The Waiting Game
Do we really need further convincing of the threat we face?
By Victor Davis Hanson
Hezbollah’s black-clad legions goose-step and stiff-arm salute in parade, apparently eager to convey both the zeal and militarism of their religious fascism. Meanwhile, consider Hezbollah’s “spiritual” head, Hassan Nasrallah — the current celebrity of an unhinged Western media that tried to reinvent the man’s own self-confessed defeat as a victory. Long before he hid in the Iranian embassy Nasrallah was on record boasting: “The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win because they love life and we love death.”
Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad trumps that Hitlerian nihilism by reassuring the poor, maltreated Germans that there was no real Holocaust. Perhaps he is concerned that greater credit might still go to Hitler for Round One than to the mullahs for their hoped-for Round Two, in which the promise is to “wipe” Israel off the map.
The only surprise about the edition of Hitler’s Mein Kampf that has become a best seller in Middle Eastern bookstores is its emboldened title translated as “Jihadi” — as in “My Jihad” — confirming in ironic fashion the “moderate” Islamic claim that Jihad just means “struggle,” as in an “inner struggle” — as in a Kampf perhaps.
Meanwhile, we in the West who worry about all this are told to fret instead about being “Islamophobes.” Indeed, a debate rages over the very use of “Islamic fascism” to describe the creed of terrorist killers — as if those authoritarians who call for a return of the ancient caliphate, who wish to impose 7th-century sharia law, promise death to the Western “crusader” and “Jew,” and long to retreat into a mythical alternate universe of religious purity and harsh discipline, untainted by a “decadent” liberal West, are not fascists. It is almost as if Alfred Rosenberg has returned in a kaffiyeh to explain why Jews really are apes and pigs, and why we must recapture the spirit of our primitive ancestors.
Next, in the manner that Hitler was to be understood as victimized by the Versailles Treaty, so too we hear the litany of perceived grievances against the Islamic fascists — George Bush, the West Bank, Gaza, or now Lebanon. But does anyone remember that bin Laden quip, four years before 9/11, when Mr. Bush was still governor of Texas: “Mentioning the name of Clinton or the American government provokes disgust and revulsion.”
Even as we split hairs over whether terrorists flocked to, or were created by, Iraq, the jihadists make no such distinctions between their theaters of operation. Listen to al Qaeda’s Aymin al-Zawahiri: “The Jihad movement is growing and rising. It reached its peak with the two blessed raids on New York and Washington. And now it is waging a great heroic battle in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and even within the Crusaders’ own homes.”
“Even within the Crusaders’ own homes” would include, I think, the planned attacks against opponents of the Iraq war, such as Canada and Germany. Their often shrill, and sometimes blatantly anti-American, antagonism to the 2003 war still earned them no exemption from efforts to chop off the head of the Canadian prime minister or to blow up hundreds of Germans on passenger trains.
Here at home we witness “al-Qaedism” — fanatics shooting Jews in Seattle, murder at the Los Angeles airport, an SUV running over innocent pedestrians in San Francisco or driving over students in North Carolina, sniping in Maryland. And we shrug them all off. Surely such incidents can be explained, are not connected, occur at random — anything other than the truth that the constant harangues of the Islamic fascists really do filter down, even if randomly and spontaneously, to a number of angry and alienated young Muslim males in the West.
Some cling to the notion that Islamic rage is not the manifestation of an elemental hatred, but is merely about land. That’s about what bin Laden said in 1998 when he urged all Muslims to murder all the Americans: “to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an obligation incumbent upon every Muslim who can do it and in any country — this until the Asqa Mosque (Jerusalem) and the Holy Mosque (Mecca) are liberated from their grip.”
But the long overdue withdrawal of soldiers from Saudi Arabia (who were out in a godforsaken desert and nowhere near the “Holy Mosque”) had no more effect on al Qaeda than did the Israeli departure from Gaza and Lebanon on Hamas and Hezbollah. As in the case of Hitler’s serial demands for return of the “stolen” German Sudetenland and then Czechoslovakia, land was never the real issue. Perceived loss of pride and status, hatred of the Jews, and unbridled contempt for a liberal West were.
