Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cause for Cautious Optimism in the War on Terror

Commentary by Martin Kelly
April 6, 2004

In an endeavour like the one in which our countries are now engaged, the greatest enemies can sometimes be introspection and self-criticism. As we suffer hideous losses like those poor Yankee souls in Fallujah, burned in their car and then despoiled, we can forget just how much our efforts are hurting our enemy. We forget that democracy is just as much a habit as a heritage for us, and that the rights that we enjoy, the right to question and dissent, sometimes cloud our view of how we are really performing. Because our men and women under arms, from all countries that have bothered to engage themselves in this struggle, are performing.

We can be so wrapped up in 24-hour news analysis by cod historians and New York Times columnists that we lose perspective. Sometimes, a real historian needs to step into the breach, to provide the proper perspective on events that shows that this battle is maybe, just maybe, being won by the forces of light, truth, peace and brotherhood, regardless of how jaded the motives of the politicians who sent them, the venal nature of the corporate interests behind them or the insanity of their opponents.

Such an historian is Victor Davis Hanson of National Review Online. On March 26, his usual Friday column was entitled ‘We Are Finishing the War’, and postulated the position that the losses we are suffering at the moment are analogous to the most bitter fighting of post D-Day Europe, effectively the Bastogne of the War on Terrorists. His view is that Al Qa’eda and its fellow travellers the Al Qa’edists have been so scattered by coalition efforts against them that their capability to mount big scores against the infidel has been radically compromised. An accomplished classicist, he likens Osama’s Old Peculiars to the Hydra or the Gorgon – ‘What we have been seeing lately is (Al Qa’eda’s) tentacles flapping about in search of prey, after the head has been smashed - still for a time lethal, but without lasting strength’.

One could easily dismiss this as neo-con drivel, but for the arrests that took place in London on March 30. If anything, these arrests dramatically underscore Hanson’s point, as well as giving us pause for the long-term future.

That morning, eight British Muslims of Pakistani extraction were arrested at addresses in London, Berkshire, Bedfordshire and Sussex. Later on in the day, half a ton of ammonium nitrate, the DIY Semtex, was recovered at a lock-up garage in west London, near Heathrow.

The men are aged between 17 and 32. If he is aged 17 in 2004, he must have been at most 15 on September 11, 2001. Accordingly, it would have been extremely unlikely that this particular Holy Warrior would ever have attended a camp in Afghanistan. Any training he had had would have been at best second hand. Also, none of the arrested men were of Osama’s preferred officer corps, Arabs or North Africans. These guys may not be top-grade jihad material.

This might be reading too much into the event, but one would have thought that if a psycho headbanger like a jihadist was wanting to mount a spectacular in London of all places, you would want some of your best guys on the job. Guys who get caught with half a ton of explosive fertiliser aren’t your best guys.

Indeed, we forget that, in its own way, Madrid was a disaster for the jihadists. Their cells are being rounded up continuously, and any effective Moroccan terror network in Spain must, by now, have been utterly smashed. When documents like the Zarqawi letter appear in such a firmly positioned site as NRO, one’s natural inclination is to be suspicious. However, assuming for a moment that it is genuine, it must be desperate to feel that you cannot operate properly even in a country so disorganised as Iraq, so effective has the coalition been at stamping out your efforts.

However, the real battle will not start until the campaign in the field is over. Just as Nazism did not die in the field, but lives on, revived after a couple of generations by the racist far-right, who casually raise their arms in the ‘Sieg Heil!’ without the slightest conception of what the gesture really means, then so too will Islamism revive after a generation. The electoral success of both the left and the far right in the recent French municipal election shows that for some cultures, extremism is never far away. It is a cancer that has never been fully removed from this continent, maybe providing an object lesson in how to reform the Islamic world. It is a strange quirk of culture that the most avid consumers of the products of Western culture are those whose culture is completely incapable of producing these things themselves – thus, the Middle East, where the grand total of 500 books a year are translated into Arabic, is awash with cell-phones, satellite dishes and Internet cafes. Maybe it’s time to start blocking the signal of Al-Jazeera Television, with its unceasing diet of Islamism and anti-Westernism. Maybe it’s time to start teaching civics properly, so that the European Muslim learns that his primary obligation as a citizen is to the state that permits him freedom of religion, as opposed to the religious precedence of the umma. For as much as Professor Hanson can draw parallels between the events of 1944 and 1945 with the events of 2003 and 2004, he could forget that that Second World War, whose cause was European extremism, is still not over to this day, in some form or another. Woe betide the Middle East if Islamist extremism, once defeated in the field, ever returns unless, like the Hydra, all its heads are severed and burned.