In Thomas Friedman's July 4th editorial the economic flat-earther demonstrates that his understanding of the complex issue of Islamic militancy is equally myopic. I agree that the tactic of suicide bombing is specific to Muslim fanatics (not counting Kamikaze pilots of WWII) and that the ideology of political Islam is as absurd and dangerous as political Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. However Friedman's assertion that Islamic militancy is merely due to "humiliation" because they're angry other nations have advanced while Islamic states have stagnated is wrong, simplistic and patently offensive to thinking people. The individuals who choose to martyr themselves (which is how they view it) often do so for real grievances that we in the West would be wise to acknowledge. The three primary grievances that these suicide murderers believe they're fighting for include:
1. Western expansion into Arab territories for geopolitical influence and control of vital resources.
2. Western support for corrupt and brutal Arab regimes ranging from the family dictatorship of Saudi Arabia (the "good Taliban") to the secular dictatorships of Jordan and Pakistan and the dictatorship in all but name in Egypt.
3. Perhaps most importantly, the political and economic support for the apartheid conditions in Palestine and the brutal Israeli occupation that has resulted in 750,000 refugees, tens of thousands killed and thousands more arrested without charge.
These three factors are then mixed with extreme religiosity that purports Islam to be the most perfect and true belief system and a conviction that these killers will be rewarded in the afterlife. This should not be viewed as "excusing terror" but rather understanding the context in which such terror occurs in order to better eradicate it. It should also not be viewed as the ONLY reasons Islamic fundamentalists target the West (insert any number of perceived cultural violations from Salman Rushdie's freedom of expression to Ellen DeGeneres' freedom of personal dignity to Christopher Hitchen's freedom to appear shitfaced on Fox News). However these three factors are the primary political motivations that push Muslim fundamentalists to take action. Without these motivations it's likely they'd continue to bemoan women's equality and the like, but it's unlikely that this would be as powerful a drive as is seeing bloody corpses televised live from Iraq and Palestine.
We need to be not only more nuanced in our understanding of suicide attacks, but more tactical in our approach. The best way to combat these individuals on the ground is, not through military force, but through police action. There is no central hierarchy that can be dismantled because the individuals only share common motivations but no shared infrastructure. However, police tactics will ultimately fail as "new recruits just keep sprouting" if we don't address the larger motivations. If we're serious about stopping terrorism the best way to go about it is to eliminate the base of support for terrorists.
Obviously addressing these concerns will do little to reduce the civil war in Iraq with Sunni and Shia antagonism so firmly entrenched (and exaggerated as the result of colonial policies and Sunni brutality under Saddam Hussein's regime). But if we seriously engage these political grievances we will, not only support Western rhetoric of justice and fairness, we will undermine many of the reasons people see suicide bombing as the only solution.
For more information about these issues I'd recommend Robert Fisk's reporting in the London Independent, Norman Finkelstein's Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict and Noam Chomsky's Middle East Illusions.
For an example of the sort of thing that could motivate such action consider the following:
(Please note that this author does not endorse the views expressed.)
Or consider this:
Wouldn't it be wiser if Western actions matched our rhetoric? Wouldn't we be more likely to reduce violent retaliation if we could confidently claim the higher moral ground? Whether it's Friedman's ignorance or total disregard of how Western policies could ignite such violence doesn't ultimately matter. As the spokesman for American expansion he takes on the role as an apologist for state power, like the British apologists for their own colonial policies who are his forebears. Happy Independence Day.