Why practice terrorism? What is to be gained by terror, considering the damage that it does to the reputation of those who belong to your community?
For some, terrorism is a rhetorical device. People practice it because they want to make you too afraid to criticize them, to challenge their beliefs, or to oppose their authority.
For others, terrorism works to proselytize. If you want someone to convert to your religion, you can always try to make him afraid of the physical consequences of not converting. If someone threatens to leave the fold you can threaten them with death. And if someone disobeys your religion's laws you can threaten him with extreme physical punishment.
Let's limit ourselves to terrorism as a rhetorical device. Let's say you are leading an Islamic Revolution and you want to improve the way Western intellectuals write about you? You might try to present a more moderate face to the world. If that does not seem feasible, you can put out a contract on a novelist. Like Salmon Rushdie.
If you cannot assassinate Rushdie himself, you can always murder some of the people who translated his books. You can threaten the people who published them.
To get your message of terror across you do not have to murder that many people. Just people who are well placed.
And let's say that have just launched one of the world's most successful terrorist operations and have succeeded in destroying the World Trade Center. You are worried about the negative press, as well you should.
Keep in mind, you are trying to rally people to your righteous cause, not to denounce you as a barbarian.
How would you go about trying to influence the press to be more sympathetic to your cause? Perhaps you could kidnap and decapitate a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, say, Daniel Pearl. After that, Western journalists will think twice about criticizing your faith.
It has often been noted that liberals, especially those enamored of multiculturalism, refrain from criticizing Islam because, after all, they believe that they must respect the customs of other peoples as being equal to their own. There are no better or worse cultures; their are only mine and yours and theirs.
As Susan Jacoby put it in a recent column: "Panderers to the multicultural gods, in foundations and academia, often assert that religiously sanctioned violence against women and other human rights violations are matters of 'tribe and culture, not religion.' But what is more central than religion to most of the world's cultures?" Link here.
Is it a belief in the multicultural gods or something more crude, more visceral, like fear that causes intrepid defenders of universal human rights to go soft when it comes to Islam?
Jacoby emphasizes the case of former Dutch legislator Ayaan Hirsi Ali. As you no doubt know, Hirsi Ali collaborated with Theo van Gogh on a film that presented Islam in a less than flattering light. A Dutch Muslim then murdered van Gogh and threatened Hirsi Ali. She could not travel without bodyguards and eventually came to America where she took a job at the American Enterprise Institute.
Surely, the murder of Theo van Gogh and the death threats against Ayaan Hirsi Ali were intended to send a message to anyone who had ever thought to present the prophet Mohammad in an unflattering light.
They were also intended to send a message to anyone who would dare hire her. Susan Jacoby herself recommended Hirsi Ali to two liberal think tanks, the Brookings Institute and the Center for American Progress. She was stonewalled by press aids.
As she suggests, it was not a profile in courage. And it speaks ill of those who mouth liberal and multicultural pieties but who shrink into the corner when they are called on to take a stand for someone who has suffered misogynist oppression.
Anyway, Hirsi Ali made herself more than a few enemies in Western circles because she too would not accept the central tenet of multiculturalism.
Hirsi suffered genital mutilation and then escaped from her home and her religion when her father announced that he was going to marry to her to someone she did not want to marry.
Having experienced Muslim oppression in her home, she has done whatever she can to help bring it to light, thus, to help put an end to it. As you may know, she has not made herself many friends by strongly condemning multicultural rationalizations of Islamic misogyny.
In her words: "Here is something I have learned the hard way, but which a lot of well-meaning people in the West have a hard time accepting. All human beings are equal, but all cultures and religions are not. A culture that celebrates femininity and considers women to be the masters of their own lives is better than a culture that mutilates girls' genitals and confines them behind walls and veils or flogs and stones them for falling in love...." From Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations.
I will agree with those who insist that these practices are not part of all Islamic cultures. But why are they part of any Islamic cultures? If they are so thoroughly antithetical to the spirit of Islam, why do they exist at all?
And I would mention that they are not practiced today by any Western culture; they are certainly not practiced by secular American culture.
Admittedly, violence against women does exist in the West. That is not entirely to the point. Such violence has received the strongest societal sanction; it is labeled criminal behavior; those who practice it are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
In her column Susan Jacoby singles out Nicholas Kristof for special opprobrium. Supposedly a defender of women's rights Kristof stood very small indeed in his review of Hirsi Ali's most recent book. Link here.
Kirstof's must count as an exercise in moral cowardice. He may be a card-carrying multiculturalist, but he is also very, very afraid.
Instead of seeing Hirsi Ali's story as an instance of culturally imposed oppression of a woman, Kristof chose to see a dysfunctional family that would have been cured if someone had made an open declaration of love.
Given that Islam prescribes the death penalty for apostates like Hirsi Ali, Kristof seems completely out of line when he adopts a snarky tone and blames her for the way Muslims have reacted to her rejection of Islam.
In Kristof's words: "She has managed to outrage more people-- in some cases to the point that they want to assassinate her-- in more languages in more countries on more continents than almost any writer in the world today."
He adds: "Now Hirsi Ali is working on antagonizing even more people in yet another memoir."
Whose fault is it if Muslims cannot tolerate criticism, to say nothing of rejection of their faith? According to Kristof, the fault lies with her. She has a character flaw.
In Kristof's words: "That's partly because she is by nature a provocateur, the kind of person who rolls out verbal hand grenades by reflex."
I would venture that this is one of the few times we have ever heard a liberal refuse to call for understanding the basis for criminal activity.
But Kristof extends his indicment. She is fomenting bigotry. "Since Hirsi Ali denounces Islam with a ferocity that I find strident, potentially feeding religious bigotry, I expected to dislike the book."
Not that Kristof fails to recognize the horrors that are being committed in the name of Islam: "The repression of women, the persecution complexes, the lack of democracy, the volatility, the anti-Semitism, the difficulties modernizing, the disproportionate role of terrorism-- those are all real. But if those were the only faces of Islam, it wouldn't be one of the fastest growing religions in the world today."
Paying lip service to monstrosities while declaring that they must not be very consequential because Islam is a fast-growing religion is nonsense. The horrors that Muslims commit in the name of their religion are not mitigated by the fact that Arabs have been very hospitable to New York times columnists.
On the one hand Kristof admits that Muslims have a tendency to use terror as a means of persuasion. But then he seems to assume-- though he does not have the nerve to say so-- that Islam is spreading because people the world over are freely choosing to follow its precepts and to live by its laws.
If this is true, then terrorism as a recruitment drive has had a goodly measure of success.