Evils which are patiently endured when they seem inevitable become intolerable once the idea of escape from them is suggested.
- Alexis de Tocqueville
Grainy, dark, and pixilated, the picture was featured on the front page of the Washington Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the BBC and as the feature picture of every major media acronym’s webpage.
And it didn’t come from one of the hi-tech hi-fidelity cameras that had escorted in terrorism’s first appearance on the world stage but from the same small device that’s, by now, likely resting in your own pocket. The camera-phone pictures snapped – or, more precisely, clicked – by the terrified Londoners trapped inside the Underground train struck outside Kings Cross Station captured both the first-person terror of a victim of the attack and a novel permutation in the evolution of terrorism.
The first images from the site of a terrorist attack were for the first time not produced by international media coverage, but instead produced by the cameras on passengers’ cell phones, “the latest innovation in the grim art of terrorism documentary.”1 And in this instance, they begin to flow from their users’ cell phones and out into the world only fifteen minutes after the first Underground explosion.
This marked a dramatic departure from every act of terrorism that preceded it, the instantaneous creation of user-controlled media marked the turning of a new page in the story of terrorism. Despite all the media coverage following the events of 7/7, the most salient points about the assault were summarily missed in the coverage that was paradoxically breaking for countless consecutive hours following the bombings.
i i i
The first point was an intrinsic part of the coverage itself. The media had its usual array of breathless reporters making their on-scene commentary, attempting to be at once erudite and timeless. It also had its cut-aways to in-house terrorism experts who offered their impulsive and largely unfounded speculation about who or what had carried out the attacks. During all this, one little-noticed picture silently captured the world’s attention and all that was salient and novel about the terrorist attacks – while simultaneously shifting the very nature of media coverage forever.
In the same way that the new broadcasting technology of the 1970s – the mini-cam, the battery-powered video recorder, and the time-base corrector – magnified the global audience of a terrorist attack exponentially, the emergence of the camera phone as a medium in the theater of terrorism marks another step in the development of modern terrorism. No longer does the terrorist have to court the attention of major media outlets, giant and often intransigent, stubborn corporations.
Media coverage is now self-assembling and instantaneous.
Today it would be impossible for the aftermath of a major explosion in any public area to go undocumented by the unwitting masses, always clicking fastidiously away on the cameras embedded in the cell phones that the majority of us now carry. The video images coincidently recorded of the first plane making impact on 9/11 will perhaps be a final homage to the era of the modern hand-held camera as the prime surrogate of Symbolic Terror. From here on out, society itself will serve as the medium through which acts of terrorism are first broadcast to the rest of the world, where they bloom their contagion of fear and unease.
And unlike the 3/11 attacks, which were inspired by the terrorist’s go-to medium since Munich and the hijackings of the 70s, the 7/7 attacks relied not on television broadcast but instead on the mass medium which has largely taken its place. Nearly sixty-percent of us now get our news primarily from the internet instead of from the printed page or the talking television head, so it should come as no surprise that the internet has muscled the television aside as modern terrorism’s most capable and effective recruiter.
i i i
It would probably be a good idea to skip lunch and have a light breakfast that day, but if you really want some insight into the present state of modern Islamic terrorism simply pull up Google and type in: beheadings and infidel. Or for even more vivid results, try the same thing on You-Tube. Other choice search terms to mix into your query would be: Iraq, Daniel Pearl, al-Qaeda recruitment, and jihadist videos.
The ghastly cornucopia of grisly violence you’d stumble into owes its existence in part to the growth of terrorist-related websites as a whole, which grew from about an even dozen in 1998 to well over forty-four hundred in 2005. The feature that’s pulling the highest number of visitors to the Islamic extremist segment of this total is the downloadable database of beheadings, which like nothing else “demonstrates how an archaic practice has taken on the aspect of a public sacrament with the help of modern technology.”2
Much like the appeal of the recent blockbusting splurge of ultra-violent feature-length films, these beheadings pull on the most visceral of their viewers strings. Tweaking a part of our psyche that’s suppressed as we go about our daily business in a peaceful society. A tweaking that appeases our most primal instincts. But for the Muslims ascribing to, or even curious about, fundamental salfi interpretations of Islam the appeal goes well beyond this primal arousal and ventures into the realm of communal sacrament.
In the forty-seventh Sura of the Quran, Muslims are instructed to strike off the heads of their opponents when they are encountered on the battlefield, an injunction first embraced by Mohammed when he ordered the decapitation of seven-hundred Jewish men who were conspiring against his nascent community in Medina.
From that point on beheadings became the go-to method for capping a victory on the battlefield, from the medieval Crusades through Algeria’s war of liberation in the 1960s, right up to the present when it is still Saudi Arabia’s preferred method of capital punishment. A Muslim viewing a beheading online gets not only the same primal rush we all get from a cinematic gore-fest, but the rush that comes from the sense of a shared identity.
Today when a terrorist kills by beheading, “it underscores his identity as a jihadist and acts as a kind of sacrament, a way of making the violence holy.”3 Modern fundamentalist Christians have their unleavened wafers and grape juice, modern fundamentalist Muslims go with decapitation and spurting aortic blood. For the terrorist-to-be, the video of a beheading is “redolent with the sense of sacrifice and the literal execution of God’s law.”4
i i i
Videos of beheadings are so popular that when the file containing the decapitating execution of Nicholas Berg, an American contractor in Iraq, was released onto the internet in May of 2004 so many thousands of surfers tried to simultaneously download the file that dozens of different sites took to hosting it to prevent servers from crashing.
