In Sartre’s grim play No Exit, a man and two women are in Hell, which, in this case, is a brightly lit drawing room furnished in the style of deuxième empire. At one point, the man, Garcin, famously quips that “hell is other people” (“l’enfer, c’est les autres”). One of the women, Inès, eventually responds with the lesser-known but equally disturbing admission that she needs the suffering of others in order to exist.
In the schizophrenic “War on Terror,” enfeebled Westerners keep hoping that “other people” will be the ones to bear the brunt of unpleasantness (Serbs today, Greeks tomorrow, Israelis eventually) and that the enemy may be appeased with ever-greater immigration privileges and anti-“Islamophobic” legal codes. The enemy, in the meantime, remains perfectly frank in his admission that the suffering of “others”—infidels, that is—remains not only a tool of policy but a worthy and pleasing goal in and of itself.
A timely reminder of this state of affairs came on April 23, with a new audio tape from Al Qaeda’s elusive leader, Osama bin Laden. He spoke on a variety of topics, but his words will be—or at least should be—remembered because, for the first time, he told ordinary Americans and Europeans point blank that they are all legitimate targets of terrorist attacks.
Bin Laden asserted that the exploits of both Europe and the United States in the Islamic world reflect the ongoing “crusade” against Muslims. He condemned both Western governments and individuals for the “crusade” against the people of Palestine:
This war is the joint responsibility of the people and the governments. While the war continues, the people renew their allegiance to their rulers and politicians and continue to send their sons to our countries to fight us.
This statement offers Bin Laden’s specific reiteration of Al Qaeda’s theological justification for its attacks on ordinary citizens in the Western world. Before September 11, statements by Al Qaeda leaders and Bin Laden himself clearly indicated their belief that American civilians are legitimate targets, but it was more than six months after the attacks, on April 24, 2002, that Al Qaeda released a statement of 3,700 words outlining its religious justification for killing civilians. Entitled “A Statement From Qaidat al-Jihad Regarding the Mandates of the Heroes and the Legality of the Operations in New York and Washington,” it asserted that the United States was waging an offensive war against Islam as a whole, and that Al Qaeda’s operations were therefore defensive measures ordained by the Koran to protect the Muslim community from external aggression.
Particularly significant for the non-Muslim world is Al Qaeda’s repeated insistence—confirmed in the latest Bin Laden tape—that there is no prohibition against killing noncombatants, women, and children in Islam. Al Qaeda has already established a number of conditions in which Muslims are allowed, under Islamic law, to kill noncombatants.
Since America has targeted Muslim civilians, the argument goes, the same response is legal: Whoever attacks you, attack him in like manner (Koran 2:194). If the unbelievers have targeted Muslim women, children, and elderly—as Al Qaeda asserts they have done—it is permissible for Muslims to respond in kind. Furthermore, Muhammad specifically allowed killing civilians. Asked about the infidel women and children who stayed behind with the enemy fighters and were in danger of being killed, he replied, “They are from them.” They ceased to be innocents by remaining within the enemy camp.
In addition, Al Qaeda cites Islamic tradition (Hadith) to prove that noncombatants may be killed legitimately if they have assisted in combat “in deed, word, opinion, or any other way.” This is justified by Muhammad’s order to kill Duraid Ibn al-Simma, an old and infirm poet who supposedly provided verbal advice to his enemies. This sweeping concept criminalizes indirect forms of support, which literally makes every gainfully employed American fair game. Furthermore, Al Qaeda’s theologians pointed out, “infidel” women and children may be killed when it is necessary to sap the strength of the enemy by destroying his property. Yet again, the Hadith provides the example: The “prophet” did so in his attack on Banu Al-Nadhir. And finally, Muslim scholars point out that Muhammad condoned the use of the contemporary weapons of mass destruction, specifically the giant catapult, against the fortified city of Taif. Civilians were going to be killed or maimed by heavy rocks hurled at the fortifications and beyond them, but “Islam does allow civilian casualties if they occur in the course of an attack that is detrimental to the enemy’s military capacity.”
Bin Laden’s insistence on the “joint responsibility of the people and their governments” merely reiterates the assertion made in Al Qaeda’s 2002 statement that, through their participation in the political process that results in anti-Muslim policies, all citizens of the United States, and of other countries supporting her policies, are effectively guilty of aiding and abetting “Crusaders and Zionists” and are, therefore, legitimately targetable:
If the successive Crusader-Zionist governments had not received support from their people, their war against Islam and Muslims would not have taken such an obvious and conspicuous form. It is something that would not attain legitimacy except by the voices of the people.
The presence of a large Muslim diaspora in the Western world is immaterial in the terrorist calculus. In Islamic jurisprudence, any Muslim victims of indiscriminate attacks on “infidel” targets are to be viewed strictly as collateral damage:
It is no objection to shooting arrows or other missiles against the infidels that there may chance to be among them a Muslim . . . because [such an attack] remedies a general evil in the repulsion thereof from the whole body of Muslims, whereas the slaying of a Muslim . . . is only a particular evil, and to repel a general evil a particular evil must be adopted.
