The Sage and the Sword

Jihadists see West’s tragic flaw in blinkered tolerance

by Bruce S. Thornton

Private Papers

The West’s condemnation of Israel’s accidental shelling of two Palestinian Arab houses that killed 18 people once more reveals the bizarre incoherence that addles our thinking. The jihadists for years have purposely used their own families as cover for attacks in order to create exactly what we are seeing now: Israel’s accidental killing of women and children while attempting to protect their own elicits from the West vehement condemnations that ignore the jihadists’ culpability in putting their own people at risk. Meanwhile, deliberatekilling and shelling of Israelis is met with generic condemnations of the “cycle of violence,” usually delivered with an accusatory finger pointed at Israel.

The moral principle involved isn’t hard to understand. If I shoot at your wife and child while standing behind mine, it is my fault if my wife and child are killed when you try to defend yourself. There is no moral imperative that says I must value the lives of your family more than the lives of my own. Except for Israel, apparently. Only the Jews are required year after year to sacrifice their citizens and show “restraint” as the necessary preconditions for some mythic “peaceful solution.” Meanwhile there is no evidence that this “solution” is really what the majority of Palestinian Arabs and Muslim nations want more than they want the destruction of Israel.

The failure of the West to understand this moral calculus is perfectly understood by the jihadist terrorists. Indeed, that failure is precisely why terrorism is used. The jihadists are happy to sacrifice their own people in order to produce the images of suffering eagerly devoured by the Western media, thus further eroding support for Israel. The recent war in Lebanon is just the latest example of this tactic. No matter how carefully Israel tries to calibrate its legitimate response to an enemy’s aggression, the inadvertent deaths of non-combatants — which necessarily accompany the destruction of an enemy hiding among civilians — are decried as the fruit of Israel’s callous use of “disproportionate” force. The responsibility of those who hide and fight among civilians is simply shrugged away.

In other words, the jihadists are winning the psychological war because they know well the West’s core weakness: believing only in material life as the highest good, the West finds suffering intolerable, even that of an enemy who wants to destroy us. Thus we apply utopian standards of conduct to the treatment and interrogation of callous murderers, as our own Supreme Court did when it applied the Geneva Conventions to terrorists who don’t even meet the Conventions’ own definition of combatants entitled to such protections.

Averse as we are to accepting the tragic consequences that always attend the use of force, we indulge the therapeutic illusion that all conflict can be resolved not by force but by negotiation, talk, and concessions. We can’t get it into our heads that there are people driven by spiritual imperatives that cannot be bargained or negotiated away. Only force will convince such people to abandon their aims. But force is messy, unpredictable, sometimes brutal and indiscriminate, as every war ever fought teaches us. Yet we cannot accept that tragic truth, and so put constraints on our use of force that cripples us in our fight against an enemy who recognizes no restraints whatsoever.

Indeed, every time we apologize for the inadvertent deaths that are part and parcel of armed conflict, we convince the jihadist that his estimation of us is correct: we don’t believe in what we fight for as powerfully as he believes in what he fights for. That’s why the jihadist never apologizes. Go back and see if you can find any Arab or Muslim leader or spokesman, after a murderer has blown up a dozen Israelis, who shows the kind of regret and remorse that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert demonstrated after the accidental bombing, let alone apologize.

What you get instead are generic condemnations of terrorism that make an exception of jihadist violence, since it is considered legitimate “resistance” to an “illegal occupation.” And the condemnation is frequently aimed not at terrorism per se, but at its untimely tactical use. No, the jihadists and their supporters don’t apologize because they believe they are right, and that such violence is justified in the pursuit of their divinely sanctioned aims. Our acceptance of this double standard is another sign that we are spiritually weak and so can be defeated.

Another way to see how our anxious apologies and intolerance of suffering encourages the terrorist is to consider the case of Russia. For over a century Russia and then the USSR dominated and oppressed Central Asian Muslims. The Soviets then brutalized Afghanistan in an attempt to retain control over its government, and failed only because of the support of the West for the jihadists battling the Soviet army. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the attempt by Muslims in Chechnya to gain their independence has been brutally suppressed at the cost of perhaps 50,000 dead and the near destruction of it major city Grozny.

So is Russia, its hands red with Muslim blood, the “Great Satan” of the jihadists and their state sponsor, Iran? Of course not. The United States is: a country that never colonized or ruled a Muslim nation, a country that helped Muslims in Afghanistan, a country that liberated Muslim Kuwait, a country that bombed and killed Christian Serbs to protect Balkan Muslims, a country that has spent its blood and treasure getting rid of Iran’s most bitter enemy and the Shia Muslims’ worst oppressor, Saddam Hussein, a country that even now is fighting to empower Iran’s fellow Shiites. We are the Great Satan, while the Iranian mullocracy happily does business with the Russians and seldom says a word of condemnation against them.

Why is this so? Obviously, Russia serves Iran’s interests by helping with their nuclear development and protecting its interests on the Security Council. But there’s another important reason Russia’s much more extensive crimes against Islam are given a pass: the jihadists know the Russians are not susceptible to the therapeutic blackmail used against a self-loathing West. Russia uses brutal force to promote and defend its interests and doesn’t give a damn what the rest of the world thinks. Indeed, according to the latest report on the May 2005 Beslan massacre of school children by Chechnyan terrorists, the Russians initiated the fire-fight, callously sacrificing their own citizens in order to destroy the terrorists and perhaps send a message that hostage-taking isn’t going to work.

In contrast, for decades we in the West have solicited the good will of Muslim nations, especially by acquiescing in the transformation of the prime victim of jihadist aggression, Israel, into the aggressor. We pretended a corrupt terrorist thug, Yasser Arafat, was a statesman, and gave billions to the Palestinian Authority, a glorified gang that did nothing for its people and spent our money on the weapons and explosives used to blow up Israelis. We did nothing while states like Syria and Iran hosted terrorist organizations and funded terrorist attacks, including the murder of our own citizens. And we continued to play the phony game of “talks” and “agreements,” which delivered nothing while allowing the jihadists to strengthen their positions and stockpile more weapons and missiles to use against Israel, as is currently happening in Gaza.

For all those years we failed to see that Israel is the front-line of the modern jihad against the West. In that conflict have been perfected the important tactics used by the jihadists, who know they cannot prevail militarily and so must fight a psychological war. They know that they can play on the West’s sentimental aversion to suffering, its deluded faith in rational discussion for the resolution of conflict, its fear of force and its consequences, its anxiety over the opinion of its enemy, and its instinctive self-loathing and eagerness to wear the hair-shirt of guilt — all pathologies born of the West’s spiritual poverty, its disbelief in anything other than its own material and psychological comfort. And every time we criticize Israel for doing nothing other than trying to protect its citizens against a fanatic enemy, we prove to the jihadist that he is right.

Bruce Thornton is the author of Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality,writes for The New Individualist and The Claremont Review, and currently teaches at California State University, Fresno.

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