The webmaster of one website reported that the video of Berg’s decapitation has been downloaded over 15 million times from his site alone. And as of September of 2004, videos of beheadings were actually outselling pornographic videos in downtown Baghdad. But even more indicative of the communal nature of these beheadings is the fate of two Western contractors who were kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents in September of 2004.
One creative poster on an online jihadist message board suggested that the most dramatic thing to do would be behead one of the hostages while the other watched, simultaneously recording both the beheading and his comrade’s reaction. The insurgents happily obliged and posted the results online.
Following close behind beheadings other meticulously documented acts of violence enjoy a high level of internet celebrity, and also serve to pull Muslims into the terrorist fold. These mostly consist of Iraqi insurgent attacks against their American occupiers, from the rocketing of Humvees to the downing of helicopters through the car-bombing of checkpoints manned by American forces. And it’s not like Muslim cameramen randomly follow US forces around Iraq, filming is instead “an integral part of the overall operation.” The drama of the footage is no mistake, but occurs “precisely because the cameraman is part of the combat unit, there to document a planned attack or execution, not a journalist waiting for something to happen nearby.”
These images serve to usher in a new era, one of Muslim empowerment instead of subjugation. Until the invasion of Iraq and the rash of beheading and insurgent assault videos that followed the majority of media-borne images were ones of defeat: the iconic photograph of the young boy shot and killed by Israeli forces which sparked the second intifada, images of Muslim military defeat from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, Russian troops crushing Muslim villagers in Chechnya.
The internet, however, has enabled a universal sense of Muslim identity which focuses on a sense of universal grievance to emerge. For Muslims today, “the local and the global can no longer be distinguished” and “the sufferings of Muslims everywhere have become even more palpably the responsibility of every Muslim.” The authors of those past two quotes are Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin, two of the foremost commentators on the modern wave of fundamentalist Islamic terror. They elaborate on these points well:
“For individual Muslims, the Internet has provided the means to transcend their surroundings and participate in the new umma. It is the delivery vehicle par excellence for a set of powerful ideas, which now ricochet around the world with light speed. Sermons from Saudi Arabia, communiqués from the jihad, instruction on proper Islamic behavior, history lessons, Quranic exegesis – all these flick onto millions of computer screens or land in e-mail in-boxes daily. Where there are few computers, adherents wait their turn in the Internet café or print the message and circulate it that way. Without the Internet, bin Ladin could still have taken his jihad global – videotapes and compact discs were already spreading the word before Netscape – but its growth would be at a comparative snail’s pace. In fact, the Internet is driving the creation of the new transnational Muslim identity and, with it, a hatred of America.”
What the internet is driving in Muslims communities across the globe today is the inverse of the American anti-war movements driven by the television in the 1970s. Instead of creating bonds of opposition to violence, bonds of violence are being created in opposition to a foreign foe – in the 1970s Iranians were bound together by the tape-recorded voice of the Ayatollah Khomeini, today the face of bin Ladin does the same on a much grander scale.
And never were these bonds made as graphically apparent as beneath London’s suburbs, when men who were not merely familiar with British life but who had dwelled within it for at least a dozen years, if not their entire lifetimes, were swayed – not just by outside accomplices but by the internet – to believe that death would answer all the questions posed by life.
i i i
The parallels between 3/11 and 7/7 go well beyond their numerical notoriety. Both were carried out against public mass transit systems that ran on a system of trains, and both involved terrorist cells who were to some extent or another native. But the level of that extent is where they begin to diverge and where insightful analysis starts.
Unlike the 3/11 bombings, which were influenced if not entirely coordinated by a foreign outsider – Sarhane Fakhet, a.k.a. “The Tunisian” – who came to Spain specifically to recruit “local” Muslims who might be sympathetic to his cause, the 7/7 bombings were homegrown to a much deeper extent.
Whereas none of the 3/11 bombers had lived in Spain for even close to a decade, on 7/7 two of the suicide bombers had been residents in the United Kingdom for an unlucky thirteen years. They were embedded within British society to a much deeper extent than their Spanish counterparts. So, on the surface, you’d figure they would see themselves much more a part of British society than their 3/11 counterparts saw themselves as a part of Spanish society.
And yet this wasn’t at all the case.
Half of the equation is exclusion. Muslims throughout Europe are seen as, not as a rule but then far from as an exception, what slain film-maker Theo Van Gogh unaffectionately referred to as “a fifth column of goatfuckers.” This perception is due in part to the fact that Muslims throughout Europe have been ghettoized, with city centers inhabited by native Europeans and the outskirts occupied increasingly by Muslims.5 Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in France, where tensions strained in part by the geographic and economic gap between immigrant Muslims and local Frenchmen sparked the heavily destructive but lightly lethal riots which rolled across Paris and her suburbs in the fall of 2005.
