In a single day last week, in various media–the liberal International Herald Tribune and the Washington Post–the following information appeared.
A Syrian smuggler of jihadists to Iraq, one Abu Ibrahim, was interviewed. He made the following revealing statements:
(1) that the goal of the jihadists is the restoration of the ancient caliphate (“The Koran is a constitution, a law to govern the world”)
(2) that September 11 was “a great day”
(3) that two weeks after the attack, a celebration was held in his rural Syrian community celebrating the mass murder, and thereafter continued twice-weekly
(4) that Syrian officials attended such festivities, funded by Saudi money with public slogans that read, “The People …Will Now Defeat the Jews and Kill Them All”
(5) that despite denials, Syrian police aided the jihadists in their efforts to hound out Western influence: They were allowed to enforce their strict vision of sharia, or Islamic law, entering houses in the middle of the night to confront people accused of bad behavior. Abu Ibrahim said their authority rivaled that of the Amn Dawla, or state security. “Everyone knew us,” he said. “We all had big beards. We became thugs.”
(6) that the Syrian government does not hesitate to work with Islamists (“beards and epaulets were in one trench together”)
(7) that collateral damage was not always so collateral: “Once the Americans bombed a bus crossing to Syria. We made a big fuss and said it was full of merchants,” Abu Ibrahim said. “But actually, they were fighters.”
(8) That once Syria felt U.S. pressure, there was some temporary cosmetic change of heart: “The security agents said the smuggling of fighters had to stop. The jihadists’ passports were taken. Some were jailed for a few days. Abu Ibrahim’s jailers shaved his beard.”
(9) that supporters in Saudi Arabia always played a key role: “Our brothers in Iraq are asking for Saudis. The Saudis go with enough money to support themselves and their Iraqi brothers. A week ago, we sent a Saudi to the jihad. He went with 100,000 Saudi riyals. There was celebration amongst his brothers there!”
Note how in this one Washington Post story how almost every one of our Western myths promulgated by the antiwar Left is shattered by a candid jihadist himself. First, there was always radical Islamic anti-American hatred that preceded Iraq. Indeed, celebrations were spontaneous immediately after September 11 on the mere news of slaughtered Americans.
We have been told that jihadists and secular Baathists have little in common, and that only our war brought them together. But like the Japanese and Nazis in World War II, autocrat and jihadist have shared interests in hating liberal democracies–and well before our response they were jointly fanning efforts against the United States.
Note too the passive-aggressive nature of Syria that gives into rather than resists American pressures. When the U.S. threatens, it backsteps; when we relent, it goes back on the offensive.
Americans worry that captured terrorists have proper Korans and are allowed traditional grooming. Arab jailors immediately shave the traditional beards of those they arrest.
Saudi Arabia claims to be our ally, but its Wahhabi roots are so deep and its oil revenues so vast that much of its multilayered ruling class could not cease its support for jihad even if it wished. We forget that their ‘war against terror’ is a war against Muslim terrorists who attack Muslims–not necessarily against Muslim terrorists (“militants”) who attack Westerners.
Some claim that anti-Semitism is an exaggerated charge, yet the jihadists blame the Jews, not just Israel, instinctively.
Westerners also worry about collateral damage; the terrorist Ibrahim confesses that military operatives routinely count on falsely claiming civilian casualties.
For more of this sorry bunch, the same day I turned to the International Herald Tribune. Its headline ran: “For Saudis’ promised liberalizations, a snail’s pace.” The story followed about the routine persecution of any who questioned government autocracy and Wahhabist Islam. We learned once more that there is no freedom of any kind in Saudi Arabia and that dissidents are routinely jailed for their mere protests (sentences ranging from six to nine years).
More interestingly, Arab reformers, few though they are, most certainly don’t blame the West for the misery of the Middle East. Instead, they confess that the Arab world itself is parasitic: “Western governments, reformers say, should question why curriculums are so weak and why Arab societies contribute nothing to the world’s scientific or technological advancements.”
In the words of one persecuted novelist Turki Al-Hamad, “The problem is not from the outside, the problem is from ourselves; if we don’t change ourselves, nothing will change.”
