The Westgate attack in Kenya with its accompanying butchery of every man, woman and child in a shopping mall who couldn’t name Mohammed’s mother is being met with baffled mutterings about “senseless violence.”
But there’s nothing senseless about the violence that took place.
Commentators pointed to the unwillingness to negotiate and the lack of a political program by the attackers as if the same things that matter to European Union diplomats should matter to terrorists who stage massacres in shopping malls.
In the narrowing circle of civilization, its gleaming outposts of marble hallways and policy position papers, it is madness. But terrorism is really just the politics of a world that predated the one that we have built up. For all its brutality, it is not senseless, absent of motive or purpose.
Terrorists kill because it’s what they do. Plumbers unclog toilets. Computer companies sell you software. Terrorist organizations kill people.
It’s fashionable to believe that terrorism is a phase. The terrorists blow up things to get what they really want in exchange for not blowing up things anymore. It sounds like a rational, albeit amoral, plan, to the people who think that Westgate was senseless violence. They have spent decades convincing us that this is how it works.
But what if it doesn’t work that way at all?
Two decades of peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have only produced more violence. Each Israeli concession is met with escalating demands and escalating violence. Briefly Bill Clinton seemed to wrap his head around the understand that Yasser Arafat didn’t actually want peace, but couldn’t sustain that flash of insight long enough to understand the full implications of that.
The Palestinian Authority is still a terrorist organization. It never stopped being one. It fights to become a state, but has no interest in actually being a state. And it’s only considered moderate, because it’s willing to make politicians like Clinton look good by taking part in negotiations. Hamas won’t even bother going that far. It really has no interest in being anything but a terrorist group.
That’s not to say that terrorists don’t have goals. They do. But those goals don’t include shutting down shop as terrorists. Why would they? Terrorism is what got them this far.
Telling Arafat to stop being a terrorist was like telling Michael Jordan to switch to selling home insurance or urging Wayne Gretzky to try playing piano for a change. If you’re good at something and if doing it brings you fame, wealth and power… why would you stop?
Terrorist organizations kill people. It’s what they do. And it isn’t senseless at all.
Al-Shabaab’s real audience wasn’t the Americans watching CNN at Reagan National and trying to make sense of the violence. It was the millionaires and billionaires in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar who can turn any terrorist group from wannabes into RPG toting superstars racing through the desert on last year’s model Toyota pickup trucks with crates full of night vision equipment.
You may think of the news as a collection of tragedies. To the dozens of Al-Qaeda franchises and assorted Islamist terrorist groups, it’s American Idol. The CNN coverage of their attack is their audition on a worldwide reality show that shows off their skills and makes them famous.
Not every terrorist group is lucky enough to have its own Bin Laden; its Saudi sugar daddy with the cash and the cachet to get them the money they need in exchange for being the one to appear on camera and proclaim “Death to America”. And the Jihadists in Afghanistan fighting over Osama at times nearly killed each other over access to their effete money man posing languidly in camo.
Terrorists kill people “senselessly” because a spectacular terrorist attack gets them noticed. It sets them apart from every other Islamist terrorist group that throws together a name longer than most cities and waves a flag with a bunch of swords on it while vowing to drive out all the infidels. The 12 PM CNN audience may not applaud, but the Al Jazeera audience does. And it’s the one that matters.
And while the CNN audience may not be applauding, Al-Shabaab registered on their meters. They’re more likely to urge Kenya, Ethiopia, their own governments, and anyone else to find out what it will take to make them go away. That is why terrorism, even without much of a political program, works. Blow up enough people, enough times, and some diplomat named Fredrik or Jens will show up in your camp to ask you what you want and explain to you how this whole negotiating thing works.
Muslim terrorist organizations fight to impose Islamic law. But what does that really mean, aside from the little girls wearing Burkas and the demolished churches?
Think of the letters of marque that allowed privateers to prey on enemy shipping during wartime. The difference between a privateer and a pirate was the letters of marque. The difference between a warlord, a bandit, a rapist and a Muslim terrorist is the Koran and the Fatwa based on it that acts as his letter of marque.
Muslim terrorism is in no small part legalized banditry with each terrorist group leader hoping to set up shop as the Emir of his own little territory while fighting for the Caliphate.
Get some thugs together, form a terrorist group waving a black flag and stake a claim on some territory. Kill enough people and you’ll get weapons and training from terrorist networks and money from Gulf billionaires who take the time out from fondling Ukrainian hookers to save their souls and impress their billionaire friends by sponsoring their very own terrorist attack. “Abdul, You know the Westgate attack? That was my money.”
