Love of Life

In the era of moral relativism, it is heartening to know that the difference between terrorist and victim is not lost on all. Perhaps one of the most nearly accurate distinctions was made by the leader of the terror group Hezbollah:

The weak point of the Israelis is their love of life, but [we] have a strong point… we love martyrdom.
—Sayyed Nasrallah, Lebanon Daily Star, 2000/05/10

This distinction, echoed by other terrorist organizations, I have come to believe is absolutely fundamental. My own personal, humble, proviso is that this love of life is the essense and most durable strength of human existence. Eschatology in any ideology has always implied simply resigning to one's impotence to create. And if we have nothing of worth or beauty to contribute to this world, what claim do we have to be entrusted with the after?

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, terror became no longer an abstract concept endured somewhere in the remote Middle East. It is not even accurate to say that Islam declared war on the Free World, as the evidence that we were under attack long predated that one act of supreme terror: airline hijackings and Lockerbie, kidnapping of professors in Lebanon, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the massacre of German tourists in Egypt, to name a few examples.

Rather than focus on any specific instance, I thought it fruitful to investigate the context in which terror has been most prolific. Whether or not one agrees that Israel has a right to exist, there can be little doubt that its people have suffered at its hand. The origin of Palestinian terror in particular (so I thought) had its root in the loss of territory by Jordan, when it joined forces with the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq to wage the 1967 Six-Day War.

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The Crisis of Islam—
Holy War and
Unholy Terror

Bernard Lewis
224pp, Modern Library

“Taking a Considerable Risk on a Theological Nicety”

Islam has become relevant in the worst possible way. Many Americans sought a rationale for ‘why they hate us’ in primary sources and found no answers there. Daniel Pipes has said more or less that reading the Qur'an is probably the worst way to learn about Islam. Similarly, to understand how the Muslim and Arab world sees the West, one needs to draw on its history, or at least, its common experience of history. The Crisis of Islam takes such a pragmatic approach.

An essential and often underappreciated aspect of Islam is its relationship between religion and state. While Christianity has a built-in separation between the two, for Muslims religion is the state. The great conquests made in Europe during the Dark Ages were a vindication of the truth of Islam itself, and for centuries it seemed as if the sky was the limit. Indeed, jihad by the ‘House of Islam’ (Muslim lands) on the ‘House of War’ (the rest of the world) is an imperative for Muslims.

But this built-in expansionism has a catch: land that becomes Muslim may never be lost, just as any person who ever accepts Islam strays from it only on penalty of death. While it was bad enough that Christianity recaptured Europe in the 16th century, the defeat of the Ottoman empire in 1918 (the last of the caliphates lasting through thirteen centuries) was an unmitigated disaster. The mere presence of foreigners on holy land is an unbearable humiliation and a constant reminder of the failure, not just of the Muslim state, but of Islam itself.

In the 20th century, the Arab world tried to regain some of its standing by playing off the European imperial powers against each other. First allying itself with Nazism and then Communism, they had a knack of betting on the wrong horse— the collapse of the Soviet Union must finally have been the last straw for many disenchanted Muslims, the culmination of an intolerable growing cognitive dissonance between the deep natural truth of Islam and its all too publically visible failure. What was going wrong?

While some Muslims realized that their only real future lay in modernization, they faced an uphill battle. The whole of Saudi Arabia has as many universities as Israel built for just the Palestinians, and that in any case churn out mainly degrees in Islamic studies. The entire Arab world has translated in its entire history as many foreign books as Spain does in one year.

Radical Islam provided a different answer— that rather than being too much steeped in religion, Allah was showing his displeasure because Muslims were just not religious enough. They embarked on a campaign to intimidate people into submission and to assassinate leaders they accused of apostasy. Then, the almost comical delusion that the mujahedeen in Afghanistan single-handedly brought down the mighty Soviet Union provided the confirmation that Allah favored them— and belief that it was similarly in their power to destroy the one remaining impediment to renewed Islamic world domination: the United States.

Interestingly, America wasn't even on most Arabs' radar screen until the late 20th century. When the radical Islamists finally looked, they were shocked by our freedom of religious, political, and sexual expression. Shocked and frightened, because America's obvious appeal to ordinary Muslim men and women presented a threat to their proposition of hyper-Islam. We represented a temptation to that vision— a Great Satan.

