Posts Tagged terrorism

Al Qaeda is dead! (Again!)

Fawaz GergesFawaz Gerges, media-friendly academic, is out and about, telling us that Al Qaeda is over, it’s had its day, it’s history. Al Qaeda is “organizationally moribund.” Indeed, it “peaked with the 9/11 attacks.”

After bin Laden, his cohort, and the Taliban were expelled from Afghanistan, al-Qaeda was effectively decapitated. The leadership was on the run or captured. Dispersed haphazardly into various countries, most of which were unwelcoming, bin Laden’s men were rounded up by vigilant local security services competing to show Americans how cooperative they were.

Al Qaeda’s numbers have also plummeted: “At the height of its power in the late 1990s, al Qaeda marshaled 3,000–4,000 armed fighters. Today its ranks have dwindled to around 300, if not fewer.” For years now, it has faced “a serious shortage of skilled recruits in the Muslim heartland.” Gerges has written a book—more an extended essay—devoted to this proposition, entitled The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda. There he complains that “America’s political culture remains obsessed with al-Qaeda and the terrorism narrative continues to resonate both with ordinary Americans and with top military commanders.”

Maybe, maybe not. The problem is that I remember having heard the same thing from Gerges sometime in the past—to be precise, just one year before 9/11. Here is Gerges, fall 2000:

Despite Washington’s exaggerated rhetoric about the threat to Western interests still represented by Bin Ladin—US officials term Bin Ladin “the pre-eminent organizer and financier of international terrorism” and have placed him on the FBI’s “10 most wanted” list—his organization, Al-Qa’ida, is by now a shadow of its former self. Shunned by the vast majority of Middle Eastern governments, with a $5 million US bounty on his head, Bin Ladin has in practice been confined to Afghanistan, constantly on the run from US, Egyptian, and Saudi Arabian intelligence services. Furthermore, consumed by internecine rivalry on the one hand, and hemmed in by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt on the other, Bin Ladin’s resources are depleting rapidly. Washington plays into his hands by inflating his importance. Bin Ladin is exceptionally isolated, and is preoccupied mainly with survival, not attacking American targets. Since the blasts in Africa [in 1998], not a single American life has been lost to al-Qa’ida.

Not a single one! And here was Gerges, only six months before 9/11:

Should not observers and academics keep skeptical about the U.S. government’s assessment of the terrorist threat? To what extent do terrorist “experts” indirectly perpetuate this irrational fear of terrorism by focusing too much on farfetched horrible scenarios? Does the terrorist industry, consciously or unconsciously, exaggerate the nature and degree of the terrorist threat to American citizens?

These have to go down as the most embarrassing assessments of Al Qaeda and terrorism made by anyone prior to 9/11. But while Gerges obviously didn’t know much about Al Qaeda at the time, he did know something about America: everything you’ve said quickly gets forgotten if you keep talking, especially if you actively cover your tracks. This is how he tried to do it one week after the 9/11 attacks:

Sadly, I’m not surprised that the evidence for the most devastating terrorist attack in history points to a Middle East connection.

I have just returned from the area after almost two years there as a MacArthur fellow. I was conducting field research on how Islamic movements perceive and interact with the West, particularly the United States. The writing was all over the wall.

Not surprised! Writing all over the wall! Well, it would have been a total surprise to anyone who’d read Gerges before 9/11, and I’d wager it was a total surprise to him as well.

Gerges only knows one tune: Muslims hate the terrorists among them, so the terrorists are always losing popularity, struggling to survive, “on the run,” and so on. Just leave the Muslims alone, they’ll sort it out. The idea may look debatable to you, but it’s worked for him—professorships, book contracts, media gigs. How well it holds up in practice doesn’t really matter, given the public’s memory deficit. Still, it’s amazing (to me) that Gerges shows not a smidgeon of the humility usually imparted by a rough encounter with reality. Not him! He just repeats his same old arguments, made with the same measure of cocksure certitude.

I don’t know if Al Qaeda is up for another round or has gone down for the count, and experts disagree on it. I do know that Fawaz Gerges doesn’t know either. And if it were my day job to know, I’d be worried—should Gerges, by some strange aberration of nature, actually be some sort of negative oracle, whose assertions are reliably and consistently false.

, , ,

The Jihad against the Jews

Martin Kramer, “The Jihad Against the Jews,” Commentary, October 1994, pp. 38-42.

ON JULY 18, 1994 a ferocious bomb explosion ripped through the seven-story building at 633 Pasteur Street, in the traditionally Jewish quarter of Buenos Aires. The building completely collapsed, and the final death count reached 85 persons. It was Argentina’s worst terrorist attack.

In many ways this strike resembled the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in March 1992, which left 29 people dead. That earlier bombing immediately followed Israel’s assassination in south Lebanon of the secretary-general of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite “Party of God.” Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah’s clandestine branch, made a convincing claim of responsibility for the embassy bombing, although the Argentine authorities never picked up its trail.

The attack in July, as the chief U.S. counter-terrorism official later put it, also had “the hallmarks of a Hezbollah operation.” It likewise seemed to be an act of revenge, perhaps for an accumulation of grievances: the massacre of Muslim worshippers in Hebron’s mosque by an Israeli settler; or Israel’s June raid on a Hezbollah base deep in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, which killed nearly 30 trainees.

The technique of the massive car bomb, so reminiscent of Beirut, was also identical in both instances, and pointed in the direction of Muslim extremists generally, and Hezbollah in particular. While Argentina has over 30 neo-Nazi and far-Right movements, which presumably would wish Israel and the Jews harm, the quantity of explosives and the method of delivery guaranteed that the dying would be indiscriminate. Indeed, nearly a third of those killed were non-Jewish passersby. Resort to such a technique required not only a determination to destroy the target, but a total lack of regard for the inevitable “collateral damage.” It seemed probable that only complete outsiders would be willing to kill Argentines so randomly in order to get at their target.

Yet for all their similarities, this latest bombing differed in a crucial respect from its predecessor: it was directed not at Israelis but at Jews as such. No Israeli agencies operated from the building on Pasteur Street. The devastated structure housed the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), the main organizational body of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community, which had just marked its centennial; and the Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA), the organizational umbrella of Argentine Jewry, established over 60 years ago. The building included everything from social-aid offices, where the elderly collected pensions, to the archives of AMIA and the records of the city’s hevra kedisha, its burial society.

The choice of a Jewish target was no mistake. It came as the culmination of a shift in the thinking of many Muslim fundamentalists. Today they are in thrall to the idea that Jews everywhere, in league with Israel, are behind a sinister plot to destroy Islam. The battleground is anywhere Jews are organized to assist and aid in this plot.

This is a new concept even for Islamic fundamentalism, and it represents an especially virulent form of anti-Semitism, one so widespread and potentially violent that it could eclipse all other forms of anti-Semitism over the next decade.

RELIGIOUS prejudice always colored the traditional Islamic view of the Jews, but it also affected Muslim attitudes to Christians and all other nonbelievers. Most importantly, Muslims did not consider Jews a race apart. They regarded Jews as forming a community of belief—an errant belief, to be sure, but one entitled to a large measure of toleration.

Modern anti-Semitism in Muslim lands dates only from about the beginning of this century, following the spread of European racial theories. The idea of the Jews as a band of conspirators came to Muslim lands largely through the translation of anti-Semitic texts into Arabic, and above all The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Europe’s anti-Semitism, like its nationalism, had an immense impact on Muslim thinking, persuading many Muslims that the Jews did constitute a distinct race, whose members had always been treacherous in all places and at all times, because it was in their fundamental nature to be so.

Not surprisingly, European-inspired racial anti-Semitism reached the height of its influence with the genocidal Nazi war against the Jews. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, Arab-nationalist leaders found support and then refuge in Berlin, and Arabic translations of Mein Kampf and the Protocols enjoyed their widest circulation.

