"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Martyrs 

I remember a very contentious discussion over beers with a good friend of mine shortly after 911. The subject was this: What motivated the 19 hijackers? My friend was quite certain on this point - they were religious fanatics, and as such were impervious to reason or pursuasion. The enemy was Islam (actually, my friend - who is no racist - was careful to note that the enemy was not Islam generally, but a particular, pernicious strain of fundamentalist Islam).

Then what are we to make, I asked, of this sort of thing:
The leader of the September 11 terrorists and four other hijackers made several trips to Las Vegas over the summer to hold meetings, gamble and be entertained by topless dancers.

According to the FBI, Mohamed Atta, the pilot of the first hijacked aircraft that crashed into the World Trade Centre, and his accomplices spent some of their time in Las Vegas at the Olympic Bar, a downtown strip club.

Lotfi Riassi, a pilot arrested in London on suspicion of teaching four hijackers how to fly, also stayed in the gambling city in Nevada. Investigators believe the September 11 plot was developed there.

But the Muslim fundamentalists, who supposedly believed that their terrorism would earn them the pleasures of eager virgins in heaven, also sampled some of the forbidden pleasures of America's capital of decadence.

Samantha, a 29-year-old stripper, told the San Francisco Chronicle, that she had been paid to lap dance for Marwan al-Shehhi, the pilot of the second aircraft to hit the World Trade Centre.

"Some big-man terrorist, huh?", she said as she took a break at the Olympic Garden Topless Cabaret. "He spent about $20 for a quick dance and didn't tip more."

She remembered the terrorist staring blankly at her as she swung her hips inches from his face. "I'm glad he's dead with the rest of them, and I don't like feeling something like that," she said. "But he wasn't just a bad tipper - he killed people.

Would devout Muslims, who believed that alcohol and open sexuality are deeply sinful, really behave in this manner? My friend had little trouble reconciling the paradox. The hijackers, he believed, were simply trying to fit in - you know, "when in Rome" and all that. But really, is America so decadent that, in order to fit in, one must conduct one's self like this?
A number of the hijackers apparently drink alcohol heavily in bars and watch strip shows. On September 10, three terrorists spend $200 to $300 apiece on lap dances and drinks in the Pink Pony, a Daytona Beach, Florida strip club. While the hijackers had left Florida by this time, Mohamed Atta is reported to have visited the same strip club, and these men appear to have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. [Boston Herald, 10/10/01] Marwan Alshehhi and Mohamed Atta are seen entering the Hollywood, Florida, sports bar Shuckums already drunk. They proceed to drink even more hard alcohol there . Atta and Alshehhi are seen at Sunrise 251, a bar in Palm Beach, Florida. They spend $ 1,000 in 45 minutes on Krug and Perrier-Jouet champagne. Atta is with a tall busty brunette in her late twenties; Alshehhi is with a shortish blonde. Both women are known locally as regular companions of high-rollers. [Daily Mail, 9/16/01] A stripper at the Olympic Garden Topless Cabaret in Las Vegas, Nevada, recalls Marwan Alshehhi being "cheap," paying only $20 for a lap dance. [Cox News, 10/16//01] Several hijackers reportedly patronize the Nardone's Go-Go Bar in Elizabeth, New Jersey. They are even seen there on the weekend before 9/11. [Boston Herald, 10/10/01; Wall Street Journal, 10/16/01] Majed Moqed visits a porn shop and rents a porn video. The major of Paterson, New Jersey, says of the six hijackers who stayed there: “Nobody ever saw them at mosques, but they liked the go-go clubs.” [Newsweek, 10/15/01] Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar often frequented Cheetah's, a nude bar in San Diego. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/02] Hamza Alghamdi watched a porn video on September 10. [Wall Street Journal, 10/16/01] University of Florida religion professor Richard Foltz states, “It is incomprehensible that a person could drink and go to a strip bar one night, then kill themselves the next day in the name of Islam ... People who would kill themselves for their faith would come from very strict Islamic ideology. Something here does not add up.” [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/16/01]

That's a lot of "fitting in," if you know what I mean.

I had a different view: I suggested that maybe the hijackers were motivated less by visions of virgins in the afterlife, and more by nationalism. Maybe their grievance was about nothing more than real estate, nothing more than mere dirt. If this theory is correct, the hijackers' bachannal could be explained as a last fling by regular guys, people just like my friend and I - people willing to die for their homes and families, but not for some cleric's idea of religious purity.

My friend told me I was being ridiculous, succumbing to the usual liberal weaknesses of over-intellectualization and political correctness. No - it was all about God. Perhaps - but, if so, it appears that The American Conservative magazine shares my liberal foibles. The current issue features an interview with University of Chicago professor Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win : The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, who has assembled an impressive body of empirical evidence and come to some interesting conclusions:
Over the past two years, I have collected the first complete database of every suicide-terrorist attack around the world from 1980 to early 2004. This research is conducted not only in English but also in native-language sources—Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, and Tamil, and others—so that we can gather information not only from newspapers but also from products from the terrorist community. The terrorists are often quite proud of what they do in their local communities, and they produce albums and all kinds of other information that can be very helpful to understand suicide-terrorist attacks.

This wealth of information creates a new picture about what is motivating suicide terrorism. Islamic fundamentalism is not as closely associated with suicide terrorism as many people think. The world leader in suicide terrorism is a group that you may not be familiar with: the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

This is a Marxist group, a completely secular group that draws from the Hindu families of the Tamil regions of the country. They invented the famous suicide vest for their suicide assassination of Rajiv Ghandi in May 1991. The Palestinians got the idea of the suicide vest from the Tamil Tigers....

Since suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation and not Islamic fundamentalism, the use of heavy military force to transform Muslim societies over there, if you would, is only likely to increase the number of suicide terrorists coming at us....

If Islamic fundamentalism were the pivotal factor, then we should see some of the largest Islamic fundamentalist countries in the world, like Iran, which has 70 million people—three times the population of Iraq and three times the population of Saudi Arabia—with some of the most active groups in suicide terrorism against the United States. However, there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Iran, and we have no evidence that there are any suicide terrorists in Iraq from Iran.

Sudan is a country of 21 million people. Its government is extremely Islamic fundamentalist. The ideology of Sudan was so congenial to Osama bin Laden that he spent three years in Sudan in the 1990s. Yet there has never been an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist from Sudan....

Another point in this regard is Iraq itself. Before our invasion, Iraq never had a suicide-terrorist attack in its history. Never. Since our invasion, suicide terrorism has been escalating rapidly with 20 attacks in 2003, 48 in 2004, and over 50 in just the first five months of 2005. Every year that the United States has stationed 150,000 combat troops in Iraq, suicide terrorism has doubled....

I have collected demographic data from around the world on the 462 suicide terrorists since 1980 who completed the mission, actually killed themselves. This information tells us that most are walk-in volunteers. Very few are criminals. Few are actually longtime members of a terrorist group. For most suicide terrorists, their first experience with violence is their very own suicide-terrorist attack.

There may be times when occupation of a foreign country - or the stationing of troops in such country, against the will of the populace but with the permission of the local government - is in our national interest. I am not prepared to propose an unequivocal rule that all such deployments are unacceptable. But - we must be prepared to recognize that these deployments bring with them certain predictable risks. What we cannot do is pretend that the risks don't exist, relying instead on simple-minded theories that terrorists "hate us for our freedom." That approach is doomed to failure.

It is, in fact, suicidal.

 

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