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Final Battle

Muslim apocalyptic movements like al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, and other jihadi groups are winning an information war that the West barely recognizes exists

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Unholy Anger

One of Obama’s top advisers on Afghanistan reviews two new books on Osama Bin Laden and the U.S. approach to al-Qaida that put Israel at the center of the conflict

Swept with a wave of moral Schadenfreude, European audiences eagerly devoured the lethal narratives the Palestinians fed their press about an evil Israel. The blood libel worked: For many, Israel was above all a serial murderer of children. In 2007, when I gave a talk in Budapest about Muhammad al Durah, one of the organizers interrupted my presentation to insist that, “Everyone knows that the Israelis kill Palestinian children every day.” The same year, Canadian pro-Palestinian activist Mary Hughes-Thompson, who to this day recalls the importance of what she called seeing Muhammad al Durah “shot and killed before my very eyes,” wrote: “It’s … horrifying to know that Palestinian children are killed every day by bombs and bullets from Israeli occupation forces.” In the cognitive war, the al Durah lethal narrative was a nuclear bomb; while the explosion has died down, we’re still breathing in the radioactive waste.


Western journalists, especially Europeans, made three critical mistakes in their handling of the al Durah episode. First, even as they rejected any narrative supportive of Israel as unreliable “communautarisme,” or partisanship, they embraced any Palestinian lethal narrative no matter how incredible. Second, they represented the Palestinian hostility to Israel as that of a secular, national liberation movement hostile only to Israel rather than an Arab-Muslim jihad in search of honor lost on a global scale. Third, they therefore assumed that by siding with the Palestinians, they would gain their favor. Instead, as the Arab-Muslim street that took root in Europe in the last decade has illustrated, European infidels were every bit the target of jihadi malevolence.

Thus, as European journalists replayed endlessly the images of al Durah and reported every Palestinian claim that the Israelis murdered children, the journalists had no idea that they were waving the flag of jihad in front of their own Muslim immigrant populations, and no idea that they too were the target of jihadi hatred. In 2002, in response to unconscionably irresponsible reports from the European press about a massacre of hundreds if not thousands of innocent Palestinians in Jenin, self-styled progressives poured into the streets in support of the very terrorism that had prompted the Israelis to defend themselves. As Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci wrote at the time:

In Italy there [is] a procession of individuals dressed as suicide bombers who spew vile abuse at Israel, hold up photographs of Israeli leaders on whose foreheads they have drawn the swastika, incite people to hate the Jews.

After all, at this point, the only victims of suicide bombing were Israelis and Americans, both (still) the objects of astonishing European hostility. And yet, in so doing, Europeans both fueled the worst of the intifada and prepared their own paralysis in the face of jihadi threats. Suicide bombings, and the threat of them, have blighted, and will likely continue to, the new century. As a French friend told me in 2003: “The Arabs act as if they have a knife to our throat, and we act as if they did.” And that invisible knife was suicide terror.

Throughout this process, the press played a key role, both by concealing the genocidal incitement of the Palestinians (and other jihadi forces) and by broadcasting every lethal narrative produced by Pallywood. Thus al Durah triggered a wave of violence and vituperation against the Jews in Europe, and the very press that broadcast the false footage fell silent when it came to reporting its real effects. Anyone who had the nerve to denounce this explosion of Muslim anti-Semitism was tarred as a Zionist Islamophobe.

When Charles Enderlin, the reporter for France2, saw the footage his cameraman had sent him, if instead of rushing to broadcast and sharing it freely with his colleagues, he had exercised due diligence, fired Talal for faking the footage, and had run an article on Palestinian incitement via fake “reporting,” the Second Intifada would have had a very different trajectory. When European elites, hit with a wave of anti-Semitic speech and deeds by their Muslim populations in response to al Durah and similar reporting from the intifada, if instead of excusing it as an understandable response to Israeli crimes and concealing its full force from the public, had instead responded by making clear how unacceptable such behavior is in a civil society, the wave of European Islamic aggression might also have had a different career. Instead, the apocalyptic fires of genocidal hatred were stoked, often by people who thought they were advocates for peace.

