Revolutionary fervor still sweeping the Middle East is plainly ongoing and perilously “contagious.” Above all, perhaps, these eruptions confirm that the so-called “Palestinian Problem” has never been more than a manipulated contrivance of corrupt Arab monarchies and dictatorships, and that Israel has had absolutely nothing to do with the region’s core problems. Indeed, to the contrary, this fervor reveals that if the Arabs had simply embraced rather than demonized Israel from the start – a fully rational and deserved embrace that would have been enthusiastically welcomed by all Israelis – the Arab states would have benefited politically, intellectually, medically, scientifically and materially.
But what is real in world politics is not always rational. As part of classical strategies of deflection and deception, Arab demonization of Israel, not symbiotic embrace, was de rigueur from the beginning. And now, ironically, in the wake of multiple revolutionary eruptions across the Arab world calling loudly for “democracy,” Islamist forces will quickly surface and expand with a renewed dedication to narrowly theological power and determinedly religious purity. The literally explosive results of this largely unexpected rededication and renewal will be felt not only in the Arab Middle East itself, but also in Israel, Europe and the United States.
In Gaza, al-Qaeda, not to be outdone by newly emergent Muslim Brotherhood elements now coalescing throughout the Hamas-controlled strip, will re-double its own commitment to “sacred” violence. For all Jihadist terrorists, violence and the sacred will remain inseparable.
Oddly, today’s headlines from the “revolutionary” Middle East are sometimes misleading, and generally incomplete. At its core, Jihadist terrorism has little to do with war, politics or resistance to oppression. Rather, the essential meanings of these recurrent excursions into barbarism can be found within personal feelings of fear, dissatisfaction, cowardice and loathing. More particularly, these include: (1) a consuming, though unrecognized, horror of death (relieved for “martyrs” by a compelling promise of immortality); (2) an unfulfilled wish for ecstasy or intense pleasure; (3) a palpable joy drawn from the targeting of those who “lack sacredness;” and, even more acutely after Mubarak, (4) an abiding hatred of all “apostates” and “infidels.”
In searching for the truest meanings of regional revolutionary fervor in the Middle East, the implications for Jihadist terrorism will never be fully discoverable in official declarations, charters and covenants. Nor will they be made understandable in less formal Islamist diatribes. Obliquely but profoundly, these deeper meanings will remain hidden in the intense sufferings inflicted by Jihadists upon their past and future victims.
In Egypt, and elsewhere in the volatile region, Jihadist terror will soon re-emerge with a “sacred” vengeance. Seeking to express Shahada, or Death For Allah, the now still-seemingly secular goals of revolutionary terror will create a convenient smokescreen for unalterably religious objectives.
Human language can never describe agony. It follows that the defiling horror of Jihadist terror-violence can never really be understood or felt by others. Expert commentaries notwithstanding, this horror can never be reduced to any tangible, measurable, inventory of casualties.
All agony is incommunicable. In matters of Jihadist terror, quantification must always miss the point.
Facing a “new Middle East,” the anguish of new terror victims will not only defile language, it will also be language defiling. The sheer inexpressibility of pain, although never determinable by politics, revolution or society, can still have expressible political, revolutionary and societal outcomes. In the case of still-coming Jihadist terrorism, it may even stand in the way of recognizing new Islamist violence as authentically evil or unacceptable. We may even encounter, in this connection, comfortingly romantic celebrations of Jihadist terrorism as the necessary “revolutionary” expression of “freedom-fighters.”
According to certain recent WikiLeaks revelations, the U.S. Department of State had routinely identified the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in precisely such neatly sanitized terms.
To adequately understand the “new Middle East,” especially the long-term consequences of multinational revolution, we will need to look far beyond the agitated but largely futile cries for “democracy.” To begin, we must understand that Jihadist terrorists are spurred on by the distinctly voluptuous and purifying satisfactions of their planned violence. Islamist suicide-bombers, in particular, prepare carefully for their cathartic missions of pain and extinction because of the anticipated ecstasy. Drawn from a presumed religious obligation, this ecstasy, which rewards doubly because it is also “cleansing,” represents an almost exact reciprocal of the unendurable suffering that must be borne by the victims.
For Jihadist suicide terrorists, both past and future, the death that is meted out to “profane” others is only an abstraction. These victims, by definition, lack sacredness. Moreover, in the unchanging Koranic concept of war, terrorizing the profane unbeliever who refuses to be dhimmi (to accept Shari’a domination) is a desired end unto itself.
Physical pain within the human body can not only destroy ordinary language, it can also bring about a visceral reversion to pre-language human sounds – that is, to those primal moans, cries and whispers that are anterior to learned speech. While the soon-to-be expanding number of victims of Jihadist terror will writhe agonizingly from the burns and the nails and the screws, neither the “civilized” world publics who bear silent witness, nor the “martyrs” themselves, will ever experience what is actually being suffered.
Physical pain, even in the “new Middle East,” can have no consequential “voice.” When, at last, it may discover some potentially decipherable sound, the listener will no longer want to listen. This audience, after all, mortal and fragile, will wish strenuously to deny its own existential vulnerabilities. Significantly, such denial, as Freud himself recognized, always lies at the very core of what it means to be human.
Violent upheavals now spreading across the Middle East contain important hidden meanings. For the most part, their principal legacy will have little to do with any sustained popular revolution, democracy, or the overthrow of earthly despotisms. Instead, it will bear upon long latent and much more primal human hopes of achieving the indisputably greatest power of all, power over death.
Drawing upon these important hidden meanings of current revolutionary fervor in the “new” Middle East and North Africa, the essence of any capable counter-terrorist policy must soon begin to lie in the following critical awareness: Jihadist violence is never rooted in any conveniently fashionable political or revolutionary ideology, but rather in remorselessly vengeful images of irresistible religious obligation.Jihadist terror, as I have written here previously, is always a distinctly sacred form of religious sacrifice. Once this elusive concept can be understood, we will finally be able to deal intelligently and purposefully with emerging hazards of the region.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on international law and international relations. He is the author of some of the earliest scholarly books and articles on nuclear war and nuclear terrorism. Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue, Dr. Beres was born in Zürich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.