It's useless to point out to radical Muslims that their interpretation of Islam is not supported by the Qur'an, because the success of their actions proves to them the truth of their beliefs. It's useless to point out that the United States has no territorial ambitions when Islam itself is predicated on imperialism. It's useless to point out that Saddam Hussein caused the death of more Muslims than we ever did, because he offered a vision of renewed Muslim power. It's useless to point out that America fought to protect Muslims in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Somalia because that only makes us all the more of a temptation. It's useless to point out that we represent freedom, because to radical Islam, freedom is tantamount to apostasy.

Radical Islam offers the promise of renewed Muslim glory and a vindication of eternal truths. As long is seen to be effective it can only further radicalize Muslims. We have to prove them wrong.

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Six Days of War—
June 1967,
and the Making of
the Modern Middle East

Michael Oren
446pp, Oxford University Press

The Six-Day War

This conflict, referred to in the Arab world as simply the ‘June War’, formed in the aftermath of the 1956 Second Arab-Israeli War. For somebody with no background in the history of the region, the author does a nice job of setting up the context, so that the ensuing gripping day-by-day account of the war makes sense.

The war could only have happened because of the betrayal by the United Nations, whose peacekeeping force was stationed on the Egyptian border. When Egypt requested the peacekeepers to make way for their advance, UNEF withdrew all its forces within a lightning-quick two days so that Israel was suddenly open to surprise attack.

Because the book culls from Western, Arab, and Soviet sources it offers a very complete perspective on the events of the War. For example, we learn that the Arab forces' humiliating defeat was partially due to the belief in their own propaganda, which told only of glorious victories.

Another point of interest to me was that while the Arab nations relied on and were promised Soviet support for their offensive, the Soviets were so intimidated by the possibility of American involvement that theirs remained limited to providing Arab forces with weaponry. As it was, the main material support we offered in the conflict were the Patton tanks for the Jordanian army.

Almost anecdotally, Oren recalls an incident in which a cell headed by Yasser Arafat was foiled from launching a terror attack. The interesting thing is that this took place before the War, when the Palestinians were still ruled by Jordan.

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about the region that houses the birthplace of terror.

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Militant Islam Reaches America
Daniel Pipes
256pp, W. W. Norton

Shari'a Trumps the Constitution

Our nation, founded on the right to open and unfettered exchange of ideas from which we derive much of our greatness, still has one taboo about which it is difficult to speak openly. Not Christianity: Mapplethorpe's defamatory photography is not only tolerated but subsidized. Nor anti-Semitism: so rampant on our campuses, it is constitutionally protected. There is only one religion benefiting from so much deference and hypersensitivity that it can trigger the recall of books, cause the dismissal of teachers, and bring politicians trembling to their knees.

This repression of free speech has been long ongoing outside of our borders. An insufficiently respectful British author was rewarded with a contract on his life, and translators of his book were assassinated. Open religious discourse has quite ceased to exist in the Arab world, with intense discrimination against Christians, Jews, and Hindus.

Daniel Pipes' work reiterates things we knew but somehow got repressed from our public consciousness, and reveals much else which never made it there in the first place. Fabulously detailed and with a wealth of references, this guide clarifies the ongoing war that culminated on September 11.

Pipes makes a wonderfully clear distinction between the religion of Islam and the political ideology called Islamism. Like communism and fascism, Islamism seeks the overthrow of democratic society by individuals who feel excluded from an elite they should be part of. Islamists are typically educated middle-class young men masquerading in religion while indulging in perversely un-Islamic behavior. By Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, terrorism is caused by “money, education, and privilege.”

Recalling early successes in science, technology, and world domination, Islamists suffer from traumatic frustration ingrained over a thousand years of severe social, political, and ecomonic failure and the inability to improve. Western education only fuels the envy and heightens the sense of impotence. Little else binding them than hatred towards the West, wars between Muslim nations are in fact three times more common than those against infidel nations.

Ironically, ignorance obscures the fact that modern Islam actually borrows from Christianity. The Islamist repudiation of the importance of “who you are” for “where you are” copies the Western notions of nation-state and jurisdiction. A rather flimsy and self-contradictory Islamic theory of economics is based on Marxism and fascism. It is no surprise that Islamisation is inevitably followed by severe economic failure and political repression.