These ideas persisted into the postwar period, when Jews were forced from Arab lands. Despite their deep roots in these lands, Arab nationalist dogma drew on the anti-Semitic doctrines of Europe to portray the Jews as aliens in every place, at every time. The Arab nationalists claimed that the hearts and minds of all Jews belonged ultimately to the new state of Israel, and so any Jew could be held accountable for the supposed sins of the Jewish state. This provided the legitimation for the mass expulsion of Jews from Arab lands in the 1950’s. There were once 800,000 Jews in the Arab world; today there are only about 20,000, most of them in Morocco.

Arab anti-Semitism took on a new guise in the 1960’s and 1970’s, under the impact of the fashionable anti-Zionism of the Left. While denying any anti-Semitic prejudice, the new “anti-Zionists” also denied Jews the right to self-definition as a nation. The Jews had wronged all mankind by deciding that they constituted a nation, and then by creating Israel in the heartland of another nation.

It followed that the only solution to the Jewish problem was denationalization, to be achieved by the defeat and dismantlement of the state of Israel and the return of the Jews whence they came. It was an idea that dovetailed nicely with the growing influence of Soviet and New Left anti-Zionism, and reached its apex with the “Zionism is racism” resolution of the UN General Assembly.

Throughout these many changing fads of Arab anti-Semitism, however, an earlier generation of Muslim fundamentalists still adhered to a strict reading of the Islamic tradition. Their attitude to the Jews rested not upon the imported European doctrines of race and nation, which they rejected, but upon religion. As careful readers of their own texts, they knew that the Qur’an faulted the Jews of Muhammad’s time for failing to recognize his prophethood. But they did not understand this as a lesson on the character of Jews in all times and places.

Nor did these more traditional fundamentalists hold the Jews to be a conspiratorial race, or subscribe to any of the various solutions, from expulsion to extermination, held out by European example. In their view, Islam provided the perfect solution to the Jewish problem: the creation of an Islamic state, which would accord Jews the status of an autonomous, protected religious community. Their model was the dhimma, the covenant of submission and protection offered to Jews and Christians during the first Islamic conquests.

This view still allowed for a distinction between Judaism and Zionism and, by extension, between Jews and Israelis. An example of fundamentalist rigor on this point could be found in the thought of the late Ismail Faruqi of Temple University in Philadelphia, a Palestinian fundamentalist of the old school. Faruqi regarded anti-Semitism as one more European disease which Muslims had caught by sleeping with the West, and which a return to true Islam would eradicate. “There cannot be any doubt that the Jew is a sufferer of injustice at the hands of the Christian West,” admitted Faruqi, rejecting the idea that the Jews were everywhere evil and deserving of retribution. As Faruqi saw it, “Islam offers a perfect solution to the Jewish problem which has beset the Jews and the West for two millennia,” since it would allow Jews complete communal and religious autonomy, and the right to reside anywhere in the ideal Islamic state.

Of course, Faruqi went on to add a crucial punch line: “The Islamic position leaves no chance for the Zionist state but to be dismantled and destroyed, and its wealth confiscated to pay off its liabilities.” But Faruqi never would have conceived of the conflict with Israel as entailing a global struggle between Islam and Judaism.

FARUQI’S idea that “the relation of Islam to Judaism is one of sympathy, even identity” would appall the new generation of Muslim fundamentalists who have emerged since the 1980’s. Many of them have been thoroughly imbued with imported doctrines of anti-Semitism. Some are born-again Muslims, ill-acquainted with Islamic tradition, who often see Islam only as an ideology of power.

These new fundamentalists deemphasize the long history of Islamic tolerance of the Jews across centuries and continents, fixating instead upon the early conflict between Muhammad and the Jewish tribes of 7th-century Arabia. The Jews who clashed with Muhammad are presented as archetypes of a universal Jew, treacherous by nature, whose perfidy threatens not only Islam but all humanity.

In this discourse, which purports to be the authentic voice of Islam, all manner of themes and sources intermingle. Verses from the Qur’an abut quotations from the Protocols. The role of the Jews in Arabia of the 7th century is compared with the alleged international power of the Jews in the late 20th. And in this collapsing of sources and history, another distinction—between anti-Zionism and anti-Judaism—is lost. The fundamentalist arguments mobilized against the state of Israel are invariably arguments against the Jews in general.

In short, the Islamic fundamentalist position has now been thoroughly penetrated by classic European anti-Semitism. This has been facilitated by the fact that so many fundamentalist thinkers of the present generation have spent time in the West, collecting advanced degrees at the universities of London and Paris. There they internalized the anti-Semitism of the extreme Left and Right, and they now retail a comprehensive indictment of the Jews which goes far beyond anti-Zionism. Their tales of unbridled Jewish power enjoy even more credibility among their listeners at home, since they can claim to have seen and experienced it firsthand. They wax persuasive when they declare that an international Jewish conspiracy stands behind Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, or the fall of the Muslim-owned Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).

Consider the spiritual mentor of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, whose teeming flock overflows into Beirut’s streets to hear his mosque sermon each Friday. According to Fadlallah, “The struggle against the Jewish state, in which the Muslims are engaged, is a continuation of the old struggle of the Muslims against the Jews’ conspiracy against Islam.” Muslims now face

a world Jewish movement working to deprive Islam of its positions of actual power—spiritually, on the question of Jerusalem; geographically, on the question of Palestine; politically, by bringing pressures to block Islam’s movement at more than one place; and economically, in an effort to control Islam’s economic potential and resources, in production and consumption.

Fadlallah thus rejects the argument, which is still made by some nationalists and fundamentalists, that Israel is but an instrument of American imperialism. “The Jews want to be a world superpower….No one should imagine that the Jews act on behalf of any super or minor power. It is their personality to make for themselves a future world presence.” The very purpose of Israel is to bring “all the Jews in the world to this region, to make it the nucleus for spreading their economic and cultural domination.”

For Fadlallah, then, Israel is “not merely a group that established a state at the expense of a people. It is a group which wants to establish Jewish culture at the expense of Islamic culture.” Here is a view of Muslims and Jews locked in a timeless and total confrontation, until one completely subjugates the other.

Along with this notion has come the idea that Jews everywhere are Israel’s co-conspirators in a plot against Islam. A leading protagonist of this idea is Rashid al-Ghannushi, the exiled leader of al-Nahda, the banned Tunisian fundamentalist movement.

Last year, Ghannushi was granted political asylum in Britain, and he is now the foremost fundamentalist ideologue in the West. From the belly of the beast, he has contended that the Jews everywhere are behind a worldwide campaign against Islam. Islam and the West could reach an accommodation, he says, were it not for the worldwide machinations of the Jews, who fan the fires of mistrust. Beware the Jews, he admonishes the West: “We Islamists hope that the West is not carried away by the Jewish strategy of linking the future of its relationship with the Islamic world with a war against Islam.”

THE recent agreement between Israel and the PLO, and Israel’s continuing negotiations with Arab states, have, if anything, exacerbated fundamentalist anti-Semitism. Opposed to any negotiated agreement, the fundamentalists now seek to frighten Islamic opinion by warning that peace will subject the Muslim world to complete Jewish domination.

Since the expulsion of the Jews from the Arab world over a generation ago, domestic Jewish influence has not been a major issue, either for nationalists or fundamentalists. But now the fundamentalists are declaring that the “normalization” provisions of any peace treaty will mean a massive influx of Jews into Arab countries—as diplomats, journalists, businessmen, and tourists. Their objective, say the fundamentalists, will be to dominate and corrupt the Islamic world.

This is the line now being taken by the leading spokesman of the Palestinian Hamas, Ibrahim Ghawsha, who resides in Jordan. Ghawsha subscribes to the concept that the conflict with the Jews is not over territory but truth, and is therefore eternal: “We think the conflict between the Arabs and Jews, between the Muslims and the Jews, is a cultural conflict that will continue to rage throughout all time.” With peace, he warns, the Jews will gain the upper hand in that conflict; the return of Arab territory is a clever Jewish ruse, which will allow Israel to extend its hegemony over the entire region. Israel’s economic resources, he reminds Muslims,

are extremely advanced technologically and scientifically. God forbid, if by means of signing the peace accords the Arabs and Israelis reach a compromise and they implement their plan for autonomy. Arab economies will collapse because they will not be able to compete with the Israelis’ modern industries. Thus, Israel will dominate the region as Japan dominates Southeast Asia, and the Arabs will all become employees of the Jews.

