How to Lose a War

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Post

Thursday’s attack in London is the latest blow struck in the war that began on Sept. 11. Its origins are easy to fathom: A minority of Muslim extremists, their numbers in the few millions, resents deeply the erosion of life in the Middle East and other Muslim areas. A globalized communications system reminds them daily how far behind a Pakistan is from India, how much better a South Korea or China is doing than Egypt, or how more humane life is in an Infidel North America or Europe than in Syria or Algeria.

Autocratic regimes, statist economies, gender apartheid, corruption, the absence of a free press — all that and more retard economic growth from the Gulf to Morocco. In response, theocratic regimes like the Taliban and the Iranian mullocracy blame the West for their own self-inflicted misery and inadequacies. But more often, clever dictators such as a Baathist Saddam, the Saudi Royal family, an Egyptian kleptocracy, or the Pakistani military regime allow Islamicists some rein, if not covert support, to deflect blame from their own failures onto the United States and the “Jews.”

A shamed Islamic street — ill-housed, ill-fed, and ill-informed — is nourished on the mythology that a purer creed and a return to the 8th century alone can reclaim past glories of the caliphate, and stop the decadent intrusion of Western consumerism and popular culture.

So when terrorists strike in London — or Bali, New York or Madrid — they operate on a variety of assumptions. Middle Eastern governments may publicly deplore their methods, but privately sigh relief that al-Qaeda agents are still not yet after their own heads. Islamicist ganglia go deep into the central nervous system of the Pakistani intelligence service, not to mention the House of Saud.

Likewise, the Muslim public in the Middle East may decry terror, but privately often gets satisfaction when Westerners too are humbled. Their schadenfreude is cultivated by the old anti-Semitism — they can always say the Jews or Israel caused 9/11 or the London bombing — as well as by a deep shame over their own attraction toward Western affluence and consumerism. So we see the eerie spectacle after a 9/11 or 7/7 of imams assuring us that “Islam does not condone such things,” even as bin Laden T-shirts and copies of Mein Kampf sell like hot-cakes on the Arab Street.

A third critical assumption is the deniability of culpability: only al Qaeda or its Mcfranchises in Europe are ever deemed responsible for something like Madrid or London. Apparently, such groups never visit the Pakistani border areas, never take a dime from Saudi princes, never travel through Syria on their way to this or that terrorist camp. And thus no terror-abetting nation ever faces any real accounting. That the attacks are periodic rather than daily, and that most of the world’s oil reserves are in the Middle East make it easier for Westerners to live with the bloodshed rather than issue real ultimatums.

Fourth, and most important, the terrorists and their supporters understand that in a strange way the West is not only split, but also increasingly illiberal as well. It has lost confidence in its old commitment to rationalism, free speech and empiricism, and now embraces the deductive near-religious doctrines of moral equivalence and utopian pacifism. Al Qaeda’s supporters will say that Thursday’s victims were killed because of Afghanistan or Iraq. Westerners will duly repeat the dull refrain that “Bush lied, thousands died” in their guilt-ridden search for something we did to cause this.

And so, rather than focus our attention on the madrassas and the mosques that preach hatred, we will strive to learn more about Islamic culture, as if our own insensitivity were the true culprit. Our grandfathers could despise Bushido — Japan’s warrior cult — without worrying whether they were being unfair to Buddhists; we of less conviction and even less courage, cannot do likewise.

In short, we now know what to expect from the London bombings and the others to follow. There will be no effort to punish the states that subsidize al Qaeda. Critics will cling to the myth that the British got what they had coming. The primary obsession of many Westerners will be to extend sensitivity to Islam, not the victims of those who kill in its name. And all will be consoled that just a few dozen were harvested this time.

What a strange way to fight a war.

©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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