In preparing to post the speech I gave to a Conference on Homeland Security about Cogwar this month, I found myself elaborating on several points beyond what the talk itself could bear. So I’ve moved some of the discussion to separate posts. The first concerns the Danish Cartoon Affair, which I used to illustrate the way that our news media and the intelligentsia in our public sphere failed to report on a crucial detail of the efforts of radical Imams to make the Danish Cartoons into an occasion to “spread Sharia” to Dar al Islam. As a result, a “teaching moment” for civil society and tolerance became a “bullying moment” for an aggressive, triumphalist religion of conquest.
From the global Jihadi perspective, this incident represented an effort to extend Sharia over areas of targeted Dar al Harb. Indeed since Khoumeini’s fatwa against Salmon Rushdie, global Jihadis have sought to get Westerners to adopt Sharia’s (heavily censuring) position on articulating anything they might consider blasphemous. In the most zealous of Muslim formulations, the depiction of Muhammad was forbidden to Muslims (for fear of idolatry). But here Islamist activists insisted that not even non-Dhimmi infidels (i.e., independent non-Muslims) have no right to violate (their strict reading of) Sharia. The stakes were high, both in terms of freedom of speech and in terms of the demopathic demand that infidels show respect for Islam, even as cartoons all over the Muslim world depicted the infidel (especially the Jew) in the most grotesque, hate-mongering fashion.
And yet, in the entire Muhammad Cartoon episode, only the blogosphere discussed at any length the three fake Muhammad Cartoons, by far the outrageous of the lot, the most blasphemous, created specifically by the radical preachers who wanted to inflame the Muslim Street: Muhammad as pig, as paedophile, as being raped by a dog while praying. These were “lethal narratives,” false tales told to make the Western infidel as odious to Muslims as possible, even as they used them to gain sympathy from Western liberals by illustrating the atmosphere of Islamophobia in which Western Muslims must live.
One of the more fruitful ways of understanding the dilemma of dealing with Iran is a cognitive warfare analysis. Cognitive warfare is the main theater of war for “weak” insurgencies in an asymmetric conflict. Unable to win on the kinetic battlefield, insurgencies must pursue means to prevent the stronger side from using their strength to prevent them from gaining strength. In the case of non-democratic insurgencies against superior democratic foes – the majority of such conflicts in the modern period – the “weak” side must deploy both their own deceptions and exploit the vulnerabilities of their foes in order to proceed. When the enemies are democracies who, in principle, consider the use of force a last resort, this means insurgencies must use the pacific (pacifist) tendencies of their foes to paralyze them.
In the case of Iranian nuclear ambitions this involves clearly high stakes: not only is Iran a Shi’i theocracy with an apocalyptic worldview, whose leaders have made clear since the inception of the regime in 1979 (1400 AH), that their resort to war is neither inhibited by modern norms, nor defensive, but also that Iran’s acquisition would trigger a much larger nuclear push on the part of their foes in the Sunni Muslim world. Thus, from any angle, whether from the huge increase in a nuclear Iran’s hegemonic influence among her immediate neighbors, or from the metastasis of nuclear weapons in other, pre-modern polities in so unstable a region, it seems an imperative that the West should prevent Iran from acquiring these weapons. Indeed, one might argue that with this cognitive-war victory (acquiring the nuclear bomb without opposition), Iran could dramatically alter the kinetic battlefield, and with this power to threaten and intimidate, to immeasurably increase their cognitive position of demanding concessions.
In the immediate aftermath of 9-11, President Bush appeared with members of the American Muslim community on September 17, 2001, at Islamic Center in DC to declare that Islam is a religion of peace. His comments:
Like the good folks standing with me, the American people were appalled and outraged at last Tuesday’s attacks. And so were Muslims all across the world. Both Americans and Muslim friends and citizens, tax-paying citizens, and Muslims in nations were just appalled and could not believe what we saw on our TV screens. These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that. The English translation is not as eloquent as the original Arabic, but let me quote from the Koran, itself: ‘In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil. For that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule.’ The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”
Now were we a “reality-based” community with a sophisticated sense of both the narratives and the exegetical principles of the “other,” such a statement would have been met with howls of derision, especially from academics whose knowledge of the history of Islam would make such a characterization as “religion of peace” risible, and who knew alas only too well what shouts of joy 9-11 provoked in Muslim, Arab and even other audiences the world over.
Moreover, more than one person should have been equipped to explain to the President that the man standing by his side, Nihad Awad of CAIR, who may well have supplied the president with the oh-so eloquent Qur’anic quote, heard those words to mean precisely the opposite of what Bush thought: “In the long run [i.e., finally, now], evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil [i.e., America]. For that they [Americans] rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule.”
And rather than slowly learn from this, American scholars and journalists by and large continue to widely mouth the delusional pieties of the president. Despite extensive critiques from Daniel Pipes, in 2012, Samuel Freedman wrote in the NYT:
My friend Avi Bell sent me the following. While exaggerated for effect, it’s a recognizable Catch 22 for Israel and a “get-out-of-responsibility-free card” for the Palestinians. Heads we lose, tails, they win.
It’s a good example of a complete cogwar victory for the Palestinians. It shows that and how (but not why) our current herd of independent journalists so extensively plays voluntary dhimmi to the Palestinian cause. When Riccardo Cristiano told Yasser Arafat that his network always reported according to “the procedures for reporting from the Palestinian territories,” he meant, among many other things, this:
If Israel refuses to negotiate, that proves Israel is not interested in peace, because it refuses to negotiate.
If the Palestinians refuse to negotiate, that proves Israel is not interested in peace, because the Palestinians can see negotiations with Israel are pointless.
If Israel makes preconditions to negotiations, that proves Israel is not interested in peace, because it is trying to avoid negotiations.
If the Palestinians make preconditions to negotiations, that proves Israel is not interested in peace, because the Palestinians have to force Israel to be serious in the negotiations.
If Israel makes no offer of peace, that proves Israel is not interested in peace.
If the Palestinians make no offer of peace, that proves Israel is not interested in peace, because the Palestinians can see that making offers of peace with Israel are pointless.
If Israel makes an offer of peace and the Palestinians reject it, that proves Israel is not interested in peace, because Israel is not willing to make the kind of offer the Palestinians would accept.
There are variations on this, e.g.,:
If Arabs make war, but offer to end it, that proves that Israel is interested in war and Arabs are interested in peace, because the Arabs offered peace. (Thomas Friedman/Arab “peace” initative)
If Israel makes war, but offers to end it, that proves that Israel is interested in war and Arabs are interested in peace, because Israel made war. (Defensive Pillar, Lebanon II, etc.)
If Arabs attack, that proves Israel is interested in war and Arabs are interested in peace, because Israel provoked the Arabs to attack.
If Israel attacks, that proves Israel is interested in war and Arabs are interested in peace, because Israel attacked.
If Palestinians carry out acts of terrorism, that proves that Israel is mistreating the Palestinians, because the Palestinians feel they have no choice but to carry out acts of terrorism.
