The terrorists' big mistake

South China Morning Post  |  Aug 3, 2005

By Sin-ming Shaw

Six in 10 Americans say they believe a third world war is likely in their lifetime, according to a recent Associated Press poll. "I feel like we're in a world war right now," Susan Aser, an estate agent from New York state, was quoted as saying.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, September 11 and last month's bombings in London and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, all seem to reinforce Ms Aser's feelings. This enemy, deviating from a millennium-old pattern, has no front line, no uniform, no nationality and no borders. He is practically invisible. We do, however, know the enemy is driven by religious precepts and a hatred of the west and its Muslim allies.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the majority of Iraqi people who want to have a better life are targets of their suicide bombs. Other countries, Muslim or not, expect the worst. Above all else, these radical Islamic terrorists hate the United States and Britain, the two ultimate symbols of the west.

It may be true that the Iraqi invasion had something to do with the continuing terror. But September 11 happened before the invasion. It may also be true that the long Israeli-Palestinian conflicts have something to do with the motivation of these terrorists.

If true, it is puzzling why they don't go and fight the Israelis instead. Taking on the Americans and the British entails risks that the terrorists do not seem to have properly evaluated.

They may well believe the clich?that the west is so materialistic, so decadent, so against what the Prophet Mohammed taught that these two countries are ready to topple with only a few bombs. The notion of the decadent west ready to keel over and die is not new. The Chinese Marxists certainly believed so for many years.

Judging by what they do in the mainland these days, however, the communists have paid the west the ultimate compliment by copying it wholesale.

But the Islamic radicals seem to cling to the belief that they can bring the west to its knees. By taking on the US and the UK, the terrorists have picked the wrong adversaries. The British, especially, have a tenacity that historically has been underestimated by their foes. Americans can be a little short of patience; but not Britons, who have a long history of conflicts within their own borders and around the world, and have come out on top.

They lived through two world wars and the Irish Republican Army attacks, almost with nonchalance.

A few generations ago, the British ran the world's largest and most successful global empire. They left behind a legacy of public governance, common law, lasting prosperity, a global language and sufficient goodwill that is still appreciated by its former colonies and commonwealth countries. Among them is Malaysia, the most well-run and prosperous Muslim country on the planet.

British public management was paid its ultimate compliment early this year when leaders in Beijing unceremoniously fired the super-patriotic but incompetent Tung Chee-hwa, and hired the ultimate British-trained civil servant, Donald Tsang Yum-kuen, a knight of the British Empire, to succeed Mr Tung as Hong Kong's chief executive.

The terrorists would be well advised to do at least two things: visit a psychiatrist to understand - and then to better manage - their anger. Second, they should reconsider their choice of the British as their enemy.

Their record of beating terrorists, big and small, is not something any half-intelligent fighter wants to bet against.

Sin-ming Shaw is a former visiting fellow at Oriel College, Oxford University

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