Lest one think this was merely a problem of European anti-Zionism (coupled with its twin brother, anti-Americanism), consider the emblematic response of the New York Times to the problem of Palestinian incitement. The day after the savage lynching in Ramallah, two key events occurred: The Israelis in retaliation bombed a Palestinian radio station because, according to the IDF, the broadcaster was guilty of the same kind of genocidal incitement that led to the atrocities in Rwanda less than a decade previously. The same day, PATV broadcast a sermon by Sheik Ahmad Abu Halabiya live from Gaza:

The Jews are the Jews. Whether Labor or Likud, the Jews are Jews. They do not have any moderates or any advocates of peace. They are all liars. They must be butchered and must be killed. … It is forbidden to have mercy in your hearts for the Jews in any place and in any land. Make war on them any place that you find yourself. Any place that you meet them, kill them.

New York Times reporter William Orme came to investigate the Israeli claim of incitement as a major contributor to Palestinian violence. After giving ample and unchallenged space to a Palestinian spokesman who insisted, in an allusion to al Durah, that “we have no fabricated pictures, and no fabricated stories,” and that Israelis think anything is incitement, Orme offered this quote as his only example of Palestinian incitement:

Israelis cite as one egregious example a televised sermon that defended the killing of the two soldiers. “Whether Likud or Labor, Jews are Jews,” proclaimed Sheik Ahmad Abu Halabaya in a live broadcast from a Gaza City mosque the day after the killings.

One could excuse the uninformed reader for sympathizing with the Palestinian claim that the Israelis are hyper-sensitive.

Those aware of the full text might have difficulty imagining how this is not news fit to print. Unfortunately, this censored statement constitutes just one example of a vast industry of hatred and incitement to violence that characterizes the most aggressive forms of apocalyptic jihadi Islam not only in Palestinian circles but the Muslim world over. And Orme’s silence has been the rule, not the exception, in mainstream media coverage of both the Arab-Israeli conflict and global jihad since 2000.


Ultimately, Orme himself must explain his lacuna (which, so far, he has refused to do). I suspect that it has something to do with a widespread sentiment among journalists and intellectuals that if you broadcast such information, you put wind in the sails of the right-wing warmongers. The less said, the better.

Alas, from the perspective of cognitive warfare against an apocalyptic millennial foe, such a silence is wind in the sails of genocidal warmongers. And when joined to a systematic mainstreaming of jihadi lethal narratives into our information system as news, those winds wax ever stronger.

When will we stop losing, and even start winning, a cognitive war we should have won from the beginning? When will we use weaponry we have—like the jihadis’ honor-shame sensitivities—instead of allowing jihadis to bully the West into backing down for fear of provoking them? It’s entirely a matter of imagination and will. This one really is in our hands. And it begins with a prise de conscience. As Stuart Green, the author of Cognitive Warfare and the Role of the Media, remarks, “You can’t win the Battle of Midway if you don’t know you’re in a battle.”

Richard Landes, a professor of history at Boston University, blogs at The Augean Stables. His new book, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience treats a variety of apocalyptic movements, including global jihad.

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Brilliant article.
Should be compulsory reading before viewers turn on their tv sets and watch the news.

George One says:

How do you ensure this artcle gets maximum exposure all over the Westzern democracies?

The case of Al-Durah should be studied in universities. Students should know how the reckless and unprofessional journalistic report could lead to the deaths of hundreds of innocent people, how much harm could bring irresponsible journalism. For there is no doubt that this report acted as a catalyst to the followed it intifada and no doubt that nor Mr. Enderlin, nor management of French TV, nor anyone else, who presented this pure speculation as a truth feel any guilt for the tragedies that fell afterwards on thousands of people.

Hazel Armstrong says:

Superb analysis with irrefutable evidence. I shall be circulating this to both those guilty of unthinking acceptance of journalistic (corrupted) ethics and those who require as much information as possible in their defence of Israel.

Magnificent piece of work, Richard. Remembering the old days at the Heyman Centre, CU?

Rebecca says:

While I think the point of the article is very valid and has occasionally been written about, I found the article itself too academic. The points made are an absolute must read and a must be discussed item however it needs to be said in plain English. I think the suggestion of making the incident that led to the Intifada a case study in journalism programs is brilliant and I hope it happens. As with most other historical incidents within the last 40 years that were twisted because of sensationalistic journalism, the events will not be examined, studied, taken apart and dissected until probably 100 years from now, if at all. We repeat history that we do not understand.