If Palestinians try to carry out acts of terrorism, but Israel foils them, that proves that Israel is mistreating the Palestinians, because Israel is carrying out anti-terror actions against the Palestinians even while there is no terrorism.
If Palestinians don’t try to carry out acts of terrorism, that proves that Israel is mistreating the Palestinians, because the Palestinians are good and innocent and Israel uses terrorism as an excuse to mistreat Palestinians.
Now why the intelligentsia would want to double handicap the Israelis and double empower the Palestinians may strike a sound and sober reader as not only unfair, but pretty stupid, given the kinds of voices that dominate the Palestinian public sphere. But to people inebriated by their power to “level the playing field” by giving the weak “underdog” a break, it’s something virtually no one in the news media would question.
Stephen Leavitt at the Jewish Press has made some excellent suggestions on how Israel should deal with the latest EU Initiative about stigmatizing anything they deem “occupied territory.” His approach is a model of cognitive war strategy: understand when your foe, overconfident in his strength, has overstepped, and take steps that publicly reveal where the real power lies.
In this case the Europeans actually believe and acted on their auto-stupefying poco model that says beyond the Green Line is “occupied territories,” that the Palestinians are innocent indigenous victims and the Israelis colonial, imperialist racists, and that they are heroes of the (grateful) oppressed by siding with the Palestinians.
PS. the picture JPress provided of Catherine Ashton and the chicken leg is priceless.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton marking the V sign for Victory with a chicken leg, standing next to former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, January 6, 2011.
Photo Credit: Issam Rimawi / flash90
Yesterday’s announcement by the European Union, to block funding to any organization that has direct or indirect ties over the Green Line (Jerusalem, Golan, Judea and Samaria), unless they are a leftwing organization, has shocked Israel.
The overt anti-Semitism, the transparent politicization, and the blatant chutzpa took Israel by surprise. Worse, at first it felt as if Israel were trapped in a corner with no options to respond.
But reality is different.
The EU is in bad shape. It has economic problems, social problems, and credibility problems.
With its most recent action, the EU overplayed its hand, not considering the backlash the decision could cause.
Some responses Israel may choose would hurt the EU quite a bit.
THE PEACE PROCESS
In March 2012, following a UN attack on Israel that went too far, Israel announced a boycott of the UN Human Rights Council, declaring it a “superfluous and extravagant body” that Israel would have no connection to anymore.
This caused an earthquake in the UN, and it still threatens to destroy the credibility and legitimacy of the council.
Most importantly, Israel’s declaration has forced the HRC to take clear steps to correct itself.
The first action Israel must take here as well is the most obvious one: the EU craves legitimacy on the international stage. With wildcat strikes hitting Greece, Spain, and Portugal, to name but three ailing EU members, the organization must prove it is relevant and credible.
Israel should expel the EU from the Peace Process.
Israel should declare—something Prime Minister Netanyahu was hinting at in his Tuesday night statement—that the EU and all its member states will no longer be considered honest brokers, and no Israeli official will meet with them on any issue related to the Peace Process. It only takes a simple statement, and it will be enough to cause them to capitulate.
Any member state wishing to be included in the peace process must sign a statement that the territories of east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights are in dispute and their fate will be determined through direct negotiations. It must also commit to disregarding the EU directive regarding those same territories.
Be firm and consistent – they will fold.
Israel is an important trade partner with Europe, and its third largest trade partner in the region following the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Israel buys from Europe more than it sells. A retaliatory trade war and boycott in response to their expulsion from the Peace Process would hurt the already flailing European economy, it’s the last thing they want, and not a step they would take in response.
DIVIDE AND CONQUOR
Next Israel must immediately pass the Foreign Agents Act, with an additional stipulation.
As the EU’s declaration makes it clear that they will now only be financially supporting NGOs on the far left, Israel must make it clear that any NGOs receiving EU funding are de facto foreign agents. These NGOs fund raising will be curtailed, their access to Israeli government officials would be restricted, and their entry into the Knesset will be forbidden.
Watch the left wing NGOs quietly pressuring the EU to back off their directive.
All it takes is a firm conviction on our part.
The third step is financial.
The EU invested close to 1 billion dollars in research grants and investments, some of which could now be lost.
Israel should approach private, patriotic wealthy Jews — Sheldon Adelson, who put his money where his mouth was this past U.S. election, comes to mind — to pick up the slack. In return, those who invest in Israeli research will reap the benefits in royalties, shared patent ownership and so on. They could stand to make a lot of money.
Stand your ground, don’t blink, they’ll blink first.
All this reminds of the joke about the Israeli at British passport control. “Occupation?” “No, just visiting.”
Just as the suicide bombing that Arab Muslims cheered eagerly when the Israelis were the target has since been turned against them (in far greater numbers), so now the cognitive warfare so acceptable when Israel was the target has begun to upset the Egyptians when it targets them, especially from an Arab news agency like Al Jazeera. Here are two examples of the way they fight back. (Both pictures include the logo of Al Jazeera.)
Yesterday I read the definition of the Darwin Awards:
Darwin Awards commemorate those individuals who ensure the long-term survival of our species by removing themselves from the gene pool in a sublimely idiotic fashion.
That definition then inspired me to formulate another such collection which we could call The Anti-Darwin Democracy Awards, which one would define thusly:
Anti-Darwin awards commemorate those individuals, who in a sublimely idiotic fashion, undermine the long-term survival of democracies by imposing their folly on us all.
Obviously such an award would give a life-time achievement award to the journalists who can look at the evidence around the Al Durah case and still say, “that’s a boy dying,” as well as those detectives from rekaB Street who, two years before the Boston Marathon bombing, closed the case on a triple, throat-slitting murder, on 9-11, of three young men, two Jews, one of whom was Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s “best friend.”
But for my first formal candidate, I’d like to propose the curators at the Museum of Jeu de Paume in Paris, who have elevated the crudest war propaganda, aimed against their own culture, into a form of art.
Of course, they have an excuse for their folly. They’re just honoring the just cause of the Palestinians against the Israelis. They’re not the target of the propaganda of hatred behind which they place their moral weight.
For not seeing the obvious links between Palestinian anti-Zionism and the Jihadi war on Dar al Harb, not understanding that the (near-unanimous) Muslim animus against autonomous Jews (ie Israelis) is directly related to the animus towards any autonomous infidel…
For not understanding the profoundly dishonest, communautariste, nature of Palestinian lethal narratives, for their astounding credulity…
For debasing a justifiably proud (and often sardonic) national culture in the service such crude, hate-mongering propaganda…
Below the announcement of a demonstration outside the Jeu de Paume. I plan to be there and document the dysfunctions of the French elite (and the sane reactions of the Jewish community there).
France : manifestation contre l’exposition qui fait l’apologie du terrorisme au Musée du Jeu de Paume à Paris
Dimanche 30 juin 2013, nous organisons une grande manifestation devant l’entrée du Musée pour protester et faire fermer cette exposition indigne.
