Monthly Archives: March 2008

On Fitna &c

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My past few posts on Islamist terrorism, including Fitna, were provided without much editorial content. For those interested, here are my opinions:

First, Barry Cooper’s “‘Jihadists’ and War on Terrorism,” addresses a vitally important subject but one that often makes radical leftists of the Marxist variety uncomfortable. Why do some terrorists view the killing of civilians as a “moral” act? Further, why do some terrorists view suicidal martyrdom as “the highest morality”? These questions make radical leftists uncomfortable because they tend to view conflicts through a structural lens. The actions of individuals, in these accounts, are largely diminished or explained as resulting from broader factors like social class, economics, etc.

Cooper, by contrast, seeks the individual motivation for these sociopathic acts:

The term used by Voegelin, which he borrowed from Schelling, and which I used in New Political Religions, is “pneumopathological.” Literally, a pneumopathology is a spiritual sickness, in contrast to psychopathology—a psychological disorder. The difference between the two is that psychopaths cannot tell the difference between good and evil, whereas pneumopaths can tell the difference perfectly well and go out of their way to hide what they know—typically by using religious symbols and language to intoxicate themselves into oblivion with respect to what they know.

What are the implications of this analysis for the prospects of defeating Islamist totalitarianism? How do you defeat a cadre of individuals who are not motivated by an individual leader like Bin Laden but by a shared narrative or vision of reality? I haven’t had a chance to read Cooper’s New Political Religions but I plan on having a look soon. If he conducts a comparative study of various pneumopathic movements across time and space that would be especially interesting.

Cooper opines:

How the Islamist militants or salafist terrorists came to the conclusion that killing the innocent by means of suicide attacks was moral or was evidence of martyrdom is particularly surprising because the salafists take their name from the al-salf al-salihin, or “pious forefathers.” We shall see, however, that they have nothing in common with the pious forefathers or, more broadly, with what, in the absence of a Muslim orthodoxy, is often referred to as Koranic Islam.

Which brings me to Fitna. I did not post the movie due to an affinity with the political perspective of the filmmaker nor because I agreed with the message of the film. I disagree with the thesis of the film. I do not believe faithful followers of the Koran hate non-Muslims and are committed to violent jihad. I agree with many others who have written that religious edicts and quotations can be taken out of context. Nevertheless we must—all of us—address the fact that most of the terrorism in the world today exists in the Islamic world and is being committed by Muslims. The vast majority of it is being directed against Muslim people by Muslim people.

Unlike many neoconservatives who view the fight against Islamist totalitarianism as a clash of civilizations, I contend a primary element of the struggle is this internal dynamic within Islamic societies and nation-states. As Cooper writes:

Political disorder in the modern Islamic world has evoked a genuine horror at the structure of reality. From this experience arises a desire to escape reality or transform it along the lines of a second reality more congenial to the pneumopathological terrorist imagination. We in the West have encountered such forms of consciousness before in the great ideological movements of the last two centuries, and we shall no doubt see it again after the last member of al-Qaeda has been killed, or retired, or converted to peaceful Sufi mysticism.

Which brings me to John David Lewis’ “’No Substitute for Victory’ The Defeat of Islamist Totalitarianism.” Lewis compares the American response in World War II where the enemy was motivated by a religious ideology—Shintoism—that justified Japanese imperialism and aggression, to that of the contemporary war against Islamist totalitarianism. In the contemporary conflict our use of force and targets are limited whereas during World War II large-scale bombings of civilian populations were, if not common, militarily acceptable. Lewis strongly believes that these strategies are applicable today if only the American public and our politicians had the strength of will to use overwhelming force against our enemies.

As Lewis’ notes:

The Islamic Totalitarian movement has a similar fire burning at its core—an authoritarian, state-centered religion, replete with state-funded educational indoctrination, a massive suicide cult on behalf of the deity and state, and hope for a final battle over the Americans. The key to extinguishing this fire, I submit—the sine qua non required to end the spiral of indoctrination, jihad, and suicidal attacks on the West—is to do what was done against Japan: to break the political power of the state religion. State Islam—Totalitarian Islam—rule by Islamic Law—must be obliterated.

Reading Lewis’ words I can sense his anger and frustration. But a huge problem with his approach is, in many cases, we are dealing with internal struggles within states rather than wars between states. The soundness of this approach grows even more questionable when we are dealing with conflicts within allied states. Afghanistan and Iraq are the obvious examples. We are not at war with the central governments of either of these countries. What kind of support would the central governments of Iraq and Afghanistan receive if the United States—their allies—started bombing civilian populations as we did in World War Two? I think Lewis’ main policy prescription, “America, acting alone and with overwhelming force, must destroy the Iranian Islamic State now” is similarly reckless. Force must always be an option but it should be the last option.

