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Yogi Berra, Polybius, and the Recurring Jihad
By Gray Rinehart April 12, 2002

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Yogi Berra’s obvious observation was never more true than when considering this war-that-is-not-war, this Terror War. Yes, the Afghan force fought well in the first battles--with strong US air support--and the Taliban ran away on their clay feet, but one campaign does not a war make. It came as no surprise when US troops began fighting in earnest, while the Northern Alliance proved as solid as fog, Afghan warlords asserted themselves, and the Taliban regrouped. We have more campaigns to pursue.

As our military stands in the gap, the home front may be faltering. Case in point: we still hear words like “disaster” and “tragedy” referring to 11 September, rather than “attack.” Minced words! Airplane accidents are disasters; but airplanes killing people on purpose, whether with bombs or their own aluminum and fuel, are attacks. Attacks are perpetrated by attackers, and despite politically correct deconstruction, attackers are enemies. Call them terrorists or “freedom fighters” or what you will, they are enemies.

Is it war, even if undeclared? To our enemies and their missing leader it is “jihad,” a “struggle” to expand Islam but not precisely a holy war. In past jihads, extorting tribute was enough for the pious Muslim strugglers. Many Christian and Jewish cities lived in peace if they paid the tax, and perished only if they refused.

The leader of this jihad did not ask for surrender or tribute. That would be too quaint for the pretender to the caliphate, who cowered in caves instead of leading his people to glorious conquest. Only annihilation of rival “people of the book” satisfies his rhetoric, but he is not the only one nor will he be the last. Even if he is caught or killed, someone else will read the Koran and commentaries and decide that force is the best way to spread the faith, and cycles of jihad will continue.

Polybius, the 1st century B.C. Greek historian, teaches us to beware the recurring jihad in a lesson from Rome’s experience with the Gauls:

"The Gauls remained quiet and at peace with Rome for forty-five years. But when, as time went on, those who had actually witnessed the terrible struggle were no more, and a younger generation had taken their place, full of unreflecting passion and absolutely without experience of suffering or peril, they began again, as was natural, to disturb the settlement, becoming exasperated against the Romans on the least pretext and inviting the Alpine Gauls to make common cause with them."

The current struggle epitomizes this very case: the nineteen assassins were young, “full of unrelenting passion,” not suffering from want or deprivation but well-educated and well-financed, and exasperated against us on the basis of their own imaginings. They and their successors differ from the Gauls, however, in having an ideology that screams for conflict. Islam does not mean “peace,” but “submission.” If we forget that, we may cry out “peace, peace” when there is no peace.

Our self-appointed enemies began this fight, but we must end it, and on our terms. We have little choice; we are on one side, and they are on the other, period. Either we defend freedom successfully, or relinquish it, because we are right and they are wrong by the only definition that matters: ours. The reasonable person (as well as the enemy’s apologist) may ask, “But can’t they say the same thing?” Yes--by their definition they are right and we are wrong. But both definitions cannot be correct, and whoever admits being wrong must surrender.

Our enemies--those who consider themselves our enemies--cannot call for peace as we know it. They need us as enemies. They need us to blame.

We do not need them. So we must fight, and we must win.

Copyright © 2002 by Gray Rinehart.


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