Rendez vous tous devant le Musée du Jeu de Paume à 15 h, 1 Place de la Concorde, 75008 Paris le Dimanche 30 Juin.
Si vous souhaitez manifester votre indignation vous pouvez téléphonez directement au Musée au 01 47 03 12 50.
En raison de menaces sérieuses circulant dans les milieux islamistes, nous avons décidé de reporter au dimanche 30 juin la manifestation contre l’exposition qui fait l’apologie du terrorisme au Musée du Jeu de Paume. Ce report nous permettra de mieux sécuriser la manifestation et d’avoir un service d’ordre optimal.
Rappelons que le Musée du Jeu de Paume consacre une exposition photo à la mémoire des terroristes palestiniens !qu’ils osent appeler des « martyrs », reprenant ainsi la terminologie islamiste, alors qu’il ne s’agit que d’assassins ayant tué des civils, femmes, enfants israéliens au nom du fameux Jihad. Imagine-t-on une exposition glorifiant les « martyrs » islamistes ayant perpétré les attentats du 11 septembre ?
Madame le Ministre de la Culture n’a pas jugé bon faire interdire cette exposition odieuse. Dès lors il nous appartient à nous citoyen français de prendre nos responsabilités et d’agir contre cette apologie du terrorisme issue de la barbarie islamiste !
Il s’agit là d’une véritable apologie du terrorisme où des ordures de la pire espèce sont qualifiés de « Martyr mort en opération » !
La direction du Musée dans une inconscience absolue glorifie ainsi le terrorisme islamiste tuant des civils juifs en Israël. Ainsi il y a donc d’un côté les « bons terroristes », ceux qu’on peut glorifier dans des expositions dès lors où ils tuent des civils juifs en Israël, et de l’autre « les mauvais terroristes » ceux qui font des attentats en France… pourtant ce sont les mêmes qui tuent au nom d’Allah pour les mêmes raisons !
Faut-il rappeler aux dirigeants de ce musée que ces terroristes ne défendent pas la cause palestinienne mais celle de l’Islam radical ? Comment combattre des islamistes comme Mohamed Merah quand un grand musée consacre une exposition à la mémoire de terroristes ayant assassiné des civils ?
Dejà en 2012, le nombre d’agression antisémites à doublé. Les agressions sont de plus en plus violentes jusqu’aux attentats de Toulouse et Sarcelles. Combien faudra-t-il d’enfants juifs avant que les pouvoirs publics réagissent, avant que l’intelligentsia de gauche qui se fait l’écho de la propagande palestinienne comprenne qu’elle justifie ainsi les gestes d’extrémistes islamistes ?
Nous avons lancé à cet effet une pétition.
Dimanche 30 juin 2013, nous organisons une grande manifestation devant l’entrée du Musée pour protester et faire fermer cette exposition indigne.
Rendez vous tous devant le Musée du Jeu de Paume à 15 h, 1 Place de la Concorde, 75008 Paris.
Si vous souhaitez manifester votre indignation vous pouvez téléphonez directement au Musée au 01 47 03 12 50.
[I thought I had posted this last year when I gave it, but find I haven’t. So here it is, particularly relevant in light of the latest Al Durah developments.]
The Place of Journalism in Palestinian Cognitive Warfare
Paper delivered at Association of Israel Studies, Haifa, Israel, June 2012
Everyone knows that the news media constitute a key battleground in the conflict between Israel and its neighbors, that both sides try to influence the manner in which the news depicts what’s going on. Indeed, both sides of the conflict and their ideological allies in the West have produced prodigious efforts to depict the “other” side as cheating.
Those inclined to even-handedness find such formulations as above attractive. There’s something balanced and fair about them, something approximating such prized journalistic values as objectivity and openness to “all sides.”
And yet, I argue, and I think that the historians of the next generation who look back on the Middle East journalism of the early 21st century will agree with me, that those very people who so valued these principles, systematically failed to either exercise or defend them against a systematic assault. Those journalists who could not distinguish reliable testimony from lethal narrative, who could not tell the difference from the arsonist and the firemen, who even as they sought to be “even-handed” played into the stratagems of one side, and the wrong side, these people failed to play their role as professional journalists, indeed, ended up often enough, willy-nilly, playing the role of arsonist. To paraphrase Pascale, more they more they sought to put out the fires of conflict, the more they fed those fires.
The New Yorker has a great cartoon that is at once funny, sad, true (especially to people like medievalists who study pre-modern cultures), and paralyzingly foolish. (HT: The Fosters)
It is, alas, true that most wars are fought on something approximating this principle. A pre-Islamic poem expresses the fearful symmetry of the phenomenon poignantly:
Then we, no doubt, are meat for the sword
And, doubtless, sometimes
we feed it meat.
By foe bent on vengeance, we are attacked,
Our fall his cure; or we, vengeance-bent,
Attack the foe.
Thus have we divided time in two,
Between us and our foe,
Till not a day goes by but we’re
In one half or the other.
Al-Marzuqi, Hamasah 2: 825-27, cited in Steykevych, Mute Stones Speak, p. 63.
Anyone who remembers the halcyon dreams of the 1990s, of civil society spreading the world over, heralding a new peaceful, global millennium, must marvel at the path the young 21st century has taken. Even those who paid attention to global Jihad before the millennium could not imagine how vulnerable the West would prove in the coming, wildly asymmetrical war. Those who, over the course of the last 13 years, have awakened to the ever-growing danger of Islamism and to the astonishing inability of decent people – Muslims and non-Muslims – to effectively oppose its aggressions, owe themselves a brief lesson in cognitive warfare, and a second look at the nuclear bomb of that warfare, the Muhammad al Durah affair.
All asymmetrical wars take place primarily in the cognitive arena, with the major theater of war the enemy’s public sphere. The goal is to convince your far more powerful enemy not to fight. In defensive cases, from the Maccabees to the Vietnamese, this has meant getting imperial powers to “go home.” But Islamists who want to spread Dar al Islamconduct an offensive campaign: how to get your targets to surrender on their own home ground? In this seemingly absurd venture, they have had remarkable success.
The mainstream news media – their journalists, editors, producers – constitute a central front of this cognitive war: the “weak” but aggressive side cannot have success without the witting or unwitting cooperation of the enemy’s journalists. The success of global Jihad in eliciting our media’s cooperation with their goals
Palestinians, like most belligerent armies, propagate stories about how vicious and hateful the enemy. The primary audience for this propaganda is the home front, which it incites to vengeance of the most ruthless kind, even justifying killing children in cold blood.
But since 2000, and for reasons that beg for serious investigation, the Western media has almost systematically presented these “lethal narratives” as news even though some/many of them are patently false. The dominance of such “lethal journalism,” undermines the very fabric of the civil society upon which, ironically, Western journalists depend for their freedom.
