The Long View 2005-07-27: Incredulity: Justified & Otherwise

I also find that my suspension of disbelief is jarred by things that should be otherwise orthogonal to the story, such as John Constantine's smoking habit. Something like that almost ruined the Name of the Wind for me.


Incredulity: Justified & Otherwise

 

I am at a loss to understand this story, from today's New York TimesPolice Debate if London Plotters Were Suicide Bombers, or Dupes:

Investigators raising doubts about the suicide assumption have cited evidence to support this theory. Each of the four men who died in the July 7 attacks purchased round-trip railway tickets from Luton to London. Germaine Lindsay's rented car left in Luton had a seven-day parking sticker on the dashboard.

A large quantity of explosives were stored in the trunk of that car, perhaps for another attack. Another bomber had just spent a large sum to repair his car. The men carried driver's licenses and other ID cards with them to their deaths, unusual for suicide bombers.

In addition, none left behind a note, videotape or Internet trail as suicide bombers have done in the past. And the bombers' families were baffled by what seemed to be their decisions to kill themselves.

One might contrast the behavior of the bombers with that of the Heaven's Gate suicide cult, who took great care to settle their affairs down to the last library fine and who left elaborate video exhortations; or for that matter, with Palestinian suicide bombers, who also leave farewell messages. On the other hand, the 911 hijackers saw no need to issue a manifesto, and the almost daily suicide attacks in Iraq are made by men who are content to die anonymously.

And what about the second batch of bombers? We will know soon, perhaps.

* * *

Last week, Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado floated the notion of nuking Mecca:

Does that mean the United States should be re-targeting its entire missile arsenal on Mecca today? Does it mean we ought to be sending Stealth bombers on runs over Medina? Clearly not.

But should we take any option or target off the table, regardless of the circumstances? Absolutely not, particularly if the mere discussion of an option or target may dissuade a fundamentalist Muslim extremist from strapping on a bomb-filled backpack, or if it might encourage "moderate" Muslims to do a better job cracking down on extremism in their ranks.

We mark a declension in public life even by needing to reject such an idea, but Dan Darling at Regnum Crucis does as good a job as one could ask for:

First of all, Mecca and Medina are sacred because of history and above all the Qu'ran and it is the book that makes the ritual center sacred, not the other way around. To use an example, destroying the Temple in Jerusalem didn't put an end to Judaism, nor did it put an end to Jewish separatism, as the Bar Kokba Rebellion demonstrates. A US attack on Mecca and Medina would therefore accomplish nothing if the goal of such a strike is to bring an end to Islam.

Secondly, one of the things that all the folks who assure us that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim keep forgetting is that the Iraqi and Afghan armies that are now fighting and dying alongside US troops against Zarqawi and the Taliban. In the event that we destroy their holy sites, it seems pretty clear to me that these folks would rise up against the US. Maybe some people like the nuts over at Hindutva see that as a preferable outcome (along with the depopulation of half the planet) in order to satisfy their bloodlust, but I myself prefer not to endanger our troops if at all possible. The entire US project for the Middle East, which I wholeheartedly support, involves the democratization of [the] region. Somebody explain to me how exactly any kind of attack on Mecca would further those objectives.

Actually, the United States is probably the last power that would retaliate for a terrorist nuclear attack in this fashion. It is extremist Muslims, notably Iranians, who say that Israel would be destroyed in a nuclear exchange with a Muslim nuclear power, whereas the Islamic world would suffer only limited damage. France would have to think about it seriously, if something bad happened to Paris, for lack of a conventional retaliation option. India could not do it yet, but such a capability would change the terms of their standoff with Pakistan.

So, in a way, Congressman Tancredo has raised an important point: have the Islamofascists considered whether Islam can really make do with just four pillars? Their nihilism, in the long run, puts the site of the Hajj at risk.

* * *

If you want to see how scary discussions like this appear to the rest of the world, you could do worse than to browse WatchingAmerica.com. It's one of those obvious ideas you wish you had first: a page of links to machine translations of news and opinion articles from around the world that relate to the United States.

Of course, while it is good for Americans to read the foreign press, one wonders whether it so good to read it (a) in translation and (b) about themselves. I am reminded of the old joke: "But enough about me; what do you think about my hat?"

* * *

Sonic Decavitation Fusion is looking promising again, according to this story from Purdue:

The Purdue team began its work independently two years ago. "Sonofusion is thermonuclear fusion and is scalable," said Yiban Xu, who performed the experiment with fellow researcher Adam Butt. "However, much research and development needs to be done before reaching so-called energy break-even."

You can't tell much from a press account like this, but I gather that this kind of cold fusion is starting to look less like a power source than like a way to fabricate materials.

* * *

What does it signify, except for the onset of the summer news-doldrums, when a change of official metaphors becomes a major story? As the New York Times put it, New Name for 'War on Terror' Reflects Wider U.S. Campaign:

In recent speeches and news conferences, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the nation's senior military officer have spoken of "a global struggle against violent extremism" rather than "the global war on terror," which had been the catchphrase of choice.

As a slogan, "Global struggle against violent extremism" is right up there with "let the debate begin." Besides, "extremism" is a bad thing to be against: you are going to need to be extreme yourself now and again, if you want to accomplish anything. If we must have a catchphrase, how about the "Defense of Civilization"? Civilization, singular.

* * *

I have an Irish predilection to always give the cops a generous benefit of the doubt. However, this remark by Mark Steyn about last week's shooting of an unarmed man in the London subways gave me pause:

I happened to be passing through London on Friday [the day Jean Charles de Menezes was shot]. It didn't feel terribly warm, but I spend half a year up to my neck in snow so when it climbs to a balmy 48 I start wearing T-shirts. But I can understand why a Brazilian might find 61 and overcast no reason to eschew a heavy jacket. So a man in a suspiciously warm coat refuses to stop for the police. Well, they were a plain-clothes unit - ie, a gang - and confronted by unidentified men brandishing weapons in south London I'd scram, too.

Talk about your fashion police.

* * *

Tim Worstall vents his spleen in the memorably titled column, Harry Potter and the Half-Wit Prigs, at "our old friends, Greenpeace International, who have decided that US readers should boycott the local edition of the latest Harry Potter and buy the Canadian one instead. The reason is, you see, that the US version is not printed on recycled paper":

....We already have a simple and convenient system for measuring whether one process or another uses more or less resources. It's called the price. This is exactly what markets do, they aggregate all the costs of production into one single set of digits. A lower number means less resources used, a higher one more.

I am waiting for someone to blow the whistle on the whole recycling racket.

* * *

My suspension of disbelief snapped when I viewed the DVD of Constantine, starring Keanu Reeves, a film about an exorcist who prevents the incarnation of the devil's son.

Hell has never been done better than in this film, perhaps, and I am willing to grant that the Father of Lies might well wear a white leisure suit. But does anyone really think that, these days, a man could walk unmolested through hospitals and other public places while smoking cigarettes?!?

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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