TERROR: BACK TO THE FUTURE
By Micah Halpern
Wednesday August 16, 2006
Islamic terrorists perpetrate evil acts in order to achieve a better future for themselves and for their religious brethren. Islamic terrorists perpetrate evil acts in order to remind themselves and their religious brethren of ancient glories and historical conquests or of military and religious injustices. For Islamic terrorists, today is the conduit necessary to remember yesterday and plan for tomorrow.
For Islamic terrorists it really is back to the future.
Almost every act of terror carried out today by Islamic radicals, whether al Qaeda or Iranian-bred, is a variation on an earlier terror theme and is done in order to recall a previous memory or historical event. Little to almost nothing is original from planning stages to final stages, from making threats to carrying them out.
Look at the latest and what would certainly have been the greatest act of terror in our time. The planned attempt to hijack and blow up ten airliners originating in London and flying to destinations in the United States as they crossed the Atlantic is mind-blowing. The use of liquid explosives carried onto the plane in Gatorade sports bottles is terrorist genius. But none of it is original. The plans come directly out of the al Qaeda training manual, the CD set that al Qaeda uses to plan and execute attacks.
Al Qaeda took a tried and tested plan, tweaked it and put it into action a second time. In the 1990's al Qaeda had a plan to hijack twelve trans-Pacific airliners and blow them up using liquid explosives carried onto the planes in contact lens solution bottles. Details of the plan emerged and became public during the trial of Ramzi Yousef, one of the terrorists dispatched on this suicide mission by Khaled Sheik Mohamed. Then it was twelve, now it was ten. Then it was trans-Pacific, now it was trans-Atlantic. Then it was lens solution, now it was Gatorade. Then it was a liquid solution, now it was a peroxide based solution. The variances are slight, the similarities are glaring.
Al Qaeda chose an explosive already proven successful, refined it, and sent it on board. This wasn't the first attempted use of peroxide based explosives. The explosives used in the London tube bombings, the bombings now known simply as 7-7, were very, very similar to the explosives intended for use now.
But the real significance of the London terror plot was the timing.
This attack was scheduled to fall into the divide between 7-7 and 9-11. Recognizing and accepting that fact is essential. Failure to appreciate the intrinsic significance al Qaeda attached to the date of this attack is a failure to understand al Qaeda.
In the world of radical Islam past events add significant weight to any contemporary attack. Modern attacks are programmed to resonate with history and reverberate with meaning beyond the present. Modern attacks are a tool used to force the collective Muslim community to recall an entire historical episode.
In Islam today, history is not simply a recollection of the past. Historical identity is the core of modern Muslim identity.
And it is not only ancient history that resonates but also the events of the recent past, the victories and the defeats of recent history.
In the course of the crisis now going on between Hezbollah and Israel, there were many Israeli air strikes over towns, villages and communities. Of the many destroyed communities, Hezbollah chose to exaggerate the death and destruction in Qana over the destruction in any other community. Why Qana? Because Qana has recent historical significance and Hezbollah seized the opportunity to use Qana as an emotional trigger.
Any mention of the name Qana recalls the time in 1996 when Israel hit Qana after Hezbollah launched rockets from a position next to a United Nations encampment. It was ten years ago and the Moslem and Arab world still vividly remembers the strong and swift Israeli response that killed over 100 people. The Qana wound is still very fresh, the wound still bleeds.
In a move that few Westerners understand the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shouted that August 22 will be the date when all will know. When all will know what? Ahmadinejad was not talking to us, he was talking to his Moslem brothers, through his ranting he was recalling a series of essential concepts and one of the most significant myths in the Koran. He was recalling the midnight ride of the prophet Mohamed who traveled on his winged stead to Heaven and the Furthest Mosque, implicitly understood to be Jerusalem.
In Arabic this story is called the Miraj, in English we use the term similarly. The point is that according to Islamic history the Miraj takes place on the 27 of Rajab 1472. This year, that date corresponds to the 22nd of August. Ahmadinejad is invoking eschatology, the end of days and the time of "the great light in the sky" as Muslims call it. Ahmadinejad is informing the Muslim world that, this year also, an event of significance will happen on that date. Ahmadinejad is explaining that the event will change their very destiny and impact their future. Ahmadinejad is delivering very powerful messages and evoking very powerful images. It is how Muslim leaders use the past to impact the future.
Nothing in the Islamic world exists in a vacuum. Nothing in the Islamic terrorist world can exist in a vacuum. Everything reflects back on a past event, a past battle, a past conflict. It is truly a world that harkens back to the future.