Two Points of View
Two points of view on the London attacks are put forward by Michael Ledeen and the blog In a State of Flux. State of Flux analyzes the modus operandi and possible actions of the tube attackers in considerable detail. Michael Ledeen urges his readers to avoid being hypnotized by minutiae and focus on the larger picture. He argues that the fixation on Iraq and whether or not OIF has "made us safer" or "made us targets" has obscured the relevant question.
... I’m afraid that those who are doing it are looking too hard at a single event, and not hard enough at the overall situation. Policemen are being beheaded in Thailand, Christian missionaries are kidnapped in the Philippines, some of our finest fighting men are being killed in Afghanistan, and bombs are going off again in Turkey. Indeed, it would be most surprising if the terror masters were cutting back on their jihad, at a time when rising oil prices are pumping vast sums of money into their war chests. The mullahs and the Assads are rotten with cash, and a lot of it is going into the war against us. The theory that our splendid military performance in Iraq has shrunken the pool of terrorists available for operations in the West doesn’t convince me, in large part because we know from their past performances that the terrorists set up these actions years in advance. ...
Unfortunately, the overall situation remains very dicey, precisely because our focus is too narrow. By concentrating compulsively on Iraq, we are failing to take the battle to the enemy, who finds haven, money, weapons, training and intelligence in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran.
Without commenting on Michael Ledeen's proposition, it is interesting to consider why our war against terror seems critically dependent on the strategic focus of the national leadership while terrorists never seem to be in danger of giving up, even when they are divided. Hardly a week goes by now without the media reporting some clash between factions of terrorists in Iraq. But no one wonders whether whether the dispirited Jihadis will stop attacking the West as a result. On the other hand the father of an Afghan Special Forces soldier wrote privately to say:
Mr. Bin Laden did not miscalculate, not if his calculation was based on things other than the professionalism of the US combat soldier. Neither the west's elected officials nor many of its citizens may be counted on to hold when all about them is falling apart. However, the US - and for that matter Australian - combat soldier is another matter entirely. During a phone conversation this weekend, my son noted a Navy SEAL has never surrendered. It will reassure him that such is still the case.
There was, in this deeply moving private email, the unstated fear that national leadership might not keep the faith -- or as Michael Ledeen suggests -- be imprisoned by myopia -- the tyranny of the soundbite, the goad of the public fixation du jour. The Jihad after all, does not seem similarly vulnerable to the vacillations of their leadership. Even if Osama Bin Laden were arrested today or were he to convert to evangelical Christianity the Jihad would be unlikely to die down. He could not "sell out" his cause in the same sense that Spain's Prime Minister Zapatero could. The obvious difference is that Western countries are constitutionally governed. Their militaries, civilian agencies, even the bulk of their citizens follow, whether they agree or not, the lawful orders of their leaders. And if their lawful leaders said, 'lay down your arms' they would. The Islamic terrorist bomber is not similarly constrained.
Lee Harris argues in Tech Central Station that the underlying reason for Islamic extremism's implacability against the West is that it is really a "blood feud". (Hat tip: DL) By attempting to understand its primitive urges of revenge and conquest in terms of declarations of war, the Geneva conventions, deterrence, etc the West has fundamentally misled itself. Harris says:
Immediately after 9/11, the general consensus was that we were at war. And yet this evocation of the concept of war bothered me because it did not quite fit. Wars were things that Westerners did. They were fought for economic reasons or for territorial expansion; they were instruments of policy; they had a point and an objective. You knew when a war started, and you knew when it was over. ... when I wrote "Al Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology," I argued that war was not the appropriate model to employ in order to gain an understanding of the enemy that we faced ...
In the blood feud, the orientation is not to the future, as in war, but to the past. In the feud you are avenging yourself on your enemy for something that he did in the past. Al Qaeda justified the attack on New York and Washington as revenge against the USA for having defiled the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia by its military presence during the First Gulf War. In the attack on London, the English were being punished for their involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the blood feud, unlike war, you have no interest in bringing your enemy to his knees. You are not looking for your enemy to surrender to you; you are simply interested in killing some of his people in revenge for past injuries, real or imaginary -- nor does it matter in the least whether the people you kill today were the ones guilty of the past injuries that you claim to be avenging. In a blood feud, every member of the enemy tribe is a perfectly valid target for revenge. What is important is that some of their guys must be killed -- not necessarily anyone of any standing in their community. Just kill someone on the other side, and you have done what the logic of the blood feud commands you to do.
