Not why but how
“Think globally, act locally” could be taken as the slogan of any radical ideological cult, but it applies with special force to Islamist terrorism. It provides an adequate answer to the question, “Why, why, why?” now being asked in e.g. Boston local media. I had plenty to say on this, right after the surprising conclusion of this year’s Boston Marathon, but thought I should leave it until the smoke had cleared, & all the bodies had been counted.
There were not one but two forms of ignorance that Socrates was attacking in old Athens. The first is people claiming to know what they do not know. But his dialectical process was designed to uncover the complementary opposite, too: things people know but pretend they don’t. He was the original warrior against political correctness in a democracy, who paid the price for exposing the malice, the hypocrisy, & even the defeatism of the political class in his day. And yet that was not his project. Upsetting the municipal authorities, exciting the demos or mob, was merely a by-product of his quest for truth.
“Why, why, why?” is not a Socratic question. It might be too flattering to call it a rhetorical question. I cannot imagine a Sophist who wouldn’t sneer at such a confession of helplessness.
Terrorism has been adopted by political Islam (“Islamism”) because it works. It works especially well against politically correct secular humanists, & more generally a population whose moral & spiritual formation is vague. They can be counted on to miss the point of it, which puts the perpetrators at a large advantage. It is of course intended to make us fearful, to make us respond emotionally & mindlessly, to run about squealing “why why why.” From what I can see through our North American media (both mainstream & substream), the most recent hit in Boston had its intended result: the wallowing in grief & confusion, the lockdown of an entire city while the police searched for a couple of young thugs, the rivetted attention to an incident in which the number of casualties was comparatively small.
In the state of Borno at the moment, in the northeast of Nigeria near the border with Chad, hundreds of corpses are being added to the many thousands so far created by Messrs “Boko Haram” — the generic name for the Islamist operatives in that country. Western media present them as a “separatist movement,” or where factions have been detected as “separatist movements.” The Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, & Russia are five more countries with active Islamist “separatist movements,” counting only from news reports in the last week. For that matter, across Europe, Islamism is seething in hundreds of “banlieues,” & each might be presented as a “separatist movement.” In France, Sweden, & elsewhere, many of these have become “no go areas” for police & other emergency services, who will be greeted with rocks if they answer a call for help from within.
Except in some superficial & irrelevant sense, these are not separatist movements. In each case, the Islamists have thought globally, but acted locally. In each non-Western case, I might add, the number of casualties has been somewhat inflated by local resistance — for the Catholic Christian majority of the Philippines, the Theravada Buddhist majorities of Thailand, Burma, &c, are not yet in the Western “negotiation” mode.
I recall an email from an old Delhi friend a couple of mornings after 9/11, in which he expressed bewilderment at the restraint of the American people. “Where are the retaliations?” he asked. “If that had happened in India, there’d be fifty thousand Mussulmans floating down the Jumna by now.” (He was alluding to the number of Sikhs assaulted in Delhi after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by a Sikh bodyguard, in 1984.)
In at least one incident in Sri Lanka, I noticed, there were violent clashes involving Buddhist monks, simply because the word “halal” had turned up on food packaging in Colombo supermarkets. From what I can make out, the monks were the aggressors. They, too, were “thinking globally, acting locally,” in a pro-active way. As the late Samuel P. Huntington famously observed, “Islam has bloody borders,” but only where those borders are shared with people trying to resist dhimmitude or enslavement.
In the West — as also now in the East, where progressive secular consumerism has made its biggest advances — it is generally believed that resistance is futile. In Europe, I am still sometimes surprised by the fatalistic glibness with which “Islamicization” is received. Of course “they” are going to take over. They have children, & the will; the European natives have neither. The notion that “demography is destiny” has settled in minds right across the mainstream political spectrum. “Expecting to lose improves the odds of losing,” as a hockey coach once explained to me.
It is only about one thousand years since Western attitudes were much different. More precisely, it is 1,004 years since the Fatimid caliph, Hakim, began levelling Christian churches in the Holy Land, massacring Christians (& Jews), & arresting the flow of Christian pilgrims. The “Franks” (Latin Christian Europe) took their time deciding what to do, & assembling their resources. But in due course, the Crusades were their answer.
