The Fourth Conjecture
Item: a letter has been delivered to the Indonesian embassy in Canberra containing anthrax-related spores. The attack is believed motivated by outrage over the sentencing to 20 years imprisonment of Australian Schapelle Corby, widely believed innocent, in Indonesia on drug charges after Bali mastermind Abu Bakar Bashir was given 30 months for murdering nearly 100 Australians. The terrorist weapon was supposed to bring America to its knees, but as terrorist methods proliferate it is increasingly being used in internecine fighting throughout the Muslim world and by non-Muslims in retaliation.
Item: a blast ripped through a Shi'te mosque in Pakistan killing 4 persons. Al Qaeda is suspected of masterminding the Pakistani attack. Item: at least 20 people were killed by a suicide bomber in an Afghan mosque, killing a cleric who was a support of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The attack is suspected to be the work of Al Qaeda. Item: twenty two people were killed as a bomb ripped through an Indonesian market. Item: "The Jerusalem district court on Monday sentenced an Israeli man to eight years in prison for membership in an underground Jewish terrorist organization believed to be behind the killing of eight Palestinian civilians over the last four years."
Steve Coll, writing in the Washington Post asked his readers to imagine a scene in the near future.
Imagine the faculty lounge in the theoretical physics, metallurgy and advanced chemistry departments of an underfunded university in Islamabad or Rabat or Riyadh or Jakarta. The year is 2015. Into the room walk a group of colleagues -- seven or eight talented scientists, some religiously devout, all increasingly angry about events abroad. At night, between sporadic electricity outages, they watch satellite television and chat in cyberspace, absorbing an increasingly radical, even murderous outlook toward the United States. By day, as they sip coffee and smoke furtively in each other's company, these scientists spontaneously form a bond, and from that bond emerges a resolve to act -- by launching a nuclear or biological attack on American soil.
'Beware Islamic wrath', he seemed to say. A true but trite observation. The Belmont Club post All for One and One For All suggested that Coll was missing an equally obvious point.
the situation will be even more dangerous than Coll suggests. Long before a faculty lounge in Islamabad or Riyadh realizes it can build a bomb alone and secretly, the same thought will have occurred to individuals in Tel Aviv, New Delhi or Palo Alto. Any Islamic group that believes it can attack New York deniably should convince itself that no similar group can nuke Mecca at the height of the pilgrim season. In fact, the whole problem that Coll describes should be generalized. The only thing worse than discovering that New York has been destroyed by persons unknown is to find that Islamabad has been vaporized by a group we've never heard of.
Any environment capable of producing terrorism on a scale which could destroy America would be sufficiently powerful to destroy Islam -- and destroy it first many times over. Any weapon that AQ Khan can make can be bought by believers and infidels alike. The theorists of asymmetrical terrorist warfare forgot that its military effectiveness depends on the very restraints that it, itself, dissolves.
Item: In 2001, two Australian scientists accidentally created a genetically modified pathogen so powerful that it raised alarms in the scientific community and caused the researchers to doubt whether they should publish the result of their findings. The Biodefense Quarterly reports:
A January report from Australian scientists documented an unexpected discovery that a genetically altered mousepox virus had a greatly heightened virulence when experimentally inoculated into mice. What implications this might have with respect to other viruses, especially the poxviruses, was of immediate concern both to the investigators themselves and to scientists around the world. ... The effect was wholly unexpected in that the modified virus killed virtually all of the mice so infected as well as half of those that had previously been immunized. The profound effect induced by the introduction of a single gene alarmed the scientists themselves who spent many months reconfirming the findings and debating whether the studies should be published. Eventually, they decided that it was best to make the findings publicly available through publication (Journal of Virology) and to encourage a wider discussion of the bioweapons threat posed by this and other observations that will inevitably arise as biotechnology progresses.
What was that about a faculty lounge in Islamabad?
One of the conclusions of the Three Conjectures was that terrorism was a universal threat; that paradoxically, it threatened Islam most of all. Even in Postscript to the Three Conjectures, written right afterwards, it was plain that the engine of unbridled force, once unleashed, would find its most bloody employment in intramural warfare between terrorist groups and the communities in which they lived. Looking back on the post now, I regret the florid style but not the thought.
It would not be the first time that the inner contradictions of a civilization, taken to their limit, have killed it. Something in the expansionist and militant hubris of 19th century Europe led the continent to the mindless mud and trenches of the Great War. The Lost Generation died by Europe's own hand. Now it is Islam coming face to face with a challenge of how to handle the true divine fire. And the real dilemma is that the power behind the light of the stars is incompatible with the framework bequeathed by Mohammed. It may be the turn of the Faithful to die by Islam's own hand unless it can listen to the word that speaks from the very heart of the flame.
And that message, surprisingly, is that we must love one another or die. J. Robert Oppenheimer thought, as he beheld the fireball of the first atomic test at Alamogordo, that he heard the Hindu god Shiva whisper "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds". He understood at that moment that mankind's moral capacity would have to expand to match its technical prowess or it would perish. If Islam desires the secret of the stars it must embrace the kuffar as its brother -- or die.