France is not a unique European case; no European nation has anything close to America’s legacy of comfortably assimilating immigrant populations, and all of them more closely resemble France in this respect than they do the United States. The insight France provides is as a case study: it is there that the stirrings of Islamic extremism already exist, and it’s through France that differences between the terrorist involvement of American and European Muslim communities are best analyzed.
One main difference “lies in numbers. France absorbs individuals into its classic culture; until the current ingress of North African Muslims, it had not experienced mass immigration, and neither its beliefs nor its policies have adapted to the new wave.”6 The precise demographics of this wave are difficult to ascertain since the French government, keeping with their secular image, does not allow census data on religion to be collected. A safe estimate seems to be that there are over 3 million Muslims in France, with the vast majority coming from the Middle East and Africa and only 50,000 being native French converts, and so it is likely that at least five-percent of the French population is Muslim.
And yet this does not display the speed at which the heat of the simmering is growing, population growth statistics do: since World War II the population has exploded thirty to forty times through poorly suppressed illegal immigration, a high natural birthrate, and nuptial or personal conversion. The Muslim immigrant’s birthrate is three to four times higher than other French, and so, if current trends hold, by the year 2016 Muslims could make up twenty percent of the French population.
Already within urban France, “the proportion of children, teenagers, and young adults… is not 5-11 percent but a very impressive 33 percent or so.”7 These numbers clash strongly with American ones, where only a slight percent of the population is Muslim, and the current threat to Anglo-Protestant numerical dominance comes from the growth of Hispanic societies.
It is this substantial and growing population of Muslims in France, especially the urban youth population that is one-third Muslim, which differentiates France from America and provides many more possible recruits for terrorists. The fifty thousand French converts are of a special concern, and as “insurgents who choose not to display their faith overtly can easily elude authorities… conversion is an intense focus of terrorist networks.”8
i i i
So France holds a large and growing Muslim population, but this is not the only force exacerbating tensions in France.
Contrasting heavily with even the most decadent of American cities where Muslims exist in a relatively open community, the tension and ill-will between Muslims and the rest of France amplifies this increasing numerical threat exponentially. There is a “rigorous moral order” that prevails in the low-income urban areas around Paris, “of a type that one does not generally find in Muslim societies of the southern or eastern Mediterranean,” and which causes residents to turn “inward on themselves and away from a state of unbelief whose contagion they fear.”9
Whereas the lives of Muslim immigrants in the United States is for the most part peaceable, in France 700 Muslim neighborhoods are listed as “violent” by the general intelligence of the French police, and another 400 as having “organized crime and firearms present” and that “the residents have a systematic strategy to keep the police out” – or are “very violent.”10
High crime rates elsewhere also play a role. Following Van Gogh’s murder in the Netherlands one local commentator posited, rather speciously although no one minded, that eighty-percent of Moroccan youths had in fact been involved in street violence.11 Since much of this crime, it is tacitly assumed, aimed at native Europeans, the Muslims perpetrating it are fomenting rebellion from within – forming that image of the fifth column.
i i i
But European exclusion of Muslim immigrants begins not with the real estate-based realities of where the strange towel-headed brown people live nor with any statistics. There is a prevalent social perception that Muslim mores are, at their sandy goat-fucking cores, utterly incompatible with the bourgeois equanimity of Europe. This perception of Muslims on the European Continent, which is not without empirical merit, was summed well in a passage from a book praised by everyone from the accomplished historian Victor Davis Hanson to American foreign policy guru Daniel Pipes:
“They were taught that God had given them authority over women and made them superior to infidels. They were taught that they owed no deference to any unbeliever – whether teacher, police officer, or government official – because in the eyes of God no non-Muslim has a legitimate right to occupy a position of power over Muslims. To them, the infidels’ ‘law’ is a joke, and values such as pluralism, tolerance, and sexual equality are alien and immoral. They see Western society as the enemy, European men as wimps, European women as sluts. Their supreme shared value is a primitive cult of honor, according to which if your daughter dates a Norwegian boy, she damages the family’s honor and merits death, but if your son rapes a Norwegian girl, it’s her fault. Given such training, it’s little wonder that gang violence and mayhem are a growing problem across the Continent.”12
If you were to take the preceding passage for reality, you might stroll around a downtown European city swiveling your head – just waiting for a brown man to pop out from behind a Peugeot, yelling at you to ask where all the European women are at.
For every sensationalistic story that can be narrated about the gruesome raping of fragile waif-like European girls by hairy engorged Muslims, the intrinsic and violent homophobia of Muslim culture – which is so bad the casual observer might even mistake it for American collegiate culture, or the brutal practice of female genital mutilation – which is actually African and not Muslim, there are scores more stories of families struggling to survive in a hostile environment. It’s certainly true that Muslim societies on the whole have tended to violence more than any other cultural counterpart over the past few decades and that there is much in Islam which encourages xenophobia and violence against outsiders. Stereotypes, however, have never done human societies any good when it comes to solving or analyzing complex social issues.
They merely exacerbate them. That said, it is clear that even if Muslim communities did begin to want to integrate into European communities they would face thin-lipped opposition by their supposedly pluralistic European hosts. But then this desire to integrate seems a long way off and only growing farther away, a fact which was subtly narrated by the most salient difference between the bombings of 3/11 and 7/7.
