The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Two Narratives

In the aftermath of the attempted bombing of NorthWest # 253 on its approach to Detroit, a debate rages over the seriousness of the Obama administration’s view of terror in general and those who perpetrate it in particular. The President, his polling numbers dropping, has begun to move slightly right of his recurring soft power statements, now emphasizing that we are “at war” but at the same time suggesting that must maintain “our values” in any dealings with the “extremists” who want to kill us. Hence, we must close Guantanamo and repatriate Yemeni terrorists housed there, even as we learn that Yemen is still another front in our battle with Al Qaida.

Matthew d’Ancona’s comments on the conflicting western views of the Islamist threat provide insight into the administration’s conundrum:
More than eight years after the destruction of the World Trade Centre, there are two competing narratives in the West. The first is frightening, difficult and poses a host of deeply unwelcome questions. According to this version of events, we face a global struggle against a new mutation of militant Islamism ready to use all and any means at its disposal, bonded by anti-semitism, hatred of America and a desire to enforce sharia law and to restore the Caliphate. This network plots globally and kills locally. The merit of this is that it happens to be true.

The second narrative dismisses the whole notion of the "war on terror" as an aberration of the Bush-Blair era. According to this version of events, Islamist terror is mostly the consequence of "Western foreign policy" (for example, the Iraq War was directly responsible for 7/7). With Bush and Blair gone, and al-Qaeda supposedly scattered to the winds, it follows that the winding up of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will bring the whole sorry chapter to an end, and we can all get on with life as normal. The only flaw in this comforting narrative is that it happens to be complete nonsense.

On balance, it appears that the major players in the Obama administration subscribe to the second view. For example, John Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor, has been quoted as saying that Guantanamo must be closed and terrorists must be tried as criminals in civilian courts to negate “propaganda” that Jihadists might use if we did otherwise.

Stated a different way, unless we’re really, really, nice to Islamists who have been captured trying to kill us, our treatment of them will result in propaganda that will lead to the recruitment of more Jihadists.

Odd, then, that the President and his senior people want to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City federal court and provide a propaganda platform for the ringleader of 9/11.

I can see it now … young fanatics throughout the Arab Middle East will watch the New York criminal proceeding as they drag on for month after month and say, “You know what, those Americans sure do have good values … I’m dropping out of my Yemeni terror school and joining the Peace Corps.


In writing about the recent axe-attack (all but disregarded by MSM) by a Somali Moslem against Kurt Westergaard, the author of one of the Mohammad cartoons, Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club suggests that European intellectuals are being cowed into silence when Islamists use murderous attacks against writers and cartoonists who have committed “blasphemy.” He suggests that these attacks are part of a larger strategy.
The attack on Westergaard is a textbook application of terror. Even the weapons chosen — an axe for example — contributed to instilling fear. Although Westergaard himself escaped unharmed, every European writer knows that the next victim may not be so lucky. And that next writer may be himself. The Somali also demonstrated the second object lesson of terrorist pedagogy. They reminded the world that they never forget. Salman Rushdie is still on the run. Westergaard will have to be guarded until the day that he dies. There is no statute of limitations on al-Qaeda’s anger. Blasphemy is forever.

And it works. By slow degrees the intellectuals are being cowed into silence. John Brennan, the President’s counterterrorism adviser, thinks that closing Guantanamo prison is necessary to avoid giving al-Qaeda “a propaganda victory”, when from al-Qaeda’s point of view the closure itself is probably regarded as the victory. In denying al-Qaeda one sort of victory, Obama is giving them another and more valuable one: it is subconsciously indoctrinating into the public an almost subconscious fear of “giving offense” to Islam that is more powerful for the fact that it may eventually be instinctive. Which is the point.

And so, we avoid anything that might offend, even when our avoidance could put hundreds or potentially thousands of lives at grave risk. There will be a price to pay.