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Horror as an Instrument of War

A young Orthodox rabbi of my acquaintance denounced Jews who exult in the mutual slaughter of Muslims from the pulpit on the Jewish New Year. He is of course correct: no-one should take pleasure in the death of noncombatants. One can, of course, be glad that one's enemies are fighting each other; former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir famously quipped about the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, "I want them both to win."

Our problem, though, is quite different: Since 9/11 I have argued that the strategic plan of Islamist terrorism is to poison the Western soul with horror, by setting in motion atrocities too grim for the Western mind to bear. There is very good reason to believe that they are succeeding. Judging by the proliferation of the horror genre in popular entertainment, we are succumbing to horror by stages, as I contended in a 2009 essay for First Things. It is the "Black Breath" from Mordor that Tolkien described in The Lord of the Rings.

This is not simply the brutality of the pagan world employed by the Romans with their mass crucifixions as much as it was by Muslim conquerors of the Middle Ages: it is a refined and exquisite sense of horror learned by modern Muslims from the Nazis, whose example inspired the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the Ba'ath Party. Strictly speaking, the Muslim Brotherhood is nothing more than the Arab-language wing of National Socialism, and movements like ISIS a more radical version of the same thing, something like Ernst Röhm's Sturmabteilung.

We have seen this throughout, and most recently in Gaza, where Hamas used every means possible to maximize its own civilian casualties in order to horrify the world. Whatever the circumstances, one should not rejoice in the death of civilians, but it is necessary to harden our hearts against an enemy who detects weakness in our delicate sense of humanity. Because we misunderestimated the nature of the enemy we confront, we have no means to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe on a frightful scale. We face an apocalyptic enemy, with a lot to be apocalyptic about.

On the next page are extracts from an essay I published about this in October 2011. The conclusions have not changed, except for one: Evil will oft evil mars, to quote Tolkien again. The Sunni-Shi'ite war could prove to be the grave of radical Islam if the West takes the appropriate measures. We must remember, though, that the target of radical Islam is not territory or power in the conventional sense, but the vulnerable Western soul. In this respect we should be afraid--very afraid.