Kill even more people and foreign governments will come to you hat in hand, offering you foreign aid and pressuring your government to give you autonomy. So why not be a terrorist?
Israel has been hailed as the Start-Up Nation for its dot com companies, but more Middle Eastern youth are joining a different kind of start-up. Get some guns, get some friends, head to Syria and take over a village, town or a few city blocks. Control the bakeries, the oil production and the protection money from Christian businessmen.
Don’t bother finishing college. You won’t need it where you’re going. Your business plan is simple and the profits are impressive. Call your men are brigade. Take some photos with visiting American senators. Tell them that your men are moderates, but without more aid, they’ll have to go Al Qaeda. Tell Al Qaeda that your men are hard core Salafists, when they’re actually illiterate members of a drug smuggling gang, but that if they don’t get more aid, they’ll have to turn to America.
Put a website. Set up a Twitter account. Upload YouTube videos of your men shooting at Syrian soldiers or each other. Recruit idiot British converts to Islam who traded in Billy and John for Rasheed and Mahmoud. Use your brother-in-law’s mosque contacts to recruit Muslims born in America, Canada or Australia who have no clue what life is really like back in Somalia or Pakistan, but are enthusiastic about overcoming their cultural inferiority complex by being part of the Jihad.
Atrocities get you noticed. If Mohammed in the Islamic Army for a Free Syria ate a lung, get one of your men in the Jihad Against Chess and Kites for Justice and Freedom brigade to eat a heart. If they kill a three-year-old, you kill a two-year-old. If they fire a chemical weapon, get your hands on a nuke.
It’s all about who gets the most attention with the worst atrocities and nothing is over the top.
The most successful Al-Qaeda franchise is its Iraqi branch which was considered psychotic by the original Al-Qaeda leadership. Its tactics were described as completely deranged, senseless and bound to accomplish nothing. Now its splinter groups are in line to take over Syria. It may have taken a decade of horrifying murders of innocent people, but they are finally within sight of someone else’s promised land.
And the men, the plodding goons getting pumped on Jihadi music videos full of black flags, reciting Koran verses, taking hits of cocaine and dreaming of virgins in paradise before rushing into a sniper’s line of fire; what’s in it for them?
Some join terrorist groups for the same reason that young men in Chicago or Oakland join gangs. It’s a brotherhood of crime. And the Muslim version comes with a pardon from Allah and the promise of a paradise full of virgins to rape when that Syrian sniper spills all the Koranic quotes in that quivering mass of Hashish-addled grey matter onto a pockmarked street at 200 yards.
Islam provides the structure for these murderous recreations of Mohammed’s conquests with Japanese pickup trucks instead of mules and camels, and machine guns instead of spears and swords.
It tells the Muslim idealist that killing for Allah is the only thing that will bring about a just world. It tells the Muslim criminal that his crimes can be virtues. It tells the ambitious Muslim that he can have his own Emirate. It tells the embittered Muslim that nothing will be right until he kills the non-Muslims who are causing all the trouble.
It tells each man what he needs to hear to kill.
Guns don’t kill people. Ideas do. Islam, like Nazism or Communism, is a set of weaponized ideas.
Muslim terrorist violence isn’t senseless. There is no such thing as senseless violence. That’s something shocked people say when they can’t take in the horror of what happened. But everyone has a motive. Even the killer whacked out on PCP who hears voices in his head may be operating in an unreal world, but within that unreal world, he isn’t behaving senselessly. It’s the world inside his head that’s senseless.
Islam is the world within the heads of Muslim terrorists and it’s quite sensible if you’re a fat old Saudi billionaire impressing your friends with piles of African corpses, the third son of some backwater farmer with a worthless clan trying to move up from drug smuggling or a Chechen kid in Boston trying to find the glory of your own people while comparing the promises of the Koran to the dingy reality of your family grubbing off welfare while talking up the good old days back home.
Islam doesn’t just promote killing, it incentivizes it. It’s not just a motive; it’s also a rewards program. Its history demands war. Its nature compels killing. Even the most well-meaning Muslim cannot escape the vortex of Jihad at its center. Even if he does not support it in any way; it is always there tugging at him in a hundred different ways.
Islam is the chronicle and blueprint of an unfinished conquest. Its existence inevitably tempts its followers to try and complete Mohammed’s unfinished business.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century. He blogs at Sultan Knish