19 July 2005, 0203 EDT

In the comments section of Bruce Jentleson’s recent post at America Abroad, 10 Days After London, commentator Daniel A. Greenbaum asks:

I am curious what about the war in Iraq caused the radicalization? Saddem has killed far more Arabs that than this war has. Saddem invaded both Iran and Kuwait. This question is not meant to be ironic but genuine.

Two (related) possible answers:

First, identity and in-group bias have interesting effects. Arabs and Muslims who might normally see Hussein’s regime as evil may also react quite strongly to images of those they identify with being killed in an invasion by an “out group,” such as the United States and its coalition. Thus, even if they might objectively recognize that Hussein’s regime was more thuggish than the American occupation, they’ll interpret the wrongs they see as done by the latter in a much harsher light than those done by the former. One can see similar impulses at work, at least in part, in the differential response many Americans had to the bombings in London and to the daily slaughter of Iraqis by insurgents. It is easier for many of us to feel “attacked” when Britons are killed than when Iraqis are killed.

Second, the US invasion of Iraq provides, for some, a confirmation of the basic narrative of the al-Qaeda movement: we are in the midst of a clash between “Western” and “Islamic” civilization, one that dates back at least as far as the invasion of the Middle East by European men-at-arms in the medieval period (i.e., the Crusades). Thus, if you’re predisposed to believe that the US and many European powers have sinister motives in their dealings with the Muslim world, seek to dominate Islam, and so forth, it doesn’t really matter that Hussein was an evil tyrant who killed and tortured his own people. The invasion of Iraq, from your point of view, is simply proof that there is a civilizational war, and the only response is to fight back.

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