Islamic State’s small-time terrorism

Scott Gilmore on why we should allow neither terrorists nor our politicians to frighten us


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It takes more to shock us than it once did. At least, this is what Islamist militants think. They continually look for new ways to grab our attention, to terrify us with their fanatical determination. The gothic horror of burning a caged hostage alive was an example. So, too, was their less graphic but equally nihilist destruction of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud.

These acts were intended, at least partly, to cut through the noise, to startle and dismay us. In this regard, the terrorists must solve the same problem facing the manager of the local movie theatre: When everyone is constantly inundated with distractions, how do you get anyone to pay attention?

The amount of information being transmitted to us has never been greater. We are drowning in stock quotes, cat videos, junk emails and breaking news—all pumped directly into the computers on our desks, the phones in our pockets and, now, the watches on our wrists. The only way for Islamic State to stand out is to commit increasingly horrifying atrocities.

The terrorists are actively helped by our politicians, who shamelessly amplify the acts of these desperate men. Instead of dismissing them as the shabby criminals they are, on the run and forced to hide in distant deserts, our political class elevates them into “existential threats.” Pause and consider that for a moment. In North America over the last 20 years, even taking into account the Sept. 11 attacks, twice as many people have accidentally drowned in their bathtubs than were killed by terrorists. And yet, our politicians and officials will look us in the eye and insist the very existence of Canada is threatened.

It is no wonder, then, that we are left with the impression that Islamist militants are plumbing new depths, ushering in these dark and most dangerous of times. Sadly, this is not true. The only thing noteworthy about these crimes is how relatively rare they have become.

History is, unfortunately, filled with groups who surpassed even Islamic State. The genocide in Rwanda was only 20 years ago. Twenty years before that, the Khmer Rouge murdered more than 1.5 million Cambodians, many by torture. A few years before that, the Pakistani army killed more than 300,000 in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, and displaced another eight million. The Rape of Nanking and the Holocaust remain in living memory, and just beyond that lies the Turkish genocide of the Armenians and the death of 10 million Congolese at the hands of the Belgians.

Syria, in particular, has been terrorized by far too many murderous conquerors, long before it was cursed with Islamic State. When the “Sword of Islam” Tamerlane invaded, he massacred the citizens of Aleppo and left a pyramid of 20,000 skulls outside the city gates. In the 13th century, the genocidal Mongols overran Syria four times, destroying any city that did not immediately surrender. The Crusaders, when they arrived, killed Christian, Jewish and Muslim civilians alike. When the Romans invaded Syria, they did not just slaughter or enslave every man, woman and child they defeated; they also plowed the very ruins to erase all memory of the vanquished.

Remember the Assyrians, who built the recently bulldozed city of Nimrud? They went even further than the Romans, sowing their enemies’ land with salt to poison it for generations. There was an inscription in a temple wall in Nimrud itself (presumably gone now), which recorded that, in 883 BCE, the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal captured the city of Tela, then flayed alive all the chief men and covered the city walls in their skins. He then burned or maimed everyone else, including children. Islamic State looks almost quaint in comparison.

It is important to remember this: Regardless of what our politicians claim, these ragged fanatics are not some new, world-ending form of evil. They are merely pale reminders of the horrors mankind used to commit with regularity. We should not allow terrorists or our politicians to frighten us. The only thing unique about Islamist militants is that they are now outliers; a reminder that, for the overwhelming majority of the planet, life is far more peaceful and safe than it has ever been. And soon, like the Assyrians in Lord Byron’s poem “The Destruction of Sennacherib,” Islamic State, too, will falter and disappear, their lances unlifted, their trumpets unblown.


Islamic State’s small-time terrorism

  1. I think you miss a significant point. The horrors you note in Rwanda, Cambodia, etc. were largely due to a lack of early intervention by those who could have made a difference. I f a mere 10% of the Muslim community are extremists, that unleashed population of terrorists is 160 million strong. The sooner they are shut down the better. But, in addition to the actions of current governments including ours, these terrorists will only be put to rest when the 1.4 billion peaceful Muslims reign in their radical sector.

