June 27, 2007 (Revised August 15, 2007)
Here it is, my third and final letter (you can praise God or Allah or just your lucky stars, if you like) on The War on Terror. It has been more than two years since my first “Defining the enemy...” letter, and I can’t imagine any reason why I would want to send you a fourth. As I indicated in the beginning, if I had discovered a fount of wisdom combined with a brilliant action plan, I would never have bothered with my own feeble attempt at self-enlightenment. You’re welcome to pick this apart, but with facts, not just opinions, if you would.
All the best, of course,
Defining the enemy - Part three
What do we do now?
As I discussed in Defining the enemy - Part Two, the terrorists have already lost. The current crop of terrorists are a greater danger to other Muslims than they are to the infidels around them. Recent events suggest that almost anyone can become a terrorist these days, regardless of qualifications or ability; an internet connection and ample supply of unfocused hatred seem to be the main requirements. Even so, I am reluctant to declare the War on Terror over. There is no shortage of disaffected Muslims who wish to tear down western societies, and no coherent effort to neutralize them. Complacency takes root far too easily in our society, and if disdain and neglect become our only responses to the terrorists of tomorrow, we can expect a renewed attack on whatever it is that’s holding modern western societies together.
The enemy is now who?
It is important to remember that the War on Terror is only one chapter of a world-wide clash of cultures, a war being fought over more fundamental issues than establishing beachheads for democracy or the need for oil. The culture of Desperate Housewives, Harry Potter and the iPod is not the only game in the global village. There is another global culture that touches about a billion people, some of whom live in the United States of America. It has Islam as its religion, it is growing, and it can’t peacefully co-exist with other cultures. It is fixated on the past, intolerant, regimented, violent and fearful. Its aim is to destroy any other culture that encroaches on it; its strategy is to install copies of itself wherever possible. If you enjoy living in a modern, secular western society based on Judeo-Christian traditions, you should be worried. The terrorists who blew up the World Trade Center, Bali nightclubs, Spanish trains and the London Tube want to have nothing to do with your “enlightened” way of life, and quite frankly, they are working harder at defending their culture than you are at defending yours.
To keep things clear, I’m going to give the other side a label, Islamic Reactionaries. As I pointed out in Defining the Enemy, Part One, Islamic societies are just as diverse as western societies and undergoing tremendous change. Change produces reactionaries, and it is the reactionaries in Islamic societies who hate those of us who live in western societies. The enemy is not the Prophet Mohammed or Arab societies. The enemy is those in Islamic societies who react to change by attacking anything that displaces their place in the world, however wretched and miserable their place may be.
Please don’t stop reading because I’m sounding like a prophet of doom. Secular Americanized culture is extremely attractive and successful; it is the Islamic Reactionaries who face the uphill battle. However, failing to recognize the nature of the threat, and giving up the fight without even trying is going to overcome any advantages western societies have held. Terrorism is not an ideology or a way of life; it is simply a means to an end. The desired end is the destruction of the threatening culture of the West; terrorism is the best means to achieve that if you don’t have the advantages of military power, a successful economic system, or the freedom to pursue self-gratification without guilt. It is foolish to expect Islamic Reactionaries to not use terrorism; it is really the only weapon available to them.
The next step is...
The enemy is no longer in some far away land; you can’t send troops to a foreign country to deal with the “natives” and expect to insulate the homeland from terror. Islamic Reactionaries are not just in the Persian Gulf or Pakistan, they also live in places like Detroit, Toronto, London, Paris and Hamburg. The only approach that will work in fighting terrorists is to fight them in their home, whether that home is in Quetta or Leeds. I’m not an expert in warfare or policing, but I am sure both soldiers and law enforcement agents are necessary in order to have any success.
I can think of four simple tactics to neutralize Islamic Reactionaries. Compared to how the War on Terror has been conducted so far, my tactics shouldn’t require the sacrifice of thousands of our soldiers, or the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, but they do require patience and perseverance from everyone. And patience and perseverance among the general population is a rare and precious thing right now.