Exclusion by Europeans makes up half the equation, the rest of the calculus involves a growing sense of inclusion. Not of Muslims into Europe, but of Europe’s Muslims into the international Islamic community.
i i i
While concentrated groups of Muslim immigrants pose – as does any disgruntled community – a threat to several nations in which they reside, the West has been designated by bin Ladin as the target for all Muslims intent on securing and restoring Islam to its former and proper glory.
The two vanguards of Western civilization, Europe and the United States, both possess very different Muslim communities and very different approaches to managing their assimilation of immigrants of any stripe. These differences interact with each other in an interplay that produces a much more severe threat to Europe, fomenting greater violence, primarily because of population trends and the approach of these societies to their burgeoning Muslim communities.
Granted, Europe is composed of many nations, but since France harbors an increasingly large immigrant community and holds a position of influence in the EU it served well as a case study. Terrorist attacks by immigrant communities are not predestined. However these communities have already served as flashpoints for violence and tension, and there seems to be little to ameliorate the development of this trend as distrust and hatred continue to brew in the communities.
With mainstream Islam desperately in need of reform, bin Ladin’s claims gaining more and more credence, with less chance of the guidance of a core state emerging to counter it, and with the incredible potency of mutualistic terrorism, understanding the growth and nature of Muslim immigrant communities is essential to preserving the integrity of the West.
America holds a rather unique place in the current geopolitical ambiance, as she is the only influential world player founded exclusively by immigration and revolution, and whose identity lays more in a shared ideological creed and not conquest or ethnicity. Waves of immigrants have continually washed upon her shores and been assimilated after some initial friction, although the recent surge in Mexican immigration does present a unique challenge.
Yet these Mexicans are almost entirely Catholic, and so are unlikely candidates to carry out terrorism in the name of Islam. The large concentration of Arabs in and around Detroit and her suburbs are neither entirely Muslim, many are Chaldean Christians, nor notably violent – most Americans would likely name long-time and oft-penalized Detroit Pistons player Rasheed Wallace as the most militant Muslim associated with that metropolitan area.
This does not mean there is no chance of mutualistic terrorism emerging in America. Only that it less likely within a society that has fewer Muslims, and with few of those Muslims reverting to fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. The difference is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that for Rasheed Wallace “blowing up” means dropping an angry spittle-flecked f-bomb or at worst choking a hapless coach, while for Europe’s militant Muslims this term takes on something of a more literal meaning.
i i i
Although there hasn’t been substantial Muslim immigration to America, examining the character of it is still necessary to gain any insight into the group’s potential as a flashpoint for terrorism, if nothing else than to serve as a contrast to Europe.
In general, “Arab Muslims seem slow to assimilate compared to other post-1965 groups,” which may partly be a result of wariness towards Muslims due to the high-profile terrorist attacks carried out by Muslim extremist groups. As of 2002, well over a third of Americans polled responded that they did not “show respect towards the Muslim faith,” and only 39% held a favorable impression of American Muslims, at least in part due to the above point, or maybe simply because of the alien nature of the culture.13 This lack of warmth has been noticed by the Muslim community, as a poll taken shortly after 9/11 documents. Over half of those polled reported that Muslims or their organizations had experienced discrimination. The most important issue the Muslim community faced were reported as racism, profiling, prejudice, and stereotyping; and well over half had experienced anti-Muslim discrimination.14
These feelings of discontent have been manifested in many instances of violent and discriminatory behavior against Arabs, or anyone resembling an Arab, in the months following 9/11; although they have trailed off with the passing years. But despite all this there has not been one genuinely homegrown act of Muslim or Arab terrorism in the United States, and if there have been rallies protesting their ill-treatment in America, they have slipped under the popular radar.
Thanks may be due to the FBI and US intelligence for this lack of indigenous extremism; however both the cells involved in the two WTC towers attacks comprised men who came over exclusively to blow things up, and did not recruit out of a well-established immigrant population as was the case in 3/11. This lack of indigenous recruiting was the same story with the Buffalo cell that was rolled up in September of 2002, that time Yemenese men who had trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
One explanation for this lies in the city that serves as the most ridiculously corrupt symbol of everything possibly wrong with America today, the city that would most incite a Muslim immigrant community to feel that their faith was being directly assaulted. Of all the cities in which a population of devout Muslims could begin to feel resentment towards the corrupting influence of American society and disgust for Western societal influences, Las Vegas would be the top draw.
Surprisingly, there are about 10,000 Muslims who have settled in this “caricature of Western decadence… a city that merrily traffics in every variety of fruit forbidden in the Koran.” And within the community “one can find well-to-do doctors from the Indian subcontinent, barrel-chested circus tumblers from Tangier, cabdrivers from Compton, war widows from Kabul,”15 no shortage in a variety of backgrounds and social class that a potential terrorist could use to woo a Muslim into extremism.
In a year-long journalistic documentary, Peter King followed the lives of the community at-large, and several individuals in a special five-part series for the Los Angeles Times. During this time, the majority of “harassment” came from the FBI, which in the aftermath of 9/11 was frequently detaining Muslims for interviews – other than some light verbal harassment by strangers, this was the most invasive reported. And although there were threatening calls made to local mosques, “for every threatening call… there [were] calls expressing support.” Many of the Muslims included in the documentary handled their situation with humor – Muhammad, a Chevy truck salesmen, was gently asked by superiors fearing public discrimination and a drop in sales if he wanted to change his name to “Bob.”
