Either the jihadists really are crazy or they apparently think that they have a shot at destabilizing, or at least winning concessions from, the United States, Europe, India, and Russia all at once.
Apart from the continual attacks on civilians by terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the West Bank, there have now been recent horrific assaults in New Dehli (blowing up civilians in a busy shopping season on the eve of a Hindu festival), Russia (attacking police and security facilities), London (suicide murdering of civilians on the subway), and Indonesia (more bombing, and the beheading of Christian schoolgirls). The loci of recent atrocities could be widely expanded (e.g., Malaysia, North Africa, Turkey, Spain)–and, of course, do not forget the several terrorist plots that have been broken up in Europe and the United States.
The commonalities? There are at least three.
First, despite the various professed grievances (e.g., India should get out of Kashmir; Russia should get out of Chechnya; England should get out of Iraq; Christians should get out of Indonesia; or Westerners should get out of Bali), the perpetrators were all self-proclaimed Islamic radicals. Westerners who embrace moral equivalence still like to talk of abortion bombings and Timothy McVeigh, but those are isolated and distant memories. No, the old generalization since 9/11 remains valid: The majority of Muslims are not global terrorists, but almost all such terrorists, and the majority of their sympathizers, are Muslims.
Second, the jihadists characteristically feel that dialogue or negotiations are beneath them. So like true fascists, they don’t talk; they kill. Their opponents–whether Christians, Hindus, Jews, or Westerners in general–are, as infidels, de facto guilty for what they are rather than what they supposedly do. Talking to a Dr. Zawahiri is like talking to Hitler: You can’t–and it’s suicidal to try.
Third, there is an emboldened sense that the jihadists can get away with their crimes based on three perceptions:
(1) Squabbling and politically correct Westerners are decadent and outnumber the U.S. Marines, and ascendant Islamicism resonates among millions of Muslims who feel sorely how far they have fallen behind in the new globalized world community–and how terrorism and blackmail, especially if energized by nuclear weapons or biological assets, might leapfrog them into a new caliphate.
(2) Sympathetic Muslim-dominated governments like Malaysia or Indonesia will not really make a comprehensive effort to eradicate radical Islamicist breeding grounds of terror, but will perhaps instead serve as ministries of propaganda for shock troops in the field.
(3) Autocratic states such as Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran share outright similar political objectives and will offer either stealthy sanctuary or financial support to terrorists, confident that either denial, oil, or nuclear bombs give them security .
Meanwhile, Westerners far too rarely publicly denounce radical Islam for its sick, anti-Semitic, anti-female, anti-American, and anti-modernist rhetoric. Just imagine the liberal response if across the globe Christians had beheaded schoolgirls, taken over schoolhouses to kill students, and shot school teachers as we have witnessed radical Muslims doing these past few months.
Instead, Western parlor elites are still arguing over whether there were al Qaedists in Iraq before the removal of Saddam Hussein, whether the suspicion of WMDs was the real reason for war against the Baathists, whether Muslim minorities should be pressured to assimilate into European democratic culture, and whether constitutional governments risk becoming intolerant in their new efforts to infiltrate and disrupt radical Muslim groups in Europe and the United States. Some of this acrimony is understandable, but such in-fighting is still secondary to defeating enemies who have pledged to destroy Western liberal society. At some point this Western cannibalism becomes not so much counterproductive as serving the purposes of those who wish America to call off its struggle against radical Islam.
Most Americans think that our present conflict is not comparable with World War II, in either its nature or magnitude. Perhaps–but they should at least recall the eerie resemblance of our dilemma to the spread of global fascism in the late 1930s.
At first few saw any real connection between the ruthless annexation of Manchuria by Japanese militarists, or Mussolini’s brutal invasion of Ethiopia, or the systematic aggrandizement of Eastern-European territory by Hitler. China was a long way from Abyssinia, itself far from Poland. How could a white-supremacist Nazi have anything in common with a racially-chauvinist Japanese or an Italian fascist proclaiming himself the new imperial Roman?
