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Islam versus West

By David Warren

Such is the pace of events, that there was a plot to blow ten airliners out of the sky over the Atlantic, that changed airport security arrangements around the world, and it wasn't terribly important. Our media are obsessed with numbers, with casualty counts. Ten airliners, if they are jumbo jets with most seats filled, would yield a score a little higher than the "9-11" total, five years ago. It would be the new record. But from the view of the Islamist terrorist, whose sense of theatre is not to be denied, it would nevertheless be slightly disappointing. It would not match the live presentation of the iconic twin towers, disintegrating into the streetscape of Manhattan. But given current operational constraints, it would have to do.

The terror attacks on the West are pure theatre, and the number of casualties aren't important, so long as they give an impression of great magnitude. For Western eyes, and minds, the purpose of these strikes is to inspire dread and fear, but that is the secondary intended effect. The primary audience is Muslim eyes and minds, and for them, believe it or not, the purpose is to inspire pride, by presenting Islam triumphant and the West defeated. The key rhetorical message of fanatic Islamism corresponds with this, and explicitly invokes the glories of Jihad in previous centuries, when Islam was expanding and Christendom was contracting under blow after blow.

The larger strategic scheme of Osama and Zawahiri -- the impresarios behind these grand theatrical productions -- has fully emerged after years of translating and reading captured documents, and debriefing characters who were captured "backstage". And the scheme is so brilliantly simple, that it begins to be understood. Witness Tony Blair's recent speech to the World Affairs Council on August 1, in Los Angeles.

He defined the enemy as: "A movement that believed Muslims had departed from their proper faith, were being taken over by Western culture, were being governed treacherously by Muslims complicit in this take-over, whereas the true way to recover not just the true faith, but Muslim confidence and self esteem, was to take on the West and all its works."

The enemy's reasoning was: "A battle about Islam was just Muslim versus Muslim. They realised they had to create a completely different battle in Muslim minds: Muslim versus Western."

The attacks were a way to galvanize the Muslim masses; to create conditions of war in which they must choose between their own and the other, and in which every Muslim "tribal" instinct (in the broadest sense, distinguishing "own" from "other") would be viscerally engaged. It has inevitably the same effect not only through the Muslim-dominated world, but in the Muslim "diaspora" within the West, where the clash between the demands of Islam and the demands of Western life is most poignant. Hence the proliferation of so-called "home-grown" terror cells in Britain and elsewhere.

That speech of Mr Blair's is among the few truly worth reading from our political masters, and for the point I have quoted. But what follows from it is not quite what Mr Blair prescribes. For his mind is still mostly in 2001.

Since then, the enemy's strategy has succeeded. It is getting less and less useful to claim that we are defending a "moderate Islam" that can accommodate the West, against a "fanatical Islam" that can't. The enemy has succeeded in making the issue, Islam versus West.

The plot develops with the progressive takeover of the world Islamist movement, by the ayatollahs of Iran; and has been further thickened by the huge propaganda victory that Iran's client, Hezbollah, has just won over Israel. This has had and will continue to have the same effect on Muslim mass psychology as the Al Qaeda terror attacks. It shows the most virulent and aggressive forms of Islam to be triumphing -- to be, in effect, the wave of the future, the standard around which all Muslims may rally. It leaves all those who reject this standard not in the position of "moderate Muslims", but rather in that of isolated and irrelevant or treasonous holdovers from some "Western imperialist" past.

Numbers have nothing to do with this; for the question is, who has the guns and will use them. In Lebanon, it was Hezbollah, and by merely surviving the Israeli onslaught, they have raised the standard of 9/11 to new heights. The bitter consequences of that must now be harvested not only by Israel, but by the whole West.

© Ottawa Citizen

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