The day after 11th September, 2001, a certain George W. Bush, then president of those United States, happened to use the word “crusade” to describe his intended response to “terrorism.” He wasn’t really thinking at the time: he meant a “crusade against terrorism,” not against Islam, rather on the analogy of the “war on drugs.” He & his staff spent the next several weeks taking the word back. I have sometimes briefly entertained myself with a counter-factual: how current history would now be playing out if instead Bush had told a press conference, “I said ‘crusade’ & I meant Crusade.”
As we saw in Afghanistan, then Iraq, the United States alone had the military means to change any number of irritating Middle Eastern regimes. It could help itself to all their oil, if it wanted. Though unthinkable to us, this was thinkable to the Arabs, who kept it constantly in mind when judging how far they should go in antagonizing USA. At the height of the American “outreach” to Iraq, even so irritating a malefactor as the late Muammar Ghaddafi of Libya was politely abandoning his nuclear & chemical weapons programmes, at Washington’s request; & the ayatollahs of Iran were being downright cooperative with American efforts to eliminate the Taliban.
And then, everything went wrong. The Islamist enemy watched the Americans snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The subsequent public relations campaign, to instil “democracy,” cost USA many times what the invasions had cost, in both blood & treasure. Their final accomplishment was the “Arab Spring” — the victory of Islamists at the polls in one previously allied Muslim country after another. To this day, the West is doing what it can, in the name of “democracy,” to advance the cause of our mortal enemies against our (admittedly ugly) friends. Among other consequences, there is now a Christian exodus from lands where they had lived continuously, since centuries before the first Islamic conquests.
Distinctions could be made between “Muslims” & “Islamists,” exactly as distinctions could be made between Germans & Nazis in the 1930s. Churchill came to power in 1940 when the British had tired of making such distinctions. Not all Germans were Nazis, not all Muslims are Islamists, but then as now the trendline is discouraging. This is the big fact — the very big fact — that we in the West are trying to ignore. A generation ago, the notion that the people of, say, Egypt, or Pakistan, were eager to see the strict imposition of Shariah, would have been ridiculous. In each case only a tiny, if often violent minority were demanding this. Today, it could fairly be said that the cause commands a majority in Egypt, probably in Pakistan, & soon in Bangladesh.
What has changed?
Through terrorism, & every nuance of what the nice people in the Pentagon call “asymmetric warfare,” the Islamists have proven to the Islamic world that they are the wave of the future. They claimed that the West was rotten at the core, that it hadn’t the will to defend its own interests, that the “Great Satan” (USA) would cave when put to the test, that the Europeans had caved already, that the “Little Satan” (Israel) would get no support when it came time to exterminate the Jews. They claimed that former Christendom was utterly decadent, & the Dar al-Islam could now push it over. (None of these claims were or are made subtly, by the way.)
This is an old story. One thinks of the over-civilized Chinese, succumbing to barbarian Mongol invasions, when they had the Mongols not only vastly outnumbered but, in man-for-man technological terms, seriously “outgunned” & out-organized. One thinks of later Rome, for that matter, collapsing before the incursions of tribes which had given them no hardship for centuries. Gentle reader may consult Toynbee & many other standard sources for the full list of “asymmetric warfare” victims. The details vary with each time & place, but the background condition is unmistakeable: a civilization that has inwardly decided it no longer wishes to be preserved. The one statistical constant is perhaps a declining birthrate; or in deeper Christian terms, this is the invariable marker of a “Culture of Death.”
We have neglected the symbolism in each Islamist attack. The Boston Marathon was as appropriate as the Twin Towers, the transit platforms of Madrid & London, the pizzerias of new Jerusalem. They are hitting us where we live, in the crowd scenes of modern consumerism. Note how seldom the terrorists have selected churches; how they left the Ultra-Orthodox quarter of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem alone. It is only where they have found a committed Christian minority, in Iraq, in Egypt, & soon in Syria, that the churches get attacked to drive them all away. The Ultra-Orthodox of Israel will be comparatively safe, until Israel falls.
And think about it. Think about all Boston huddling indoors until one young immigrant Chechen psychopath was found. The enemy knows what he is doing, & he is doing it well.