The nuclear bomb of current Jihadi cognitive warfare, is the Al Durah Affair. The story first hit the airwaves on September 30, 2000, and marks the takeover of “lethal journalism” among Western Middle-East correspondents. According to France2’s correspondent from Jerusalem, Charles Enderlein, Israeli troops targeted and killed a defenceless 12-year-old boy and badly wounded his father. The story spread like wildfire, an icon of hatred. Not only did global Jihadis use it to recruit for Jihad, but Europeans seized upon it for a substitution theology that freed them of Holocaust guilt: the Israelis were the new Nazis and the Palestinians the new Jews
Since the Fall of 2000, the Western mainstream news media have taken a peculiar turn towards what one might call “lethal journalism.” In particular, the MSNM have consistently served as a major conduit for “lethal narratives” about Israel, largely concocted by Palestinians and other Arabs seeking to destroy Israel, which they, with an astonishingly consistent credulity, report as news. This turn represents not a creation of “lethal journalism” which had already shown its strength during the 1982 Israeli operation in Lebanon, but with the outbreak of the Oslo Intifada, it came to dominate the news media in unprecedented fashion.
Let’s begin with “lethal narratives.” These are stories that are told with the intention of creating hatred and a desire for revenge. Some are based on real events in which Palestinians and other Arabs die (Sabra and Shatilla, Gaza Beach, Kafr Qana), some are invented out of whole cloth (Jenin poisonings, Muhammad al Durah, Mavi Marmara). All involve the exaggeration of the number killed, the attribution of their deaths to Israeli soldiers, and, most significantly, the accusation of deliberate murder. These narratives are weapons of war, designed to both incense, incite, and provoke Muslims the world over to hate the Israelis and seek revenge, to alienate from Israel the support of peace-loving progressives in the West, and to dishearten Zionists in defense of their cause.
Lethal narratives partake of a larger discourse of hatred that has characterized warfare for millennia. They have a peculiarly virulent place in the “war against the Jews” especially in the “Blood Libels” that plagued European culture from the 12th to the 20th century, and continue to circulate widely in the Muslim world to this day. Lethal narratives embody a reactionary “us-them” scape-goating mentality that views the “enemy” as evil. Few phenomena hurt the possibility of peace more than their circulation, and nothing could more violate the basic progressive discourse than this kind of bellicose story-telling, especially when they are concocted out of malice.
Somewhat ironically, then, modern (or post-modern) journalism, which openly pursues a progressive agenda – often in the form of universal human rights – has shown itself particularly susceptible to Palestinian lethal narratives. The lethal journalist’s rule of thumb in dealing with evidence from the “war of images” (which is really a war of narratives) between Israel and its neighbors, is
believe what Palestinians say until proven wrong,
dismiss what the Israelis say until proven right,
and when that eventually becomes the case (after much damage), move on to the next story.
There were already plenty of lethal journalists before 2000, but they were mostly marginalized – except in 1982 when there was blood in the water. After the outbreak of the Intifada, however, they rapidly come to dominate most aspects of journalism about the conflict, pushing out and intimidating other approaches to the subject with activist fervor. Indeed, once in charge, the lethal journalists could pressure new journalists who come to cover the Middle East to conform to their epistemological principles – the priority of the Palestinian over the Israeli narrative. Whether the fear of hostility from Palestinian sources who brook criticism badly, or of ostracism from the circle of UN-NGO-journalist-activists where they have to spend most of their time, reporters rapidly learn the rules of the game, as Ricardo Cristiano assured Yasser Arafat, when he protested this his crews would never have circulated pictures of the Palestinian lynching at Ramallah in October of 2000:
We emphasize to all of you that the events did not happen this way, because we always respect (will continue to respect) the journalistic procedures with the Palestinian Authority for (journalistic) work in Palestine and we are credible in our precise work.
We thank you for your trust, and you can be sure that this is not our way of acting. We do not (will not) do such a thing.
As a result, the press’ coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially since 2000, fall prey to a double inconsistency: on the one hand an uncritical embrace of these lethal narratives against Israel, and a corresponding reluctance to report real news about murderous Palestinians, their incitement, their targeting of civilians, their genocidal discourse. This double inversion of telling lies about Israel and not telling the truth about the Palestinians (who produce these lies), ends up not contributing to peace, but to war, feeding not the peacemakers but the worst warmongers. Perhaps the single greatest beneficiary of this reign of lethal journalists, has been global Islamic imperialism (Jihad) whose cause benefits from both the incitement of its own troops and the dissemination of culture disorientation and paralysis among its Western democratic foes. Historians will look back at the turn of the millennium and date the appearance of a global Muslim street whose increasing aggression has yet to visibly wane.
Al Durah: the blood libel and the victory of lethal journalism
Let’s begin not with the origins of lethal journalism, but the most lethal of all the “narratives” – Muhammad al Durah – and its consequences. Al Durah constitutes the most extreme example of lethal journalism in every aspect:
it was staged – quite crudely,
journalists both bought it hook line and sinker,
it had a mythical impact on the global imagination – it is the icon of hatred that inaugurated the 21st century
it has done untold damage to everyone on the planet who seeks peace – Israeli, Palestinian, Western, Muslim
and journalists – still! – resist correcting themselves.
Here is the footage, shot on Rosh Hashannah, 5760/2000 by Palestinian cameraman for CNN, Talal abu Rahmah as presented by Charles Enderlin on France2.
This became an instant global hit. Everyone who had a television saw this event, along with the accompanying narrative – that Israeli army had deliberately, in cold blood, murdered the boy in his defenseless father’s arms. This was the affirmation – the whole world saw it – of all that the Palestinians had been accusing Israel of for time out of mind: they were the murderous, rapist, massacring, Nazis.
American newspapers were not exempt from the feeding frenzy:
The story opened the gates to a morally sadistic equation of Israel with the Nazis (the ultimate lethal frame) even as it gave voice to genocide against the Jews.
Place de la République, Paris, October 6, 2000.
Here we have the opening round of the Muslim Street in Europe: an enthusiastic accusation against Israel of being the real Nazis even as, for the first time since the Nazis a European capital – Paris no less – heard the cry of “death to the Jews.”
Al Durah became a substitution theology. As one reporter, speaking for many, put it: This picture erases, replaces that of the boy in the ghetto.
Israel was the new Nazis, Palestinians were the new Jews: what had, in the 20th century, been considered the most ludicrous and grotesque moral claim – Arabs who openly embraced Nazi genocidal ideology accusing Israel of being the Nazis and claiming to be the Jews object of Israeli genocide – went mainstream. Sharansky was among the first to identify the problem, the 3 Ds: Demonization, Delegitimation, Double – really Quadruple Standard.
Think, for a moment, of the moral disorientation necessary to accept, much less advocate such a claim: the image of a boy, caught in a crossfire the Palestinians started, replacing a symbol of the deliberate murder of a million children and six million civilians. You have to be morally deranged to find such a supersessionist equation compelling. Deranged by what? Hatred? Denied guilt? Resentment? Of what?
Certainly someone like Bin Laden immediately grasped the value of the al Durah imagery for the cause of Jihad.
This video was used extensively by radical Muslim groups recruiting on college campuses.