This article reminds of the seminal work, The Paranoid in American Politics. Like the paranoids of the 60′s, for this writer, it’s all so clear, all so precise, all so pervasive, the dots all connect….pointing to so little. Al Qaida, to the extent an organization, is pulverized, not triumphant. Sharia has no meaningful role in America and little than claimed in Europe. Muslims play such a preipheral role in American politics, and yet,the threat is grandly presented to ensure speaking fees, book readers,and relevance, but for the rest of us, it all adds up to…so very little. So little. So very little.

J.Mishner says:

Read the sign in the photo this way-
“Europe, is the cancer Islam? Answer:”

jacob arnon says:

“This article reminds of the seminal work, The Paranoid in American Politics.”

Landes isn’t writing about American politics.

You remind me of those supposed pacifists in the 30′s who blamed Jews for Hitler’s belligerence.

geof, sorry to bore you.

you might consider reading Bruce Bawer’s Surrender. the point i’m making is not about al qaeda specifically. they’re just the outside edge of a much larger phenomenon that is, a millennial movement that wants to see globalization as the spread of dar al islam. these are the folks screaming in the streets of capitals around the world everytime they’re “offended” whether by israeli military actions (as reported by the media) or danish cartoons (as purveyed by muslim radicals who faked the three most offensive ones). if you think they have so very little impact, why did yale not print the cartoons in a book on the subject.

if you think that “sharia has no meaningful role in the usa and in europe, then i think you’re not paying attention. people are waking up in england to find themselves in self-proclaimed “sharia zones” and there are whole segments of french suburbs that are no-go zones for public officials (even ambulances).

as for speaking fees, there’s no faster way to be marginalized in the current scene than to speak as i do. i’m thankful that the Tablet has the courage to print this kind of analysis. i’m not expecting the NYT or any center for middle eastern studies in the US or Europe, or the White House – which doesn’t want to mention al Qaeda on the tenth anniversary of 9-11 – to invite me to speak. on the contrary, the dominant voice still is that of those who think minimizing the problem will help resolve it.

what’s clear to me is that the current conditions make all the “right-left” stereotyping not just useless but even counter-productive.

covering your eyes with your hands and saying “no one can see me” is not exactly a mature way of dealing with reality.

I think this article should be offered as Exhibit A to the regular commenters who attack Tablet as a mouthpiece of the radical Israeli and American Left.

I continue to applaud Tablet for publishing perspectives from across the Jewish political and ideological spectrum. The debate engendered is good for am Yisrael, even if the extreme polarization is difficult to swallow.

Kol HaKavod, Tablet.

salem says:

Landes is a liberal? Has to be the most clear thinking in liberal on the planet in regard to the war waged against Europe, Israel, and the US by Islam.

I’ll just say that much of the problem we have in this conflict is our side has a value for human life understanding its preciousness. The other side regards life as disposable and cheap. They use our value for human life against us.

andrew r says:

To single out any tidbit from this article by Landes is a rather pointless exercise. The whole deal is based on a blameless USA and Israel inexplicably targeted by an irrational, fanatical jihad that can be traced back to the Quran. Gone are the various interferences with the Middle East – Playing both sides in the Iran-Iraq war, surgical strikes on Iraq’s water treatment facilities in 1991, the sanctions which denied Iraqis chemotherapy and clean water and the 2003 invasion from which spring atrocities too numerous to relate here. The USA commits military aggression for one reason only – It’s profitable for the narrowest of the narrow uppercrust. And overblown jihad narratives cover up the fact that the non-fanatical, incitement-free, not-genocidal US military is the most destructive force of all, more than anything Hamas or Hezbollah could fathom. Except their people are often on the receiving end of it courtesy of Israel and the American Defense Industry.

andrew r says:

“I’ll just say that much of the problem we have in this conflict is our side has a value for human life understanding its preciousness.”

Selective value of human life value of human life. The US military serves rich Americans; the Israeli military is for the primitive accumulation of land. It could be the case that jihadis have no respect for their life or anyone else’s. However, respecting you and yours and showing utter contempt for anyone else does not mean you respect human life. And that’s what the US and Israeli armed forces have to offer.

andrew r says:

Should be, “selective value of human life does not equal value of human life.” Too bad the keyboard doesn’t have that equals sign with a slash.

