Op-Ed: Part II: Terrorism, "Palestine" and Religious Sacrifice
Prof. Louis René BeresThe writer (Ph.D, Princeton, 1971) is is professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue University. He is the author of many books, monographs, and articles dealing with Israeli security matters, nuclear strategy and nuclear war.
Part II can stand by itself, but for part I, click here.
The Jihadist terrorist heroically claims to “love death,” but this is mock heroism. It is, after all, an evident and insistently ironic lie.
At his (or her) existential core, the Jihadist is not primarily interested in land. This murderer kills himself or herself, always together with assorted innocent others, to ensure a personal life that will never end. The so-called “death” that he or she actually expects to suffer in consequence of this “suicide,” is nothing more than a momentary inconvenience. It is, in essence, a vaguely minor distraction.
Although seemingly irrational, by definition, the Shahid can still calculate rationally that an intended suicide will be "cost-effective. This "martyr" is embarked on what is taken to be a divinely-guided trajectory. Commendably, therefore, he has chosen a gloriously fiery path to life everlasting. On every conceivable dimension, it is a perfect path.
In Islam, “martyrdom” has always been closely associated with Jihad. Unequivocal and celebratory invocations for such sacrificial killing can be found in the Koran (9:111), and, more explicitly, in the canonical hadith. "Do not consider those who are slain in the cause of Allah as dead," instructs the Koran, "for they are living by their Lord."
For Hamas, in particular, there are certain obligatory aspects of sacrificial terror that must never be overlooked. This two-sided nature of terror/sacrifice - the sacrifice of "the Jew," and the reciprocal sacrifice of "the Martyr" - is conveniently codified in the Charter of Hamas: "The Palestinian problem is a religious one, to be dealt with on this premise....`I swear by that (sic.) who holds in His Hands, the Soul of Muhammad! I indeed wish to go to war for the sake of Allah! I will assault and kill, assault and kill, assault and kill.'"
This two-sided nature of terror/sacrifice - the sacrifice of "the Jew," and the reciprocal sacrifice of "the Martyr" - is conveniently codified in the Charter of Hamas.
For the Jihadist terrorist, it is by killing Jews, and subsequently being killed by Jews, that a true freedom from death can be earned. Much earlier, Yasser Arafat's own personally-appointed clergy, preaching on the Temple Mount (August 11, 2000), had reaffirmed an absolutely basic religious precept: "Palestinians spearhead Allah's war against the Jews. The dead shall not rise until the Palestinians shall kill all the Jews...."
"The dead shall not rise until the Palestinians shall kill all the Jews." Think about this! Can there be any more potent understanding of the current "Road Map," and also its corollary "Middle East Peace Process?"
The survival implications of this doctrinal fusion of religion and violence warrant further study in Washington, Jerusalem, and Tel-Aviv. Convinced that Shahada (“Death for Allah”) violence against the Israel will lead directly to martyrdom, the Islamist terrorist can never be effectively deterred by more ordinary threats of armed reprisal and retaliation. Such threats could even become an incentive to the commission of additional and accelerated anti-Israel terrorism.
When falling outside the usual boundaries of “rationality,” Jihadist terrorism should compel Israeli planners to seek different and more purposeful measures of dissuasion. To keep Israel safe, the country’s leaders should begin to look more seriously beyond mainstream military and political solutions to terrorism. At a minimum, Israel should oppose any U.S. or U.N. supported plan to carve a fully-sovereign Palestinian state from its own still-living body.
Such an insidious plan was already begun on 29 November 2012, in the UN General Assembly. On that day, the Palestinian Authority's formal status before the world body was upgraded to Nonmember Observer State.
Although they will strenuously deny it, the Jihadists’ overwhelming terror of death leads them to commit a murderous form of “suicide.” Strangely, because dying in the act of killing “infidels," “apostates," and "unbelievers" is expected to buy them freedom from the penalty of death, these terrorists aim to conquer their own dreaded mortality by “killing themselves.”
Israel, for very many different reasons, still imagines for itself, a life everlasting. But unlike these sacrifice-centered Arab and Iranian enemies, Israel does not see itself as achieving immortality, either individually, or collectively, via the willful mass killing of "others." Here, the bold contrast with its regional Islamic enemies is determinative.
Israel and its terrorist enemies maintain decidedly different orientations to "peace." This difference puts the Jewish State at a disadvantage in the "peace process." While Israel’s Islamist enemies dutifully manifest their "positive" expectations for immortality, individual and collective, by the intended and doctrinal slaughter of “heathen,” Israel’s own leaders flatly reject their foes' faith-based and annihilatory decisional calculus.
Israel confronts a real and still-expanding mega-threat of unconventional war and unconventional terrorism. Faced with opponents who are not only willing to die, but who might actively and ecstatically seek their own "deaths," Jerusalem should quickly understand the critical operational limits of ordinary warfare, national homeland defense, and strategic deterrence.
The current danger to Israel lies at two discrete, but nonetheless interrelated, levels. First, it exists at the level of the individual Jihadist enemy, who chooses “martyrdom” through a deliberate path of terrorism. Second, it exists at the level of states, which may ultimately decide to represent, in macrocosm, certain individual human “self-sacrificers."
Someday, quite plausibly, these states may choose collective "self-sacrifice" through initiation of chemical, biological, or nuclear war. Such a conflict might not be fought for traditional military purposes, but instead for the "liquidation” of “infidels.” Any such choice would represent the unholiest of marriages between aggressive war and genocide, two clearly codified mega-crimes under international law. The defining Jihadist playbook in such a conflict would not be the classical military theories of Sun-Tzu or Clausewitz, but instead, the presumptively gratuitous and intrinsically gainful destructions of de Sade.