    • Speaking only in your pragmatic terms, I think you are misguided in how best to solve the problem. The reason that there might be 160 million Muslims holding extremists views has much more to do with real life experiences of the people. A stirring of violent passion in a population doesn’t come about because violence might be justified in some instances in their holy book. It is certainly justified by it, but the reason violent passion has been stirred in the hearts of many young Muslims most likely has to do with the aggressive actions taken on by the western world. Its besides the point to decide who might be more in the wrong. Just understand that it is unsurprising that at least some feel victimized. How would you want good ol’ Canadian boys to respond in the face of foreign morally corrupt invaders?

      If you empathize with them, we probably shouldn’t bomb them just so we can save them from the risk of being radicalized. It doesn’t seem like a good life to be radicalized. If you can’t empathize with them, its likely that peace would be more effective in reducing the number of violent anti-western operatives than continued military presence.

      • You state, “most likely has to do with the aggressive actions taken on by the western world”.

        So what is your excuse for Muslim violence in Southern Thailand? How about the Philippines, Nigeria, Somalia, and even China?

        Furthermore Islamic jihadis (religious murders) have killing non-Muslims from Morocco to the Philippines for 1,400 years. Can you blame that on the Western World too.

      • ISIS – and all other islamic supremacists – believe they are under a religious obligation to wage war against the kuffar (i.e. any non-muslim not living in a state of submission to islam and islamic law) until everyone everywhere either converts to islam, agrees to submit to islamic law as a permanent second class citizen (dhimmi), or dies (or is enslaved). What the “kuffar” choose to do or not do, short of one of those three options/outcomes, is irrelevant. In other words, it’s not what we do but what we ARE that pisses them off.

    • Good article! Freedom has a price but it is a price well worth paying and we can’t rest our vigilance against those, particularly politicians, who would use fear in self-interest to destroy the principles of freedom fully established in the western world. Reflecting on the centuries of barbarianism and slaughter of the innocent is a clear reminder of the price of freedom and encourages our commitment to ensure that it was not in vain.

  2. even taking into account the Sept. 11 attacks, twice as many people have accidentally drowned in their bathtubs than were killed by terrorists.

    Right, because there’s some moral equivalence between accidents in a bath tub, and mass murder.

    They are merely pale reminders of the horrors mankind used to commit with regularity. We should not allow terrorists or our politicians to frighten us.

    So just because these aren’t the worst savages humanity has ever seen, we shouldn’t be worried about them? The only politicians that are causing me any worry are the ones who want to put their heads in the sand and pretend we’re not dealing with a group of prehistoric savages.

    • Right, because there’s some moral equivalence between accidents in a bath tub, and mass murder.

      The point is that the threat is overblown, and our politicians are only too happy to take advantage of that to strip us of our freedoms and control us. That’s not to say we don’t need a certain level of vigilance – but C-51, as currently drafted, goes too far.

      And Harper’s politics of fear and division likewise go too far. He needs the distraction, though, so Canadians don’t realize what a mess he’s making of our nation.

      Frankly, the biggest threat to Canada these days… is the man we call Prime Minister.

  3. Don’t underestimate the threat. Hate is something you cannot analyse. Hate in the muslim world is infectious, and they have their own information sources to reinforce and spread that hate.
    We must counter the threat with actions and words the violent 160 million can understand. Let’s start by calling spades spades: substituting ‘mass murder of infidels’ for ‘jihad’ and ‘murdererous muslims’ for ‘islamists’.

  4. Islamic theology incites countless devout followers to commit acts of violence in the name of Islam.

    For some reason liberals find excuses for head rolling, female genital mutilation, the burqa, child brides, stoning women for being raped, burning alive a human, multiple serial murders on camera, cutting of of hands for theft, Charlie Hebdo, Mumbai, Bali, Beslan, Mohammad Cartoon riots, Lee Rigby murder on the streets of London, London transit attack, Madrid subway attack, Tunisian Museum attack …

    How much carnage is necessary before the liberal viewpoint will change?

    Liberals reluctance to admit reality about Islam only delays the day till something is done about the biggest problem facing humanity – Islamic theology needs a reformation before it is too late.

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