The truth is that we are in a pause, a lull in a great storm that broke upon us five years ago on September 11. We are waiting to see when and where and how — not really if — the Iranians test their envisioned bomb. “Another 9/11” is now part of the lexicon, suggesting that most Americans accept that an amorphous enemy that tries to knock down the Sears Tower, to blow up the Holland tunnel, to explode airliners over the Atlantic, and to slaughter commuters from London to Madrid to the Rhine may finally get lucky once — and that once could be a death warrant for thousands of Westerners.
After 9/11 we were at war with a fascist creed that had trumped any damage to the homeland wrought by all earlier enemies, whether Germans, Italians, Japanese, or Russians. But now, five years later, we are in a holding pattern, waiting in a classic bellum interruptum — whether in exhaustion from this long war in Afghanistan and Iraq, or complacent due to our very success hitherto in preventing jihadists from enacting mass murder in the United States.
So we are in limbo — a sort of war, a sort of peace. Lulls of this nature are not such rare things in history. The Athenians and the Spartans between 421-415, or the Western Europeans between October 1939 and May 1940, likewise thought the squall had passed — the respite a sign that the enemy was satiated, or was occupied elsewhere, or had had a change of heart, or that times of transient calm might mean permanent peace
We all wish it were so, but in private also fear that the worst — whether from al Qaeda, Iran, or their epigones — is to come.
Our pundits and experts scoff at all this concern over Islamic fascism — as crude propaganda, neo-conservative war mongering, a veiled agenda to do Israel’s bidding, conspiracies to finish turning America from a republic into an empire, or just old-fashioned paranoia.
Their argument for thinking the danger is slight is that either we have already won, or we don’t really have a credible enemy to defeat other than a few thugs better left to the FBI and federal attorneys: the jihadists may sound like Nazis; but they lack a nation-state and thus the means to harm the West to any great degree. Intent is irrelevant, if the means are absent. Sure, there is a Mein Kampf, but no Wehrmacht in the Middle East.
There are three rejoinders to this notion that the Islamic fascists are hardly serious enemies, and cannot be compared to the old-time fascists who once started a war that led to 50 million deaths.
First, Islamic fascism is already the creed of the government of an oil-rich and soon to be nuclear Iran. Secular authoritarians like Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf could easily fall, and the nation’s nuclear arsenal with him, into the hands of the madrassa Islamists. It is not inconceivable to envision several nuclear bombs among one or more theocratic governments in the years to come.
Second, in an age of weapons of mass destruction, global terrorism, and culpable deniability, authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes can, without being traced, subsidize and sanction killers, who in turn, with the right weapons, can kill and maim tens of thousands.
Third, in an interconnected and often fragile world, the mere attempt to blow up trains, jets, and iconic buildings results anyway in millions of dollars in damage to the West: ever more expensive airline security, cancelled flights, and money-losing delays and interruptions in a general climate of fear.
Each time Mr. Ahmadinejad opens his mouth, or Mr. Nasrallah shoots off a primitive rocket, the global stock market can dip, and the price of petroleum spikes. A good dissertation is needed to ascertain how many billions of dollars Ahmadinejad has conned for his theocracy by means of his creepy rhetoric alone, through price hikes on the daily export of his oil. Since this war has progressed, oil has gone up from $25 a barrel to over $70, now adding an additional $500 billion per annum to the coffers of Middle East dictatorships.
Given Iraq, Afghanistan, and the acrimony at home — so similar to the debate right before Pearl Harbor over the earlier discounted fascist threat to the United States — we apparently are waiting for the enemy to strike again, before renewing the offensive.
So while we keep our defenses up at home, foster democracy in the heart of the Middle East in Afghanistan and Iraq, and hope the globalized march of modernity undermines jihadism faster than it can disrupt the 21st century, we also wait — for the next blow that we know will come.