Pakistani general S.K. Malik would not be considered a terrorist, having belonged to the military establishment of a “strategic ally” of the United States. Yet his book The Quranic Concept of War, which was used as a training manual by the militaries of several Muslim countries and honored with a Foreword by Pakistan’s late dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, follows the same reasoning as Al Qaeda. Malik says that “in Islam war is waged to establish supremacy of the Lord only when every other argument has failed to convince those who reject His Will.” In that case, it is “necessary to remove such cancerous malformation even if it be by surgical means, in order to save the rest of humanity.” Once the war is under way, however, Malik admits that it is necessary to strike terror into the hearts of the infidel: It is
not only a means, it is the end itself. Once a condition of terror into the opponent’s heart is obtained, hardly anything is left to be achieved. It is the point where the means and the end meet and merge. Terror is not a means of imposing decision on the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose on him.
It is possible to dispute the validity of Al Qaeda’s and Malik’s justifications for terror from within Islam—that is to say, using the tools of Islamic scholarship. It is not possible, however, to dispute the fact that their arguments are based on incontrovertibly valid Islamic sources, precedents, and methods of deduction. They invoke sources and principles that are independent of any capricious or dubious interpretations of the Koran or the Hadith. The terrorists may differ from other Muslims in the exact command for action that they derive from the Koran and the Hadith, but they all speak the same legal and theological language.
They speak the same language because Islam as such—and not some allegedly aberrant variety of the “genuine” creed—creates among its adherents the paradigm of a permanent cosmic war that breeds the terrorist mind-set. Antagonism toward the demonized “infidel” is rooted in the conviction that Islam is not only the true faith but the only faith with any truth. Humanity is divided between Muslims and kafirs. No matter how much a believer has been exposed to Western or secular thought, no matter which passport he carries or what clothes he wears, his instinctive first priority on meeting a stranger is to establish on which side of this divide that person belongs. Antagonism toward non-Muslim religions, societies, and cultures is not a trait shared by all Muslims, but it is an attitude mandated to all true Muslims and prevalent among many. Through jihad, Islam has emerged as a quasireligious ideology of cultural and political imperialism that absolutizes the conflict with all that is other than itself and knows no natural limits to itself.
It is self-defeating to deny that Islam has created a moral philosophy and a legal code that, in principle, allows terrorist acts, including the mass murder of innocent women and children. Islam erases individual judgment based on natural morality or on allegiance to any other source of authority but itself, and it mandates submission to the letter of revealed law (Koran) or to the precedent of Muhammad (Hadith). Analogies derived in this manner stand above reason, conscience, or nature. Muhammad has stifled in his followers the proclivity to natural law, “this high and often ultrahuman motive” enhanced by education and refinement: “Ignorance deprives savage nations of such incentives. Yet in the marvelous economy of nature this very ignorance is a source of greater strength. It affords them the mighty stimulus of fanaticism” (C.S. Lewis).
A good Muslim is afforded such a mighty stimulus because he is justified by what Allah has commanded, or by what the prophet has said or done. The lack of any pretense to a moral basis for sharia is explicit: There is no “spirit of the law” in Islam, no rationality behind it for human reason to discover. There is no discernment of the consequences of deeds, and revelation and tradition must not be questioned. No other standard of good and evil can be invoked, least of all a notion of “natural” justice.
Islam’s denigration of the individual conscience removes inhibitions against terrorist acts—inhibitions that other religions, other legal codes, and other worldviews reinforce. The dictum of jihad befits the demand for an obedient servant’s prostration before a capricious master whose commands have no rational basis. The political consequences are crucial for societies that derive their concept of authority from this image. Any notion of freedom distinct from that which is implicit in total submission is forbidden and sinful. Human imperfection is not subject to improvement in the direction of God.
Finally, Islam provides a powerful means of social and political mobilization in active pursuit, or in tacit support, of terrorism. Its peculiar teaching affects people who otherwise would not be compelled to internalize the terrorist mind-set by a “merely” secular ideology (e.g., class struggle, poverty, anger at American foreign policy, Arab nationalism, lack of democracy). Even those Muslims who want to break free from the shackles of the jihadist mentality have a problem in the widespread support among their fellow traditional Muslims—notably among the young second-generation immigrants in the West—for the orthodox variety of jihad that breeds terrorism.
The fruits of Islam’s denial of natural morality are as predictable as they are grim, for the Muslims no less than for their victims: Both are enslaved, brutalized, and dehumanized. The fruits of Muhammad’s adage that “only Muslims’ blood is equal” is the curse that cannot be eradicated short of a bold reform from within that seems no more likely today than at any time since his death in 632.
At the end of No Exit, Garcin complains of dying too early and failing to complete his acts. Inès responds by declaring, “You are nothing else but your life.” A moribund West is on its way out, and we will never know how many great novels will remain unwritten, scientific discoveries unknown, cantatas unperformed, beyond the end of this century; its ghosts, too, may declare, On ne m’a pas laissé le temps de faire mes actes. A victorious caliphate on its European ruins will be nothing else than what its various incarnations have been over the past 14 centuries—which is nothing good, or true, or beautiful. It will be hell, one size fits all.