The image of the Jew is thus transformed, from a ruthless enemy on the battlefield to a ruthless boss on the factory floor. In the same spirit, Ghannushi has called the Israel-PLO accord “a Jewish-American plan encompassing the entire region, which would cleanse it of all resistance and open it to Jewish economic and cultural activity, culminating in complete Jewish hegemony from Marrakesh to Kazakhstan.”

This Jewish hegemony would extend even into Arabia, to the sacred precincts of Islam, from which Muhammad expelled the Jews. “The Jews are planning to return to Khaybar,” warns Ghawsha, referring to the town near Medina which was the largest Jewish settlement in Arabia at the time of Muhammad, and against which Muhammad waged war. “Actually, by this accord, they will go there. They will go back peacefully. They will ask for the houses of their grandfathers.”

From the fundamentalist vantage point, this scenario of Jews penetrating their world, demanding a return even to Arabia, is the nightmarish prelude to the ultimate eradication of Islam by its most intractable enemy.

And so fundamentalists must now proceed to the task of portraying the Jews in their true light. Hezbollah’s Fadlallah takes for granted that agreements will be reached between Israel and weak Arab governments. Their implementation therefore must be combated at the popular level. And Fadlallah points to the source from which Muslims can draw inspiration:

In the vocabulary of the Qur’an, Islamists have much of what they need to awaken the consciousness of Muslims, relying on the literal text of the Qur’an, because the Qur’an speaks about the Jews in a negative way, concerning both their historical conduct and future schemes.

THIS species of anti-Semitism is intended by its creators to amplify a genuine apprehension. As more accords are reached, Jews are appearing in Arab countries either where they were never present, or where they disappeared over a millennium ago, or whence they fled a generation ago. Fear of subjugation runs deep in Arab societies, and it will not be surprising if this shrill anti-Semitism gains a widespread hearing.

But the invigorated anti-Semitism of Muslim fundamentalists is a threat not only in the Middle East. Muslim immigrants and visitors have arrived in ever greater numbers to the West, in countries where Jews are long established: Britain, France, the U.S., Argentina, and Australia. Today virtually every trend in Islamic thought and activism is represented in the Americas and Europe, including the most militant forms of extremism. Britain, for example, is home to organizations of Iran’s supporters, especially around the so-called “Muslim Parliament”; to the Palestinian Hamas, which publishes its flagship magazine in London; and to the Hizb al-Tahrir, or “Liberation Party,” clandestine in the Middle East but highly visible on British campuses. This is the kind of volatile mix one would be hard-pressed to find in any single Middle Eastern country.

In recent years, the Jews have not been at the top of the agenda of Muslim fundamentalists in the West, who have been much more preoccupied with two other objectives. First, they have tried to purge Muslim ranks of “deviants,” to create an atmosphere of intellectual intimidation so that only their ideas can be safely aired. This was the portent of the Rushdie affair in Britain. Second, they have tried, often through violence, to compel Western governments to abandon support for secular, pro-Western regimes in the Islamic world. This was the apparent motive behind the World Trade Center bombing. Until now, the Jews have been marginal to the quest for purity and power; and until Buenos Aires, Jews as such had not been singled out for death threats or bomb attacks.

But the progress of the Arab-Israeli peace process has altered fundamentalist priorities. If the peace process cannot be stopped on Middle Eastern ground, then perhaps its momentum can be checked by a counteroffensive on foreign ground. And for those fundamentalists who have thoroughly refined their theory of a world Jewish conspiracy against Islam, a Jewish target will do as well as an Israeli one. Indeed, the message of Buenos Aires is that Jewish targets, because they are so numerous and indefensible, might even be preferred under certain circumstances.

The upshot is that all of Jewry is held hostage against the conduct of Israel. The choice probably fell first on Argentina because it has no effective investigative apparatus of its own—a weakness demonstrated by its failure to solve the Israeli embassy bombing of 1992. But a similar strike could be delivered just as readily in any other country. The infrastructure is already in place.

FORTUNATELY, against this temptation to strike soft Jewish targets, there are also ideological and practical constraints. On one plane, the distinction between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora is vital to fundamentalists. Here is the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah, in an interview last year:

I wish to send a message to all the Jews who came to Palestine I want to tell them that their ambitions, dreams, and aggression can never provide them with the security, stability, and regional power they want. If they truly want security, peace, and stability, they must return from where they came. I believe the climate in Paris is better than in Palestine. Let them return to Paris, London, Australia, from wherever they were before.

Yet now, by threatening all of world Jewry, Islam’s fundamentalists have contradicted this logic, strengthening the perception that it is the Jews of Israel who are the most secure of all. Moreover, when Israel’s Jews do “return,” it is from a position of strength—in the tragic case of Buenos Aires, not only to help dig bodies out of the rubble, but also to assist the Argentine government in its investigation. An international carte blanche for the Mossad is a risk not all fundamentalists are prepared to run.

Such attacks also corrode the moral underpinnings of the fundamentalists themselves. Jihad is a moral code of warfare, regulated by provisions of Islamic law. As adherents of that law, many fundamentalists know that such attacks stretch it too far. Hence the silence among Hezbollah’s clerics over the bombing, and the statement by one of them that, because the bombing killed women and children, “this act cannot be the work of those who are committed to Islam.”

True, Hezbollah has abducted and bombed innocents of various nationalities many times before. But those acts have always created a measure of internal discord between hard-nosed operatives and the guardians of the law. This is something Hezbollah usually seeks to avoid, and may serve as a brake on any rapid descent into all-out terror against Jewish targets worldwide.

More practically, Muslim fundamentalists are discovering again that attacks against Jews as such yield no benefits and provide no relief from Israel’s military strikes. This is a repeat lesson, since a decade ago, Hezbollah gained nothing from holding another Jewish community hostage against Israel’s conduct.

Thus, in 1984 and 1985, a group operating under the wing of Hezbollah and calling itself the “Organization of the Oppressed of the Earth” abducted one in every ten of the remaining 100 Jews in Lebanon, hoping to force the release of Shiites detained by an Israel-backed militia in south Lebanon. Hezbollah accused its Jewish hostages of espionage: “We did not take these people because they are Jewish.” The charge was dismissed even by Lebanese Shiites, most notably in the case of Elie Hallak, the “doctor of the poor,” who had ministered largely to Shiites in the Ein-el-Mreisse quarter of West Beirut.

In 1985, Hezbollah began to murder its Jewish hostages, ultimately killing all of them, including Dr. Hallak, in retaliation for Israeli strikes in south Lebanon. But Israel did not negotiate for their release. Nor did it retaliate for their murder.

Israel’s policy, then and now, remains one of no negotiation over Jewish hostages. It will not drop its own defense if enemies threaten Jews elsewhere. Nor is it obliged to retaliate when Jews elsewhere are struck. And so, although Israel extended a hand to the dazed Jewish community of Buenos Aires, it did not take any retaliatory action in Lebanon for the bombing. On the other hand, Israel still retaliates against every rocket fired in its own direction by Hezbollah, and can be expected to do so in the future.

Israel’s policy has been to signal that when Hezbollah attacks Israelis, Israel will invariably respond. But when it attacks Jews elsewhere, it must reckon not with Israel, but with the world. Today, many fundamentalist movements seek political legitimacy in the eyes of the world as they pursue power at home. If attacks on Jews fail to move Israel, but do move the world against them, their calculation becomes complicated.

BUT these constraints alone will not suffice to put an end to terrorism. There is now a great backwash of extreme fundamentalists into the West, the result of crackdowns in the Middle East and North Africa. They are gaining shelter, visas, and even political asylum. While some respect the laws of their host countries, some do not. There are fundamentalists who look upon the West as one more arena for the conduct of their jihad—against Western governments, their own governments, Israel, and the Jews.

If they are to be stopped, Western governments will have to show an absolute determination to keep their ground free of the violence that characterizes conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. This can best be done by preventing the entry of more fundamentalist standard bearers; by regarding those already in the West as potentially violent; and by employing every legal means of surveillance against them.

