Bernard-Henri Lévy, the French philosopher, points out that with Benazir Bhutto, they killed ‘a spectacularly visible woman’ who, whatever her flaws as a political leader, was astonishingly brave in fighting — uncovered, unveiled — for politics ‘and refusing the curse that, according to the new fascists [the jihadists], floats over the human face of women’.
Lévy suggests that Benazir’s name should now become another password ‘for those who still believe that the good genius of Enlightenment will win out over the evil genius of fanaticism and crime’. But the Enlightenment will be lost unless we all realise that we have to fight for it.
First of all we have to give up the luxury of pretending that the war with Islamism is our fault. It is not. It is a deadly serious attempt by reactionary theocrats, Sunni and Shia, to enslave as much of the world as possible. It is powerful — it has the resources of a rich state, Iran, behind its Shia arm, and oil wealth gushes into the coffers of its Sunni side.
‘The war on terror’ may not be the best of phrases, but it is a reasonable shorthand. Islamist terrorist murderers don’t kill decent and brave people because of mistakes made by President Bush or Tony Blair or President Musharraf or anyone else. They do so to destroy the chance of millions of Muslims and ‘infidels’ all over the world to live decent lives.
Secondly, the murder of Bhutto should also demonstrate — yet again — that this war is not the fault of the Israelis. The Islamists did not kill Benazir Bhutto because of concern about the West Bank. They killed her because they feared her power to give the Pakistani people more than the Islamists want them to have, and because they seek to push Pakistan into total chaos and unlimited carnage.
Third, Iraq is not the cause of this war — it is part of it. Remember one of the first terrible suicide murders committed in Iraq: in August 2003 al-Qa’eda killed Sergio Vieira de Mello, one of the UN’s most gifted officials, and many of his colleagues. De Mello was Kofi Annan’s special representative in Iraq and, like Annan, was opposed to the US war effort there. But al-Qa’eda denounced Annan as ‘America’s criminal slave’ and abused de Mello as ‘diseased’. They hated him in particular because he had helped Christian East Timor win independence from Muslim Indonesia — a heinous crime to al-Qa’eda.
Last month al-Qa’eda bombed a UN building in Algiers because, like de Mello, it was symbolic of the decent world which the Islamists want to destroy. Eleven UN officials were killed at once. And so it goes on.
The murder of Bhutto, the murder of UN officials, the countless murders of innocent Iraqis, the murder of Lebanese who fight for their democracy, the murder of commuters in Madrid and London are all part of the same war against people and life. They are all part of the same deadly global ideology of hatred and despair. These assaults will not end if we retreat — from Afghanistan, from Iraq or anywhere else. Weakness will cause the terrorists to redouble their efforts.
Maysoon al-Damluji, a brave Iraqi woman who returned from London exile after the overthrow of Saddam to help build a decent society, put it well recently. ‘Both al-Qa’eda and Iran are working to create the most dangerous culture that humanity has ever known,’ she said. ‘It is based on hatred and ignorance and manifests itself through suppressing all kinds of freedoms, especially on women. If, God forbid, the American forces withdrew, mayhem would strike Iraq; it would spill out to the entire region and no country in the Middle East would be spared.’ She is right. And not just for the Middle East.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated January 5, 2008