We win peace by winning the war

The British doctors’ plot certainly helps clarify things. I am glad the operation was a failure and the patients did not die for the obvious reasons. But also because it helps me discuss the merits of this botched atrocity. First, its sheer incompetence. One of our advantages in the war on terror, albeit unearned, is that we are fighting people who have difficulty setting themselves on fire in a car full of propane. The Globe and Mail claimed Saturday that British police were “hunting for at least three other suspects and a mastermind,” but I doubt they’ll find the latter in this affair. Despite the defeatist tone of much western news coverage, our enemies are often as clueless as they are vicious.

Second, that this comically inept villainy was apparently the work of educated people with lucrative, prestigious jobs underlines that our problem here is not poverty, social exclusion or racism but an idea. Specifically, the belief that we should be blown up as promiscuous intoxicated unbelievers. “Death to infidels” is the root cause of Islamist terrorism, as more and more people realize.

That’s why the third piece of good news was the blasé public reaction. The usual suspects feigned horror that such terrorist acts should have been attempted by highly paid professionals honoured by the host society, but few others were fooled. To call terrorism a product of poverty is, as Chesterton said of crime, a slander on the poor, many of whom live decent, honourable lives. It is also a slander on all mankind, a pernicious denial of free will, for materialists to claim we can buy off our enemies with big salaries, fancy offices and high-definition TVs.

Ultimately we are accountable for our choices, not our circumstances, and deep down we all know it. Life is never easy, though tribulations vary. But adversity crushes some and strengthens others. And while poverty can contribute to despair and rage, as indeed can wealth, both are at best partial explanations, not legitimate excuses. If you believe in a merciful God, you must prepare one day to explain to Him why you chose terrorism, not why you had no choice.

In public policy, too, choices and ideas matter far more than circumstances. Islamists try to blow us up not for refusing them attractive jobs or for our foreign policy misdeeds, but because they think we should die for being happy, tolerant people who do not claim to love the Creator while despising His creation and His creatures. And unless we convert to their way of thinking, they will not relent.

Not everyone gets it. At a Wednesday press conference, NDP leader Jack Layton said we should label civilian casualties in Afghanistan “unacceptable,” distance ourselves from the Bush administration, withdraw our troops and initiate a “comprehensive peace process” because “nobody could advance the idea that there’s a military solution ultimately in Afghanistan.”

Since the Taliban see an obvious military solution, shooting their way back into power and killing everybody who taught girls, I asked him: “When you talk about your comprehensive peace process, what’s the offer to the Taliban?” Mr. Layton blithered that “Students of history will know that all major conflicts are resolved ultimately through peace-oriented discussions ...”

Unfortunately for him I am a student of history with three university degrees in the subject from two different countries, so I said: “And by the armies marching into Berlin and an atomic bomb dropped on Japan. That’s how World War II ended and students of history know that.” He responded: “Well I beg to differ that if you study the precise processes that took place most of the conflicts in the world you’ll see that there are always negotiations that take place. And that’s what needs to happen here.”

His response was insolently stupid. Of course at some point in almost any war someone staggers forward to sign an instrument of surrender, but other obvious historical examples of major conflicts that ended by crushing victory include World War I, the Napoleonic Wars and the Cold War. I didn’t have time to make this point, but it didn’t matter because most other journalists present, including from francophone media, were openly incredulous about Mr. Layton’s proposal. They might not support the Afghan war. But even the press grasp that you can’t sign useful treaties with people who dream of waving your severed head at a cheap webcam.

As students of history know, John Maynard Keynes was right that “soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good and evil.” It’s why doctors try to bomb nightclubs and airports. Clearly.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]