Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
– T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men
Allah is the Greatest.
I bear witness that nothing deserves to be worshipped except Allah.
Come to prayer.
Come to success.
– The Muslim call to prayer, translated by Maulana Muhammad Ali
As the American military weighs the reduction of Fallujah, there come into focus the grand vulnerabilities both of the Americans and the Sunni resistance. The West cannot endure without faith that a loving Father dwells beyond the clouds that obscure His throne. Horror – the perception that cruelty has no purpose and no end – is lethal to the West. Europe is dying slowly from the horror of the 20th century’s world wars, ending the way T. S. Eliot foresaw in the poem cited above, “not with a bang but a whimper.” Despite its intrinsic optimism, America is vulnerable as well.
The Islamic world cannot endure without confidence in victory, that to “come to prayer” is the same thing as to “come to success.” Humiliation – the perception that the Ummah cannot reward those who submit to it – is beyond its capacity to endure.
Radical Islam has risen against the West in response to its humiliation – intentional or not – at Western hands. The West can break the revolt by inflicting even worse humiliation upon the Islamists, poisoning the confidence of their supporters in the Muslim world.
But radical Islam yet may horrify the West into submission, not only by large-scale acts of terrorism against Western countries, but also by provoking the West into mass destruction of life in the Islamic world. By operating in the midst of civilian populations, Islamist radicals put Western counterinsurgency in a delicate position. The Western response must be harsh enough to humble its adversaries, without turning the stomach of the Western population itself. To do this requires intelligence precise enough to target enemy resources without killing too many civilians.
I am grateful to Dr. Amar Manzoor for the following summary of the issues (as well as praise). He writes from the UK (my excerpts):
Having read some of your articles on how radical Islam might win, I am amazed at your bravery in declaring the obvious in the cultural and deep-seated religious exclusivity which we face on a daily basis. The Islamists seem to be carrying a victory. This victory seems to be to prove that radicals are right in the perception of America. Simple fact: they are losing to win (also called the rope-a-dope strategy by [world champion boxer] Muhammed Ali). Each time the United States starts to kill and maim large numbers of civilians, and gory images are blasted to living rooms all around the world, the Islamists are appealing to the conscience of every person on the planet. Once the US does the killing, rape, pillage, murder, and looting, they [Islamists] will have won the hearts and minds of the people. Guess what, Spengler: it looks like it is working and working very well.
Dr. Manzoor is right, at least in large measure. Just after the fall of the Twin Towers, I wrote:
The grand vulnerability of the Western mind is horror. The Nazis understood this and pursued a policy of “des Schreckens” (to cause horror) and “Entsetzens” (terror; literally, dislodgement). Horror was not merely an instrument of war in the traditional sense, but a form of Wagnerian theater, or psychological warfare on the grand scale. Hitler’s tactical advantage lay in his capacity to be more horrible than his opponents could imagine. The most horrible thing of all is that he well might have succeeded if not for his own megalomaniac propensity to overreach.
America, as Osama bin Laden taunted this week, lost in Vietnam. But it was not military setbacks, but the horrific images of Vietnamese civilians burned by napalm, that lost the war. America’s experience in the war is enshrined in popular culture in the film Apocalypse Now, modeled after Joseph Conrad’s story, The Heart of Darkness. The Belgian trading company official, Paul Kurtz, sinks into bestiality and dies with these words: ‘The horror! The horror!’ It was a dreadful film, but a clever reference. At the close of World War I, T. S. Eliot subtitled his epitaph for Western civilization, The Hollow Men, with a quote from the Conrad story: “Mr. Kurtz, he dead.” (Sir John Keegan is wrong: Radical Islam can win, Oct 12, 2001).
There is of course more to the story, for radical Islam just as well might lose. Were the United States and its allies to carpet-bomb Fallujah in order to destroy Sunni armed resistance, the horrifying result would appall the population of the West and advance the Islamist cause. Crushing the resistance with limited civilian damage would humiliate the Islamists and weaken them. The nicety of this problem no doubt explains why the American command has taken its good time to decide upon a course of action.