In response, the League of Nations dithered and imploded (sound familiar?). Rightist American isolationists (they’re back) assured us that fascism abroad was none of our business or that there were conspiracies afoot by Jews to have us do their dirty work. Leftists were only galvanized when Hitler finally turned on Stalin (perhaps we have to wait for Osama to attack Venezuela or Cuba to get the Left involved). Abroad even members of the British royal family were openly sympathetic to German grievances (cf. Prince Charles’s silence about Iran’s promise to wipe out Israel, but his puerile Edward VIII-like lectures to Americans about a misunderstood Islam). French appeasement was such that even the most humiliating concession was deemed preferable to the horrors of World War I (no comment needed).
We can, of course, learn from this. It’s past time that we quit worrying whether a killer who blows himself up on the West Bank, or a terrorist who shouts the accustomed jihadist gibberish as he crashes a jumbo jet into the World Trade Center, or a driver who rams his explosives-laden car into an Iraqi polling station, or a Chechnyan rebel who blows the heads off schoolchildren, is in daily e-mail contact with Osama bin Laden. Our present lax attitude toward jihadism is akin to deeming local outbreaks of avian flu as regional maladies without much connection to a new strain of a deadly–and global–virus.
Instead, the world—if it is to save its present liberal system of free trade, safe travel, easy and unfettered communications, and growing commitment to constitutional government—must begin seeing radical Islamism as a universal pathology rather than reactions to regional grievances, if it is ever to destroy it materially and refute it ideologically.
Yet the antidote for radical Islam, aside from the promotion of democratization and open economies, is simple. It must be militarily defeated when it emerges to wage organized violence, as in the cases of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Zarqawi’s terrorists in Iraq, and the various killer cliques in Palestine.
Second, any who tolerate radical Islam should be ostracized. Muslims living in the West must be condemned when they assert that the Jews caused 9/11, or that suicide bombing is a legitimate response to Israel, or that Islamic immigrants’ own unique culture gives them a pass from accustomed assimilation, or that racial and religious affinity should allow tolerance for the hatred that spews forth from madrassas and mosques–before the patience of Western liberalism is exhausted and “the rules of the game” in Tony Blair’s words “change” quite radically and we begin to see mass invitations to leave.
Third, nations that intrigue with jihadists must be identified as the enemies of civilization. We often forget that there are now left only four major nation-states in the world that either by intent or indifference allow radical Islamists to find sanctuary.
If Pakistan were seriously to disavow terrorism and not see it as an asset in its rivalry with India and as a means to vent anti-Western angst, then Osama bin Laden, Dr. Zawahiri, and their lieutenants would be hunted down tomorrow.
If the petrolopolis of Saudi Arabia would cease its financial support of Wahhabi radicals, most terrorists could scarcely travel or organize operations.
If there were sane governments in Syria and Iran, then there would be little refuge left for al Qaeda, and the money and shelter that now protects the beleaguered and motley collection of ex-Saddamites, Hezbollah, and al Qaedists would cease.
So in large part four nations stand in the way of eradicating much of the global spread of jihadism–and it is no accident that either oil or nuclear weapons have won a global free pass for three of them. And it is no accident that we don’t have a means to wean ourselves off Middle East oil or as yet stop Iran from becoming the second Islamic nuclear nation.
But just as importantly, our leaders must explain far more cogently and in some detail–rather than merely assert–to the Western public the nature of the threat we face, and how our strategy will prevail.
In contrast, when the American public is still bickering over WMDs rather than relieved that the culprit for the first World Trade Center bombing can no longer find official welcome in Baghdad; or when our pundits seem more worried about Halliburton than the changes in nuclear attitudes in Libya and Pakistan; or when the media mostly ignores a greater percentage of voters turning out for a free national election in the heart of the ancient caliphate than during most election years in the United States–something has gone terribly, tragically wrong here at home.
– Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His latest book is A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.