The roots of 9/11 lie deeply embedded in civilizational hostility – in its distinctly partial – but nonetheless – primal Islamic hatred for western modernity. This fixed and growing hatred extends to other major religions, especially Judaism, but also to certain elements of Christianity. And although it is true that the greatest portion of Muslims rejects terror violence as a means of fulfilling presumed Islamic expectations, the remaining portion is not statistically insignificant. This group numbers (at least) in the tens-of-millions.
Several million Muslims who accept the current Jihad are fully prepared to enter “paradise” at a moment’s notice by becoming “martyrs.” This means that the current “war on terror” should not be based upon traditional military operations or on the corollary eradication of extremists. Rather, it must be founded upon the undiluted understanding that, for the most part, Islamic terror is plainly the most visible and dangerous expression of an entire civilization in desperation and regression.
To be effective, the war on terror must now confront a far-reaching Islamic effort to usher in a new Dark Ages, a determinedly titanic struggle in which resurgent medievalism seeks to bring fear, paralysis and death to legions of “infidels” and “unbelievers.” Moreover, in the next several years, the preferred terrorism tactic in this distinctly unholy war is likely to involve chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The stakes are now extremely high, and the western imperative to achieve victory is now overwhelming.
Our truest war, therefore, is not against Osama Bin Laden or Hassan Nasrallah or even the particular Islamic states that nurture and encourage their generally unhidden programs for mass murder. Even if Bin Laden and Nasrallah and every other identifiably major terrorist were apprehended and prosecuted in authoritative courts of justice, millions of others in the Islamic world would not cease their impassioned destruction of “those whose blood lack sanctity” – that is, of all non-Muslims. Naturally these millions, like the zealots who destroyed the World Trade Center, attacked the Pentagon, and more recently sent thousands of razor-filled bombs to Israeli schools and hospitals from Lebanon, would never intend to do evil. On the contrary, they would choose to mete out death and injury to innocents as an expression of faith. Sanctified killers, these millions would gleefully generate an incessant search for more “godless” victims. Though mired in blood, their search would always be tranquil and self-assured, born of the endlessly reinforced knowledge that their “God-fearing vicars” were neither evil nor infamous, but heroic and “sacrificial.”
Let us be clear. For those millions engaged in an Islamic war against the West, violence and the sacred are always inseparable. To understand the rationale and operation of previous and still-planned terrorism, it is first necessary to understand these conceptions of the sacred. Then, and only then, will it become clear, that Islamic terror is, at its heart, a grotesque manifestation of religious worship known in cultural anthropology as “sacrifice.”
This is the truest meaning of Islamic terrorism, and the root meaning of 9/11. It is a form of sacred violence oriented toward the sacrifice of both enemies and “martyrs.” It is through the ritualistic killing of Americans, Jews and certain others – including Christians – that the “holy warrior” embarked upon Jihad, can buy himself free from the penalty of dying. It is only through such murder, and not through diplomacy, that “allah’s will” may be done.
Ironically, the suicide-bomber fears death much more keenly than do normal human beings. It is precisely because of this acute fear that he or she is willing to commit “suicide.” The apparent paradox is easy to understand, as the planned suicide/homicide is merely a small annoyance. After all, it is only a momentary inconvenience on the explosive path to eternal life.
When we have finally understood that terrorism is only a tactic, and that it is a method related to certain religious patterns of Islamic sacrifice, will we then be able to confront our uniquely lethal enemy. Soon-to-be armed with weapons of mass destruction, quite likely through the “good offices” of the expressly genocidal president of Iran, Islamic terrorists may shortly have within their capabilities the unprecedented capacity to kill hundreds of thousands or even millions of men, women and children. Until now, the fusion of terror with religious sacrifice is an understanding that has lent itself to insubstantial theorizing. Now, however, it is time for greater sophistication. Now, it is time that Islamic terrorism is recognized, at least in part, as a bloody and sacred act of mediation between millions of death-worshipping believers and their deity.
America is now routinely characterized as a malignancy in the Islamic world. An article, several weeks ago in an Egyptian newspaper, spoke of “the cancer, the malignant wound, in the body of Arabism, for which there is no cure but eradication.” Such references are far more than a vile metaphor. They are profoundly theological descriptions of a despised enemy that must be excised; that is, “liquidated.” Where this “liquidation” would be accomplished by self-sacrifice, possibly even terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction, it would be life-affirming for the killers. Naturally, some Islamic governments and movements would deny such end-of-the-world thinking, but it operates nonetheless.
What is to be done? The truth of the terrorist threat to the United States and the West is vastly more serious than is commonly understood. We face suicidal mass killings with unconventional weapons in the future, not because there exists a small and identifiable number of pathological terrorist murderers, but because we are embroiled – albeit unwittingly – in an authentic clash of civilizations. While we all wish it weren’t so, wringing our hands will get us nowhere. Our only hope is to acknowledge the true religious source of our now existential danger – the spreading roots of September 11 – and proceed to fight the real war from there.
Copyright, The Jewish Press, October 6, 2006. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is author of many books and articles dealing with terrorism and war. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.