Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Fighting an Ideology - Not Terror

Islamic State spiritual head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
How does one kill an idea? The obvious answer - you can’t. Ideas remain forever. An idea cannot be destroyed.  And yet that is exactly the problem in today’s world of terrorism.

Once again this morning we were ‘treated’ to yet another horrific mass murder in France. This time it was against a French satirical newspaper with the strange name of Charlie Hebdo. 12 people were murdered by masked Islamic terrorists – all of whom escaped. The reason?  The prophet Mohamed was satirized in their publication. Many times.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it is either wise or useful to disparage the icons of other religions. It is foolish and stupid. There is no gain. It is morally reprehensible to trash the religious icons of another religion. This does not mean we capitulate to the dictates of Islamic terrorists demands to not do so at the pain of death. But at the same time both ethics and prudence dictate that we ought not do it.

That said, there is no moral justification for murdering someone that insults a religious icon. That should be obvious to anyone with any sense of right and wrong. But Islamists have a different sense of right and wrong when it comes  to Islam. Although the vast majority of Muslims do not subscribe to the kind of response these terrorists had, they certainly have the same degree of worship for their prophet Mohamed. Any insult to him or the Koran is seen as a terrible crime that apparently Islam believes is a capital offense. Islamists are the ones that will act on it. As they did here.

The problem for the civilized world is how to deal with this growing threat. One may remember that there were several terrorist attacks over the course of 2014. All of them related to a type of Islamist ideology which sees forcing the entire world to be subject to Islamic law - by any means necessary towards achieving their goal. Including mass murder, suicides, public beheadings, and terror of all sorts. Including against their own innocent people.
When one believes God is their guide, nothing can stand in their way. Not even their own death. Death in service to God is perhaps their highest calling. So any threat of dire physical consequences (including torture and death) by even the most powerful nation on earth is seen by them as a blessing when carried out - to be given great reward in the world to come by a God pleased by their dedication to Him.

Whether we realize it or not, this is what the civilized world is fighting. We are not fighting a war with terrorist groups that will surrender against great odds. We are not fighting a people that values living over dying and thus would surrender under fire. We are fighting people that prefers dying for their Utopian Islamist cause rather than surrendering and living.

I am sometimes amazed at the fact that so many experts do not understand this simple fact. Invariably when many of them are interviewed about how to fight these people they speak of things like beefing up security measures at airports, or getting better intelligence. Or focusing on the latest terrorist group. As if to say if we destroy them and their leadership, it will somehow lessen the terror. And if we destroy enough of these terrorist groups it will stop. Well, this has been going on since the events of 9/11 and the attacks have only increased.  From Al Qaida to ISIS; Islamic Jihad to Hamas; Hezbollah to Boco Haram… they are all still around. And new ones keep popping up.

Focusing on terror or on any particular terrorist group is the wrong way to go about it, in my view. Not that these security and tactical measures shouldn’t be taken. Of course they should. And more. But that should not be the focus. The focus should be the ideology. Not its exponents.

When it is a religious ideology that motives you to the point of dying for it, then you are no longer subject to earthly consequences. Earthly consequences don’t really matter to you. God is your guide. Not man. And if man ends up killing you, all the better because it grants you the eternal reward you have been seeking all along. Dying for the cause assures that.

This is unlike another murderous ideology that ran rampant in early to mid 20th century Europe. There it was about racial superiority and ridding mankind of ‘defective’ races and ‘defective’ people. That ideology was not motivated by an eternal reward. Its adherents did not want to die for a lost cause. So a successful war against them led to surrender. Even Japan whose Kamikaze pilots were willing to commit suicide for their emperor, Hirohito, realized that annihilating their nation with nuclear weapons would not serve their goal and surrendered when 2 of their great cities were destroyed by nuclear bombs

Germany - and shortly thereafter Japan - surrendered to the allies in 1945. This will never happen with Islamist extremists.

So how do we fight them? I’m not sure. I am merely pointing out the unprecedented difficulty with fighting them now. And the fact that this seems lost on many of today’s world leaders. If there is going to be any progress on this front, it has to be recognized that it is an idea that is the source of all Islamic terror. There ought to be as much energy expended on fighting that as there is on fighting specific Islamist targets.

All of them are motivated by the same ideal. The difference is only in the extent to which they will go to achieve that ideal. Islamic State (IS) and all the rest are just soldiers to the same ideal. Even if the civilized world were successful in annihilating IS, there will be new terrorist groups popping up to take their place. 

So destroying IS is about as useful as was destroying Osama Bin Laden. It solves nothing. These groups recruit their ‘soldiers’ towards serving their ideal, not their organization. They tell them to commit terrorist acts by themselves wherever and wherever they can. They do not need to belong to their group or any other group. It is the idea they use to motivate.

This is how we get a mass murderer like Nidal Malik Hasan a Muslim army psychiatrist at Fort Hood who on one fine day in November of 2009 decided to shoot and killed 13 people and injure 30. He was not a member of a group. He was a ‘member’ of an ideology.  As were the Tzarnaev brothers - who on their own - bombed the Boston Marathon in April of 2013. They too were motivated by an idea.

This is what I would like to hear experts talking about in the future. Focusing on the terrorist group of the day  as though destroying this or that one will solve anything - is a complete waste of time.