In the blood feud there is no concept of decisive victory because there is no desire to end the blood feud. Rather the blood feud functions as a permanent "ethical" institution -- it is the way of life for those who participate in it; it is how they keep score and how they maintain their own rights and privileges. You don't feud to win, you feud to keep your enemy from winning -- and that is why the anthropologist of the Bedouin feud, Emrys Peters, has written the disturbing words: The feud is eternal.
"The feud is eternal." Hence, the Jihad, unlike the war waged by the West, can never be surrendered. Only the West can surrender. But blogs like In a State of Flux, though guilty of Ledeen's indictment of narrowness, are an important indicator that the feud is becoming symmetrical. Western citizens are still focused on the 'larger issues' but personal loss and anger are making the war less abstract. They want to find particular people who attacked them on specific occasions for the purpose of visiting upon them individual punishment. For many, the war is no longer business, it's personal.
One route to victory, the ugly route, is to match the entropy within Islamic societies with a corresponding entropy within the West. The rising resentment against Islamic immigrants in Europe and the growing willingness in the West to see Islam and even Muslims as the enemy, are all early signs of the transformation of war into a corresponding blood feud. One of the constant themes of the Belmont Club is how this development is undesirable because it will, at the limit, result in the destruction of Islamic society and make us all murderers. The alternative route chosen by President Bush, but only half-heartedly pursued by mainstream politicians, is to decrease entropy within the Islamic world by making those countries functional, modern and free so that the "blood feud" concept becomes as anachronistic in Riyadh as it is in Cleveland. Thomas Friedman argued in the New York Times that a Muslim problem needed a Muslim solution:
the greatest restraint on human behavior is never a policeman or a border guard. The greatest restraint on human behavior is what a culture and a religion deem shameful. It is what the village and its religious and political elders say is wrong or not allowed. ... The Muslim village has been derelict in condemning the madness of jihadist attacks. When Salman Rushdie wrote a controversial novel involving the prophet Muhammad, he was sentenced to death by the leader of Iran. To this day - to this day - no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden. ... The double-decker buses of London and the subways of Paris, as well as the covered markets of Riyadh, Bali and Cairo, will never be secure as long as the Muslim village and elders do not take on, delegitimize, condemn and isolate the extremists in their midst.
He forgot to add that this Muslim problem did not have a Muslim solution unless it were given to them. But if the last four years of combat shows anything, it is that it is possible for the Muslim world to rise above the "blood feud". CNN describes how Afghan villagers sheltered a Navy SEAL who managed to evade the Taliban.
Afghan villagers sheltered a U.S. Navy SEAL wounded in a battle last month with the Taliban until they could get word to American forces to rescue him, a military official said Monday. ... Military officials said a rocket exploded near the surviving SEAL, knocking him off his feet and down a mountainside in steep terrain. He then managed to stay out of sight of the insurgents, officials said. The commando suffered multiple leg wounds but was able to walk about two miles (three or four kilometers) through the mountains to get away, according to a U.S. military official, who insisted on anonymity.
An Afghan villager found the SEAL and hid him in his village, the official said. According to military accounts, Taliban fighters came to the village and demanded the American be turned over, but villagers refused. The SEAL wrote a note verifying his identity and location, and a villager carried it to U.S. forces, the official said. The note indicated to U.S. troops that they wouldn't be entering into a trap. The commando was rescued July 3.
One wonders whether the Western Left would have risked as much to protect the SEAL as these Muslims in a dirt poor mountain village in Afghanistan. Those who would not would probably refuse on the grounds that 'we have no right to turn Muslims in Gunga Dins'; no right to reduce the entropy in Islamic society; no right to alter the ethnographic museum that they find so quaint, so attractive and so anti-imperialist. Until then, the bombs will explode in London and the blood feud will grow like a serpent's egg in our bosoms.