At least 11 people were wounded Monday at Ohio State University when a Somali immigrant used a car to plow into a crowd of people before stabbing them. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (also known as ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the episode – referring to Abdul Razak Ali Ratan as a “soldier”. A key proposal for ensuring safety from terror includes strengthening the vetting practices for Muslims. Despite its popularity, this idea fails to address terrorism at its core.

To combat the actions of Islamic terrorists, we must understand their motives and America’s role as an oppressor in the Middle East. Since the end of World War II, the United States has stopped at nothing to gain and retain influence in the oil-rich region. From warfare to staging overthrows of democratically-elected governments, millions have been killed and many more have been displaced. These wretched conditions cultivate the anger of young men (and, at times, women) who have been robbed of agency within their societies. Terrorism is viewed as a legitimate avenue for recognition and violent retaliation against the tyrant of American imperialism. Terrorists are not simply radicalized by Islam; they are also radicalized by American foreign policy. We must confront the paradox of the ‘War on Terror’: it creates an abundance of what it claims to eradicate. Every time America drops a bomb on Iraq and Syria, a handful of new extremists become attracted to terrorism. America’s foreign policy of eliminating terrorism is the most powerful form of recruitment.

The Motives of Well-Known Terrorists

While we should never condone the actions of terrorists, it is important to understand their motives. To the extent that the U.S. government and the mass media are reliable sources, terrorists typically make declarations as to why the attacks were carried out. These statements provide us with clues about fighting terrorism. Consider the following examples of noteworthy Islamic terrorists:

  • Osama bin Laden (allegedly behind the 9/11 attacks) – “I say to our Muslim brothers across the world: your brothers in Saudi Arabia and Palestine are calling for your help and asking you to share with them in the jihad against the enemies of God, your enemies the Israelis and Americans. They are asking you to defy them in whatever way you possibly can, so as to expel them in defeat and humiliation from the holy places of Islam”.
  • Dzokhar Tsarnaev (allegedly behind the Boston Marathon bombing) – “…the bombings were in retribution for the U.S. crimes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan [and] that the victims of the Boston bombing were collateral damage, in the same way innocent victims have been collateral damage in U.S. wars around the world”.
  • Omar Mateen (allegedly behind the Orlando shootings) – “Stop bombing Syria and Iraq”.

As we see with a few of the largest terrorist attacks on American soil, the actions of the assailants are a reaction to American imperialism. The words of bin Laden have been echoed as of late. Recently, the United States government armed Israel with $38 billion in military aid to continue their colonization of Palestine over the next 10 years – a major affront to the holy sites of Muslims. Thus, terrorists do not simply descend from the heavens, they are created by their conditions.

The Ohio Attacker & American Intervention in Somalia

The attacker in Ohio was an 18-year old Somali refugee. To understand his actions, we must discuss the history of American intervention in Somalia. Shortly before the attack, Ratan allegedly posted a Facebook status urging America to “stop interfering with other countries, especially the Muslim Ummah. By Allah, we will not let you sleep unless you give peace to the Muslims. You will not celebrate or enjoy any holiday”. 

For several decades, Somalia has been the victim of American intervention. Here is a brief history of America’s harmful influence in Somalia:

  • Between 1974 and 1991, the United States sent millions of dollars in military aid to Siad Barre – the Somalian dictator. These funds allowed Barre to maintain his regime, which murdered thousands of people.
  • The era of neoliberalism and globalization, led by the United States, has wrecked the Somali economy since 1980. Through structural adjustment agreements, Somalia has become indebted to Western powers. This has forced the nation to slash funding for public services and to otherwise privatize industry.
  • Being indebted to foreign powers set the stage for the famine which devastated the country in 1991. The United States began “Operation Restore Hope” – a humanitarian effort to give relief to starving Somalians. Using the excuse that local fighters were stealing the supplies, the U.S. deployed troops. Thousands of Somalians were eventually killed in the name of ‘humanitarian relief’.
  • In 2006, the United States government backed Ethiopia with military assistance to invade Somalia, to control the rise of Islam in the region.
  • Since at least 2003, the Bush and Obama administrations have been bombing Somalia as part of its so-called War on Terror. Recently, President Obama decided to expand his authorized powers of war to include al-Shabab in Somalia.

The attack in Ohio is a reaction to imperialism – a taste of what America has been inflicting on Somalia for decades. Somalia has faded to near the bottom of every human development index; as it is mired in poverty and violence. Generally, people migrate to escape wretched conditions in their homeland. So instead of implementing a Muslim travel ban, the United States must eliminate the reasons Muslims are compelled to leave their countries in the first place: poverty and war. When America stops forcing countries into debt and dropping bombs on them, there will be no need to fear immigrants from these regions as terrorists.

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