What are the consequences of the al Durah story
Activated global Jihad: Israel was the Dajjal (Antichrist) of the Muslim apocalyptic scenario whereby they would conquer the world.
Disabled any Arabs in the peace camp: any Palestinian still dialoguing with Israelis/Jews after this footage appeared became a traitor to the cause.
Mobilizing an global anti-Zionist discourse: the “global Left” enthusiastically embraced the discourse in which Israel was the major cause of the conflict, and her elimination was the “solution.”
Thus, al Durah presided over a Red-Green alliance that reached its first climax less than a year later at the Durban “anti-racism” conference in late August of 20001. There the virulent denunciation of Israel, led by Muslim countries but taken up by Western progressives in a series of conferences and resolutions condemning Zionism and laying out plans for a global campaign against her. Jamal al durah was flown in on Arafat’s private jet, told everyone how the Israelis had killed his boy in cold blood, and Muhammad, carried in effigy became the “patron saint” of Durban’s hate-fest.
As a result of the remorseless media campaign against Israel, she became one of the most despised countries in the world, right down there with Iran among the most warlike countries.
The paradox of Western Peace journalism turning into War journalism:
Peace journalism became a major factor in the Oslo Peace Process, enthusiastically embraced not only by Israeli journalists in the peace camp, but academics as well. Peace journalism argues that the news media can contribute to peace by encouraging people to trust the other side, and by not emphasizing sensationalist news that might discourage people from supporting negotiations (e.g., terrorist strikes). This makes sense, however, only when both sides engage in such a process. If one side systematically suppresses information that might lead the readers to abandon peace and prepare for war, while the other side demonizes the other side and prepares its people for war, then it has the opposite effect, since it disarms the side committed to peace and arms the other for war.
This is precisely what happened in the period of the Oslo “Peace Process”: the Israeli and Western “peace press” played down any information that might alert the Israelis or the world to Palestinian intentions, and ostracized as right-wing war-mongers anyone who tried to bring this information – MEMRI and PMW were born in this period. Thus while the Palestinians spoke of Oslo as a Trojan Horse, the press played the role of Poseidon’s serpents who killed Laacoon and his sons when they proved the horse contained warriors. And then, when the war that anyone well-informed could have foreseen broke out, the liberal media, both in Israel and in the West, rather than admitting their error of judgment, blamed Israel. And al Durah played a key role in that process.
The overall picture of the period of lethal journalism after al Durah gives us the spectacle of an Arab-Israeli Bullfight. Israel is the Toreador, the Arabs are the Bull, the journalists are the Picadors that enrage the bull, and the crowd is made up of PETA fans rooting for the Bull and hating the matador. And the supporters of the matador are embarrassed to shout their support.
How do we reverse the consequence: ways that people who support Israel (Zionists!) can talk with their neighbors, friends, and co-workers, without getting angry or shrill when they run into resistance.
Cognitive Warfare: sometimes lethal narratives backfire:
Deir Yassin in the short run led to the Arabs fleeing; in the long run it has been a major accusation of massacre against the Israeli (along with Sabra and Shatilla, and Muhammad al Durah) – all lethal narratives.
how can we get these lethal narratives to backfire?
focussing on the media’s vulnerability to “lethal narratives” about Israel.
staying away from the anti-semitism accusations and reformulating the problem (e.g., why is there such an appetite for lethal narratives about Israel?)
disabling certain memes that people unthinkingly accept:
war is not the answer
violence never solved anything
if i’m being criticized by both sides i must be doing something right,
it’s racist to say nasty things about Arabs,
I’m not saying anything Jews don’t say.
Newspapers may make mistakes, but they’re not biased, and certainly not on purpose.
Examining some unconscious patterns
Racism: no moral expectations towards the Arabs
Quadruple Standards: the West is held to a higher standard than the third world, the Israelis are held to a higher standard than the West, and the Palestinians to a lower standard than the third world.
“Progressive” support for the Palestinians reinforces the scapegoating discourse of the Arab elite who use it to exploit their own people.
As much as it’s aimed at supporting peace, this all actually foments war and prolongs the conflict.
PC: Using “Left vs. Right” to identify players (e.g., pro-Palestinian is left-wing; pro-Israeli is right-wing), has become worse than misleading and useless, it’s now destructive and a sign of our utter disorientation.
Why are Westerners, including Jews, so attracted to lethal narratives about Israel and so loathe to hear them about their real enemies?
getting people to reflect on their unconscious (or unexamined) projections of their own mentality onto others (liberal cognitive egocentrism).
In response to the previous post, reader Martin J. Malliet wrote the following about the upcoming trial in Paris. Since this trial, scheduled for hearing represents an important mile-marker in the now-over-twelve-year-long festering problem of al Durah and its profoundly noxious impact on the West, it’s important to become aware of the issues. Here below, Martin’s excellent comments with further reflections by me. Further remarks welcome.
The accusation of ‘bad journalism’ (misrepresenting the facts of the IDF’s responsibility) against France2/Enderlin should have been brought to the court by the IDF themselves. Or otherwise by somebody who could claim to have been unlawfully harmed by the bad journalism, such as an Israeli citizen being harmed by the false depiction of a government that is representing him.
At this point, I think the most valuable person to complain before the courts, including the international court, would be a Muslim who, radicalized into a genocidal Jihadi ideology with the use of the al Durah footage (subject of previous post), could sue France2 and (if the courts rule against Karsenty), the French Courts for the damage done to Muslim culture in France, which is now so far down the Jihadi “slippery slope,” that when Muhammad Merah, to revenge the Palestinian children killed by Israeli soldiers, kills little Jewish school-girls in cold blood, and a significant part of the French Muslim community considers him a hero in the “struggle.”
Now the trial was brought about indrectly by a French citizen (Karsenty): not directly by Karsenty’s complaining about the bad journalism of his French public news agency (France2/Enderlin), but indirectly by France2/Enderlin complaining about a defamatory statement made by Karsenty on the bad journalism of France2/Enderlin.
This indirect strategem was always risky, because it involved a reversal of the burden of proof: the trial wasn’t anymore about the accusation of BAD JOURNALISM (to which the defendent France2/Enderlin would have had to respond by proving that their journalism was not bad), it was about the ACCUSATION of bad journalism by someone who didn’t claim to be harmed by it (to which the defendant Karsenty had to respond by proving that his accusation was legitimate).
From the first court decision one may have the impression that this reversal of the burden of proof was not handled very well by Karsenty and his lawyers:
“The impact of these accusations is reinforced by the use (twice) of the word “fraud” and by the accusation of a “hoax,” which implies, NOT A CULPABLE RECKLESSNESS, BUT THE DELIBERATE INTENT OF MISLEADING OTHERS by broadcasting images that did not reflect reality (“a false report” according to “film experts” who have “confirmed our conclusions.”) Such accusations clearly damage the honor and reputation of their object, even more so when the persons thus described are employed in informing the public, such as in the case of the journalist Charles Enderlin or France 2.”
