Sunday, September 21, 2003

Postscript to the Three Conjectures

The emergence of a genuine terrorist WMD capability would represent a decoupling of the nuclear monopoly from states. This should be distinguished from the circumstance of a stolen weapon, which once used, can never be replenished in the terrorist arsenal. It refers specifically to the ability of private, clandestine, extremist groups to sustainably manufacture nuclear, biological or chemical weapons for their own use. The Three Conjectures argued that such a capability would be very difficult for a terrorist organization to achieve without the help of a state due to the engineering difficulties attendant to the development process. That was the good news.

The bad news was that terrorists if left alone would eventually succeed in obtaining it. And once the WMD manufacturing process were commoditized and grasped by terrorists, all control over WMD manufacture and use would be lost to governments, even the one that gave it to the terrorist organization in the first place. The Three Conjectures further argued that this kind of power, once set loose, would consume Islam itself. Either the terrorist weapons would provoke a catastrophic response against the Muslim world or they would be used in the internecine struggles of the Islam, making the huge bomb detonated outside the Najaf mosque seem like a firecracker by comparison. The appearance of an Islamic WMD capability would hang like a comet of doom over the whole Muslim world.

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.