Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Understanding the enemy

Ralph Peters makes a good point about the motivations of the Islamofascists in the Middle East, and about why Western Elites cannot seem to understand them:

June 19, 2007 -- HAMAS won its shut-out victory in Gaza with alarming ease. And the reason Hamas won is even more alarming: Fanaticism trumps numbers.

You'll hear no end of explanations for the terrorist triumph: Hamas was backed by Iran; Gaza is Hamas' base of support; some Fatah units ran out of ammunition . . .

All true. And all secondary factors.

Fatah's security forces in Gaza outnumbered the Hamas gunmen. Fatah had stockpiles of weapons and military gear (now in Hamas' arsenal). Fatah even had the quiet backing of Israel and America.

And Fatah folded like a pup tent in a tornado.

Hamas won because its fighters are religious fanatics ready to die for their cause. Fatah runs an armed employment agency under the banner of Palestinian nationalism. Most of the latter's security men are on the payroll because relatives or ward pols got them jobs. And they want to stay alive to collect their wages.

The result was predictable. Our government pretended otherwise. Now hairs should be standing up on the backs of thousands of necks, from the White House to the Green Zone.

[. . .]

At the height of last week's fighting in Gaza, one Palestinian in 300 carried a weapon in support of Hamas - a third of one percent of the population. Now Hamas rules 1.5 million people.

Numbers still matter, of course. But strength of will can overcome hollow numbers. And nothing - nothing - gives men a greater strength of will than religious fanaticism.

We don't want to hear it. Secular virtues were supposed to triumph. They didn't, but we still can't let go of our dream of a happy-face, godless world where nobody quarrels.

Our refusal to acknowledge the unifying - and terrifying - power of extremist religion has deep roots. As academics rejected and derided faith in the last century, even the Thirty Years' War - the horrible climax of Europe's wars of religion - was reinvented as a dynastic struggle, or a fight for hegemony, or a class struggle.

But the Thirty Years' War was about faith. All the other factors were in play, but the core issue, from the Protestant coup in Prague in 1618 to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, was religious identity. And the atrocities committed on both sides make Iraq look like amateur hour: Wars of religion always demand blood sacrifice. (It was a compromise of bloody exhaustion that ended the Thirty Years War.)

Our problem is that, of those who rise in government, few have witnessed the power of revelation or caught a life-changing glimpse of the divine. They simply can't imagine that others might be willing to die for all that mumbo-jumbo. Our convenience-store approach to faith leaves us numb to the passion of our enemies.

The true believer always beats the feckless attendee. The best you can hope for is that the extremist will eventually defeat himself.

I have said this myself. The leadership of the West cannot understand the religiously motivated fighter because they cannot understand religion. They are either outright atheists or agnostics or their form of belief is a watered down civil religion with no true power.

I'm afraid that in the West even capitalists have adopted an essentially Marxist view of Man, seeing him as homo economicus, a being whose every motivation is at heart materialistic. To persons who hold this worldview the Muslim terrorist must be acting out of a rational desire to either protect himself or his people from a material threat or because he feels that he has been robbed of or denied some concrete thing to which he has a legitimate right (like land for the Palestinians upon which to found a nation).

The idea that the Muslim terrorist might want to kill non-Muslims because he sincerely believes that they need to die for no other reason than that they are non-Muslims does not compute. To the modern Westerner this is irrational and entire nations/cultures/religions do not act from irrational motives. Only mentally ill individuals or small brainwashed groups under the dominating control of charismatic leaders (like those at Jonestown) behave with that kind of irrationality.

You see homo economicus does not willingly act against his material self-interest. Yet every Christian of Rome who allowed him/herself to be fed to wild animals when they could have saved themselves by saying "Caesar is Lord" and every Jew who marched into a bonfire in the plague pogroms of the Middle Ages when they could have saved themselves by saying "Jesus is Lord" and every Muslim who straps on a suicide belt and detonates him/herself in a crowded pizzeria in Tel Aviv (or maybe Chicago in the near future) proves that the human spirit can embrace a reality infinitely deeper than the mere material.

The difference, of course, is that the Christians of the Empire and the Jews of Europe only wished to be left in peace and did not wish ill to those who worshipped differently from them while the modern believing Muslim wishes nothing but ill to the "other".

We must understand that this war will not be won by giving the Palestinians a state or by building a Wal Mart Supercenter in Tehran.