Deterrence works because one is able credibly to threaten the center of
gravity of the enemy: the threat of inflicting unacceptable losses upon him,
whether in a bar brawl or in nuclear escalation. The calculus deterrence
relies upon is: is it worth it? Is the Price/Earning Ratio of the
contemplated action so hugely negative that it would wipe out the capital?
Deterrence works if the price to be paid by the party to be deterred hugely
exceeds his expected earnings. But deterrence only works if the enemy is
able and willing to enter the same calculus. If the enemy plays by other
rules and calculates by other means, he will not be deterred. There was
nothing the Philistines could have done to deter Samson. If the calculus is:
I exchange my worthless earthly life against the triumph of Allah on earth,
and an eternity of bliss for me, if the enemy wishes to be dead, if to him
the Apocalypse is desirable, he will not be deterred.
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the Mayor of Tehran, he insistently proposed
that the main thoroughfares of Tehran should be widened so that, he
explained, on the day of his reappearance, the Hidden Imam, Mohamed ibn
Hassan, who went into the great occultation in 941 AD could tread spacious
avenues. More recently, he told the Indian Foreign Minister that "in two
years, everything will be settled," which the visiting dignitary at first
mistook to mean that Iran expected to possess nuclear weapons in two years;
he was later bemused to learn what Ahmadinejad had meant, to wit, that the
Mahdi would appear in two years, at which points all worldly problems would
disappear. This attitude, truly, is not new, nor should it surprise us:
religious notions and their estranged cousins, ideological representations,
determine not only their believers' beliefs but also their believers'
actions. Reality, as it were, is invaded by belief, and belief in turn
shapes the believer's reality. The difference between the religious and the
ideologically religious is this: the religious believer accepts that reality
is a given, whereas the fanatic gambles everything on a pseudo-reality of
what ought to be. The religious believer accepts reality and works at
improving it, the fanatic rejects reality, refuses to pass any compromise
with it and tries to destroy it and replace it with his fantasy.
As Pat Moynihan memorably told an opponent, "you are entitled to your
opinions, but you are not entitled to your facts." Ahmadjinedi inhabits his
beliefs rather than the common earth. With him we do not share the same
facts, even though we share a planet. The sharing takes the form of bombs
Ahmadjinedi wants to hasten the reappearance of the Hidden Imam, whose
coming, in traditional Muslim, and especially Shiite, apocalyptics, will be
the Sign of the Hour, that the End of Days is nigh. Ahmadinejad's politics
cannot be labelled 'radical,' as opposed to 'moderate.' His politics are
apocalyptic and eschatological. Its vanishing point is not earthly but
otherworldly. Famously Ayatollah Khomeini said: "We have not made a
revolution to lower the price of melon." The task of the Mahdi, when he
reappears, will be to lead the great and final war which will bring about
the extermination of the Unbelievers, the end of Unbelief and the complete
dominion of God's writ upon the whole of mankind. The Umma will inflate to
absorb the rest of the world.
The politics carried out by the complex in power in Tehran – Ahmadinejad,
the Pasdaran, the Basiji, the ministry of Intelligence, Supreme Guide
Khamenei – is apocalyptic and millenarian – but it also is autistic: in the
world, nothing that contravenes their perverted sense of what is and what
ought to be, may be allowed to exist; conversely, anything in the world that
contradicts their representations must be eradicated: the only things
allowed to exist are their representations. In their revolt against the
Order of the world, they are determined to impose upon that world an Order
that incompatible with most institutions and people. They are disposed to
destroy a world that refuses their dawa, as it stubbornly clings to its own
ways, in order to make way for their fanciful views. Contemporary jihad is
not a matter of politics at all (of 'occupation, of 'grievances,' of
colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism and Zionism), but a matter of
Gnostic faith. Consequently, attempts at dealing with the problem
politically will not even touch it. Aspirin is good, and so is penicillin,
but they are of little avail to counter maladies of the mind. I am
emphatically not saying here that the jihadis are "crazy." I am saying that
they are possessed of a disease of the mind, and the disease is the
political religion of modern Gnosticism in its Islamic version.
Let us flash back in time, if you will, to Sept. 28, 1971, in Cairo. The
prime minister of Jordan Wasfi al-Tell, who had been threatened by the
Palestinian movement in retaliation for the so-called Black September of
1970, walks into the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel. "Five shots, fired at
point-blank range, hit [him]. He staggered. he fell dying among the shards
of glass on the marble floor. As he lay dying, one of his killers bent over
and lapped the blood that poured from his wounds." The multiplicity of
similar incidents tells us that they are neither some 'collateral damage'
nor incidental occurrences. They do not belong in the sphere of traditional
politics, they are instead located in an 'elsewhere' of geopolitics.