Andrew, the US military’s main purpose is to kill people and break things. They accomplish that mission exceptionally well when allowed to go for victory and not restrained.

IMO, we went to war in Kuwait against Iraq to ensure the free flow of oil–our interests. Afghanistan after 9/11 as the excuse to go after Qaeda. Iraq after 9/11 believing they had WMD. Libya to help Europe dependent on Libyan oil. I agreed with 1991, disagreed with the rest as all it seems to do is lead to the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise by deposing the thugs we’ve mostly bought off through aid money keeping their crazies on check.

I don’t see Israel as expansionist. They don’t have enough people to hold the land ensuring security. Arabs over 3 decades have brought about not just moral equivalence between Israel and Arabs, but Arab superiority/sympathy. They’ll do anything to win. When facing an enemy like this you end up fighting as they do, you’re forced to.

For those of us supporting Israel’s right to peacefuly exist there’s concern as to where things are headed.

We are giving Islam a free ride under the pretext of freedom of religion. In Islam a woman is a slave of a man. Would you allow freedom for any religion that practices human sacrifices? So, there is “no” religious freedom for human sacrifices but “yes” religious freedom for slavery and mistreatment? Is that the case?

andrew r. your list of offenses that we’ve committed against muslims is laughable in comparison with a) what they’ve done to infidels, and b) what they’ve done to each other. if you think that 9-11 and plans to conquer the world and submit it to sharia are motivated by the “wrong” we’ve done to them, you are living in a masochistic omnipotent fantasy in which it’s all our fault and if only we were better we could fix everything.

i don’t think we’re faultless, or that israel is faultless. i just think that the kind of calculus you use fails to understand what motivates this particular foe. it may be comforting to you to think that somehow you can appease them, but it’s a grave mistake. i don’t think that dismissing how they read the qur’an and crediting their complaints about us is going to give you a better understanding of what motivates them, nor will policy derived from that bring good results. on the contrary, it’ll blow up in our faces.

similarly those who think that the settlements are what really bothers the palestinians and all israel has to do is withdraw to the green line and they’ll be satisfied are making a fundamental error. act on it, and you’ll make things worse (as did oslo).

All they want is ‘right of return’ voting Israel out of existence.

The problem with all such essays (I’ve spent two days following all the links on this piece, including the Stuart Green paper on Cognitive Warfare, which touches on Soviet propaganda efforts – very interesting), is that they’re long on delivery and short on remedy. The final paragraph he cites seems to be saying that we should adopt jihadi tactics against them (honor-shame sensitivities), but against whom? Who are the jihadis? Can we really say that all Arabs/Muslims are jihadists, or even a majority of them? Can’t a case be made that by engaging the jihadis, and not other elements of Arab societies, we’re reinforcing the jihadist position relative to other factions?

But all this is moot anyway, because Western civilization is not going to regress to honor-shame dynamics just to fight militant Islam. We have our own cultural propaganda efforts – Hollywood, for one – the only problem is that these are not focused; they reflect our lives and values, but are not aimed specifically at undermining jihadism. Stuart Green focuses on Soviet disinformation actions in the West, how 85% of the intelligence budget actually went to such activities. First, before we model ourselves according to the Soviet Union, whose own citizens did not believe it’s propaganda, perhaps we should first see some research demonstrating effectiveness of Soviet disinformation efforts. Second, assuming these efforts were successful, why is it that we can’t replicate such efforts? Has the knowledge been lost to do this? Is there a lack of generation commitment on the part of leadership? Why aren’t we practicing information operations in peacetime?

Landes seems to think that the only way to defeat jihadist infiltration is for a critical mass of people to “awaken” and stand guard. But how many people do you know that want to engage in conflict on a daily basis? It’s just not feasible, in my opinion. We would be much better off directly implementing disinformation efforts within Arab societies.

andrew r says:

“andrew r. your list of offenses that we’ve committed against muslims is laughable in comparison with a) what they’ve done to infidels, and b) what they’ve done to each other.”

