Osama's Not Demoralized ... He's Energized by a Fantasy of Hatred

Roundup: Media's Take

Bret Stephens, editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post, in the WSJ (Feb. 11, 2004):

In Israel, where I live and work, suicide bombings are commonly understood by the foreign press as acts of desperation by a people who have lost all hope for a better future. Ease the economic hardships of Palestinians and end the occupation, so the thinking goes, and terrorism will be deprived of its motive.

It's a convenient notion, which more or less excuses mass murder as the deeds of men who have been robbed of their property, pride and patrimony. But is it right? What if suicide bombings aren't an act of despair at all but something approaching the opposite: a supreme demonstration of contempt for everything Westerners hold dear, not least life itself? What if, too, suicide bombers are no poor-man's F-16 but a robust expression of confidence that the Palestinians are infinitely more ruthless than Israelis in what amounts to a zero-sum game?

Lee Harris believes that these are exactly the sorts of questions that we should be asking today, and not only about the war in the Mideast. In" Civilization and Its Enemies " (Free Press, 231 pages, $26),he argues, brilliantly at times, that if you want to understand your enemy, you must understand him on his terms, not yours.

Take 9/11. Everyone from George W. Bush to Noam Chomsky agreed that the attacks were acts of war, even if they disagreed about exactly which political aims the acts were meant to further. But Mr. Harris takes a different view: 9/11, he says, was"a spectacular piece of theater."

"The targets were chosen by al-Qaeda not for their military value -- in contrast, for example, to the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor -- but entirely because they stood as symbols of American power universally recognized on the Arab street. They were gigantic props in a grandiose spectacle in which the collective fantasy of radical Islam was brought vividly to life."

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