They mean what they say
On Monday, the Israeli Embassy invited me to meet Dr. Jonathan Fine of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya. Claiming some knowledge of the terrorist threat, I asked him to skip the basic briefing and instead tell me how to move the discussion forward.
He said start with ideas. Talk about who our enemies are and what they want. Too often, he added, even counter-terror experts immediately turn to the adversary's strategy and tactics. These things matter, he said, but first things first: Tell me your adversary's image of you, and I'll tell you his strategy and tactics.
I was immediately sympathetic.
A great paradox of the modern world is that most intellectuals do not think ideas matter. During the Cold War, the chattering classes didn't take Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism seriously; in the 1930s they dismissed Nazi doctrine; now they brush off radical Islam. New era, old error.
The standard materialist liberal claim that poverty causes violence is not merely, as Chesterton said, a slander on the poor. It is also preposterously at odds with the facts. Where are the suicide bombers from Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa? And it is dangerously arrogant.
Liberals who cannot conceive of honest, intelligent dissent from their own views interpret any sign of genuinely different thinking as, essentially, cover for a ransom demand. So they offer bribes, foreign aid for roads, jobs, clean water, etc. on the theory that if only those foreigners had nicer stuff they'd stop that jibber-jabber about jihad.
This approach is madness. Once you have paid him the Danegeld you will never be rid of the Dane.
Besides, some people want your blood not your money.
Here Fine stressed the transition from secular to religious terror at, essentially, the Iranian revolution of 1979. And he underlined the Ayatollah Khomeini's threefold justification for suicide bombing: The suicide bomber purifies himself, purifies his community, and shows contempt for the Judeo-Christian belief in the sanctity of life in this world.
I consider the third crucial. Christians holding "John 3:16" signs in football end zones agree with Jews who believe Genesis 1:31 ("God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good."). Suicide bombers do not. They hate this world and everything in it, so offering them more of life's good things is not just ineffective but feeble-minded.
When Islamists say they are in love with death, we need to believe them before we do anything else. Their deaths are as sweet to them as ours and it dictates their strategy and tactics.
Jonathan Fine notes that traditional terror movements before 1979 had socioeconomic goals. Their aims may have been as unrealistic as they were horrible, and their methods despicable. But in principle they wanted things we could give them.
The FLN wanted France out of Algeria not France, while even the ghastly Yasser Arafat, at least in public, criticized "the Zionist entity", which was ostensibly an attack on the policy orientation of the Israeli government and not a cry to exterminate the Jews. The Hamas Charter is an entirely different matter, as only those who refuse to read it can fail to recognize. And Osama bin Laden's followers want a caliphate from Cordoba to Indonesia and beyond. Their starting point is Spain, and we are next. And they cannot be negotiated with.
As Fine noted, air traffic control repeatedly tried to contact the 9/11 hijackers. But Mohammed Atta and company wouldn't pick up the radio even to shout abuse. And Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh gasped "Can't we talk about this?" to the Islamist who was shooting, stabbing and trying to behead him. But there was nothing to discuss. The medium was the message. Thus, Fine observed, you could at least buy time by haggling with old-style terrorists but "once a suicide bomber enters the target zone it is lost" which means the only effective response is preemptive.
So, he said, start with ideas and read the sources. Including one I should have known but didn't, bin Laden's mentor Abdullah Yusuf Azzam.
There comes a point where it's OK to stop accumulating examples; how many times does someone have to shout "Slaughter the Jews" before you abandon attempts at dialogue on a two-state solution? But to get there you need to spend some time on the Palestinian Media Watch website and learn what "Itbach al Yahud" means.
Some people ignore such chants due to a corruption of the will rather than merely a clouding of the intellect. Everyone else needs to take ideas seriously and read the sources in horrified amazement.
[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]