From the perspective of the West, the war on terror can seem to be as never-ending as battling Hydra. For every terrorist leader struck down, three more arise from the dust to take his place, and themselves take positions of power in numerous countries. It’s difficult for Western powers to understand that it is the cutting down of that one leader that gives rise to the others. In the wake of 9/11, the American approach to the war on Terror has poured oil on what was once a small fire of fundamentalist fervour. This is not to say that fundamentalism did not have a public and influential role in the politics of many Middle Eastern states, but instead that the spectacle of 9/11 and the reaction provoked served to give a platform to fundamentalist rhetoric that could not have been easily attained otherwise. This rhetoric has fuelled into the spotlight Western conceptions of Islam and Arabs, while also reinforcing perceptions of Western attempts to subjugate Muslims.
Before 9/11 state support for al-Qaeda was arguably non-existent, there was no real state-supported terrorist infrastructure beside the Afghani’s role in propping of local Taliban groups . Regardless of this, the Middle East has seen state sovereignty pushed aside by American interests, and western governments support authoritarian and anti-democratic states that abuse human rights but claim an alliance with the West in the war on Terror. This irony cannot be lost to someone who sees the West claim that their actions are inspired by the desire to propagate freedom, but then commit the atrocities found in Abu Ghraib and across the region. The dominant argument now seems to be that the West is not serving the interests of the Middle Eastern people, but rather trying to subjugate Muslims economically and culturally. In 2002, a Gallup poll conducted across numerous Muslim-majority nations found that ‘only 12% say the West respects Arab or Islamic values. Just 7% say Western nations are fair in their perceptions of Muslim countries.’
Regional sentiment concerning the U.S. has reflected a growing perception of the nation as a sort of nascent imperial force that judges Islam as a monolithic anachronism imprisoning millions of people. In this fight of us vs. them, the U.S. has tried to position itself as a democratic force for modernity, further reinforcing Islamic fundamentalists’ fear of secular humanistic modernism as a western import being imposed by force. An embrace of fundamentalism therefore became a source of empowerment and pride—a desire to return to a more sovereign and traditional tribal past. The same Gallup poll showed that while most of those surveyed condemned the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the resulting American campaign in Afghanistan was seen as an unjustified and arrogant aggression. The rising tide of public disillusionment with the West, and the modernity is chooses to represent, has created fertile ground for Islamic extremists to reap the benefits.