Protecting Israel from terrorism is, at least in part, an intellectual task. Let us, therefore, now think very deliberately about terrorism. An improved understanding of “terrorist time” would have very special benefits in Jerusalem’s dealings with the “suicide bomber.” This murderous terrorist is afraid of death, so afraid in fact, that he/she is actually willing to “kill him/herself” as the means of becoming immortal. In a sense, this ironic attempt to conquer death by “dying” in a homicide is a recognizable tactic designed to unstop time (the late Kurt Vonnegut even wrote more generally about such notions in his Slaughterhouse Five.)
Truth, here, lies buried in contradiction, and Israel can now benefit substantially by disinterring an apparent oxymoron. Israel’s understanding should quickly focus upon a core Islamist terrorist idea that real time does not have a “stop”. For Israel’s time-centered terrorist enemies, who incontestably seek to soar way above the mortal limits imposed by clocks, such real time is also sacred time. Sacred time gives rise to anti-Israel terror. How, then, can an improved counter-terrorist focus for Israel be achieved, that incorporates appropriately refined concepts of sacred time?
The most obvious way to combat the Islamist suicide bomber’s deadly notion of time is to disabuse him/her of such a notion. This, in turn, would entail our prior realization that the suicide bomber sees himself/herself as a sacrificer, who in full ceremonial action seeks an escape from time. Abandoning the profane time of ordinary mortals – a chronology that is always linked to personal death, which is intolerable – the Islamist suicide bomber prepares to transport himself/herself into the exclusive and divinely-protected world of immortalized martyrs. It should hardly be a surprise that the prevailing Islamist temptation to sacrifice despised “infidels” at the purifying altar of Jihad can now so often be irresistible.
Israel and its allies must soon do something productive to actively inhibit this barbarous temptation. What, then, can Israel do immediately with its improved understanding of enemy time? Clearly, by itself, Israel’s military war against terrorist infrastructures can never offer a total solution. Rather, Israel’s prompt and corollary task must be to convince prospective suicide bombers, either directly or indirectly, that their intended “sacrifice” of “infidels” can never elevate them above the immutable limits of time. Never.
Before Israel can ever “win” its War on Terror, the Jihadist terrorists will first need to be convinced that they are not now living in profane time, and that every intended act of sacrificial killing would represent a true profanation of Islam. The great majority of Islamic clergy all over the world may already accept this salutary view, however silently. Israel’s essential struggle against terrorism in time can thus be improved only when the particular Islamist vision of time is first recognized, then suitably challenged and operationally transformed.
For Israel, there is still a remaining opportunity to transform time from a “past” source of debility to a “future” source of power. Israel’s existence is always emerging, always developing, always becoming in time. To survive well into the future, to ensure its own national self-preservation, Israel must now draw wisdom and strategic understanding from both a true understanding of “terrorist time,” and from a more self-conscious awareness of “Jewish time;” that is, from the ancient Jewish experience of time as the intangible flux of righteousness and strength. While the ancient Greeks experienced temporality as a breakdown of order, the Hebrews identified it as a source of unlimited possibility and even of messianic redemption.
In the final analysis, for modern Israel, the power of Jewish time is manifest not only through its sacralization of space, but also as the rudimentary source of memory. By recalling the historic vulnerabilities of Jewish life in the world – vulnerabilities long prior to Israel’s formal national reemergence in 1948 – and also by recalling that others will not recall, Prime Minister Olmert could still begin to take vitally needed steps back from the tortuous Road Map toward a nascent Palestinian state.
Until now, both Israel and its Arab/Islamic enemies have shared a basic understanding of felt time. Still, Israel’s enemies have seemingly understood time as an integral element of faith-based strategy; Israel however has not. To change this dangerous state of affairs “in time,” Israel’s leaders must now draw carefully upon their memories as Jews, both before and after 1948, in the Diaspora and in the Jewish State.
Taken together with the productive view that time becomes especially injurious to Israel whenever there are persistent surrenders of Israel’s space – that is, that the power of time operates relentlessly against an Israel that yields territory for false promises – such use of Jewish memory could prove invaluable. International conflict, most apparently in the contemporary Middle East, is largely a waiting game. In this game, one perhaps better understood by the playwright Samuel Beckett (Waiting For Godot) than by the scholars and diplomats, meaningful victory will ultimately favor the side that feels it can best afford to wait.
None of this is meant to suggest that “waiting” is determined by reference to clocks. Exactly the contrary is true. Here, “real” time will have far more to do with a private awareness of duration, with inner feelings, than with the allegedly objective measures of chronology. “Clocks slay time,” says William Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury, and “time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”
Copyright © The Jewish Press, April 18, 2008. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many major books and articles dealing with war, terrorism and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.