While speaking in Boston recently, I was approached by a puzzled college student. She didn’t know how to respond when a friend told her, “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” She asked how I would answer that phrase, often bandied about on Fox News and in other right-wing circles.

To begin, I pointed out that plenty of non-Muslims have carried out terrorist acts. Here’s a partial list.

Timothy McVeigh was convicted of detonating a truck bomb in front of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, which resulted in 168 deaths. He was Catholic.

In 2010, to protest federal government policies, Joseph Stack flew a plane into an Austin building housing IRS offices. He came from a Christian background and ranted against all religion.

In 1994 Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish-American Israeli settler in the West Bank city of Hebron opened fire on Muslim worshippers, killing 29 and wounding 150. He died at the scene, and his grave later became a pilgrimage site for extremists in Israel.

Murderers of abortion doctors in the US frequently carry out their crimes in the name of evangelical Christianity.

I understand if she didn’t think of those examples right away. We’ve been conditioned to think of terrorists as foreigners, or people trained by foreigners, preferably dark skinned people with a grudge against the West. But a white guy with bomb trying to kill civilians for political purposes is still a terrorist.

I get another argument, particularly from radio call- ins. Yes, domestic terrorism exists, they argue, but Muslim terrorism still poses a threat to our national security. Some extremists acting in the name of Islam pose a real threat to American civilians. The perpetrators of such crimes bombings and hijackings should be arrested, given fair trials and, if found guilty, severely punished. But US actions have actually encouraged extremism. By occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, and carrying out a covert

war against Pakistan, the US has helped extremist groups recruit angry young men. Under the guise of combating terrorism, the US has expanded its fleets of aircraft carriers, battle ships, and fighter-bombers – armaments particularly ill-suited to fight terrorist cells. But they do allow the US empire to forcibly expand around the globe, helping guarantee profits for US corporations.

US oil pipeline and drilling companies got lucrative contracts in Iraq; US oil companies are preparing for a bonanza if Iraq finally privatizes its oil industry. Over the past nine years, the US has built over a dozen new military bases throughout the Middle East and Asia.

But the US empire is in decline. The current wars have cost over a trillion dollars, and the meter is still running. A significant part of the current economic crisis, with 9.5% unemployment, flows from never-ending spending on war. A majority of Americans have come to oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. People in the Middle East and in the US will eventually force a withdrawal of US troops and an end to the wars.

I tell college students that at some point the War on Terrorism will slowly fade into the history books as yet another failed propaganda effort. Most seem to agree.

Freelance foreign correspondent Reese Erlich’s new book is “Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence and Empire.” His national book tour takes him to Miami on Nov. 19-20. For details, see www.reeseerlich.com. His blog appears on Tuesdays on The Real News.

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Reese Erlich is a best-selling book author and freelance journalist who writes regularly for the Dallas Morning News, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Radio and National Public Radio. He has won numerous journalism awards, including the prestigious Peabody (shared with others). He is the author of several books, and is currently touring across the country promoting his most recent one called: Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence and Empire, published in September 2010. Reese Erlich received a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for his reporting from Bahrain.www.reeseerlich.com.