Out In the Dark
Philip Bobbitt writing in The Spectator describes the reluctance among European and American academics to accept that the reality of a distributed terrorist threat and an insistence in seeing it through the nationalist and ideological prisms of the 20th century.
It is a popular European retort to American policy since 11 September to say that the only thing new about the attacks that day is that US citizens were the victims. ... there are quite a few commentators who, still pressing the IRA analogy they think they understand, have simply concluded that there is no al-Qa’eda. It is a myth, concocted by the government to instil fear in order to increase the power of the state.
To those who think groups like al-Qaeda are myth, Bobbitt replies that on the contrary, they are the new challenge of the 21st century: ideas with a sword.
In the 20th century, national liberation and ethnic secessionist groups used terror to gain the power exercised by nation states. ... Terrorism in the 21st century will present an entirely different face. It will be global; it will be decentralized and networked much like a multinational corporation; it will outsource many of its operations. This terrorism, of which al-Qa’eda is only the first exemplar, does not resemble or seek to become a nation state. Terrorism in its new guise has no national focus or nationalist agenda; it operates in the globalized marketplace of weapons, targets, personnel, information and media influence. Neither Europeans nor anyone else can claim familiarity with this phenomenon.
Even when the leader of the July 7 bombings in London plainly stated, in a recorded posthumous statement, why he was going to blow himself up with those he hated most, there were few who wanted to listen to the assertion of the idea. The imposition of the idea. It would involve too inconvenient a re-arrangement of mental furniture.
- Until we feel security, you will be our target. Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight.
- This is how our ethical stances are dictated. Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetrate atrocities against my people and your support of them makes you directly responsible.
- Our words have no impact upon you therefore I’m going to talk to you in a language that you understand. Our words are dead until we give them life with our blood.
- We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.
Instead they preferred to understand it through the machinery of 20th century Marxism. The West was simply being "punished" for its excesses. The answer lay in blaming the West, which Bobbitt notes, was also to blame the victim. In the self-induced confusion, relatively few have remarked how step by step, the ideas of the West were being delegitimized and those of the enemies exalted.
This critique has the most profound consequences for democracy. This is obvious with respect to Afghanistan or Iraq, where democracy is fighting for its life and where the implications of this approach — a precipitate withdrawal of Nato and Coalition forces — would abandon the nascent democratic regimes in these countries to the killers. It is less obvious, but also true, that this is the case with regard to established democracies.
It is precisely because the Madrid attacks reversed an election that terrorism succeeded. Terrorism is the extension of al-Qa’eda’s diplomacy. ... Yet the fatalistic reaction of the security sources quoted in the Sunday Telegraph isn’t quite right either. The newspaper disclosed the belief among most intelligence agencies that a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack is now inevitable. It is true that we should take little comfort in the relative modesty of the number of fatalities on 7 July. The objectives of these attacks were political and economic, and their point has been made. That should not lead us to conclude that the maximum lethality of this organisation has been reached. The means available to terrorists are unlikely to diminish in lethality and their use will be calibrated to the political objectives sought by terror networks. But neither do we have any warrant for concluding that the worst is inevitable. I am an optimist, which was once defined as ‘someone who thinks the future is uncertain’.
"Someone who thinks the future is uncertain". The future is less uncertain when the victims themselves choose it. And when society selects self-blame and surrender to the challenge of the idea with a sword, they stretch their necks beneath it and the future is foregone. The saddest part of the Bobbitt's article comes when he is forced to spell out to the reader what it is all about. When in history since Greece did the West need to be told this?
The attacks were, very simply, about democracy. They were an attempt to impose an answer on this question: will democratically elected governments be able to pursue their policies on the basis of the judgment of their institutions or can their leaders be tempted into ransoming their population when the public is hostage to violence? ... This is a modern, perhaps even post-modern, version of an ancient dilemma. The lesson was written for us long ago: Be sober. Be watchful. Our enemy prowls around us like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
We were never ignorant of lions until today. Let the sunshine, let the sunshine, the sunshine in.