On the other hand, surgical strikes against resistance leaders, such as Israel’s targeted killings of Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi, enervate rather than energize the Islamist side. When the long arm of Israeli vengeance can reach into the heart of the enemy camp, the Islamists are humiliated and thus weakened. Intelligence is the decisive variable in the equation, and the poor state of America’s spy agencies, acknowledged by the CIA’s George Tenet, has been the Achilles Heel of the coalition, as I argued in Why America is losing the intelligence war (Nov 11, 2003). But I also predicted that America’s deficient capacity for human intelligence would make Washington depend more upon Israel. Precisely that appears to be happening.
Nations have interests, not friends, observed Otto von Bismarck, and it is commonality of interest that brings Washington and Jerusalem together. A host of Western commentators attacked President George W. Bush for taking the Israeli side over settlements and the Palestinian right of return, on the grounds that it humiliated the Arab world, and a plethora of Muslim voices bemoan their humiliation at the hands of the United States.
Much, much more is to come. The “rope-a-dope” tactic Dr. Manzoor cites can work both ways. Israel offers many things to Washington, including Arab-language translators, intelligence operatives, and tactical expertise in urban search-and-destroy missions. But its transcendent value to American strategy lies not in what it does, but what it is, namely an ever-present source of humiliation to the Muslim sense of self-worth. The price of recalcitrance, Bush has told the Palestinians and indirectly the Arab world at large, is that some part of the Dar al-Islam has fallen to Jewish hands for the indefinite future.
Analysts unfriendly to the Muslim world speak of a “pride-and-honor culture,” in which the prickliness of the Arab street regarding the Palestine issue and so-called honor killings are supposed manifestations of the same social traits. There is another way to look at the matter. Among the world’s religions Christianity and Islam alone have the capacity for mass absorption of converts from different races and ethnic groups. It is hard to tell which of the two is growing faster. One of them will be the world’s dominant religion in the 21st century. There is a radical difference between Islamic and Christian conversion. Both seek to supercede Judaism, but in different ways. Christianity offers a New Israel, called out from among the nations by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Because God’s love for mankind is the premise of the New Israel, there is a limit to Christian tolerance for bloodshed. To propose open genocide, the Nazis had to repudiate Christianity and embrace paganism only.
The Christian’s participation in the vicarious sacrifice of the Cross offers salvation at the end of the soul’s journey. Christian practice puts enormous effort into sustaining the conviction of the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven: prayers, hymns, cathedrals, paintings, and so forth. No such concept of individual spiritual transformation exists in mainstream Islam. The individual submits wholly to Allah, who controls all things without qualification. That is Islam’s enormous strength; the individual believer can leave behind the carping self-doubt of the Christians. For the same reason, however, setbacks to the Ummah are a challenge to the faith of every believer, for all events are in the hands of Allah, not those who have submitted to His will. Success therefore is a theological necessity for Islam. Humiliation for Jews and Christians is a chastisement from God; did not Christ accept His humiliation on the cross? For Islam, humiliation is a refutation of the faith itself.
For a generation, Western policy towards the Muslim world has emphasized deference towards Muslim sensibilities, the Bush White House emphatically included. It does not occur to Muslim radicals that their enhanced status in the Islamic world might prompt the West to undertake the opposite, namely to humiliate some aspects and some leaders of Islam, if not the religion itself. The Islamists’ vision of the future is audacious, as Dr. Manzoor recounts:
Irrespective of their color, religion, or culture, we can see that their foothold and leadership methods are taking hold. This has been transferred across the world to China, South America, the Middle East, the Far East, South Asia, as well as the Central Asian republics. The general dismay coupled with the dividing lines of rich and poor in the world and the complexities of culture and capitalism are allowing their message to gain ground steadily. This means more recruits, more audacious plans in the pipeline, and even more difficulty in using third generation forces to counter fourth generation asymmetric threats which appear and disappear like ghosts. The question for me is not the method of implementation, widely regarded as terrorism, throughout the world. This has always been in existence. The question for me is the message and why it is so blindingly powerful. The message provides the impetus to the heart, and perception drives the mind into the court of the Islamist.
Again, the opposite may be the case. Muslims of different ethnicity and sect are more likely to fall out when the credibility of the Islamists suffers a reverse. During the past week, the United States has for the first time humiliated the Islamic world openly and without compunction, in the small matter of the West Bank settlements. If it continues in this direction, Dr. Manzoor’s scenario may not work out as he expects.