A few thoughts about this past week's terrorist massacre in Mumbai, India.
First, a heartfelt praise. A long-time friend of mine who is a pilot with Delta Airlines was in Mumbai last week, and in fact was staying at the Taj Hotel. He was away from the hotel when the terrorists attacked. He was kept in safe custody by the police and put on a plane home Friday. He lost all his things back at the hotel, but not his life. I thank God for his deliverance as I pray for the souls and the families of those who were not so fortunate.
What we witnessed this past week literally looked like a scene from a Hollywood film or TV police drama -- a small group of well-trained and well-armed terrorists, coordinating their attacks and communicating with one another via satellite phones and GPS devices, attacks a large number of targets throughout the city of Mumbai, throwing the city's emergency response services into a state of chaos. They take hostages, they torture and kill, they set off bombs and start fires. Then they converge on their main target, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, killing dozens, taking hostages and torturing them, and planting bombs in an effort to implode the hotel and kill everyone inside, including themselves. Despite the great loss of life it was in the end, as Instapundit noted, an "epic fail," with a final body count between 5% - 10% of the 5000 deaths that they originally planned.
As criminalists and police swarm the scenes of the attacks, looking for clues and attempting to assign "responsibility," we should be reminded that these attacks were not crimes. With the exception of lovers quarrels and the work of psychopathic killers, crimes are generally committed for financial gain. What these attacks represented was not a crime, but a fanatical commitment to an ideology. Mark Steyn observes:
It's missing the point to get into debates about whether this is the "Deccan Mujahideen" or the ISI or al-Qaida or Lashkar-e-Taiba. That's a reductive argument. It could be all or none of them. The ideology has been so successfully seeded around the world that nobody needs a memo from corporate HQ to act: There are so many of these subgroups and individuals that they intersect across the planet in a million different ways. It's not the Cold War, with a small network of deep sleepers being directly controlled by Moscow. There are no membership cards, only an ideology. That's what has radicalized hitherto moderate Muslim communities from Indonesia to the central Asian 'stans to Yorkshire, and co-opted what started out as more or less conventional nationalist struggles in the Caucasus and the Balkans into mere tentacles of the global jihad.
As I have written before, the ideology that drives these attacks is based on a corrupted version of Islam. Young men (and now apparently women) are exposed to elements of this ideology from birth, and when they reach a certain age they immersed in it. These young people (like all intelligent young people) know that something is wrong with the world, but instead of being encouraged to explore and learn and ask questions, they are brainwashed into the cult of radical, violent Islam. They are taught to ignore their own obvious cultural and societal shortcomings, and to instead believe that their problems are solely the result of Allah's wrath. His rage burns because His people have abandoned the teachings of the Koran, and have instead polluted themselves by accommodating the sinfulness of Western infidels and Jews. Allah must be shown that a new generation of Muslims is committed to restoring holiness to the ummah, and the only way to do this is to slaughter infidels, Jews, and apostate Muslims, so that their blood can atone for the sins of all Muslims and persuade Allah to once again bless His people.
This bloody ideology, as Mark Steyn notes, has spread throughout the world. Its adherents are linked simply by a shared body of literature and teachings. Local organizations abound, some with international links, but there is no "central command." Each group has its own leaders, but their members freely travel from one nation to another, from one group to another, keeping the movement alive and making attempts to quash it increasingly more difficult. It is this elusive aspect that gives the movement such an ethereal and spiritual quality, and allows religious leaders to characterize it as a manifestation of the will of Allah.
In many ways radical Islam resembles the Marxist idealism that spread throughout the world following the Second World War. However, that idealism almost immediately manifested itself in a series of full-scale violent revolutions, as Marxist forces overthrew governments and created Communist states. Most of those governments ended in failure; those that took decades to fail provided a hard target for Western foreign policy and military operations. Also, the appeal of Marxism varied greatly; it only attracted a substantial following in poor, post-colonial nations. In nations brutalized by Communist governments, it is extremely unlikely that Marxism will ever again become a mainstream movement. In America and other Western nations, Marxist agitators from the 1960's quietly slipped into the mainstream of society, assuming university professorships or becoming civil rights advocates. They no longer pose an existential threat, but their ideas continue to influence younger generations.
Radical Islamists, on the other hand, have been very careful to build their movement in the shadows, in the privacy of mosques and madrassahs. They have also been very careful to firmly link radical Islam with suffering at the hands of the wealthy and the powerful -- and the Jew. By continually reinforcing this critical link with Marxist thinking, they have gained the sympathy of Western journalists and academics, who have unwittingly become some of their most powerful and influential allies. This link has been established so thoroughly with respect to the Palestinian people that even the most open displays of radical Islamic bloodlust are almost universally greeted by Western journalists with heartfelt sympathy and pleas for an end to Zionist oppression.
