Somali boys are taught by their parents to hit first whenever someone insults or taunts them. So explained Ayaan Hirsi Ali to a social worker when she was a translator and student in the Netherlands (see her book, Infidel). In the West, this is a recipe for juvenile delinquency and prison. But in a Patriarchal Honor/Shame (henceforth PHS) culture like Somalia’s, this is how boys are taught to defend their honor.
Three recent so-called “Islamic” terrorist events of high enough profile to be mentioned in Western media include
- April, 2014. Boko Haram abducted 276 students from a rural school for girls in Nigeria. They were forced to convert from Christianity to Islam and marry to their abductors. So much for #Bring Back Our Girls.
- December 2014. The Pakistan Taliban gunned down 132 children at the Army Public School in Peshawar.
- January 2015. Three self-radicalized gunmen killed more than a dozen people at the offices of a satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
While the perpetrators of these three atrocities are all self-professed Muslims, the common thread of religion running through these events diverts our attention from the more critical common thread of PHS culture. Women are objects for men’s gratification, perpetual minors who cannot conduct business without a male escort, even if he is their minor son. PHS values are the only true values, no others shall be taught. PHS Girls shall not be educated. PHS boys strike first.
The conflation of culture with religion is almost universal, because culture seizes upon religion for support. Medieval Christendom imagined that its hierarchy imitated and emanated from the hierarchy in Heaven. The current example is the use of Islam by some adherents of the world’s PHS cultures. They claim that Islam is more than a religion: it is a total way of life, i.e. they claim their PHS culture is mandated by Islam, and is therefore identical with Islam. Indeed, the idea that a satirical cartoon or essay depicting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) needs to be answered with violence is equivalent to claiming that God participates in the Honor/Shame culture of the perpetrators. This is idolatry, even in Islam, because Allahu Akbar, God is greater (than everything). God is greater than any culture or its values, including PHS culture.
Modern, Western cultural influences are everywhere. Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells of how liberating it was to read trashy romance novels in English when she was growing up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria in her book Infidel. Western cultural ideas were leaking into PHS cultures even before the internet. Now the leak has become a flood.
And so the boys of PHS culture strike first. It is incorrect to ridicule Islam and its Prophet. The boys of PHS culture, who remain too immature to contain their own lust, and make women do it for them by concealing themselves from society – those are the ones who need to be ridiculed.
We are having a clash of modernity with Patriarchal Honor/Shame cultures. Although this clash should be a conversation within Islam, the terrorists drag the rest of us into it. The ideas of a clash of civilizations or religions are simply diversions from the underlying reality.
President Obama has been criticized on the right (by Charles Krauthammer, for example) for saying that the so-called “Islamic State” is neither a state nor Islamic. Actually the President is right on both counts, but wrong to think that it matters.
To understand what the “Islamic State” is we must first point out that there is a continuum between
- Terrorism and Insurgency – get enough terrorists together to form a small army and they will try to take and hold territory, destabilize governments and take over. It has been said that every terrorists wants to grow up to be an insurgent. One past example is the LTTE, aka the Tamil Tigers. They took over part of Sri Lanka, before the Sinhalese wiped them out.
- Terrorism and Organized Crime – manpower, arms and ammunition all cost money. Organized crime is a way to pay for it all. The FARC, aka Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia got so involved in their finances that they are more of a drug cartel than a terrorist group or an insurgency.
- Terrorism and Cults – in order to justify heinous acts of violence against innocents to yourself, you need to be a true believer in your cause, whatever it is. Aum Shinrikyo was a cult that perpetrated the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway.
- Terrorism and Social Movements – this is what Islamofascist terrorism has become now that al-Qaeda’s Senior Leadership has been degraded by operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and by time itself. Rather than the command-cadre organization that it was prior to 9/11/2001, al-Qaeda has spawned numerous organizations, some very loosely affiliated, and others, like the so-called Islamic State even in rebellion against it.
So the “Islamic State” is a terrorist insurgency that funds itself via organized crime (among other sources) and is an instance of the cult-like social movement that Francis Fukuyama termed “Islamofascism.
President Obama announced that he plans to solve this problem by a sustained counter-terrorism strategy. It’s going to take more than that. Let’s hope he’s holding more cards than he’s showing right now.
Even though 9/11 and the Beslan School Hostage Crisis were not nuclear terrorist attacks, they tell us that nuclear terrorism, if it occurs, will be something its perpetrators get to do only once. These gruesome attacks both stimulated and legitimized a vigorous counter-terrorism response on the part of the countries that were attacked. In the case of 9/11 the US got a free pass from the entire world, including the so-called “Arab Street” to invade Afghanistan and render al-Qaeda Central irrelevant to what has now become a loose affiliation with a tarnished brand. (The US invasion of Iraq was seen as going too far.) The Beslan crisis, in which Ingush and Chechen terrorists siezed a school full of young children whom they abused and killed, gave rise to global revulsion so intense that the entire world turned a blind eye to whatever the Russians saw fit to do in Chechnya for roughly two years.
The Boston Marathon bombing has a second lesson: it is far easier to reconstruct an event than it is to predict one. The bad guys who place the device may not be smart enough to know or care. But the bad guys who obtain the material and make the bomb will have to weigh whatever they might achieve by attempting a nuclear explosion against the destruction of their organization and themselves with it.
Most terrorists are in the business of coercing a government or society into satisfying some set of demands. To do this they create terror as theater, playing to the media. An apocalyptic weapon will not coerce anybody to do anything – it will just get them wiped out. Coercion requires that they stay around for repeat performances, which is more likely if they stick to guns and conventional bombs.
A device that contains enough special nuclear materials to be at all credible as a nuclear explosive will create the same terror and counter-terrorism response whether or not it works and whether or not it is interdicted. Only an apocalyptic terrorist organization will attempt to obtain or build an apocalyptic weapon.
The one historical example of an apocalyptic group using weapons of mass destruction is Aum Shinrikyo, the organization that released Sarin into the Tokyo Subway. They had purchased land in Australia, intent on mining the uranium under it and making an atomic bomb. But the work went slowly, and their impatient leader, Shoko Asahara, decided to go with chemical weapons instead. They killed and injured people, stimulated a counter-terrorism response, and were, as they say, “rolled up” by Japanese authorities.
So there it is. One nuclear or other weapon of mass destruction, one time, and the perpetrating bunch is history, whether or not the device does much damage. It makes all but the craziest terrorist organizations stick to their usual arsenals.
Jackson, Brian A. and David R. Frelinger. 2007. Rifling Through the Terrorist’s Arsenal. Santa Monica: RAND.
Pape, Robert A. 2003. The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. American Political Science Review. 97:3. 343-361.