Who we fight

Posted: Oct 03, 2001 12:00 AM
The night before he died, Mohammed Atta (no doubt) did what the just-released memo found in his luggage urged him and his 18 fellow hijackers to do: Read the Quran, check your weapons and review the battle plans. "Apply the rules of the prisoners of war. Take them prisoner and kill them as God said." Oh yes, and pray for victory: "The nymphs are calling out to you, come over here, companion of Allah." (Memo to self: Never trust anybody who says, "Follow me, and you can have all the sex you want.")

The next day a friend calls me and asks, like a whole lot of Americans asked, "OK, so they blew up the WTC. Now what?" You could topple all the towers in America without toppling our government. What do they hope to accomplish?

For Muslims who respect traditional Islamic law, the attacks can be similarly hard to digest. "It just doesn't add up," Dr. Faroque Khan of the Islamic Center of Long Island told The New York Times. "The Prophet laid down clear guidelines that, even in the case of a war, you don't harm women and children."

Some Americans assume, as one woman wrote me: "We must have done something wrong, otherwise they would not be so mad at us." Does she think the Jews did something to deserve Hitler's rage, I wonder, or perhaps that African-Americans in the old South deserved a good lynching?

Bin Laden is neither merely a criminal nor merely a terrorist. The closest analogy really is to Hitler. Bin Laden is the chief organizer of a malevolent gang that already controls one proto-state, Afghanistan, and seeks control of other, more powerful states. The great sin of America in his eyes is that we accepted the invitation to protect Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression. He and his recruits are driven not by a need to redress specific grievances, but to reassert cultural and religious potency, violence as a balm for persistent humiliation. Like Hitler in his march to power, Bin Laden abandons religious proscriptions against wholesale murder. In this, he represents not rigid orthodoxy, but theological development, an evolving view of the Koran's moral rules.

He draws on a long Koranic tradition of David and Goliath stories, in which Allah humbled arrogant peoples by allowing small bands of faithful to crush them militarily.

Bin Laden's tactics will thus be spiritually attractive only so long as they are successful. It is primarily success that breeds more terrorists, for success will be (and was) taken as proof that Allah wills it.

Bin Laden's "Mein Kampf" is a training video blaming Jewish "pigs" for the problems in places as diverse as Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir and Indonesia. "The message is that a small group of people with virtually no weapons can wreak mass destruction," Richard Bulliet, professor of history at Columbia University, told USA Today. Videos of attacks on the USS Cole and our embassies prove jihad is not hopeless. In the end, a rifle-toting Israeli soldier runs from a small, stone-throwing Muslim boy.

It was not aggressive retaliation but lack of sustained, effective response to the bombing of two of our embassies and our warship that led directly to more than 6,000 American deaths and the first successful assault on our mainland. Excessive military restraint is thus as dangerous to our national security as blind rage.

Bin Laden's ultimate goal? The destruction of the United States. How do I know? He said so in a 1998 interview

: "The Russians and the Soviet Union ... were defeated by Allah and were wiped out. There is a lesson here. ... Gone was the Soviet Union forever. ... We anticipate a black future for America. Instead of remaining United States, it shall end up separated states and shall have to carry the bodies of its sons back to America."

The Koran exhorts the faithful to look to Allah to right the perceived injustices of infidels who appear to prosper in this world. Bin Laden recruits from those who are unwilling to wait for eternal justice.