Faced with staggering and largely unprecedented geopolitical threats, President Obama already understands the limits of military action against terrorism. At the same time, it is unlikely that he also fully appreciates the stark and absolutely determinative role of religion and ritual in shaping America’s principal terrorist adversaries. It is imperative, therefore, that the president begin to understand that all Arab/Islamic terrorism, including Palestinian terrorism, is authentically driven by deeply theological notions of sacrifice.
Today, even after Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, Mr. Obama favors a fictional “Two-State Solution.” Still planning to proceed with the so-called Road Map, a twisted cartography initially encouraged by his immediate predecessor, the president effectively intends to give aid and comfort to those very Palestinian terrorists who would celebrate our national downfall. In this connection, Mr. Obama should learn, there is no meaningful difference between Fatah and Hamas, although the latter, in Gaza, has already established ominous and explicit collaborative ties with al-Qaeda.
In public, to be sure, Fatah leader and Palestinian “president” Mahmoud Abbas has conveniently abandoned the plain language of Jihad. This is understandable, because neither the Americans nor the Israelis could maintain any usable pretext for aiding Fatah if Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) were more candid. In private, of course, Abbas remains altogether beholden to those who commit to the murder of “infidels.” He simply has no other choice.
Although Palestinian “suicide bombing” terrorism can sometimes prove purposeful in political, strategic and tactical terms (to wit, former Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s “disengagement” from Gaza), its true rationale lies elsewhere. It is, above all, a primal example of blood sacrifice, a sacred ritual designed to enlist divine assistance inan obligatory Jihad. Expressed in the slaughter of innocents, Palestinian suicide bombing is never really about land or rights or justice or peace or self-determination. Rather, for the pious murderer and his many celebrants, it is an attempt to elicit both public adulation and personal immortality. These are not inconsiderable incentives.
Significantly, the Jihadist terrorist’s “martyrdom” is not really posthumous. He regards his fiery death here on earth as only a momentary inconvenience. For him (and now, sometimes also for her), such discomfort is a tiny price to pay for perpetual hero worship and also life everlasting. This should not be difficult for President Obama to acknowledge, so long as he resists projecting our own western notions of rationality upon the Jihadist.
In the unceasing war between Israel and Arab/Islamic terror, Palestinian hatred of Jews is deep and far-reaching. But if the religiously despised Jew did not exist, the terrorists would have to invent him. For them, the explosive sacrifice of Jewish men, women and children in buses, playgrounds, ice-cream parlors and nursery schools offers not “merely” the promise of eternal life. It also serves to protect the Palestinian community from its own violence.
When Jews are murdered by suicide-bombers – whether by Hamas’ “military wing” or by Fatah’s Al Aqsa “martyr’s brigade,” it makes no real difference – elements of dissension within the Palestinian community are drawn conveniently to the sacrificial victims. Such terrorism thus serves the enormously compelling interests of social solidarity. Mr. Obama should recall that as soon as Fatah and Hamas began to slow their attacks against Israelis, they started to slaughter each other.
In human sacrifice, an ancient practice that has not yet “died,” the victims are expected to bear some basic resemblance to the killers. Still, this resemblance must never be carried too far, lest it diminish the sacrificer’s murderous ardor. This evokes a paradox. The Fatah or Hamas terrorists must acknowledge that their intended Jewish victims are also human, but just barely.
In Euripides’ Medea, the substitution of one sacrificial victim for another is dense with meaning. Because the true object of Medea’s hatred – her faithless husband Jason – is out of reach, she substitutes her own children. Moreover, Medea prepares the death of her children exactly like a priest preparing for sacrifice. And Medea’s sacrifice reveals the following overriding truth, one that should be at the very top of the list for an American president still wrongly convinced that Fatah will act differently than Hamas: Violence will accumulate until it overflows its confines and floods the surrounding areas. The role of sacrificial suicide-bombing terror is nothing less than to stem this rising tide and to redirect murderous fear into “proper” channels.
For all Palestinian terrorists, sacrificial violence against Israel must have two distinct categories of victims. One category is the “vile, infidel Jew.” The other is the “glorious martyr” who kills the despised Jew (it is always the “Jew,” never the Israeli) and who earns eternal glory by “dying for the sake of Allah.” This “martyr” need not fear personal death in sacrificing himself as a suicide. On the contrary, by choosing to “die” in this way he buys himself free from the horror of mortality: “Do not consider those who are slain in the cause of Allah, as dead,” says the Koran. “They are living by their Lord.”
“Strive for death, and you will receive life,” believes both the Fatah and Hamas terrorist. Each ritualistic killer presumes a very basic human sameness, but both also emphasize a vital Islamic difference from Jews. The Jews, they allege, fear death above all. This is an unfounded and ironic allegation, as the main rationale of the “suicidal” Palestinian terrorist is always to avoid death. For this “martyr,” what is uppermost is to obtain a “seat in Paradise,” and to be saved “from the torture of the grave.”
In practice, American and Israeli officials who would understand Arab/Islamic terror as a form of sacrificial religious worship might now seek ways to disabuse intended “martyrs” of their particular search for immortality. But this strategy would lie far beyond the scope of operational possibility. Palestinian terror-violence takes shelter in religion, but, reciprocally, religion also allows Fatah/Hamas terrorists to combine ecstatic bloodletting with internal harmony.
As America and Israel continue to mistakenly project their own Western, rational model of geopolitics upon Palestinian terrorist thinking, celebrated “martyr” Samy Rahim’s words spoke truthfully about the nature of both the Fatah and Hamas enemy: “Every day on which the sun rises and no Jew is killed, nor any martyr has died, will be a day for which we will be punished by Allah.” This punishment will arise because both obligatory aspects of sacrificial terror will have been neglected: The sacrifice of the Jew and the sacrifice of the “martyr.” The two-sided nature of terror/human sacrifice is also codified in the Charter of Hamas: “…the Palestinian problem is a religious one, to be dealt with on this premise….”I swear by that who holds in His Hands the Soul of Muhammad! I indeed wish to go to war for the sake of Allah! I will assault and kill, assault and kill, assault and kill.”
Before open civil war erupted between Fatah and Hamas, the jointly appointed clergy, preaching on the Temple Mount, sermonized: “Palestinians spearhead Allah’s war against the Jews. The dead shall not rise until the Palestinians shall kill all the Jews…. All agreements with Israel are provisional.”
This Palestinian terrorist view still favors only a Final Solution (not a Two-State Solution) for Israel. It is a view shared by Fatah and Hamas. Aiding and arming the former in order to destroy the latter misses the key point. Only when Washington and Jerusalem begin to see that their clearly common enemy is rooted in the Islamist-based linkage of terrorism to human sacrifice can they finally embrace a real progress. For U.S. President Barack Obama, there can be absolutely no more immediately important recognition.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on Israeli security matters, terrorism and international law He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.