Funny you should mention that. I was going to say terrorism isn’t a big deal compared to what Christians have done to each other during WWI and II and the 90′s Balkan wars. Well, not really, but doesn’t it sound just as facile switching a and b around?

andrew r.: the difference is that the west learned slowly and painfully from those wars. that’s where the UN – a millennial pipe dream in the 19th century – comes from. how successful a meme do you think “war is not the answer” is in the muslim world today or yesterday? this is not to say that we’re successful in avoiding war (altho the EU is unthinkable without that attitude), nor that the UN is a successful body (my sense is that it’s now taken over by demopaths and in many ways promoting war), but these are major shifts.

the facile switching, i’m afraid is yours. you seem hell-bent on “self-”criticizing no matter what. democracy, and its remarkably hostile attitude towards war (“the sport of kings”) is actually an astonishing accomplishment, world-historical in its implications. don’t sell it short.

self-criticism is a key dimension of democratic success. don’t turn it into a pathology. (for more on these issues see:

victor: “Who are the jihadis? Can we really say that all Arabs/Muslims are jihadists, or even a majority of them? Can’t a case be made that by engaging the jihadis, and not other elements of Arab societies, we’re reinforcing the jihadist position relative to other factions?”

i’m using jihadi here to designate anyone who shares the activist apocalyptic dream of spreading sharia to the entire world. large numbers of muslims (my guess is a majority) are millennial – i.e. they want to see the world submitted to sharia, but not necessarily now or violently. apocalyptic means a sense of urgency, *now* is the time. the most violent version (what most call jihadis) are “active cataclysmic apocalyptic”, who think that only great violence will bring about the millennial world and they are its agents.

there are two further issues. 1) those who are less violent, but share the millennial dream and its apocalyptic hopes (e.g., some Salafis). we in the west like to think they’re separate, but they’re only different in the degree to which their sense of urgency leads them to violence. some European Muslims who want to impose sharia there are against violence not on principle but because a) it’s too soon, they’re still a minority; and b) the fruit will be easier to pick in a generation when the demographics will have shifted. they are demopaths:

2) a much larger circle of muslims who will (sincerely) denounce al qaeda, nonetheless find in something like 9-11 a great swell of pride and a sense of honor restored. this reaction can occur even in secular muslims and even, non-muslims, eg, christian lebanese, anti-american europeans. even tho a victory of millennial islam would be disastrous for these folks, they can’t help but be excited. Lee Smith’s Strong Horse nails the dynamic. if we don’t resist both the violent jihadis and their demopathic allies, the false “moderates,” we feed their strong horse… every day.

victor, given the limitations here (2000 characters) i’ll respond to the rest of your comments at my blog:

Victor, you are wrong saying that citizens of the Soviet Union did not believe soviet propaganda. It was economy and not political or ideological reasons that led the downfall of USSR. Second, the biggest problem are not “jihadists” but western “intellectuals” who put the freedom of perceived oppression above human life and dignity on their scale of moral values.

andrew r says:

rlandes – When Gandhi was asked about Western civilization, he quipped it would be a good idea. Terminating the series of aggressive acts against Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, anywhere else I’m forgetting, must be done unconditionally without regard to what happens to us, which, in all likelihood, will be nothing. We are in the wrong here.

andrew r.: and if you’re wrong about “in all likelihood”? do you care? or is being squeaky clean morally your overriding concern, regardless of how dangerous.

andrew r says:

You’re not talking to someone who believes in the slightest chance anything the US military does overseas keeps us safe. A general rule of overseas invasions is that they are for conquest, not defense. The USA was an imperialist entity before 9-11 and the perpetrators were created by its misadventures during the cold war.

We threw squeaky clean out the window some time ago. The USA may yet be the first serial killer to stop killing and go scot-free even though its identity is publicly known.

Martin Knutsen says:

Oh dear, you just threw your credibility out the window by recommending Bruce Bawer and his Eurabia-claptrap. Have you considered the point that the howling anti-islamists are a part of the problem?

As for propaganda, it goes both ways. When the Israeli press insists on calling those killed on the Marmara for terrorists it becomes hard to listen to those same voices decrying palestinian propaganda.

VHJM van Neerven says:

Richard Landes, a professor of history at Boston University, had better written about his own U.S. of A. Reading this as a European, I can only grin. Old news, disinformation, generalizations about a great continent with 832,211,436 inhabitants in 57 states. Sure.

leverne hatcher says:



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Final Battle

Muslim apocalyptic movements like al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, and other jihadi groups are winning an information war that the West barely recognizes exists

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