Monday, May 2, 2011
Should We Fear Bin Laden as a Martyr?
T.E. Lawrence (yes, THAT Lawrence), in his book "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom", Lawrence points out that the Arab culture, indeed that of most of the middle-east is a tribal culture centered around strong-man leaders. Americans do not always appreciate how that dynamic works in the Middle-East. We often project our own values and beliefs upon the cultures of Persia and Arabia and Asia. It has, in the past, led to grave mistakes in dealing with those nations at whose base those cultures inform diplomatic and military behavior. We are not alone in misjudging other cultures. They also fail to understand us because they see America through the prism of their own culture.
Japan made that mistake in WWII. They assumed (being a strong-man culture) that because Americans loved peace that we were cowards and that a hard knock would discourage us and lead us to capitulate. Hitler arrogantly assumed (as a strong man in a strong man culture) assumed we would join the strong side or at the very least stay out of it. Only Admiral Yamamoto, who understood Americans better than his colleagues, realized the mistake Japan had made when he said, "We have wakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve." Bin Laden really thought that 9/11 would cause America to flee the Middle-East in terror of his self-proclaimed holy war. Imagine his shock when he was rousted out of his cave!
We continually confuse our enemies by our ferocity in battle and by our magnanimity in the aftermath toward our defeated foes. America responds to the martyrdom of our own with stubborn, fierce and overwhelming force. Next to the kind of all-out war America wages when it is angered, jihad is an anemic temper tantrum!
When a middle-eastern strong man is brought down, his followers tend to fade into the woodwork until another strong man comes along. Osama Bin Laden was a figurehead, yes, but as long as he remained alive, ordering attacks, however insignificant, against America, he was a unifying figure. His ignominious death will weaken Al-Quaeda.
Someone compared Al-Quaeda to a Hydra, the mythical multi-headed beast of Greek mythology that would sprout two heads for every one you cut off. This is not a perfect analogy. In strong man cultures, the lopping off the primary head does result in the rise of others, however, it also sets off a struggle for pre-eminence among the heads, often resulting in one head biting off the other. The best way to combat such a system is to keep lopping off the primary head, leaving the little heads to fight among themselves for position. This spreads confusion and chaos among the followers who tend to follow the man even more than the cause, however, loudly they proclaim their loyalty to the cause. Lopping off the primary head is a very effective technique for fighting strong-man cultures. There will inevitably be a power struggle in Al-Quaeda for pre-eminence. If we go after the next strong man, we will soon have the new strong man in hiding and reduced in effectiveness. At the same time the strong man will bet afraid to let another become too powerful lest that lieutenant replace the strong man.
With American armies or even governments, the followers will continue to come after you with or without the leader because in American culture, it is the cause that is pre-eminent and not the leader. In times of peace we may fight ad nauseum among ourselves, but make us angry, attack us and give us a cause to focus on, and we come after you relentlessly.
We are a very different people from those with whom we contend in the Middle-East. When we kill a hated enemy, we prepare his body for burial according to his religious beliefs and bury him in Muslim fashion with respect. When they kill our people, they hang their bodies from bridges. When our soldiers mistreat prisoners, they are prosecuted. When their mistreat prisoners, it is posted on the Internet. We are an honorable people. Our enemies sense of honor is very different. We see it with Al-Quaeda. We saw it with how the Japanese behaved toward prisoners in WWII. Both cultures have a highly developed sense of honor, but it is very different from ours. We must take it into account.
Bin Laden's "martyrdom", while it may inspire some short term reaction among Bin Laden's admirers, it will more likely dishearten them than anything. An Arab writer in Newsweek almost ten years ago, suggested that if America wanted to win friends in the Middle-East, it needed to win. Winning is the only thing Arabs respect. Conciliation and concession are inevitably seen as week.
The extermination of Osama Bin Laden is a big one in the "W" column for the U.S.. If we move from strength to strength we win friends. Remember that in the wake of the U.S. defeat of Saddam Hussein, hundreds of Iraqi newborn boys were named George Bush. The instinct to revere strength is instinctive in that culture.
If President Obama continues his strong posture in the Middle-East in the wake of Bin Laden's elemination, even if he only does it to win re-election, that will be a good thing. It may buy us time to win friends there. It may open a window for Christians in that region to win a brief respite. Who knows?
I think mainstream Arabs and Persians will see Osama Bin Laden, not so much as a martyr, but as a loser, grown weak and hiding in his million dollar mansion, caught lounging in his waterbed by the relentless special operations forces of the United States of America.
While it is inappropriate for a Christian to rejoice in the death of any man, we may rejoice that we have silenced the voice that ordered so many half starved Arab boys and girls to strap explosives around their thin waists and to blow themselves up in peaceful marketplaces, killing people who never did them any harm. An evil is gone from the world. Other evil men will rise to take his place, that is certain, but America is watching and the Joint Special Operations Command stands ready.