EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial will appear in the September 13, 2004, issue of National Review.
What would happen if “al-Qaeda” (for want of an easier shorthand) produced a Yasser Arafat figure?
That’s to say, imagine America’s enemies with a figurehead who gets treated as Arafat does. Emissaries from the Vatican and the EU routinely make pilgrimages to the Palestinian leader’s compound and get photographed beaming alongside him at that desk of his with the big unchanging pile of paperwork and the curiously omnipresent box of baby wipes. He’s received at the U.N., EU, Arab League, and (depending on the occupant) even the White House as a head of state whose lack of a state to head is a mere technical detail. I see a country called “Palestine” got to march in the 2004 Olympics parade as if it were no different from New Zealand or Denmark.
If you persist, as many do, in arguing the comparative threats of rogue states and stateless actors, Arafat offers a unique perspective: a stateless actor for whom the world created a rogue statelet. For all that paperwork (requisition slips for suicide-bomber belts?) Arafat seems to have little interest in government. Unlike other politicians of one’s acquaintance, he has as far as I’m aware no affordable-prescription-drugs plan for seniors, nor any views on outsourcing. Thirty years ago, he was head of a movement of killers–killers, indeed, of several prominent Americans. Today, he heads a more diffused movement of killers–the intifada–and all that’s changed is the innovativeness of their depravity. One thinks, for example, of the suicide bomber with vials of HIV-positive blood in his belt, with which he hoped to infect fatally those who survived the initial blast. And yet no matter what he does his European cheerleaders refuse to fall out of love with a vain, unreformable terrorist whose incompetence and thuggery can apparently never dent the Palestinians’ inviolable status as “victims” of Israeli “occupation.”
What if that happened to the broader jihad? Already, there’s a palpable longing to make the Islamists just a garden-variety terrorist movement, like the IRA or the Baader-Meinhof Gang. Mo Mowlam, formerly Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary, oversaw the process by which the IRA’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness became Ministers of a Crown they decline to recognize. And she figures, if you can pull that off, what’s the big deal with al-Qaeda? Earlier this year, she called for Osama bin Laden to be invited to “the negotiating table”–a difficult trick: What’s left of him would fit in the salt shaker. But, putting such technicalities aside, Mowlam’s main point was that the whole “War on Terror” approach was all wrong. “If you go in with guns and bombs, you act as a recruitment officer for the terrorists,” she said.
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