The first step:
Minimize collateral damage. There are a multitude of ways to differentiate traditional warfare from warfare against terrorists, but a key difference is how you handle collateral damage. In classic warfare, collateral damage depletes the ability of your opponent to fight back; when fighting terrorists, collateral damage produces undesirable consequences that backfire on the side inflicting the damage. If you have terrorists living in the house down the street, you can’t send cruise missiles to obliterate the block. Even if the block we obliterate is in Baghdad, we might wipe out a family with relatives in Los Angeles. The War On Terror needs to be conducted door to door, and only legitimate targets should be attacked. Whether the attacking is done by Marines or policemen, with guns or handcuffs, in Iraq or in Illinois, the same principle applies. Some collateral damage is inevitable, but the repercussions can be ameliorated by showing patience in getting the bad guys, and making amends to those who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time (or their next of kin, as circumstances require).
President Bush showed restraint and patience immediately after the September 11th attacks, and it paid off handsomely when American troops finally went to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, things unravelled a bit when large numbers of “enemy combatants” were sent to Guantanamo Bay. It would have been far easier to justify the quasi-legitimate incarceration of only a small number of really bad actors. The danger from most of the angry, misguided young men who were swept up in battle in Afghanistan had already diminished when Al Qaeda and Taliban training camps were abandoned. Sending most of the prisoners home early in 2002 wasn’t going to permit the Taliban to re-take Kabul. Every prisoner cooped up in Guantanamo for months on end has a family somewhere, that now hates the US even more than before. In the long run, that’s an undesirable consequence.
If you want to generate recruits for terrorism, just kill an innocent family member or throw the family breadwinner in prison for too long. As soon as a functioning family unit is broken up, the climate improves for our terrorist enemies. Even if it is the terrorists who are doing the actual killing and imprisoning, disrupted families are still more likely to support terrorism. That may seem counterintuitive, but people invariably do whatever is necessary for survival, and if your government or your family can’t protect you from terrorism, there is a high probability you’ll attach yourself to the terrorists.
The second step:
Support immigrant families. Family units are much stronger than governments, schools or churches. No other institution in the history of mankind has been more effective in motivating individuals to sacrifice themselves for a greater good. Family members will shortchange themselves on basic needs like food, clothing and security for the benefit of other family members. It is much rarer to see someone voluntarily making the same effort to support government officials. You might argue that peer pressure will also prompt people to subjugate themselves to the greater institutional good, but peer pressure is most effective when family influences are restricted or absent altogether. One’s self-esteem is more dependent on family support than recognition and support from outside the family.
I had mentioned in an earlier letter that terrorists are motivated by a sense of deprivation, a sense of having your material well-being, personal security or self-esteem taken away from you. A family that can safely go about raising children, earning money and looking after elderly parents, would be crazy to support terrorism, simply because the disruption caused by terrorists will wreck everything the family has worked for. On the other hand, a community of guest workers without spouses and grandparents living with them, who face limited job prospects and discrimination, won’t have the same aversion to terrorists operating in their midst.
Imported terrorists like the September 11th suicide bombers still have to spend time “in-country”, and all terrorists need a supportive environment to operate in, which makes them quite vulnerable on our turf. Even when police can’t speak the language or plant informants, the authorities have tremendous leverage in getting cooperation from immigrant communities. No one is forced to emigrate from Algeria to France, Pakistan to England or Egypt to America; even if the budding Islamic terrorist is native born, chances are pretty good that some of his family members were not, and they have no interest in permanently returning to the land of their birth. Deporting entire families needs to be selective, and as fair as possible, but using family members to keep angry young men from straying too far from the mainstream is going to be more effective than electronic surveillance. Before I am assassinated by civil libertarians, let me remind you that the United States is not the only country that suspended civil liberties to some degree after September 11th, 2001, and every new terrorist attack makes further suspension of liberties more likely. Taking away one civil right now could prevent the loss of several rights later.
I said that the War on Terror is part of a cultural war, between fat, liberal and complacent western culture and Islamic Reactionaries. Successful immigrant families talking to their relatives in their country of origin will do more to defuse the Reactionaries than putting a soldier on every street corner. The soldiers may still be necessary to prevent the Reactionaries from destroying their own nest, but I’ll get to that later. A system of justice that protects the innocent and ensures freedom to follow your own conscience in spiritual matters, and a political system that affords the opportunity to be rewarded for hard work without favouritism; these are all things that can make western society look very attractive. To successfully fight Islamic Reactionaries, western societies need to be open to immigrants who are willing to work hard and establish a stable home in their new country; and surgically remove those who aren’t.
