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At a Theater Near You ...

Reposted from the NYTimes

I knew something was up when I couldn't get a cab. Then there were sirens and helicopters whirring overhead. I stopped a passerby to ask what was going on. He said something about a car bomb outside a disco six blocks from my hotel. A few hours later, I finally found a taxi. The driver warned me that it was nearly impossible to get across town. Another bomb had been uncovered in a car park. Next day, more news: a suicide bomber had driven his Jeep into an airport and jumped out, his body on fire, screaming "Allah! Allah!"

Where was I? Baghdad? Kabul? Tel Aviv? No, I was in England. But it could have been anywhere. The Middle East: Now playing at a theater near you.

But this movie gets more confusing every time you watch it. When you watched it on 9/11 it was about America's presence in the heart of Arabia. And when you watched it on 7/7 it was about unemployed and alienated Muslim youth in Britain. In Jordan not long ago it was about a wedding at a Western hotel. In Morocco recently it was about an Internet cafe. And two days ago in Yemen it was about seven Spanish tourists who were killed when a suicide bomber drove into them at a local tourist site. Wasn't Spain the country that quit Iraq to get its people out of the line of fire?

Because these incidents are scattered, we're growing numb to just how crazy they are. In the past few years, hundreds of Muslims have committed suicide amid innocent civilians — without making any concrete political demands and without generating any vigorous, sustained condemnation in the Muslim world.

Two trends are at work here: humiliation and atomization. Islam's self-identity is that it is the most perfect and complete expression of God's monotheistic message, and the Koran is God's last and most perfect word. To put it another way, young Muslims are raised on the view that Islam is God 3.0. Christianity is God 2.0. Judaism is God 1.0. And Hinduism and all others are God 0.0.

One of the factors driving Muslim males, particularly educated ones, into these acts of extreme, expressive violence is that while they were taught that they have the most perfect and complete operating system, every day they're confronted with the reality that people living by God 2.0., God 1.0 and God 0.0 are generally living much more prosperously, powerfully and democratically than those living under Islam. This creates a real dissonance and humiliation. How could this be? Who did this to us? The Crusaders! The Jews! The West! It can never be something that they failed to learn, adapt to or build. This humiliation produces a lashing out.

In the old days, you needed a terror infrastructure with bases in Beirut or Afghanistan to lash out in a big way. Not anymore. Now all you need is the virtual Afghanistan — the Internet and a few cellphones — to recruit, indoctrinate, plan and execute. Hence, the atomization — little terror groups sprouting everywhere. Everyone now has a starter kit.

Gen. Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, recently noted in a speech that during the cold war "the enemy was easy to find, but hard to finish," because the Soviet Union was so big and powerful. "Intelligence was important" back then, he added, "but it was overshadowed by the need for sheer firepower."

In today's war against terrorist groups, said General Hayden, "it's just the opposite. Our enemy is easy to finish, but hard to find. Today, we are looking for individuals or small groups planning suicide bombings, running violent Jihadist Web sites, sending foreign fighters into Iraq."

I'd go one step further. The Soviet Union was easy to find and hard to kill, but once it died, it was dead forever. It had no regenerative power because it had no popular base. The terrorists of Iraq or London are hard to find, easy to kill, but very difficult to eliminate. New recruits just keep sprouting.

Of course, not all Muslims are terrorists. But it's been widely noted that virtually all suicide terrorists today are Muslims. Angry Norwegians aren't doing this — nor are starving Africans or unemployed Mexicans. Muslims have got to understand that a death cult has taken root in the bosom of their religion, feeding off it like a cancerous tumor.

This cancer is erasing basic norms of civilization. In Iraq, we've seen suicide bombers blow up funerals and schools. In England, seven out of the eight people detained in the latest plot are Muslim doctors or medical students. Doctors plotting mass murder? Could that be? If Muslim leaders don't remove this cancer — and only they can — it will spread, tainting innocent Muslims and poisoning their relations with each other and the world.

TAGGED: RELIGION, TERRORISM


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