Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The West’s Multi-Headed Monster

Placing Zarqawi’s death in perspective

by Raymond Ibrahim

Private Papers

Immediately after the announcement of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s death — Osama bin Laden’s “prince of al-Qaeda in Iraq” — almost every major politician, including President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, and Iraq’s new Prime Minister Maliki gave some sort of victory speech, some highly triumphant, others more cautious.

But how effective, really, is the death of al-Zarqawi?  Will it have any tangible affects on the “War on Terror”?  Has al-Qaeda received a mortal blow, as some have asserted?  In short, will the assassination of an Islamist leader yield anything greater than satisfaction at seeing justice served?

History provides an answer to these questions.

Consider the progress of the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and oldest Islamic fundamentalist organization today, once joined by a fourteen-year-old Aymin al-Zawahri, al-Qaeda’s number two man.  Founded in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna in 1928, it originally boasted only six members.  In the following decades, in part thanks to the radical writings of one of its premiere ideologues, Sayyid Qutb — whom al-Qaeda liberally quotes — the Brotherhood, though constantly clashing with Egypt’s government, grew steadily.

Both leaders, Banna and Qutb, were eventually targeted and killed by Egypt’s secular government — the former assassinated, the latter executed.  Far from dying out, however, the Brotherhood continued to thrive underground for many more decades.  Then, to the world’s surprise, the partially-banned constantly-harassed Brotherhood managed to win 88 out of 454 seats in Egypt’s 2005 parliamentary elections — making them the largest opposition bloc in the government.

After two of its most prominent leaders were killed, after thousands of its members have been harassed, jailed, and sometimes tortured, today the Brotherhood is stronger, more influential, and securer than at any other time in its turbulent history.

Palestine’s Hamas, itself an offshoot of the Brotherhood, is another case in point.  Founded in 1987 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas has since been labeled a terrorist organization by several nations, including the U.S., most notably for its many suicide-operations against Israel.  Due to Yassin’s figurehead status of Hamas, the Israeli government targeted him for assassination: on March 22 2004, while the quadriplegic Yassin was being wheeled out of a mosque after morning prayers, an Israeli helicopter launched two hellfire missiles that hit and killed him instantly.

The result?  Far from waning or demoralizing, Hamas, like the Brotherhood before them and also to international consternation, went on to win in a landslide the January 2006 Palestinian elections, officially representing the Palestinian people.

Then there is the Ayatollah Khomeini, the original poster-boy of radical Islam.  Overthrowing a secular government and coming to power in Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979, Khomeini transformed Iran into a theocratic state — precisely what al-Qaeda yearns to see happen for the rest of the Islamic world.  For one decade he was the West’s bane, from instigating the American hostage crisis, to issuing a fatwa condemning a novelist to death, to taunting the U.S., for which he coined the term “the Great Satan.”

Today, nearly 20 years after the death of the Iranian cleric, not much has changed in Iran. Sharia law still governs; Sharia endorsed enmity towards the West still thrives.  In fact, the only real difference is that the Islamic theocracy’s aspiration for nuclear armaments is nearly realized.

There are countless other examples from both past and present history in which popular Islamist leaders were either killed or died naturally, and the only thing that changed is that their movement grew and consolidated.

Indeed, the prophet Muhammad himself was harassed, attacked, and targeted for killing, and today, 1400 years after his death, the movement he started claims over one billion adherents.

Aymin al-Zawahri summarized this phenomenon well.  Asked in a recent interview about the status of bin Laden and the Taliban’s one-eyed Mullah Omar, he confidently replied:

Jihad in the path of Allah is greater than any individual or organization. It is a struggle between Truth and Falsehood, until Allah Almighty inherits the earth and those who live in it.  Mullah Muhammad Omar and Sheikh Osama bin Laden — may Allah protect them from all evil — are merely two soldiers of Islam in the journey of Jihad, while the struggle between Truth and Falsehood transcends time.

According to this statement, which itself is grounded in the Koran, Islamic militants are not the cause of the war. They are but a symptom of a much greater cause: the “struggle between Truth [Islam] and Falsehood [non-Islam] that transcends time.”  The problem, then, is not men like Khomeini, Banna, Qutb, and Yassin — nor is it even al-Qaeda or its recently slain member Zarqawi — killing them off is only treating the symptom not curing the malady.  The root cause is the violent and fascist ideology that motivates them.

Unfortunately, this ideology is grounded in religion and God, replete with eternal damnations and rewards, and thus not easily discredited.  None of the aforementioned men initiated the many commands that create strife between Muslims and non-Muslims; they only upheld them.  Immutable verses from the Koran, as well as countless statements and examples by the prophet Muhammad, are what initiate this animosity:

“When the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them — seize them, besiege them, and make ready to ambush them” [9:5]

“When you encounter infidels, strike off their heads” [Koran 47:4].

“I [Muhammad] have been made victorious through terror” [Bukhari B52N220].

No “radical” Muslim — including head-chopping Zarqawi — made up these verses and others like them.  They are understood to be the everlasting words of God and His prophet.

The West’s plight vis-à-vis radical Islam is therefore akin to Hercules’ epic encounter with the multi-headed Hydra-monster.  Every time the mythical strongman lopped off one of the monster’s heads, two new ones grew in its place.  To slay the beast once and for all, Hercules learned to cauterize the stumps with fire, thereby preventing any more heads from sprouting out.

Similarly while the West continues to lop off monster heads like figurehead Zarqawi, it is imperative to treat the malady — radical Islam — in order to ultimately prevail.  Victory can only come when the violent ideologies of radical Islam are cauterized with fire.

But alas, the Hydra-monster is myth, while radical Islam is stark reality.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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