The third step:
Support a secular, democratic state of Israel. The current President of Iran has called Israel “the shame of Islam.” Israel “shames” Islamic societies by thriving while those surrounding it deteriorate. Compared to any of the Arab countries surrounding it, Israel has been more successful in military, economic and political terms for nearly sixty years. To make it worse, four Arab-Israeli wars, constant harassment by terrorists, and relentless diplomatic pressure from the outside world hasn’t changed that situation.
For Islamic Reactionaries, Israel is the jeering face of western culture. Islamic Reactionaries are incredibly frustrated that all the advantages of oil wealth, larger population, inspiring Palestinian and Lebanese struggles for freedom (terrorism to you and me), and political machinations in multi-lateral institutions like the United Nations haven’t resulted in the demise of the Israeli state. To explain Israeli success and their own failures, Islamic Reactionaries blame the United States for supporting Israel. However, abandoning Israel to its neighbors is not going to keep terrorists out of our own back yard. Driving the Jews out of Palestine is only going to inspire confidence for new attacks against the United States and any other western nation perceived to be weak by Islamic Reactionaries. That's what terrorism is all about, gradually weakening your enemy, and any appeasement towards those who support terrorism is a sign of weakness.
Israel is the front line of defense for those of us living in secular western societies, and we should do what we can to keep Israel a shining example of why our culture is superior. The flip side of that argument is that if we don’t support Israel, Israelis will do whatever is necessary for survival, and that may result in a much less democratic nation that resembles the dysfunctional nations surrounding it. The last thing the world needs is for Israel to be controlled by religious zealots, who have no qualms about committing atrocities. Unlike our Iranian friends, Israel already has the capacity to detonate nuclear weapons.
The fourth step:
Interventionist Humanitarianism. In other words, put our soldiers at risk to protect the weak from being massacred, and to protect legitimate governments. Everyone can think of at least twenty reasons why this isn't working in Iraq, but the horror show there only points out how deadly conflicts within the Islamic world are. The glaring inadequacies of the American occupation of Iraq also provide an abundance of information on the wrong ways to intervene in Middle Eastern conflicts. The disintegration of Iraq into brutal civil warfare does not prove that western nations should never get involved outside their own borders, and it would be a mistake if the US and other western countries swear off military intervention altogether..
Terrorists are much stronger if they have a safe haven to operate from. Al Qaeda used Sudan and then Afghanistan as safe havens, places where bin Laden could operate without worrying about his personal security, and where new recruits could be trained without interruption. Unfortunately for the host country, terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah bring instability and economic ruin with them. It all comes back to depriving people of their material well-being and personal security, and a country that provides economic opportunities for most of its citizens, with a functioning judicial system and a democratic government is not going to provide a hospitable home base for terrorists.
It seems axiomatic that supporting, not supplanting, locally derived institutions will be most successful in providing what societies need to sustain themselves. In the beginning, I said that terrorists are motivated by a sense of deprivation. If local institutions can provide for the material well-being, security and honor of most citizens, then the motivation for terrorism shrivels up until all that is left is a bitter remnant. On the other hand, eliminating local institutions and replacing them with unpopular western proxies has the opposite effect.
The success rate for western interventions aimed at protecting commercial interests, or to prop up friendly dictators is pretty low, but that shouldn’t prevent western nations from jumping in with soldiers to prevent or clean up man-made humanitarian disasters. There are lots of nasty people who are quite happy to slaughter their fellow citizens in order to advance themselves. If we can help out by putting away miscreants that are too powerful for the local citizenry to handle, and provide ongoing security so local institutions can be built up, then we should intervene. If we don’t intervene, we allow the global village to destabilize, and that has repercussions in our own home towns.
There are three stages to building a stable and successful society, and they apply to all societies, regardless of religion, education or ethnicity. The first stage is to develop the economic means to provide for the material well-being of citizens. The second stage is to provide the security necessary to protect those economic activities. The third stage is to motivate citizens to keep improving their society, by building a collective sense of honor (and duty.) Without a functioning economy, there is no security, and if society can’t provide security for its citizens, there is no reason for citizens to support institutions like elected parliaments, legal systems and financial markets.
That’s it. You aren’t going to hear anything else from me regarding the War on Terror.