When 22-year-old Salman Abedi blew himself up at a pop music concert in Manchester, England, killing 22 and wounding 59, he did more than commit a terrorist attack – he once again demonstrated the insidious nature of violent, radical Islam manifested as jihad.
The suicide bomber detonated himself at Manchester Arena late Monday as concertgoers streamed out following the end of Ariana Grande’s concert. While ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack – at least in terms of inspiring and , if not direct operational support – what is important is the fact that someone who was born in Britain not only had the desire to carry out an attack that would kill and injure scores of people, but would be willing to give his life in the process.
This is the fundamental aspect of terrorism that the West has never fully understood, or even fully accepted. Western intellect and ideology struggle to encompass the idea of hatred so overwhelming that it consumes an individual in the process of manifesting.
Even now, 70 years later, we still ask questions about the Holocaust and the hatred expressed by Nazism. We still have yet to come to grips with the genocides in Rawanda, Armenia, Bosnia and Syria – but with those, it was easy to see that one side hated the other and would kill until stopped – but they rarely, if ever, crossed the line into self-immolation.
In World War II, it wasn’t until we encountered Japanese kamikaze fighter pilots flying their planes into American ships, and Japanese soldiers strapping explosives to themselves before rushing American troops that we understood the idea of total war, and the eventual need and use of atomic weapons. The war in the Pacific was vastly different from the war in Europe. There, soldiers surrendered, quietly went to P.O.W. camps and awaited the war’s end. In the Pacific, it was war to the end.
Against jihad, we must begin to accept the fact that there will almost certainly never be a conclusive end to the war against radical Islam. We will never see the radicals surrender and sign peace treaties, or give up their territory and return peacefully to their homes. What will be required is changing the calculus so that radical Islam becomes so unpalatable, so untenable, so dangerous that to embrace it would mean the sacrifice of all someone held dear.
It would require – as in WWII – a grand coalition of the willing, a long timetable, sacrifices at home and abroad, a renewed dedication to preserving liberty and rights while stamping out the aggressor. We must work with Muslim moderates and secularists from within, and social engineering and military might from without.
Most of all, it may well require that we recognize that this is an existential conflict, much like the one fought in the Pacific of World War II, and may oblige us to take drastic and definitive measures to ensure that innocents – like the children killed at the concert, or in San Bernardino, or Berlin, Orlando, Nice, Sydney, Paris, Istanbul, Mumbai, London….. never become victims again.
We must win.