Islamist Terror and Stockholm Syndrome

On a recent visit to Scandinavia, I recalled with clarity that strange psychological twist called the "Stockholm Syndrome" in which the victim of terror or abuse identifies with his torturers.

Immediately after the 9/11 terror attack on America, the eminent Middle East historian Bernard Lewis rushed a book to market titled What Went Wrong? It explained the mindset of the Muslim world. But for many Americans -- including those in the media -- the question asked was: “What did we do wrong?” For ordinary Americans who see the world as a microcosm of their own genteel environment, the instinctive response to the murderous rampage of Arab-Muslim terrorists was: “What did we do to them to make them so hateful?”

The rise of terrorism in the last 50 years as a weapon against the West and its institutions, and its success as a psychological tool to weaken Western resolve, has proven it to be a cheap and effective instrument of war.

Some liberal-minded Americans, Europeans, and Israelis would excuse methods of terror such as suicide bombers or exploding jetliners into buildings as the poor man’s weapon, since they lack fighter planes, tanks, and armies. However, the real target of the terrorists is Western public opinion. Change it and you are on the road to defeating your (Western) enemies.

The Soviet Union employed terror through proxies by training and supporting such groups as the German Baader-Meinhoff gang and the Italian Red Brigades. The terror attacks perpetrated by these groups weakened Western resolve and changed public opinion. These acts prompted questions such as: “What motivated ordinary Italian or German middle class young men and women to perpetrate such heinous crimes?” Or in the case of Arab Palestinians, what motivates them to blow themselves up? In Western academia and media, the automatic question was: “What is wrong with our society?” Few asked the following:

Who is behind these young terrorists and who directs their actions?

Who funds them and indoctrinates them to hate the West (Israel and America in particular), its states, and its institutions?

What is the aim of those organizations, groups, or states (like the former Soviet Union) who are behind the terrorists?

When the Western media and academia examine the mental attitudes of terrorists towards the societies they attack, they invariably echo the excuses made by Arab-Palestinians or al-Qaeda about “occupation,” capitalist exploitation of workers (in the case of European terrorists), or colonialism and imperialism as the American academic left did during the Vietnam War. These excuses, mired with their relativist mindset (found among the leadership of liberal Protestant denominations as well), create the impression that indeed the West is guilty in its relationship with the Third World (or the Muslim world) and in its treatment of the weak elements in its own societies.

Flirting with the terrorist’s motivation, many in the West have succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome. Moreover, they have failed to view terrorism in its wider perspective -- that behind the Islamic (previously the Soviet) terror is a clear objective to weaken the West and ultimately defeat it.

Perhaps the clearest evidence to the narrowness of the Western attitude towards Islamic terrorism is the decision by the Clinton administration, in the aftermath of the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in February 1993, to treat it as a criminal justice matter rather than an act of terrorism.

The anti-Western terrorists -- whether Communists or Islamists -- have recognized Western weaknesses and learned to exploit them with propaganda couched in Western terms. They cleverly declared their struggle to be for justice, peace, brotherhood, and liberty. Yasser Arafat was among the first to adopt the Soviet tactic of speaking to the West in its own words. (Arafat spoke of self-determination, justice, etc., words that appealed to the ears of Westerners in North America, Europe, and the Shenkin Street crowd in Tel Aviv.)

In the wake of 9/11 and a host of other attacks worldwide (including continuing attacks in Israel), one would have expected a heightened understanding of the true motives of Islamic terrorism and the political and ideological aims of its leadership. Instead, the West is preoccupied with “understanding” the “psychological” causes of Muslim hatred. This is reflected in President Obama’s attempt to appease the Muslim world with a response that says: “What is wrong with us and how must we change and improve our relationship with the Muslim world?” Few Westerners are asking: “What is wrong with the Muslim world and what are its aims in relation to the West?”

Since World War II, the West has experienced a steady erosion of its sense of justice. The prevailing ideological trend in intellectual and public discourse is to attribute the ills of the world to the West, and in particular to American policies. The fashionable line in intellectual and media circles is that justice rests with the Third World -- including Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims -- inferring the West’s role in having created the situation and its responsibility to solve it.

In this context, it is easy to understand the publishing of the recent anti-Israel calumny in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, which is fed by self-hatred, hatred of the West, and primarily a perverted sense of guilt over the misdeeds of the West. And, in the war between Israel and the Arabs (Palestinians), Israel is represented as part of the “evil” West, particularly since Israel is on the front line of the struggle against Arab-Islamic terrorism.

The most vital task of Western leaders is to regain their sense of justice and pride in Western civilization, co-opted by leftist ideologues since the end of World War II. The West must reject relativism and political correctness and the guilt that comes with it.

Compared to other cultures and civilizations -- in particular to the Islamist creed -- the West is light-years ahead in progress, compassion, and justice.