Those who ritually slaughtered Daniel Pearl, said the President in a prepared statement, "need to know that their crimes only hurt their cause." Pearl’s publisher at the Wall Street Journal, Peter Kann, added that the murder "was an act of barbarism that makes a mockery of everything Danny’s kidnappers claimed to believe in." The New York Times, in an editorial published on the same day as these oddly phrased denunciations, could not stop reiterating the same theme. Pearl’s murder was "ultimately self-defeating for those responsible." The killers "gained nothing by their unspeakable act." Not only this, but in case you missed the point the first couple of times, "the kidnappers have only undermined their cause by their acts."
As an Establishment party line, this stinks in a number of ways. A group of unscrupulous theocratic gangsters kidnaps a young reporter and announces on the first day that it will maltreat him (in a supposed riposte to the handling of Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees at Guantánamo Bay). It then holds him in filthy captivity, ignores appeals from his pregnant wife–who even offers to exchange herself for him–and then slashes his throat on camera. The rest of the lovingly made video shows his subsequent decapitation. It is further clear, from the audio "portion" and from statements made by the gang (who were obviously having themselves quite a good time with their hostage), that they awarded themselves extra points for doing this to a Jew. But, when the thunder of condemnation is heard, it turns out that the perpetrators have somehow failed to live up to their professed standards!
What can possibly explain this sudden outbreak of creepy euphemism? Just like the bin Ladenites who are their partners and their inspiration, the Pakistani fundamentalists maintain a strict symmetry between ends and means. They aim for a stagnant and dictatorial society ruled by a mediocre "holy" text, and they have no concept of an unbeliever as a civilian. (Those who have been making lists of civilian casualties in the recent war have, I hope, raised their tally by one–this time one inflicted with elaborate premeditation.) What the Islamic fascists do, and what they believe, and what they intend, are three aspects of the same one-dimensional thing. It is ludicrous to accuse them of being untrue to themselves or their cause.
The usual rush to "understand" Pervez Musharraf’s difficulties seems to supply a partial explanation for this moral feebleness. Once again, the gallant general has exerted himself and expended political capital to confront his apparently inexhaustible supply of lawless underlings and subordinates. We forget that in the first days of the Pearl abduction, as in the days just after the assault on the Parliament in New Delhi, Musharraf and his spokesmen openly put the blame for both outrages on sinister Indian circles. We also forget that the professionalism of the kidnappers, and their ability to escape detection, has suggested to more than one investigator the possibility of a role played by Pakistan’s secret police Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). I did not see this obvious contingency mentioned openly until an excellent report in the Washington Post of February 23.
Here’s how the ratchet has operated so far: Musharraf was the patron of the Taliban until he was paid a fortune to stop. He was the protector of Al Qaeda until he was paid another fortune to stop that, too. His nuclear program was found to be harboring several senior bin Ladenites until his entire foreign debt was handsomely rescheduled. Then it was found that his army was using Al Qaeda fighters as a proxy in Kashmir, at which stage he won golden opinions and further praise for asking them, in a "shocked" mode, to cease and desist. Most recently, the ISI was discovered to have flown some 2,000 Taliban and Al Qaeda members out of Afghanistan around the time of the fall of Kandahar and Kabul. On this occasion the Pentagon appears to have told Musharraf that if he stopped providing such a safe haven, he would not be publicly criticized for having done so. In this client-state relationship, who is the tail and who the dog? And why should the lucky general wish to dry up a pool of fanatics that ultimately serves as his repeat meal ticket?
Along with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan belongs on any list of those states that harbor and spread the forces and the ideology of bin Laden. This, among many other reasons, is why the "axis of evil" speech was a discreditable and dishonest effort. It changed the subject away from the real struggle and back toward the tired old concept of "rogue states." At least with that familiar routine, the spokesmen for the Administration knew where they were. Challenged on the unwise decision to include Iran, for example, they could rattle off Iranian support for militant forces in Lebanon and among the Palestinians. But only a fool still believes that there are not, indeed, "root causes" (and very deep and traceable ones) of the Palestinian conflict. Perhaps one might dare to spell out some of the differences. The Palestinian people live under an illegal occupation, and international law gives them the right to resist it. The Pakistani oligarchy imposed an appalling occupation on Afghanistan. The Palestinians have a sheaf of UN resolutions, proclaiming their right to a homeland, that outnumber those passed on any other topic by the world body. The Pakistanis are gross violators of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. One could go on. But the Bush Administration speaks to Arafat as if he had a state and were an aggressor, and to Musharraf as if he were leader of an oppressed and dispossessed minority.
A few months ago, conservative journals and Republican spokesmen were very alert to the least hint of faintness or equivocation about "terrorism." They didn’t mind striking some "collateral" targets, like Katha Pollitt or Susan Sontag. But now, honeyed phrases are employed by our bosses, and are being insinuated into the mainstream, to spare the feelings of anti-Semitic, sadistic and nihilist forces who must marvel at our restraint. This doesn’t alter the case for the just war, but it does remind one always to look to the language.