TCS Daily

Why They Bomb Us

By Joshua Livestro - July 25, 2005 12:00 AM

After the initial shock temporarily seemed to have numbed their senses, the so-called experts are back in force this week, trying to explain the inexplicable. Why, oh why do they bomb us? Naturally, the UKs progressive press had their explanations ready even before the bombs exploded: its the war on terror, stupid, or rather, the invasion of Iraq! In Tuesdays edition, the Independent claimed the bombings were the damaging legacy of an ill-advised invasion. On the same day, the Guardian printed a poll which showed that nearly 67 percent of the British public thought there was a link between the bombings and the war in Iraq.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone, on the other hand, seems to think the root cause of the terror campaign was not so much Iraq as the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a press conference, he came close to condoning the suicide bombings, observing that when a young Jewish boy in this country goes and joins the Israeli army and ends up killing many Palestinians, he can come back and that is wholly legitimate. But when a young Muslim boy in this country thinks I want to defend my Palestinian brothers and sisters, and goes and gets involved, he is branded a terrorist.


There is something inherently wrong with these arguments: they try to rationalize what is beyond rationalization. There isnt a single possible rational explanation which fits all the facts. Lets try a few of the most obvious candidates:


  1. The terror attacks are planned in retribution for the War on Terror. This is an obvious non-starter. September 11, the single deadliest terror attack in modern history, was the cause of the war on terror, not its consequence.
  2. Its because of the war in Iraq. An equally obvious non-starter. The Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people, many of them Australian, happened in October 2002 six months before the invasion of Iraq took place. The same goes for the suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, or the bombing of several targets in Casablanca, Morocco.
  3. Its because of poverty. I dont think anyone is ever going to believe that one again after the London attacks. While the terrorists were busy wreaking havoc in the London underground system, Tony Blair was chairing a meeting devoted to tackling the problem of poverty in Africa.


There are other reasons I could list its because of Western indifference to Muslim suffering, or because of Western support for Arab dictators but the point is clear. The problem is not that none of these explanations is true; the problem is that they are all true, though not all at the same time, or rather, that they have all been used by Al Qaeda at some point. While the individual attacks follow a depressingly familiar pattern, the justifications keep changing with every attack.


This rotating of justifications has a number of strategic advantages for the terrorists. First of all, it makes it almost impossible for Al Qaedas opponents to defeat it by non-military means. If it was motivated by a clearly definable political objective as was the case with terror organizations like the IRA and Al Fatah a combination of carrot-and-stick policies might help to get them to the negotiating table, eventually luring them into a peace process. But Al Qaeda isnt interested in peace; it only wants death and destruction. The second reason goes to the heart of the terror method. An endless rotating of justifications means it becomes almost impossible to predict where they will strike next. The third reason has to do with long-term strategic objectives. Previous terror campaigns that served an equally unrealistic, absolutist cause the Red Brigades in Italy, or the RAF in Germany died a quiet death because they didnt manage to recruit a second or third generation of bombers. By always finding a new reason to organize another bombing campaign, Al Qaeda tries to stay relevant to new generations of potential terrorists. It takes the discontents of the day, and turns them into the justifications for the terror attacks of tomorrow.


Though the justification for the attacks may change, however, the target is always the same: the enemies of Islam. Its no use trying to define of this concept. Literally anyone could be an enemy of Islam. In the past 15 years, Al Qaedas bombs have killed people of any age, gender, color and creed on four different continents. No one is safe from them, not even Muslims themselves. Or perhaps that should be: especially Muslims themselves. In the past few years, Al Qaedas terror campaigns have killed more Muslims than Christians, Jews, and Hindus combined.


It is of course tempting to think we can figure out what motivates the bombers: who they want to bomb, and why. After all, if we could, we might be able to do something about it. But the truth is, we dont. It might not be a fashionable thing to say in European circles, but it needs to be said anyway: these people are completely and utterly evil. We shouldnt even want to reason with them, and there is no point trying. There is only one thing we can do: to fight the War on Terror until they are completely and utterly defeated no matter how long that might take.



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