There is a pithy aphorism from a Tractate of the Jewish Law regarding the right of self-defense. The Talmud, as the law is called, is a veritable minefield of complexities and interpretations. The rabbis would have prefaced their edict with extended discussion. They would have argued about the threshold that must be met before a pre-emptive strike can be carried out, what constitutes imminent danger, and whether defensive actions apply only to individuals or to collective action as well. These scholars belonged to a people that spent a good part of their history perfecting the Christian art of turning the other cheek. Yet ironically, and doubtless after careful consideration, the rabbis recommended that, “He who rises to kill thee, ye rise earlier to kill him.”
In facing the onslaught of jihad, we have missed the opportunity to deal a pre-emptive strike. We now have the benefit of hindsight—we have been forewarned about an organized, deadly cabal, united by the creed of jihad, the Muslim holy war. “Islamism,” writes director of the Middle East Forum, Daniel Pipes, “is not so much a distortion of Islam, but a radically new interpretation. It politicizes the religion, turning it into a blueprint for establishing a coerced utopia. In many ways, its program resembles those of fascism and Marxism/Leninism.” This faction boasts an extremely cohesive infrastructure, including a well organized, U.S.-based, militant Islamic lobby.
This brand of Islam sees the West—not only Israel—as an archenemy. Its adherents seek an Islamic Revival through which the infidel is to be defeated in holy war. We have had a taste of their dedication. They intend, very plainly, to kill westerners. “Allah has answered our prayers; the sword of vengeance has reached America, and will strike again and again,” came the message from the Hamas. The writing on the wall is clear and pervasive. The Palestinians were not the only ones swept up in the jubilation at the fate of the Twin Towers, but also the urbane, cultivated Muslims of Lebanon. The message is embedded in some Islamist religious rulings that cast suicide bombing as a devotional act. And it is buried none too deep in a standard text for Palestinian seventh graders: “Islam will defeat all other religions and it will be disseminated, by Allah’s will, through the Muslim jihad [holy war].”
Each and every recruit to jihad has one overriding aim, and that is to kill the infidel (read: you and me). Whether this indoctrinated killer discharges his bloody duty now, or years down the line, he remains a terminator in waiting.
The response of the pacifist is to reject a strike at this enemy. The pacifist relinquishes justice in favor of some diffuse karmic confidence; a fuzzy belief that somewhere along the line evil will be punished. He is committed to a rudderless world bereft of individual responsibility.
“Violence breeds only violence” is a pacifistic plum line one hears a lot from libertarians like Harry Browne. This particular New Age guff equates reasonable punishment with violence. While it can include violent methods, reasonable punishment is not the same as violence. When we follow an unprovoked act of aggression with a proportional act of retribution, and when we punish only the guilty—no collateral damage—then we are doing justice, not violence. We do justice not only for the purpose of vindicating the dead, but because justice, like liberty, is the foundation of a peaceful and orderly society. To ignore the imperative of justice is to be in revolt against the natural law; the law of reason, which precedes and transcends man-made law.
By extension, Mr. Browne’s logic leads to the expectation that a lack of response to terror will extinguish the “bad” behavior, much like Pavlov’s dog unlearned his tricks when the morsels of meat were no longer forthcoming. While simple schedules of behavioral reinforcement work fine with the laboratory animal, it would be naïve to think of the human terrorist’s motivation in such simplistic terms.
THE RIGHT TO LIFE
The libertarian political philosophy is important when discussing what constitutes a just war, because it pivots on the iridescent principle that prohibits aggression against non-aggressors. Discussion can, however, become singularly theoretical.
Despite the abstruse treatment author and commentator Wendy McElroy offers in her essay “Libertarian Just War Theory”, it is possible to reasonably draw from it some pragmatic inferences. Only a small portion of the people in the U.S. was aggressed against, goes this argument, yet on their behalf the state commits an entire nation to hostilities against the terrorist entity. This indeed is true: only a fraction of the population perished in the September 11 calamity. But must we infer from Ms. McElroy’s point that the more people killed by an aggressor, the more a defensive war gathers moral suasion? Would it take a jihad-dropped nuclear bomb that annihilated a majority of Americans to make retaliation less subject to the calculus of minorities or majorities?
I suggest, rather, that we look at the context and meaning of this particular mass murder. The crime has grave implications for all Westerners. Jihadists deem each and every Western infidel as kosher for annihilation. By virtue of the fact that each one of us is a potential target, a conduit to martyrdom for these fanatics, we are all at war with the practitioners of jihad, even though, so far, only “a small percentage” has been aggressed against. In the eyes of the Jihadist, we have no right to life. And so, unless he comes to recognize our rights, we must endeavor to eliminate him before he eliminates us.
Ms. McElroy adds that “the proper authority to exercise a right of self defense against an aggressor is the individual whose rights have been violated, or a designated agent.” However charitably one interprets this, one cannot avoid wondering how over 2000 people, whose right to life was sundered, go about nominating a proxy to act on their behalf in a manner that will satisfy libertarian legalities. (While most people think of the criminal justice system as their proxy, they would probably agree that it is much worse than useless to summon Bin Laden and a few suspects to The Hague with a subpoena.)
