Armed Hostilities

The Influence of the U.S. Foreign Policy During the Late Cold War

As a crucial event in U.S. history, 9/11 has divided the history of attitudes towards Muslims into before and after, constructing the bias about Islam and its influence on people’s consciousness and, as a consequence, social processes. The Muslim concept has undergone many inversions of meaning and reverberations in the wake of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War and 9/11. Understanding of the implications of the historical processes in this question is indispensable for the political analysis of the “War on Terror” today. Contradictory perceptions of Muslims actualize the necessity of tracing the historical perspective of this issue, identifying the origins and change over time regarding the problem of Islam and terrorism.

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Firstly, the idea that the cultural characteristics of some nations determine their behavior is rooted in the orientalist way of thinking, which is firmly entrenched in the period of colonialism. The orientalism constructs the image of the “timeless orient as if the Orient, unlike the West, does not develop,” and it should be noted that the East is initially considered as something “placid”.1 Western paternalism sustained this concept and constructed the nexus of the cultural affiliation and qualities relevant to it. Hence, the idea of the oriental people’s otherness is reflected in the conception that “aboriginal cultures were frozen in a pre-modern state similar to what Europe faced in ancient times.”2

When Napoleon came to Egypt and the British conquered India,3 it seemed to be essential to explain people of different colors and cultures in order to understand them and, consequently, to rule them. Thus, culture and religion became political constructs involved in governmental processes.

However, it should be mentioned that political Islam appeared during the period of colonialism, but it did not enforce the terrorism movement until the Cold War. While explaining political Islam as a result of the U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War, it is essential to take into account both general historical vista with regard to the time of colonialism and changes that happened in the wake of U.S. diplomatic policy.

When applied to the American experience, in contrast to French and British orientalism, it is less direct and more politically oriented due to the presence of Israel. A Jewish state appeared in the middle of the Islamic oriental world, and America is its major ally.4 The American orientalism is more complex since the coincidence between its interests in Islamic states, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, on the ground of oil, and in Israel, whose independence the U.S. recognized with pride. Israelis’ perception of the Arab world as an enemy is inevitably imported into the American orientalism.5 It resulted in the fact that the discourse regarding the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is always politically charged. As a consequence, Muslims play the role of violent, irrational terrorists, which only reinforces the process of demonizing Islam.

Considering only the existence of terrorism and rejecting the specific of a vast and complex region of the Middle East, American media portrays Muslims as a violent and aggressive nation. The narrow approach to understanding different cultures does not take into account ordinary Muslim people, who are not related to any religious radicalism’s actions. This problem was raised in the film My Name Is Khan (2010), which tells how Americans’ view of Muslims rapidly changed after 9/11. The movie depicts the tragedy of all Muslim people against the background of a child’s death because of his Muslim surname “Khan.”6

The images employed by the media establish the impression of evil regarding Islam, while the actions of radical Christian do not paint in such tones.7 Thus, it can be said that the image of Muslims in the U.S. contains mostly negative connotations, justifying the implementation of force against them.

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The modern perception of Muslims and the genesis of the concept of political terrorism that resulted in 9/11 might be traced to the late Cold War. According to Mamdani,8 debates on the question of this kind of violence in the context of 9/11 turn around the relationship “between religious fundamentalism and political terrorism.” The notion of “Cultural talk” suggested by the researcher implies that the political climate among the masses is determined by the people’s religious and cultural characteristics. After 9/11, the distinction between “good Muslims” and “bad Muslims,” which was considered to be responsible for terrorism, was highlighted.9 The presumption that such categories exist embodies the refusal to understand the profound roots of the politically influenced process of Islam’s transformation.

The ideological tendencies of Islam, which have undergone some transformations during the colonial period, turned into a political force in the wake of the circumstances created by the American administration’s policy. The late Cold War, which was defined by Mumdani as lasting from the end of the war in Vietnam in 1975 to 1990,10 was a period of proxy wars initiated by the Reagan administration’s foreign policy.