Jewish communities also must grow alert to the danger. The prescient introduction to the Anti-Semitism World Report for 1992, published by the Institute of Jewish Affairs in London, determined that “Jewish security throughout the world is perhaps affected most seriously of all by Islamic fundamentalist groups.” Yet at the same time, the report admitted that “this is an area about which there is more speculation than hard evidence,” and that there is “an insufficient knowledge of the extent of [Muslim] anti-Jewish activity and propaganda” even in Britain and France.

The explanation for this failing is the obvious tendency to focus upon the heirs to the most destructive anti-Semitism of the past: neo-Nazis and the racist Right. Hence in the aftermath of the Buenos Aires bombings, there were many Argentine Jews who assumed that only the extreme Right could have been responsible for so heinous an assault.

This is a view of anti-Semitism that looks backward, not forward. For the greatest threat today comes not from neo-Nazis but from those fundamentalists of Islam who see in every Jew a political target in their war against Israel. Much more must be done by Jews to thwart them, including in-depth research, defensive measures, close cooperation with law-enforcement agencies, and dialogue with responsible Arab and Muslim organizations. If such activity is not made a priority, Buenos Aires may turn out to be only the first strike in a global jihad against the Jews.

© Martin Kramer

, , , ,

France and Middle Eastern Terrorism

Martin Kramer, “France and Middle Eastern Terrorism,” Terrorism and Political Violence, vol. 2, no. 4 (Winter 1990), pp. 574-80. The article is a review essay on five books in French. Only one, Marie Seurat’s Les corbeaux d’Alep, is still in print.

In 1978, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini arrived in the Parisian suburb of Neauphle-le-Château following his expulsion from Iraq. The Shah of Shahs was threatened by a rising tide of dissent, and prevailed upon Iraq to eject the still obscure and aged cleric from his place of exile in the shrine city of Najaf. The Shah wished to distance Khomeini from Iran’s borders, and France seemed sufficiently removed from the eye of the storm.

But Parisian exile actually made Khomeini’s appeal for revolution far more effective and audible. He and his disciples now had easy access to the international media and could direct-dial their supporters in Iran, carefully setting the cadence of escalation. Ultimately the Shah left for his own exile and Khomeini returned to Tehran on a triumphant direct flight from Paris. He descended to the tarmac on the supporting arm of an Air France pilot.

French policy-makers had every cause to believe that their political hospitality had sowed the seeds of a privileged relationship with Iran. But the plant yielded bitter fruit. In the course of the subsequent decade, France and the Islamic Republic of Iran collided in spectacular and deadly ways. French aircraft and arms, sold in massive quantities to Iraq, took a daily toll in Iranian lives following the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1980. Iranian bombs, planted by Shi’ite operatives, claimed French lives in the rubble-strewn alleyways of Beirut and on the best shopping streets of Paris. And both sides took prisoners. Iran’s agents in France were arrested, imprisoned, and expelled. Frenchmen in Lebanon—journalists, diplomats, bystanders—were abducted and held hostage by Iran’s Shi’ite clients. By 1986, the hostage-holders in Lebanon had driven the French government into a corner, while bomb makers sent by Iran succeeded in placing the populace of Paris under virtual siege.

Five recent books bear witness to different aspects of the undeclared but dirty little war which raged between France and Iran in the 1980s. Two describe the frustration and growing desperation of the French official classes as they suffered blow after blow in a war they had failed to anticipate. Two other books are personal testimonies by two victimized bystanders, one a hostage, the other the wife of a hostage. The last, on the Lebanese Hizbullah, is an attempt to define an adversary whose power to elude definition was its greatest asset. While all of these books were written for a general audience (four of them by journalists), they are also bound to serve as grist for the busy mills of scholarship.

Between Baghdad and Tehran

Pierre Péan is an investigative journalist well known for his ability to ferret out information on the inner workings of the Élysée, government ministries, and intelligence agencies. Most of his book, La menace, is a painstaking reconstruction of French policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran from the outbreak of the Gulf War until the so-called ‘war of the embassies’ in 1987.

Péan maps the principal corridors of policy, which he follows meticulously to a single conclusion: a powerful pro-Iraqi lobby compromised France’s neutrality in the Gulf conflict. This lobby assured that the government approved massive arms sales and high technology transfers to Iraq (including nuclear reactor technology) largely on credit extended by France. An official embargo on sales to Iran accentuated the imbalance. Thus France unwittingly became a co-belligerent of Iraq in the Gulf War—unwittingly, because the architects of French policy assumed that such sales did not constitute acts of aggression. For Iran, however, the distinction between the sale and use of arms appeared arbitrary, despite its roots in the common law of Western nations. And Péan himself seems to postulate a moral equivalence between Iran’s spawning of deadly terror and France’s dealing in deadly arms. It is an argument not without philosophical merit.

Péan thus claims to have uncovered what might be called an ‘Iraqgate.’ Private interests subverted France’s declared policy of neutrality in the Gulf War, at the very moment when White House zealots subverted American neutrality by trading arms for hostages. (Péan is aware of the parallels, and a chapter is devoted to the arms-for-hostages escapades of the Americans.) Iran reacted by gradually escalating a campaign of intimidation, first in Lebanon, then in France itself. Péan does not excuse Iranian hostage-taking and terror bombing, which he clearly labels political extortion. But French policy emerges from his narrative with scarcely more credit. The seemingly principled slogan that France would not become ‘hostage to the hostages’ simply masked callous calculations made in favor of a blatantly pro-Iraqi policy.

In the end, of course, France did become ‘hostage to the hostages’ who were taken at Iran’s behest in Lebanon. Each night, the network news program of Antenne 2 reminded viewers of the French hostages’ plight. Committees were organized on behalf of the journalists who had been seized, and they used their influence to keep the issue on front pages and television screens. The French government now had to take into account more than the demands of the pro-Iraqi lobbyists; it began a series of desultory negotiations with a bewildering array of intermediaries, both Iranian and Lebanese. Péan uses his unmatched sources to trace French diplomacy through the murkiest back channels to Iran’s divided leadership.

During this trip through the looking glass, the French encountered a bizarre array of mediation impresarios as wondrous as the Americans’ famous ‘Gorba’ and as egotistical as Anglican superdealer Terry Waite. The most extraordinary of them all was Razah Raad, a Lebanese Shi’ite physician and naturalized Frenchman, formerly of Bidnayil in the Bekaa Valley, latterly of Argentan in Normandy, where he owned and inhabited a seventeenth-century château built by a duke. As the French hostages came to dominate the television news, it occurred to Dr. Raad that he might render his adopted country a service by mobilizing the extensive Raad clan to mediate among France, Iran, and the Shi’ite hostage-holders in Lebanon. Raad did have ‘fabulous contacts’ in Shi’ite Lebanon, and disappeared for days into Beirut’s southern suburbs, where he parleyed with representatives of the hostage-holders. Then he would reappear in West Beirut or Damascus, to deliver the latest terms. The mysterious missions of Raad clarified the demands of the hostage-holders, but produced no real progress. Neither did various French missions to Tehran and the mediation of several dubious Syrians—sometimes documented by Péan with leaked official documents.

When the holding of hostages failed to break French resolve, Iran finally moved to break the deadlock by inspiring an indiscriminate bombing campaign in Paris itself. There can be no doubt that these bombings, which killed 11 persons and wounded 275, finally broke the resolve of the French. It was one thing to suffer the embarrassment of impotence in the face of Shi’ite hostage-holders in Beirut, quite another to stand helpless before terror in Paris itself. The French government did not rush to surrender, as the ‘war of the embassies’ demonstrated. (On that occasion, the French government launched a virtual siege of Iran’s embassy in Paris, in order to force the surrender of an embassy employee suspected of involvement in the bombings. The effort failed when Iran retaliated in kind against the French embassy in Tehran.) But in the final analysis, France lost the battle of wills, because it remained vulnerable to terror in its very capital. Faced with terror at home, Jacques Chirac opted for concessions to Iran. Iran, in turn, ordered an end to the bombing campaign and the release of French hostages in Lebanon.