Coming from libertarian anarchists, suggestions such as these imply realistically that the aggressor has all the rights because he places himself outside positive—national or international—law. The victim, being a law abider, has no rights, because his only recourse to justice is through the state.
It is possible to leave it up to the victim to forfeit—or choose his own form of—redress for certain misdemeanors. If there are victims who think smoking a peace pipe or huddling in a sweat lodge with a perpetrator can work in these situations, well and good. But to leave punishment for murder up to the vicissitudes of the victim or his proxies is a different matter. When it comes to taking a life, and as a declaration of values that cannot be compromised, society must punish. The case of September 11 is especially compelling since each and every one of us is equally weighted in terms of the propensity for becoming victims of Jihad. By the same token, if Jihad renders every American fair game, then, by virtue of his ongoing intention to commit murder, every Jihadist has also foregone his right to life.
Assume that the remaining victims or their proxies request that no punishment—privately executed or other—be carried out. Must the murderers go free? If so, the implication is that the right to life is a right that the victim’s proxies can choose to alienate or relinquish at will. This is not so much an expression of freedom as it is an expression of nihilism.
Assume a group other than the victims—most of whom are buried in the rubble—or their proxies, or the government takes out Bin Laden. Say The Magic Montana Militia carries out the task of retaliation. Does this change the fact that, according to the protocol specified by Ms. McElroy’s rules of a just war, the victims will not have sanctioned this act? And would this lack of sanction from victim render the punishment unjust?
What flows from Ms. McElroy’s argument is that libertarians of her persuasion would have supported the remaining victims or their proxies had they requested that no punishment—privately executed or other—be carried out against the Jihadists. The implication of letting the murderers go free is that the right to life is a right that the victim’s proxies can choose to alienate or relinquish at will. How else does one construe this position?
On the other hand, to support the actions of private mercenaries or any other benefactor of mankind who takes it upon himself to eliminate Jihadists is to concede that justice is abiding; that taking a life must be punished irrespective of the victim’s consent, the consent of his designated avenging agent, or, most importantly, the identity of either of the parties. It is to say that the right to life is inalienable until one kills, maims and rapes, or dedicates one’s life to the planning of such crimes. It is then that one loses the right to life.
Since the state monopolizes defense, we can hardly hope for an efficient and just solution that eliminates terrorists without hurting innocent people. “Shielded from potential new entrants into his line of production,” writes libertarian philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe on the nature of the monopolist, “the price of his product will be higher and the quality lower than otherwise. This unavoidable reality requires that Americans accept only modest military excursions. The government can be encouraged, for example, to lift a 25-year-old ban on U.S. involvement in foreign assassinations. Operations that surgically eliminate terror cells are also acceptable. All in all, the American people need to tell their government they will not tolerate the military’s clodhopper’s traipse around the world.
A “monopolist of ultimate decision making equipped with the power to tax,” explains Hoppe, “does not just produce less and less quality justice, but he will produce more and more “bads,” i.e., injustice and aggression.” Given the perverted incentives in a nationalized defense system and the attendant inefficiency, the U.S. government must be pressured to sub-contract to professional mercenaries, the kind who are not inculcated with life endangering, politically-correct doctrines, as is the case with U.S. soldiers. Professional killers get high on blood and can be put to good use as the Pac-Men of the universe. Paid by contract, the mercenary is far more motivated than a poorly paid soldier.
GI Joe, moreover, has little incentive to avoid killing civilians. Punishment for carelessness is infrequent and responsibility for mishaps is collectivized. Litigating against the employees of an all-powerful superpower can be Kafkaesque. Ultimately, the people who pay for the soldier’s excesses are the taxpayers.
The mercenary contractor, on the other hand, will incur liability for “collateral damage,” the euphemism for killing innocents. For the mercenary, stray bullets mean strained budgets. Above all, like any private contractor, mercenaries are paid in full only on delivering the Bin properly Laden with goods.
Now that we know that the aim of the Jihadist is to destroy western civilization, teaching jihad under the guise of freedom of speech and religion cannot pass muster. “Islamic institutions that funnel Muslim youth into jihad (sacred war) activities,” must be tackled, writes Daniel Pipes. Does the U.S. have an obligation to allow jihad ideological boot camps just because they pose as religious institutions? Let them set up shop off U.S. soil. At the very least, we can expect the state to implement an immigration policy that does not undermine western values, to say nothing of allowing entry to a steady flow of potential killers who in time will prey on peaceful people.
My next recommendation is controversial. Academics, for the most part, live off the public purse. Many in academia have with impunity inculcated generations of young people with a devotion to socialism and communism. It’s bad enough that these academics are directly responsible for siring stool pigeons for the state. Public servants that preach the causes of jihad cannot be tolerated. Taxpayers must refuse to support any attempt to romanticize this creed. Want to preach jihad? Do it on your own nickel. Right now my tax dollars support academics who preach theft of my property. Must we support those who preach violence against our person? Publicly-paid pedagogues should not get away with curriculum that romanticizes or exculpates jihad. The causal chain between the word of jihad and the deeds has been established beyond a reasonable doubt.
©2001 By Ilana Mercer
The American Partisan