Most radical Islamists have also been very careful not to openly or directly associate themselves with governments or nation-states. After 9/11, the two most prominent state sponsors of terrorism, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Baathists in Iraq, were wiped out by Allied military. Libya gave up its nuclear program and pledged full cooperation with the West. The Pakistanis and Saudis also decided that being linked to terrorists was a bad idea. And when Al-Qaeda forces made the tactical blunder of concentrating their numbers in Iraq, they were summarily decimated by Allied and Iraqi fighters. Of the last remaining terrorist strongholds, Somalia is a shambles and is primarily controlled by a loose confederation of belligerent tribal leaders. And Iran is a curious case, a nation governed by an extremely clever Islamic regime that has cleverly positioned itself as both a supporter of the oppressed Palestinians, and a victim of imperialist American aggression, thus avoiding condemnation from the West at large. Iran is also the only Islamist nation that has inflicted a significant defeat upon the United States military.
So what are we left with, those of us in the cross-hairs of radical Islamists? Certainly not conventional warfare. Although we learned many lessons about guerrilla warfare in Vietnam, and although we have enlisted the invaluable aid of Israelis, who have been combating radical Islamists for decades, there is no way to mount a full-scale military assault against a shadowy enemy who is fully integrated into the world's civilian populations.
We also suffer from a completely misguided urge to treat terrorism as a crime. It isn't -- as I explained above. Our overly sensitive, politically correct news media has been so besieged by people claiming to be victims of injustice that they cannot bring themselves to stop using the words "alleged" or "suspected" unless a perpetrator has been warranted, surveyed, arrested, indicted, tried, convicted, and finally denied an appeal. Terrorists know this. The tasteless exploitation perfected by "Paliwood" is sufficient proof of how easily our news media can be manipulated. Captured training manuals instruct terrorists to claim mistreatment and torture at the hands of their captors, in order to gain sympathy from the media.
Reports of the Mumbai massacre included detailed accounts of armed policemen refusing to shoot the terrorists, even when some of them had ample opportunities for clear shots. Some policemen reportedly hid, fearing for their lives. It's hard to say why this happened; certainly some situations would have provided the police with a good opportunity to neutralize the attackers, while others would not. But undoubtedly many police simply did not know when it was acceptable to use deadly force. Terrorists know this too, and they will not hesitate to take full advantage of it.
The pirates currently menacing the waters off the coast of Africa know it as well. Of course piracy is a crime, an illegal enterprise that is nothing more than glorified theft. The pirates know that we in the West abhor violence and death, and that we will pay anything or do anything to avoid bloodshed. These things simply make their ends much easier to meet.
Some nations have been forced to put aside the West's aversion to killing in order to ensure their own survival. Israel has learned the hard way that they must stop terrorists, even if they are forced to inflict casualties among the innocents that terrorists deliberately use as human shields. Naturally Israel is condemned for such actions, but Israel knows, without any doubt, that no other nation is going to actually try to stop them -- because such an effort would itself involve violence. But the flip side of such defiance is that Israel also knows that few nations -- perhaps only the United States and Great Britain -- would ever shed the blood of their own sons and daughters in order to defend them.
So it seems that we are left with two rather imperfect solutions, each involving a non-trivial margin of error. First, we should not turn our world into a police state that spies on all its inhabitants and routinely jails people on the flimsiest of suspicions or complaints. But we should understand that all civilized nations allow for the surveillance and detention of suspects for a good reason -- our own safety. When we allow collective guilt to overtake common sense, and we begin to treat criminals or suspected terrorists as victims and law enforcement officials as criminals, then we have compromised our best non-violent security system and rendered it virtually useless.
Likewise, saber-rattling, massive buildups of offensive weaponry, and routine or heavy-handed use of aggression, violence, destruction, and killing are all examples of completely unacceptable behavior. America and her allies should not be "enforcers," figuratively breaking kneecaps around the world whenever we feel threatened. But we should realize that there are some situations, like the Mumbai massacre, where the use of deadly force is not an over-reaction or a crime against humanity, but a necessary course of action that will ultimately -- in spite of its temporary pain -- save far more lives than it takes.
We cannot force an end to any ideology, so long as its proponents succeed in convincing the gullible that they are victims of surreptitious conspiracies. But we can protect ourselves from its followers.