Péan published his book shortly before this understanding was reached. Former Beirut correspondent Yves Loiseau has followed the story to its conclusion in Le grand troc, an extended chronology of the French hostage affair.2 In a series of dated entries from 1985 to 1988, Loiseau follows the complex thread of statements, rumors, mediations, and negotiations which culminated in the ‘deal.’ While there are no startling revelations here, the presentation of the record could not be more systematic—and sobering.

With bombs going off on the Champs-Élysées and the Boulevard Saint-Michel, French officials concluded that victorious war could not be waged against terrorism, at least not by France. Moral posturing might suit the Americans, but the preservation of the very rhythm of life in France depended upon some compromise with the sponsors of terror. And did not France have a moral duty to negotiate for its citizens, held against their will simply because they were Frenchmen? In one of the more striking examples of Franco-American cultural divergence, the French public supported precisely the kind of dealing for hostages which absolutely scandalized the American public. Even the tough-minded Loiseau, in a last section provocatively entitled ‘Lebanongate,’ indulges in the second thought that perhaps the freeing of the French hostages did justify ‘the means.’

Yet only now is it becoming clear just how extraordinary those means were, involving direct negotiations with hostage-holders and the release of terrorists jailed in France for outrages. Mist still obscures the secret missions to Beirut of the famous ‘Stephani’—the false name of Jean-Charles Marchiani, former French intelligence operative and confidant of fellow Corsican Charles Pasqua, Chirac’s interior minister. It was Marchiani who publicly delivered the French hostages from captivity. Was he a conduit for ransom to the hostage-holders? And just how far did the concessions to Iran go? In 1990, President François Mitterrand met a decade-old Iranian demand for the pardon of four men convicted for their botched assassination attempt against Iranian opposition leader Shapour Bakhtiar in Paris. A bystander and a policeman were killed in that attempt; another policeman was paralyzed for life. Will that release ultimately serve as a precedent for Fouad Ali Saleh, the Tunisian recruit to Iran’s cause, whom a French court sentenced to life in 1990 for masterminding the fatal bombings in Paris? There are still loose ends to the ‘deal’—and room for a sequel to these two books.

The Beirut Hostages

For one French hostage, the ‘deal’ came too late. Michel Seurat, a young sociologist of Islam, had done original work on Sunni fundamentalism in Tripoli, and had begun researching Shi’ite fundamentalism in Beirut. In May 1985, he flew back to Beirut from Morocco, where he had attended an academic conference on ‘Terrorism, Violence, and the City.’ En route from airport to city, Seurat (and French journalist Jean-Paul Kauffmann) were dragged from their taxi and taken hostage by Islamic Jihad.

In Tripoli, Seurat had moved with ease among Sunni fundamentalists, then locked in a struggle with Syria. His work on their movement combined sociological insight with an understanding gained through direct experience.3 But the Shi’ite neighborhoods of Beirut were not the quarter of Bâb Tebbâné in Tripoli. Both were societies under siege, but Seurat’s Shi’ite captors played on a global stage, in a struggle that did not admit the neutrality of a sociologist of Islam. The ‘brethren’ of Seurat’s abductors had been condemned in Kuwait for a series of bombings, including an attack on the French embassy there. Seurat was seized in order to force France to press for release of their ‘brethren.’

Les corbeaux d’Alep is a brief but fascinating memoir written by Seurat’s Syrian wife, Marie.4 It is really two books. One is an account of her fruitless efforts on behalf of her husband—efforts which took her to the chambers of Hizbullah’s spiritual mentor, to the bases of Hizbullah in the Bekaa Valley, and through the labyrinth of French officialdom. Marie Seurat’s insights cut to the bone: the dissembling Shi’ite clerics and militiamen, the ponderous French diplomats, the drama-mongers of the media, are all portrayed with the blackest cynicism. This is a faithful guide to the terrors of the purgatory inhabited by all families of hostages.

Yet this is also a book about personal transformation. Marie Seurat began her ordeal as a self-obsessed woman from a prosperous Syrian Christian family—a lady most at home in the world of Alfa Romeos, doting servants, and male suitors. Even her marriage to a leftist French sociologist with Palestinian sympathies was a kind of self-indulgence, not a true rebellion. But with her husband’s abduction, she was suddenly thrust into a violent labyrinth, without the compass of political savvy and without the rosary of religious faith carried by the wives of so many hostages. The absence of faith cost her dearly. When she reached the depths of her own despair, she turned to clairvoyants and astrologers, who promised to divine the fate of her husband. Ultimately she became so emotionally strung out that she required some hospitalization. Yet for most of her ordeal, she not only kept her wits about her, but succeeded in penetrating the ritual posturing which surrounds every hostage affair.

The most remarkable passage in this remarkable book concerns the author’s visit to her husband during his captivity. The visit was a privilege enjoyed by no other hostage of Islamic Jihad, and Michel Seurat, as a sympathetic student of Islam, did enjoy a privileged standing among the hostages. He received books of his choice and letters. During the visit, he told his wife that he wished to stay in Beirut even after his eventual release. ‘I still have many things to do here. My captors and the leader of the group have agreed to allow me to move about the southern suburbs. I could finish my study of the Shi’ite fundamentalists. . . . I must finish what I’ve started.’

Seurat, alas, overestimated the value of his sympathetic scholarship to his captors. He could not escape categorization as a hostage, valued solely as a bargaining chip in a game played against the government of France. In his wife’s view, media attention only raised the asking price for her husband’s release, a view that put her at odds with the spouses of other hostages. (Nor did it help that in years past, Seurat had published a number of anti-Syrian articles under a pseudonym.) Islamic Jihad thus ignored an exceptional appeal on Seurat’s behalf made by leading Lebanese Muslim figures, including the spiritual mentor of Hizbullah.

It was here that bad luck intervened. Seurat contracted viral hepatitis before Iran had asserted its prior claim to Islamic Jihad’s French hostages. The illness reduced him to crawling on all fours, and the unavailability of proper treatment finally finished him. He reportedly lies buried in the cemetery of Rawdat al-Shahidayn, resting place of the martyrs of Hizbullah. For Marie Seurat, Islamic Jihad’s refusal to release her husband, even as death hovered, was the final irony. Michel Seurat had showed the ‘Partisans of God’ the sympathy of true fascination, and was rewarded with abduction and death. ‘The Arabist has been assassinated by the Arabs. The specialist who consults the Qur’an has been put to death by the fundamentalists. The Orientalist has been killed by his Orient. Even his death has betrayed him.’ The courage of this book lies in Marie Seurat’s admission that her husband was blinded by his own ‘expertise’—that his sympathies conspired with his abductors to kill him.

The gods, in their unfathomable logic, looked down with greater favor upon Roger Auque. This journalist was abducted in January 1987 by the Revolutionary Justice Organization, a group of uncertain composition which enjoyed Iranian sanction. Auque spent over ten months in captivity before he was released as part of the ‘deal.’

Published testimonies of former hostages are now quite numerous. The genre is not without literary potential, but no former hostage has effectively worked the experience into narrative. Yet in every such account, there are passages which do convey the overwhelming sense of loss that afflicts every hostage. There are quite a few such passages in Auque’s memoir, Un otage à Beyrouth.5 On one memorable page, he recreates his own reaction when the wife of a guard sprays perfume on his hand. ‘Anaïs, Cacherel,’ she confides to the blindfolded Auque. The rekindling of this sensation—a scent of femininity and freedom, introduced into the windowless, narrow space of a Beirut hostage—sets Auque’s mind racing in every direction. Moments of fear, anger, despair, anticipation—Auque leaves us with a vivid impression of the intensity of a hostage’s emotions. But for any hostage held over months or years, such moments are flashes in a dark expanse of boredom and isolation. No former hostage has yet found a way to convey the tyranny of that boredom without boring readers as well.

