Jonah Goldberg

Bank robbers rarely use suicide bombers. Forgers don't declare war on capitalism, democracy and modernity. Kidnappers rarely behead their victims without asking for a ransom. And when they do ask for ransoms, only rarely do they demand infidels submit to the will of Allah instead of asking for unmarked bills.

These incandescently obvious observations illuminate, in a small way, the resplendent stupidity of the notion that we should treat members of al-Qaida like run-of-the-mill criminals.

Al-Qaida's business plan is to make money and kill people in order to impose a global caliphate of Islamic rule. The Mafia's business plan is to make money in order to ... make money. Murder is, as Tony Soprano might say, the cost of doing business. Murder for al-Qaida is the business (and if you die in the process, you get to spend eternity at an Islamic Bada-Bing Club).

Of course, al-Qaida's aims are also political. Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, one of the founders of the jihadist movement that became al-Qaida, put it this way (I'm quoting from Lawrence Wright's definitive history, "The Looming Tower"): "We shall continue the Jihad no matter how long the way, until the last breath and the last beat of the pulse - or until we see the Islamic state established." And remember, Azzam was humble in his aspiration. He wasn't after the global caliphate sought by many Islamists. He merely wanted the entire Middle East, the former southern republics of the Soviet Union, Bosnia, the Philippines, Kashmir, central Asia, Somalia, Eritrea and Spain.

Whether you call them terrorists, Mujahideen or a radical faction of Up With People, the simple fact is that what commonly goes by the label "Islamic terrorism" is not a merely a criminal enterprise. The profit motive didn't bring down the World Trade Center.

I know this is obvious to many. But it clearly isn't obvious to everyone.

For the nearly six years since 9/11, conservatives have complained that liberals see the war on terror as a law enforcement problem, not a military or strategic one. Liberals often respond by calling this a straw-man argument employed to make Democrats seem weak on national defense.

And yet, every time you look away for a second, leading liberals and Democrats play to type. During a June hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler, whose district includes ground zero, argued that members of al-Qaida were no different than any other criminals. When a witness objected that this would mean "if we had captured Mohamed Atta on September 10th, we would have had no choice but to treat him as a criminal defendant," Nadler responded, "That's exactly right."

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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