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It's the Ideology, Stupid

What do Robespierre, Stalin, Hitler, Che Guevara, and Mullah Omar have in common?

Aug 16, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 45 • By WALLER R. NEWELL
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Today’s terrorists are aspiring tyrants. They kill in order to bring about a grim collective whose power over us all will be absolute, thereby making us “happy” by purging us of the corruption of individualism, economic well-being, free choice, female equality, and rights. And wherever such idealists of death have come to power, they have built regimes that continue to terrorize their populations in order to build the “new man.” Looking through the charters and pronouncements of groups like the PLO, the Taliban, and Hezbollah, one discovers, never far beneath the pseudo-religious surface, the language of socialism (both national and international), the levelling of classes, and the eradication of individual liberty under a monolithic dictatorship. However they may understand themselves, the jihadists, like their fascist and Bolshevik predecessors, cannot be considered true men of faith, because all three of the Abrahamic faiths deny that man can save the world through secular political action, much less through mass violence. For truly pious people, only God can redeem the world. Genuine Muslim religious authorities have consistently denounced the jihadists as irreligious. One such body in Jordan, the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, has written that “Islam does not countenance utopian ideology,” and adds, “When one can justify any act in the name of a worldly utopia, then one has passed into pure utilitarianism.” 

In sum, “terrorism” has come to mean something hardly more precise than “violence”—at best “political violence targeting civilians”—and everyone is against that. Even revolutionaries claim to be ultimately against violence, since their actions will heal the distorted soul of modern, materialistic, selfish, bourgeois, Enlightenment man, the perpetrator, they maintain, of all genuine violence, injustice, and oppression in the world, which their own use of force is meant only to combat. Revolutionaries above all have a positive goal. While adroitly downplaying their long-term aim of reconstructing humanity, they pretend to be mere nationalists, proponents of elections, defenders of just land claims, pious believers, or freedom fighters. Yet they will never categorically abjure the revolutionary faith, because they really do believe it. They are murderous and sincere. Terrorists—the leaders, the true believers—are revolutionaries bent on becoming tyrants, just as tyrants working to remake man are terrorists in power.

What the West can do to resist this global revolutionary movement is, above all, get over the idea that terrorists are lone wolves roaming the world. As revolutionaries bent on becoming tyrants, the perpetrators of mass violence both seek and need state support. That was true of Saddam Hussein’s support for Hamas suicide bombers, the suspected involvement of Pakistan’s intelligence services in the Mumbai bombing, and, most recently, Turkey’s backing of the attempt to run Israel’s blockade of the Hamas dictatorship in the Gaza Strip. The deputy minister of religion for Hamas, a terrorist movement now conjoined with a despotic state, recently referred to Jews as “foreign bacteria—a microbe unparalleled in the world” requiring annihilation. Above all, of course, is Iran, leader of the terrorist international, which supports both “Sunni” Hamas and “Shia” Hezbollah in a pincer movement aimed at Israel, and is building a collection of dictatorships (Venezuela, North Korea, Syria) in its proclaimed mission to wipe Israel from the map. While ordinary power politics, economic self-interest, and imperial ambitions play a role in these complex machinations, the overriding aim of terrorists and their terror state sponsors is the worldwide Islamist revolution to be sparked by Israel’s destruction. The Obama administration shows no grasp of this important truth.

Some who did grasp it were the founders of neoconservatism, people like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Irving Kristol, and Jeane Kirkpatrick. Their central insight was what Moynihan termed the importance of the regime. Instead of invoking the empty and hypocritical concept of “the international community”—a concept in which any agreement between democracies and tyrannies must be morally bankrupt because it places them on the same level of legitimacy—we should return to the language of “the free world” at the United Nations and in international affairs generally. Moynihan spoke of “the party of liberty.” It is a question neither of Obama-style internationalism nor of Ron Paul-ist isolationism but of America championing the world’s liberal democracies and the regimes that are seriously striving to join their ranks.

We need to recover our sense that, while any regime is capable of lapses in the protection of human rights, for democracies like the United States and Israel, these are lapses from their own standards, lapses which they work to redress. For tyrannies like Iran and Syria, as for jihadist revolutionaries, by contrast, human rights abuses are not lapses from a higher standard. On the contrary: The behavior we term “abuse” is their standard, one they strive to implement every day. We must also overcome our discomfiture at being labeled enemies of “the Muslim world” or the Iranian or Syrian “people.” Tyrants and dictators, and the jihadists who aspire to join them, do not represent their peoples, and they cannot represent high religious values. The West’s unambiguous moral opposition to such regimes and the terrorism they sponsor, whether deployed against their own populations or against innocents abroad, is at the service of liberating their peoples from fear and oppression.

Waller R. Newell is professor of political science and philosophy at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

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