He declined, and the running joke in the dealership became, “Muhammad, if this guy doesn’t buy a car, just light your shoe.”16
Perhaps most telling of the trials faced by Muslims in Vegas trying to enter American society, and drawing the most contrast with their European counterparts, is the story of Fatiha Rahane, a forty-year old Moroccan immigrant. Having opened a clothing store that specialized in hijabs of a variety of shapes and colors, and other ethnic clothing, she began to seriously contemplate and study the decision to veil – not wanting to make it and then later decided to recant. However as time passed, her store could not stay in the black and eventually was forced to shut its doors.
But this was not due to any sort of vandalism or discrimination, but simply because there was not enough interest from the Muslim community in her wares – Muslims in Las Vegas seemed less intent on touting their Islamic identity, even in a city bursting with so much that is absolutely contrary to Islam, because there was no need. Without governmental interference or censorship (like the battle raging over wearing hijabs in French schools), the Muslim community in Las Vegas did not seem to feel the need to heighten their Muslim appearance or defend its existence.
As with every other immigrant community in America, at times they faced some harassment and abuse, but overall they were able to carry on their lives in whatever ethnic or religious manner they pleased.
Circumstances in Los Angeles are more apt than those in Las Vegas to create a radical Muslim community. With only 10% of migrant Muslims in Los Angeles feeling more loyal to America than Islamic countries and thirty-eight percent of American-born Muslims feeling the same, and with over half responding that it was very important and nearly another quarter that it was quite important to replace public schools with Islamic ones, there is plenty of room for Islamist violence to take root.17
But the “United States has absorbed mass migrations over a several-generational period and has continually adapted its own culture and policies” to quickly integrate immigrant communities.18 America is not totally secure against mutualistic terrorism, but it is less likely to experience it than Europe for reasons stemming both from the smaller overall number of Muslims in America to the popular and governmental acceptance with which Muslim immigrants are met with here.
Such is not the case in most of Europe, and certainly isn’t in France.
i i i
When asked to explain the psychological effect of living somewhere they do not necessarily feel welcome, and oftentimes feel persecuted and victimized, one of the immigrant Muslims in King’s piece compared the experience to cooking a frog: “if you want to boil a frog…you don’t toss it into hot water. You put it in cold water and slowly turn up the heat… it simmers in anxiety.” This analogy aptly describes the situation in France and much of Europe, where a Muslim population that shows signs of uninhibited growth is chafing under the rising anxieties put on it by governments and populations that are heating tensions between themselves and the immigrant Muslim community.
This draws a stark contrast with the Muslims of Las Vegas, who stitch themselves seamlessly into the heart of the local culture as cabbies and bartenders, and whose biggest problem with the FBI is the shame associated with the possible guilt implied by having been questioned by the police. Besides the third of adults unemployed in these areas around Paris, even more telling is the almost twenty percent of violence that consists of “assaults or rebellions against the police.”19
Unrest is not isolated in urban areas, as “riots have even taken place at the seaside or mountain resort sites where suburbanite youngsters are sometimes placed for government-sponsored vacations.”20 All of this has led sociologists, Muslims among them, to acknowledge that “an almost symbiotic relationship exists in the ghettos between the underclass way of life and ethnic/religious separatism.”21 It is this symbiosis that presents a present and swelling danger, if it is harnessed for terrorism as it was in the Madrid train bombings.
When the fact that “French Islam remains closer to its premodern model” and “there has been no breakout toward secularism” is added to the mix, it is no surprise that hopeless young Muslims have reverted to Islamic culture, “including some aspects that violate modern French (and indeed, other Western) mores, and sometimes to religious fundamentalism.”22 Terrorism is not the inevitable outcome of this friction, and there have been a fair amount of appeals through political and peaceful channels – but the overall tendency towards tension in France is unlikely to continue there without an explosion of more mutualistic terrorism.
It is not a given, it is just much more likely to occur there than in America where Muslims are able to exist without friction with society, where Muslims are able to practice as devoutly as they choose without government interference on almost any level. The slowly heating simmer being applied to Muslim immigrant communities in France and other European nations may result in the frog bursting, while in America the prevalence of acceptance and the lack of strong tensions between assimilated Muslims and society should keep the frog sweating, but safely in his pot. The fate of foreign frogs, however, has rarely been of paramount American concern.
i i i
As The Economist aptly phrased it, globalization is most simply described as “the abolition of distance.” In an economic sense this brings markets closer together and nearer to the factories which supply the goods they purchase. Exchanges happen faster, and more quickly the weak and unviable ideas and products are weeded out. In a cultural sense this abolition of distance can seem to cause a corpulent and morally-unchecked Hollywood to smother native mores and traditions, shoving them beneath the plate of profits and sleazy entertainment.
And the same technology that facilities globalization of economies and industries also brings scattered diaspora together. To unite a people with a sense of shared identity, no matter how far apart they may geographically be as they can now communicate with each other instantaneously. Which, it would seem, has been occurring at an accelerating rate for the world’s Muslims who follow Osama bin Ladin’s vanguard of al-Qaeda. There are many indications of al-Qaeda’s growing appeal in largely Muslim nations, a poll just after 9/11 found that over ninety-five percent of Saudis agreed in principle with bin Ladin’s objections to American forces in the region.
