On January 8, President Barack Obama held a press conference at which he said: “It is clear that al Qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations … to do their bidding. … And that’s why we must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaeda offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death … while the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress … That’s the vision that is far more powerful than the hatred of these violent extremists.”
Obama then turned the floor over to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and terrorism expert John Brennan, former chairman of the National Counterterrorism Center, who spoke and took questions from the assembled reporters, including Helen Thomas, the 89-year-old grand dame of the White House press corps. The following exchange ensued:
Helen Thomas: What is really lacking always for us, is, you don’t give the motivation of why they want to do us harm.
Janet Napolitano: The screening at Schiphol Airport was done by Dutch authorities, and they did the screening that was described to you earlier this afternoon. The hand luggage was screened, the passport was checked, he went through a magnetometer, but it was done by Dutch authorities.
HT: And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out of ‘why’?
John Brennan: Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and slaughter of innocents. What they have done over the past decade and a half, two decades, is to attract individuals like Mr. [Umar Farouk] Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam and has corrupted the concept of Islam so that they are able to attract these kinds of individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.
HT: Are you saying that it is because of religion?
JB: I am saying that it is because of an al Qaeda organization that uses the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.
JB: This is a long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.
HT: But you haven’t explained why.
Her question went unanswered, and another reporter spoke up, returning to the safe subject of airport screening procedures.
Since the Obama White House, like the Bush White House before it, was unable, or unwilling, to address Thomas’ question, In These Times asked a number of prominent activists, intellectuals and foreign policy experts “why they want to do us harm.” We present their answers on the following pages.
In These Times also put that question to Helen Thomas. Here is what she said:
Why do you think “they want to do us harm?”
Because of Western colonialization. The United States has no right to be in their countries.
Why do you think the administration is so loath to answer this question?
Because we invaded Iraq under lies.