Soldiers kill. Terrorists kill. Modern Jihadis lap the blood. Inseparable
from contemporary Arab-Muslim jihad are the idealization of blood, the
veneration of savagery, the cult of killing, the worship of death. Gruesome
murder, gory and gleeful infliction of pain, are lionized and proffered as
models and exemplary actions pleasing to Allah. These are no merely
reflections of a pre-modern attitude toward death. I have collected, as can
anybody, dozens of examples of human sacrifice inflicted by the Islamic
jihadi of all stripes. This pornography of crime is endless, from the
gratuitous killing of a Leon Klinghoffer to Mohammad Atta's instructions,
"You must make your knife sharp and you must not discomfort your animal
during the slaughter," and the Behesht Zahra, the 'Paradise of Flowers'
graveyard near Tehran with its Fountain of Blood, or this report on the
killing of an Algerian intellectual: "Dr. Hammed Boukhobza who was killed by
a group of Islamist terrorists in the city of Telemly. (.) He was not just
killed in his apartment, but his wife and children who wanted to escape were
forced to watch how he was literally cut to pieces, his entrails slowly
drawn out while he was just barely alive. The terrorists obviously liked to
watch the suffering, and they wanted to family to share their enjoyment."
The accumulation of such deeds shows that they are not an epiphenomenon but
are central to the purpose of the jihadi. They are aired 24/7 on TV channels
such as al Jazeera and many others. They are avidly watched and celebrated,
private and family screenings are arranged. Think of images and videofilms
of assassinations, Daniel Pearl, Paul Johnson, 'live' killing for the
viewing public. Perhaps the worst symbol of it all was the picture taken on
Oct. 12, 2000 in Ramallah: a young man shows his red hands dipped in the
blood of two murdered Israeli soldiers to an exultant Palestinian crowd.
There is a public demand to meet the supply: snuff movies are served as
identity markers. They bespeak the triumph of a theology of death, a
'manufacture of death' as the Baathist ideologues used to say (the purported
division between supposedly 'secular' Arab or pan- Arab nationalists and
religious types is meaningless when the matter is life and death, as it is),
and an 'industry of death,' as leading Saudi ulama proudly say. Listen to
the hypnotic threnody of the Muslim Brotherhood's chanted motto: Allah
ghayatuna/Al Rasul zaimuna/Al Quran dusturuna/Al Jihad sabiluna/Al mawt fi
sabil Allah asma amanina/Allah akbar. These are words to be taken seriously,
even literally, as events have shown. Hassan al-Banna repeatedly praised to
heaven his Brotherhood's "art of death" (fann al-mawt). This is
thanatolatry, martyropathology or nihilism: when an entire society orients
itself in this direction, that society is becoming suicidal. A society that
gears especially its young toward killing and actively seeking death, it is
making choices that bring about its extinction. "We love death more than you
If you depreciate and deprecate life and conversely focus all your desires
upon death, the devoutly-wished passage into the glorious afterlife by means
of shahada, 'trading' (as Quran says) one's own earthly life for one's
afterlife is much easier, and taking the life of others is a mandate, it is
an obligation, an offering. Suicide-killing as practiced so much against
Israel, India and more recently the United States, is caused by this
collective pathology of the mind, the Gnostic religious ideology. There are
secondary, contributing causes, but they are just that, auxiliaries to the
The believers – here, the jihadis – are the Elect: they, and only they, know
God's plan for the world; they have been chosen by Him to fight and win the
final, cosmic battle between God and Satan, and bring about perfection on
earth, in this case, the extension of God's writ and dominion, the dar
al-Islam, to mankind as a whole. Everybody else is wrong and evil, jahili,
and an enemy who can and should be killed at will. Reality, Creation, that
is, is irretrievably perverted. The Perfect are "an elite of amoral
supermen" (Norman Cohn), who know what reality 'really' ought to be. They
are engaged in transforming the world so that it conforms to the 'second
reality' that they alone know, thank to their special knowledge, gnôsis. In
order to get from A to B, from the evil today to the perfect tomorrow,
torrents of blood have to be shed in exterminatory struggle, the blood of
all those whose actions or whose very being hinder the accomplishment of the
Mahdi's mission. Owing to their extraordinary status, the Perfects are above
all laws and norms. Everything they do is willed and sanctioned by God.