Technology has allowed the Muslim world to feel more bound together than ever before, demonstrated by the worldwide protests that broke out over Israel’s deadly incursion into Gaza in early 2009. Second-generation European Muslims protested simultaneously with non-Arab Muslims in southeast Asia, whose cries were joined in concert by Muslims voices staging rallies in every nation in the heart of the Arab world.
Regardless of what nation they live in, Muslims throughout the world feel more bound to their coreligionists today than ever before. And the most lethal side-effect of this is that the prospects of suicide terrorism are bolstered by this growing sense of international community. The unique modus operandi of suicide terrorism has been proven by history to be one of the most, if not the most, effective form of terrorism – often blurring the line between Tactical and Symbolic Terror.
i i i
The thing about campaigns of suicide terrorism is that they’re used within a clearly definable and very indicative set of circumstances. From the Sri Lankan jungles through the streets of India to the West Bank of the Jordan River – where Gideon performed the world’s first commando cum terrorist operation – campaigns of suicide terrorism are began not because of hate or a lack of morals or hopelessness or any abstract and ephemeral reason.
They are begun and sustained within a framework that is entirely logical and empirical.
Campaigns of suicide terrorism emerge when a foreign power exercises political control – manifest in coercive assets such as police, troops, or security forces – in the form of an the occupation of someone else’s homeland. It is within this scenario that “people who love their nation can come to feel intense loathing toward the nation occupying their homeland and may develop a heroic sense of duty to inflict terrible punishment on the enemy society in order to compel it to leave.”23
This terrible punishment can come in many forms, the most efficient of which is a campaign of suicide terrorism, which is “an extreme strategy for national liberation against democracies with troops that pose an imminent threat to control the territory the terrorists view as their homeland.”24 And in terms of melding Tactical and Symbolic Terror, and meting out that terrible punishment, there is no better method than Suicide Terror.
The effectiveness of Suicide Terror is based on three factors, with its overall strategy being to generate “coercive leverage both from the immediate panic associated with each attack and from the risk of punishment of innocents in the future.” The first part of this strategy is the most apparent and the most practical: the fact that suicide bombers are willing to die makes them much more likely to take risks in the course of completing their missions, risks aimed at causing maximum damage.25
And since escape plans and rescue teams would be a bit oxymoronic, the suicide terrorist has more target flexibility. The statistics bear out Suicide Terror’s lethality, as since 1980, even excluding 9/11, Suicide Terror accounted for just under half of the total deaths due to terrorism while making up just 3% of all attacks.
The second fold is that Suicide Terror sends the message that the terrorists aren’t the least bit afraid of retaliation by the authorities, and so they cannot be stopped. They don’t just claim their willingness to die for their cause, they prove it. Corporeal deterrence against individuals who utilize Suicide Terror is a non-sequitur, a fact Israeli authorities have responded to by promising to demolish the family house of any suicide terrorists. Which hasn’t worked either – it only furthers the economic incentives rewarded to their surviving families and increasing the sense of group identity that comes from a sense of shared persecution.
The fearlessness of the suicide terrorist drives home the signal that more attacks are to come, a facet of the attacks that is so important that the term “the art of martyrdom” has been coined to describe it. This decidedly black art “elicits popular support from the terrorists’ community, reducing the moral backlash that suicide attacks might otherwise produce, and so establishes the foundation for credible signaling of more attacks to come.”26
And lastly Suicide Terror strikes at the ephemeral, as it so often breaches taboos concerning who might be a viable target and crosses the threshold of damage that one attacker is believed to be able to cause.27 9/11 is the most salient example of the former phenomenon – as justifying attacks against civilians complicit in the American Administration’s foreign policy was a clearly stated goal of the attack, and the 1983 Marine barracks bombing serves well to demonstrate the latter – as just one man killed 214 Marines and totally neutralized our entire military presence in Lebanon. Unsurprisingly, both attacks fit well into the aforementioned moral framework of Suicide Terror, that of liberating a people.
In the case the barracks attack, it was liberating Lebanon from the American Marines, and in the case of 9/11 the grander goal of liberating all Muslim lands, Saudi Arabia especially, from any semblance of Western occupation.
These three layers of effect are reflected in the three-legged supportive framework of community backing that’s needed for a campaign of Suicide Terror to creep up from grassroots support and into a mature social phenomenon. Community support is the first imperative since without new volunteers from the community a campaign of Suicide Terror runs dry. Second, support from the community also provides the operatives themselves with cover, allowing them to avoid detection and elimination by the security forces of the target society. Without this tacit support, groups intent on using Suicide Terror would have their recruitment process and logistical chain broken and would quickly find themselves unable to operate.