It would seem to me that if Karsenty had limited his accusation of bad journalism to ‘culpable recklessness’, it would have been strong enough to make his point, and it would not have opened the door for a discussion on his having sufficient proof for the stronger accusation of ‘deliberate intent to mislead’. Or he should at least have argued that ‘culpable recklessness’ on behalf of a professional public news agency is the same as the news agency’s culpable act of misleading itself (or of letting itself be misled by its sources), and thereby in the end of culpably misleading others.
This is more or less what Karsenty wrote in the original article. I am not really in a position to comment on the legal issues. I used to be (thought I was) good at legal issues, but this case has baffled me from the outset. What I would say here in terms of the larger discussion which I think we need to engage in on as large a scale as possible, is that the issues here concern the accusation of “conspiracy theory,” which I think inhibits many from even touching this topic.
If you think arguing it’s staged, is arguing a conspiracy (e.g., CE and Derfner and many), then you believe that the “conspiracy theorists” (e.g., PK and I) think Enderlin did it knowingly, on purpose, and that a wide range of conspirators were necessary to pull off such a coup, to fool “the whole world.” I’d argue that the pathetic aspect of the entire episode is how cheap the fake, how transparent its deliberate deception on the one hand, and how stunningly gullible CE and the rest of the mainstream western news media proved to be. It’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s a pyramid of (misplaced) trust, CE in his cameraman Talal, and everyone else in CE. And if it weren’t so tragically wrong-headed to persist (here’s signs of a conspiracy to keep the lid on, to maintain the “honor” of CE and the French media), it’s actually full of comedy.
You are plainly sick! Imagine I say the same thing about Americans? That the attack they suffered was inflicted by themselves? You will probably be horrified and calling me all kinds of names. Don’t de- humanize people and show respect for those that are dying while you watch TV. Wish you could experience Gaza life for a day, you would be ashamed of your words
Mariam’s argument, “what if i were to say that about Americans (or Israelis), then you’d scream…” is a very weighty one in the politically correct “public debate.” People readily back off when confronted with it, especially when it’s accompanied, as is Mariam’s, with implied accusations of “blaming the victim.”
On the other hand, there’s no evidence that either Israelis or Americans do this. On the contrary, they go to extensive lengths not only to protect their own civilians, but those of their enemies. So of course, we don’t like to be so accused. We do everything to avoid being guilty of so heinous a crime, even sacrifice our own soldiers. And accusing Hamas of doing this is not “dehumanizing” them. That’s something they do all on their own.
Thus, it’s not intellectually or morally honest to not criticize someone else for something they’re doing because you wouldn’t like to be (falsely) accused for doing it, and its pure demopathy to invoke the principle to shut up our criticism.
But it’s even worse. This trope of not blaming the victim is actually a form of victimizing. The good people of Gaza (many of whom rue the day they voted “democratically” for Hamas), are the victims of Hamas’ cannibalistic strategy, which only succeeds if the Israelis are blamed. By blaming Israel even where it’s clearly the fault of Hamas, one makes such a terrible and inhumane strategy profitable. As one of the commenters and my Daily Telegraph blog put it, the people who support the Palestinians by demonizing Israel are co-dependents in Hamas’ terror tactics against their own people.
Nothing better illustrates the argument that the “left” hates Israel far more than they care about the Palestinians. Alas!
Humiliating Slip in Hamas’ Cannibalistic Cognitive War Strategy: Haniyah and Kandil Kiss Baby Hamas Killed
Here’s a classic. Let’s start with the ghoulish display of sorrow over the body of a dead boy, allegedly killed by Israeli bombing. It’s aimed right at the heart of a someone like Annie Lennox who, upon seeing bombs falling on Gaza immediately imagines Palestinian babies on the receiving end, rather than Hamas militants targeting Israeli babies. And, of course, the news media snatch up the photo-op.
The West continues well into the teens of the 21st century to lose the cognitive war with the Islamist camp. The latest catastrophe of international proportions has been the attacks on 9-11 against US embassies in Libya and Egypt (two places that went through major changes during the “Arab Spring”). A combination of well-planned rocket attacks used the cover of outrage at an inflammatory movie about Islam, to kill an American ambassador and three other embassy officials. The Muslim street in the Arab world has turned violently hostile to the US, and their own leaders, when not helpless to resist, are in cahoots, even with nuclear Iran. Angry Muslim demonstrations riots spread all over the globe, and American (and Western) policy in the region is “in tatters.”
The results have made clear how poorly we Westerners conduct ourselves on the global stage, and how the news media self-inflicts some of those wounds. At the heart of the drama stands a President of the US, who plays win-win checkers against enemies who play I-win-you-lose three-dimensional chess; and at the same time a Western news media which rushes to publish as news, the poisoned meat of lethal narratives.
Let’s look at what happened from the perspective of a-symmetrical cognitive war, in which weak aggressors use non-violent methods to at once put a much more powerful enemy in a position where he cannot use his own force, and then maximize the use of their own force, largely (at the early stages) for symbolic effect. Here al Qaeda affiliates make a daring assault on US sovereign territory, killing an ambassador. Their cover, a movie made that outrageously insults the prophet, and predictably arouses the angry violence of the crowd. The US loudly denounces the film and protests the riots, but does not make any moves to even demand the punishment of the perpetrators. Crowds who have no fear, knowing that neither the US nor government troops will not shoot back, gather outside other US Embassies in the Arab world. The riots spread to other countries.
This massive symbolic attack, on 9-11 – if you will, this global insult to the Peace of Westphalia and the basic principles of the UN – comes off almost as brilliantly as 9-11. You couldn’t script a movie better. The POTUS loses face on a massive scale, especially in the Muslim and non-aligned world, where matters of face have enormous cultural capital. He looks like a dismaying fool to the Europeans, who are struggling with both crises in their ambitiously high-minded (win-win) projects, and their increasingly restive and aggressive Muslim immigrant populations who have failed/refused to assimilate (i.e., they, like their co-religionists back home, will riot at perceived insult).
On September 11, there may have been a first in the cognitive war of the 21st century. At a rally against the awarding of the Adorno Prize to Judith Butler, a number of people spoke publicly. This may be – I’m accepting correction here – the first time in Europe that people have spoken out not just in support of Israel, but of intellectual sanity. Below is the speech by Matthias Küntzel, a member of the German branch of SPME.
Redebeitrag anlässlich der Kundgebung gegen die Verleihung des Adorno-Preises an Judith Butler vor der Paulskirche in Frankfurt/M. am 11. September 2012
Frankfurt/Main, 11 September 2012
Judith Butler and the new anti-Jewish discourse
Speech at the rally against the award of the Adorno Prize to Judith Butler in front of St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt/M. (Germany) on 11 September 2012 ·By Matthias Küntzel
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Friends,
St. Paul’s Church is a historic site. Here, not only Martin Buber and Ernst Bloch, but also Alexander Mitscherlich and Thomas Mann, Amos Oz and Boualem Sansal were honored with prizes – each a worthy recipient. And today: Professor Judith Butler.
