Tuesday, October 26, 2004

One of the more bizarre measures of the state of the War on Terror is the one proposed in a New York Times op-ed by Daniel Benjamin and Gabriel Weimann: the enthusiasm level of jihadist propaganda. As Benjamin and Weimann put it:
One need only listen to the terrorists and observe their recent actions to understand that we face grave problems. After all, their analysis of the battle is a key determinant of the level of terrorism in the future.

To get a sense of the jihadist movement's state of mind, we must listen to its communications, and not just the operational "chatter" collected by the intelligence community. Today, the central forum for the terrorists' discourse is not covert phone communications but the Internet, where Islamist Web sites and chat rooms are filled with evaluations of current events, discussions of strategy and elaborations of jihadist ideology.

Yes, assessing this material requires a critical eye since there is plenty of bluster and some chat room participants may be teenagers in American suburbs rather than fighters in the field. Some things, however, are clear: There has been a drastic shift in mood in the last two years. Radicals who were downcast and perplexed in 2002 about the rapid defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan now feel exuberant about the global situation and, above all, the events in Iraq.
Benjamin and Weimann proceed to give numerous quotations from Islamist Websites to the effect that "that America has blundered in Iraq the same way the Soviet Union did in the 1980's in Afghanistan, and that it will soon be leaving in defeat." Oddly enough, they provide no quotations to support their contention that the rhetoric emanating from these Web sites was "downcast and perplexed in 2002." I wonder why?

As I pointed out some time ago, the rhetoric of totalitarian movements has nothing to do with reality, and everything to do with fear and violence. The goal of Islamist terrorism's propagandists is not to compile and communicate a clear-eyed, rational description of objective reality, but rather to intimidate opponents into believing--or at least into being afraid enough to pretend to believe--that radical Islamists are unstoppably on the march, and that resistance to them is futile. This purpose is utterly unaffected by facts on the ground, such as the success or failure of American-Iraqi efforts to crush the insurgency centered in the "Sunni Triangle". Any self-respecting Iraqi Jihadist propagandist will fervently proclaim the inevitability of Muslim victory right up to the moment when the Marines break down his door. After all, who knows? Perhaps some gullible American writers are listening....

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