See no evil: sadistic terrorists and "World War III"
Mudville Gazette covers the killing of Iraqi journalist Atwar Bahjat (see NOTE below). If you haven't yet read a description of how this 30-year old woman was brutally and tortuously murdered, I warn you that it's very strong stuff.
I don't usually link to such things. Who would want to dwell on them, or join in their sensationalizing in any way? But as Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom has pointed out, avoiding the horrific details is a way of denying the nature of the enemy we face, and that is something we can ill afford:
Our own media feels the need to shield us from such brutality, even as they report daily on the US and Iraqi death count—or seemed almost to fetishize the torture photos from Abu Ghraib.
But presuming to protect us from the nature of our enemy, like many of the MSM’s other actions in framing the war on terror, is irresponsible—and either presumptuously paternalistic, or cynically calculating.
True, there is a fine line between “war porn” and the dissemination of information. But we nevertheless have the right to know who it is we are fighting. Because knowing just might have an impact on how we, as a country, feel about the necessity of carrying out the fight—and how far we are willing to go to see our enemy vanquished.
I don't see how it's possible for most people to read the account of Bahjat's death and not feel that those who perpetrated it are evil. (And yes, the perpetrators are not Moslems as a whole. But they are a subgroup of Moslems--jihadi terrorists--who commit these acts in the name of the Moslem religion, chanting prayers even as the torture and murder is performed. And yes, I know about the Inquisition. But that was quite a while ago, if you check your history.)
Why do I use the word "evil," as opposed to simply "violent?" It is because this--and so many other of their acts--was not a mere killing (as though killing can ever be "mere"); it was the purposeful amplification of this young woman's suffering before she died, in order to inflict maximum horror. As such, it appears to enter the realm of sadism and sociopathy (I wonder, by the way, if this isn't one of the reasons why so many would prefer to treat the perpetrators as criminals, if captured, and deal with them through the criminal rather than the military justice system).
But Bahjat's torture killing is no means an isolated incident, as when a psychopath commits a crime acting out of some sort of individual pathology. It is part and parcel of the group movement that is jihadist terrorism today, and goes way beyond the strategic inculcation of fear (although it is undoubtedly also a strategic move meant to do that very thing).
"Evil." Many mocked Reagan for calling the Soviet Union the "evil empire," and George Bush was likewise thought to be guilty of the same lack of sophistication and nuance when he used the term "axis of evil" for the triumvirate of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. For, after all, "evil" (in its non-religious sense, that is--its religious sense is such a huge topic that it's beyond the scope of today's essay) is a word left over from childhood. It dwells in the land of fairy tales and legends, in a simplistic dichotomous way of looking at the world that many adults of sophistication believe they've outgrown.
Of course, we are no strangers to evil's face. In the twentieth century, it made quite a splash with the Nazis, who likewise seemed to have had a widespread and basic sadistic bent, an enjoyment of torture for its own sake. The same appears to have been true of Saddam's regime, as well as others too numerous to mention.
But beheadings in particular, seeming to emanate from a distant barbaric past, represent a practice that we might have expected would have disappeared from the face of the earth by the twenty-first century. The fact that terrorists and jihadis have managed to stage a revival of this particular brutality complete with added sadistic refinements and the newfangled wonders of videotape and the internet to spread the images around the world (a la Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg), is hard for the modern mind to assimilate. It's as though bogeymen and fire-breathing dragons, chimeras and man-eating giants thundering "Fe fi fo fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman" have suddenly sprung to life out of the pages of a storybook, wedded to cutting edge communication technology.
But in a strange and paradoxical way, the over-the-top nature of the drawn-out violence in this and other similar killings only makes them easier for many to deny. Despite the existence of video documentation, such methods seems so barbaric as to be almost unbelievable. And this air of unreality isn't helped by the fact that media coverage of such things is tentative and muted.
The fact that many of the jihadis and their supporters may be literally bloodthirsty offends our PC sensibilities and our postmodern vision. So it's much, much better--isn't it?--to focus on President Bush rather than on the terrifying mental images of the dying woman in the video.
And yesterday President Bush obliged by uttering some words that stirred controversy--he mentioned in an interview that we are in a global war that could be characterized as World War III:
...he said he agreed with the description of David Beamer, whose son Todd died in the crash, who in a Wall Street Journal commentary last month called it "our first successful counter-attack in our homeland in this new global war -- World War III".
Bush said: "I believe that. I believe that it was the first counter-attack to World War III.
A predictable yelp of outrage ensued in the blogosphere. A roundup is offered by Gerard Van der Leun at American Digest, who observes:
You have to wonder what morally-relativistic, rainbow colored, secular fundament these folks have been wearing for a hat for years. What part of "airplanes into sky-scrapers followed by endless sermons of Hate America and various video tapes shrieking Death to Americans" do they not understand? Have they not gotten the memos from Iran for the last 27 years?
Apparently not. Many seem to believe that, when the mullahs have had their people chant "Death to America," they don't really mean it. Many also seem to forget that the attack on 9/11 was not a response to a muscular War on Terrorism but the impetus for it.
But when Bush describes what he sees--a worldwide fight against jihadists who have made their own aims known--some consider him to be the bloodthirsty one. I understand that Bush's critics fear a spreading of the battleground to other venues such as Iran, but once again, they are mistaking cause for effect. Iran has been at war with the US and the West for a long, long, long time. And the World War to which Bush is referring is not always--or even primarily--a "hot" one.
Why hasn't the message coming from the Islamicist jihadi side, sent loudly and repeatedly, been received? Perhaps the reason is not such a mystery after all, because hearing the message would mean we'd have to step outside our comfortable modern world and back into the realm of nightmare, and to engage that nightmare decisively, boldly, and effectively in a lengthy and difficult struggle. That effort would sometimes take a military form, but more often would be fought with cerebral and cultural tools.
Actually, there is nothing all that new about what President Bush said yesterday. He had already stated as much (although he didn't use the exact "World War III" phrase) shortly after 9/11, when he addressed Congress on September 21, 2001:
On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars, but for the past 136 years they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war, but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning.
Americans have known surprise attacks, but never before on thousands of civilians. All of this was brought upon us in a single day, and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack....
They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. They want to drive Israel out of the Middle East. They want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa.
These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us because we stand in their way...
Now, this war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.
Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes visible on TV and covert operations secret even in success....
This is not, however, just America's fight. And what is at stake is not just America's freedom. This is the world's fight. This is civilization's fight.
But to fight that fight effectively we need to take our hands away from our eyes and take a good look at the enemy we face.
[NOTE: After I wrote this piece, I noticed that Mudville Gazette had posted an addendum indicating there is some doubt about the identity of the woman being beheaded in the video. However, whether it be Bahjat or not, it is known that Bahrat was murdered by her kidnappers. It is also known that these scenes of torture and beheading are almost commonplace with this particular enemy.
One more thing: the "evil" nature of the enemy is not limited to its sadism. Although sadism is part of it, it is a symptom of even greater evils, such as the suppression of human rights and liberty in general, and the desire to spread this tyrannical ideology throughout the globe.]