In the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, one question has been heard repeatedly among Americans: why do they hate us so? One U.S. intelligence official has what he thinks are some answers to that question, and has written a book about it.
In reply to the question, "Why do Osama bin Laden and his followers hate Americans," the answer from U.S. President George W. Bush has been clear-cut and unequivocal: "They hate us because we love freedom. They hate us because we love and hold dear the idea that anybody can worship an almighty God in any way he or she sees fit. They hate the idea of a free press, free political discourse. That is what they hate. And so long as we love our freedoms, they will try to harm our country."
But in a new book entitled Through Our Enemies' Eyes, one senior American intelligence officer, simply dubbed "Anonymous," sharply disagrees with that view.
"There are a lot of people who say he hates our freedoms, as you said, or hates our liberties, and hates us for what we are, rather than what we do," said the author. "That is a very common piece of analysis, and I think it is entirely wrong. Bin Laden has resonance in the Muslim world because he has focused his dislike for the things we do, not what we are."
The book was cleared for publication by the Central Intelligence Agency, and the author remains anonymous to the reading public. However, he is a senior intelligence officer of more than 20 years experience, much of it in Afghanistan and South Asia.
Anonymous agreed to be interviewed by VOA and the interview request was cleared by U.S. intelligence officials. Under the ground rules, he remains unnamed. Anonymous says that, contrary to the portrait of Osama bin Laden as simply a crazed terrorist, the al-Qaida leader is a complex figure.
"I believe that the genius of bin Laden lies in the fact that he has not resorted to saying 'we hate America's freedom and we have to attack them.' Or 'we hate America because they let women go to work and go to school and we need to attack them for that,'" the author explained. "He has not identified our culture, our society, as the main enemy or as the main reason to fight us. What he has identified are specific U.S. foreign policy actions and activities that have a resonance among Muslims all over the world."
Anonymous said Osama bin Laden has a clear political agenda. He says that agenda includes reducing U.S. support for Israel, a withdrawal of all American troops from the Arabian Peninsula, an end to what Osama bin Laden labeled as aggression against Iraq, and a halt to what Osama bin Laden viewed as Western exploitation of oil and natural gas resources of Muslim countries.
"It is a very clear policy," said the unnamed author. "None of it has to do with ephemeral things or slogans. It has to do with very clear-cut, concrete things. And I think that is why he is so effective in the Muslim world. He has picked a number of items that, whether you are, however you term it a moderate, a conservative, or a liberal Muslim, there is a certain amount of sympathy for the goals bin Laden has enunciated."
Anonymous said al-Qaida has taken some significant damage from Western anti-terrorist efforts. But, he adds, Osama bin Laden's strategy is to spur on attacks by individual groups, rather than leading a coordinated terrorist effort.
"His [bin Laden's] goal all along is to instigate other Muslims to attack the United States," said Anonymous. "He would give them assistance, he would give them training, he would give them some money perhaps. But the best of all possible worlds for him would be for Muslim groups around the world to attack us with no contact with him."
Anonymous said his views are controversial among his colleagues in the U.S. intelligence community. But, he said, understanding Osama bin Laden's motivation is key to defeating him.
"Understanding does not necessarily, and in this case does not, connote sympathy. It simply is an effort to portray the enemy as he is, and therefore give our country the best chance possible to counter and defeat it," he said.
The senior U.S. intelligence officer said that while American politicians refuse to characterize the conflict as a religious war, that is certainly the way Osama bin Laden and his followers look at it.