Saturday, July 17, 2004

The Man with No Name

David Warren is all for naming a certain branch of Islam as the enemy. He argues that common journalistic and policy references to "Al Qaeda" have misidentified the true enemy.

In the course of three years' intense study of the issue, I've become convinced that there is -- well, this is a slight exaggeration -- no such thing as "Al Qaeda" It is, more precisely, only a name applied vaguely to one of several financing and logistical arms of the Wahabi branch of what could more accurately be called the "Islamic Jihad".

And the reason this is so important, he argues, is that it allows Homeland Security to use the appropriate kind of filter to root out the enemy. It recalls the scene played out in B-movie science fiction plots where the deadly aliens remain invisible until the sensors are tuned to the right frequency. And then they stand out plainly.

This may sound a very abstract analysis, but it has practical consequences for "homeland security". For starters, it means we cannot draw neat, legalistic lines between who's in and who's out of the cabal. For instance, a journalist working for Al-Jazeera may be every bit as committed to the struggle as a man rehearsing the assembly of a mid-flight bomb. Each is advancing the Jihad by the means most available to him. And, exempting the one from prosecution while arresting the other is entirely obtuse.

Indications especially from the FBI are to expect a major terrorist hit on North America, sometime between now and the U.S. election in November. I think they are right to expect this. The political, economic, and social fallout from such a hit is unpredictably huge. But I am less and less confident that it can be prevented by anything resembling normal police methods. This is because, thanks chiefly to "political correction", we cannot look at the whole Jihad, and are in fact only looking for the pointy bits.

Warren argues that only by seeing the real enemy can we fight it. The idea of grappling with the unnameable threat also pervades the writing of Bat Y'eor who recently gave an address to French Senators. What, she asked, was the meaning of all the internal security preparation she had encountered.

One need only look at our cities, airports, and streets, at the schools with their security guards, even the systems of public transportation, not to mention the embassies, and the synagogues – to see the whole astonishing array of police and security services. The fact that the authorities everywhere refuse to name the evil does not negate that evil. Yet we know perfectly well that we have been under threat for a long time; one has only to open one’s eyes and our authorities know it better than any of us, because it is they who have ordered these very security measures. ... Today the war is everywhere. And yet the European Union and the states which comprise it, have denied that war’s reality, right up to the terrorist attack in Madrid of March 11, 2004.

Y'eor maintains that "today, Europe itself is living with this Great Fear" the source of which everyone knows but is afraid to mention in almost the same way that an earlier, more superstitious generation avoided mention of the Devil for fear of conjuring it. But the problem with conceding the point to David Warren and Bat Y'eor is that it merely articulating the word would cause a revolution in domestic and international politics something neither Democrats nor Republicans are prepared to do. Domestically it would mean that for the first time in American history, a major branch of a world religion would be declare a de facto enemy of the state. Not people, not a country; nothing with a capital unless it be Mecca, but a system of religious belief. It would strike at the very root of the American Constitutional system. Internationally it would signify that the principal enemy host, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whose ruling house is intimately connected to and supports this ideology, should be targeted or its regime changed. Naming Wahabism as an enemy would indicate that the Iraq campaign, which the Bush administration was at pains to reach, was not the end but merely the beginning.

One the most most striking things about the Global War on Terror is how closely it's resolution is linked with the longest standing issues of Western society. For that reason the war intrudes directly and insistently on Western domestic politics. The Madrid bombing of March 11, 2004 and the American Presidential elections in November are cases in point. Both are essentially about the War on Terror. The enemy cannot be named because doing so would overturn the 20th century political and economic foundations to its roots. It would tear down the Big Tent of political correctness; put a prosperity heavily dependent on oil supplies at risk; and replace an entire paradigm of international relations. For that reason naming the enemy will avoided for as long as possible; perhaps even after a mushroom or biological cloud darkens an American city.

Nelson Ascher at Europundits describes how deeply ingrained the Western aversion to waging all out war is. He recalls how Israel of all countries set the standard for appeasement in the 1990s. Despite daily attacks by those who explicitly called for Israel's destruction; despite a memory of the holocaust; despite an intimate knowledge of the Middle East and the presence of a large number of native Arabic speakers who could read the enemies daily messages perfectly, Israel clung to the illusion that it could make peace with murderers until it was no longer possible to deny that they would have to fight if they wished to survive.

In the 90s, not only the Israeli leadership, but much of the population nourished the idea that a definitive peace was well in the way to be achieved and, because of this faith, most newspapers and the media, whenever there was a terrorist attack, said that Israel wouldn’t give in to the terrorists who wanted to destroy the peace process. In other words, one of the requirements for peace was a toleration of the murdering of Jews, and far too many Israelis agreed with this.

Quite simply, no country on Earth tried so hard to appease terror, to believe terror was not terror, to believe not only that peace with the terrorists was possible, but also that it was right around the corner as Israel did in the 90s.

Shortly after the beginning of the current Intifada however, even the Israelis got fed up and thus, after having elected the politicians who were willing to satisfy almost every one of the Palestinians’ exigencies, they changed their minds and not only sent the appeasers to history’s dustbin, but also elected and then re-elected the country’s principal hardliner, a man whose very name had been taboo for many years: Arik Sharon.

Why did they elect Sharon? Because they discovered that, more than inevitable, the conflict with the Palestinians and much of the Arab-Muslim world had never ceased, had never gone away. Anyone who wanted peace got to the conclusion that there wouldn’t be peace before or without victory.

The public awareness of the threat to America despite September 11 is many orders of magnitude less than Israel's. America's immense size, wealth and power provide it with the illusion of invincibility that was never available to the Jews. Consequently its road of appeasement will be much longer; its Michael Moores more numerous and its final awakening more tragic. The Israeli experience shows the end of appeasement is inevitable. But for the present many will regard national security as a game whose rules are to be flouted. Something profoundly uncool. The loss of hard drives containing classified information at a premier nuclear weapons lab shows how few people inhabit the world of David Warren and Bat Y'eor.

For the third time in five years, Los Alamos National Laboratory is shutting down all classified work and hunkering down for investigations and political lashings over the loss of two disks of nuclear-weapons related secrets. ... "I don't like the culture at Los Alamos," said UC vice president for lab management Robert Foley. "I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't like the culture."

"There is talk going around Congress of having legislation that will forbid the University of California from bidding on (the lab) contract because of this incident," (Los Alamos director) Nanos told lab employees. "People in Washington just don't understand how any group of people who purport to be so intelligent can be so inept." Some critics of security at the nation's weapons complex say the Energy Department should get rid of the university as Los Alamos' manager immediately. "I don't think UC should be given any more chances," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight. "I don't see how they can redeem themselves any more. It's become laughable."

If it is laughable, then it is dark laughter. What was on those disks? "Think about this,"  Nanos told reporters, "If you were to tell everybody in the world that this information is out there, you might start a treasure hunt." And that 'everybody' includes the men with no name.