Their intent (niyyah) vouches for their acts. They alone are able to
determine life and death. The power this ideology confers upon its believers
is intoxicating. They love death more than we love life.
For five hundred years, from 1100 to 1600, Europe was wracked by Gnostic
insurrections, from the Flanders to Northern Italy, from Bohemia to France:
Pastoureaux, Taborites, Flagellants, Free Spirits, Anabaptists, etc. The
belief-structure just described was theirs. They mobilized hundreds of
thousands of people, threatened kingdoms and overthrew dukedoms, they
slaughtered Jews, priests and rich people, they created their own,
grotesque, bloody, totalitarian 'republics.'
"Soon we shall drink blood for wine," one of the leading insurgent writers
stated, "those who do not accept baptism. are to be killed, then they will
be baptized in their blood." And another one: "Accursed be the man who
withholds his sword from shedding the blood of the enemies of Christ. Every
believer must wash his hands in that blood. every priest may lawfully
pursue, wound and kill sinners." And "the Just. will not rejoice, seeing
vengeance and washing their hands with the blood of sinners." Hear Thomas
Müntzer: "curse the unbelievers. don't let them live any longer, the
evil-doers who turn away from God. For a godless man has no right to live if
he hinders the godly. The sword is necessary to exterminate them. if they
resist let them be slaughtered without mercy. the ungodly have no right to
live, save what the Elect choose to allow them. Now, go at them. it is time.
The scoundrels are as dispirited as dogs.Take no notice of the lamentations
of the godless! They will beg you. don't be moved by pity. At them! At them!
While the fire is hot! Don't let your sword get cold! Don't let it go lame!"
By and large, the same screeds are heard from a variety of Islamic radicals.
. "Die before you die!" Ali Shariati tells the Shiite believer. "He who
takes up a gun, a kitchen knife or even a pebble with which to arm and kill
the enemies of the faith has his place assured in Heaven. An Islamic state
is the sum total of such individual believers. An Islamic state is in a
state of war until the whole world sees and accepts the light of the True
Faith," said Ayatollah Fazlallah Mahalati, organizer of Iranian
assassination squads. "To allow the infidels to stay alive means to let them
do more corrupting. To kill them is a surgical operation commanded by Allah.
we have to kill. war is a blessing for the world and for every nation, It is
Allah himself who commands men to wage war and kill. It is war that purifies
the earth," said Ruhollah Khomeiny. And article 15 of the Hamas charter,
explains: "I indeed wish to go to war for the sake of Allah! I will assault
and kill, assault and kill, assault and kill!" As I said, a soldier kills, a
jihadi loves to kill. And what was the dismal arithmetic conveyed by some
jihadi that since the Americans had purportedly killed a lot of Muslims, the
Muslims were "entitled" to kill 4 million Americans, children included?
Torah recounts the end of human sacrifice: it forcefully states that God's
Law is THOU SHALT NOT MURDER that was adopted by Christians. Today's jihad
is a giant regression to pre-Abrahamic times, to Moloch and Baal.
In modern times in the West, as Eric Voegelin and Norman Cohn have shown,
the ideology morphed and took on secular forms – Nazis and Bolsheviks in
particular. Islam, was heavily burdened by Gnostic contents, and
historically shaped by a tribal matrix that inherently fosters Manichean
tendencies ("them"-vs.-"us"). The jump from mere religion to religious
ideology was easy. It was achieved in the 19th century by Jamal al-Din al-
Afghani. It was followed by Abu Ala Mawdoodi, Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb,
Ali Shariati, Ruhollah Khomeiny, Osama bin Laden. Hamas, Hezbollah, the
Deobandi of South Asia, the Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyya, the Talibans, the
Wahhabi, share this outlook.
Knowing this, how do we deter the modern Gnostic warriors, the jihadi?