John David Lewis: “No Substitute for Victory” The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism

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[Another dated article. This time from The Objective Standard Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter 2006-2007). Regular readers of this blog realize I am not an acolyte of Ayn Rand nor do I subscribe to objectivist ideology. However, I find the author's comparison of state-sponsored religions intriguing while disagreeing with many of his conclusions. More later...]

Author’s note: This article was adapted from a lecture I presented at the Ayn Rand Institute’s OCON conference “The Jihad Against the West,” in Boston, MA, on October 21, 2006.

The Greek historian Thucydides, writing about the calamitous war that had destroyed his own world, made an important observation about the causes of historical events: Even though circumstances may change, human nature remains the same; and certain human elements—especially moral and psychological factors—are at the root of all wars. We can disagree with Thucydides about the identity of those factors, and reject his pessimistic view of human nature, but we will benefit from accepting his challenge to rise above particular circumstances and focus on the principles of human action that are common to all time. Differences in technology, politics, or economics will always remain secondary to the ideas that motivate aggressors to launch bloody attacks and that empower—or restrain—defenders opposing those attacks.

In that spirit, let us begin by considering an event of cataclysmic proportions, a deadly attack against Americans, and then examine two possible responses to it. This approach will show us that the crisis we face today—a series of highly motivated attacks against the heart of civilization—is not unique, can be understood, and can be ended—if we choose to understand and end it.

The attack under consideration kills thousands of Americans. Foreign governments, well known to us, have sponsored such attacks for years in their pursuit of a continental-scale totalitarian empire. The fire motivating the slaughter is a militaristic, religious-political ideology that values war as a demonstration of loyalty to a deity, demands obedience to its spokesmen, and imposes its edicts over millions of people. Thousands of individuals, indoctrinated as youths, are eager to engage in suicide attacks, and many more are willing to die through acquiescence and submission, should the state so demand. The enemy soldier is highly motivated, thoroughly brainwashed, and willing to die for his god and his cause. The enemy’s children and soldiers memorize words such as these:

The battlefield is where our army displays its true character, conquering whenever it attacks, winning whenever it engages in combat, in order to spread our deity’s reign far and wide, so that the enemy may look up in awe to his august virtues.1

They accept, as moral imperatives, ideas such as these:

[F]ight and slay the unbelievers wherever you find them, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war; but if they repent, and practice our way, then accept them. . . . You shall fight back against those who do not believe in God, nor in the Last Day, nor do they prohibit what God and His messenger have prohibited, nor do they abide by the religion of truth.2

Millions of people embrace such injunctions as unquestioned commandments. Their suicidal attacks continue for years.

How should Americans respond to this attack? Under the pressures of a deadly emergency, American leaders must make important decisions, and the American people must decide whether they will support those decisions. Let us consider and evaluate two options, and ask which we should use.

[read it all here]

1 Senjinkun, or the Japanese Field Service Code, substituting “our deity” for “the Emperor.” In John Dower, Embracing Defeat (New York: Norton, 1999), p. 277.

2 Koran 9.5, 29.

Geert Wilders’ Fitna

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Fitna, the controversial video on Islamist terrorism by Dutch politician Geert Wilders was removed from Liveleak.com due to “threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill-informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly lead to the harm of some of our staff, LiveLeak.com has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.”

It is still available on YouTube.

Stuart Appelbaum: American Labor Can Help Right Anti-Israel Left

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[H/t to JLC. This opinion piece by Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Jewish Labor Committee and of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, dated March 27, 2008, is in the Friday, March 28 issue of The FORWARD.]

For more than two years, Israelis living in Sderot and other towns near Gaza have been the target of choice for Hamas terrorists. Launching its arsenal of Qassam rockets from residential neighborhoods and even schoolyards, they have as much as dared Israel to fight back. Now it has.

Predictably, much of the world is expressing its dismay — and those of us who call ourselves progressives are fuming that much of it is coming from our counterparts on the left overseas. However, it’s not enough for us to be indignant. Absent the involvement of the American labor movement, any effort to build worldwide support on the left for the Jewish state will be extraordinary difficult.

To grasp the enormity of the challenge facing Israel’s friends on the left, one need only look at the Socialist International’s condemnation last month of “the excessive use of force by Israel in Gaza.” The umbrella body of social democratic, socialist and labor parties went on to point out that it has “consistently denounced the attacks against Israel coming from Gaza as well as the incursions into Gaza by Israel, for both serve only to worsen the cycles of violence that in the end harm innocent people the most.”

Of course, those who have even a passing familiarity with Hamas understand that their raison d’etre is the creation of a chain of violence and retribution. Suggesting that Israel and Hamas are both to blame for the bloodshed in Gaza is akin to saying that the would-be victim who fights off a mugger bears equal responsibility for the violence as the assailant.

Statements like the Socialist International’s, however, are salutary compared to some of the venom generated by the left abroad.

