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Winter 2002 cover

National Observer Home > No. 53 - Winter 2002 > Editorial Comment

The Second Cold War: Reflections on the Assassination of U.S. Journalist Daniel Pearl

The West is engaged in a second cold war against Islamic terrorism. The war has been described by U.S. President George Bush as "The War against Terrorism". However, the declaratory policy is that Islam is not the enemy. Rather, the official claim of U.S. and Western governments is that Islam is a peaceful religion which has been "hijacked" by religious fundamentalists. This comforting illusion, like all illusions, has no basis in historical fact. Islam is a totalitarian chiliastic religion which is profoundly anti-Western and lays a basis for murder and assassination. The Koran is a totalitarian text, which like all such texts is a rationalisation for terrorism.

The kidnapping and video recording of the decapitation of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl by Islamic terrorists in Pakistan has been viewed through the ethnocentric lens of Western concepts. Contrary to media reports, Pearl's assassination was not a tragedy, nor was it a senseless act, nor was it "anomalous"; it was a typical case of Islamic terrorism. The assassination was an example of psychological warfare. The terrorists planned to kill Pearl from the beginning. They did not intend to negotiate and their so-called symbolic demands were non-negotiable.

Pearl was skilfully targeted in a sophisticated Islamic terrorist operation planned for many months and conducted with the deception and ruthlessness that have characterised Islamic terrorism since the seventh century. The media missed the real story familiar to historians; that Islam has promoted assassination as a political tool for over fifteen hundred years.

Pearl's Sympathy for Islam

The terrorists were indifferent or unaware of the fact that Pearl was "sympathetic to Islam". As evidence, his colleagues cited his criticism of the U.S. cruise missile attack against the El Shifa chemical plant in Sudan in 1998. He was described by the former Asian editor of the Wall Street Journal "as a friend of Arabs and Muslims who often supported their cause and as a person whose reporting had at times cast the U.S. in negative light" and he was trying "to interview leaders of Islamic groups - trying to publicise the views of the Muslim world". Pearl and other liberal commentators did not appreciate the historical context in which terrorism has developed. Failure to realistically assess the rage-filled Islamist threat has fateful consequences.

Assassination is Central to Islam

A historical study of Islam reveals that assassination is central to Islam and not conducted by Islamic deviants. As early as the seventh century, assassins sought Mohammed's approval, especially as atonement for failing to adhere to Islamic precepts. Central to assassination is deception, which in Islamic thought (especially Shia) is regarded as a virtue and not a vice. Mohammed passed sentences on those he deemed unfit to live, reminiscent of the S.S. motto "life unworthy of life" and authorised assassinations of prominent "hypocrites" whose behaviour offended him.

Their deaths intensified the fervour of believers, and purifying and consolidating the nucleus of believers by martyrdom, terrorism and assassinations in particular, was the precondition for the expansion of Islam. Significantly, assassination as an Islamic political technique ceased only after the assassin-based sects of the eleventh and twelfth century were defeated and crushed by invading forces, described by some commentators as the "first war against terrorism".

Hassan al-Sabah: the Bin Laden of the Eleventh Century

Hassan al-Sabah established the first fundamentalist terrorist sect - the Assassins - in the 11th century against the Sunni-dominated Iran of the time. The assassins were the paradigm Islamic fundamentalist terrorist group characterised by extreme obedience to a religious-political leader such as bin Laden. They advocated:

(ii) the use of operational clandestinity and deception,

(ii) the belief in martyr's death followed by entry into paradise, which was promised to the 11 September hijackers, and

(iii) the belief in the rightful assassination of rulers and all those who do not follow the "true" fundamental truth of Islam.

The thematic, doctrinal and organisational continuity from Hassan al-Sabah to Bin Laden and al-Qaida is central to an understanding of Islamic terrorism and the successful waging of the War against Terrorism, a war which meets the established criteria of a just war.

Daniel Pearl's video-recorded decapitation is consistent with the terrorist prescriptions established by Sabah in the eleventh century. Videos featuring decapitation are freely available in mosques in London and have circulated in Chechnya. Decapitation was used publicly and routinely by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The three minute "jump tape" of three minutes features a second segment lasting forty-five seconds which shows Pearl being stabbed and his throat being slit by two shadowy figures (men using blunt instruments). His head is held in hallowed Islamic fashion as a trophy.

To demonstrate their sense of culturally appropriate behaviour, the terrorists released the video on the eve of the Muslim holiday, Eid-al Adha, when sheep are ritually slaughtered by having their throats slit before being roasted. Islam is steeped in ritual and history. Muslims have long memories.

Western media and academics have few memories and when they have, they are usually unreliable. The collapse of the study of history in schools and universities and its replacement by progressive pseudo-social science subjects have thrown many Western intellectuals into ahistorical amnesia. "The end of history" as described by Francis Fukuyama may lead to the fatal fragmentation of liberal democracies and not the universal acceptance he posits.

In the context of the end of history we have witnessed the "end of history teaching" which is particularly evident in the commentary, to use that term loosely, of progressive media commentators who predictably have attempted to deauthorise the War against Terrorism. All of their major predictions have been falsified by events. As in the Cold War, the "progressive" and chattering class, cultural relativists and the treacherous, if one can discriminate between them, believe that Western institutions and values are unworthy of defence. Islamists share their rejection and hatred of the West. Western governments are the sole targets of their self-righteous wrath. By contrast, Islamic governments which at best are oriental despotisms, at worst totalitarian regimes, are seemingly immune from criticism.

A media- and university-driven counter-terrorist policy would have serious and possibly irreversible consequences for the War against Terrorism. Western governments must base their counter-terrorist policies on the following historical facts. The first fact is that the West described as the "zone of war" is "endured" by Islam. Second, the roots of Islamic rage can be traced back to the seventh century A.D. Third, Islam is ambivalent towards the West. Islamic ambivalence cannot be resolved and sustains the rage against the West. Anger can be contained. Rage, especially religious and political rage as in Islamic doctrine, cannot be contained and must be neutralised. Fourth, envy of the West also runs deep in Islam. Rage and envy constitute the pathological framework of Islamic terrorism. Fifth, Islam wants revenge, for historical grievances, many of which represent revenge fantasies. Sixth, Islamists are adept at double-talk, deception and disinformation which have theological sanction in the form of the doctrine of "mental reservation".

To date, the West has not understood Islam. Not understanding the history of Islam has ensured that policy responses have not been grounded in reality. One recalls the 1978-79 debacle in which the C.I.A. described Iran as not in a revolutionary or even pre-revolutionary situation whilst millions were massing in streets throughout Iran and whilst Islamic and P.L.O. terrorists were planning to occupy and take hostages in the U.S. Embassy. Ayatollah Khomeini, the theocratic despot of Iran, was described by Andrew Young as a "kind of saint". U.S. President Carter refused to countenance operational action against Khomeini on the grounds that he was a religious leader.

Underlying the terrorists’ attacks on 11 September 2001 was a failure to understand the Islamic enemy and to define it in real terms as Islam. Therein lies the significance of Daniel Pearl's assassination - he was a victim in an undeclared struggle against a fanatical enemy in the second cold war located in the case of Iran and Iraq in the axis of Islam.

National Observer No. 53 - Winter 2002