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Wednesday, July 03, 2002
Winning the War Against Terror:
(Final essay of the series.)
In previous essays in this series, I have described Islam as a warlike and bloody religion subject to periodic fits of violent fundamentalist revival. I have analyzed the roots of Islamic terror in the Koranic duty of jihad, and elucidated Osama bin Laden's goal as nothing less than the destruction of the West and the establishment of a global Islamic theocracy. I have analyzed the reason Americans have trouble comprehending the scope of the threat, and I have explained why Western-style diplomacy is next to useless in this situation. In this final essay I'll suggest paths towards a solution.
In order to win, we must begin with realism about the scope of the war and the objectives of the enemy. We must realize that although in theory and theology al-Qaeda is making war on the entire infidel West, in practice they are only interested in attacking the U.S., the `hyperpower' that leads it.
There is no possible gain for al-Qaeda in attacking Europe and risking a change in the pro-Arab, pro-Palestinian tilt of the EU (which has just resumed support payments to the Palestinian Authority despite conclusive evidence that the money is diverted to pay for massacres of Israeli children). Nor can al-Qaeda gain any leverage by attacks on the remainder of the world. The theaters of the war will include the U.S. and terrorist base areas in the Islamic arc stretching from Morocco through the Maghreb through the Middle East to Pakistan, and perhaps in Indonesia and the Phillipines as well.
To people who view the entire world through the lens of the Western tradition, the strategy I will outline is doubtless going to sound bellicose and regressive. It is not; it is founded on a cold-blooded realization that Arab cultures (and the Arabized cultures of the rest of the Islamic world) regard victory in war as a sign of Allah's favor and regard compromise and concession as a sign of weakness.
The war against Islamic terror must be fought on three levels: homeland defense, military power projection, and cultural subversion. We must foil terrorist acts; we must imprison or kill the terrorists who plan and execute them; and we must dry up the pool of potential recruits before they become terrorists who can only be stopped by being imprisoned or killed.
Homeland defense includes all those measures designed to make the attacks on U.S. civilians less likely to succeed. These will include conventional police and security measures. It must also include a revival of the role of the unincorporated militia and the armed citizen. Al-Qaeda has limited resources, but the advantage of choosing where they will strike; since the police and military cannot be everywhere, civilians (like the passengers of flight 93) must take anti-terrorist defense into their own hands.
Military power projection includes direct military action against terrorist bases and havens. As an anarchist, I would prefer a world in which private security agencies under contract to insurance companies pursued al-Qaeda; persons of some other political persuasions might propose supranational agencies such as the U.N. Unfortunately, under the current world system there is no alternative to governments to do this work. The U.S. has begun it in Afghanistan; the war must continue in Iraq, and it is likely to encompass Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia as well.
The goal of military power projection must be twofold: physical and psychological. The physical goal must be to destroy the physical infrastructure of terrorism -- the headquarters, bases and training camps. While this is important, the psychological goal of humiliating and crushing jihadists is even more important.
Islamic armies and resistance movements are fanatical in attack but brittle on the defense. When motivated by the conviction that Allah guides their arm, suicidal bravery is routine. On the other hand, when the fortunes of a cause decline past a certain point, Arabs tend to consider the will of Allah to be manifest and abruptly abandon it. These tendencies form part of the cultural background that includes even secularized terrorist movements (such as Yasser Arafat's al-Fatah) in the Islamic world.
The U.S. was able to exploit this brittleness effectively in Afghanistan. By moving in overwhelming force when it moved at all, the U.S. was able to intimidate many warlords affiliated with the Taliban into switching sides -- an important reason the campaign involved so little actual fighting.
We must repeat this maneuver on a larger scale. We must teach the Dar-al-Islam to respect and fear the power of the West. We must not negotiate or offer concessions until it is clear from the behavior of governments, the umma, and the "Arab street" that the public will to support jihad has been broken.
Our most important long-term weapon against Islamic terrorism, however, will be cultural subversion. That is, to break the hold of the Islamist/jihadist idea on the minds of Muslims. To do this, it may be necessary to discredit the entirety of Islam; the question depends on whether any Islamic figure will be clever enough to construct an interpretation of Islam purged of jihadist tendencies, and whether that version can propagate and displace the Sunni-fundamentalist varieties now dominant in the Islamic world.
