The Origin of Terrorism

There is a lot of concern about terrorism, and much discussion about how to fight it. Perhaps more attention should be given to the origins of terrorism. In Black Flags, Joby Warrick examines how ISIS arose. Michiko Kakutani's review, ‘Black Flags,’ Tracing the Birth of ISIS, describes how the Americans inadvertently assisted the rise of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the founder of the group that developed into the Islamic State.

He was a hard-drinking, heavily tattooed Jordanian street thug.... He traveled to Afghanistan in 1989 to wage jihad; during a stint in a Jordanian prison, he emerged as a leader known and feared for his ruthlessness as an enforcer among Islamist inmates. ... At this point, Mr. Zarqawi was just a small-time jihadist. But then, Mr. Warrick writes, “in the most improbable of events, America intervened,” declaring — in an effort to make the case for ousting Saddam Hussein — that “this obscure Jordanian was the link between Iraq’s dictatorship and the plotters behind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.” As C.I.A. analysts well knew, this assertion was false; in retrospect, it would also have the perverse effect of turning Mr. Zarqawi into “an international celebrity and the toast of the Islamist movement.” Weeks later, when United States troops invaded Iraq, this newly famous terrorist “gained a battleground and a cause and soon thousands of followers.” ... He... quickly capitalized on two disastrous decisions made by the Americans (dissolving the Iraqi Army and banning Baath Party members from positions of authority), which intensified the country’s security woes and left tens of thousands of Iraqis out of work and on the street. Soon, former members of Mr. Hussein’s military were enlisting in Mr. Zarqawi’s army; others offered safe houses, intelligence, cash and weapons.

After Zarqawi was killed, his organization was taken over by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose rise had also been abetted by the Americans:

Baghdadi had built up a valuable network of supporters while serving time in Camp Bucca, a United States-controlled prison known as a “jihadi university” for its role in radicalizing inmates.

For more on Baghdadi's education, see America’s Terrific Education System.

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