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The More Things Change… On Fighting A Terrorist Enemy Who Still ‘Loves Death’


Notwithstanding all of the alleged “progress” in combating Islamist terrorism, our leaders have yet to really understand the core Jihadist rallying cry. “We love death,” the murderers shout ecstatically – and they always shout in chorus, for terrorism is a collective activity – but we seem to think this apparent necrophilia is merely perverse, that operationally it is beside the point. No judgment could be further from the truth. In fact, correctly interpreting this openly lurid affection is ultimately the key to fashioning a genuinely effective strategy of counter-terrorism.

For us – for Americans, Israelis, and many Europeans and Canadians – “suicide” bombers pose the greatest threat. But why should we put “suicide” in quotation marks? The answer lies in a manifold irony.

Terrorist “lovers of death” never commit suicide in the expectation of an authentic death. Rather, as they believe that purposeful acts of “martyrdom” will actually assure them a blissful immortality, their “suicides” mock any pretense of heroism. Jihadists always commit their “suicides” to assure eternal life. Islamist “suicides,” therefore, represent not only barbarism, but also cowardice.

The Islamist terrorist “lover of death” fears much more than a true biological expiration here on earth. Paradoxically, he also abhors the idea of continuing with his materialized life on this mundane planet. Often, apart from its central function to prepare the “martyr” for the next life, this terrestrial existence is deeply disdained and conspicuously loathed. For the “suicide” terrorist -almost always, and included among a number of other interrelated complaints – this life prohibits, inhibits and castigates the most compelling needs of his inborn human sexuality.

Current Islamist terrorism is never really about politics. Exploiting both meaning and Eros, Muslim terrorist masterminds successfully prod young Islamic males to “sacrifice” themselves through the killing of “infidels” or other enemies of the faith. Curiously, the important link between Islamist terror violence and repressed male sexuality still remains widely unrecognized. Regarding female suicide bombers, even less is understood.

Contrary to all conventional wisdom, especially as it is constructed in the universities, anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Western Islamist terror has fundamentally nothing to do with material deprivation or ideological issues. Terror violence is now only rarely produced by anger about some foreign policy issue or other grievance. What genuinely animates Islamist “suicide” terror is the tangibly thrilling promise of personal salvation through sacred acts of killing. It is this particular redemptive promise that routinely blocks the way to American and Western success in counter-terrorism at home and abroad. From a military standpoint, this promise represents an incomparable offer that can never be countered with bombs, bullets or boots on the ground.

The “suicide” murders of American and other men, women and children on 9/11 stemmed from the very same sentiments that now continue to make casualties of American soldiers, Iraqi civilians, British subjects, assorted Europeans and Israeli noncombatants. Consider, for example, the sentiments offered by one Jamal Abdel Hamid Yussef, openly explaining operations of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades (military wing of Hamas in Gaza): “Our suicide operations are a message…that our people love death. Our goal is to die for the sake of God, and if we live we want to humiliate Jews and trample on their necks.”

By “dying” in what is presumed to be the divinely mandated act of killing apostates, infidels, Americans or Jews (it makes no difference to “suicide” terrorists that “Americans” and “Jews” are not mutually exclusive categories), the Islamist “suicide” terrorist firmly believes that he can conquer his own death. In his religiously promised paradise of eternal life, there will be rivers of honey and ample numbers of virgins. This is a terrorist’s very literal expectation; by no means, as I discovered myself several years ago in a personal interview with a failed Palestinian suicide-bomber, is it merely metaphoric.

With the “One True Faith” on their side, the Islamist terrorists we now battle in Baghdad, Gaza and elsewhere see absolutely nothing self-destructive about their willful murder of “enemies.” For them, dreadful cowards immobilized by a pervasive fear of life as well as death, “suicide” is only a momentary inconvenience on the (optimally explosive) path to heaven. Here, in psychological terms, the insufferable death fear of a terrorist ego is relieved by sacrifice of the “infidel” or “apostate.” Desperately, it is through the sacrificial burning and maiming and murder of a despised other that this frightened and frenzied Jihadist figure seeks to buy his own perpetual freedom from real death.

In Washington, in Jerusalem, in London, and in other capitals, our leaders are now left to deal with an apparent oxymoron. What shall they do about a “suicide” that does not intend to end personal life, but rather to extend it forever? For American military forces in Iraq – just as for our remaining allies fighting similar battles in Europe and Israel – there is no point to deterring a Jihadist enemy with deployments of more soldiers or with threats of crushing military power.

Such policies and postures will always fall on deaf ears. These prospects will never be received by our enemies with apprehension, but instead with a delirious cry of joy or a collective groan of fulfillment. Islamist terror is not about politics. It is all about ecstasy.

To deter the Islamist “suicide” terrorist plotting now underway in Iraq, Israel, Europe and also the United States itself, we must confront this formidable enemy with a tangible threat of real suicide. Let my Jewish Press readers recall that violence and the sacred remain altogether inseparable for the Islamist “suicide” fighter. We should think, immediately, in terms of “desacrilizing” this grotesque enemy’s explicit and unashamed inversions of holiness. Without thinking about how exactly to accomplish this desacrilization, our war on terrorists who “love death” will remain based on narrowly military grounds. In any such war we would surely fail.

Copyright©, The Jewish Press, January 18, 2008. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and publishes widely on terrorism and counter terrorism. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

About the Author: Louis René Beres, strategic and military affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is professor of Political Science at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law and is the author of ten major books in the field. In Israel, Professor Beres was chair of Project Daniel.


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