But what happens? Frankfurt’s mayor takes to his heels and not only the Jewish community in Frankfurt, but also the Central Council of Jews in Germany boycott the ceremony. And even those who have supported Professor Butler with a petition, have thereby simultaneously signed a text which takes its distance from her. And with good reason!
At the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Nofei Nehemya, the children of Jewish settlers found relief from the heat and the sun.
By ISABEL KERSHNER
Published: July 9, 2012
JERUSALEM — Flouting international opinion, an Israeli government-appointed commission of jurists said Monday that Israel ’s presence in the West Bank was not occupation and recommended that the state grant approval for scores of unauthorized Jewish settlement outposts there.
Note the opening phrase. Objection, your honor, journalist is leading the reader. Before the reader even knows what’s going on, he’s been told what to think about the subject. Such a move suggests insecurity, a sense that the reader can’t or shouldn’t think for him or herself, a desire to impose a reading lest….
A government-appointed commission calls for the validation of scores of unauthorized Jewish outposts on the West Bank.
The committee’s legal arguments, while nonbinding, could provide backup for the government should it decide to grant the outposts retroactive official status. But such a move would inevitably stir international outrage and deal a significant blow to prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. And here’s the payoff. Such a move to legalize the settlements, regardless of the legal principles upon which that move was based, should not happen. The international community will be outraged (no need even to explain why, everyone knows); and it will deal a significant blow to prospects for a peace-settlement.
Some think this is an outrageous cartoon that supports the libel that the Israelis poisoned Arafat. And it may be just that. After all, either Chappatte is an advocate of the destruction of Israel, or he’s in total ignorance of what’s at stake, as in this cartoon (HT/DG)
As if the reunion of Hamas and Fatah would be good for peace…
But, unintentionally or not, it actually makes a very different and critical point. From the outset, the relationship between Israel and her neighbors has been poisoned by what Nidra Poller has called “lethal narratives,” stories accusing (in this case) Israel of intentionally murdering innocent civilians, preferably children. Lethal narratives are key elements in cognitive warfare designed at once to create hatred and a desire for vengeance among “us” (whose children are being murdered), guilt and self-loathing among “them” (whose soldiers are doing the killing), and hostility among bystanders (the Westerners whose judgments play a critical role in determining policy).
The most powerful lethal narrative, the Muhammad al Durah story, was a nuclear bomb of cognitive warfare. It aroused Muslims throughout the world; it filled Israelis with horror and sapped their ability to defend themselves against accusations; and it thrilled various groups, primarily Europeans and Leftists, who saw it as a “get-out-of-holocaust-guilt-free” card, which freed them from any commitment to be fair to Israel.
From the website of International ANSWER.
The move was a masterstroke of cognitive war. Jihadis got the Europeans to play their lethal narrative repeatedly on their TVs during the early intifada, waving the flag of Jihad in front of their immigrant Muslim population. And as a result, Europe, in the 21st century, got a “Muslim Street.”
The mainstream news media’s laundering lethal narratives and presenting them to the public as “news” plays a critical role in Palestinian (and beyond that, Islamist) cognitive warfare. Once they had gone wild over the al Durah poison, the mainstream news media believed any claims that Palestinians made that Israelis had killed children until proven wrong, and doubted any Israeli claims to innocence until proven right. And if that happened (long after the initial lethal narrative had been spread), the press mumbled corrections and moved on to the next lethal narrative.
I personally had a direct experience of this dynamic when I gave a talk at a conference in Budapest in 2007 on millenarianism. I presented al Durah as a key element in the “going viral” of Muslim apocalyptic memes, and referred to the story as a “blood libel.” The organizer of the conference noted:
“I’ve warned against sloppy use of terminology at this conference [I had previously suggested that Marx was a millennialist], and your use of blood libel is a prime example: it’s just simple murder of children, which we know for a fact Israelis are doing every day. (Italics mine)
In her very “statement of fact” the speaker proved the efficacy of the blood libel she denied.
One of the key functions of the mainstream news media is to serve as a dialysis machine, filtering out the poisons that can weaken the civil polities in which they operate. At least in the Arab-Israeli conflict, they have, alas, played the role of injecting the poisons of lethal narratives into the information stream of the West.
For people who have entered apocalyptic time, everything quickens, enlivens, coheres. They become semiotically aroused—everything has meaning, patterns. The smallest incident can have immense importance and open the way to an entirely new vision of the world, one in which forces unseen by other mortals operate. If the warrior lives with death at his shoulder, then apocalyptic warriors live with cosmic salvation before them, just beyond their grasp.
Now we have, again, a sign of just how tragicomic such semiotic arousal can be. Egyptian Salafis warn: don’t cut your tomatoes wrong.
A Salafi group called the “Popular Egyptian Islamic Association” has warned Muslims against eating tomatoes on the grounds that the fruit is a “Christian food,” NowLebanon.com has reported.
The group based its claim on the fact that a shape resembling a cross is revealed when one cuts a tomato in half.
The association published the warning on its Facebook page with a photo of a tomato cut in half, revealing a cross-shaped interior.
A message posted on the page read, “Eating tomatoes is forbidden because they are Christian. [The tomato] praises the cross instead of Allah and says that Allah is three [in reference to the Holy Trinity].”
The message went on to say, “I implore you to spread this photo because there is a sister from Palestine who saw the Prophet of Allah in a vision and he was crying, warning his nation against eating [tomatoes]. If you don’t spread this [message], know that it is the devil who stopped you.”
If there’s a (legitimate) question about whether this semiotic arousal is apocalyptic or not, this suggests for former.
The message caused outrage among Facebook users, which prompted the group to clarify their warning, saying they did not tell people not to eat tomatoes. “We said don’t cut it in [such a way that it reveals] the cross shape.”
In any case, warning to all you Muslim sous-chefs out there cutting tomatoes: watch how you wield your knife. It could consign you to the fires of hell, where you will be condemned to eat tomato sauce for eternity.
The Problem: Democratic Vulnerabilities in the 21st century
Over the last decade, the primary spokespeople for the progressive causes of human freedom, equality, rights and dignity have lost battle after battle in a cognitive war launched by an astonishingly regressive foe. Global Islamism and Jihad openly champion intolerance of the “Other,” sacred violence, misogyny, homophobia, theocracy, scapegoating and hatred of other religions – the Manichean view of “us” and “them” that has, historically, led repeatedly to mega-death cults. One would have imagined that progressives, dedicated to dissolving that hard zero-sum dichotomy, would have won the battle of ideas rather easily. And yet, the opposite has occurred.
Islamist Jihadi apocalyptic discourse has, in this last decade, played an astonishingly prominent role in defining 21st century narratives, and has established major centers promoting their discourse in both the Muslim and even the Western public sphere. This has permitted a succession of stunningly stupid moves by the West which have not only weakened democratic culture, but strengthened radicalization is the Islamic world. In small and large hostile clashes, Westerners have backed down before Islamist aggression, allowing them to demand a wide range of deeply disadvantageous submissive responses. This has led to a new phenomenon of global Muslim street demonstrating/rioting(French riots of 2005, Cartoon scandal, 2005/6) in response to perceived insult. This reached comic proportions when Muslims the world over rioted and killed in response to the Pope calling Islam a violent religion.
