Another New Year’s Eve, another terror scare. This time, it was Munich, but every year the major cities in the developed world brace for attack. Every year, we ask the same question: why are these young men (and, far less frequently, their girlfriends) so determined to strike the societies in which they live? What can we do to make them stop?
What do they want?
Guilt-ridden Westerners, of course, assume the answer lies somewhere in our foreign policy. There are lot of worn, hackneyed theories out there: they hate our relationship with Israel, they want us to leave their lands, they resent our interference in their politics, they detest how we pollute their culture.
These are all nonsense. Remember, most of these terrorists live in the West and seem to enjoy it. Some of them were even born here. Do they want U.S. and Western forces to leave Muslim lands? That would be a good explanation, except that young Muslims seem perfectly happy to follow the Crusaders home and settle in Brussels, Athens, and Paris.
Perhaps Islamic extremists resent our culture and its influence. Again, that would be an interesting idea if there weren’t so much evidence that they come to the West to bathe in our culture, to immerse themselves in it, to gorge on it. (The Paris attackers ran a notorious dive bar that was shut down for drug violations.)
These ardent young “Muslims” are excoriating the decadence of the West between bong hits while watching porn, listening to hip-hop, and playing video games on the Devil’s Box known as “a computer.” Europe is under siege, not from Hydra but from Ali G. Let’s face it: if the jihadis ever managed to bring our culture to an end, no one would miss it more than they would. They’d be heartbroken.
We Can’t Bribe Them to Stop
So what can we give them to make them stop? The answer is: nothing. They want nothing from us. There is no policy we can change, no political accommodation we can make, no demand to which we can accede.
Even if we wanted to surrender completely, there’d be no way to do it. Insofar as their demand is to convert to their religion, we can’t meet that demand because, on any given day, they can’t meet it. If the way European jihadis live day to day is “Islam,” and the terrorists want me to convert to that, then all I can say is that I’ll have to stick to Christianity because I’m too old for that much partying.
These young men are fueled by the most intense kind of hatred there is: self-hatred. There is no accommodation with self-hatred. Would-be jihadis lash out at Western society not because they hate it so much, but because they love it so much. They hate us for who we are, and hate themselves for their addiction to a culture and all of its pleasures—sex, drugs, music—they’ve been told are the basest of sins. Too weak to resist the temptations of life among us, they hope that by destroying the source of the sins that tempt them, they will find redemption.
Some part of them, I suppose, wants to fail: if London, Sydney, New York, or even Moscow is destroyed, where would these men aspire to live? Where would they go? Where will they find the clothes, music, even the reliable electricity and good drugs that fuel their lifestyle? They talk a good game about life in Muslim lands, but it’s not hard to notice how few of these noble young warriors choose to live in those lands.
The Only Answer Is War
When ISIS crowed about the Paris attacks, they celebrated their strike at the “capital of adultery.” This, while their own deep thinkers back in Syria were having arguments over who gets to rape whom. These boys, like all boys with screwed-up identities, are obsessed with sex and power. But unlimited rape and murder are not political demands; they are the attributes of an insane cult that must be destroyed root and branch.
Make no mistake, all this mayhem must be destroyed at the source in the Middle East by Western arms, without apology or too much emotion. (If we cared about African lives, we’d take out their friends in Boko Haram while we’re at it.) Soft power and propaganda have their place, but there is no way around a military solution here. Emotional adolescent males understand sex and glory, but by nature they really do not have a firm grasp of death. To young men in a cult, death is a romantic abstraction.
We have to make it real to them, quickly and decisively. When enough of these guys are dead—and not the glorious imagined death of a music video, but a humiliating death at the hands of professional soldiers—the next recruits might reach the sensible conclusion that getting high in their subsidized European flats is a better option than running away to join the Syrian circus.
Don’t Export Western Self-Loathing
Until then, Westerners should neither overplay nor ignore the threat. ISIS and its cadres of porn-addled, stoner jihadis are not existential threats. That doesn’t mean they are not lethally dangerous: rabid coyotes are not a threat to my way of life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want every single one of them put down as effectively as possible.
Most of all, we must remain optimistic. Optimism, self-confidence, and a can-do attitude are Western qualities that utterly confound our enemies. Soviet commissars hated all of that about Americans and their allies during the Cold War as much as Islamic extremists hate it now. Our virtues as free, tolerant, and open societies terrify them, because they will never find these qualities in themselves, which reinforces their own well-deserved sense of inferiority.
We must match jihadis’ self-hatred with quiet self-confidence in our own values. Otherwise, our enemies will interpret our doubt as weakness. They will assume that we feel about our culture the way they do: that the West is nothing more the sum total of its decadence. They would like nothing better than to feel they have our assent in their attacks on us, and we must never give it even by implication.
So be cheerful. It’s a new year. The West will always have enemies, and if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit the jihadis aren’t even close to the worst we’ve ever faced. This war won’t go on forever, but the sooner we accept that this is about them, and not us, the sooner we can get on with doing what needs to be done.