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Don't blame Islam for terrorism, expert says

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Former CIA official, now an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, argues that a 9/11-type attack would have been likely anyway

Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun
Published: Friday, January 18, 2008

VANCOUVER - A terrorist attack on the U.S. like that launched on Sept. 11, 2001 would likely have occurred even if the Muslim religion had never existed, says a former top official of the Central Intelligence Agency who now makes his home in Squamish.

"If not 9/11, some similar event like it was destined to come," writes Graham Fuller, an expert on political Islam who was in charge of long-term strategic forecasting for the CIA, in the cover story of this month's issue of the magazine Foreign Policy.

Fuller, an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, argues in his opinion piece, titled A World Without Islam, that though Islam provides a convenient scapegoat for those trying to explain the origins of terrorism, violent reformers would have likely arisen out of the Middle East even if the region had remained largely Christian.

"A world without Islam would still see most of the enduring bloody rivalries whose wars and tribulations dominate the geopolitical landscape," says Fuller, author of many books, including The Future of Political Islam.

"In the bluntest of terms, would there have been a 9/11 without Islam? . . . It's important to remember how easily religion can be invoked when other long-standing grievances are to blame. Sept. 11, 2001, was not the beginning of history."

It's too comfortable for Western observers to ignore a long history of Western colonialism in the Middle East while blindly identifying Islam as the key source of global tension, Fuller says.

"It's much easier than exploring the impact of the massive global footprint of the world's sole superpower," writes Fuller, who was an intelligence agent and strategist in the highest echelons of the CIA until 1988, before moving to the Rand Corporation think-tank. With the CIA, he spent most of his career in Muslim countries, advising top U.S. government officials.

If Mohammed had never founded Islam in seventh-century Arabia, Fuller writes, the Middle East would likely have become dominated by Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which has had a history of often-violent conflict with the West and the Roman Catholic church, including during the Crusades.

"Today, the U.S. occupation of Iraq would be no more welcome to Iraqis if they were Christian. The United States did not overthrow Saddam Hussein, an intensely nationalist and secular leader, because he was Muslim . . . Nowhere do people welcome foreign occupation and the killing of their citizens at the hands of foreign troops."

A Middle East dominated by Eastern Orthodox Christians would have responded much like the now-Muslim region to Western foreign invasion, the West's establishment of pliable puppet leaders and the West's undying efforts to control oil supplies, Fuller writes.

"It wasn't Islam that made Middle Eastern states powerfully resist the colonial project, with its drastic redrawing of borders in accordance with European geopolitical preferences," Fuller writes in Foreign Policy, which won the 2007 U.S. National Magazine Award for general excellence.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity "maintains residual fears about the West that parallel in many ways current Muslim insecurities: fears of Western missionary proselytism, a tendency to perceive religion as a key vehicle for protection of their own communities and culture, and a suspicion of the 'corrupted' and imperial character of the West."

The Middle East, without Islam, would still be challenged, Fuller says, by ethnic rivalries involving Turks, Kurds, Jews, Persians, Arabs and others -- all of whom remain involved in ongoing conflicts over power, territory, influence and trade.

To those who suggest Islam is inherently anti-democratic, Fuller responds that Christians have supported recent dictatorships in Latin America and Europe, including in Spain, Portugal, Greece and even contemporary Russia.

Fuller, 69, who has lived for several years with his wife, Prue, in Squamish, where he plans to remain, also doesn't let off the hook those atheists who like to blame religion, whether Islam or Christianity, for inciting much of the planet's violence.

He notes that the "principal horrors" of the 20th century "came almost exclusively from strictly secular regimes: Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo, Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin and Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. It was Europeans who visited their 'world wars' twice upon the rest of the world -- two devastating global conflicts with no remote parallels in Islamic history."

To reach Douglas Todd, go to his blog at



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