The root problem to be explained here is Jihadist death fear, and also the consequent compulsion to sacrifice certain despised "others." This compulsion, in turn, stems from the widespread and doctrinal belief that killing unbelievers, and being killed by unbelievers, is, unambiguously, the best path to immortality. Terrorist unwillingness to accept personal death leads them to killing others in order to escape this death.
This is the utterly key point for further disciplined study.
For many of Israel’s terrorist enemies, both individuals and states, killing Jews, not just Israelis, offers an optimal immunization against personal death. Understood in expressly psychological categories, the death fear of the enemy "ego" is lessened by the killing, the sacrifice, of the infidel. Generically, this complex idea was already captured by Ernest Becker's vivid paraphrase of Elias Canetti: "Each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good."
The Jihadist enemies of Israel do not intend to do evil. They commit to the killing of Jews, and other “infidels,” with an undisguised religious conviction, and with a limitless purity of heart. Perversely sanctified killers, to be sure, these relentless enemies will gleefully generate an incessant search for “profane” victims. Though mired in blood, this terrorizing search will probably remain tranquil and self-assured, born of the unchallengeable presumption that its determined perpetrators are neither infamous nor shameful, but sacrificial.
For good reason, the military wing of Fatah, allegedly the more secular and moderate exponent of Palestinian terror, is called the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade. In the precise fashion of more explicitly sacrificial elements of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Fatah's “Brigade” is oriented toward much more than “armed struggle.” It is dedicated to religious sacrifice, an all-consuming commitment that ultimately promises its followers not just military victory over “Zionist occupiers,” but also immunity from death.
Oddly, perhaps, Palestinian terrorism is more dangerous today than it was during Israel's early years. Yes, there were Fedayeen ("self-sacrificers") even then, but their dominant motives were more pointedly nationalistic, and, much less "Islamic."
For Israel, there is likely little point to deterring would-be Palestinian suicide bombers with threats of lethal reprisal. Instead, to effectively dissuade this sort of suicide-bomber, Israel must somehow learn to confront the prospective murderers with a palpable anticipation of authentic suicide. Here, the Arab terrorist could calculate that his fervently sought-after explosion of Jewish bodies will bring not an ecstatic entry into paradise, but rather an irreversible slide into the eternal darkness, into oblivion, into death.
There are also some corollary notions for Israel to understand and exploit. These ideas have to do with the more carnal or lascivious side of Palestinian terrorism. Notwithstanding his smugly open identification with allegedly "higher" ideals and motivations, and with more usual political objectives, the young Palestinian male who seeks the celebrated martyrdom of a Shahid fighter is generally at a loss for identifying alternative ecstasies of "maleness." This means that his death as a martyr can be expected to bring not only freedom from personal death, but also the only still-remaining opportunities for sexual satisfaction.
What is Israel to do? For the Palestinian terrorist today, violence and the sacred remain thoroughly intertwined, and mutually-reinforcing. Israel, therefore, must increasingly think in terms of desacrilizing this relentless adversary, and of convincing him that ritual murders of "Jews" will lead not to paradise and limitless pleasures, but to the inconceivable "terrors of the grave."
Can such a desacrilization ever be accomplished through ordinary politics and a still-delusionary "peace process?" To be persuasive, it would have to originate among the influential Islamic clerics themselves. But how could these venerable mentors of Islamic Holy Warriors ever be motivated to move in such an alien direction?
Should Israel continue to target Palestinian terrorist leaders, a strategy of selective killing that may preclude the need for wider wars? Although the benefits of getting rid of terrorist masterminds without mounting a full-scale war are temptingly meaningful and more-or-less self-evident, it is also true that the Palestinian terror threat now confronting Israel resembles the mythic Hydra. This was, we may recall, a monster of many heads, one which was impossible to kill because each time one head was successfully struck by Hercules, two new ones arose in its place.
For Israel, this is not merely a tactical problem. It is also a complex problem of law and morality.
What is the overall correct strategy for Israel? To begin, Israel's strategic and intelligence communities will need to identify new and promising ways of deterring non-rational (Jihadist) adversaries. Simultaneously, especially as Palestinian statehood is currently being validated by steadily-calculated increments of recognition in the U.N. General Assembly, these planners will need to avoid the potentially lethal fallacy of accepting a Palestinian state because it has ostensibly agreed to "demilitarization."
While Prime Minister Netanyahu has prominently inserted this condition of negotiating Palestinian statehood as tangible evidence of Israeli foresight and prudence, it can never have its intended effect. Jurisprudentially, the reason is clear and incontestable. Every state maintains an "inherent" and irreducible right of self-defense. This "peremptory" or (in formal law) jus cogens prerogative cannot be challenged or taken away, even if the new state itself should explicitly agree to firm limitations on this right.
By ignoring core roots of Palestinian terrorism, the Road Map will only detour the Jewish State with its contrived "Two-State Solution." Should Prime Minister Netanyahu yield to assorted pressures, and still agree to follow this determinably fatal cartography, he will have overlooked or at least underestimated the doctrinal origins of Israel's most recalcitrant enemies. Should he choose, instead, to reject the Road Map's twisting highways to nowhere, the Prime Minister will then have understood that Israel's current struggles with Palestinian terrorism are not preeminently about land, "settlements," or "self-determination."
Now, unassailably, they are about "God."
Louis René Beres, educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), publishes widely on world politics, terrorism, and international law. Born in Zurich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945, he is the author of some of the earliest major books on nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, including The Management of World Power (1972); Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (1974); Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (1979); Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980); Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (1986); and Israeli Security and Nuclear Weapons (Geneva, Switzerland, 1990). His recent articles have appeared in such publications as The Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs; The Jerusalem Post; US News & World Report; and The Atlantic.