“The Arab is a patriot, not a whore,” the hardline Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky used to warn his leftwing colleagues back during the 1920s. “He can’t be bought off by the promise of economic benefits. And he is just as intelligent as you are.”
Implicit in America’s pompous elocution against terrorism is a Kiplingesque premise that it is carrying the White Man’s Burden to the underprivileged Middle East and South Asia. Except for a few “fundamentalist” recalcitrants, Washington believes, everyone in those parts of the world wants what the US wants: suburban tract housing developments, video on demand, fast food, egalitarianism and economic opportunity. It has put the Taliban on its “Wanted: Dead or Alive” poster, because the Taliban are an irrelevant medieval relic that fits a racist profile. Indeed, President Bush’s silly ultimatim to the Taliban in his speech before Congress of September 20 might enter the textbooks as the classic case history in cultural stupidity. America’s unwarranted contempt for its Islamist adversary already has had terrible consequences, and well might have catastrophic ones.
The notion that intelligent and educated Muslims who know Western culture, speak Western languages and have studied at Western universities well might choose a different civilization does not occur to Midwesterners and Texans. What else is there besides economic opportunity? They have known nothing but their own surroundings and cannot conceive of anything different. Much less does it occur to East Coast liberals for whom all peoples are feedstuff for social engineering.
All this is well known. Radical Islam, wrote the American analyst Daniel Pipes in the print edition of Asia Times in 1996, has encountered the West and has rejected it:
“Islamist leaders tend to be well acquainted with the West, having lived there, learned its languages, and studied its cultures. Turabi of the Sudan has advanced degrees from the University of London and the Sorbonne; he also spent a summer in the United States, touring the country on a US taxpayer-financed program for foreign student leaders. Abbasi Madani, a leader of Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), received a doctorate in education from the University of London. His Tunisian counterpart, Rashid al-Ghannushi, spent a year in France and since 1993 makes his home in Great Britain. Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey’s leading militant politician, studied in Germany. Mousa Mohamed Abu Marzook, the head of Hamas’ political committee, has lived in the United States since 1980, has a doctorate in engineering from Louisiana State University, and has been classified as a permanent US resident since 1990. Though for years he was able to elude law enforcement, Abu Marzook was recently arrested at a New York airport on his way into the country to register his son in an American school. Indeed, the experience of living in the West often turns indifferent Muslims into Islamists.”
All of these talents came to bear upon the September 11 attack upon the World Trade Center, one of the best-planned and executed sabotage operations in the history of unconventional warfare. Not merely did the assault teams successfully hijack four aircraft, but chose aircraft with a maximum fuel load and hit the twin towers at exactly the points required to bring them down. The attackers were not Afghani tribesmen, but Western-educated citizens of Egypt and the Gulf states. The operation so exceeded the capacity of American intelligence to imagine it that its success stunned the United States. How could it be possible? Aren’t the Islamists a gang of ignorant fanatics?
Yet all of the clues lead back to Afghanistan and the presumed hide-out of Osama bin Laden, and it is at the door of the Afghani regime that Bush has laid down a gauntlet. The racist mind of the United States still cannot imagine a network of highly educated, cultured individuals with the sympathy and support of elements within numerous Middle Eastern and Asian governments.
Instead of confronting the truth, that an important section of the Islamic world elite has encountered America and rejected it, America hallucinates instead a Fu Manchu character, a pulp-novel super-villain with the capacity to reach out of a cave in the Khyber Pass and send aircraft hurtling into buildings.
One should presume that the brilliantly planned and executed attack on American landmarks was only a provocation, an enticement for the United States to act further upon its contemptuous profile of the Islamists. One might presume further that the Islamists understand Washington’s racist preconceptions about the Islamic world, and have sufficient presence of mind to turn it to their advantage.
What better than to draw the United States into a a land war in Afghanistan? The Russians, with a contiguous border and all the logistical support in the world, withdrew with 15,000 dead and a demoralized army. At worst, American special forces will be massacred. Most likely they will wander aimlessly, taking casualties while accomplishing nothing. At best they will capture the seriously ill bin Laden, reportedly suffering from kidney disease. As soon as America trumpets its victory, the Islamists will show what they can do next – perhaps a biological weapons attack.
The “hard line” view in Washington is to bomb Iraq into the ground. The theory seems to be a variation of “Beat your children every day. If you don’t know what they did wrong, they do.” Perhaps the Iraqi regime deserves whatever it gets. It is, however, most unlikely that the Iraqis directed the September 11 attack, according to a number of reputable intelligence specialists. Iraq and Sudan were under too much scrutiny to provide the relevant logistics. It is most probable that a substantial portion of the Middle Eastern governing elite sympathizes with the Islamist critique of Western institutions, and has enough control over relevant military, intelligence and diplomatic resources to provide help on an occasional basis. Middle Eastern governments, after all, are not governments in the Western sense, but rather contingent assemblies of different interests and individuals. The Islamists are just the sort of Western-educated government official that the local CIA case officer (who speaks no Arabic or Urdu) is likely to cultivate.
In fact, the Islamist leadership can draw upon a deeper level of culture than anyone currently associated with the leadership in Washington – a profound acquaintance with Western culture as well as a deep knowledge of its own. Again, Daniel Pipes from the 1996 article in Asia Times:
“Fat’hi ash-Shiqaqi, a well-educated young Palestinian living in Damascus, recently boasted of his familiarity with European literature. He told an interviewer how he had read and enjoyed Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Sartre, and Eliot. He spoke of his particular passion for Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, a work he read ten times in English translation ‘and each time wept bitterly’. Such acquaintance with world literature and such exquisite sensibility would not be of note except for two points – that Shiqaqi was, until his assassination in Malta a few weeks ago, an Islamist (or what is frequently called a ‘fundamentalist’ Muslim) and that he headed Islamic Jihad, the arch-terrorist organization that has murdered dozens of Israelis over the last two years.”
An unconventional warrior with a passion for Sophocles is a formidable opponent indeed. One imagines a CIA analyst slipping the Encarta CD into his computer at this point to look up who Sophocles might have been.
It’s going to be a long, long century.