Terrorists Are Losing
Thomas Friedman argues that the recent spate of suicide bombings across the Middle East is proof that the Arab-Muslim world is “Reaping What It Sowed.”
In the last few weeks not only has Iraq been destabilized by days with multiple suicide bombers, but Egypt and Saudi Arabia have also witnessed similar attacks by jihadist fanatics. How do you get so many people to commit suicide on demand, day after day? What’s going on?
In part the Arab-Muslim world is reaping something it sowed. Way too many Arab intellectuals and religious and political leaders were ready to extol suicide bombing when it was directed against Israelis. Now they are seeing how this weapon of nihilism – once sanctified and glorified – can be used against their own societies. It was wrong when it was used against Jews, and it is wrong when it is used against Muslims. You can’t build a decent society on the graves of suicide bombers and their victims.
But these bombings are also signs of the deeper struggle that the U.S. attempt to erect democracy in Iraq has touched off. My friend Raymond Stock, the biographer and translator of Naguib Mahfouz and a longtime resident of Cairo, argues that we are seeing in Baghdad, Cairo and Riyadh the modern incarnation of several deeply rooted and interlocking wars. These are, he said, the war within Islam between Traditionalists and Rationalists, which dates back to Baghdad in the ninth century; the struggle between ardent Sunnis and Shiites, which dates back to succession battles in early Islam; and the confrontation between Islam and the West, which dates back to the Arab conquests of the seventh century and the Crusades.
In the modern incarnation of each of these struggles, members of the Sunni-Traditionalist-jihadist minority are losing. And the more that becomes evident, the more violent they will become – because their whole vision is in danger of being repudiated by fellow Arabs and Muslims. “The Iraqi election was a total shock to the militant jihadist forces in the Arab-Muslim world,” Mr. Stock noted. “They warned Iraqis that ‘you vote – you die,’ and instead millions of Iraqis said back to them, ‘We vote – we decide.’ ” And the thing they are deciding on is not to be pro-American, not to be pro-Western, but to try to build their own Arab society in a way that will be open to modernism and interpretations of Islam that encourage innovation, adaptation and progress.
The jihadist forces hate this notion. They see the struggle for democracy in Iraq as anathema to everything they stand for: a literalist interpretation of Islam, unsullied by modernity, adaptation, women’s rights or political and religious pluralism. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born jihadist behind much of the Iraq violence, spelled it all out in his declaration last January. Democracy must be opposed, he said, because it is based “on the right to choose your religion,” and that is “against the rule of God.” He added: “Oh, people of Iraq, where is your honor? Have you accepted oppression of the Crusader harlots?”
More important than the chickens coming home to roost, though, is that, if Friedman is right, the terrorists are losing and know they’re losing. Despite years of propaganda from dictators, mullahs, and biased journalists poisoning their minds, average Muslims are rejecting the jihadist call. That the terrorists are willing to murder their own indiscriminately is a sign of desperation.