Terra incognita: Jihadist Islamism: Our generation’s challenge

9/11 was not the first Islamist terror attack of its kind.

An Islamic jihad terrorist (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Islamic jihad terrorist
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For many of us, growing up in the shadow of September 11 has been initially a shocking experience and then a slow acclimatization to callous acceptance of mass murder and terrorism. Bali-Beslan-Mumbai- Kano-Peshawar, the list of mass killings of civilians at the hands of various jihadist-Islamist groups grows by the year. Since 2001 they have been getting more frequent and horrific. They span the globe. It is our generation and the next generation’s challenge to wrestle with and defeat this evil that stalks us all.
9/11 was not the first Islamist terror attack of its kind. Charles Allen’s excellent 2007 book God’s Terrorists traced the history of the Wahhabi cult from Saudi Arabia to India, Pakistan and back again beginning in the 18th century. But all of those who get bogged down in the details of Hassan al-Banna or Cherif Gousmi and their “contributions” to the Islamist death cult miss the forest for the trees. Jihadist Islamism is a forest, and the trees are named al-Qaida, al Nusra, Boko Haram, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), Taliban, al-Shabab, Abu Sayyaf, Jema’ah Islamiya and many others. It didn’t begin in 2001, it was boiling under the surface in Algeria, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Pakistan, China, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philipines, Somalia and many other places for years. But after 9/11 a distinctive shift took place.
As much as commentators and politicians want to convince us of the theory that these groups have “goals” and ideology and there is “dialogue” and “diplomacy,” people must disabuse themselves of these theories. The only reason these groups get away with massacring a whole school of children, or bombing bars and nightclubs, and then saying they want to “negotiate” is because they instinctively sense the weakness of character, spirit and heart of those that oppose them. They also know, particularly in the West, that the ideology of “diplomacy” or “moderation” is palatable to a normative worldview that no longer believes in good and evil. But if the groups doing the killing were any organization besides a jihadist one, there would be no negotiations.
Were there negotiations with the KKK? It is estimated to have killed 3,446 African-Americans over an 86-year period. According to The Guardian more than 5,000 people – read that again, 5,000 human beings – were killed in November 2014 by Islamic State, Boko Haram and other jihadist organizations. If the US government never considered “negotiating with the moderate elements of the KKK,” why consider it with Boko Haram and al-Shabab? As a boy, I learned about George Washington and Mao Tse-Tung. Ok, so my family probably wasn’t normal: my mother was a history-buff and my father an eclectic intellectual with a wealth of knowledge. But between them I received a solid grounding in what might be considered an enlightened and progressive worldview. Later I felt as versed in the views of John Locke and Ayn Rand as I did in those of Karl Marx. But whatever one reads, whether it is about the excesses and brutal murders of the French Revolution, or the ideals and contradictions of the American Revolution; whether it is the hypocrisy with which the Soviets dismantled civil liberties and the naïve tomfoolery of those like John Reed who embraced their brutish system; there is an expectation of progress.
Those iconoclastic voices like Christopher Hitchens, Orianna Fallaci or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Phyllis Chesler or Eric Zemmour who tore up the sacred cows and asked how the world became turned upside town after 2001 challenge us to ask a fundamental question.
The question is this: How is it possible that the campaigns and struggle for rights that one takes for granted in the 19th century, for women’s rights, workers’ rights, equal rights, against slavery, against the power of the church, for freedom of conscience and worship and speech, all of it has been called into question in the 21st century? That modern states like Pakistan have blasphemy laws that carry death sentences is monstrous.
Yet we tolerate and accept it with some mealymouthed excuse about “culture.” It isn’t Pakistani culture any more than it is British culture to have convicted Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing for “indecency,” which meant homosexual relations in the parlance of the time. The Pakistan of its founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah was supposed to have been a modern state.
However, since 1948 it has been marching backwards, as if it were a sovereign version of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It was born modern and slowly becomes more immodern over time. Consider the fact that in 1826 Cayetano Ripoll became the last person executed by the Spanish Inquisition. It took less than 200 years to see it come back, in a slightly different form, in Syria and other places.
We have been convinced to be less shocked by Islamist- jihadist mass murder by a tame and complacent – even complicit – mass media. The attacks in Peshawar, Pakistan, in which the principal of the school was killed and burned in front of her students, 133 of whom were then executed by the Taliban, were called “militant attacks” by The New York Times. The same thing happened in the attack on the central mosque in Kano: “Militants struck the central mosque in one of Nigeria’s biggest cities,” was the headline. It was “Nigeria unrest.” But it isn’t “unrest” to go into a mosque and gun down civilians at prayer, it’s murder. When Timothy Mcveigh blew up the Oklahom Federal building in 1997 killing 168 it wasn’t “Oklahoma unrest.” So why are the lives of 120 Nigerians worth less? The word “militant” comes from Old French and Latin and means “one engaged in warfare” or “serving as a soldier.” When you line up children, as the Taliban did in Peshawar, or go room to room as was done at Westgate in Kenya, or Mumbai, and execute people cowering in fear, is that “serving as a soldier”? If a soldier were to commit such acts during a war they would be called war crimes. Eric Priebke, the German Hauptsturmfuhrer who rounded up 335 Italian civilians in 1944 and executed them in “retaliation” for partisan attacks on a German unit, was convicted of war crimes. Yes, it is a war crime to kill civilians; it is not a “militant” action. The SS guards at Auschwitz were not “militants.” The KKK were not “militants.”
Politicians routinely fear to speak loudly about jihadist- Islamist violence. They are gun-shy due to the misuse of the “War on Terror” launched by president George W. Bush. So they have let the world down in dealing with this evil. Denmark gives returning jihadists trips to the gym as part of a “rehibailitation” program, according to a recent account. They get to go to a university and study engineering. These are war criminals, not people deserving of a ticket to the gym.
In the build-up to the Second World War the Oxford Union infamously passed a motion that students would refuse to “die for king and country.” One pacifist intoned: “Someone born on the day the last Great War ended is just old enough to die in the next one.” That generation was saying no to war. As we know now, war was forced upon them.
Our generation sits where the Oxford Union sat.
Prevarication, political correctness and moral relativism are today’s guiding words. Weak in the face of the enemy, our minds are shackled and our souls numbed due to a mass culture that says, “Don’t get too outraged by the killings in Pakistan,” and “don’t be too annoyed about Boko Haram.” But this is the great challenge. It isn’t the same as the Nazi and Communist challenges of the past. There were more people killed at Auschwitz in a day than jihadists are killing in a month. The 20th century was an era of mass killing; ours is an era of death by a thousand cuts.
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