In the United States, we are told that we have created terrorists. Saudi liberals would beg to differ. So the theologian Al-Maleky confesses, “If Wahhabism doesn’t revise itself, it will produce more terrorism.”
This is all so strange.
Free-thinking Arabs refute all the premises of Western Leftists who claim that colonialism, racism, and exploitation have created terrorists, hold back Arab development, and are the backdrops to this war.
Indeed, it is far worse than that: Our own fundamentalist Left is in lockstep with Wahhabist reductionism–in its similar instinctive distrust of Western culture. Both blame the United States and excuse culpability on the part of Islamists. The more left-wing the Westerner, the more tolerant he is of right-wing Islamic extremism; the more liberal the Arab, the more likely he is to agree with conservative Westerners about the real source of Middle Eastern pathology.
The constant? A global distrust of Western-style liberalism and preference for deductive absolutism. So burn down a mosque in Zimbabwe, murder innocent Palestinians in Bethlehem in 2002, arrest Christians in Saudi Arabia, or slaughter Africans in Dafur, and both the Western Left and the Middle East’s hard Right won’t say a word. No such violence resonates with America’s diverse critics as much as a false story of a flushed Koran–precisely because the gripe is not about the lives of real people, but the psychological hurts, angst, and warped ideology of those who in their various ways don’t like the United States.
I will pass over quickly the day’s other sorry stories, but they were equally revealing. From Karachi, we learn that Pakistani Shiite Muslims burned down a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. You see, a Sunni suicide bomber had just blown up 19 Pakistani Shia. In reaction to that attack, the Shiite mob went out and killed six employees of a business owned and operated by a Pakistani Muslim. Follow the logic of the Middle East: When you are angry at your own for their murdering, and are too weak or terrified to do anything about it, go out and destroy anything remotely American-affiliated.
I read most of these news accounts last week while sitting in a Starbucks (Dunkin’ Donuts next door) on the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate in the former Communist sector of Berlin–watching a parade of protestors damn the militarism of the United States (a.k.a. “Top Gun”) while a nearby TV blared accounts of a recent German mystery on state-run television, whose subtext was that the United States intelligence planned September 11 and blamed it on the poor jihadists.
So there we have a snapshot of 60 years of American efforts to rid Germany of Hitler, pour in Marshall Plan money, keep 300 Soviet divisions out of Germany, and convince skeptical British, French, and Russians to support reunification: In response, welcome in American popular culture as you damn the United States in the conveniently abstract.
A war that cannot be won entirely on the battlefield most certainly can be lost entirely off it–especially when an ailing Western liberal society is harder on its own democratic culture than it is on fascist Islamic fundamentalism.
So unhinged have we become that if an American policymaker calls for democracy and reform in the Middle East, then he is likely to echo the aspirations of jailed and persecuted Arab reformers. But if he says Islamic fascism is either none of our business or that we lack the wisdom or morality to pass judgment on the pathologies of a traditional tribal society, then the jihadist and the police state–and our own Western Left–approve.
The problem the administration faces is not entirely a military one: Our armed forces continue to perform heroically and selflessly under nearly impossible conditions of global scrutiny and hypercriticism. There has not been an attack on the U.S. since 9/11–despite carnage in Madrid and over 1,000 slaughtered in Russia by various Islamic terrorists during the same period.
Rather, the American public is tiring of the Middle East, its hypocrisy and whiny logic–and to such a degree that it sometimes unfortunately doesn’t make distinctions for the Iraqi democratic government or other Arab reformers, but rather is slowly coming to believe the entire region is ungracious, hopeless, and not worth another American soldier or dollar.
This is a dangerous trend. Despite murderous Syrian terrorists, dictatorial Saudis, crazy Pakistanis, and triangulating European allies, and after so many tragic setbacks, we are close to creating lasting democratic states in Afghanistan and Iraq–states that are influencing the entire region and ending the old calculus of Middle Eastern terror. We are winning even as we are told we are losing. But the key is that the American people need to be told–honestly and daily–how and why those successes came about and must continue before it sours on the entire sorry bunch.
–Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His website is victorhanson.com.