But Auque’s account, like those of other hostages, does contain a rare kind of evidence. All foreign hostages were kept in the dark about the identity of their captors and their own place in the game. Foreign hostages spent most of their time behind blindfolds, sometimes alone, sometimes with other hostages. Yet the hostages had to be guarded, spinning threads of human contact between guard and hostage. Auque reports several conversations with his guards, and this table talk reveals much about the small cogs in the Revolutionary Justice Organization. Auque soon became convinced that his keepers were not fundamentalists at all. Most were preoccupied with money, women, and films. (According to testimony of other hostages, this was not the case with Islamic Jihad’s gaolers, who had found true religion. Seurat reportedly described them as ‘neither human nor inhuman, but non-human.’) Auque’s reportage is telling evidence that Iran did not rely wholly upon religious zealots to supply it with French hostages. Iran discreetly created a demand for foreigners of certain nationalities; enterprising Lebanese answered that demand.

But captivity is hardly the ideal vantage-point from which to view Iran’s Lebanese involvement as a whole. One journalist who played the game carefully, got his information, and got out, has written the best single account of Hizbullah in French. Gilles Delafon arrived in Beirut in 1985, as a young journalist working for Europe 1 and the weekly magazine Le Point. The big story, of course, was the French hostages, and Delafon pursued it by making connections in the Shi’ite community. Delafon is a talented journalist, even if his style tends to the dramatic, and he has drawn a lively portrait of Hizbullah, entitled Beyrouth: Les soldats de l’Islam.6 While the book tells the usual story of hostage-taking and hijacking, it also goes a step further in seeking to uncover the social foundations of Hizbullah.

In this respect, the chapter entitled ‘Les dollars de l’Iran’ is the most valuable in the book. Elaborate rumors always circulated about Iranian financing of Hizbullah, especially regarding the sum total of the assistance. The oft-repeated figures were simple guesses. It is unlikely that even the Iranians knew how much they were spending in Lebanon, since the disbursements were made by different and often competing agencies. Delafon is not concerned with putting an arbitrary price-tag on the value of Iranian aid, but instead seeks to illustrate the many ways in which this money reached and affected the Shi’ite community of Lebanon. Readers will wonder at the details in this chapter, for Delafon credits no sources. There is no need for bafflement. Delafon has gone through Hizbullah’s own weekly newspaper, Al-Ahd, which is brimming with information about Iranian aid to university students and the activities of the Reconstruction Jihad and the Martyrs’ Foundation.

The other chapters are rather less well grounded, if only because so many of Hizbullah’s doings remain shrouded in secrecy and disinformation. Lots of livelihoods have been made over the years by providing ‘inside information’ on the identities of clandestine operatives and the whereabouts of hostages. Yet Delafon shows discretion in sifting through what he hears, and he has avoided the usual traps laid by disinformants. His principal advantage seems to be that while other journalists often have relied on (Christian) East Beirut sources for information on Hizbullah, Delafon had lots of leads in the Shi’ite Amal movement. Many of these leads had family members and acquaintances in Hizbullah, and so could provide Delafon with useful details and quotable opinions. These voices do not come from within Hizbullah, but they very much evoke the voices of Amal members who have crossed the line time and again into Hizbullah.

Still, much of this book relies on published sources, and it is unfortunate that Delafon does not cite them. No doubt this reflects the widespread aversion of French journalists to footnotes. (Péan has no use for them either.) But a work of high journalism should show its respect for serious readers—and acknowledge the author’s own debts—by making explicit reference to sources. An example of the proper journalistic mode of citation was provided by Robin Wright in Sacred Rage—an example certainly known to Delafon, who relies extensively upon Wright at several points in his book. Since Delafon avers that it is impossible to thank his live informants by name, it is all the more regrettable that he did not reference his many published sources.

As it is, one never quite knows whether Delafon is reporting something he has seen, heard, or read. In one typical instance, he tells the story of the ceremony for laying the cornerstone of a new mosque in the obscure village of Zabbud, northeast of Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley (pp. 123-24). The vivid details given by Delafon leave the strong impression that he personally witnessed this (minor) event deep within Hizbullah’s space, which would have been remarkable indeed. In fact his account is drawn completely from issue 173 of Hizbullah’s weekly newspaper, which incorporates precisely the same details. (Another account also appeared in the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar on 12 October 1987). There is a minor deception at work here—one that detracts from the documentary value of Delafon’s own personal testimony. For it is never clear where that testimony ends and reliance on others begins.

When these books were written, Iran still loomed in Western imaginations as an outlaw state, defiant of all international norms and supportive of terrorism. Since then, Khomeini has died, the Iran-Iraq war has ended in a cease-fire, and France’s relationship with Iran has been ‘normalized.’ What, then, is the enduring significance of the outcome of Iran’s unconventional war against France?

Precedents were set which may embolden other Middle Eastern states or movements to collect French hostages or bomb Paris shops. In the Gulf conflict of the 1980s, the occasional resort to terrorism became routinized; so, too, did the occasional capitulation to terrorism. The 1990s now have ushered in other conflicts. France, having sowed the wind, may yet reap the whirlwind.

Notes

1. Pierre Péan, La menace (Paris: Fayard, 1987).
2. Yves Loiseau, Le grand troc: Le labyrinthe des otages français au Liban (Paris: Hachette, 1988).
3. His articles were collected and republished posthumously. See Michel Seurat, L’État de barbarie (Paris: Seuil, 1989).
4. Marie Seurat, Les corbeaux d’Alep (Paris: Gallimard/Lieu Commun, 1988). The book is now available in English as Birds of Ill Omen, trans. Dorothy S. Blair (London: Quartet, 1990).
5. Roger Auque (in collaboration with Patrick Forestier), Un otage à Beyrouth (Paris: Filipacchi, 1988).
6. Gilles Delafon, Beyrouth: Les soldats de l’Islam (Paris: Stock, 1989).

, , , ,

Suicide Terrorism: Origins and Response

On November 8, 2005, Robert Pape and Martin Kramer debated the origins of suicide terrorism and the proper responses to it at The Washington Institute’s Special Policy Forum. Following is the full text of Martin Kramer’s prepared remarks. Read a rapporteur’s summary of the entire debate. Posted retroactively at Sandbox.

I am delighted to appear here with Professor Pape. I enjoyed reading his book, but it is an experience to hear him make the argument in person, in his dynamic manner. And he is to be congratulated for descending from the ivory tower and stimulating our thought with his provocative thesis.

We Want to Believe

Professor Pape’s thesis has resonated quite widely, and before I approach it, let me say a word about why I think it has had such an appeal. Why are people eager to find his thesis plausible?

First, it is reassuring. No one likes the idea that we may have embarked on a generations-long struggle against growing tides of suicidal fanatics. Professor Pape tells us that it need not be so, that we have it in our power to stop it now. This reminds me of a scene in the Wizard of Oz. After battling flying monkeys and a nasty witch, Dorothy demands to be transported home. The Good Witch tells her she always had it in her power to go home; she just had to shut her eyes, click her heels three times, and repeat: “There’s no place like home.” Professor Pape likewise reassures us that if we, too, get our heels off the ground in the Persian Gulf and repeat: “There’s no place like offshore,” we will awaken safe in our beds in Kansas. It is a very reassuring and appealing notion.

Second, it is empirical. The speculative and polemical interpretations and counter-interpretations of the threat confuse us. We want metrics, pie charts and graphs—something quantifiable and proven. Even when we know that databases can be flawed, samples can be too small, and statistics can be misleading, we still perk up at the first slide of the Powerpoint.

Third, it is secular. The idea of religion as an independent variable is foreign to our mode of thought. As a result, our political sciences have almost nothing to say about it. And what really scares us is Islam, which seems to combine bottomless grievance and limitless ambition. But nationalism—well, that’s a horse of a different color: we have faced it before, its aims are limited, and with nationalists you can sometimes cut a deal and split the difference. Say that Al-Qaeda is really just Arabian nationalism, and people will listen.

So the popularity of Professor Pape’s thesis tells us interesting things about ourselves. But the question is whether it tells us valid things about suicide terrorism.

Thesis vs. Reality

Now let me start with a statement of beginning assumptions. I do not pretend to have an alternative unified theory of suicide terrorism, incorporating everything from the PKK to the Tamil Tigers. Frankly, I am not sure there is a need for one. I do not know why suicide bombing has to signify the same thing everywhere. Why can’t it have different origins and achieve different purposes in different contexts? At the end of the day, it is a weapons system, and the history of such systems is diffusion and mutation under different conditions.

