Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Will radical Islamist terrorism ever end?
Hopefully no one was dull enough to think that Islamist terrorism would just evaporate when Ramadi fell. Hard-core political Islamism is a human evil that flows into dark corners throughout the world; it can wear an Indonesian or a Pakistani face; speak with a Maghrebi or Saudi accent; hail from Mogadishu or Minneapolis. It is exceptionally hard to spot in a crowd.
It does, however, have some distinguishing features, hatred and violence first among them. Both were much in evidence in al-Rawdah on Friday last, when a group of thirty or so terrorists attacked a bustling mosque in the sleepy, little village in Egypt’s northern Sinai region. They started with grenades and then mowed down worshippers with automatic weapons.
According to witnesses, it was very methodical: after the initial attack, gunmen moved through the mosque deliberately shooting anyone left alive. When ambulances arrived, they were repelled by machine-gun fire. After forty minutes or so, the attackers simply melted away, leaving over 300 of the mosque’s members dead; more than 100 others were wounded. Virtually the entire male population of the congregation was wiped out in the brutal attack. Many women and even children were shot as well. Almost all of them were Sufis.
To understand the meaning of that last, one must delve past the simplistic division of Islam into Sunni and Shiite. There are a multitude of variations, from Alawites — the flavor of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and an important motive for Iran’s assistance to him — to the Sufis, practitioners of a far more esoteric and inwardly-focused Islam than their Muslim brethren.
Sufism is very old and related directly to the earliest rulers of Sunni Islam; it is therefore ironic that the Salafists — modern-day ultra-conservative Sunnis — regard them as heretics, and actively pursue their eradication. As at al-Rawdah.
Although the Islamic State has not yet taken credit for the attack, it will eventually. Since 2013 IS, together with radical elements of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, have been waging a surprisingly successful low-level insurgency against the Egyptian government in the Sinai and elsewhere. Terror attacks of this type are their stock-in-trade, and the bloodier, the better. Some might remember that IS claimed — correctly, in the end — to have brought down a Russian aircraft over the region in October of 2015; 224 died in that event.
As the collapse of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria became inevitable over the past year or so, elements of the IS command structure and technical and strategic apparatus fled to friendlier climes in the Sahel, the East African littoral and even to Indonesia and the Philippines. Some, recruited in the west, have returned there, with results we are now beginning to see in England, Germany and France.
Driven by a fanatical religious devotion to establish an Islamic state over all the world, these devotees are perfectly willing to kill as many people as necessary to insure that result. The very thought of “Coexist,” to use a phrase much in vogue lately, drives them to frenzy. “Convert or die” more accurately describes their hearts’ desire.
Which is a very serious problem for the West, including the United States. When 26 people were killed in a Texas church on November 5, the first question most of us asked was “why?” This was also appropriate to the October 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas. But it would have been meaningless to ask in the aftermath of al-Rawdah.
The rationale was already clear: hatred. Not the hatred of vengeance, nor the hatred of oppression, nor of past slights or swindles. This was the sheer hatred of difference, white hot and murderous.
This sort of hatred is very difficult for most Americans to understand. Though we prattle endlessly about ours being an oppressive government, a dispossessive state, a society riven by class difference and racial discrimination the plain fact is, compared to most of the rest of the world, ours is a uniquely blessed country that should thank God on its knees every day for the forbearance and equality we all enjoy. Those now dancing in their seats like first graders with a bladder problem should consider al-Rawdah before getting too hot.
Unfortunately, radical Islamist terrorism will be with us for the foreseeable future. It is an idea, ephemeral and disembodied; it cannot be ended by emptying its capital, by smashing its military resources, or strangling its cash flow. It can only end when the forces of moderation inside Islam itself finally prevail — if they ever do. In the interim, we must remain vigilant and willing to act decisively, should political Islam seek to visit terrorism on us.
Which it has, and will.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.
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