Mainly, we do not. Those who are dead already, who consider themselves dead
to the world and only alive to the Afterworld, those who wish to die,
generally cannot be deterred. Faith has been described as a belief in things
invisible. Gnosticism is belief in a fantasy that is taken to be more real
than the common reality: they do not believe what they see, they see what
they believe. This cannot be deterred. Imagine Osama bin Laden is in front
of you: how do you deter him? Or Zawahiri, or Zarqawi ? Deterrence? Don't
even think about it. Deterrence might have worked way before contemporary
jihad was able to reach critical mass, sometimes perhaps in the early to
If our enemy was merely 'terrorism,' we could defang it, admittedly at great
cost: by destroying the Saudi-Wahhabi nexus and their grip on power, by
wiping out the Iranian Ayatollahs' strength, and by squeezing hard the
noxious Pakistani military-intelligence establishment – all in all, the
linchpins of Muslim terrorism. Once this infrastructure of terror collapsed,
much of terror would. But terror itself is nothing but the principal
paramilitary instrument of jihad: the operative concept is jihad, not
terror. The jihadis' purpose (in Clausewitzian terms, Zweck), in the very
words of the Quran, is to strike terror in the hearts of unbelievers, it is
a quasi-military objective: once terrorized, the Unbelievers, the
schismatics and the polytheists will convert, submit or die. The strategic
aim (Ziel) of jihad is the Gnostic takeover of the world. To some extent, we
may be able to lessen, hinder or hamper the Zweck. But the Ziel is
unconditional and cannot be altered. Can we de-fang jihad by pulling its
Some workarounds work. The way in which Israeli military and security forces
have ruthlessly sapped the strength of Islamic terror, notably by a
high-tempo attrition of its leadership cadre, is exemplary and should be
studied and emulated elsewhere, different conditions obtaining.
Contemporary jihad, like its emanation, terrorism, is an integral chain: as
long as it is islamico-glamorous to be a cleric who issues fatwas calling
for the murder of Israeli civilians or American GIs, the cleric will go on.
Once dead, he will stop. So will the chairman of a charity that funnels
money to jihad. So will the senior intelligence officer who trains or
smuggles them, the predicator who incites, the madrasa or university
professor who brainwashes, the prince who lies for terror, the ayatollah who
sends out teams of killers, etc. This is deterrence after the French
expression the have been shot pour encourager les autres. Jihad is the
operative ideology of a number of states; states can be pinned down and hit.
This approach is a variant of the notion of decapitation, or of the
formulation of nodal targeting given by air power theorist Col. John Warden.
Less than the jihadi hardware, it is the jihadi software that has to be
hit – but not by soft power.
What did Europe do to crush the insurrectionary Gnostics in the Medieval and
late- Medieval era? Churchill once said: "If Hitler invaded hell I would
make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."
Likewise I'll have a kind word for the Inquisition (not the Spanish one,
though), which did quite a job cleaning up the mess. They rounded them up
and they killed them. Thomas Müntzer was defeated, captured and beheaded in
1525. The 'King' of the Anabaptists of Münster, John von Leyden and his
aides, were executed in 1535. As a terrible warning, their bodies were
suspended in iron cages from the tower of St. Lambert's church in the town.
Those who survived hit in wait for better days. What they had found is that
their insurgency was hopeless, that it was useless, and that sticking one's
neck out was a sure way to lose it. Their will had been broken. Enough of a
trauma had been inflicted to do so.
One martyr will have followers, ten martyrs will be admired and emulated.
One thousand dead martyrs who died unheralded die in vain. If Ahmadinejad
and others die in vain and uselessly they will not die as martyrs but as
slobs. For the Gnostic, for the jihadi, his death is the only thing that
matters to him: take that away and nothing is left. It does not mean, as the
jurors of the Moussaoui trial were apparently led to believe, that "you
cannot make a martyr out of him, since this is what he wants." Make his
death a lonely, useless, ignored death. Unextraordinary, unromantic, trivial
deaths shatter the glory of the jihadi's death. It was George Patton who
said: "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by
making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." The recipe is not
pretty nor is it easy.
The defeated European Gnostics went underground, their sole hope resided in
the clandestine conveying of their beliefs, especially to their children.
Society cannot eliminate the Gnostic beliefs, but can make the strain
dormant instead of virulent. Jihad is integral to Islam and derives from its
most fundamental tenets. The severing of that link is not going to happen
soon. But throughout history, when Islamic conquerors met their match, they
stopped. When they met crushing defeat, they retreated, and found the ulama
and the faqih to justify that, like prophets who announced the Rapture for
yesterday, 8:09 am, and reschedule it for next year. But let us remember
that most of the faithful are not turned off by the ludicrous failure of
their prophet's prophecies, precisely because they live in the 'second
Once their leaders had been exterminated, the Medieval insurgents of Europe
disbanded and scattered. Applying high-tempo attrition and nodal targeting
to the jihadi apparatus worldwide (by which I emphatically do not mean
'terrorists' alone or even in the first place) seems to me to be a modern
equivalent. If I may say in homage to the chain of command that orchestrated
his elimination, Sheikh Yasin was not in the habit of wielding pistols – he
wielded death. It is those who deploy the undead who must be the priority