In fact, I think that is precisely the case. So I want to focus on Professor Pape’s thesis as it relates to three instances I know best, and that are central to the story: Hezbollah, Hamas, and Al-Qaeda. Rather than offer a big theory of my own, I am going to ask whether Professor Pape’s big theory fits these cases. Remember that Professor Pape’s thesis is only as valid as its weakest case. So all I seek to do here is plant one seed of doubt. To anticipate myself, I would summarize my argument as follows: sometimes it fits, sometimes it fits but loosely, and in the most important case for U.S. policy, it is just too small.

The Lebanese and Palestinian cases adhere closest to Professor Pape’s theory. Here we have instances of Israeli military occupations, in one case accompanied by settlements, and a host of movements, some Islamist and some not, that have employed suicide bombing in systematic campaigns. But even these cases deviate somewhat from the paradigm, because of the prominence of Islamic themes in their genesis.

Now I find it interesting that Professor Pape does not completely discount religion as a factor. He does allow that “religious difference” serves as a kind of multiplier in suicide bombing campaigns. It is obvious that most of these campaigns take place across religious divides. So Professor Pape lets religion into his formula through the back door. But he clearly casts religious difference as a subordinate factor, which exacerbates the territorial grievances of occupied peoples. And he shows the usual academic reticence about fingering Muslims or Islamists as exceptionally prone to the method.

In the case of Lebanon, the resistance to Israeli occupation did form across a very wide front, and all of the organizations used suicide bombings: the Islamist Hezbollah, the Shiite sectarian Amal, and the pro-Syrian secular Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP).

But I think Professor Pape might have looked more closely at the sequencing of this campaign. It first began with the Islamist Hezbollah, and then spread to its secular competitors. Now why did it start there? The evidence shows that it took the reworking of an Islamic concept—the idea of martyrdom—to make the initial breakthrough. Islamism is not present in all suicide bombings. But it had to be there at the creation.

Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, when he was still the spiritual mentor of Hezbollah, contributed crucially to that breakthrough. This quote is an example of the conceptual leap that inaugurated the attacks: “What is the difference between setting out for battle knowing you will die after killing ten [of the enemy], and setting out to the field to kill ten and knowing you will die while killing them? There is no difference between dying with a gun in your hand or exploding yourself.” That sounds simple, but it actually involved an overturning of a whole corpus of doctrine and tradition.

Certainly the reality of Israeli occupation was needed to raise the temperature in Lebanon to the point where this breakthrough became possible. But I think it unlikely that secular groups could have reached it independently. Remember, too, that Muslims under long and repressive occupations in the colonial period did not make the leap either. The precondition is the rise of an Islamist sensibility, and its modern utilitarian outlook. Professor Pape has rightly said that suicide bombings require a “strategic logic” or cost-benefit rationale; a “social logic” or support system; and an “individual logic” or personal motive. To this I would add a “moral logic,” which is the entry point for innovative interpretations of Islam. Like the other logics, it is necessary, although like them it is not sufficient.

The Palestinian case gets more complicated than Professor Pape allows, because the context is not just one of struggle against occupation, but also struggle for primacy among rivals. Israel had been in occupation of the West Bank and Gaza for over thirty years, facing nationalist resistance and terrorism, before the first Palestinian suicide bombings. Why did it take so long? Professor Pape would have us believe that frustration with Oslo and settlement expansion made for some sort of tipping point. In his book, he provides graphs of Palestinian opinion and settlement figures.

But over the years there were other spurts of Jewish settlement growth, many Palestinian disappointments, and numerous failed peace plans. Since the 1920s, the expansion of the Jewish presence has prompted repeated, spontaneous uprisings—most notably from 1936 to 1939 and again from 1987 to 1990. Much blood was split, yet there were no suicide bombings. Hamas itself, which played an important role in the first intifada, did not resort to them.

So why did they commence only from the mid-1990s? It seems to me impossible to separate the advent of Palestinian suicide bombing from the intensified political struggle for dominance in the Palestinian arena, primarily between Hamas and the powerful institutions of the PLO—a battle finally fully engaged after the established leadership returned from abroad.

The suicide bombings, pioneered by Hamas originally in open defiance of the PLO, were superficially an emulation of the Lebanese precedent. But they have never served a conventional nationalist concept of liberation. By bombing in Israel proper and against civilians, Hamas and its rivals actually achieved the opposite of nationalist goals: the attacks brought about a reoccupation of much of the West Bank, the legitimation of Israel’s security fence, and the loss of international sympathy, traditionally a core element of Palestinian national strategy. It substituted for these tangible assets a crowd-pleasing spectacle of death in Israel’s cities, which other groups were quick to copy to preserve their market share.

So the suicide attacks seem disconnected from a nationalist “strategic logic.” What the attacks have unquestionably achieved is shattering the political monopoly of the PLO. I submit that was their purpose. True, the Islamized strategy bears a superficial resemblance to a nationalist one. But look closely: the objectives have grown larger (all of Palestine, elimination of Israel), the timeline has grown longer, winning minds has become more important than regaining territory, and international sympathy has lost its strategic significance. In the Palestinian case, the occupation is the context of the suicide bombing, and it is the fuel. But ending the occupation is not the prime objective of the suicide campaign. The Palestinian bombings are spectacles intended to win over converts and build an identity over time.

The Qaeda Exception

So far, then, we can say that Professor Pape’s thesis fits best in Lebanon, where suicide bombing was meant to liberate a defined piece of territory in a short time frame; and less in Palestine, where it has been a lever used by upstarts to undercut an establishment. Where I think it does not fit at all is the case of Al-Qaeda.

Let me remind you of Professor Pape’s claim: Al-Qaeda is a movement of Arabian nationalism, provoked by the presence of U.S. troops in Arabia. It may not look like an occupation to us, but it looks like one to them, and they are reacting to it with violence. If we want to prevent another 9/11, we should get ourselves out of the Persian Gulf, to an offshore position.

This is where I part entirely from Professor Pape, because this is where his evidence seems to me forced, and his definitions are over-stretched.

Professor Pape emphasizes the large number of Saudis among Al-Qaeda suicide attackers. So for his thesis to hold, he has to maintain that Arabia, too, is under a humiliating foreign occupation. But the size of the occupying U.S. forces is placed at only about 12,000 in 2001, on the eve of 9/11. In Table 10 of his book, Arabia appears as the occupied region with the largest population of any occupied place: 50 million. But it is also the region with the fewest deaths from the foreign military presence: nil.

Now there is no doubt that Bin Laden has criticized the “Crusader” presence in Arabia. It is a theme he uses to trump the royal house. But to even put this U.S. presence on the same table as Chechnya, with 50,000 dead, and Lebanon with 19,000 dead—both countries with small populations of a million or so, and which suffered widespread destruction—defies common sense. It is forced, and it is contrived. The U.S. troop presence in Arabia had none of the features of an occupation.

The question, then, is why Osama succeeded in mobilizing as many Saudis as he did to attack the U.S., especially on 9/11. In fact, I see nothing remarkable about the over-representation of Saudis among jihadists. Decades ago, the Saudi royal house set up Saudi Arabia as the font of normative Islam, its defender in all places, in money, missionaries, and manpower. Saudis were schooled to see themselves as the upright minority, duty-bound to remind Muslims elsewhere of the demands of the true faith.

Professor Pape is aware of this Saudi specialization, and he wants to factor it out. So he has put together an Appendix meant to show that there are other Sunni countries with Salafists in large numbers, and they have not produced as many suicide bombers. His explanation is those U.S. “occupation” forces in Arabia. That occupation is what makes Saudi Salafists more dangerous than, say, Bangladeshi ones.

This is entirely unpersuasive. Simplistic analogies are hazardous, but just as the papacy was long dominated by Italians, so the Salafi “church” is a privileged Saudi domain. In fact, the Saudi prominence in suicide bombings against the U.S., like Osama’s own prominence in Al-Qaeda, is the parallel of official Saudi prominence in Islamic causes everywhere.

