The Language of Terror
The only way to get a person to understand you is to speak in a language that person understands.
This seems like an obvious – sort of a no-brainer – kind of statement. Yet how often do we see a boorish American demanding v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y in punctuated loud English that a non-English speaking person supply information or whatever? Even perfectly normal, rational people can fall prey to this parochial way of dealing with those who can’t speak English.
Other than supplying a bit of on-the-spot humor, people who do this cause no real harm. We run into problems, however, when we attempt to communicate in this manner with people who are out to harm us. The problem is exacerbated when we speak to these people in a language that we think they understand, using subtle nuances of diplomacy that carry definite meaning for us, but that communicate an entirely different meaning to our listeners.
Throughout our relatively short history as a nation, and especially during our several decades-long role as a world leader, America has assiduously maintained a high-road stance that is well illustrated by the role of the righteous gunfighter in the old west who always waits for the other guy to draw first.
Only recently have we rethought this approach. The Bush administration concluded that if we know with surety that an attack is coming, why should we await the actual attack? Is it not better, they argued, to take preemptive action as soon as we are certain of the forthcoming chain of events? As soon as we know we will be attacked? This approach, of course, raises an important new question: When should you preempt?
National strategic policy now reflects this reality. As one would expect, such a policy opens the door for internal opposition groups to question specific preemptive rationales. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, no one could reasonably question a military response. When intelligence reports credible evidence of a pending attack, however, and we take preemptive action, we open a proverbial Pandora’s Box of second guessing and nay saying.
Good intelligence has always mattered, but when preemption is a viable option, intelligence becomes even more critical. We simply cannot afford to be wrong about a preemptive strike against a potential enemy. When you add terrorism to the mix, the consequences of being wrong become unthinkable.
The stakes are incredibly high.
Imagine a situation where credible intelligence has convinced us that a major biological terrorist attack will happen within twenty-four hours. Somewhere within our borders, a group of Islamists will unleash a major Anthrax attack. We have captured an individual whom we are convinced knows sufficient details, so that if we learn what he knows, we can prevent the attack, saving possibly tens of thousands of lives.
But we have to know now – every minute of delay increases the likelihood of their success.
How do we get the information?
I contend that if we don’t speak their language, we are very unlikely to find out what we need to know. And I don’t mean Arabic.
These Islamist fanatics almost universally belong to the Wahhabi persuasion of Islam. Even without interpretation, the Qur’an is the bloodiest of books upon which the world’s major religions are based. The Wahhabis take the Qur’an literally, emphasizing its bloodiest aspects (see Wahhabi Islam – the Real Enemy of the West, DefenseWatch, May 30, 2003 ).
Dying as a martyr in Jihad is a significant plus for any Muslim, but for a Wahhabi, it is an absolute guarantee of special benefits in Paradise, including the 78 virgins everyone has heard about. You and I typically will try to avoid dying unless the cause is so important – and we are so totally convinced – that we put our lives on the line. But even then, suicide is out of the question, except for the most extraordinary circumstances.
The Wahhabi simply doesn’t see things this way. In effect he speaks and understands an entirely different language. The world seen through Wahhabi eyes is entirely different from the world you and I see. For the Wahhabi, death is just a transition. The true Wahhabi believer doesn’t fear death, but welcomes the transition to the next stage of existence. Because existence in the here-and-now is always a difficult struggle, getting to the next stage is important, especially if you can get there with significant benefits.
To the Wahhabi, therefore, threatening death is not a threat, but a happy promise with short-term, immediate benefits (the end of the present, difficult struggle), and long-term ecstasy (the 78 virgins and everything else the Qur’an promises). Thus, a death threat to a Wahhabi encourages silence.
So what will encourage a Wahhabi terrorist to talk?
Examine the language: Death is a short transition to something better. Change the message so that death becomes a very long, painful transition to something worse, to something far worse.
We know enough about pain, and about human anatomy to cause excruciating pain for as long as we need it. It’s not a pleasant thought, but we certainly know how to do this. That takes care of the transition. The next step is to address the destination.
Wahhabis believe that anything “pig” is unclean. You can’t get to paradise wearing “pig,” in any form. The Wahhabi Allah has some pretty strict rules that even he cannot break. A Wahhabi warrior arriving at the gates of paradise clothed in “pig” simply doesn’t gain entrance. Furthermore, if he arrives in parts, depending on their earthly locations, it may take several millennia before they can be reassembled, if ever, even if they are “pig” free. If they are contaminated, however, the Wahhabi warrior has no chance, ever, of entering paradise. Furthermore, the degree of contamination will determine the degree of eternal punishment he will be forced to endure.
With a simple-minded bozo absolutely convinced of this reality, we can speak plainly and clearly: Talk now, or your transition to Hell will be unimaginably long and painful. Talk, and we will dispatch you quickly to your rendezvous with the 78.
We can underscore the message by demonstrating our resolve on another prisoner.
This “language” approach has little chance of success with a well-trained American soldier, but it will rapidly open doors with the Wahhabi terrorist.
When Islamists take a hostage and threaten death, instead of doing nothing or releasing prisoners as demanded, immediately behead the prisoners and spike their pigskin wrapped heads around Baghdad, or wherever the action is taking place. Do this a couple of times, and you will break the back of the terrorist organization.
The Wahhabi terrorist leaders function by skillfully applying the “Wahhabi language” to their followers. When we explain to them in their own “language” that they cannot succeed at any stage of their existence, that further participation absolutely guarantees their eternal exclusion from paradise, plus especially horrendous punishment from Allah for making a defiled transition, we get their attention.
The Nazis tried executing ten for one when resistance fighters caused the death of a German. They didn’t understand the language of the resistors, and only strengthened their resolve with this tactic.
Similarly, how we currently deal with Wahhabi terrorists strengthens their resolve, while convincing them of our inherent weakness. If we choose, (and if we are willing to live with the consequent impact to our own innocence) we can put an end to much of world terror – simply by speaking to terrorists in a language they understand.
Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor