Islamic Terror

“The people of the Western nations have defaulted to ambivalence and confusion about the nature of this [Islamic] threat. I have seen no clearer statement of where our confusions will lead than former U.S. diplomat Charles Hill’s recent essay in Politico, ‘Why Political Islam is Winning.’” Daniel Henninger

Terror Comes and Goes, Again

It is hard not to be cynical about what will come after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Daniel Henninger, The Wall Street Journal, January 8, 2015, p. A 9

Terrorist attacks like Charlie Hebdo come and go. Mostly they go.

For all the grief, pain and outrage of the past 24 hours—from as always President Barack Obama down to the streets of Paris—does any serious person doubt that by this time next week life in the West will be back to normal? Life, which is to say daily existence defined by staring at apps on smartphone screens, will resume.

Is this too cynical for the Charlie-Hebdo moment? We live in times defined by the comedienne Lily Tomlin : “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”

A Pakistan school after Islamic gunmen killed 132 students on Dec. 16.

A Pakistan school after Islamic gunmen killed 132 students on Dec. 16. GETTY IMAGES

The title of this column could have been, “We Are All Peshawar Now.” Peshawar, Pakistan, is about 4,800 miles from Paris, and about 6,800 miles to New York City. On Dec. 16, seven heavily armed men from the Pakistan Taliban entered the Army Public School in Peshawar, a city with a half-million more people than Chicago. Once inside, the gunmen killed 132 school children by shooting them in the head or chest.

Terrorist acts come and go.

As a kind of footnote to the Charlie Hebdo massacre Wednesday, an al Qaeda suicide-bomber at about the same hour in Sana, Yemen, blew up 37 people. It will pass virtually without notice.

After each major terrorist act that catches the world’s attention—the four-day attack in 2008 in Mumbai by the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba; the 2013 assault on a Nairobi shopping center by al-Shabaab; the eruption of the Islamic State beheaders in Iraq this year—one thinks that this will be the event that causes the West’s political leadership to get serious about the global threat of Islamic fundamentalism, whose primary political instrument is homicide.

But it’s hard to focus. Terrorist bombs set off in crowded places obliterate not only what were once people but obliterate awareness of what has occurred. One way or another, it’s mostly blood-soaked debris.

The Peshawar massacre in December was different and more difficult to let drop from memory. One can imagine seven adult men walking from one classroom to another, methodically executing boys and girls in white shirts and blouses at their desks.

Rather than the act of a random insane person, Peshawar, in the minds of the Taliban, was a rational, well-planned military atrocity. A success. Just like every other terrorist act dating back to 9/11 and before.

Past some point, it is feckless to call these events “incidents.” They are acts in a war. The people committing them think so and they say so. Why don’t we?

After the Charlie Hebdo shootings, a photograph emerged of a woman in Paris holding up a sign on which she had printed: “Je suis Charlie.

If she thinks she is Charlie, it will take more than that sign to validate it. Defeating the men in balaclavas who slaughtered the staff at Charlie Hebdo is going to require something beyond sentiment. Unless sentiment alone has acquired unknown, new powers.

World sentiment tried to defeat the Nigerian Islamic jihadist group Boko Haram last April after it kidnapped some 276 girls from a rural school. Remembered today, more than anything, is the photo of First Lady Michelle Obama holding her sign, “#Bring Back Our Girls.”

The headline on a Wall Street Journal story Monday summarized what has happened since the famous kidnapping: “Boko Haram extends its grip in Nigeria. Islamist insurgency overruns villages and army base in northeast, reflecting failures of military, multinational efforts.”

If more of the world’s people are to be protected from becoming the next Charlie Hebdo or Peshawar, 9/11 or any of the other shattered symbols of the age of Islamic terror, then the political and intellectual status quo will have to be changed or reversed.

Exhibit A: Edward Snowden . One may assume that many, if not most, of the thousands in Paris’s streets over the Hebdo massacre believed in 2013 that Edward Snowden was a hero for stealing software from the U.S. National Security Agency, the world’s primary surveillance instrument for identifying terrorists before they kill.

Here we have two symbolic and broadly embraced beliefs about the West’s posture toward the reality of fundamentalist Islamic terror—that Edward Snowden is a hero and “I am Charlie.” They are incompatible.

The people of the Western nations have defaulted to ambivalence and confusion about the nature of this threat. I have seen no clearer statement of where our confusions will lead than former U.S. diplomat Charles Hill ’s recent essay in Politico, “Why Political Islam Is Winning.” Mr. Hill concludes:

“ John Kerry ’s statement about ISIS having ‘no place in the modern world’ was oblivious to the possibility that the modern world itself may be coming to an end. History is not predetermined to proceed always in a progressive, ever-better direction.

“If the current course of events and ideas is not reversed, the coming age will have abandoned its assumptions of open trade, open expression and the ideal of government by consent of the governed. Political Islam will be comfortable with itself at last.”

In January 2015, it already is.

Write to henninger@wsj.com

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