I can do no better than to quote Michelle Efird, the woman who inspired my essay We Are All Jews Now. In private mail afterwards (quoted with permission) she wrote:
I don't want to appease them, I don't want to understand them, I don't want to let them reap the benefits of our liberalism while plotting our destruction. Like most Americans, I would have been more than happy to let them pretend the last 400 years of progress never happened, as long as they didn't force their warped-vision goggles on anyone else. But since they brought the war to us, let's pave the middle east with outlet malls, fast food franchises, and Disney Mecca. Let's infect their entire population with personal liberty and dissension and critical thinking. And if that doesn't work, let's flood them with porn spam.
Osama bin Laden may, in the end, have materialized his own worst fears. The ideology of jihad has created its mirror and opposite; the dawning sense that we in the West have the right, the power, and the duty to wipe bin Laden's brand of religion from the face of the earth before it destroys us all.
UPDATE: N.Z. Bear has wriitten an excellent essay on memes and cultural subversion.
posted by Eric at 1:47 AM
Sunday, June 30, 2002
Why Diplomacy Is Doomed:
(Fourth essay of a series.)
In Mirror, Mirror: Why Americans Don't Understand the Threat of Jihadism, What al-Qaeda Wants and The Mirage of Moderate Islam, I have described Islam as a warlike and bloody religion subject to periodic fits of violent fundamentalist revival. I have analyzed the roots of Islamic terror in the Koranic duty of jihad, and elucidated Osama bin Laden's goal as nothing less than the destruction of the West and the establishment of a global Islamic theocracy. I have analyzed the reason Americans have trouble comprehending the scope of the threat. Now I'll explain why diplomacy is not a path toards a solution.
The Western tradition of diplomacy, which originated from the "balance of power" model for coexisting nation-states in Renaissance Europe, stigmatizes the use of arms as an admission of failure and elevates good-faith negotiation as a virtue of the strong. Westerners think of a plurality of nation-states with conflicting interests as the natural and right way of the world, and Western diplomacy is themed around compromise as a way of allowing the members of that plurality to continue in more or less peaceful coexistence.
Arab cultures (and the Arabized cultures of the rest of the Islamic world) are very different. The Western idea of a plurality of nation-states is considered iniquitous, a sign that men have turned away from Allah. Islam promotes a world united under a single Caliph with absolute authority in both secular and religious matters.
Further, Arabs respect strength in war. Several features of the Islamic worldview -- including fatalism and the belief that Allah guides the arm of conquerors -- reinforce this. Extending an olive branch or seeking compromise, on the other hand, is read as a sign of weakness, inviting more pressure and more attacks.
Applying the assumptions of Western diplomacy to Islamic-world conflicts, therefore, tends to have perverse results. The utter failure of diplomacy in the Israeli/Palestinan conflict is a perfect example. Yasser Arafat and his followers interpreted every Israeli compromise not as a sign of virtue requiring a reciprocal response, but as a sign that that their terror campaign was working. As the Israelis conceded more and more legitimacy to Palestinian political objectives, the terror actually intensified in pitch.
The U.S.'s refusal to negotiate with the Taliban for anything less than the unconditional surrender of Osama bin Laden, by contrast, seemed harsh to apostles of the Western diplomatic tradition but was exactly correct in terms of Islamic psychology. Backing a clear, hard-line position with the threat of force actually gave the U.S. a moral advantage it had lacked when our policy was seen as weak and vacillating. The expected furor of the "Arab street" never materialized.
Diplomacy or negotiation are in any case of very limited use in curbing state terrorism and no use in curbing non-state terrorism. For the forseeable future, the U.S.'s capability to project military power into Third World terrorist havens will be so much greater than that of other members of any imaginable coalition of allies that having a military alliance at all will be almost pointless. Diplomacy need therefore be aimed only at preventing military opposition by nearby nation-states.
Third parties who urge `diplomatic' solutions to problems like Iraqi, Iranian, and Saudi Arabian sponsorship of al-Qaeda should be ignored. In the Islamic cultural context, force and the threat of force stand some chance of obtaining useful results. Talk does not.
(To be continued...)
posted by Eric at 1:48 PM