Loose Canons

Louvain, ISIS, and Evil

German atrocities 100 years ago today remind us what needs to be done to ISIS.

By 8.25.14

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The videotaped beheading of photojournalist James Foley shocked us, but it should not have. The Islamic fascisti such as ISIS have always preyed on the innocent and defenseless. Twelve years ago, a like group of barbarians kidnapped and murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. They did the same to him as ISIS did to Foley: an innocent American reporter was kidnapped, held incommunicado, and then beheaded on videotape for the propaganda and shock value.

History abounds with such events, barbaric murders on scales both large and small. A particularly notable one began one hundred years ago tonight.

In its murderous rampage through Belgium at the outset of World War One, the German army commonly committed mass murders of civilians. As historian John Keegan recounts, 211 were murdered in the town of Andenne, 384 in Tamines, and 612 in Dinant. And then, on the night of August 25, the Germans began the burning of Louvain.

In Keegan’s description, three days of sacking and burning left the Fifteenth Century town deserted. More than 200 civilians were murdered, 42,000 forcibly evacuated, and the library of 230,000 books — Louvain was “the Oxford of Belgium” — was burned. For three days, the Germans rampaged and at the end the town was in ruins.

These atrocities weren’t conducted by special troops of barbarians. They were committed by several of the most elite Prussian regiments. Whatever seed of evil existed in their minds lived on in the death squads of Hitler’s SS and Gestapo which were also comprised of ordinary Germans. It was a big step between Louvain and Auschwitz, but not a step that was too tall for ordinary soldiers to climb. Ordinary Japanese soldiers, at least officers armed with swords, took pleasure in decapitating American prisoners. What they did was the same as what ISIS did to Foley. Evil can become ordinary, even celebrated, within the armies of some nations.

We now have dire warnings about ISIS from the Pentagon and Congress. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said ISIS is unlike any other terrorist group we have encountered, better funded and even more radical than al-Qaeda, if that is even possible. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey says we would have to use military force not just in Iraq but also in Syria to inflict major damage on ISIS. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warns that ISIS is a major threat to us at home. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) says they are developing a method to blow up a U.S. city.

So what are we to do?

To say there is evil in the world is to repeat an unedifying cliché. To apply that fact to the people, nations, and facts of the day requires us to recognize some facts that polite conversation, among our leadership and most of the media, does not permit.

What we see now in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and most vividly in the barbarity of ISIS and al-Qaeda is really different. Simply put, there are a lot of people who aren’t like us. Yes, there is evil in the world but that’s not the point.

The point is that many millions of people and dozens of nations are different from us. They justify themselves on different grounds, whether religious, monetary, nationalistic, imperialistic, and others.

Every enemy comes at us in a different way, but their motivations all condense in one or more of those same grounds. What we have to do is analyze the motivations in the enemies’ terms in order to defeat them. The problem with ISIS and the Islamic fascists like them is that we refuse to recognize that theirs is the strongest and most compelling motivation of all: religion. And not just any religion, but one that is as complex as ISIS is dangerous.

We have faced religiously motivated enemies before. The Chinese Boxers, like some American Indians before them, believed their religion (even the shirts they wore) protected them from bullets. To defeat those religious beliefs, rifle bullets were sufficient. It took two atomic bombs to defeat the Shintoism that drove the Japanese to die for their emperor. The Islam-motivated terrorists are far more difficult to defeat for two reasons.

First, their ideology (and, as I’ve written many times, Islam is as much an ideology as a religion) is the direct and proximate reason for actions such as those of ISIS. Those who say there is no military solution to either problem are almost correct. The fact that there is no military solution is due to the fact that we’ve never attacked the enemy’s ideology. If Islam were a religion content within the bounds of our First Amendment — that it didn’t demand that its believers infringe on the religious rights of other — it would be entitled to First Amendment protections. Because too many believe that its ideology goes beyond that point — as ISIS does when it demands others convert to Islam or die — that ideology should suffer ridicule, and the harshest ideological attacks. It should suffer the taunts of comedians and politicians. Nothing about its ideology should be immune to criticism and mockery.

Think about the photo of a squad of Marines that’s been circulating on Twitter for a few days. All smiling, the Jarheads — God bless ’em — are posed with their assorted weapons and a sign advertising a “72 virgins dating service.” The point being that the cowardly thugs who comprise ISIS are brave enough when they can cut the head off an unarmed journalist who is handcuffed and down on his knees. The Marines dare the barbarians to try them on for size which, of course, those cowards won’t.

Second, we need to stop telling the enemy that we’re frightened of him. It’s appropriate for Mike Rogers and Jim Inhofe to warn us of the dangers. But it’s absolutely wrong, weak, and provocative for Chuckie Hagel to say what he does without promising a deadly U.S. response to ISIS’ threats. When Eric Holder started a criminal investigation of the murder of James Foley, ISIS must have laughed. An indictment for committing an act of war — don’t forget ISIS’ vow to raise their black flag above the White House — is a council of fear and despair the enemy can see clearly.

Which, of course, brings us to the line we’ve stopped at since 2009. It’s the one “red line” that Obama hasn’t ignored. The red line that he won’t cross is the one that protects ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Laskar e-Taiba, Hezbollah and the rest of the Islamic terrorist groups that make up the vast majority of the foreign terrorist organizations listed by the State Department. It’s the political line that prevents us from acting on the fact that these people aren’t like us.

They don’t share our values, they aren’t going to be talked out of their terrorist ideology, and we need to defeat them on that basis.

The only reason to fear ISIS is that we allow it to conduct its aggression against us without consequence. As I wrote last week, ISIS is so bold that it is operating openly in many parts of Iraq and Syria. Gen. Dempsey said last week that we can’t do real damage to it without engaging it in both nations. So we should. But we won’t. Obama is too fearful of any action that might enrage his principal political base, the anti-war, anti-military radical left. (The whines from the Pentagon, that Syrian air defenses are too tough for us to crack, are plain nuts. The Israelis challenge Syrian air defenses at will. Whether Assad gives us permission to fly there or not is of no consequence whatever.)

Air campaigns contain their own risks. If an American aircraft were shot down or simply crashed due to mechanical failure, and if an American pilot were captured, he’d be destined to suffer the same fate as James Foley. If ISIS is as great a danger as we are being told, that is a risk we have to take. And any such pilot would be entitled to know that we wouldn’t stop at anything — yes, anything at all — to get him back alive.

For now, the terrorist enemy owns the battlefield of the ideological war we should be fighting. And ISIS owns the kinetic battle space in the areas of Iraq and Syria where we don’t fly. As long as Obama is in office, they always will.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.