For example, Australia’s Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Maritime Union of Australia joined forces recently to condemn a parliamentary resolution congratulating Israel on its 60 years of statehood. Their words speak for themselves: “We, as informed and concerned Australians, choose to disassociate ourselves from a celebration of the triumph of racism and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since the al-Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948.”

Why do voices that so often cry out for social justice serve up these kinds of diatribes against Israel? Why do they hold Israel to standards that no other nation in the world would ever be expected to meet? And why do so many of them claim that, in the final analysis, Israel is responsible for everything Hamas does or will do?

It is the triumph of instinct over intellect, and one can only conclude that, at least in part, what we are increasingly witnessing on the left overseas is antisemitism cloaked under the veil of anti-Zionism.

Why, then, has this worldview remained so marginal among American progressives? After all, no serious contender for this year’s Democratic presidential nomination has offered anything less than total support for Israel.

The answer may be found in the labor movement.

[read it all here]

Barry Cooper: “Jihadists” and the War on Terrorism

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An old edition of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s Intercollegiate Review arrived in my mailbox this morning. The article, “’Jihadists’ and the War on Terrorism,” by political scientist Barry Cooper immediately caught my eye (PDF available here). Professor Cooper teaches courses in political theory and Canadian politics, political thought and public policy at the University of Calgary. I don’t agree with all of Cooper’s findings, for example, the notion that Hamas and Hezbollah are pursuing traditional “national liberation objectives” as opposed to the transnational goals of Al Queda. As Efraim Karsh and others have argued, all three organizations envision a reestablishment of the caliphate. That criticism aside, the article explores some interesting psychological motivations (“pneumopathology”) for terrorism.

Here is an excerpt:

On September 10, 2005, a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail described a document produced by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). This document expressed the opinion that “individuals who have attended terrorist training camps or who have independently opted for radical Islam must be considered threats to Canadian public safety for the indefinite future.”

The story goes on to indicate the central problem: these people believe “it is actually moral to commit acts of violence to fulfill one’s religious obligation and the highest morality is that of a martyr.” In his book about a nineteen-year-old Canadian, Mohammed Mansour Jabarah (Sammy to his friends), Stewart Bell noted: “For a terrorist to confess is not to admit to sins: it is the opposite, to say proudly before God that he is not only a believer but one who has acted on his faith.”2 Sammy had been arrested in Oman in March, 2002, and eventually was returned to Canada. Before that, he had trained at the Al Farooq camp near Kandahar where a senior Canadian diplomat was recently killed. Sammy had also pledged bayat, personal allegiance, to Osama bin Laden in the summer of 2001.

Kandahar is, today, the theatre of operations for the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, on its second deployment to Afghanistan. Previously, the Patricias had fought alongside the U.S. 101st Airborne and the 10th Mountain divisions in Operation Anaconda. Canada’s special operations unit, Joint Task Force Two, has also been deployed in Afghanistan pretty much continuously since December 2001.

Parochialism alone does not dictate beginning this essay with reference to Canadian sources and actions—though it is probably fair to say that most Canadians, like most Americans, are unaware of what the Canadian military has done in support of the United States. Rather, it is to draw attention to the most significant practical feature of the story of Sammy Jabarah and the problem to which the CSIS report and Stewart Bell direct our attention. Specifically, some terrorists are of the opinion that acts of violence against civilians are “moral” and that martyrdom, even including the suicide of the alleged martyr, is “the highest morality.” Both of these matters carry implications that extend far beyond the borders of North America.

[read it all here]

McCain’s Religious Advisors, Just as Questionable as Obama’s

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[Many, including myself, have been critical of Senator Obama’s affiliation with Rev. Wright. Here is a long excerpt from Michael Weiss’ (Snarksmith) post on Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s religious advisors. They sound just as nutty as Rev. Wright. Read more at But I am a Liberal!]

Daniel Koffler has done an admirable job of highlighting John McCain’s embrace of Rev. John Hagee, a man who blames anti-Semitism on the Jews’ “disobedience” from their “covenantal responsibility to serve only the one true God;” who supports Israel because it’s Jesus’ heralded return depot; who calls Roman Catholicism “a false cult system” (I admit I’m rather in sympathy with him here) but also the “great whore” (if only); and who cites homosexuality as the inspiration of the flood that wiped out New Orleans. (Buggery used to cause earthquakes, so this leads me to suspect the gay community is a veritable Captain Planet of elemental disaster.)

…McCain’s new “spiritual guide” is another chiliastic sociopath called Rev. Rod Parsley, whose name reminds me both of a Price Is Right announcer and a foil for Bertie Wooster.

Here is what the good reverend says in his book Silent No More, itself titled like a memoir that might have been written by one of the fey wizards of Hurricane Katrina:

The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion [Islam] destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore.

In point of fact, the American navy, whose history McCain is well versed in, was created to destroy Islamic slavery in the Barbary Coast, whereas the parturition of the country resulted from a famous quarrel with a fellow member of “Christendom.”

[read it all here]