But no one laughed. Instead, Western opinion pressured the Pope to apologize for provoking the violence. The pattern emerged that when faced with angry Muslims demanding “respect,” Western moderates backed down and Western radicals sided with the Islamists. In the end, not only did we look like fools (or dhimmis) to them, but the crowds that rioted were now mobilized within majority Muslim countries, for example, those rioting in Pakistan and Afghanistan at the very suggestion that someone might leave Islam and live. In the West, our passivity in the face of Islamist maximalist claims has hardened over time into a strategic consensus: the best way to deal with Muslim violence is to make friends with (appease) it; sooner attack the critic of Islam for provoking the violence.
At the same time as a broad range of our cognitive elite has adopted these paralyzing measures of appeasement, making it difficult to even perceive the existence of a cognitive war, a more militant branch has actively mobilized on the side of the Jihadi enemy. In particular, “left-wing” radicals have adopted the Palestinian narrative of suffering, in which the Israelis are the Nazis and the Palestinians are the Jews, in which the existence of Israel represents the single greatest obstacle to world peace and justice. This is an only slightly less virulent secular version of the Islamic apocalyptic narrative about the Jews and Israel as the Dajjal (Antichrist). The repeated anti-War and anti-Israel rallies that spread the world over in the aughts (‘00s), beginning with the Durban Conference of 2001, testify to this deeply disturbing alliance, and its effectiveness in increasing belligerence and hatred around the world.
Among the demands that the Islamists make on those who would befriend them, is the acceptance of this particular scapegoating, “lethal narrative,” aimed not only at justifying and inciting the extermination of the Jews, but also the subjection of the kuffar (infidels) the world over. Sadly, this (characteristically) self-destructive anti-Zionism has become almost a shibboleth of identity for the mobilized, progressive left in the 21st century.
Such a scape-goating narrative – Israel is the cause of the evil, and hence must be sacrificed for the well-being of humanity – had not only an international dimension, but a regional one as well. Starting in October of 2000, radical Muslim preachers, using a violent anti-Zionist discourse that got approval from radical “leftists,” activated disenfranchised Muslim youth and young adults all over the West, in a series of increasingly violent attacks, first on Jews (and Muslims), eventually on (post-)Christian Europeans in general (especially women), climaxing in the 2005 Ramadan riots that spread to the whole of France. A new paradigm now animated the European “street,” Israel was the arch-villain, and peace lay just the other side of its destruction.
At the same time, with particular strength in France, radical Muslims and the gangs they nourished, drove Jews from the neighborhoods Muslims and Jews had once shared as North African immigrants with much in common – the first of the territoires perdus de la République. Increasingly, such “zones urbaines sensibles” have becoming no-go zones, and, in places like England, Sweden, and Holland, Sharia zones. To paraphrase a historian of the fall of Rome, “the new, and more powerful, Islamist groups were able to carve out autonomous zones for themselves from the European Union’s living body politic.”
Thus, the very young 21st century stands witness to a new and unprecedented form of aggressive cognitive war in which Islamists seek not to chase the West out of Dar al Islam, but to take over Western democracies to expand Dar al Islam into Dar al Harb. Unlike defensive asymmetrical warfare, this cognitive campaign involves getting Westerners to renounce their fight to defend their own territory, their own states, their own cultures, their own values and the painfully-won democracies built on them.
The Study of Cognitive Warfare: An Infant Field
Part of the problem derives from our lack of awareness, and in some cases aggressive denial, that there even is a cognitive war. While all modern militaries have psy-ops divisions, and study some areas of the cognitive war, few Westerners imagined that their public sphere, the very site out of which democracies have emerged, would become a theater of war, colonized extensively by religious zealots dedicated to destroying it. As a result, not only have few people thought about these problems on the scale they occur, but those who have find themselves stigmatized at the very site where such thinking should take place – academia.
So while for modern armies, psy-ops is an adjunct to military battlefield operations, for the weak side in an asymmetrical war, battlefield operations (terror attacks) are an adjunct to the cognitive war, the principal theater of war. In the 2007 edition of Military Strategy, Thomas Hammes noted that “Strategically, insurgent campaigns have shifted from military campaigns supported by information operations to strategic communications campaigns supported by guerilla and terrorist operations.” Terror aims at polarizing forces both within one’s own society, where it weakens moderates and recruits radicals, and within the target society, where it intimidates those who might fight back, and strengthens those who advocate appeasement.
Viewed from the perspective of the military battlefield, 9-11 was nothing but a painful scratch, a wake up call. But call to what? War in Afghanistan and Iraq? War on Terror? International police action against terrorists? Over a decade later and we don’t really know whom we’re fighting, partly because we’ve been forbidden certain discussions. But from the point of view of cognitive war, 9-11 has been an enormous, almost incalculable and as-yet uncalculated victory for Global Jihadis and their assertion of Sharia, both in Dar al Islam and in Dar al Harb. While they play on a three-dimensional global chessboard, we still play two-dimensional checkers.
Modern democracies are inherently susceptible to cognitive attacks for a variety of good reasons:
Publicly elected civilian commanders-in-chiefs subject to public opinion makes targeting decision-making rather than armies an effective strategy.
Public sphere in which images from the warfront can have enormous psychological impact on the public (TV, Internet) – targeting empathy.
Antipathy to violence and concurrent susceptibility to intimidation.
Ideologies prone to peace rhetoric and cooperative foreign relations, rationalizing appeasement as generosity and openness.
All of these are built-in, necessary, even healthy vulnerabilities in any successful civic polity: empathy and openness make it possible to learn and share; and free people choose their leaders. But in the 21st century, both our vulnerabilities and the nature of the attack have mutated into far more aggressive varieties, even as we push further into denial that cognitive wars even exist. Indeed, it seems racist to us to even acknowledge what Islamist Jihadis say and do; as one scholar of apocalyptic Jihad discovered, to describe someone else’s hate speech, is itself hate speech. Thus, whether out of fear or ignorance, most Westerners consider someone who takes these propositions seriously, to be a paranoid alarmist, an Islamophobe, a racist. Even thinking about the problem is forbidden.
21st-century cognitive war studies is thus in its infancy, at a time when it should be rathera sustained and sophisticated research endeavor. Academia, the very place that should have identified the problem early on, and developed effective responses, has not only failed, it has become largely hostile to any kind of thinking on the matter that deviates from the pacific formula: “War is not the answer.” Thus, while some people have, in one way or another, awakened to find themselves in the trenches of that ubiquitous war, and (fewer) have fought back, still fewer have stepped back to assess the larger context, to analyze the public sphere (journalism, academia, NGOs) as the central and highly successful theater of the Islamist cognitive warfare. We have many warriors, some officers, but no generals and no academies.