Nor is Professor Pape persuasive when he claims that the U.S. troop presence in Arabia was the prime theme in Al-Qaeda’s recruitment campaign. In Al-Qaeda’s rhetoric, you will not encounter mention of atrocities committed by U.S. troops against Arabians. The casualties of this occupation, as noted by Professor Pape, are nil. The recruiting message is invariably focused elsewhere, on American crimes committed elsewhere: Palestine (via Israel), or directly in Afghanistan, and now Iraq. These are the images that Al-Qaeda collects and circulates, and that permeate the general media like Al-Jazeera and the Internet. They are its most powerful recruiting tools.

The contribution of French scholars, and especially Olivier Roy in his book Globalized Islam, is to demonstrate for us the emergence of a transnational network of floating grievance, attached to no single place. We have today a growing number of Muslims for whom any victimization of any Muslim anywhere is vivid, real, and personal. Saudis were always taught to see these distant causes as their own—hence their early involvement in Afghanistan and Bosnia. But now groups like Al-Qaeda and its affiliates can deliver the message more widely, and with their own emphases.

What Al-Qaeda provides is the “moral logic” that makes the images of torture in Abu Ghraib personally humiliating for a British-born Pakistani in London. It is a mark of modernity to feel passion and obligation over distances. We are not the only ones being globalized in this way, and we are not the only ones transcending nationalism.

So I side here with the French-Iranian sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar, who has interviewed imprisoned terrorists and has written a fascinating book entitled Suicide Bombers: Allah’s New Martyrs. Yes, he writes, there are movements that use martyrdom in nation-formation or in war with other nations. This is true, he adds, of Iran, Palestine, Chechnya, Algeria, and Afghanistan. The aim for which they fight is clear. But of Al-Qaeda he writes: “Although it does have many things in common with national forms of martyrdom, the subjectivity that inspires its actors and the form taken by its hatred of the world are fundamentally different.” In this subjective world, if any place is occupied, if any Muslim is oppressed, and it can be shown on television and on the Internet, mobilization for another 9/11 is a distinct possibility. Whether there are 10,000 U.S. troops, or 5,000 troops, or no troops in Arabia is quite irrelevant.

Al-Qaeda is meant to be the sum of all Muslim grievances, which can only be redressed through the spectacular humiliation of America and its allies, wherever and whenever possible. It is about who we are, and what we do, and what we have, and what they are not. To say now that it has but limited goals, fixed upon some territory, is to trivialize it. I do not think Professor Pape does that, but I have seen it done by others, and I was alarmed to see them invoke his research.

The Prediction Test

I conclude. No one thesis explains it all. And since Professor Pape did his research, suicide bombing continues to mutate, in directions his thesis did not predict or anticipate. A most remarkable development has been the prominence of North Africans, especially Moroccans, in the “second wave” of Al-Qaeda suicide attackers. Even in Professor Pape’s tables, they were right behind Saudi Arabia in numbers, and those numbers are growing. We have seen British-born Pakistanis undertake a suicide attack in Israel, and the 7/7 attacks in London. And we have seen dozens of suicide bombings of Sunni against Shiite, in Iraq but also across Pakistan. Professor Pape’s thesis is just not elastic enough to accommodate all these evolutions. He drew far-reaching conclusions on the basis of one stage in the development of the phenomenon. But it is already mutating, in two directions: into more globalized, transnational forms; and into sub-national, sectarian forms.

Professor Pape’s thesis is thus a rather thin reed on which to hang his far-reaching policy conclusion: the U.S., to end the suicide scourge, should leave where it can, and adopt a posture of offshore balancing. Stephen Walt has made the argument at greater length in his new book Taming American Power.

I am not unreceptive to the idea, not because I think it will prevent another 9/11, but because I think the United States has a lot more to do in the region, and onshore commitments are slowing it down. But offshore balancing is a quaint and archaic way to describe the alternative. The problem in the Persian Gulf for twenty years has been that it is massively unbalanced. Technology, nuclear and otherwise, is spreading unevenly, and there are massive disparities of wealth and population. It is impossible to keep the Gulf on an even keel by an arms sale here or a threat of sanctions there. That means the U.S. will have no choice but to intervene, or project the willingness to intervene, pretty much on a continuous basis—unless, of course, we all begin to bicycle to work.

But whatever posture the U.S. assumes, however near or far it will stand, we will still face a globalized jihad to push us back still further. The very fact that we are the balancer, at whatever distance, will make us a target. This is the price of hegemony. It underestimates our adversaries to think they will forget about us if they cannot see the whites of our soldiers’ eyes. They, like us, can see over the near horizon. They have a global vision, and a global reach.

Like Professor Pape, I too miss the days when all those people in the Middle East were old-fashioned, deal-cutting nationalists, and a few State Department Arabists and oil company executives could play them from afar. That is the way it was circa 1975. But unlike Professor Pape, I do not think we can bring those days back. We live in world that has grown complex, and no matter how much we click our heels, it won’t get us back to Kansas.

, , , ,

Tentacles in Sinai

The bombings in Sharm el-Sheikh again raise disturbing questions about the nexus of smuggling, Islamism, and terrorism in the Sinai. In summer 2004, when I was still editor of the Middle East Quarterly, I published an article by Maj. Gen. Doron Almog, who headed Israel’s Southern Command from 2000 to 2003. Almog focused on the smuggling and inflitration network from Egypt into Gaza and Israel a network that’s flourished under the noses of Egyptian authorities. Almog explained the dynamic: “Tolerance for smuggling and infiltration, like anti-Israel demonstrations in Cairo and incitement in the media, appears to be designed to relieve some of the pressure exerted by anti-Israeli public opinion in Egypt.”

But Almog warned that this could backfire, in a passage that seems prophetic in light of the subsequent attacks in Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh:

There is growing evidence that the smuggling-infiltration network operating from Egyptian territory against Israel is linked at some level to Egyptian Islamist groups. There are Egyptian Islamists who see the border area, and Gaza in particular, as a mini-Afghanistan a point of entry and vector for opening another Islamist front against infidel occupiers. Right now, this cannot take the form of armed volunteers, as in Afghanistan in the 1990s and Iraq today. But there is no impediment to smuggling and infiltration, which could be expanded into more substantial involvement in post-Mubarak circumstances. In the meantime, the smuggling itself is eroding the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord, which has always been a prime Islamist objective.

Informally, the Egyptians have signaled that the moment the Israeli-Palestinian issue is resolved, smuggling and infiltration will be dramatically reduced. The problem, they claim, is driven by the conflict itself and the occupation. But this notion is wholly mistaken. Not only does the smuggling have a strong economic incentive, but it is also linked to ideological groups that have far-reaching objectives, that reject the authority of the Egyptian government and the Palestinian Authority, and that would regard any progress toward peace as a trigger for even more intensive efforts against it. From the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in October 1981, to horrific acts of terror such as the 1997 murder of fifty-eight tourists in Luxor, the regime has demonstrated its inability to eradicate this Islamist threat. That the regime would succeed, precisely on Egypt’s border with Israel, seems very unlikely.

Almog then added this conclusion:

The smuggling and infiltration network should be regarded as part and parcel of the global terrorism network, and the battle against it as part of the global war on terror. Smuggling constitutes a strategic convergence between the Palestinian terror apparatus in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and global militant Islam. It is a reflection of the strengthening of militant Islam in post-9/11 Egypt and in the post-Saddam Middle East.

Ah, some readers probably said to themselves: another Israeli trying to hitch a ride on the global war on terror. But Almog was right, and the Sharm el-Sheikh attack is proof of it. For the Sinai is also a stage set on which Husni Mubarak receives foreign leaders in sumptuous surroundings. As long as that same Sinai remains an Islamist “vector” toward Israel, some of the terror network’s resources are bound to be spent on the peninsula’s underbelly. I say “bound to” because one kind of Islamist terrorism breeds another. Look the other way when it’s directed against your neighbor, and soon enough it’ll turn around and get you.

Photo: Husni Mubarak and George Bush at Sharm el-Sheikh, June 2003.

, , ,