During this morning’s commute, conservative talk show host Greg Knapp was discussing radical Islam following the State Department’s latest declaration that the War on Terror has come to a close. He questioned the wisdom in ending the War on Terror in light of such groups as the Muslim Brotherhood gaining political traction in Egypt.
One of Knapp’s points was that, given the sentiments of certain Muslims the US should continue fighting terrorism. The host then went on to list some poll results, which showed that 26 percent of American Muslims, and half of Muslims worldwide, supported suicide attacks. A clip of Rep. Allen West was played, during which the congressman suggested that appeasement of Muslims would lead to “cultural suicide,” which Knapp agreed with.
Of course context is everything, and the polling of Muslims shouldn’t be isolated from the polling of other Americans. For instance, 60% of Americans were in favor of the Iraq war. After it started, 75% of Americans approved of how President Bush “handl[ed] the situation in Iraq,” and 70% thought the costs outweighed the benefits. So it’s not as if Muslims are the only group which advocates death and destruction.
The most important detail left out of Knapp’s analysis is why Muslims might support suicide bombing. This is a question few ever consider, and even fewer look to answer, but as I mentioned, it’s the most important one. Why would someone deliberately use suicide as a means of fighting?
Most chalk it up to Muslims being promised a life in paradise as martyrs. But that doesn’t explain why other groups use suicide as well. Robert Pape, of the University of Chicago has compiled a database of virtually all suicide attacks since 1980, as well as written a book on the subject, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.
In his book, he notes that throughout history suicide has been used by Japanese Kamikazes, Islamic rebels in Chechnya, and the secular and atheist Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. So rather than the Muslim religion being the chief motivator, what Professor Pape found in his research is that repelling invaders served as the primary means to drive individuals to kill themselves. Indeed, it was driving out democratically elected governments specifically, that lead more than 300 people in the last thirty years to take their own lives.
Just in the last two weeks we heard from one of those American Muslims who ostensibly supports suicide terrorism. Tarek Mehanna, an American Muslim who was recently sentenced to 17 years for aiding terrorists, explained exactly how and why he became sympathetic to Muslims overseas. His conclusion after studying the situation was that Muslims have been the victims of terrorism themselves, and when they’ve retaliated, the cycle starts all over again, with Muslims being labeled as the terrorists.
Rep. Allen West is entirely wrong about what constitutes cultural suicide. It is not appeasing terrorists; cultural suicide is failing to realize what leads to terrorism and continuing to exacerbate the problem by killing innocent people. Not only does the US government invite further retaliation, but society in general becomes less and less inclined to reject warfare and violence. Once violence becomes acceptable overseas it’s only a matter of time before it becomes acceptable here at home.
We’re starting to see this now, with the militarization of domestic police forces, many of whom more closely resemble commandos than peace officers. It’s becoming less common to see the standard blue uniforms and simple tool belt worn by policemen for decades. Now we’re seeing the policeman’s uniform shift to black or charcoal, with body armor worn on the outside, and covered with equipment.
It’s as if the officer isn’t pulling traffic duty, but is instead setting out to raid fortified positions in a hostile neighborhood. They now carry a pistol and a tazer, many with special leg harnesses that allow more weapons and ammunition. When someone tried to rob a business in Mission, KS last year, several of the officers who responded brought M-4 carbines of the type used by SWAT and the military.
This is overkill. It serves no purpose, except to intimidate people and condition them to seeing larger caliber weapons and a more aggressive police presence in their lives. It will allow governments at all levels to one day perpetrate the same violence here that the state levies against “terrorists” overseas. Because people don’t see this militarism as anything to be afraid of, and because they’ve been taught to be servile, the situation will continue to deteriorate.
It need not go this way, however. If people will look at what is happening and recognize the move away from liberty for what it is – a large-scale decivilization of society, this trend could reverse. We don’t need an authoritarian police force to protect us from criminals, especially if that agency is equally ruthless and capable of dolling out the kind of violence they’re expected to defend us from.