The barbaric savagery of modern terrorism induces, as it intends to do, a strange combination of rage and numbness in the target population. We are at once inflamed and stupefied, aroused to action and yet unfocused in our reactions. Just when cool thinking is most needed we are least disposed to make fine distinctions. The blood cries out, and our passions take command.
Cool analysis tells us that the two suicide bombings that ripped through Baghdad and Jerusalem last Tuesday had no direct connection to one another. Scholars and pundits remind us that the terrorist groups that appear responsible in the two cases, Al Qaeda in the Baghdad bombing and Hamas in the Jerusalem bombing, are very different terrorist groups with no known connection. One is fighting a worldwide jihad against America and the West; the other is fighting a narrow war against Israel. The different wars require different tactics.
But the fine distinctions are not the whole story. There are the trees, and then there is the forest. The Islamic terrorists who blew themselves up in the name of Allah in Baghdad and Jerusalem last Tuesday, less than six hours and 600 miles apart, had a great deal in common. Both bombs were massive devices that introduced a new order of magnitude to the violence in the two countries. Both were meant to tell the world that there is no peace — no “end of major combat” in Iraq, no stable cease-fire in Israel. Both were predictable, and yet both managed to execute their barbaric missions.
The bombers in Baghdad and Jerusalem shared another characteristic: their uncanny ability to choose targets of uncommon cruelty — a bus full of worshippers and toddlers, a United Nations office building, an internationally admired human-rights official. Those in the West who still seek to find some shred of decency and idealism in the twisted world of Islamic terrorism must at last face reality. The terrorists have declared war on the United Nations. They have declared war on babies.
The bombings have one more thread in common: They mock the pretensions of the leaders in Washington and Jerusalem who claim they have a military solution to terrorism. They have sent their soldiers and tanks and airplanes here and there, leveled headquarters, occupied entire nations, and still the terrorists keep coming.
And not only in Baghdad and Jerusalem. In Afghanistan the terrorists of Al Qaeda and the Taliban continue their warfare a year after America’s supposed victory.
The military solutions of the right, whether in America or Israel, are no solutions. There are no infrastructures to be dismantled, no heads to be chopped off.
The war of Islamic radicalism against Israel and the West is not a battlefield campaign that can be won or lost in a stroke, or a thousand strokes. It is, as we have argued before, a new cold war. It will be won or lost in the hearts of men and women in cities and villages around the globe. Every smart bomb that kills a terrorist and three bystanders strengthens the terrorists. Every new gesture that wins new allies for peace and democracy weakens the terrorists. Neither America nor Israel can win on its own through blunt force alone.
The Sharon government was wise when it decided, even if under pressure, to give the Palestinian Authority one more chance to fight the Islamists. The Bush administration would be wise to listen to the advice it gives Israel and begin reaching out to build alliances.