd and can only end in tragedy. Moreover, it is also pointed out that the problems in Moslem countries have more to do with corruption, poor government and inefficient use of oil wealth than with anything Western nations are doing.

Those corrupt Moslem governments are feeling the heat. Many have been trying to reform. But the culture of cronyism and corruption is so entrenched that there is no easy solution. It will take more than a political revolution to fix these problems, it will take a cultural reformation. Even Turkey, the first Moslem nation to confront the demands of such reforms, has not been able to eliminate all of the corruption after more than a decade of trying real hard. That culture of corruption remains a major obstacle to Turkey's admission to the European Union. That said, Turkey is close, progress has been made.

But the example of Turkey is not very encouraging, as a century is a long time to implement reforms and create an economically powerful and politically just society. The Islamic radicals have an edge here, as they promise quick results. Their promises are empty, but they fall on eager ears. The appeal to young, unemployed Moslems is strong. The appeal is attractive to some educated Moslems as well, because they are more aware of how far behind the Moslem world is economically and scientifically. These educated Moslems, who have given up on reforms, provide the leadership for the terrorist organizations. The majority of educated Moslems want reform. But reform doesn't come easy, especially since few of the Moslem nations are true democracies.

Most of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners did sort out their lives before they were released. Years spent with some really hard-core Islamic radicals did not always turn young Moslem men into dedicated Islamic terrorists. Often it just made it clear that Islamic terrorism was just another bad habit many Moslem nations are prone to.

 

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