Friday, March 03, 2006

The Caligula Factor: why quitting in Iraq would create more terror

The Roman emperor Caligula late in his reign (AD 37-41) decided to put a statue of himself in the Temple of Jerusalem.

This decision set off nation-wide protests by the Jews throughout Palestine, and the Roman official official on the scene asked Caligula to reverse his decision for fear of insurrection.

The crisis was resolved when Caligula was assassinated in January of 41, and Claudius was seated on the imperial throne.

The crisis, however, was never forgotten by the Jews. The sudden assassination of Caligula in the middle of the crisis seemed to many Jews to be proof that the God of the Jews had vindicated his people. Particularly the younger generation of Jews was convinced that the God of Israel was on their side, and that if the Jews would fight for God, then God would fight for them.

The result in AD 66 was the revolt of the Jews against the Roman Empire. Josephus, one of the younger generation of Jewish priests, noted that it had been led principally by younger priests like himself, and these priests had no fear of Roman power. They were convinced that however powerful Rome was, the power of the Jewish god was greater. They had seen the Roman Empire capitulate to the power of God in the Caligula crisis, and they were contemptuous of priests older and wiser than themselves who counseled peace and caution.

The revolt of the Caligula generation of young Jews brought about one of the greatest disasters of Jewish history. The Jewish war of AD 66-74 brought about the destruction of the temple, the ruin of the people, and atrocities on an unimaginable scale. Josephus estimated over one million deaths in the ensuing slaughter. Josephus has blood-curdling tales of the horrors of the war and young women eating their own children to stay alive in the ensuing famine.

If we want to understand our enemies, we need to understand that they think not like Communists or Nazis, atheists cooling calculating the correlation of forces. They think like ancient Jews, ready to revolt if only they see evidence that God is on their side.

Missed by the secularized experts who dominate our newsmedia is this: one of the key reasons for September 11th was the Soviet defeat of Afghanistan, and the belief of the mujahideen that Allah alone had given them the victory. The Islamic mujahideen who won the war did not attribute their victory to the power of democracy or American Stinger missiles. They attributed their victory to the power of Allah. They believed that by turning to him with all their hearts, Allah had returned to his people and given them victory over the mighty Russian bear.

And they figured that if Allah defeated the Russians, then he would also defeat the Americans--if only his people stayed true to Allah and the Koran.

The crushing victory of the Americans in Afghanistan was a devastating blow to that theology. Al Qaeda and the Taliban were swept out of Afghanistan within weeks, and Allah seemed to be fighting on behalf of the Northern Alliance--not the heroes of jihad.

The war in Iraq has now set the theology of jihad its second major test. If the Americans are driven out of Iraq, then the youth of the Islamic world will see that Osama bin Laden is right, that the Americans are paper tigers, and that Allah will fight for them if they will fight for him.

If that happens the democracies of the West will face a generation of jihad that will make September 11th look tame.

But for that very reason Iraq is also an unprecedented opportunity for the victory of democracy in the Islamic world. The failure of Al Qaeda in Iraq will further discredit a group already bloodied after its defeat in Afghanistan. The truth of Al Qaeda's view of the Koran is scarcely self-evident to the young men of the Islamic world. The pious ones are willing to be content in principle with a more pacific reading of the Koran. And many young men who are not pious would much prefer the decadence of the hedonistic West. The truth of Al Qaeda's theology will not be proven in abstract discussions in mosques: rather it will be proven on the battlefield, it will be vindicated or defeated in the field of combat, and the principal field of combat is Iraq.

What is at stake in Iraq is the education of a generation of young Islamic men. If they see the emergence of Iraq as a strong Islamic democracy, then Al Qaeda has no future. If they see the victory of jihad in Iraq, then we will face a generation of jihad that will cut a crescent of blood across Europe and the United States.

We face then a direct challenge to our generation, a nation whose leaders came of age in Vietnam and whose first inclination when faced with hardship is to cut and run and quit. To the senators and congressmen who grew up in the Vietnam era, and who compare this war ad nauseam to that one, there is only one message: if you quit now, if you cut and run here in Iraq, you will create a generation of Muslims as committed to terrorism as you are to peace. The war in Iraq is the education of an entire generation of young Muslims, and if you quit and surrender, then you are training them for terrorism, whether you will it or no.

This is the crisis: you are going to have to face a war you did not want, led by a president whom you hate, and unite to fight for the country you love.

There is no alternative to victory.


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