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What's in the banner?
Thursday, August 08, 2002
This is a powerful essay.
It is insightful, original, and best of all, agrees with me. According to the author, Lee Harris, the 9/11 attacks were not perpetrated to achieve any sort of political goal. Appeasement is no use because there is nothing (short, he says, of mass conversion to Islam) which will appease Al Qaeda. They don't want us to do anything, because we are irrelevant. We are only a prop in their production of religious theater, in which men whose hearts are pure strike at God's enemies. Even vanquishing the enemy is secondary to the point; the primary goal is simply to strike.
After 9/11, as we all know, a lot of people were trying to discover the "root causes" of the attacks. I resisted this at first, not giving a damn what they were, only what the response would be. But after a while I calmed down and figured "know thine enemy" is always good advice. So I tried to figure out exactly what response the perpetrators had envisioned.
We would give in to their demands.This was a bit problematic, since they hadn't made any demands. They hadn't claimed credit, and aside from some vague posturing about Chechens and Palestinians and the "tragedy of Andalusia", they didn't seem to have any ultimatums.
We would attack them in Afghanistan, get drawn into a Vietnam-style quagmire, and finally retire in humiliation. This seemed a likely option to me at the time. But I couldn't see how it would have helped Al Qaeda and their supposed goals. Our humiliation would be sweet to them, but in the meantime many of them, and many other Muslims, would be killed. I don't see how that benefitted anyone, unless it led eventually to...
We would nuke them. In those first days I feared this would be the response, sooner or later. Mostly I feared that Russia and China would believe we'd gone mad (and may have been correct), would respond in kind, and this would put a distinct crimp in civilization as we know it. Even if not, it would leave a pile of dead innocents on our collective souls for decades, maybe centuries. And radiation is bad for the lungs.
But I couldn't see how this would help Al Qaeda either. Amongst all the dead Americans, Europeans, Russians, and Chinese, there would be heaps and heaps of dead Arabs/Muslims. They'd get it first, and worst. What was this going to buy them?
The only thing I could figure out was that Al Qaeda was part of some sort of millenial death cult. The whole purpose of the September 11 attacks was to touch off the final apocalyptic war between the West and Islam. Every one---even Muslims---would be killed, but what does that matter? Who is dead who lives forever in Paradise?
I can see where one could read the Book of Revelations and come up with a theological justification for this (if you are a bit screwy), but I don't know if there is anything in the Koran which could serve as the foundation for this sort of thing.
Harris's essay is depressing, in a way. At least with the "root causes" theory there's something constructive you can do---end poverty, improve literacy, introduce democracy. Even most of the savage bloodthirsty warbloggers are for these things, once the preliminary ass-kicking is out of the way. But according to Harris this won't help, because the people who are the brains behind Al Qaeda (both large and small) tend to be well-educated, relatively wealthy men who have some small degree of influence in their cultures. There is nothing along those lines that we can do for them.
Harris argues there are things we can do to them---we can kill them. I concur, but it's going to be difficult to get the fanatics, without killing a large number of innocents. A fellow named Peter, writing on Charles Johnson's comments page, thinks that the number of Muslims willing to die for this "cause" is very large, and that we
This is what I fear as well.
Via Charles Johnson