Far from suffering discrimination, Muslims have a privileged position in the United States and are thriving, ready to complain about any perceived slight, winning fantastic monetary settlements, and inducing employers to provide religious sensiti-i-i-vity training. Even Married With Children is not safe from the Muslim protests after September 11.

Middle Eastern academic studies are suffering an all-time low credibility, having been tainted with a wash of Saudi oil money that sponsors intellectually vacuous teaching and writing, farcical distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Islamism (as if the overthrow of civilzation could be good by any means), or dangerously denying there is any threat at all. Quoting one militant, “a moderate Islamist is someone who does not have the means of acting ruthlessly to seize power immediately.”

While our Government repeats the mistake of Napoleon and Mussolini of sweet-talking to curry favor with the Muslim world, American Muslim leaders are openly calling for the conversion of the United States into a caliphate. Many clerics agree that the tenets of Islam are fundamentally incompatible with our Constitution. Says one, “Muslims cannot accept the legitimacy of the secular system in the United States.” The strategy for imposing Shari'a in America includes demoralization by terror, immigration, reproduction, and conversion; the latter feeding off the culture of liberal ‘blame America first’ self-hatred that causes many to accept Islam mostly as a protest against their heritage.

Daniel Pipes has managed to write a fair and courageous book that is deeply troubling but greatly inspiring. Packing so much information and private and public policy recommendations, this could have been a much longer book, and one will want to reread it often. If Hamas believes we are in a “battle of civilizations”, we are in it for the long haul.

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American Jihad—
The Terrorists Living Among Us

Steven Emerson
261pp, Free Press

Terror is Not Invincible

In his function as a staff reporter for CNN, Steven Emerson stumbled upon frightening voices emanating from the midst of the Religion of Peace: conferences celebrating terror and promoting books on “How to Kill the Infidel”, sale of videos showing the torture by Palestinians of suspected ‘collaborators’ and terrorists boasting of their kills. And all this is taking place here, in the United States. The fruits of his investigation gradually grew into a clearinghouse of terror data, and culminated in an acclaimed PBS documentary titled “Jihad in America” that won the George Polk award.

This book is a continuation of the theme. Naturally, such blatant practice of freedom of expression could not be allowed to go unpunished, and it was not long before violence and death threats forced the author into hiding.

Some of the most grotesque institutions of terror have established themselves and operate out of America, publically proclaiming peace but perpetrating hate, destruction, and jihad in private. The groups that operate under such saccharine banners as ‘literacy groups’ or ‘youth associations’ engage in organized crime, money laundering, sham marriages, and immigration fraud. Many pro-Islamic institutions in the U.S. are actually funded directly by Saudi Arabia.

The book recalls the exasperation of federal agencies who were not permitted to investigate these groups, their hands so tied that they couldn't attend terror conferences or even examine publically available data. Individual agents were actually prosecuted for attempting to investigate them. It is a testament to the professionalism and tenacity of the FBI that it nonetheless was able to prevent many attacks, among which the Day of Terror in New York City, the attempted bombing of American airliners, and the assassination of the Pope. Some of the schemes and people mentioned in this book were highlighted in the highly recommended Frontline documentary about John O'Neill.

The terror networks are not invincible, and current events show that the tide is turning. Our investigation and prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing is awe-inspiring, but law enforcement must be permitted to be proactive. Emerson describes a Hamas leader who is also a tenured professor at the University of South Florida. Al-Arian was in fact finally arrested a few weeks ago, a full year after the publication of this book.

The web of Islamic terror spreading through mosques is far-reaching, and Emerson acknowledges that he can touch only on a small part of it in this book. What becomes clear is that the organizations of terror are interconnected, and that it is pointless to distinguish between groups who only want to kill Americans, or just Jews, or only Hindus. Islamists suffer from what Emerson calls “an extreme form of mission creep”: everyone is a target.

We relaxed our stance in the 90s in the hope that only Israel was the target of terror. We know now that Islamism has the entire free world in its sights. But if we have the will we can defeat those who would destroy civilization.

All pages under this domain © Copyright 1999-2004 by: Ben Hekster