Third and most importantly, a suicide terrorist must be seen by the community at large not as a terrorist but as a martyr. Acceptance as a martyr reinforces the prospective terrorist’s belief that his aims truly are altruistic and ensures that his sacrifice won’t go unnoticed.28
If an act of Suicide Terror is widely condemned either as immoral violence or as pointless self-destruction instead of seen as an act of martyrdom aimed at furthering the greater good of the community, support for the attack and so the group responsible for it would hastily erode. Muslim societies are especially sensitive to the condemnation of personal suicide, as societal norms against suicide in Muslims societies are actually some of the world’s strongest. Which brings up the most important point in all this.
i i i
Suicide Terror signals that war has been declared by one society against another, or by an element within the society against the broader whole. When men are willing to die for a cause, knowing that in death they will be celebrated by those they leave behind as heroes and martyrs, it signals that an ideology has successfully taken root. Neither men who carry out Suicide Terror or men who volunteer for suicide missions in war consider themselves terrorists, they both view themselves as soldiers nobly dying for a cause greater than themselves. This becomes readily apparent from even a cursory viewing of the messages they leave behind.
The Suicide Terror of 7/7 was an explicitly a stated reaction against the American and British occupation of Iraq. And yet the men who killed themselves in the attack weren’t Iraqi, nor were they Arab. By citizenship, by upbringing, and by birth they were decidedly British. But in their death as suicide bombers they were seeking both membership in the international Muslim ummah and its approval. Having never been to Iraq, having never met Osama bin Ladin, and having only been exposed to an ideology via the internet – the suicide terrorists of 7/7 felt themselves part of an international whole more profoundly than any of their ilk who had come before them. The bombers of 3/11, motivated too by the occupation of Iraq but acting two years earlier, did not feel compelled to die in their attacks – only after facing either arrest or death did they take their own lives.
And so it would seem that the internet alone has been able to create, at least for some, the sense of shared identity – of community – that is imperative for campaigns of Suicide Terror. Granted, one day hardly a campaign makes. However, only two weeks after 7/7 British security forces, as a result of widespread detentions and interrogations, narrowly averted another rash of suicide attacks against the London Underground, and countless other acts of Suicide Terror are said to have been averted across Europe since. Something profound happened on 7/7.
The wheel of Political Terrorism at last began to turn. However it turned slowly, at times almost imperceptibly so. An attack in the summer of 2007, while dramatic, was mostly a failure. The first Benz car bomb outside of a popular nightclub fizzled, and the next morning when they attempted to drive another car full of explosives into Glasgow’s airport they got jammed under an overhang and were forced to run screaming into the street. At this point a Scottish cabbie gained his fifteen minutes by kicking one of the fleeing terrorists in the nuts so hard that he managed to break his own foot.
The following summer a plot to blow several transatlantic airliners bound for America was taken down before it could be executed, and for the most part calm has prevailed.
i i i
Before coining the term “accidental guerrilla,” David Killcullen fought as a member of the Australian military in theatres of war on multiple continents, and served as a counterterrorism adviser to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and General David Petraeus, as well as serving as the chief counterterrorism strategist for the U.S. State Department. The term accidental guerrilla has its origins in the native resistance to the War on Terror that began after 9/11.
As Killcullen traveled to areas where there was ongoing military action against declared “terrorists,” he noticed an odd phenomenon.
Many, in fact most, of the men fighting against American forces didn’t actually ascribe to the violent jihadi ideology that led al-Qaida to perpetrate 9/11. They were just average locals who found outsiders engaged in a shooting war on their turf, and felt compelled to join in. In the words of one Afghani villager who spontaneously joined in with the Taliban in an ambush against American troops, “when the battle was right there in front of them, how could they not join in? …This was the most exciting thing that had happened in their valley in years. It would have shamed them to stand by and wait it out.”28.1
As outlined in his ground-breaking book The Accidental Guerrilla, the phenomena follows a four step cycle that’s nearly identical to Political Terrorism, and that can be simply understood as Political Terrorism within a specific framework. Kilcullen describes accidental guerrillas as the result of a syndrome, and illustrates it using biological analogies and four stages:
1. infecting an area where the State has a waning influence
2. reaching a virulent potential for widespread media dissemination by carrying out acts of captivating violence
3. drawing in outside intervention to deal with this new virulent threat
4. a rejection of the heavyhanded outside intervention by the local population, which wins the infectious agents sympathizers and followers
And so accidental guerrillas are born when they become infected by the virulent influence of al-Qaida or any other radical ideology, and fight back against any outside intervention that follows. Not necessarily because they agree with the radicals, but because they feel compelled to reject what they’ve come to see as an unjust and illegitimate outside power.
The rest of the book goes on to illustrate how the accidental guerrilla syndrome rallied locals to the side of international jihadis everywhere from Iraq to Afghanistan to East Timor, and argues that the syndrome was responsible for mobilizing most of the violence against an outside American military presence. Locals who either want in on the action, or are afraid “the Crazies will kill them,”28.2 reportedly make up nearly 90% of those fighting back against what’s been sold to them as a military operation undertaken by outsiders.
In the last few chapters of the book, Kilcullen addresses the potential for Europe to act as a stating area for terrorism and future accidental guerrillas, as well as the role there of micro-havens, “urban undergrounds, alienated ethnic groups, and slums where the writ of government does not always run and where police and security services’ situational awareness is low.”28.3
But oddly enough, the potential for accidental guerrillas to emerge in America is never explored.
i i i
The greatest threat to our society doesn’t come from any foreign source at all. Political Terrorism has always been an indigenous response to perceived social injustice and oppression. Just who qualifies as “indigenous” has become increasingly muddled by the growing currents of globalization which wash wave after wave of immigrant onto our shores. But all the same, immigrants who do come to our country are unlikely to carry out effective terrorism on two accounts.