When applied to the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the 1979 Sandinista Revolution, Reagan called for a war against nationalists. During the Cold War, U.S. supported the contras in Nicaragua and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, showing a willingness to win in the Cold War “by all means necessary.”11 A major shift in the perception of Muslims happened during the Iranian Revolution 1979, which resulted in restructuring relations between political Islam and U.S. Mumdani claims that before these events, America considered political Islam as an “unqualified ally in the struggle against the Soviet Union.”12 Given that, the United States supported the Society of Muslim Brothers Egypt, the Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan, etc. The Iranian Revolution predetermined a new political development, making the U.S. distinguish revolutionary and elitist political Islam. A new nationalist Islamist regime acts independently of all foreign influences, which resulted in America’s natural discontent.

To solve the problem of terrorism, it is essential to address the issues terrorists raise. Given that “terrorists have not only a need to be heard but, more often than not, a cause to champion,”13 a military confrontation with terrorists cannot be considered as an effective way of solving this problem. Representing the hostile images of Muslims, the media promotes ideas of patriotism. Nevertheless, the role of patriotism in these processes is “in encouraging or discouraging hostility against an ethnic minority.”14 Terrorists are obliged to find different tactics to affect the state’s credibility, regarding extortion as an instrument to turn the other’s pain into the proper goals’ achievement. The response to terrorism should be made by taking into account cultural considerations and historical events.

To conclude, historical understanding helps us make a more informed political analysis of the “War on Terror” today by explaining the roots of the perception of Muslims as totally different due to religious and cultural affiliation. The period of colonialism laid the foundation for the biases related to oriental people; the American administration’s foreign policy during the Cold War changed the development of relations with political Islam. Although the cultural characteristics should be taken into account, the problem of terrorism cannot be considered apart from history.


Korstanje, Maximiliano. “The Culture of Terror after 9/11: When the Other Is Undesired.” In The Understanding the War on Terror: Perspectives, Challenges and Issues, edited by Riku Flanagan, 1-21. New York: Nova, 2019.

Korstanje, Maximiliano. “The War on Terror and the Contemporary Society.” In The Understanding the War on Terror: Perspectives, Challenges and Issues, edited by Riku Flanagan, 21-43. New York: Nova, 2019.

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Mamdani, Mahmood. Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror. New York: Three Leaves Press, 2005.

My Name Is Khan. Directed by Karan Johar. Performed by Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. India, United States, Hong Kong: 20th Century Fox, 2010.

Edward Said on Orientalism.” YouTube video. Posted by Palestine Diary. 2018. Web.


  1. “Edward Said on Orientalism,” YouTube video, 7:28, posted by Palestine Diary, 2018. Web.
  2. Maximiliano Korstanje, “The Culture of Terror after 9/11: When the Other Is Undesired,” in The Understanding the War on Terror: Perspectives, Challenges and Issues, ed. Riku Flanagan (New York: Nova, 2019), 2.
  3. “Edward Said on Orientalism,” YouTube video, 11:27, posted by Palestine Diary, 2018. Web.
  4. “Edward Said on Orientalism,” YouTube video, 12:36, posted by Palestine Diary, 2018. Web.
  5. “Edward Said on Orientalism,” YouTube video, 13:07, posted by Palestine Diary, 2018. Web.
  6. My Name Is Khan, dir. Karan Johar, perf. Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol (India, United States, Hong Kong: 20th Century Fox, 2010).
  7. “Edward Said on Orientalism,” YouTube video, 19:10, posted by Palestine Diary, 2018. Web.
  8. Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror (New York: Three Leaves Press, 2005), 11.
  9. Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, 15.
  10. Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, 12.
  11. Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, 13.
  12. Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, 104.
  13. Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, 193.
  14. Maximiliano Korstanje, “The War on Terror and the Contemporary Society,” in The Understanding the War on Terror: Perspectives, Challenges and Issues, ed. Riku Flanagan (New York: Nova, 2019), 33.

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