National Suicide

NATIONAL SUICIDE….Would Iran be willing to risk extinction by attacking Israel? Jeffrey Goldberg says anyone who doubts it should read Amnon Rubinstein’s column in the Jerusalem Post this week about “the tendency among Islamists toward national suicide”:

The first case is that of Saddam Hussein, who in 2003 could have avoided war and conquest….The second case is that of Yasser Arafat in 2000….The third case is that of the Taliban [after 9/11].

….In all three cases, the conclusion is plain: prolonged war, death, destruction and national suicide are preferable to peaceful solutions of conflicts….These cases, while unprecedented in the annals of history, should not be that surprising. If you glorify individual suicide, if death is the key to a happy afterlife, if war itself is sanctified, why not extend these ideas from the individual to the collective?

Lord knows that these were all stupid and ultimately destructive positions, as is Hamas’s continued shelling of Israeli towns (the main subject of Rubinstein’s column). But unprecedented in the annals of history? Isn’t it just the opposite? I’d say that every culture in the history of mankind has examples of both individuals and countries that would rather fight to the death than surrender. Sometimes this is admirable, sometimes it’s stupid, but it’s not uncommon. So why try to pretend that this is some kind of mysterious attribute unique to Muslim culture?

Answer: because Rubinstein wants to convince us that “Israel, as well as the West, should be prepared for a long, irrational and costly war, unlike any other fought in the past.” Since this requires a uniquely irrational enemy, one must be created. And one has.

UPDATE: Robert Farley adds that things that look like national suicide in retrospect rarely look that way at the start. That’s true too. The impulse to stand up to a powerful foe is usually driven by pride, by a mistaken belief in eventual victory, or by a belief that your powerful foe will crush you utterly if you don’t fight back, not by a desire for suicide.