One is that immigrants who come here seeking only to destroy us don’t attempt to understand us. And lacking this understanding they are hamstrung from truly terrorizing us – truly digging into our psychological soft-spots as our own Special Forces do against their target societies. Odds are that their plots will be ineffectual, or that they will simply be caught because they can’t help but stick out in the era of security that has followed 9/11.
Ramzi Yousef presents a good example of the former, while examples of the latter range from the JFK plot to the assault on Fort Dix that wasn’t. The other is that those who do come to understand us seem hard-pressed to attack us. American society is arguably the most inclusive in the world, and is certainly the most successful one founded on ideological principles and not a shared bloodline.
When you’re welcomed with open arms you’re not very likely to punch that person in the face, a fact embodied by both the Muslims of Las Vegas, and the Lackawanna Six. After settling in Lackawanna, New York, those six Yemenese men had originally planned on carrying out a string of terrorist attacks but eventually stood down from this plan after growing fond of their adoptive society. The threat of foreign terrorists infiltrating our society does threaten to sow death and chaos, however they cannot possibly spark a campaign of Political Terrorism so long as they don’t understand us.
The same cannot be said of much of Europe, where no country was founded by immigrants and no country has its ideological foundation in the ideals of equality for all who wash up on her shores. The American mentality is a unique one – we are the only nation in the world whose national mythology is truly one of moral ideals. Unlike any European nation, or any other nation in the world, America’s very birthright is one of inclusion.
Political Terrorism hasn’t yet managed to reach American shores, and the explosions of violence that occur with Europe’s borders have stayed shielded from our own. Just why that has held true, at least up until now, ties into story of our nation – which is, if nothing else, the story of our immigrants.
But even if the cycle of Political Terrorism itself fails to metastasize exactly as planned, the unpredictable and virulent effects of the best Symbolic Terror may still end up accomplishing the intended ends. Arguing just how successful bin Ladin has been on the entire globalized stage is a tricky matter, causation between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq is mercurial at best. Muslims the world over certainly have grown more wary of the United States as a whole since 9/11, and the subsequent invasions, and polls cited a growing distrust of American policy throughout Bush’s two terms.
And both the 3/11 Madrid bombers and the 7/7 London bombers cite Iraq as their prime motivation, so there is more than a little something to the argument that across the entire globe Political Terrorism is more and more becoming a distinct possibility.
i i i
Except seemingly in America, where the nation waited breathlessly after 9/11 for another attack from al-Qaeda that never came. Credit for this has been given to our beefed-up security and other constitutionally hazy measures, but a more likely explanation is that no more Symbolic Terror has happened because there’s no need for it to happen. With the lighting of the Twin Towers the path for bin Ladin’s vanguard was created, the metaphorical stage was set by that act of Symbolic Terror.
Set, it’s important to remember, not for Symbolic Terror but for the more militaristic Tactical Terror that has begun to creep across much of Europe as a result of their less-than assimilated and more than confrontational populations of immigrant communities. But on America’s own scale, the threat of foreign Political Terrorism seems utterly improbable at this point.
The rarified sanctum that 9/11 has constructed in the hearts and minds of most Americans is not due to the tactical impact of the attacks, but to their symbolic impact. As Tactical Terror they would have been more effective – planned as they were not to collapse the Towers but only set them afire – in financial terms targeting the New York Stock Exchange and in human terms a packed NFL stadium. But on 9/11 Tactical Terror wasn’t the goal, Symbolic Terror was. And in terms of the latter, there could be almost no better target. Symbolic Terror is theater carried out on an ephemeral stage that is built by the media’s lenses, wires, and screens, constructed en masse for every household in the world.
But had the cameras not been rolling, had the media coverage not blanketed our collective consciousness with the images and sounds of that day – the symbolism would’ve found no resonance in our psyche nor in the psyche of the Muslim world. And no hearts or minds would have been seized. 9/11 wasn’t about two massive American skyscrapers crumbling. 9/11 wasn’t about the thousands who died. 9/11 was theater on the world stage – 9/11 was spectacle. Its impact spanned thousands of miles and a quarter-billion lives not because any of those miles or any of those lives were at all threatened – few of them were even brushed – but because they saw 9/11 happen. It was broadcast to them.
And in watching the broadcast fate of the World Trade Center Towers in New York City on September the eleventh what was distilled wasn’t a date, a place, nor an event – but a symbol represented by numbers: 9/11. We held onto it, and by our own hands shaped a day, a place, and an event into the symbolic numerals that day has become.
In the same way that new technology allowed the news-media to remotely broadcast the gruesome events in Munich and the airplane hijackings that followed, allowing the first modern terrorists to establish their frontline in every living room holding a television set – 9/11 was a specter entirely dependent on the modern media and was magnified even more than those first attacks by the technologies of mass communication.
It was both new and very old, a continuation of a strategy which had been first used thousands of years before. That September day opened up a new front in a very old war. As terrorism is nothing more than the continuation of ancient wars through modern means, the secrets of the future of terrorism lie in the stories of our wars, ancient and modern alike.